An essay found on a chair in a cafe in New York, waiting, as the man was, to see if he would see Patti Smith come in to have coffee and brown bread as she describes in her latest memoir that he bought in hardcover recently to read. He has followed her for many years, her music, her poetry, her more recent endeavors in prose memoir, the latest and the previous Just Kids.
The issue of Gay Marriage is not simply a social issue; it is not merely a legal one, nor is it a complex of both. Gay Marriage is a Human Rights issue and therefore is a philosophical issue. So, what about the issue of Gay Marriage? What do we say? What can be said? I have reservations about calling Gay Marriage an issue–there is less that is debatable about it than either side of this issue has been packaged as such by the media mostly, by our own thinking too, as it takes place in the milieu of received ideas. Nonetheless, Gay Marriage does stand at the forefront of what we say about ourselves with relation to a person and his or her personhood.
And he says to himself, “if we are to take cues from Muslim societies, I might be imprisoned for kissing my father as I do, as Italians always do, for it is a crime for unnatural kissing of the same sex under Sharia Law, and nobody wants to know what the law says and does in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mauritania, the United Arab Emirates, or any other incredibly fucked up place that no American could possibly want to tolerate, and would be seriously mistaken if he did under the pretext of religious freedom or cultural difference,” a conversation he has in his head with the author of this text he imagines meeting and discussing the issue the words as written on the page, of course, in his head, the author of this text is disposed to listening to him, and even agrees with what he says, as fantastical as that would seem to anyone who was looking to create a dialogue that had seriously drawn wants for each character, and did not pander to the moods or fantasies of the creator.
“Sharia Law,” he again says in his head to this imagined person who is the author of the text he has in his hands, “has no place anywhere in the United States, but you know that most of the Muslims you see walking in your neighborhood would be right behind the fanatical fundamentalists in America who are anti-gay and anti-abortion and have no problem with women being against a woman’s right to self determination,” if the crazy fundamentalists in America were not so anti-immigrant or anti-arab or anti-Muslim. You can, I know he thinks, be opposed to Sharia Law and not be against the presence of Muslims. We must be clear where we stand with respect to and for our rights, what our defense of human rights is going to be and how it is going to be spoken, said, written. I know he thinks, “Welcome,” but also imagines having to say that “Sharia Law has no place in the United States.” We should have no more tolerance or patience for Muslim fundamentalists, I say as he would too, than we do for American fundamentalist christians, I write with a small ‘c.’ It only deserves a small ‘c.’
Our socio-political philosophy is fixed, adequately or not, on a philosophy of individualism or individuality–of course, right concurrent with this is a repeated, if not repetitive, attack on our freedom. In near Orwellian rhetoric, we could say that conformity is individuality. Now, the issue of Gay Marriage brings to bear in our discussions or debates whether or not a political philosophy of individualism is viable, or if our way of defining it or explaining it has very much to say on the issue of basic human rights; and any discussion of Gay Marriage will have to address basic human rights and how these rights are unalienable and universal, and how laws made to oppose them do not void these fundamental human rights. These discussions will also be part of a grander metaphysical discussion concerning the universality of human rights, something we better readjust ourselves for articulating because what Gay Marriage addresses foremost is the basic human right of choice.
“As if any of my students, the Muslim women in my classes, have any real idea what human rights for women are?” He asks rhetorically. He once more imagines the writer of the text smiling and nodding his head–why he assumes that the writer is he, he does not question.
They might have a stronger idea than any of us might imagine; there might be changes afoot among Muslims we have no idea about because we cannot see through our endemic prejudices, another man says in discussion with him in the cafe.
Without dexterity in the metaphysical explication of rights, all political philosophy, even empirically based, but most specifically the epistemology of human rights, will disintegrate like ashes in our mouths. (There is a philosophy of knowledge, at least I take this truth to be self-evident; and any philosophy of knowing demands that all inquiry in social ethics examine the limits of what is knowable about human rights. Gay Marriage, though, is not solely an ethical question. Human rights cannot be restricted to political philosophy alone, either. They must be discussed and defined metaphysically so they can keep their valence in all conceptions of a universal and transcendent humanity irrespective of society, and I know how that sounds in a world drunk on post-post Structuralist determinisms. So that any philosophy of human rights can continue to maintain social and political relevance for us now and in the future with respect for human rights and civil rights, we must articulate appropriately within whichever current the issue of Gay Marriage is observed.
He orders another coffee. There is no sign of Patti Smith. He is in her cafe–or should I say, caffe, as they do in Italian. There is no sign of the author of this text, and he uses the word author and not writer–“published or not, she or he is the author.”
Do we really want to understand them? And I mean all of us, any one of us, left or right, moderate, whatever we have do linearize the political spectrum and truncate it even more than it would be in any spectrum. I’m not so certain that anyone wants to understand anyone, really.
It is imperative we take up the issue with intelligence and an appropriate seriousness for it does have a lot to say about who we are as persons, and what we are as a culture and a civilization. It is centered on just what we need to say about human rights, and just what humanity is and being humane entails. This is no mean task.
His coffee comes. He sips his coffee. He takes the last bit of croissant he saved for this other cup of coffee, dark roast, black, no sugar.he uses jam on his croissant. He thinks of an essay he intends to write on the issue of gay marriage. How he will start, particularly from where the author of the text he found had begun and made the crux of his argument,one from which hen himself has begun, and that is human rights. gay marriage is a human rights issue as is a woman’s right to choose, as we like to say. Sole sovereignty over body, no?
He finishes his coffee. He packs up his bag with the text of the essay he found. He goes to the bathroom, never leaves a restaurant or a cafe without going first to the bathroom to pee, even if he does not feel it necessary for him to do so.
He thinks about where he wants to have lunch where he intends to write a response to this essay he found and read in a cafe he was sitting in having coffee waiting to see if Patti Smith would arrive to have coffee and bread with olive oil in a plate as he also does with bread and olive oil only sometimes in the morning, but often in Italian Restaurants he has gone to in New York.