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September 21, 2023

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A real debate, it was not

I wonder what debate, exactly, Brian Kutzley thinks has been stolen [“A real debate, it is not,” Sept. 11]. My confusion stems from a number of areas. First, Kutzley never defines what he means by “specific value assumptions.” There are a number of assumptions I can make about what he means, most of them unflattering and bordering on hateful. But that is my own perspective, and certainly of little concern to his overall point. However, when I have to guess what his overall point actually is, misunderstandings and assumptions creep into the discussion between yourself, as author, and myself, as reader. Best to be clear at the outset.

I wonder too what Kutzley’s definition of a debate is. As best as I can tell, a debate is nothing more than a structured discussion in which opposing views are argued or put up for consideration. Without a clear understanding of what he means by “specific value assumptions,” it’s hard to pin down, accurately, where his “side” of the debate begins and ends. Again, I’m left to make it up on my own, and my evaluation of his position will no doubt be unacceptable to him, for reasons that I’ll make clear shortly. Put simply, I’m not entirely in agreement with Kutzley that the point of a debate is to leave all “convinced” that one side has won over the other. I think the point is that the audience, and even advocates of the opposing viewpoints, make up their own mind, based on the quality of the argument presented.

I’ve made up my mind. Kutzley’s position is dangerous, ill-informed and largely based on the overwhelming assumption that popular referendums on social issues can be used as an accurate evaluation of specific conditions of the lived experience of individuals and groups. Kutzley makes the point that nationwide support of anti-gay marriage amendments runs counter to the position of the American Cultural Studies program here on campus, stating “the American constituents seem to have accepted the premise that the LGTB community is not, in fact, a repressed minority demographic but instead a collection of individuals pursuing deviant behaviors.”

How can this be construed as anything other than restrictive, inhibiting, marginalizing and stigmatizing? Kutzley’s argument here is an argument in support of the recognition of the fact, and it is a fact, historical and otherwise, that “men and women of alternative sexual orientation” are “an underrepresented and highly victimized demographic.” Then he goes on to equate men and women seeking marriage rights and equal access to drug addicts. Yes, I think I can see what his side of this debate looks like.

I’m a popular culture student, so I’ll make my point this way, by way of an example. Tommy Lee Jones, working to recruit Will Smith in the beginning of the first “Men in Black” movie, comments on the precarious nature of knowledge. “Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago everybody knew the earth was flat” Imagine what you’ll ‘know’ tomorrow.”

People in this country knew that women were too emotional, too mercurial, too stupid or too pure to engage in politics. This was recognized as truth, understood so well that women didn’t get the vote in national elections until 1920. It was widely known in the early 1980s that the only people who got AIDS were gay men. Three years ago it was widely known that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Kutzley’s argument, his accusation, is that because people have voted against gay marriage, it follows that homosexuality is “known” to be a “deviant behavior.” He says that drug addicts are also engaged in equitable deviant behavior. Except, last I checked, drug addicts could still get married. So can child molesters, bank robbers, embezzlers, and even homosexuals – just not to one another. I wonder then if Kutzley’s “specific assumed value” here, buried under all of this, is homophobia, a charge he also levels, by implication, at the nation as a whole.

“Entire departments at our University are based on value assumptions that are controversial and sometimes even contradictory.” Welcome to college. Welcome to having your personal values challenged. And if I could add to Kutzley’s “lots and lots of reading,” let me suggest he consider these terms, in no particular order, to help him understand the debate that seems so far out of reach for him: gender, biological sex, gender roles, hegemony, representation, standpoint, identity, performance, feminism, sexism, misogyny. These are just a few; others will become apparent as he continues forward with his explorations. After all, debate is most effective when both sides understand and agree to a vocabulary.

I agree with Kutzley on this point; “”changes should be delivered by a fully educated public in which the majority acknowledges the validity of the argument for change.” And because I agree, I ask him: What do you mean by “fully educated” public? If the nature of his argument is any indication, we won’t have one of those, if my assumption of his meaning is correct, for quite some time.

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