Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Going with the flow

Ad hoc survey shows little thought behind permissive beliefs

Issue: "Tiananmen massacre," June 6, 2009

If you're as dismayed as I am by the growing tendency of the American people to give their assent to aberrations like homosexual marriage, get ready for even bigger surprises-and disappointments. And as you process all that, remember this: The issue isn't so much what people believe and don't believe. The big issue is where they ground those beliefs.

I headed this morning back to the front door area of the local Wal-Mart to do a little "shoe-leather reporting." I'd spent the weekend in Washington, D.C., and heard the beltway spin on a dozen topics. I'd read the latest surprises from the Gallup poll, suggesting that the American people are more pro-life than they've been in years. Now I wanted to talk to a few of these Americans face-to-face. Where better to do that than at the blue-collar crossroads of the nation?

So I set out to ask 50 Wal-Mart shoppers two simple questions: Do you favor or oppose having the state of North Carolina give married status to homosexual partners? What is the basis for your position? And, to "upscale" my survey a bit, I added half an hour each in front of Best Buy and Office Depot.

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Now let me admit a little deviousness in my process-a little method in my madness. I have worked professionally enough with the science of sampling to know that there is absolutely no significance to my survey. Even if all 50 respondents fell in one direction or the other, I wouldn't really have much to report to you other than a human-interest anecdote. It wouldn't tell you anything at all definitive about American society today, about North Carolinians in general, or Monday morning shoppers in particular.

What I really wanted was frankly something of a setup. I hoped I might identify at least a dozen people who said, in one sense or another, that they favored extending marriage rights to homosexuals-just so that I could then ask them the second question, and then, most pointedly, a third.

So here's what actually happened. Out of the 50 people who answered my first query, 31 said they want the state of North Carolina to hold to traditional laws and restrict marriage to heterosexuals. They based that preference on everything from tradition to pragmatism to God-given standards.

Five folks said, in varying terms, that they didn't feel qualified to answer. "Who am I to say?" they pled helplessly.

The other 14 were pretty forthright in lending their support to a change in state law that would give the privileges of marriage to homosexuals. That figure didn't at all surprise me-and I stress again its statistical meaninglessness.

What did get my attention was the emptiness of these people's reasoning. None of them, thank goodness, pointed to "tradition." A few were pretty pragmatic, saying that society sooner or later has to settle for "what works." And a handful appealed, you might say, to "God-given standards"-arguing that if God made "those people that way," who are we to argue with what He does?

To all 14, though-in keeping with my overall strategy-I addressed my third simple question. "Why," I asked, "based on your justification of homosexual marriage, should North Carolina not also endorse polygamy-or even the marriage of a man and his very lovable dog?"

It's at that level of their answers, I suggest, that we might all begin to prepare for the thunderous collapse of our culture and society. In the first place, it's clear that not a single one of the 14 had ever once pondered such a matter. But much worse, they didn't care, and nothing I could say even fascinated them with the argument. "So," said the most thoughtful of the bunch, "maybe so." "Why don't you just go to hell?" snarled the one I probably wouldn't classify as the most friendly. (Nor, I should add, was that respondent in the "blue collar" subset of my sample.)

Back to the numbers, which I said are virtually insignificant. I stand by that judgment-except to note that there's no way 14 out of 50 Americans even 15 years ago would have said that homosexual marriage was an OK thing with them. Now they offer their empty approval, not because they've thought it through and come to a reasoned conclusion, but more because such pondering is just too strenuous for them. The direction of our vapid thoughtlessness is clear; only the speed of its takeover seems now in question.
If you have a question or comment for Joel Belz, send it to jbelz@worldmag.com.
To hear commentaries by Joel Belz, click here.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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