Given that the Huffington Post is an online publication it seems reasonable to assume that the readership will have at least a passing familiarity with Facebook. For this reason it is also safe to assume that the reader will have noticed a distinct difference in the colour palate of the world's biggest social network as of late. The usual greys, blues and whites have been spruced up with the addition of a splatter of rainbow covering the profile pictures of many people, myself included. There has been a little discussion, as there always is, over the intent and meaning behind this recent palate swap and most of it is of the usual "I'm smarter than thou" cynical demagogic flavour. Some people, it seems, will read negatively into anything.
I am certain the reason that most people have chosen to express support for all things LGBT in this way has less to do with cynical marketing, or even inoffensive "slacktivism" but instead comes from a desire to show their support for or celebration of being part of the LGBT community in the most visual way available. Most people I know who have chosen to adopt it are either LGBT themselves or their staunch allies. It's all very sweet and innocent and is therefore utterly boring and beneath contempt.
My interest in the matter stems from the timing rather than from the reasons. It cannot have escaped notice that the mass adoption of the rainbow filter coincided with the United States Supreme Court's ruling that same-sex marriage is to be legal across the United States of America. No sooner had this historic, momentous and morally necessary decision been made then the rainbows appeared all over Facebook. However, it also cannot have escaped notice that the USA is not the first country to rule in favour of same sex marriage and it most certainly will not be the last; so why is it that only the American legalisation has taken over Facebook in such an international way?
Well, it is prima facie rather straightforward. America is still the dominant country in the world. If it happens in the USA then it is far more likely to happen elsewhere and to be a permanent social shift. For our purposes, the USA is still the most important player in the game. The reason that a pervasive internet campaign sprung up from the SCOTUS decision and not from the decision to legislate for same sex marriage in Scotland or Canada is the same reason that no one in other countries cares about the Belgian elections but all news agencies cover the US Presidential Election. It's because what happens in America matters in all other countries
The reader may well ask why I have taken almost five hundred words to tell them that America is the most influential state in the world - rest assured I give you enough credit to have known that already. My point is not simply that the rainbows festooning Facebook illustrate that fact but also that it is a good thing in itself. We ought to be happy that America holds such a dominant position in the world.
Given that it has, relatively speaking, risen quickly from a set of rebellious former colonies to the only superpower left standing we often forget just how remarkable the American experiment is. It is the only nation on Earth, which was founded on Enlightenment values with an express focus on the person and not on the collective. It is a vindication of the liberal values of the enlightenment, those values that make modern life worth living.
In the success of the United States, we've seen free speech, free association, personal liberty and limited government vindicated. Imagine if collectivism, conformity, sectarianism and authoritarianism had become the vogue - as it is in many parts of the world outside of the West. Life would not be great for most folks, LGBT folks in particular.
We should celebrate America's positioning in international power brokering because the consequences of the alternatives are so utterly abhorrent. Thankfully, we do not have to give an accurate account of what would happen if the suffocating Chinese style of corporate authoritarianism were prevalent. We are also spared the true extent of the what would happen to our women and especially our LGBT folks if the politically cancerous effects of state-mandated religious dogma favoured in places such as Saudi Arabia and Iran stood like a Gargoyle over our daily lives. When people countries under the American sphere of cultural influence mock an Imam, a Priest or a Rabbi then the worst thing that could happen is that their punch line falls a bit flat - this kind of joke can usually be relied on for a laugh, especially if one fit in the word Mufti somewhere. Within another sphere however, the teller might well fear for their lives. I'd rather risk the flat punch line.
However, as frightening as these possibilities are they pale in comparison to a world dominated by a zealous and Cold War bitter Vladimir Putin which perfectly combines both religious fervour and corruption. To make the prospect even scarier is the realisation that it would most likely be Mr Putin and his easily led country, which would step up should the US step down.
The American cultural influence is not perfect, by any means. The USA has issues with race, violence, healthcare and other deeply divisive issues. It is, however, built on solid foundations and if we must have a country to whose will international developments must bend then the choice is obvious. I would rather have a well-meaning nation with liberal principles that sometimes go awry than those nations with no well-meaning intentions in the first place. One thing is for sure, freedom is good for LGBT people and being under the cultural influence of the US is better than the alternatives for all of our freedoms.