Sunday, July 02, 2023

Making Up a Guy to Get Mad At: The (Completely) Imaginary Institution of Society


One fact stands out in the recent Supreme Court Decision 303 Creative LLC vs. Elenis and that is that the web hosting company in question has yet to sell wedding websites (see the passage from the dissenting opinion below). There is also news that the plaintiff, Lorie Smith may have fabricated a gay couple who supposedly enquired about web hosting.  I believe that this little bit of legal trivia reveals something fundamental about our current era, it is one in which the fears and fantasies of the powerful are taken more seriously than the realities of the dispossessed. 

I know that they are besides the point, but I have some empirical questions about the number of people who actually hire website designers for their weddings. A quick google search suggests that there are a half dozen companies and websites that offer templates for such designs. I imagine that a personal web designer could probably do a better job at a higher price, but I do not think that we can discount the possibility that no gay couples would have ever hired her services. A fact that is relevant since her business seems to be more of religious mission than an actual company. It is possible, hypothetically, that if she started designing wedding websites she could be asked by a gay couple to design their site. What is less hypothetical, however, is what this ruling will do in terms of establishing a precedent that will allow other, more essential businesses to cite their personal religious beliefs in order to exclude and discriminate against gay and lesbian couples and individuals. Equality only works if it is applied consistently across the board, to every and all situations. 

Smith's imagined gay couple joins an entire rogues gallery of imagined persons, the person who pretends to be trans only to compete in women's sports, or to gain access to a women's bathroom,  the conspiracy to undertake massive voter fraud, the paid protestor, etc., all the way back to the original myth of the Reagan era, the welfare queen. All of these imaginary threats have a corresponding reality that is ignored: the violence and oppression that trans kids and adults face in our society, the disenfranchisement of poor and minorities, the homeless and hungry.  It is a bizarro world in which imagined, possible wrongs take precedence over actual harms. As Kimberlé Crenshaw says about another such inversion, protecting white kids from learning about racism, “So, white kids’ feelings are more important than black kids’ reality.” I realize that this last example does not exactly fit the pattern above, they may indeed be real kids who are upset to learn about slavery, the holocaust, etc., (to which I reply, "good."), but it often seems that the anecdotes that make the news, the stories told in school board meetings, about the horrors of being told about kids being subject to Critical Race Theory are about as real as the litter boxes that are put out in school classrooms. 

These imagined fears about the harm that teaching about racism could do to white kids are weighed more heavily than the harm that racism does to black kids in our society. Harm that is well documented with such names as Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Ralph Yarl, etc. and that is just counting the kids that have been killed. There are numerous studies that show that black kids are harmed by being seen as older, more dangerous, more disruptive, etc., than their white counterparts, all of which fuels a school to prison pipeline. It is possible to think of all of this a variation of that often repeated definition of conservatism regarding in groups and out groups,  in which social space is fundamentally asymmetrical and hierachical, some our unbinded but protected and others are bound but not protected, only now the unbinding extends not only to actions and freedoms, but fantasy and the imagination as well. Politics, the realpolitik of elected officials, courts, and elections seems to be increasingly oriented to protect particular fantasies more than anything else--fantasies of american exceptionalism, of the nature of gender, race, and sexuality.  Which is to say that we need to update our theories of the social imagination to encompass the real divisions and hierarchies that define it. Some get to have their imaginations made into reality, and others can only imagine that their reality will be recognized and acknowledged by the established powers. 

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