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The Salient's True End

By Kenyon S. Weaver, KENYON S.M. WEAVER

The weekend before last was a spectacle of discussion. Here at Harvard, everybody’s favorite conservative rag, The Salient, arrived in dining halls and distribution centers. I expected the issue, entitled “Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Towards a dispassionate look at homosexuality,” to light up the open e-mail lists.

But more than ever, The Salient has become so reactionary that its views no longer raise a campus eyebrow. Nobody cares to discuss The Salient’s long, meandering article defending anti-homosexual bias. Its author, Gladden J. Pappin ’04, wrote a letter to The Crimson last semester in which he declared that Harvard should crack down on homosexuality as it had in the 1920 secret court uncovered by a Fifteen Minutes scrutiny. Now, many months later, he has written to “correct several misunderstandings.”

Pappin explains that, in the vein of “Aristotelian-Thomistic” thought, any human action which fails “to fulfill a given end is immoral.” When it comes to our bodies, that end must be the creation of a new human being. Since homosexuality cannot do this, Pappin concludes it is therefore immoral and perverted.

Of course, Pappin’s argument is little more than an attempt to deflect blame from his own views. Are we seriously to believe that Pappin was pretty neutral about this whole homosexual vs. heterosexual thing until he took a few Moral Reasoning classes or sat through a few lectures in an introductory class to philosophy? It would take a lot to convince me that his words are anything but long-held personal views cushioned with what he has picked up from Harvard so far.

But a philosophical argument can be about as convincing as spam mail these days. With the breadth of philosophers, political scientists and sociologists many of us study here at Harvard—and with the ability to interpret their words in any of a million directions (thanks, Derrida)—it is no more a surprise that Pappin can offer a “philosophical” foundation for discrimination than that some religious leaders can offer a theological foundation, or that the Supreme Court can offer a legal foundation. If Pappin had failed to be inspired by the theory of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, he would have merely found another dead social theorist to blue ribbon for him in his battle with homosexuality.

And were somebody to sink to the challenge of Pappin’s philosophical argument, just a question or two could raze his entire theoretical edifice. First, what happened to human happiness? Pappin argues that the only end of all human intimacy is a new human being. He’s wrong. A human being’s right to find happiness in this world is a sacred one, enshrined in our own Declaration of Independence.

This leads to the second question: When did Pappin get to decide what end the human body must have—or, for that matter, what the end is of anything other than his own life? Imagine for a moment the kind of Orwellian nightmare we would live in if Pappin’s utopia were ever to take shape: a world where all individual human actions had to fulfill some pre-determined “end” prescribed by editors of The Salient.

Pappin’s article is also an example of what I call The Paradox of The Salient. Every piece in The Salient is written as though it alone clarified an issue previously obscured by all other debate. And yet the vast majority of articles are about as lucid as postmodern social theory written in old German. Moreover, it often seems you can tell which Moral Reasoning classes a Salient editor has taken—and which he or she has missed—by the author’s choice of philosophers.

What is most worrisome is that Pappin and his peers propose to give the blind ignorance of homophobia an intellectual foundation. I doubt that the vast number of Americans who fear or hate homosexuality can easily glide into a discussion of classical European thought to support their beliefs. Most of them, I would venture to say, are homophobic because they are products of their environment. They likely grew up in a culture where it was an accepted fact for homosexuals to be discriminated against. Perhaps they were told that the God they worship believed homosexuality was sinful. For these Americans, homophobia just became another habit, another knee-jerk reaction.

At Harvard, Pappin’s views and The Salient as a whole have so clearly fallen almost entirely outside the circle of reasonable dialogue that it is simply not worth the time or energy to argue. In short, nobody cares.

The same is not so true of the rest of the world. The millions of citizens who still view some of their neighbors with fear and anger have been given yet another platform to ground their baseless suspicions. And it comes from a Harvard student who will likely graduate with honors and offer to the world this intellectual foundation for discriminating against gays and lesbians.

Perhaps this is being too much a worrywort. Pappin is hardly the first—nor will he be the last—to stitch together academic knowledge and an ideology of discrimination. But I fear that when we leave Harvard, we will not have the privilege of living in a community which so naturally rejects homophobia. Out there, it will take a gathering of all of our intellectual resources to wage war against hateful discrimination and to reshape our society into one of genuine equality.

Kenyon S.M. Weaver ’03, a social studies concentrator in Pforzheimer House, was publisher of Fifteen Minutes in 2002.

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