Entry from February 12, 2014

In Monday’s Daily Telegraph blogs, I noticed the following piquant headline to a posting by Cristina Odone: “Vladimir Putin has made it impossible for me to be against gay marriage.” Gosh! I have a lot of respect for Vlad’s powers of persuasion, but how did he do that? “I have written before,” writes Ms Odone, again —

I have written before about my fear that legalising gay marriage would affect the special status of marriage as a sacred institution. I have argued that once gay people could demand to be married, believers who refused to open their churches or even church halls to the ceremony would be punished. But Putin”s homophobic measures have changed my mind. If I oppose gay marriage I may be seen as condoning his anti-gay campaign. I couldn”t live with that.

Well of course not! Think of the millions who would gasp in horror: “Cristina may be seen as condoning an anti-gay campaign,” they would cry in dismay — and then, presumably, they would ostentatiously turn their backs and never speak to her again.

But wait! They have never spoken to her before, either. Nor she to them. The world at large, about whose good opinion she purports to be so solicitous that she is prepared to change her mind about a matter she once thought to be of some moral and religious import, is as remote from her and as uninterested in her views concerning gay marriage as — well, as Vladimir Putin himself, who is as unlikely to be grief-stricken by her changing her mind as the world of the bien pensant is to be by her holding firmly to her views. Stand by for an important announcement, everyone! Cristina Odone is about to impart to us her views on gay marriage. And, as if that weren’t exciting enough news, wait until you hear this: her views have changed! And President Putin is responsible for changing them because he is such a bigot. That will shame him!

Indeed, it’s not just her views that the Russian president is supposed to be worried about but mine as well. “Putin,” she writes, “is forcing us all to choose between him and his victims.” What? Do I, too, have to keep company with evil Vlad if I go on believing as I believe? If so, Ms Odone has neglected to tell me why. Why am I to suppose that the leader of all the Russias cares what either she or I “choose” — or, for that matter, why anyone else outside our immediate circle of acquaintance does?

I think the extraordinary idea that her opinions matter so much that the fate of Russia’s gays depends on them is not just a product of writer’s vanity, to which all opinion journalists must be at least somewhat prone, but rather of the celebrity culture which encourages us all in the fantasy that we live in a version of the primitive, face-to-face world where the king and his vassals all sleep in the same mead hall and, thus, where we can imagine ourselves the familiar companions of those we have never met and are never likely to meet. I wrote in this space some years ago about a friend who once attempted to persuade me to sign a petition addressed to the Taliban of Afghanistan, protesting about their treatment of women. What a bizarre idea! Why on earth should he suppose that a bunch of Muslim fanatics on the other side of the world who had never heard of either of us would care what we thought about their treatment of women?

But of course he didn’t think they would care what we thought, or even what millions of other infidels thought. He could not have supposed that, presented with our documentary protest the bearded mullahs would suddenly decide that it was time to start treating women as the equals of men. The point of the petition was not to make the Taliban feel differently but to make himself and his fellow signatories feel differently — about themselves. It was the only way they could live at peace with their own image in the eyes, as they imagined, of an attentive world. To their way of thinking, in other words, celebrity world is a sort of primitive honor culture demanding such professions of loyalty to the dominant honor group as an affirmation of their fitness to associate with them — even if one’s only association with them is via the media, or on Facebook.

Ms Odone’s conversion is not really anything to do with Mr Putin or his views of homosexuality. In the same day’s Independent there was a piece by Grace Dent announcing that, as a result of the third-place performance of the British snowboarder Jenny Jones she had decided that a non-existent British boycott of the games would not have been desirable after all — because

when Jones and women like her take the world’s stage dressed in clothes so padded that no outline of their figures or elements of their flesh can be seen, they fly in the face of everything we know to be crucial about women in the pubic [sic] eye. They are sexless, risk-loving and, crucially, fully-clothed. These are fearless, wantonly prize-driven, stubbornly danger-loving women who have often eschewed marriage and maternal instincts for a greater purpose that really only they understand.

Feminist propaganda — now in favor of covering up, Taliban style, but against the inferior purposes of marriage and maternal instincts — apparently trumps even protest at the oppression of gays. But of course Ms Dent makes exactly the same assumption made by Ms Odone: that the whole world must be interested in accommodating their views of our traditional sexual culture and institutions. Since actually to believe this would be delusional, we must suppose that these women really only want to stake their redundant claims of loyalty to the politically correct elite.

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