Reading a Text of Persecution: William Tucker’s Defense of Bullying

Gil Bailie

Or: How to Create a Major Dust-up at The Cornerstone Forum

Sometimes a social networking conversation can develop into something truly revelatory. The following conversation occurred last week on Gil Bailie’s Facebook page for The Cornerstone Forum. What set it going was Bailie’s posting—and endorsement—of an article by William Tucker in The Spectator. Titled “The Battle of the Sexes (All Four of Them),” it weaves together several themes and issues that have been in the news lately: same-sex marriage, bullying, and, specifically, testimony from former classmates of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney that he bullied and forcibly cut the hair of a somewhat effeminate younger student while a senior at an elite prep school.

The article evoked a strong reaction from visitors to The Cornerstone Forum. Their remarks so irritated Gil Bailie that he eventually deleted the entire thread, including even the few comments offered by his supporters. I had copied everything before he did this, and I reprint it here now. A lot of thought went into the posted comments and I believe they are worth preserving. More important, they—and Gil Bailie’s reaction to them—speak volumes about the ultra-conservative Catholicism that Gil Bailie represents.

René Girard

Before reading the conversation below, you will want to carefully read William Tucker’s article. Also, please be aware that Gil Bailie claims his own thinking is guided and inspired by that of René Girard, an anthropologist and literary critic who has written extensively about mimetic rivalry and scapegoating and whose ideas are collectively known as “mimetic theory.” The principal contributors to the conversation reproduced here are familiar with Girard’s work and will allude to it at times.

Gil Bailie begins the conversation:

Gil Bailie:

Not that I’m interested in stirring up more trouble on the same-sex marriage question, but this link is to an article by William Tucker which I think hits exactly the right note. I can’t hope to bring all my friends to agreement on this issue, but Tucker comes as close as anybody to putting the matter in its proper perspective. [emphasis mine]

Doughlas Remy:

Gil, offering students of Girard a text like this one and extolling it as you do is bizarre in the extreme. I realize you were distracted while in Berkeley, but really! Did you read the text carefully?

Mitt Romney and classmates

Tucker frames his point about same-sex marriage with the following personal story:

A group of college boys (described by Tucker as a “gang” and a “mob”) converges on a dormitory and “taunts” its only resident, described as a “huge” football player. After an exchange of insults and threats, the group wrestles the football player to the ground and forcibly cuts his hair down to the scalp, using scissors that someone in the group has brought along. Many years later, this event is recounted not by the football player, nor by a bystander, but by one of boys in the group. He denies that his behavior was bullying. He describes it as an “outpouring of exuberance,” “boys being boys,” and “traditional male behavior.”

This is not the story told by Romney’s former classmates. It is William Tucker’s recollection about his own part in a similar incident that occurred during his college years. He is using the incident to express his solidarity with Romney.

The cultural proximity of his story may obscure its underlying structure, so let’s strip out some of the cultural elements:


A mob of young adult males decide to raid a neighboring village. When they reach the village, weapons in hand, they find only one man there, whom they encircle and taunt viciously. He threatens them, but to no avail. He is outnumbered, and the mob attacks him, delivering one blow after another until he finally collapses. They cut off his head and his genitals to carry home as trophies, and then they place his body in a tree for birds to devour. When the young men return to their village, they proudly display their trophies and recount their exploits to the others. To make themselves seem more heroic, they describe their victim as a giant. Years later, the perpetrators remember the event as an exhilarating and deeply meaningful rite of passage that created deep and lasting bonds between them.

There are so many ways this story could be told—as a fairy tale, a myth, a historical account, pulp fiction—with a variety of settings and characters. What they must all have in common, however, is the “all-against-one” violence which is later remembered by its perpetrators as foundational. Does any of it sound familiar?

What is even more interesting, from a Girardian perspective, is that the author of this article, William Tucker, uses this “text of persecution” (Girard’s term) as a frame for his remarks about homosexuality and marriage equality. This would be very insightful if his purpose were to denounce the bullying and unjust treatment that GLBTs have to endure. But his purpose is in fact the opposite. If he had read Girard, he would appreciate the profound irony of this.

Now that we have the irony and the frame, let’s look further at what Tucker says.

Having identified himself as one of the mob who held down a fellow student and forcibly cut his hair, Tucker is unapologetic, even proud. He dismisses those who “believe they were socially abused while young.” He describes childhood as “a jungle,” but makes no suggestions for civilizing it, as if to say, “This is the way it has always been and will always be.”

And then he digs himself in deeper with another personal story of victimage, and once again, he is not the victim in the story. He is in the crowd of victimizers. The victim is a schoolgirl who is said to have cooties and pees like a boy. He doesn’t say how she was treated, but I think we can imagine. At the very least, she was taunted and ostracized. Again, Tucker shows no remorse. Nor does he suggest any measures for helping the victims of bullying.

So if Tucker neither adopts the victim’s perspective nor apologies for his part in her mistreatment, why does he include this story? For the answer, we must go to the end of his article, where he writes,

“So yes, let’s forget about the economy for a while and conduct an election campaign over whether tradition sex roles can be defended—whether boys can be boys or whether candidates should be ostracized for exhibiting traditional male behavior in their youth. It’s probably more important anyway. [emphasis mine]”

“Ostracized?” Yes, he actually claims victim status for Romney and—by extension, I suppose—for himself as one whose behavior was almost identical to Romney’s. The victimizers are actually the victims, didn’t you know?

Tucker’s purpose is to claim for himself and his schoolmates the right to bully others. It is within this frame that he opens the issue of same-sex marriage and of homosexuality in general.

Gil, I am simply at a loss for words to express how odious this is.

J. Darrick Northington:

Does Tucker actually make a reference to welfare queens in the fourth paragraph from the end of the essay?! You ought to be ashamed, Gil. I can only assume you share Tucker’s ideas, given that you’ve chosen him to speak for you. Shameful.

When I read this stuff, I can’t help but be reminded of (pseudo-) scientific racism. it strikes me as the same kind of logic. Scientific racism was used to provide an intellectual narrative or rationale for racism. Consider this from Tucker:

“Sexual ambiguity is something that has always frightened children and primitive societies. Tribal cultures usually have elaborate taboos about what men and women can do, which building they can enter, even what they are allowed to touch. Such societies have elaborate initiation ceremonies to make sure young people assume the proper sexual roles as they reach maturity. It was Margaret Mead who in a moment of weakness once said, “The most stable societies are those that make the clearest distinction between men and women.”

Now consider this from Robert Knox (1850):

“All we know is that since the beginning of history, the dark races have been the slaves of those lighter skinned. What is that due to? ‘I feel disposed to think that there must be a physical and consequentially, a psychological inferiority in the dark races generally.’ This is perhaps not due to lack of size in the brain but rather a lack of quality in it.”

See how the bigotry is dressed in bullshit science in an attempt to verify and explain itself? [It’s the] same hateful logic just applied to different groups.

I think Gil’s use of history is strange. setting aside the historical inaccuracies, what do the kinds of historical appeals in the Tucker article buy you? how do they support the argument being made? Even if the history Tucker constructs were real, appealing to the way something has “always” been isn’t an argument for why things should stay the same. Many moments in history teach us that, right? the long history of white supremacy (not just groups like the KKK, but also white dominance in terms of systemic power) in America isn’t an argument and justification in favor of white supremacy, is it?

Given how easily your homophobic observations leave your fingers, I’m intentionally using race-based examples not only to draw a parallel that clearly demonstrates right and wrong, but also because I doubt you will be so quick to make similar observations about black and brown people. Why? because it would be clearly racist. Now you might say you’re talking about marriage, not race, but I’m happy to post dozens of examples of how whites defined certain words in ways to exclude non-whites. Absurd and vague appeals to history were prominent, [as well as] often strange moral appeals about how blackness pollutes and is dangerous for society. In my opinion, the only difference between the examples I’m talking about and what you’re saying here is that you can still get away with public homophobia.

Gil Bailie:

(quoting Tucker)

‎”Altogether, the progressiveness of a society can probably be measured by its ability to tolerate sexual ambiguity and grant flexibility in sexual roles. We are probably as tolerant as any society has ever been in this regard. But putting homosexual marriage on a par with traditional marriage is an entirely different thing. Marriage is a ceremony designed to bind the two halves of humanity together. Homosexual marriage leaves them further apart and isolated. Few societies have ever granted it, yet alone celebrated it, as we appear to be on the verge of doing.”

That is the point.

George Dunn:

How exactly does marriage equality leave men and women “farther apart and isolated?” Tucker’s specific claim is that it will somehow encourage more single parent households, while at the same time legitimating polygamy. As I asked before, where is the evidence for this?

It’s obvious that neither William Tucker nor Gil Bailie have ever been victims of bullying or have any comprehension of how terrifying it is to find yourself on the receiving end of the “exuberance” of a violent mob. I have and I do. To laugh off this sort of brutality as no big deal, just boys being boys, is indeed odious. Furious opposition to marriage equality has apparently turned the author of Violence Unveiled into an apologist for mob violence. That should give us pause.

Doughlas Remy:

@George Dunn: In answer to your question, “Where’s the evidence?” I can provide the answer: There is none. If there were, NOM and other anti-equality organizations would be using it. Some of these organizations have abandoned the overt use of the religious objection because they saw that it didn’t fly very well. Notice that Tucker doesn’t use it. Instead, he resorts to a pseudo-scientific claim concocted out of his own very inadequate understanding of history, anthropology, and biology, with a dash of Margaret Mead and Edward Carpenter thrown in to make it sound authoritative. The few points that he does get right are bent to his purpose of drawing the line at same-sex marriage and staking out some space for further ostracism of gays and lesbians.

“Marriage,” he writes, “is designed to bind the two halves of humanity together.” The word “designed” is key, and it gives away the religious underpinnings of his argument. Since Tucker is so keen on history and anthropology, why doesn’t he know that marriage was until very recently about property and legal responsibility, not about anything so lofty as “binding the two halves of humanity together.” Where does he get this stuff? (OK, OK, I know where he gets it.)

And what does he expect homosexuals to do—marry persons of the opposite sex? Tucker seems so concerned that gay marriage will leave the two halves of humanity “further apart and isolated,” but what would he do, then—require everyone to enter into a traditional marriage? How grotesque!

And would he have us (GLBTs) separate from our partners and abandon all claims to equality? He cannot designate social isolation as a problem while attacking gay unions.

Given that there are millions of gay unions throughout the world, where would Tucker have us go from there? Gays and lesbians will no longer accept being treated as an underclass or excluded from the conversation about what marriage is.

William Tucker

Tucker’s article is easy to pick apart because he is so confused and so clueless that he can’t even successfully dissemble. A psychologist would have a field day with his fears of matriarchy, male dependence/infantilization, feminism, and sexual deviance. (all in just paragraphs 10-12)

BTW, that is a FABULOUS scarf he’s wearing in his photo!

Gil Bailie:

A month ago or so I posted a housekeeping message, but it obviously bears repeating.

For whom does this Facebook page exist? To whom are we trying to communicate? The answer is those who share: 1) our fidelity to traditional Christianity as safeguarded by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church; 2) our conviction that René Girard’s anthropological discoveries are as indispensable to the recovery of an intellectually cogent and wholehearted affirmation of Christian truth as they are to an understanding of the overall cultural crisis in the midst of which we are living, and 3) our belief that the healthiest response to this crisis to resist the winds of fashion and to turn again instead to the moral and intellectual resources—and the historical experience—of our tradition.

There are, and will always be, disagreements between and among those who share our basic premises, and we welcome an opportunity to learn from people with different points of view. But there are visitors to our Page who have fundamental differences with us on many of the cultural, theological, and moral issues of our time. Unfortunately, I have neither the time nor the patience required to respond to those with whom an ongoing give-and-take argument would be as endless as it is fruitless—precisely because of the diametrically opposed principles involved.

There are literally millions of venues for the airing of views antithetical to the ones for which we stand, but this Facebook page isn’t one of them. This Page is not a bulletin board or campus kiosk for the posting of angry disquisitions at odds with the three simple principles mentioned above. With no ill feeling, we encourage those who want to champion causes incompatible with our own to find other and better venues for doing so.

Again, we are here to be useful to those who are trying to respond to the deepening cultural and moral crisis of our civilization by rediscovering, reaffirming, and bearing witness to the truths on which that civilization is founded and without which it cannot survive. As best we can, we want to provide encouragement, theological sustenance, anthropological substantiation, and moral reinforcement to those who are sympathetic with the broad outlines of our mission. We welcome those who do not share our perspective, but we hope they will bear in mind that our first and only obligation is to those who do.

Ian Callaghan:

I’d be in way over my head if I tried to seriously engage the comments that have been made on this thread thus far, so I won’t. But I can say this: it seems clear to me that while Facebook certainly is quite open, it is also designed from the ground up to encourage self-selection and affirmation, not serious debate. That’s why there will never be a dislike button! (Not that that would ever be a marker of serious debate.) Anyway, I think Gil is just asking for the space to allow this page to be what Facebook is, for better or worse, designed to be: a place where you primarily share with the people with whom you are mostly in agreement. Does that make it a bit more shallow? Maybe—but I come to Facebook for bite-size content, not steak.

Doughlas Remy:

@Ian Callahan: As one who has often been accused of using objects in ways for which they were not intended, I am all for the plasticity and adaptability of Facebook. Believe me, it’s there to be anything we want it to be within the bounds of its own design limitations. The fact that the majority of people leave friendly bite-size content on Facebook may signify nothing more than short attention spans or minds incapable of in-depth discussion of issues. I am certain that Mark Zuckerberg would have no objection to our having a serious debate.

George Dunn:

@Gil Bailie: Some of the recent comments to which you object are, in my mind at least, quite in keeping with your mission, since they bring to light the elements of violence and scapegoating in your own posts and do so from a perspective that is fully informed by the insights of Rene Girard. Doughlas Remy, for example, highlighted how similar the anecdotes in your William Tucker article are to the classic texts of persecution that Girard discusses in many places in his writings. Meanwhile, I took issue with your abuse of Saul Alinsky, a good man who has been scapegoated by many on the right but whose program had direct affinities with the moral and intellectual tradition that you want to promote. My point was that your readiness to jump on the anti-Alinsky bandwagon displays those very mimetic tendencies against which Girard has warned us to be on guard, especially in ourselves. You’ll recall that when you posted your earlier “housekeeping message,” I explicitly asked whether you objected to me calling attention to the scapegoating tendencies that you frequently exhibit in your posts. You didn’t express any objection at that time and, until you say otherwise, I’ll just assume that you welcome the sort of criticisms that Doughlas and I offer, even if you may not always enjoy hearing them. Believe it or not, I am not only very sympathetic to much of your mission, but also want nothing but the very best for you personally. But for you to achieve your best, you need to start examining and overcoming your proclivity to scapegoat, sneer at, and invent calumny against those with whom you disagree. I have faith that you can do this.

James Hernandez:

George, you can’t play the scapegoating card every time Gil posts something that you think is wrong. It is just as easy to say that you, and definitely Doughlas, scapegoat the “right,” and more specifically those [who] align their view with Orthodox Christianity. Nevertheless, Gil’s point is simply that the differences between your worldview and his are wide. Thus, when you argue from fundamentally different premises than he, the two of you will simply be speaking past each other instead of having an actual dialogue. Hence, this is why Gil usually does not respond. It seems both of you continuously respond to his posts because you get some type of catharsis out of beating up Gil’s point of view. So, in accordance with your Girardian point of view, maybe this isn’t the best thing for you. I think that unless you try to actually understand where Gil is coming from, then your comments will never bear fruit.

George Dunn:

James, let me conclude by reassuring you that, first, I don’t bring these things up for the sake of some “catharsis” or purgative effect, since I usually feel just the opposite of “cleansed” when I come away from this forum, and, second, that I do make an effort to understand Gil’s point of view. On numerous occasions, I’ve sought clarification from him on some point he’s made (most recently concerning his conception of “personhood”), only to have my questions completely ignored, not even acknowledged. Despite his failings, Gil possesses a sharp mind and has much to teach. I only wish he would be charitable enough to enter into the sort of dialogue that would allow people like me to learn from him.

Dean Hansen:

@Gil: You’re entitled to hold any view or position you wish on a wide and endless array of topics. But you’re not entitled to live in a vacuum.  So here’s an important reminder: You’re on the Internet. The Internet is a public place. Facebook is the most expansive, public and social environment of them all. It’s also a rowdy, wide-open place with millions upon millions of viewers and participants. The rules of etiquette and propriety which you imagine work in this environment don’t. Unless you have a password-protected site which automatically bans those who refuse to play by your arbitrary, overweening rules, then you can expect that people of every stripe and persuasion, including fellow Christians who don’t hold the same Vatican approved, Temenos protected views or narrow dogma you do, are going to come here and point out your unacknowledged and insufferable intolerance and narrow, fear-dominated version of reality.  Try waving a red flag in front of a bull and then demand to know why the bull didn’t play by your rules after it’s gored you a number of times.

If you’re going to live in a glass house and dispense endless, purposefully loaded, unrepentant provocations intended to shame an entire class of people, or to treat the environmental crisis of global warming as a liberal scare tactic, or denigrate the President for holding views about contraception and abortion which you reject while ignoring everything else he’s done, then you can expect to be bombarded with more of the posts you find so difficult to endure. You have the nasty habit of dropping bombs then scurrying away in the hopes that you can avoid the mess you’ve made without ever having to deal with it. You’re a coward. You can’t have a free exchange of ideas on your lofty terms, by closing your ears when things become unpleasant. Life doesn’t work that way. Try placing the shoe on the other foot for once: Think of all the heart-felt effort and considerable time devoted to encouraging you to consider legitimate and thoughtful alternatives to your unassailable fortress of magisterial truth, and ask why it generates such heat. Because you never listen and you never change course. This is what is killing Catholicism. An unbending, dogmatic, censorious refusal to adapt to the living body of Christ, whose name it bears and whose spirit it often despises. You can’t offer theological “sustenance” to one class of protected people while denying it to another or excluding them altogether when you find yourself vulnerable to legitimate criticism that undermines much of what you’re saying.

Jesus excluded no one, including a despised woman who wanted nothing more than to wash his feet with her hair. That’s the only measure of inclusion anyone who professes to be a Christian should have to abide by.  Everyone is welcomed. Can there be a civil discussion here? Only when you engage enough with the people who are urging to you have one to actually address the issues that you clamor to own.  If you start with the position that your views are sacrosanct and unmoving, you will get nowhere. The only effect that will have is to increase the heat and dissipate the light. If you make the default assumption that no light is coming in, you will soon find it extinguished at the other end.

You say you welcome those who don’t agree with your perspective?  Then stop complaining and whining when they do precisely that. Make up your mind, Gil. Either find a secluded, hermetically sealed venue in which you can postulate your version of reality, or expect to hear the sound of breaking glass as your temple falls around you. The only such venue I can think of that might apply is a seminary or a monastery, where you can renounce the world altogether and apply for the priesthood. It will be like returning to the factory at closing time when all the traffic is moving in the opposite direction. You’ll have a clear, empty road to follow. You’ll also have the illusion that you’re doing it right. After all, didn’t Jesus himself say that many are called and few are chosen? There! See? You were right all along.  Unless he was talking about cryogenics, of course.

Doughlas Remy:

What happened to all the comments? They’re all gone! There must have been a dozen of them.

Gil Bailie:

I deleted them all just to be fair. Thanks to those who said nice things. No hard feelings for those who didn’t. It’s just that the endless back and forth is useless. There are plenty of other places for expressing contrary points of view.

Dean Hansen:

Well, there you have it. “The endless back and forth,” to use Gil’s words, “is useless.” But the one-way misrepresentation of facts will continue,  thereby generating more criticism and by inference, more deletions and outright censorship of ideas. Sounds like a win-win situation, if entropy is the equivalent of winning. Gil is asking us not to make him think about things that trouble him. In a way, he has hamstrung himself with his own theology. He wants to be thought of as someone who is slow to anger, quick to forgive, and never eager to scandalize anyone by losing his temper or being in conflict with those who contradict his understanding of the way things work. Those promptings are commendable and lovely in and of themselves, because they’re part of the Gospel message, unless they make a habit of continuously aborting reality in the process. I think we may have found a form of abortion which Gil approves of. The question is, how will he defend his beliefs, if he shirks his responsibility to do so by simply suggesting the effort is useless?  There’s only one way:  Ignore any criticism he can’t refute.

When you consider how the Catholic church goes out of its way to shelter its own in the midst of an ongoing pedophile scandal, it’s not hard to see why Gil opts for a slash-and-burn policy with regard to his own perception of his reputation. To face the issues squarely by doing honest soul-searching requires a complete re-assessment of one’s life path and a willingness to make concessions and offer some modicum of contrition.  That re-assessment would tear down many of Gil’s treasured assumptions about the majesty and infallibility of the church triumphant. How he still manages to believe in the otherly-world nature of a church that sexually abuses children in this world, and psychologically brutalizes men and women because of their sexual nature requires a degree of self-delusion that most of us don’t possess, or would disown and redress quickly were it exposed.

I feel genuinely sorry for Gil, because his house of cards is too fragile to withstand the internal scrutiny that is required, either on a personal or an institutional level. We’ve backed him into a wall. Gil’s Masthead is “Faith in the Crossfire.” Yet he continuously fires the first round in the “fire fight,” and then ducks and covers during the return engagement. If that’s faith, it’s apparently the same kind Benedict has when he rides around in his bullet-proof popemobile. At least the masthead at Andrew Sullivan’s blog strives for honesty:  “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

You can’t see beyond your nose when you refuse to see what’s before you.

Mark Gordon:

Gil, I wholeheartedly endorse the three principles enunciated above. However, at least in practice there seems to be a fourth principle at work on this Facebook page, and it is this: that the Republican Party and the contemporary “conservative” movement are the bearers of the flame of authentic Christian civilization. This despite their devotion to neoliberalism, nationalist idolatry, militarism and cultural Calvinism, all of which are fundamentally at odds with the teaching of the Church. I spent much of my adult life wedded to that crowd, and it was only my exposure to someone named Gil Bailie that began to dislodge me from them. So you can imagine how disappointed I am to see you embrace those former companions of mine so fervently. The American Spectator? Daniel Pipes? The torture enthusiasts at The National Review? Lord, help us! So, after you read and delete this, know that I will no longer be following the Cornerstone page. It is yours to do with as you please. Sadly, you’ll be doing it without me. Still friends, I hope.


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