The Long, Upstream Swim of the Salmon

Pleased as I’ve been recently by all the attention afforded the Boudreaux gun raffle flap, still, I’m galled that everyone has missed the point. Poor Boudreaux has taken it in the shorts of late, and the overwhelming sentiment in print has been that the raffle itself was a shady operation. Maybe–but let’s give him a break. That the raffle may have been illegal is, to my mind, a technicality. People, handguns were awarded as prizes in a campaign fundraiser put on by the man acting as our sheriff–an office which should regard the prevention of violence as a priority at least equal to enforcing the law. I will say it a last time: Peace officers have no business seeing to it that their interpretation of our Second Amendment right is protected–we can tackle that ourselves, thanks very much. And by placing more firearms in the hands of the public, our acting sheriff has adversely impacted public safety. Just you wait and see.

I wasn’t going to write about this again. I told myself I’d exhausted the topic in my previous column and, even though my mind has been blank and it would be the easiest thing to do so, I’ve refused to revisit it. Yet the idea of the missed point has proved unshakeable, and until yesterday I was unsure where it was taking me.

Yesterday, some benighted soul posted the following on the Valley Voice’s online arm: “This website is gay.” This was pejorative, of course, jejune–and perhaps the most show-stopping Philippic the author was capable of delivering. This type of remark smacks of someone either very young or very stupid. Well, stupid is always sad–but if such a comment is reflective of Tulare County youngsters, then it is doubly so. Recent demographics suggest that societal toleration increases proportionally with youth; that is to say–the younger the generation, the more tolerant it is. At least until you come to the Millennials. What my generation is tolerant of, for instance, the Millennials don’t even recognize as an issue. Ah, progress! Have we not advanced here as well?

But now I’m missing the point.

It occurred to me the other day, on my run, that I’m not really for gay rights. Nor am I for gay marriage. I’m not for women’s rights, if I’m honest, or the rights of minorities. I’m not for animal rights or human rights–or the religious and political rights.

I am for equal rights, period.

Now, I understand that–as society evolves–we address these things consecutively. From the freedom of religion, replete with a separation of church and state, we have fought through: slavery; women’s suffrage; civil rights; the ERA–and now we’re embroiled in a battle over same-sex marriage. I realize there are many fights I have omitted, even forgotten–and I apologize for that. My wife says this must be the last frontier. I disagree. We’ll always be in some kind of swordfight–it’s in the nature of the American Experiment–but I’d like to think we’re experienced enough by now to have learned a few things.

Consider the phrase, “On the right side of History.” Everyone understands, on a gut level, that this implies an evolution of acceptance–much in the fashion that the generations have become increasingly more tolerant. We all know in which direction History is moving.

But here’s the thing: We should know now that, by focusing on each new issue as it arises, it instantly becomes the straggler to be savaged. This is how we get wedge issues. It is how the opponents of History hope, every time, to divide and conquer.

It’s how we all miss the point in these fights.

We should be savvy enough, in the 21st century, to appreciate that there remains only one genuine fight: the advancement of History. Sure–it might seem like the long, upstream swim of the salmon, at times, but we’re all of a species and we’re all going to the same place together.

And we’re going there, always, for the next generation.

We’d do best by ourselves, and see our better angels served, by remembering this. No battle is ever about what it seems to be on the surface. History may have temporary opponents, and these may be legion, if shifting–but each fight for the advancement of History is really a fight for the Future. This is why the Ends can never justify the Means. It’s also how the battle against the short-handled hoe, say, was the same as that for integration. The demand for marriage equality is a demand for equality, period. And in a way, even though we’ll keep having them, these contests connect us. After all, we can’t have a Future if we don’t have in common History.


­­— Joseph Oldenbourg

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