Why do I read things that wind me up late at night? First, some Milo Yiannopoulos and then the new Roger Scruton interview in Spiked. The whole thing can be read here. God, he gets up my nose.
Here he is on homosexuality:
‘What I say in my book Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation (1986), I still think. But it’s much more dangerous to say it now. My view then was that first of all – oh why not say it, you know, I’m old now – homosexuality is not one thing. Lesbianism is usually an attempt by a woman to find that committed love that she can’t get from men any more. Because men exploit women and move on. So it’s very often a reaction to that sort of disappointment. Whereas male homosexuality, because it’s not constrained by a woman’s need to fix a man down, is hugely promiscuous – the statistics are quite horrifying. And there’s also the obsession with the sexual organs rather than the relationship, this vector towards phallicism, the obsession with the young, all kinds of things like that, which mean that, as I see it, homosexual desire, especially between men, is not the same kind of thing as heterosexual desire, even though it’s not a perversion.
‘This doesn’t mean you’re condemning people or that they should be discriminated against. But nor should we old-fashioned, sad heterosexuals, minority interest though we might be, be deprived of those institutions that we have built out of our self-sacrificing forms of love. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to say now between you and me, but it isn’t a perfectly reasonable thing to say or a possible thing to say in public any more.’
Here he is on gay marriage:
‘The arguments in favour of offering something to a previously disprivileged group are all very well and they do have weight. But much more important is the effect of this on the institution of marriage. My view is that here we need some serious anthropology. You have to recognise that rites of passage are not personal possessions, they are possessions of the whole community, they are the ways in which the community defines itself and defines its obligation towards the next generation. So you don’t make these radical, metaphysical alterations to an institution such as marriage without there being long-term consequences. And nobody seemed to want to talk about the long-term consequences. And my marriage means my children as much as my wife, and those children are the product of our union and our whole being on this earth is vindicated in them. That, of course, can’t be reproduced now in quite the same way.’
These days, the wraithlike Scruton is much more mealy-mouthed, disingenuous and timid in his anti-gay screeds than he used to be, but it’s all there, starting with his statement that lesbianism isn’t real; it’s the last resort of the woman so pathetic she can’t jolly well get it together and keep her man. Lesbianism is to be a failed woman. Then, forgetting to mention that when he was 27, his wife-to-be was a one-year-old, with staggering hypocrisy he declares that gay men are obsessed with the young (yes, he’s still doing the ‘homosexuality = paedophilia’ routine, and anyway, that’s news to me, having only ever had boyfriends my own age). We’re obsessed with the genitals rather than the person (if he thinks this is a gay trait, someone should tell him about Page 3, Penthouse, Parade if it still exists, Spearmint Rhino and the hardcore heterosexual porn industry – it ain’t gay men who came up with the idea of reducing a person to his or her sex organs), and our very alliances diminish the sanctity of his marriage, affecting even his children’s welfare (yes, really).
So the statistics regarding our promiscuity horrify him. But why should they horrify him? What is so wrong with him that the he feels violated by the promiscuity of a gay man he’s never met? Why is he not inclined to look inward and ask himself this question, instead of laying all the blame for his horror on the promiscuous gay man? And why on earth does he think that gay men should curb their appetites in order to protect him from unpleasant feelings like horror? (And come on – horror? This is pure drama queen hyperbole). Why do gay men’s sex lives concern and interest him so much that he feels compelled to go into print about them, again and again and again, using absuredly garish words like ‘horrifying’? And why doesn’t heterosexual promiscuity horrify him? He doesn’t even mention it. And that points to something. It points to the fact that he glosses over or ignores information, ideas and statistics that don’t support his viewpoint – they’re simply not there. They don’t exist.
When discussing gay men, a pursuit which seems to obsess him, he almost always manages carefully to sneak in the idea of a connection between homosexuality and paedophilia. When he speaks of the gay man’s supposed infatuation with the ‘young’, you and I know what he’s trying to come out and say. But any evidence suggesting that this trait, this worshiping at the fount of youth, is shared by heterosexuals – evidence such as his own marriage to a barely post-adolescent child-bride 28 years his junior, the legions of married men who trade in for a younger model or the inexhaustible abundance of ‘woman dressed as schoolgirl’ porn – is ignored.
Perhaps the nastiest volley he lobs at gay men (or ‘gays’ as he would have it) is that their love is not self-sacrificing, presumably because it doesn’t produce children. Let’s leave aside for now the gay couples who’ve either adopted or conceived children with the help of friends (I dread to think what mean-spirited things he might have to say about that). Doesn’t he have any memory of the AIDS crisis, the time when gay men died in the arms of their fellows in droves while quite a lot of our straight brothers and sisters turned cold backs on us, pausing only to mention that our deaths were richly-deserved, divine punishments for our moral failings (a stance it is hard to imagine Mr. Scruton being at odds with)? When I, with the help of two friends, nursed my boyfriend through the final stages, was I not putting someone else before myself, even though, like most people who’ve gone through the experience, I will always look back and curse myself for the clumsiness of the care I provided? Some, but by no means all, heterosexual parents slip into a belief that parenthood is the only meaningful or significant self-sacrifice, when in fact it can sometimes be one of the most irresponsible, flash, glib, and narcissistic ones, prompted by the vain desire to see one’s own genes running around in another human. And it can be argued that there is more dignity, less ostentation, and more selflessness in one man or woman providing palliative care for another one, to whom he or she is not obligated by a blood connection, than there is in a couple brashly foisting a bevy of unremarkable sprogs on an overpopulated world.
The glib convenience of Scruton’s arguments irritates me. It’s all so transparently self-serving. Having become a parent late in life, he decides that parenthood is a virtue in and of itself. Parenthood is not a virtue. Only good parenthood is that. And talking of virtues, Scruton never tires of pointing to his own in a way that the genuinely virtuous never do. He gets married, he then says that marriage is virtuous. He has children, he then says that parenthood is virtuous. He takes up hunting, but his way of hunting has, conveniently, nothing to do with anything as gauche as social climbing but everything to do with a virtuous and wholesome love of the land and horses. Anything he does automatically becomes a virtue. How convenient.
I don’t know what to make of the strange, pasteurised fantasyland that he’s painted around his life, refashioning himself as a country squire in Wiltshire while decrying snobbery and professing concern for working class people. I’ve always felt rather chilled by people whose artifice is so pathological that they invent themselves instead of being. Interviews with Scruton seem to be sprinkled with self-conscious class markers, whether it’s talk of riding to hounds or letting slip that his children go to boarding school. The Spiked interview ends with some bizarre product placement for his wife’s aspirational, artisanal cheeses.
There are so many other ways in which I find Scruton’s ideas unpalatable. (He presents himself as a staunch defender of free speech, but on free expression, he’s another kettle of fish, believing that women should be modest, unthreatening to men, with genteel, diminished sexual appetites – figuratively veiled, rather than literally.) For now, though, enough.