Friday, 30 January 2009

Of course, discrimination is wrong, but...

It would be virtually impossible to write a blog about the lunatic fringe that occasionally inhabits mainstream media without at some point being curiously compelled to look at the increasingly bizarre mind of Melanie Phillips ('Mad Mel' to those of you less charitable than I). There's no hope of understanding it, of course, but there's a strange, almost uplifting appeal to reading her column's unique brand of doom-mongering, in the same way that staring into a gaping, fiery abyss from which can be heard nought but the anguished screams of souls in eternal torment might provide you with you some perspective when you return to, y'know, reality.

A quick overview of the story which has excited the right-wing press like no other this week; that of the adoption of two children by a gay couple. The story is complicated, by in short; kids' mum is a heroin addict, it's decided that their grandparents (one of whom has angina, the other diabetes) are not the best option and that an adoption by a family should be sought. Kids are fostered out first, adoption time comes round, the grandparents agree, but then social services choose a gay couple to be the adoptive parents. Grandparents, miffed, complain to papers, saying they're not homophobic but kids should have a mother and father figure, papers do the rest.

Now, that's a pretty glib assessment of the situation, but then it would be. Due to the sensitivity of these cases, we are privy to very little information about the kids, the adoptive parents, and the lengthy and complex process through which decisions are arrived at. These situations are always regrettable, always difficult, and as such aren't really suitable to kneejerk opinions about the rights and wrongs of the decision, which we are all grossly under-informed about. Perhaps restraint, tact and perhaps an admission that this was no doubt a complex decision are called for, troublesome as that might seem. Luckily, there are some maverick journalists out there who remain unscratched by the claws of nuance, and aren't afraid to stand up and tell it like it probably isn't: all rise for Melanie Phillips and her piece To place children with two gay men when an adoptive mother and father are available, just to uphold a brutal dogma, is a sickening assault on family life. Let's just take a moment to breathe in the sweet, fresh air of moral clarity.

When homosexuality was legalised back in 1967 did anyone dream that some four decades on a British grandmother and grandfather wanting to adopt their own grandchildren would be refused permission and the children adopted instead by two gay men?

Now, some of you might not see the two issues as connected. On the one hand you've got the adoption process, which is about trying to ensure that kids orphaned or harmed by unsuitable parents get rehomed in a new environment, and on the other you've got the right of of gay people to get a level of treatment roughly equivalent to their hetero counterparts. It takes a certain skill to be able to not only conflate these into a single issue, but to realise that, in fact, it's part of an even more massive meta-issue about shitting on all that's good and proper:

...what started out as a decent attempt to be tolerant towards a minority lifestyle has turned into a totalitarian assault upon family life and human rights.

Crikey, Mel! Is that perhaps a bit much? Back to the case, lest you ponder for too long over whether that actually makes any sense!

Reluctantly, therefore, they agreed to the children being adopted by another couple, on the basis they would be brought up by a loving mother and father figure. But although several heterosexual couples were available to adopt them, the children were handed over instead to two gay men.

Phillips, like me, knows nothing of either the gay couple or the heterosexual couples involved in this case, and yet she seems certain that she knows what would have been right. Slowly it becomes apparent that the confusing argument goes like this: tearing kids away from their grandparents to adopt them out to new parents is wrong and symbolic of an authoritarian dictatorship where the state's powers have run wild and unchecked, BUT if they get put with a nice straight couple it's probably basically fine and we'll let the whole freedom-crushing Stalinist shit slide. Indeed, the grandparents seemed to agree that adoption was alright until it turned out the new parents would be gay men.

The prevailing argument that all types of family are as good as each other as far as the children are concerned simply isn’t true. While some children emerge relatively unscathed from irregular households, children need to be brought up by the two people ‘who made me’ - or, in adoptive households, in a family which closely replicates that arrangement.

So, wait, some children from 'irregular households' turn out fine? And yet, they need to be brought up by their actual biological parents? But if not that, then their grandparents? Or if not that, then someone else? This is an incredibly long-winded way of saying 'look, kids are alright with anyone but the gays'. Now get ready for a staggeringly inappropriate use of the words 'Quite obviously':

But where an adoptive mother and father are available, to place children instead with two gay men is beyond perverse. Quite obviously, the interests of these children have been subordinated to politically correct considerations.

Is it? Is it that obvious? Is it not possible that they were the most suitable candidates?

The powers invested in social workers to interfere in family life are extensive and draconian, and are granted only because of the acknowledged need to safeguard the interests of children against abusive family situations.

But in this case, it is Edinburgh social services department that has grossly abused its position of trust by intentionally placing these most vulnerable children in a position of disadvantage and maybe even harm for nothing other than ideological reasons.

Now, that's quite an accusation. I would say that perhaps, in order to assert that, you would need to know a lot about all the prospective adoptive candidates. We know nothing of the gay couple. We know nothing of the heterosexual couples that applied to adopt the same child. We know a couple of things about the grandparents; they're in poor health and there's therefore a reasonable chance that one or both of them will die at a crucial stage in the kids' upbringing, and we also know that they already looked after at least one child who grew up to be a heroin addict who was unfit to look after her own kids. The unsuitability of their biological mother may, I would think, count against the grandparents. Not in a 'cuh, look how the last kid they looked after turned out!' way necessarily, but it could be a factor in that it would presumably increase the biological mother's chances of getting back into their lives when it's agreed that that is not desirable. I don't know, of course, I merely speculate. But Phillips is almost frighteningly sure about her conclusions. The climax of the column spirals upward into a frenzy of righteousness:

...where ‘gay rights’ are concerned the old joke that what was once forbidden becomes in due course mandatory has now come all too true in post-morality Britain.

Post-morality Britain. Did you read that? Social services have gone through a lengthy procedure of vetting and arrived at a conclusion based on piles of information we don't have. What conclusion are we to draw from this? That maybe we should consider there might be some serious mitigating circumstances? Or that morality in Britain is clearly dead? Pfft, only that? What are you, some kind of pussy? Fuck that, let's crank this shit up a notch!

The underlying agenda behind gay adoption, as it is behind the whole gay rights movement, is nothing to do with protecting the rights of gay people. Were it really so, there would be no objection. No-one should be discriminated against simply on the grounds of his or her sexuality.

That does not mean, however, that gay lifestyles must be regarded as of equal value to heterosexual households when it comes to the raising of children. To say that anyone who makes such a distinction is prejudiced is to turn reality on its head.

But that is indeed the whole point of the gay rights movement - to destroy the very notion of heterosexual norms of sexual behaviour and the definition of the family so that gay lifestyles can present themselves as ‘normal’.

That's right, you did just read that. Putting aside the staggering bombast of the statement that the gay rights 'agenda' is to destroy both heterosexuality and the family, you did indeed just witness Melanie Phillips twist gracefully in the air through the mental hoops that allowed her to have these pairs of thoughts in her head at the same time:

1) "No-one should be discriminated against simply on the grounds of his or her sexuality"
2) "That does not mean, however, that gay lifestyles must be regarded as of equal value to heterosexual households when it comes to the raising of children" [I particularly like the clever use of gay 'lifestyles' versus heterosexual 'households', it's a subtle bit of dog-whistling, but neat I think]

(As an aside, I know what she thinks she trying to say; she's not biased against them cos they're gay, but cos they're two men, and kids need a woman and a man to grow up right. I just doubt her commitment to this premise would extend to its logical conclusion of insisting that widows and widowers give up their kids and pass them to couples so they can get raised proper. Although if she did say that I would be impressed!)

1) opposing gay adoption is not an example of prejudice
2) it is possible to pre-judge that any gay couple is by default better than any straight couple at raising children.

Because, of course, how can it be prejudice when it's a fact that gay adoption is bad for kids, right? A fact, admittedly, that she doesn't go on to justify with any evidence, merely dismissing all the current studies into gay adoption (as mentioned here) are 'methodologically too unsound to be authoritative'. But a fact, probably, nonetheless.

Phillips always seems to have that same slightly psychotic urge to push her rhetoric over the edge that Pete 'Peter' Hitchens has. Instead of focusing on whether this case is justified, she tends to get bored. For her, the idea that this might be an informed decision that some trained individuals have made is perhaps too mundane, and she just can't resist the temptation to make her anger widescreen. I've never quite understood it. You start a column like this to despair at a decision you see as unjust, baffling to reasonable folk. You go to the trouble of painting yourself as a kind of moral arbiter, someone with common sense who knows ludicrous when she sees it. And yet at some point you take your nuance and your analysis, screw it up, throw it in a bin, burn it, set your phaser to 'HYPERBOLE', and by the end of the article you find yourself describing it as "a world turned on its head", "an onslaught upon human rights", and "a brutal totalitarian dogma, which anyone with an ounce of real liberal principle should denounce for the attack on justice, humanity and common-sense that it undoubtedly is".

The liberal principle, there, of telling gays that they can't adopt because, well, it just ain't right.

I'm left with the impression that, as her articles near completion, on Phillips' version of Word that little paperclip pops up and says "Oops! It looks like you've forgotten to tie your account of this seemingly isolated and unrepresentative incident into your much-loved paranoid meta-narrative about how stuff you don't agree with is almost certainly part of a plot to destroy everything you (and people exactly like you) hold dear. Would you like to add a few completely unsubstantiated and quite frankly preposterous assertions about how this is all evidence of the evil motives everyone else apparently has for inexplicably fucking up uncontroversial things like the traditional family?". And, with that, Phillips goes off to a special document full of stock "Oh no! Liberal tyranny!" quotes that her fellow columnists all have access to, ready to insert them randomly into her conclusion in order to cater to that part of her readership that's jaded enough to have become bored by any stories that fail to describe the almost total destruction of civilised society as we know it.


  1. Dear Mr Brooklands,

    The darling Mel takes the view, from both a moral and commonsense standpoint, that homosexual adoption is wrong. She is entitled to her view, and it is one that the majority of people would share. To argue this is an exhibition of bias against homosexuals is to say pacifists are biased against guns.

    Nor is it inconsistent for Mel to be both opposed to discrimination against homosexuals, and opposed to adoption by homosexuals. I am in favour of freedom of speech, but that does not mean I would support allowing everybody to wander down the High Street swearing at the top of their voice.

    By the sound of it that child has been through about enough. He deserves better than the future social services have arranged. Normality would be a start.

    Your statist faith in the competence and common sense of social services is touching, but on all the available evidence, thoroughly undeserved.

    Your sneering, supercilious post, well written I grant you, appears to adopt a position of opposition to Mel's views firstly on the basis of her political ideology, and secondly because bleeding heart liberals like you adopt such positions as these rather in the way a boy scout collects merit badges; as a way of attempting to demonstrate your own self-professed intellectual superiority.

    In my humble opinion, you're full of shit.

  2. "as a way of attempting to demonstrate your own self-professed intellectual superiority."

    Whereas you take your view, I imagine, as a way of demonstrating your own Plain Speaking Voice Of Common-Sense Silent Majority No PC Claptrap About Me Mate Personna. But you have not in anyway argued against the substance of Broklands blog, other than to throw out a load of ad hominem abuse.

  3. Hi Mr/Ms ex-apprentice. I'm not trying to claim that Phillips is entirely prejudiced against homosexuals, but the fact is that she does indeed advocate discriminating against homosexuals in this particular context. I don't suggest that she discriminates against gays in all areas, that's not what discrimination is. She's discriminating against the prospective parents on the grounds that they are two gay men rather than a man and a woman, and she's pre-judging their capability to raise a child based on her own ideology rather than the available facts (the hand-waving dismissal of the research done so far is hardly convincing).

    "Your statist faith in the competence and common sense of social services is touching, but on all the available evidence, thoroughly undeserved."

    But there's simply not enough available evidence. That's my point. The great thing about these cases from a media standpoint is that you get one side of the story; that of the aggrieved party. Social services are forbidden from speaking about particular cases and explaining their reasons for arriving at a decision. To disagree with the decision on an informed basis is one thing, but this is Phillips taking an ideological standpoint. Indeed, the actual people involved, since we know so little about them, become almost irrelevant in a story like this. It's merely a jumping-off point for columnists to repeat their old opposition to gay adoption.

    Regarding my 'statist faith', I have no idea whether they made the right or wrong decision. I have qualified everything in this blog with the caveat that there are limits to what I know about this case. Phillips seems to think she knows. If it's statist to say that I'd rather have trained social services workers make a decision about a child's welfare than a newspaper columnist, then I guess you've got me bang to rights there. But at least they had a chance to reach this decision after thorougly vetting the various prospective parents, meeting the children, meeting their grandparents and almost certainly being privy to tons of information to which you, I, and Melanie Phillips are not. To dismiss that decision as wrong based on a mixture of ideology and one-sided anecdotes from the aggrieved grandparents seems absurd to me.

    "Your sneering, supercilious post, well written I grant you, appears to adopt a position of opposition to Mel's views firstly on the basis of her political ideology, and secondly because bleeding heart liberals like you adopt such positions as these rather in the way a boy scout collects merit badges; as a way of attempting to demonstrate your own self-professed intellectual superiority."

    I'm glad you've discerned so much about how I arrive at my views, that's just such a pointlessly snide attack that it massively undermines your desciption of my post as 'sneering'. What attracts me to Mel's columns is the way they can take a small story and extrapolate it into something huge. So this story about an adoption she disagrees with by the end of the column becomes symptomatic of some kind of massive assault on values. I disagree with her simply because her worldview is so black-and-white. She's so sure of her own morality and has so little room for grey areas that she can only arrive at the conclusion that Britain has reached a 'post-morality' state.

  4. Excellent post, and I agree whole-heartedly.

    Melanie Phillips considers homosexual lifestyle to be "of lesser value" to heterosexual, and while she can try to comfort herself otherwise, that is exactly what sexual prejudice and discrimination are.

    I believe every attempt to justify such discrimination should be scrutinised to the maximum. This entry has done a very good job at that.

    Keep it up.

  5. I do like the Word paperclip image. (This is a theme you could perhaps return to - Lord knows what Hitchens's paperclip asks him, for a start.) And the blog title!

  6. "set your phaser to 'HYPERBOLE'"

    Nice one.