Saturday, July 16, 2005

Leiter outs Burton:

I obviously respect Brian Leiter's intelligence, academic accomplishments and prestigious place that he holds in the law & philosophy interdisciplinary field. As an academic myself, I'm clearly not in his league, and doubt I ever will be. That said, I don't too much care for the rhetorical style he uses on his blog and think, in the long run, it will hurt him by making him look like "the bad guy." (Unless he's trying to become the Ann Coulter [Leiter's fellow Michigan law alum] of the left-blogsphere).

Well something interesting has occurred with another alum of Leiter's: Steve Burton, a former friend and fellow student with Leiter in University of Michigan's PhD in philosophy program. Burton blogs at Right Reason, a conservative blog with a socially conservative bent.

You may remember when I linked to a piece by Ed Feser, one of their contributors, where he defended a Thomistic understanding of natural sex. Feser argued that natural sex is "procreative sex." Francis Beckwith, another RR contributor wondered if contracepted sex between married couples could be understood as "natural," to which Max Goss, editor of the site, responded, "no," because, "It would justify sodomy."

Anyway Burton wrote a post attacking Leiter's blogsphere conduct, Burton trying to give Leiter a taste of his own medicine by using an especially harsh and insulting tone. Leiter responded in the comments section by "outing" his former friend. And an interesting dialogue continued from there.

For my comments section: Was Leiter's outing justified?


Anonymous said...

Snap, I thought you had meant outed in the sense of breaking his anonymity, a conclusion that seemed logical given his reason spat with Non-Volokh. Actually outed in the normal, out of the closet sense, is something else entirely. Having just started to read the comments, it seems to me that Leiter is being a particuarly egregious thug. That might change, but I doubt it.

Jason Kuznicki said...

I read the first two paragraphs of the post from Right Reason and discovered nothing but name-calling with not the least bit of substantive argument. Why do you bother with these people?

bls said...

It seems odd that in this day and age, an adult can be "outed" at all. As the saying goes, homosexuality is a very ordinary reality in America today, and it seems strange to me that a Professor would need to stay in the closet in liberal academia.

I think probably the outer was doing that, though, and if anything, it's all just plain creepy - like something out of the 50s or something.

David mazel said...

If Burton needs to hide anything from his academic peers, it's not his homosexuality--it's the ideological misfire in his brain. Consider this statement, excerpted from his comment appended to his Right Reason post of July 10:

"The radical left has never treated gay people like anything but dirt - as soon as they were through using them for their own purposes."

Until reading Burton, I hadn't been aware that all this time it was the radical left urging that gay people be thrown in prison. I had been unaware that all this time, it was the left arguing that gay people should not be permitted to teach in our schools, have legal protection against employment discrimination, and enjoy the legal and emotional benefits of marriage. If only James Dobson had known!

Maybe if I just wait a little longer, the radical left will be through using Barney Frank and Tony Kushner for their own purposes and start treating them like dirt. After all, they've "never" done anything else. It's a historical fact. Look at the way those radical leftists treated Liberace.

Like Jason said, why bother with these people?

bls said...

Well, I hate to mention it, but it's pretty well true that the left hated homosexuals with exactly the same intensity as the right did until pretty recently - like about 10 years ago. Betty Friedan called lesbians in the women's movement "the lavendar menace" - lesbians who had pretty much done all the grunt work. Leftists didn't treat Liberace any better than right-wingers.

The left agreed with all that stuff you mentioned, David, until really about 10 minutes ago. And BTW it's also true that Barry Goldwater - of all people - supported Clinton's proposal to end the ban on gays in the military in 1993 by saying that "You don't need to be 'straight' to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight."

And Rudy Giuliani supports gay rights, and so does Schwarzenegger. So it's definitely not a black-and-white issue.

Personally, I don't trust either one much.

David mazel said...

Actually, bls, the left began getting on board more like the 1970s--a generation or more ago. I'm not sure exactly when gay rights issues started shaping up along left-right lines--but at least since Dan White murdered Harvey Milk. (That was the big wakeup call for me and many others I know.)

You're right, of course, about Clinton and Goldwater, and you're right that it's not a black-and-white issue. But why tell me that, when it is not I but Burton who speaks in categorical terms? Remember the claim at issue:

"The radical left has NEVER treated gay people like anything but dirt - as soon as they were through using them for their own purposes."

Please note the verb tense and the categorical nature of the claim. To remind us of an occasional feminist anomaly like Friedan (whose homophobia btw was roundly criticized within the feminist movement), a calculating politician like Clinton (who cynically caved in to public homophobia to advance his own agenda), or a libertarian/conservative like Goldwater (whose stand for the truth was largely ignored by his own party) is simply irrelevant to an evaluation of Burton's claim.

Joe said...

In reading the Burton/Leiter exchange, I couldn't help but think that it wasn't a simple "outing." It was more personal--the online record of a friendship disintegrating--in which awful things are said, accusations flung, etc.

I'm not sure it's *ever* fair to throw an ex-lovers' hypothetical opinion of someone into a debate (as Leiter did)...regardless of that person's sex. The opinions of one's exes should have no bearing on one's reputation, tainted as they are by too personal a perspective.

PaulNoonan said...

Leiter is and was out of line for the following reasons:

It should be Burton's choice on how much or little his sexual orientation is publicized.

If the post in question mentioned something about the "evils of homosexuality" or something like that, then maybe - and only maybe - it would be relevant. It was not. Burton's enviroment would most likely become hostile towards him if they were previously unaware that he was gay. Therefore, Leiter's response to this post was not any defense or response, or even name-calling, which would have at least been fun.

He instead informed Burton's colleague's of a "negative" trait of Burton's with the hopes of having them turn on him.

This is no different than if Leiter had mentioned a past criminal record, or asserted that Burton had venereal disease.

Leiter can make such claims because many people, myself included, believe there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, however, some people do. Burton has made it his personal choice to blog alongside many of these people. He may agree with them on this point, making himself a hypocrite, or he may join these people in spite of this point because he agrees with them on other issues, but Burton's motives are not the point. Leiter knew that this would hurt Burton, and that is all that mattered to him.

The point is that Leiter, with his typically terrible sense of humor (unless he is dishing it out, of course), responded to a critique of himself by throwing punches.

In a civilized society we do not throw punches because someone calls us names. We especially don't start throwing punches if we have previously engaged in said namecalling, and now our insults are being directed back at us (Burton's post is, almost word for word, a Leiter post with Leiter's name in place of Arnold Kling).

So, Leiter was wrong, but at least he made himself look like an intellectual lightweight and a thug in the process.

Burton was wronged.

I suppose it's worth mentioning that I fundamentally disagree with both participants about nearly all of their views in a general sort of way.

Jonathan said...

Good post Paul and everyone else.

-- He instead informed Burton's colleague's of a "negative" trait of Burton's with the hopes of having them turn on him. --

Leiter made it clear to me in a private email which he doesn't want published that just about everyone else blogging there knew that Burton was gay so the intent was not to inform the anti-gay bloggers at RR of Burton's sexuality.

PaulNoonan said...

In that case I retract that portion of the comments that accused him of outing Burton strictly to decrease his standing amongst his colleagues, and apologize to Professor Leiter for portraying his comments as more negative than they actually were. Indeed, if everyone already knew then there was not nearly so much harm in mentioning it.

That just begs the question: What was the point?

For the record, I made that assumption based on this comment by Steve:

"Sorry, Brian, but I'm not going to let you get away with this. You brought up Scott for one reason and one reason only: because you thought that it would humiliate me to be "outed." I know it. You know it. You know that I know it. Etc. You tried, in the crudest possible way, to fag-bash me, and you failed. End of story.

It's not that I think you're personally "homophobic." Not at all. But, like most people on the extreme left, you're perfectly ready to attempt to exploit the homophobia of others whenever it serves your selfish and/or ideological ends.

It's ugly.

Shame on you. Eternal shame."

PaulNoonan said...

Other than the harm of mentioning past romances, of course.

Anonymous said...

That just begs the question: What was the point?

To inform his readers of his hypocrisy, obviously. Quite frankly, I'm all for outing people who say one thing and then do another. Can't have your cake and eat it too, guys.

bls said...

I'll find some historical poll data for you, David, and post it when I can. There wasn't much difference between left and right when it came to homosexuality. The New York Times was still deep in its homophobia in the mid-eighties.

Perhaps things were different in San Francisco; I wouldn't be surprised.

I take your point about "categorical terms," though.