Civilization's Real Shame Is Arrogant Intolerance


"Is nothing shameful, nothing harmful" anymore? This is the question Christopher Brown poses in his metapsychological defense of Professor Mansfield's recent indictment of homosexuality. It is an interesting question, indeed a profound one, both for conservatives and liberals alike. Are we, as a society, no longer capable of shame? Brown would have us believe that shame ought to be reserved for matters of sex. It is in this notion that he squanders the value of his liberal education.

Shame, Christopher, is the feeling one has when one treats another with disgrace and disrespect. Shame is the human experience of realizing that one has acted inhumanely. Shame is the sense of embarrassment and regret that overwhelms each of us when we appreciate how callous we have been, how intolerant or fearful. Shame is what we feel when we are young and mean to one younger, poor and indifferent to one poorer, willing to act superior toward those more rejected than ourselves.

Shame, Christopher, is the emotion Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield '53 should feel when--despite the opportunities this world has given him and the honors this university has bestowed upon him--he would place himself above others in the eyes of God. The question is not, should civil rights be extended to gays, lesbians or any sexual minority (which is perhaps an issue of valid political and legal debate). The question is how Mansfield could dare to presume to cast judgment upon an entire group of people--a group of people who have nothing more in common than their desire to love one another. You discuss narcissism in your essay. I can think of nothing more narcissistic than to assert that one's own identity is by definition better than that of another's. I can think of nothing more shameful.

Is it similarly shameful for an undergraduate to rush to a professor's defense with a contradictory blend of Christian moralism and confused Freudian psychology? No. It is pathetic.

If I haven't forgotten, conservatives regard ancient Greece as the origin of Western civilization. If you haven't forgotten, ancient Greece glorified homosexual love. The closest civilization has ever come to destroying itself was in this century when a nation more concerned about 'the common good' than the rights of individuals, imprisoned and murdered as many homosexuals as it could. And did it without shame.


Civilization, Christopher, has survived thousands of years of individuals falling in love with other individuals of their own sex, engaging in sexual practices denounced by law, even accepting the label homosexual and defining a lifestyle around it. But if you think that you know what civilization and homosexuality are really about and feel the need to preach your knowledge to the world, civilization will probably survive that too. The result will be a civilization that ought to feel a little bit more shame, that--after years of struggle to gain the right ti question and learn--a boy so self-righteous and arrogant could think himself worthy of being call a 'true' man. David A. Smith