In a turn of events covered quietly by everyone but Fox News, Congress moved closer to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell last week, and seems finally ready to allow openly gay Americans to serve in the military. I haven’t been to Chelsea lately, but I assume the streets are empty and everyone is in Kabul. While the rest of the country seems poised between ambivalence and total apathy, church people and soldiers—two groups that reveal a surprising overlap—continue to rail against repeal.* Not least of them is Tony Perkins, former Marine and President of the Family Research Council, who argues on CNN’s Belief Blog that “ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would undermine religious liberty.” If that sounds like a weird inversion to you, buckle up. Perkins’s argument is a horse desperately pushing a cart, relying on a series of tropes that would be baffling were they not so familiar. It’s a microcosm for the larger, logically bankrupt argument against allowing gay men and women a place in modern society, and it’s sufficiently typical—and infuriating—to merit a close reading.
It’s Friday, and that means it’s time to fit the irregular detritus of the week into a taught chain of causal, um, links. The problem with contemporary life—if I can just jump right into it here—is that it’s increasingly non-narrative. Ever since the basic unit of work went from stalking a mastodon over the frozen plains for two weeks to franking insurance forms in a cubicle for eight hours, human life has become more and more episodic. That’s great for creating a mood but bad for developing character, to put it in workshop terms. Maybe that’s why the character of our nation has been so moody lately, with alternating factions declaring crisis amid recovery, victory in stalemate, strategem in disaster and vice versa, pretty much anew every morning. There must be a narrative in there somewhere, since yesterday will definitely not be happening again today, but sometimes the story seems hard to follow. Maybe we’re just looking at another week’s episode in the long-running melodrama of stupidity versus sense. Maybe stupidity has won, and the rest of the performance will be a puppet show, with shrieking socks debating each other in the same idiot’s voice. The fact of the matter is that not everything happens according to some plan, and our best evidence for destiny is still assembled in retrospect. This week, retrospect reveals only a startling refusal to cohere. As you move from the structure of your workweek to the short-form improvisations of the weekend, consider Camus’s assertion that meaning is only something we make for ourselves, and therefore so is meaninglessness. It is the edge between our desperate understandings and an indifferent universe where stories are made, and it’s the friction in the joint that gives them heat. It’s a cold morning in the Combat! blog offices, so let’s get a little fire going, huh?