by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
By any standard David Norris is an unusual man. For openers, consider this….
He is an Anglican in a country overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.
He was born in the Belgian Congo.
His mother was Irish, but his father was not only English, but in the British Army.
And he is openly gay, something which can still cause a frisson even amongst the most sophisticated of Dubliners.
Norris, in his own personal history and biography, is a symbol of how far Ireland has come from the bleak and bigoted land of recent history.
Indeed, just a few weeks ago this man of determination, grit and grace, gifted with a smile that suggests everything is possible, was riding high in his quest to become the first openly gay Irish president.
Then some sexual habits of the ancient Greeks — and Norris’ opinion about them — surfaced, to create a maelstrom which has laid the man low.
Here are the facts.
In January 2002, Norris gave an interview to the politics/current affairs magazine “Magill”. In this article he questioned the age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual intercourse and reflected on social attitudes towards incest. At the time, this little read article in less read “Magill” had no influence whatsoever, seemingly sunk without a trace… until it looked like liberal Independent Senator Norris might become President Norris.
Enter the conscience of Helen Lucy Burke.
Burke was a restaurant critic, more at home with souffles and novelle cuisine than Irish politics and statecraft. However she was assigned to do the “Magill” article, perhaps hoping to get Norris, whose girth and enbonpoint showed a gourmand’s disposition, to make some witty culinary remarks. In any event, when the Senator focused on sex rather than truffles, Ms. Burke found the subject distasteful, disgusting, disgraceful.
As the likelihood of Norris becoming president surged along with his poll numbers, Burke found herself on the horns of a dilemma. She knew where duty (and lots of great publicity) lay… and so she took her disgust and outraged conscience to national broadcaster RTE.
Burke titillated the nation with her rendition of what Senator Norris had said in that soon-to-be-infamous “Magill” interview. Words like “incest” and “pedophilia” were on every Irish lip… and every time they were uttered there was another puncture in Norris’ candidacy.
For Norris the timing of Burke’s remarks could not have been worse. After all, the nation stood abashed at the extent of the pedophile priest scandal and how the Church had (mis)handled it. The distinction that Norris wanted to make, and kept reiterating about the difference between the sanctioned man-boy love of the ancient Greeks and the coercive sex forced by priests on innocent boys was lost on the nation. Ireland’s moral conscience, always ready for arousal, drew an adamant line at men and their boys, totally, completely, resoundingly, absolutely.
A sumptuous dinner party chez Agathon.
The source of all this outrage and anger was a fictional dinner party described by the celebrated Greek philosopher Plato c. 385-380 BCE. In this important document 7 well-heeled Athenians come together in what was termed a symposium for superior cuisine and even more superior, entirely candid conversation between men of education, wit and culture.
The subject of this night’s conversation was the genesis, purpose and nature of love… a topic on which every guest could, and did, wax bold, provocative, amusing, even lyrical. It was just the kind of event that the well-educated and clever Norris would have been delighted to attend (and to which he would surely have been invited). Helen Lucy Burke would have wanted to go, too, if only to review the menu, but that was unthinkable! Really, what an outrage against tradition and the proprieties that would be!
Plato placed this dinner party in the house of the tragedian Agathon in Athens, the cultural capital of the world. Each man was to deliver an encomium, a speech in favor of erotic love. The dishes (the squid perhaps a tad overcooked) removed, the wine flowing liberally, these high-placed Attic gentlemen (who had each secretly practiced for their moment) got up on legs less steady as the evening progressed to say his piece… for his friends and, as it turned out, for all of human history.
Socrates, always tendencious, preachy, overbearing, went first, the better to get over his predictable remarks that the highest love was to become a philosopher, a lover of wisdom. Younger wits reckoned he would say that, being he was a philosopher, the most important philosopher. Still, poor old Soc, what a bore.
The encomium of the legal expert Pausanias ranged far and wide; perhaps lawyer Pausanias had drunk too deep of Agathon’s fine wines, for some words were muddled indeed. Still this man of the law knew how to please an audience as he discusses the superior wisdom, beauty and intelligence of men… and their undoubted fitness to be the teachers, the friends and counselors… and the lovers of young boys and adolescents. As Pausanias warmed to his subject, his auditors (seduced by the orator’s compliments and graceful asides) would have given their full concurrence.
Over 2000 years later, David Norris,would have given it, too. And he did understandably but not wisely in his “Magill” interview and other, later comments. For Norris the lure of ancient Greece, when men of his inclinations had every freedom, was palpable. But for Helen Lucy Burke, who did not understand, who was perhaps entirely incapable of understanding, it was all sin, abomination, writhing bodies, lost souls…
… and so this mere restaurant critic of painfully few readers took it upon herself to end the political career of the one man best capable of taking their nation to another level of tolerance, acceptance, and comity.
This is why today (June 10, 2011) you’ll find David Norris, whose poll numbers have now crashed, trying to resurrect his once-certain candidacy. To do so he must persuade local councillors that he would be the best president of Ireland, that his remarks have been misunderstood, and that he understands and appreciates the national outrage about his advanced, unwisely stated views.
In other words, this great gourmet must first eat a liberal portion of crow… and even that too little to achieve his goal.
Ireland, of course, will be the poorer without a President Norris, but even in his likely defeat Norris will do what he has done so often: advance the cause of human (and particularly) sexual rights. It is not what he wanted and thought he would get, but human society moves slowly… and, as we all know, painfully slowly in Ireland.
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About The Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is , where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at http://videopal.me/page/yJvJCzjKkfyM