Monday, August 28, 2006

Good Choices and Bad Choices

Imagine our dear wingnut brothers and sisters living during the time of Jesus's crucifixion. How would they have reacted to it? Would they have said something like this: We all make choices in our lives. Some choices are good ones, some choices are bad ones. Jesus made some very bad choices, and look what it got him.

I've been thinking about the conservative emphasis on choices recently, because I came across a post somewhere on these wide and mysterious internets which told a story about the writer's travel from the political left right into the arms of wingnuttery, and the fuel in this trip was his realization that all his friends who ended up poor had made some very bad choices. Which proved, to him, that poverty and failure can be explained by choices alone.

Now this is all directly from the wingnut political bible: It's all your fault if you're poor or female or black or gay. The other side of the coin is that being rich and powerful and a heterosexual white male is all to your own credit, too.

Well, I'm exaggerating there a little. But in general the radical right has an overwhelming belief in the power of what they call "choice", but only in certain aspects of our lives. "Choices" have no impact on the environment, for example, so that it's perfectly acceptable to pollute as much as you desire.

It's also interesting that the wingnuts hardly ever blame a rich person of bad choices. What if someone got rich by fraud and deceit? That seems to be fine unless you get caught. Then you suddenly realize that you made some very bad choices, after all.

Why am I writing about this today? Why do I write about anything? But the impetus came from reading Pam Spaulding's post on Pandagon about the difficulties Ken Blackwell has in Ohio. She quotes a statement by Blackwell from an Ohio newspaper on the topic of homosexuality. Blackwell:

"I think homosexuality is a lifestyle, it's a choice, and that lifestyle can be changed. I think it is a transgression against God's law, God's will. The reality is, again, … that I think we make choices all the time. And I think you make good choices and bad choices in terms of lifestyle. Our expectation is that one's genetic makeup might make one more inclined to be an arsonist, or might make one more inclined to be a kleptomaniac. Do I think that they can be changed? Yes."

There it is, short and sweet, the radical right faith in individual choice. But when I checked the link Pam provided, all it now had was this:

Blackwell said homosexuality "is a lifestyle, it's a choice, and that lifestyle can be changed. I think it's a transgression against God's law, God's will."

What happened? Whose individual choice made the quote change? Did someone pull some strings. Was this a good choice?

All choice happens within constraints, you know. Constraints such as money, time, the health and education a person has, the social and religious norms that are felt as pressing. It has been said that the extreme right only focuses on the choice part of this and the extreme left on the constraints part, and that in reality both matter. I'd add to that the fact that the constraints themselves affect what we think we want to do and thus it's not always that easy to separate something called "free choice" from all the things that make it less than "free".