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DEPARTMENT: Collateral Damage

From Sigmund Freud to Gay Rage in Two Easy Steps

by Terrell Clemons

One wonders whether there is any terminus now to gay demands or any possibility of sober discussion of the various issues surrounding the gay-rights movement," began an article in National Review. The year was 1986, and New York City had just enacted legislation protecting gays from discrimination. One year later, Larry Kramer formed ACT UP, the Aids Coalition To Unleash Power, which made national news by disrupting mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. "The message we send to the Catholic hierarchy is simple," ACT UP said. "curb your dogmatic crusade against the truth: condoms and safer-sex information save lives."

Two decades later, another generation of gay activists disrupted churches, particularly Mormon ones this time, after Californians passed Proposition 8, defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. "As long as they believe that there's something wrong with us," one protester warned, "it's not going to end!"

This politics of temper tantrums and hissy fits springs in part from a theory Sigmund Freud articulated nearly a century ago. Freud observed people's behavior and said that their one purpose in life was to be happy and that "sexual (genital) love is the prototype of all happiness." In Civilization and Its Discontents, published in 1930, he argued that the primary source of mankind's ­dissatisfaction, ­aggression, hostility, and, ultimately, violence is the conflict between individuals' sexual needs and societal mores. In short, the problem for these protesters is that some people frown on homosexuality.

America's Freudian Permissivist

But though Freud considered himself a scientist, most psychologists viewed his work as unscientific and poorly supported by research. His theories were met with suspicion, and the fact that he was an atheist didn't aid their acceptance in "Christian" America. One exception, though, a young New York pediatrician, effectively smuggled Freudianism into America's childrearing zeitgeist.

Dr. Benjamin Spock was trying desperately to reconcile Freudian concepts with what mothers told him about their babies when he was approached by a publisher looking for a pediatrician knowledgeable about Freud. They found their author, and Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, published in 1946, sold 750,000 copies in the first year, and went on to sell over 50 million copies worldwide.

Much of Spock's advice proved revolutionary in a positive way. He told parents to hug and kiss their children frequently, and to eschew rigid schedules and stern discipline. But the kindly doctor shared Freud's disdain for moralistic disapproval of—well, he just disapproved of moralistic disapproval. An adherent of no religion, and therefore of no objective standard of right and wrong, he counseled against moralistic terms. "It's not mentally healthy for people to be saddled with such a heavy conscience," he wrote. Instead, Spock suggested that parents reason with their children. "If your child has been involved in a fight, you first can sympathize with whatever feelings of outrage he has, then explain how a happy outcome might have been arranged."

But Freud and Spock failed to anticipate one problem. Some people refuse to reason and see no happy outcome apart from getting their way. In fact, according to Freud, there is no acceptable outcome for these gays except for certain non-gays to change their values. Hence the politics of intimidation and aggression, with no terminus to gay demands and no possibility of sober discussion. 

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