more thoughts on prop 8

I know that I’ve been writing a lot about Proposition 8 lately, but I keep having new thoughts come up.

Anyway, it seems to me that the folks who pushed for prop 8 were doing their best to instill a moral panic. Moral panics occur when a large group of people see a group, event or condition as a threat to the social order. They are sometimes based on a certain amount of truth, while at other times, they can be entirely imaginary. But because they tap into a fear response, they can be quite tenacious and some of them linger for years or reemerge every now and then.

The more I read about the actions of the people behind prop 8, the more it looks to me as if some of them really were in a panic. And I think that it’s important to acknowledge that quite a few people really do feel fear when they think about same-sex marriage. The fact that their fears aren’t based on a realistic assessment of the facts is irrelevant in many ways. That’s how fear works.

Unfortunately, fear is contagious. Not only because one person’s fear has a tendency to spread, but also because we often seek validation for our anxiety by trying to get other people to feel it as well. After all, if I’m freaked out and you’re not, I need to find some way to reconcile that. If I can’t calm myself down, I may try to get you worked up.

I suspect that part of the strategy that we saw behind prop 8 was that some very scared people were trying to get other people to feel scared. And fear is really hard to counter because once we fall into a panic, we usually ignore any information that contradicts it.

Yes, some people just wanted the vote to go the way that they wanted and were willing to lie to do it. My guess is that a small number of people were able to manipulate the fears of a larger group, who then spread that fear to even more people.

I’m still angry about it. I think that we each have a responsibility to manage our fears and try to not let them control us. So I’m not absolving anyone of any of that. And of course, if people were more able to take care of their own stuff, we’d be less easily manipulated by the relatively small number of individuals who are willing to use our fears to control us. Isn’t there a word for people who do that?

At the same time, I think it’s worth acknowledging that perhaps there’s more to the story than we may see at first glance. Unless we recognize the complexity of the situation, we reduce people to one-dimensional figures of our imagination, which is exactly the problem in the first place.

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