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Post hoc, ergo propter hoc
November 28, 2003 4:48 PM   Subscribe

Welcome to the Relativist Fallacy. Conservative blacks in the United States are objecting to recent comparisons between the gay marriage and the 1960s civil rights movement, which fought segregation against blacks, arguing that sexual orientation is a choice.
posted by the fire you left me (89 comments total)

 
I'm proud to be a Unitarian Universalist. We are currently in the process of passing a resolution that should make us the first American religious organization to endorse full same-sex marriage rights. Wish us luck!
posted by PigAlien at 5:05 PM on November 28, 2003


Refusing to find common ground between black history and gay history on the grounds that sexual orientation is a choice is a tacit admission that the black people refusing to find said common ground would change--I'm sorry...choose not to display--their skin color at the drop of a hat.

Revolting, and an all too common viewpoint that many good black people hold to give them a sense of exclusivity.
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:06 PM on November 28, 2003


Yikes...what a way to start a "discussion". BTW, the jury is still out about the gay=genetic vs. gay=choice debate, so to suggest that their (conservative blacks) outrage is wrong or misplaced is rather unfair, wouldn't you say?
posted by BlueTrain at 5:08 PM on November 28, 2003


Concerned Women for America
--now there's an objective source, and very authoritative on gay people and their lives--not!

great news PigAlien! Us gay and lesbian Reform Jews have been able to get married for a while, but as of now they haven't gotten behind a push for civil marriage.
posted by amberglow at 5:10 PM on November 28, 2003


the jury is still out about the gay=genetic vs. gay=choice debate

Just a couple of points to add. First, 'genetics' and 'choice' do not exhaust the universe of possibilities: non-chosen psychological factors might contribute, as could in utero hormonal factors, or a blend of any of these. Secondly, and relatedly, the debate over the 'choice' idea is a huge slap in the face to those of us who don't feel that we had any choice. It's tantamount to being accused of lying about a fundamental aspect of one's personality. It also seems to meander into the realm of accusations that we queers try to recruit the kiddies into a lifestyle that, inevitably, involves a certain surplus of social angst and psychological discomfort.
posted by stonerose at 5:18 PM on November 28, 2003


Yeah, while the nature/nurture debate may still be on, I don't really think the "choice" debate is, among serious people.

Have you seen the success rates of Christian "gay to straight conversion" ministries recently?
posted by inksyndicate at 5:19 PM on November 28, 2003


what the fuck is going on in america?
posted by mcsweetie at 5:20 PM on November 28, 2003


Good points stonerose.
posted by BlueTrain at 5:24 PM on November 28, 2003


Have you seen the success rates of Christian "gay to straight conversion" ministries recently?

Actually, Professor Robert Spitzer of Columbia University (who was largely responsible for effort to have homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental illnesses in 1973) just concluded a study where he found that 78% of gay men reported a change in their sexuality after undergoing therapy in one of those Christian ministries. He is now convinced that homosexual men and women can become permanently hetereosexual. See here, here, here, and here.
posted by gd779 at 5:32 PM on November 28, 2003


gd779, I hope your tongue is firmly planted in your cheek? Surely I don't really need to point out that torture is often an effective method of altering behavior (sexual or otherwise) and suppressing inherent personality traits (sexual identity and other), at a huge psychological cost. Do I?
posted by stonerose at 5:39 PM on November 28, 2003


Professor Spitzer attempted to quantitatively measure orientation, not merely behavior. He measured, for example, participants fantasies, romantic sentiments, and the health of any heterosexual relationships they might have.
posted by gd779 at 5:56 PM on November 28, 2003


I don't want to give anyone the misimpression that I have an opinion about this study. I'm don't know enough about the subject for that. I'm simply pointing out that serious, intelligent people, people who have devoted their lives to these sorts of issues and who have achieved significant recognition for their work, are still debating the issue of choice. The jury really is still out.
posted by gd779 at 6:01 PM on November 28, 2003


from gd779's first link:

A large majority--93 percent--of the participants described themselves as devoutly religious.

See? It wasn't the participants who initiated the change. Jesus waved his magic boomerang (or whatever it is) and fixed them.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:02 PM on November 28, 2003


After adjusting for selection bias (self-selection), false reporting of sentiments/fantasies/relationship health due to a desire to 'succeed', and the medium/long-term trauma associated with such therapy, I don't wonder what we end up with.
posted by stonerose at 6:04 PM on November 28, 2003


Spitzer doesn't understand the subject he is researching. As is well-known by now, homosexuality, when internalized and repressed, becomes homophobia, and is often hidden and disguised as heterosexuality. These latent homosexuals are secretly attracted to males, but hate themselves for it and project that hatred upon others.

Of course the reverse process is also possible: A homosexual who has managed to live with his sexual orientation can be indoctrinated by religious wackos into believing that it is "unnatural" and harmful, subscribe to the idiotic idea of "reparation therapy" and engage in the very same acts of secrecy, self-denial and hatred that other homosexuals try to free themselves of. Of course, when questioned, these people will say that they are in happy heterosexual relationships, have overcome their homosexuality etc. The only way to measure if they have, in fact, converted to heterosexuality would be to hook them up to a penile plethysmograph, which measures the degree of erection, and determine if they still get sexually aroused by pictures of nude men. Of course there are good reasons Spitzer doesn't do that. He uses self-reports in a survey (which includes questions on fantasies, sex life etc.) by people who are part of a religious movement. Of course they will answer in accordance with their religious beliefs! You have to be a complete idiot to take this work seriously.

See the analysis at religioustolerance.org for further methodological criticisms of Spitzer's paper, but using self-reporting as opposed to physiological measurements is enough to completely relegate that study to the trashcan.

The reality of the "ex-gay" movement is an embarrassment to everyone involved. See the Wikipedia article, the book "Anything but Straight" by Wayne Besen, the Ex-Gay Watch weblog, and the hilarious movie One Nation Under God. In short: When the two male founders of your anti-homosexual movement leave it and hold a "commitment ceremony" (the informal equivalent to gay marriage), you might have a public relations problem.
posted by Eloquence at 6:09 PM on November 28, 2003


I think that it is absolutely a choice. It is a choice between living your life in a way that makes you happy and fulfilled or living it in a way that fits into what society wants you to do. I could choose to be with a man if I wanted to and I could fake things for a while but I wouldn't be happy at all.

As it relates to the post, I think that there were many black people who made the same kind of choice. Maybe they pasted for white and had to decide if it was better to live a lie or to be true to who you are.
posted by bas67 at 6:15 PM on November 28, 2003


make that passed not pasted
posted by bas67 at 6:16 PM on November 28, 2003


Stonerose: Your muddled and unthinking criticisms are just plausible enough to be convincing to the already convinced, but it's a shame that you and others are willing to allow politics and prejudice to close your minds to scientific possibility.

(on preview...)

Eloquence: Everyone here who is a tenured professor of psychology at one of the world's top universities with a long track record of academic accomplishment and a past of homosexual advocacy, raise your hands. You are now qualified to "relegate [Spitzer's] study to the trashcan". Everyone else: be critical, but don't be closed minded. Or else you're no better than those you despise.
posted by gd779 at 6:18 PM on November 28, 2003


I heard that homosexuals kidnap young children and use their blood for evil rituals. I also heard that, a couple villages over, they poisoned the well after the priest there said homosexuals had killed Jesus. And Lord knows their personal habits make me uncomfortable; you know what happens to people that wander through the Gay Side of Town.

...so I'm pretty sure we need to burn a couple of 'em, just to be on the safe side with God. It's really a small price to pay, when you think about it, and I'm told that I get a free Indulgence if I'm the guy that lights the fire.
posted by aramaic at 6:20 PM on November 28, 2003


I suppose one could point out that there are really great parallels between contemporary anti-gay rhetoric and the anti-Catholic rhetoric of the nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries, but then you'd just have Catholics annoyed at you instead of African-Americans.

(Among other things, Catholics were accused of being a threat to the family and marriage; of sexualizing children; of promoting sexual promiscuity; of infiltrating the school system in order to brainwash children; and of crying "bigotry" whenever they were criticized.)
posted by thomas j wise at 6:21 PM on November 28, 2003


gd779: Argument from authority. Put up or shut up.

thomas j.: Yes, people in the late 19th century were a lot better educated about the influence of organized religion than people today.
posted by Eloquence at 6:26 PM on November 28, 2003


gd779: Oh, okay. That is interesting, and I wasn't aware of that study.

Still, it sure seems like many of these ex-gay Christians have an awfully hard time making a "choice" that seemingly goes against their nature.
posted by inksyndicate at 6:44 PM on November 28, 2003


I like to ask my friends that say being gay is a choice "When did you choose to be heterosexual?" all they can ever say is "I didn't choose, I was born this way." then I ask them why someone would choose to be gay? the food and the clothes are better maybe? no.
It's not a choice, ask anyone that's gay.
posted by Dillenger69 at 6:52 PM on November 28, 2003


from gd779's link:
While few subjects reported any kind of total shift in sexual identity, such as having absolutely no sexual feelings toward the same sex, the majority did describe themselves as having become predominantly heterosexual. In fact, only two subjects reported any homosexual relations at the time they were interviewed.

No one has ever claimed it's impossible to repress your desires and live outwardly as if in keeping with society's preferences. But that's a painful life to live, and if your desires aren't harmful, but are only an expression of love, why should individuals be forced to undergo that?

gd779, what eloquence suggested was the downfall of that survey was the fact that it relied on self-reporting by people desperate to not be homosexual. Why is there any reason to think they wouldn't fudge their answers? As it is, they don't deny having same sex fantasies, but merely claim to have hetero fantasies sometimes too - but that could easily be the sort of "homework" they give themselves, to try to have hetero fantasies when they're feeling sexual.

On p. 15 that PDF gd779 linked, it says that the primary motivation of most participants of the study was to provide evidence that ex-gay ministries work. On p. 24, it says the men had "exclusively homo" sexual desires 42% of the time before treatment and "exclusively hetero" desires 17% of the time afterward. So more than half of the participants were bisexual to start with, and the large majority were afterward. On p. 30 it says 66% of men in "loving heterosexual relationships" claimed to have hetero sex at least monthly. That means that one in three of these success stories have sex less than 12 times a year! Sounds to me like these are people who learned to get by without much of a sex life, rather than people who really changed their sexual orientation.
posted by mdn at 6:58 PM on November 28, 2003


I notice that the discussion here, for better or worse, seems to be all about homosexuals--neglecting the African Americans which are the real focus of this article.

While most blacks would identify with the label of "social liberal", a large percentage would be hard pressed to extend any liberal feelings beyond race. In other words, blacks are often *very* socially conservative as far as sexuality, spirituality, family and in other ways in practice.

So, while being acutely aware of *their* difference from American society as a whole, they can be and often are as ignorant as everybody else to "someone else's problem."

Blacks can be excused for this ignorance only as much as anyone else can be excused for their ignorance of others, and its resulting prejudice and dismissal.

However, and with some justification, they can also be resentful of others co-opting what they feel are their hard-earned civil-rights victories. Even someone singing "We Shall Overcome Some Day" would feel *belittling* to them, as much as some 35-year-old charlatan claiming he had "Marched with MLK."
posted by kablam at 7:09 PM on November 28, 2003


using self-reporting as opposed to physiological measurements is enough to completely relegate that study to the trashcan

Exactly. The subjects are desperate to believe they're not gay, and being "devoutly religious", they're clearly capable of building a belief system based entirely on faith rather than evidence. It's junk science.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 7:10 PM on November 28, 2003


Argument from authority. Put up or shut up.

Well, let's see. You cite a movie, a weblog, a politically-oriented book, and the Wikipedia - academic heavyweights all, to be sure. The religioustolerance.org article doesn't "relegate Spitzer's work to the trashcan", as you claim, but instead is a fairly even-handed analysis of the situation that points out the acknowledged limitations of the study (all studies have them, you know) and concludes by pointing out that, except for Spitzer's report, no real research on the subject has been done and that this is almost criminal negligence by the academic community.

Spitzer himself would agree. As you read the article, you'll notice that 1) Spitzer started off convinced that sexual orientation was unchangeable, 2) this was and is the dominant view (as you point out with your first link) but 3) no credible studies had previously been done on the subject, most people refused to even discuss the issue for political reasons and 4) Spitzer was apparently disgusted with his colleagues inability to calmly and dispassionately discuss a controversial political issue. That's why he did the study.

Like I said, the jury is still out.

mdn: reasonable points, all. Except that you assume that the participants of the study repressed their "true" orientation and that this is painful for them, but there's no reason on the evidence to believe this to be true.

Why is there any reason to think they wouldn't fudge their answers? As it is, they don't deny having same sex fantasies, but merely claim to have hetero fantasies sometimes too

Well, there's one reason right there. If they're really that desperate to not be homosexual, if they're willing to put themselves through "torture" to change their orientation and they're willing to lie to create the right outcome in the study, why don't you have a whole bunch of "miraculous" success stories? As Spitzer points out, under those circumstances you would expect to see people becoming totally heterosexual - that is, after all, what they want and presumably what they expect to happen - but you don't. That gives the results some credibility, at least enough for further study.
posted by gd779 at 7:14 PM on November 28, 2003


The real question is, can people choose to be metrosexual?
posted by inksyndicate at 7:22 PM on November 28, 2003


academic heavyweights all, to be sure.

Do you even understand what "argument from authority" means? You're doing it again.

The religioustolerance.org article doesn't "relegate Spitzer's work to the trashcan", as you claim,

Wrong, I didn't claim that. You're either a liar or you can't read.

except for Spitzer's report, no real research on the subject has been done

Bullshit. Plenty of research has been done until homosexuality was recognized as a sexual orientation as opposed to a disease. This research used everything from electric shocks to lobotomies to brain implants to ammonia-based aversion therapy in order to "convert" or "repair" homosexuals. And guess what? None of it worked without turning the patient into a slobbering idiot or a sexual cripple. Reasonable scientists have learned from this history of torture and pseudoscience, anti-gay activists have not.

Spitzer was apparently disgusted

Yeah, there's your calm, dispassionate, objective scientist right there. Your attempts to portray Spitzer's pseudoscientific study as reasonable inquiry into a subject on which the "jury is still out" are akin to creationist attempts to get religion into the classroom because the "jury is still out" on evolution. There is no scientific motivation here, and the only people who need this "research" are people who would like to bring back the age of forced reparative therapy with reckless disregard for the lives they destroy in the process. Spitzer was disgusted? The only thing that's disgusting here is the homophobia that is still rampant among millions of Americans. You should be ashamed of yourself for doing their propaganda work and bringing more darkness into this world.
posted by Eloquence at 7:42 PM on November 28, 2003


Okay, as I think I'm about to demonstrate, you're too biased to discuss this issue with. This is the last I will respond to you, Eloquence.

Reasonable scientists have learned from this history of torture and pseudoscience, anti-gay activists have not.

Far from being an anti-gay activist, Spitzer has been an advocate for the homosexual cause. As I pointed out, he was one of the driving forces behind having homosexuality removed from the APA's list of mental illnesses. For three decades he's researched this area of psychology and has achieved significant prominence in the field.

Do you even understand what "argument from authority" means?

Ah. I misunderstood you. But "argument from authority" is only a fallacy when the authority is not qualified or is biased. I hardly think you can make that claim here.

Yeah, there's your calm, dispassionate, objective scientist right there.

He was disgusted by people's unwillingness to be dispassionate scientists when it came to this touchy political issue. You really consider that a criticism?

There is no scientific motivation here, and the only people who need this "research" are people who would like to bring back the age of forced reparative therapy with reckless disregard for the lives they destroy in the process.

Oh, come on. Again, Spitzer began his research believing that the therapy would be proven ineffective. He's always been an impeccable scientist and he has played a significant role in improving the view of homosexuality within his field. What more do you want before you'll believe he's impartial?

Wrong, I didn't claim that

Well, you're right about that at least. I failed to distinguish your personal opinions from the views outlined in the article you linked. I should have parsed your sentence more closely, for what it's worth to you.
posted by gd779 at 8:02 PM on November 28, 2003


Man, must all threads become hostile?
posted by inksyndicate at 8:05 PM on November 28, 2003


Bullshit. Plenty of research has been done until homosexuality was recognized as a sexual orientation as opposed to a disease.

I was referring to 1) rigorous, scientifically credible studies on 2) the question of choice in sexual orientation (or, more specifically, the ability to change sexual orientation through therapy). That hasn't been done before now.
posted by gd779 at 8:06 PM on November 28, 2003


It's hard to be more eloquent, than, well, Eloquence, but I'll add my two cents.

...except for Spitzer's report, no real research on the subject has been done and that this is almost criminal negligence by the academic community.

First, I'll assume use the term "criminally negligent" in a meaningless hyperbolic sense, because clearly, someone of a conservative ideology wouldn't force scientists life work in a direction contrary to the direction the scientist wished. So, to arrest someone for failing to carry on your research would be coercion, and, I'm sure, wouldn't be frowned upon by your libertarian friends.

So, What you're actually saying is, is that you know more about the open research areas than the researchers, and are better positioned to give instruction on direction than they, or their mentors are. Homosexuality has been looked at extensively, as Eloquence pointed out, and it was decided that it was no longer a disease. Not being a disease, and since the psychosocial effects of homosexuality are not exceptionally severe perhaps researchers feel that actual diseases warrant more of their attention. One cannot blame a geneticist for trying to cure cancer, or a psychologist from trying to find better treatments to bipolar disorder, when the negative aspects of homosexuality are so minor as to be debatable.

You can try as much as you like to guide research, since the direction of research is very often based on individual choice, but I doubt you will have much influence on people that know more about the situation than you, and have decided that that direction of research was exhausted decades ago.
posted by rhyax at 8:06 PM on November 28, 2003


Over the decades, many light-skinned African Americans have "chosen" to be "black". Or in some cases, "white".
posted by gimonca at 8:07 PM on November 28, 2003


What you're actually saying is, is that you know more about the open research areas than the researchers, and are better positioned to give instruction on direction than they, or their mentors are.

Actually, I didn't say that. I was summarizing the conclusion of the article that Eloquence linked to on religioustolerence.org. And criminal negligence was the authors words, not mine.
posted by gd779 at 8:10 PM on November 28, 2003


Man, must all threads become hostile?

*sigh* I seem to have single-handedly taken us all off the original topic, and maybe I've even unintentionally contributed to the hostility. Sorry about that, folks.
posted by gd779 at 8:10 PM on November 28, 2003


Of course, the issue that seems to have been lost in this debate (one among many, anyhow) is whether this so called 'choice' is bad in and of itself. Whether I chose to be gay is irrelevant. I have every right to choose to be gay and deserve the same protections as everyone else in this society.
There is not one single, non-religious argument as to why two people of the same sex should not be allowed to get married.

Choice is irrelevant!

Forget Spitzer and his studies. If every single last gay person on the planet chose to be gay, except for one, then even that one last gay person deserves and is entitled to the same rights as everyone. People are so fixated on this whole issue of choice. The fact of the matter is, EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THIS COUNTRY, IN FACT, IN THIS WORLD, is entitled to the same basic rights, privileges and protections as every single other.
posted by PigAlien at 8:24 PM on November 28, 2003


Far from being an anti-gay activist

Again, you reveal your inability to parse complex sentences. I did not say Spitzer was an anti-gay activist. Before we go to what "argument from authority" really means, you might want to consider looking up what a straw man argument is.

"argument from authority" is only a fallacy when the authority is not qualified or is biased. I hardly think you can make that claim here.

Actually, your use of authority is a prime example of a logical fallacy, because I have pointed out specific criticisms of Spitzer's paper, and your only response was that Spitzer's such a smart guy that anyone who doesn't have his credentials can't really argue with what he says. You may consider Spitzer an expert (while many others feel that the world of psychology and psychiatry is riddled with pseudoscience masking under credentials and "experience"), but his opinion is far from the expert majority opinion, which would be the defining one in an acceptable appeal to authority. In any case, to respond to specific criticisms with an appeal to authority of the very person that is being criticized is, of course, fallacious, and the exact opposite of the very close-mindedness you claim to expose.

He was disgusted by people's unwillingness to be dispassionate

If you don't see the oxy in that, you're a moron.

Again, Spitzer began his research ..

Straw man again. I was referring to those who utilize Spitzer's pseudoscientific study.
posted by Eloquence at 8:29 PM on November 28, 2003


Eloquence - although I have to say I'm on your side, please refrain from insinuating people may be 'morons'. Its just not necessary. You're taking gd779's statement as some sort of personal attack. At least, a personal attack would be the only reasonable reason for you to say such things. Misguided or not, gd779 was only trying to contribute to the conversation and I don't think he meant anything personal by it.
posted by PigAlien at 8:34 PM on November 28, 2003


And by 'misguided', gd779, I meant according to Eloquence's opinion...
posted by PigAlien at 8:36 PM on November 28, 2003


PigAlien: That was a joke. I don't think gd is a moron (although I wouldn't rule out the possibility), merely a victim of extreme selective perception.
posted by Eloquence at 8:52 PM on November 28, 2003


I don't recall any wholesale co-opting of the civil rights movement or Martin Luther King in the coverage I have read, but will allow it has probably been alluded to. However, the comparision has been made and is, in my opinion, applicable to the gay rights issue.

From anecdotal experience, it is interesting to note the lengths some in the black community will go to deny homosexuality exists in their demographic. The HIV infection rate and subsequent research into its spike among African Americans shows in grim detail how deadly secrecy, fear and denial can be.

Pig Alien: not a snark, but The Society of Friends has long supported the rights of gay/lesbian unions. See American Friends Service Committee statement on the matter if you are interested.
posted by sillygit at 9:58 PM on November 28, 2003


sillygit: The Unitarian Universalist Association, according to my understanding, would be the first religious organization to call on the government to provide full, complete, and equal marriage rights to GLBT persons. NOT civil unions, but MARRIAGES. There is a big difference because many people are in favor or civil unions, but not full-fledged marriage.
posted by PigAlien at 10:58 PM on November 28, 2003


Am I supposed to care about whether being gay is a choice or not, or for that matter, whether being born black is a choice or not, before I form an opinion about what should be a right in my country, or the world? I hope not.
posted by uosuaq at 12:42 AM on November 29, 2003


If they're really that desperate to not be homosexual, if they're willing to put themselves through "torture" to change their orientation and they're willing to lie to create the right outcome in the study, why don't you have a whole bunch of "miraculous" success stories? As Spitzer points out, under those circumstances you would expect to see people becoming totally heterosexual - that is, after all, what they want and presumably what they expect to happen - but you don't.

Well, first off, no one would believe them - but I think it's that that would be a blatant, all-out lie that they would feel guilty about every time they had a homo thought. If instead they just claim that they're "primarily hetero" now, they can write off homo fantasies as anomalies, and tell themselves they happen less commonly than they do. That's how most people lie. Not that many people are capable of making strong, entirely false claims (except as jokes/performances or denials in response to pointed questions).

Anyway, like I said above, even if you accept their claims it still seems as if these are people who've just learned to live without sex being a primary component of their lives. Perhaps they're happier that way; I hope they all married each other at least. It seems to me perfectly believable that they could have a close relationship with someone they don't feel sexually excited by and so not be totally miserable, but sexuality is an important part of the psyche, so I don't think they'll be really fulfilled, either, which is sad. Perhaps to them it's better than being gay, but I think that's just due to the pressure from the church.
posted by mdn at 7:17 AM on November 29, 2003


> The real question is, can people choose to be metrosexual?

Well, it's not that it's all that hard. The other day I was down at the zoo, in the primate house, and everyone on the other side of the glass was acting just like one.


> people who've just learned to live without sex being a primary
> component of their lives.

Now there is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
posted by jfuller at 9:21 AM on November 29, 2003


Most conservatives seem to be against gay marriage. Most blacks are (rightfully) proud of a decades-long non-violent effort to end discrimination against them. So why would anybody, journalist or MeFite, be surprised that the intersection of these two groups is unhappy with comparisons of these two struggles? Man bites dog, on a slow news day.

Re Spitzer: Nature, nurture, or some combination, while potentially being of interest to academics in the way the difference between two species of, say, dolphins are to marine biologists, is irrelevant to the legal situation. So whether his study or any others of similar subject are well done or run through with personal bias is also irrelevant to the political question.

As to the discussion of homosexuality in the black community, I recall that we had a lengthy discussion about an article some months back about the self-denial of same (and resulting disease transmission) but couldn't find it even using the Google search.
posted by billsaysthis at 9:24 AM on November 29, 2003


Interesting discussion regarding choice/no choice. I would probably fall on the no-choice side, based on the reasoning Dillenger pointed out. I have a personal gripe with the primary argument against same sex marriage.

In 1967 it was illegal for my parents to marry each other in 16 states in this country. 1967! (Thankfully California was not one of them) When you discard the legal subterfuge and smoke clouding miscegenation laws, the reasoning behind them was the state essentially saying "God never meant whites and blacks to mix". These conservative groups are wrong. The argument, at least, parallels almost exactly.
posted by MetalDog at 10:05 AM on November 29, 2003


The AP article was badly reported. Asking black leaders for comment on the comparison between the black and gay civil rights movements tells us nothing. It allows the black leaders to shoot off some self-righteous barbs about how gay people were never enslaved. Also, the reporter apparently spoke to four "black leaders," one of whom supports gay marriage, and on the basis of that sample, leads with "Conservative blacks in the United States are objecting." Nice.

The writer should have asked for their comments on the comparison of the battle for interracial marriage to the battle for gay marriage. Entering a relationship with someone of another race is very much a choice, much more so by any standard than a gay person becoming involved with someone of the same gender. No one has to undergo "racial aversion therapy" to prevent him from marrying outside his race. Yet we fought to recognize our right to choose to marry outside our race.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 11:15 AM on November 29, 2003


what difference does it make if it's a choice or not?
posted by mcsweetie at 11:39 AM on November 29, 2003


what difference does it make if it's a choice or not?

It distracts us from applying objective or agreed-upon ethical standards. I thought that pretty much all marriage was by choice.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:28 PM on November 29, 2003


Ultimately, I agree with you, mcsweetie; it merely seems worth pointing out that trying to choose to be hetero (or, as plenty of experimenting college students discover, choosing to be gay or bisexual if the tendency isn't there) just doesn't really work in the long run, and so accepting one's tendencies and capacities, as long as they do no one any harm, is the best route. It's worth keeping this in mind because a fair number of people go through a lot of angst and soul searching trying to deal with their desires, while people around them oversimplify, and tell them to "just stop" and straighten out.

I doubt many people these days think homosexuality is a simple choice, that people just wake up one day and say, hey, why don't I be gay, but there is still pressure in certain communities to undergo therapy to "correct" homo tendencies. While among the more enlightened, it's hardly a concern whether or not active choice is involved, pushing the idea that everyone can choose means that some folks will punish themselves all their lives for their seeming inability to change something people tell them they can change.

I dunno, I have a certain amount of choice in this area in that I've been attracted to men and to women, but I still have very little choice in which individuals I'm attracted to. In a way, it would be nice to be able to choose that - there are some wonderful people to whom I simply have no sexual response, and there are others with whom I'm really not compatible in certain important ways, but who make me nervous, excited, stupid, happy-for-no-reason, just by being in the room. Yes, you can get over crushes, and you can grow to love people who didn't initially get you going, but it still seems to me that that natural, irrational, chemical spark is a necessary part of a truly successful relationship. And it just doesn't seem like much of a choice who affects you that way. Maybe others have different experiences, but I'm sure plenty would agree with me, and a lot of them may find they only respond to members of one gender (not to mention to a particular "type", etc).
posted by mdn at 12:57 PM on November 29, 2003


In a truly liberal-humanist society, whether or not one's sexual orientation was by choice would be a complete non-issue.
Sadly, in most of our countries, this sort of debate is still framed in these 19th-century frames of reference.
posted by signal at 1:49 PM on November 29, 2003


the way I see it, as hard as it is to find someone to like that also likes you back, you'd have to be fundamentally evil or ignorant to stand in the way of any kind of loving relationship.
posted by mcsweetie at 2:16 PM on November 29, 2003


well said, mcsweet
posted by amberglow at 2:40 PM on November 29, 2003


Amen, McSweetie!
posted by PigAlien at 2:48 PM on November 29, 2003


thanks!
posted by mcsweetie at 7:25 AM on November 30, 2003


the jury is still out about the gay=genetic vs. gay=choice debate

The question is a red herring. Everything about life could be considered a choice ... eating, breathing, suicide. The question is for meddlesome people looking to rationalize their bigotry.

Some who uncomfortable with same-sex might prefer a genetic excuse. What matter is it to anyone except two consenting adults?

It also seems to meander into the realm of accusations that we queers try to recruit the kiddies into a lifestyle that, inevitably, involves a certain surplus of social angst and psychological discomfort.

The accusers are *the source* of the angst / discomfort. Having created it, they then try to capitalize on it.

Spitzer ... uses self-reports in a survey (which includes questions on fantasies, sex life etc.) by people who are part of a religious movement.

Typical of the worst of 'social sciences' science. Self-reports are likely to be as reliable as eyewitness accounts, or memories of early sexual abuse 'uncovered' by hypnosis.

gd779: Everyone here who is a tenured professor of psychology

You mean, like the ones who used to give lobotomies and electroshock treatment to people to 'cure' them?
A degree in shrinkology is no more a guarantee of reliable research than church attendance is a guarantee that people understand scripture.

In a truly liberal-humanist society, whether or not one's sexual orientation was by choice would be a complete non-issue. Sadly, in most of our countries, this sort of debate is still framed in these 19th-century frames of reference.

Exactly, Signal. Choice is an issue for those who don't want choice -- except for themselves ... and they bolster their agenda with pseudoscience from the same gang that invented the whole idea back in the late 19th-century -- hoping to recruit others into their perverse mind-frame.
posted by Twang at 2:33 PM on November 30, 2003


People who eat their soft-boiled-eggs from the small end don't deserve civil rights, because it's a choice. They could easily eat them from the big end like decent folk, and then we wouldn't have to kick them to death.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:43 PM on November 30, 2003


Hooray, George_Spiggott! Here here, the most sensible thing anyone has said thus far!
posted by PigAlien at 8:12 AM on December 1, 2003


I wonder if these right wing types realize telling everyone that homosexuality is a choice actually hurts their argument. if a person can choose which gender they are attracted to and fall in love with, then their definition of heterosexuality as the only true sexuality goes out the window.
posted by mcsweetie at 8:51 PM on December 1, 2003


I guess, mcsweetie, that they'd argue that people who choose to be homosexual are deliberately choosing to do wrong and that homosexuality remains unvalidated.

Please note that I do NOT agree with this view; I'm just pointing out that the view of homosexuality as a choice is only part of their stance.
posted by orange swan at 10:12 PM on December 1, 2003


I wonder if these right wing types realize telling everyone that homosexuality is a choice actually hurts their argument. if a person can choose which gender they are attracted to and fall in love with, then their definition of heterosexuality as the only true sexuality goes out the window.

not really. You have to remember these are moral absolutists; they believe that certain things are simply right or wrong not because of their consequences but due simply to the order of the universe, or more often, god's ordination. Although you can murder or steal if you want to, you should choose not to.

For rationalists, murder and theft are outlawed because they harm other individuals and ultimately are detrimental to the entire social structure, and therefore our own individual self-preservation, etc. But for absolutists, these arguments are secondary to a belief that certain things are good, right, and others are bad or wrong, and that's just how it is, because (instinct / god / tradition / conscience / etc) deem it so. Hence, their argument against homosexuality is that, like murder or theft, one can choose to do it, but it's fundamentally immoral, and so one should resist the urges.

By delegating homosexuality to particular acts - an act of will, a choice - rather than understanding it as part of a personality or an essential trait of a living being (which harms no one) they're able to consider it in the same category as the various acts they consider sins or crimes.
posted by mdn at 10:16 PM on December 1, 2003


orange swan and mdn have good points, but I actually think that the issue of choice doesn't matter. The argument would go something like this: homosexuality is not immoral, but sodomy is. Feeling temptation is not wrong, after all, only acting on temptation is wrong. Alcoholics are more-or-less genetically determined, but it's only when they choose to drink to excess that they've done something morally wrong.
posted by gd779 at 11:14 PM on December 1, 2003


For rationalists, murder and theft are outlawed because they harm other individuals and ultimately are detrimental to the entire social structure, and therefore our own individual self-preservation, etc.

On what purely rational ground (without recorse to emotion, desire, or axiomatic values) can you conclude that acts detrimental to the social structure, or even acts which threaten your own individual self-preservation, are "bad"?

If there are no such grounds, I would suggest that the term "rationalist" is inappropriate here.
posted by gd779 at 11:17 PM on December 1, 2003


even geometry is based on axioms, gd779. You're misunderstanding rationalism to suggest that rationalism is somehow infinitely reaching back for further reasons. Axioms are merely those rules without which we can't even approach the subject. In morality, the basic one would be "life pursues living," or the goal of being is to be - hence destroying or impedimenting the course of life is against this basic starting point.

Of course, humans have higher capacities that mean we specifically pursue the good life, happiness, eudaimonia, or whatever you want to call it, and this complicates things. Because we're capable of seeing the whole narrative of our lives, we seek not merely to satiate immediate appetites, but to fulfill long term goals. Fulfillment for humans is more complex than simply staying alive.

On a purely biological basis, one could claim that homosexuality deters the path of life and so in a sense is in discord with the first axiom. But if individuals have a right to pursue the good life, their own happiness and fulfillment, then clearly people with deep seated desires for intimacy with partners of the same sex should be free to pursue such relationships.
posted by mdn at 9:17 AM on December 2, 2003


Of course geometry is based on axioms. But you don't call Euclidean geometry more rational than non-Euclidean geometry, do you?

Why must the basic axiom be "life pursues living"? You're presumably making more than an empirical claim here, but as Kant pointed out, you can't reason from "is" to "ought". It's like saying that the purpose of a tree is toreproduce. It's true that a tree reproduces, and that this reproduction results in more trees, but you can't deduce purpose from this fact.

You cannot give a justification for your axiom because, as you point out, the whole point of an axiom is that there is no proof or reason to be given for it. It stands on its own as an article of faith. So it's a mistake to claim that one set of axioms is more rational than the other. They're both, by definition, accepted prior to reason.

Why would one choose to accept your moral axiom but not a different set of moral axioms? No rational answer can be given - only belief and feeling.

Therefore, people who accept your moral view are not "rationalists", they have simply rejected the traditional moral axioms in favor of different moral axioms. I therefore suggest that the term rationalist isn't appropriate here.
posted by gd779 at 10:09 AM on December 2, 2003


You're misunderstanding rationalism to suggest that rationalism is somehow infinitely reaching back for further reasons

See, I could have made this much simpler if I'd just thought a bit more before posting. The problem is that you used the word "rationalist" to refer to a particular moral system. But if values are axioms, as you seem to agree they are, then there is clearly nothing rational about them, and thus the term doesn't make sense. That's a much simpler way of saying it.
posted by gd779 at 10:18 AM on December 2, 2003


Axioms aren't "true" in any meaningful sense of the term, or provable within the system based on them, they're simply things you must agree upon in order to operate within said system.
posted by signal at 11:31 AM on December 2, 2003


Axioms aren't "true" in any meaningful sense of the term

Axioms may in fact correspond to reality, they're simply not provable from within the system they establish. For example, here is a classic syllogism:

(A1) All Men are Mortal
(A2) Socrates is a Man
therefore
(T) Socrates is Mortal

The above axioms may in fact be true or they in fact may be false. But you cannot use the fact that Socrates is Mortal to prove that Socrates is a Man.

Of course, the point here is that while there may be an objective morality woven into the very "warp and woof" of the universe, as Aquinas suggested, beliefs about right and wrong cannot be established by reason. They must be assumed. And so I'm not sure how you can claim that one value system is more "rational" than any other (assuming, of course, that the value system in question is internally consistent).

Does that mean that moral values don't exist, that the human moral sense is sensing nothing at all? Here's a hint, but not a solution: the belief that our physical senses are teliing us the truth is also an axiom, unprovable by reason or experience. Our senses may in fact correspond to reality, or they may not, yet we all assume (within limits) that what we are seeing is true. How is the moral sense any different?
posted by gd779 at 12:47 PM on December 2, 2003


gd779, the purpose of axioms is to be able to approach the subject at all. Morality is the science of how best to allow life to pursue living. The axiom that beings want to continue being underlies the very concept of morality. We cannot discuss the subject, we cannot say anything at all, unless we start with this common assumption. All reason must begin from common assumptions. You are thinking of rationality as being equivalent to pure logic, but I am using it with the small "r", as logos, the ability to deliberate and draw conclusions based on common experience and language.

But if values are axioms, as you seem to agree they are, then there is clearly nothing rational about them, and thus the term doesn't make sense.

no, only one value is axiomatic: life pursues living. From this we can derive that happiness is the goal, for it is beneficial to the continuance of life as beings that are fulfilled or happy will naturally continue striving toward living. We can likewise derive all other basic moral principles, as many philosophers have done - see Hobbes' 19 laws of nature, as derived from the principle of self-preservation (which is the same as life continuance), eg.

Does that mean that moral values don't exist, that the human moral sense is sensing nothing at all?

There is no "moral sense" in an objective way. We do not have an input mechanism that receives data. Rather, we draw conclusions based on our experiences, habits, teachings, and expectations. We have emotive responses but emotions are sometimes misguided; for morality to work, it must be comprehensible to other members of our society.

If you "feel" that homosexuality is wrong, and I "feel" that it is right, how do we decide what is actually the case? You are welcome to choose not to engage in homosexual behavior if you feel it is wrong, but on what basis can you attempt to convert others to your point of view? What harmful effects can you claim? And in response, what positive effects can proponents of freedom of sexual orientation claim? And which ultimately produces the best possible lives for those involved? That's where rationality comes in. We can discuss, debate, deliberate and communicate the advantages and drawbacks of different positions.

If you want to argue that life doesn't or shouldn't pursue living, you're welcome to do so, but at that point we wouldn't be discussing morality anymore, but metaphysics or religion. And of course, there are those who propose that we ought to overcome the striving of life - that's schopenhauer's thing, and certain strains of buddhism and christianity go in that direction too. But even those guys don't suggest that therefore murder is okay; they encourage the individual to overcome the striving nature of life, but not to actively destroy other forms of life (quite the contrary).

I think the main problem in modern ethics is fundamentally between life as biology and life as biography. Our biggest disagreements these days seem to stem from instinctual reactions against the preclusion of biological life vs. modern concerns about the achievement of a good personal life story. Abortion & homosexuality, for instance, both deter further immediate promotion of biological life in favor of individual fulfillment.
posted by mdn at 5:05 PM on December 2, 2003


You are thinking of rationality as being equivalent to pure logic, but I am using it with the small "r", as logos, the ability to deliberate and draw conclusions based on common experience and language.

Yeah, okay. Fair enough.

no, only one value is axiomatic: life pursues living. From this we can derive that happiness is the goal

Okay, then let's assume that "life pursues living" and that "happiness is the goal of life". Murdering people makes me happy. Is there any reason, derived from your axiom alone, that says I should take into consideration the consequences of my acts on others? Why not simply pursue what makes me happiest?

If you want to argue that life doesn't or shouldn't pursue living, you're welcome to do so, but at that point we wouldn't be discussing morality anymore, but metaphysics or religion.

On what basis did your one axiom become the domain of morality, and all other potential axioms become the domain of religion and metaphysics? If you ignore for a moment your belief in the truth of your axiom, it seems clear to me that there is no analytical difference that would justify such a distinction.

NB: "life pursues living" isn't quite enough to get you to "happiness is the goal of life". In my experience, pressure, threats, pain, and hard work are just as likely to make one pursue pure survival as bliss, and are far more sustainable emotional forces. Additionally, as I pointed out, the fact that trees live and will go on living until they die doesn't make this their "goal", it's simply a description of physical processes. I think you're better off making "happiness is the goal of life" your basic axiom, because emotional states are the only thing unique to intelligent creatures. (Assuming that everything isn't reducible to mechanical forces, and that our intelligence and free will aren't illusions, of course).
posted by gd779 at 5:42 PM on December 2, 2003


Murdering people makes me happy. Is there any reason, derived from your axiom alone, that says I should take into consideration the consequences of my acts on others? Why not simply pursue what makes me happiest?

In the state of nature, that is your right, although you put yourself at risk in so doing, for others with therefore be inclined to murder you, and in a state of nature, that's their right also. That's why we set up societies where we contract to abide by certain conditions in order to be protected from such actions of others, in the interest of self-preservation. That's the purpose of politics and law.

On what basis did your one axiom become the domain of morality, and all other potential axioms become the domain of religion and metaphysics?

This may just be an issue of semantics - the definition of morality is the science of how we get along and all preserve our capacity to fulfill our own ends within society. It begins with the definition that life by nature wants to preserve itself. We can best achieve this end by recognizing certain limits on our freedom (we are not free to kill one another etc).

The definition of metaphysics is the comprehension of the non-practical elements of philosophy - what underlies or grounds everything else. We can't discuss morality as such without agreeing that life is something worth maintaining - if we're all nihilists who shrug our shoulders and feel it's no better or worse if we live or die etc, then how do we approach the topic of morals at all?

The argument would go something like this: homosexuality is not immoral, but sodomy is. Feeling temptation is not wrong, after all, only acting on temptation is wrong.

But on what grounds would sodomy be wrong? Why should the desire be resisted? Can you explain or communicate where this argument would find its strength?
posted by mdn at 7:44 PM on December 3, 2003


That's why we set up societies where we contract to abide by certain conditions in order to be protected from such actions of others

So what you're saying is, I have every moral right to murder people if it makes me happy, but doing so will deprive me of the protection of the law? Because if you want to say that, after the social contract, murder is wrong, you have to somehow get to the idea that I have a moral obligation to keep my word, and I don't see how that can come from your axiom.

And if I do have the moral right to murder, then your moral system is reduced simply to "living things want to live, therefore they want to be happy, therefore they have the moral right to do whatever maximizes their net happiness". I doubt that's your real belief, is it?
posted by gd779 at 7:51 PM on December 3, 2003


But on what grounds would sodomy be wrong? Why should the desire be resisted? Can you explain or communicate where this argument would find its strength?

There are no satisfactory answers here. Religious belief is the obvious answer. You yourself point out the non-obvious answer - that homosexuality is counterproductive from an evolutionary standpoint. But it could also come simply from a value judgement someone has made - homosexuality is wrong as an axiom. People make all sorts of weird and seemingly random value judgements; I don't understand it either, but it happens. Regardless, once you've gotten that moral belief down, there is always an element of choice in homosexual behavior, and so the issue of choice in homosexual orientation is arguably irrelevant.
posted by gd779 at 7:58 PM on December 3, 2003


Let me put my first question more clearly. Let's suppose that murdering people makes me happy, and that I for some reason have the opportunity to commit a perfect murder - no one will ever know. Under these circumstances, is committing murder a morally right or a morally wrong act?

If it is wrong, why - with reference only to your axiom and any principles derived from it - is it wrong?
posted by gd779 at 8:11 PM on December 3, 2003


If it is wrong, why - with reference only to your axiom and any principles derived from it - is it wrong?

If life is good, then destruction of life is bad. Beginning from the assumption that life's goal is its preservation and continuance, then destruction of life is clearly against this basic belief.

But it could also come simply from a value judgement someone has made - homosexuality is wrong as an axiom.

But an axiom has to be necessarily the case in order to allow for the discussion of the topic. It has to be inarguable within the context of the conversation. If you disagree that life should be maintained, then we can't get into morality, because it doesn't matter to you one way or the other, which is to say, you have no comprehension of morality as such. If life is worthless, morality is not a concept to you to start with. But homosexuality can still be a concept to someone regardless of whether they view it as good or bad, so that statement can't be axiomatic, and must be grounded on something else.

Like I said, I think the reason for its argument is the biology vs. biography debate, but of course, homosexuality is not actually endangering our continuance as a species, so there's not very far to go with that argument; my point was just that I think that's the subconscious root of the problem.

I have every moral right to murder people if it makes me happy, but doing so will deprive me of the protection of the law?

No, there's not a system of morality in the state of nature; that's an abstraction of the pre-societal interactions, where you have complete freedom.

I'm going to bed, but will check in again another time.
posted by mdn at 9:17 PM on December 3, 2003


Okay, for the sake of clarity I'm going to summarize your argument as I understand it. Your basic axiom is that "beings want to continue to be". You justify this axiom with our common experience; for the most part we all want to continue to be. On the same grounds (common experience), you also assume that "another goal of being is to be happy". (Or do you deduce that "another goal of being is to be happy" solely from the first axiom? I'm not sure. Either way, I'll talk about whether that's a second axiom or not in a moment). You argue that this (or these) axioms are required to even approach the question of morality, and that no other axioms can be admitted because an axiom must be inarguable within the context of the conversation or it is not a valid axiom.

Did I get all of that right?

First point: I argued that "homosexuality is bad" could be assumed as an axiom. You said no, because "homosexuality is bad" is not inarguable - you can understand homosexuality as a concept without assuming that it is either good or bad, therefore it can't be axiomatic and must be grounded in something else.

An axiom must in inarguable only within the context of the conversation. For example, in the classic syllogism I gave above, "Socrates is a man" is an axiom. You can understand this concept without assuming it -Socrates may in fact be my fish - yet is is an axiom.

Similarly, you can understand the concept that "life has value", and you can debate that concept, without assuming it. All you have to do is ground the idea that life has value in a "higher" value; For example, assume that "sacrifice is the purpose of life" - since life is capable of choosing to sacrifice itself, life has value.

So it's clear to me that an axiom is simply an assumption that you make in order to have a discussion about the implications of your assumptions.

Second point: I think you have at least two axioms already. (Unless you want to reformulate the first axiom to say "beings want to continue to be and to be happy"). Because, as I pointed out earlier, there is no necessary connection between "wanting to survive" and "wanting to be happy". Pain and other negative emotions also motivate us to survive, and they often do a better job of it.

Third point: Even if I grant both of your axioms, you now require a third assumption. Specifically, from my experience I can know that I want to live and to be happy, and I can know that you want to live and to be happy. But I also know that I often don't care about your happiness or life, and that sometimes your happiness or life stands in the way of my happiness or life. So you first need to assume that happiness (or life) is what matters, then you need to assume that I should care about your happiness (or life) even when I don't feel like it, and then you need to describe how much I should care about your happiness (or life) and what I should do when your needs and my needs come into conflict. In other words, there is nothing in "beings want to be" that says I should care about what you want. That has to be assumed as a moral value, thus making it axiomatic.

Final question: What, precisely, does it mean to commit a moral wrong? If I murder someone, have I simply done something of which you and society disapproves? Have I violated the "inherent moral order" of the universe? Have I contradicted myself? Or what?
posted by gd779 at 10:07 AM on December 4, 2003


gd779, I agree that axioms are starting points for discussion, and that's why in morality they're essentially normative. I can't get into a discussion on morality with someone who doesn't care one way or another about whether life has any value. There's no shared domain within which to have the discussion. I think anyone who approaches morality will agree that the mindless destruction of human life can't be considered the right thing to do. It does get more complicated when we argue finer points about life vs. good life - and about one's autonomy, one's own control over one's own life, ie, self-destruction as morally acceptable. So sacrificing your own life is one thing, but is it morally acceptable to sacrifice other people's lives, even with the intention of somehow pursuing some higher cause (think crusades, eg)? I don't think so.

But "homosexuality is wrong" is a very specific claim, and not axiomatic to morality in general, so you can't claim it's an axiom of morality. Perhaps you could claim it's an axiom of anti-homosexuality-ism, and therefore to get into a discussion of anti-homosexuality-ism, something one must accept. But most people attempt to claim that homosexuality is morally wrong, and it's entirely possible to discuss morality without agreeing to this claim, so it must be based on a higher order axiom.

There is the question of the domain of the axiom, which can be said to come into play regarding, eg, vegetarianism and abortion - are fetuses and animals in the the same category as human life, or not - but that's not the question that homosexuality is concerned with.
posted by mdn at 2:22 PM on December 5, 2003


I agree that axioms are starting points for discussion, and that's why in morality they're essentially normative.

non sequitur.

mdn, it appears that we're running into the problem inherent in axioms: if you can't step outside them, you can't have a discussion with anyone who accepts different axioms. Because you define morality as "my specific beliefs about the basic value of life and no others", you can't even respond to my questions, and we have no common ground to discuss the topic further. So if you'd like to continue the conversation, I'd be happy to. Otherwise, we'll have to just agree to disagree.

If you're willing, however, I would like to hear your answer to my last question (above). What, precisely, does it mean to commit a moral wrong?
posted by gd779 at 3:21 PM on December 5, 2003


why won't you answer my question, regarding what makes homosexuality inherently wrong?

What, precisely, does it mean to commit a moral wrong?

I don't believe in moral absolutism, to start with. I believe in discourse, and trying to show why certain things are wrong, but I don't claim to have access to immutable truths. I think that as human beings, we can claim that the life of human beings should generally be protected and preserved, and that human beings should agree with one another to allow each person to work toward fulfillment of his or her life so long as it does not harm others. From there, I am happy to discuss particulars.

If you disagree with those fundamental statements, I would be open to reconsidering them, but I find it hard to conceive of real disagreement regarding their veracity, since we are all human beings.
posted by mdn at 4:12 PM on December 5, 2003


why won't you answer my question, regarding what makes homosexuality inherently wrong?

I'm sorry, I thought I had. Let me try again, and throughout this admittedly pompous diatribe I'm going to be using the word "rational" in the big-R, "logic and reason" sense.

If you reject the idea that moral values are objective "spiritual" truths that we detect via our moral sense (just as we detect light and perceive space), then you are left with only two possibilities: 1) they are simply emotional convictions created via arational choice, or 2) they are simply emotional convictions created via evolutionary hard-wiring as an response to certain problems of game theory. (To simplify, the species as a whole better passes on its genes when the individuals cooperate rather than murder each other - thus feelings of "morality" could be seen as a random development conferring the evolutionary advantage of cooperation).

You attempt to give these arational emotional convictions the character of "universality" (that is, everyone agrees with them) without making them objective (demonstratably, immutably true). That's how I understand your comment, for example, that "I find it hard to conceive of real disagreement regarding their veracity, since we are all human beings". You think that this universality means that we can all assume your (noble) moral axioms to be true without worrying too much about it.

From my perspective, the trouble with this is that shared emotional convictions are not a sufficient basis for compelling truth. From your perspective, the trouble with that should be that the vast majority of history is filled with oppression. It's filled with people who believed they were of a "better" class or a "nobler" birth or a more "pure" race. All of those people would have disagreed with your views, thus your views are not only not universal, they may well be in the minority.

Besides, our emotions run against these "shared" emotional convictions on a daily basis, that's why morality is so controversial. You assume that when my feelings come into conflict with shared feelings, I should defer to shared feelings. Why? Like many people, I have a slight anti-authoritarian streak, so I just say to myself "thanks but not thanks, I'll think for myself" and ignore the "shared" convictions of society.

(And if there is no point at which I must defer to shared feelings, then I am left relying simply on my personal feelings to determine when to defer and not to defer, and thus your system of "morality" is, at bottom, nothing that my own arational emotions).

I find your axioms noble, but I therefore conclude that they're not "true" in any objective sense of the word.

If moral truths are arational emotions, (whether biologically or psychologically based) then asking what is "inherently wrong" with a particular moral belief is an incomprehensible question. It's simply an emotional choice made prior to reason (and thus not susceptible to rational criticism), otherwise known as faith.

(It's also interesting to note that if these feelings are hard-wired into us, then we must choose whether or not to "override" our biological programming. That decision must come from, at bottom, a moral feeling which was itself programmed into us, and thus the loop is inescapable. So asking what is "inherently wrong" with homosexuality would simply be answered with "homosexuality conveys an evolutionary disadvantage, and so I've wound up with vehement feelings of disapproval towards the practice".)

Long story short: I haven't answered your question because without recourse to a supernatural creator or a spiritual realm from whence comes truly objective morality, I don't think there's anything "inherently" right or wrong with anything at all. I just see matter bouncing off other matter, or at most emotional beings making arational choices.

You yourself point out that we all have emotional reactions that feel like morality, but that morality has to be comprehensible to other members of our society. The trouble is that reason can be built upon reason, and it can be built upon emotions, but at some point the chain of reason has to stop - It can't be turtles all the way down. At that point, we either share a common arational emotional reaction or we won't be able to come to an agreement. And since at bottom what shapes your value judgement is at best an emotional reaction to your past, any moral claim you want to convince me of must either be already in agreement with my emotions (and I just haven't realized that yet because I haven't thought it through), or else I can - without any rational basis at all! - simply ignore you and be no more and no less rational than you were.

And I don't think you can debate feelings.
posted by gd779 at 5:09 PM on December 5, 2003


From all of this I conclude:

1) I'm putting excessive emphasis on the role of reason
2) Nevertheless, there is clearly no objective (or "universal") morality without recourse to the supernatural
3) People with different moral values than you cannot be criticized as being "irrational", at least, no more than you can.
4) Power is very, very important, and we must simply hope that those with the power to mete out punishment will be benevolent rather than malevolent. Religious or moral beliefs can either protect us against this danger or exacerbate the danger. Our best course, then, is the diffusion of power and the separation of powers.
5) It would also be useful to convince the world that objective morality exists and requires our beneficence.
6) Less charitably, it could be pointed out that convincing the world of the existence of morality works even better if we don't feel that beneficience ourselves, because then we can free ride and take advantage of the "suckers".
posted by gd779 at 5:30 PM on December 5, 2003


On further reflection, I think it's also important to note that your strong emphasis on the value of individual life and the importance of personal happiness are very modern, very Western, very liberal ideas. The majority of the population currently alive, not to mention throughout time, would probably hold different values. So I'm kind of surprised that you believe your values to be superior to everyone else's (or at least that your values are required for the development of a system of morality).

I thought that was more of a neoconservative view. ;-)
posted by gd779 at 3:05 PM on December 6, 2003


ha! fair enough. But there must be some basic underlying value placed on life, no? I mean, how else do you get into a conversation to begin with? I'm not claiming to have answers, but merely to have common ground. Do you disagree that life has value?

From my perspective, the trouble with this is that shared emotional convictions are not a sufficient basis for compelling truth.

I realize that people have this trouble, but attributing these convictions to an unknowable authority which you perceive in one way but others perceive in another way is no better. Your claiming that something is "moral" just because your "moral perception" or your "god" tells you so, is no better than my claiming it as moral because I value life and derive my opinion from that basic assumption. If someone else disagrees with either one of us, there is little left to say, except that in my case, at least we can attempt to work through to the basis of these beliefs, whereas in yours, we just have to shrug our shoulders and move on.
posted by mdn at 4:09 PM on December 6, 2003


how else do you get into a conversation to begin with?

I'm usually trying to get out of those conversations, not into them.

Your claiming that something is "moral" just because your "moral perception" or your "god" tells you so, is no better than my claiming it as moral because I value life and derive my opinion from that basic assumption

True. Except that you're the one with the "moral perception", not me, so you're arguing against yourself there.

Also, accepting the proposition that God (a being of higher moral value than us, and the creator of the universe) exists and created morality, that reduces the number of axioms needed to get at a moral system dramatically. You only have to accept either one of these two axioms: 1) God's moral system is in harmony with our natures and with the created order, therefore we should accept it, or 2) God is of ultimate knowledge and of higher moral value, therefore it makes sense to obey him. Having fewer axioms, and more basic axioms, is always better.

in my case, at least we can attempt to work through to the basis of these beliefs

You're missing the point entirely. There is no basis for your beliefs. Your beliefs simply are. They are supported by thin air. Just like everyone else's.

whereas in yours, we just have to shrug our shoulders and move on.

Given our past discussions, it's reasonable for you to conclude that those are my beliefs. But they're not.

What do I believe, then? I've been thinking about that question for the last several days. One possible answer is to say that since right and wrong don't exist in a world without God, then in that world I should simply do what I want to do. I might hold myself to certain ethical standards because I want people to be able to trust me and to help me when I need help. And since I feel a genuine desire to help others where possible, I would probably wind up being a "good" person in the eyes of society.

Is that all there is to it? Could I not accept some axioms of morality? I don't know. I'd like a few more days to think about it.
posted by gd779 at 9:11 PM on December 7, 2003


True. Except that you're the one with the "moral perception", not me, so you're arguing against yourself there.

what do you mean?

Having fewer axioms, and more basic axioms, is always better.

I think we still have a fundamental disagreement about what an axiom is, somehow. If "god's perfect and he says so" is an axiom, why not just go with "I'm always right" as the only necessary "axiom" for anything you want to prove, ever?

You're missing the point entirely. There is no basis for your beliefs. Your beliefs simply are. They are supported by thin air. Just like everyone else's.

well, it seems to me that the beliefs I'm leaning on are more firmly grounded than things like god and absolute morality. To question whether I really want to live and be happy, and whether other people really want to live and be happy too, seems on par with questioning whether I/other people really exist and are conscious. Yes, skepticism is a completely rational philosophical position, but it doesn't really have any use; it doesn't affect how you behave in the world (even Hume said all this stuff left his mind when he left his office) and doesn't open any new lines of inquiry. We can't prove these things, but if we're going to do anything, if we're going to interact with the world, we still act as if these things are so, even while being aware philosophically that there's no certainty they are. The same doesn't hold for invisible all powerful entities and the like.

Is that all there is to it? Could I not accept some axioms of morality?

the only way my earlier "axioms" (which is not how I usually break down ethics) differ from that outline was in an attempt to suggest that humans in general aim for that sort of life.
posted by mdn at 9:02 AM on December 8, 2003


what do you mean?

I mean that the statement "I value life (mine and others)" is a "moral perception" telling you what your system of morality should be. You argue against "moral perceptions", but you're the one with a fundamental belief in benevolence, in the equality of human beings, in the centrality of happiness, and in the value of life. Those are all moral perceptions.

It sounds like you still think your beliefs are somehow more "reasonable" or more "universal" or more "necessary" than other beliefs. They're not. Millions of people live just fine without adopting your basic beliefs about, for example, the value of life. Which leads me to...

To question whether I really want to live and be happy, and whether other people really want to live and be happy too, seems on par with questioning whether I/other people really exist and are conscious.

I've been thinking about that too. The difference is that the physical world is constant, unchanging, undeniable, and objective. Without basic belief in the truth of our physical perceptions, we deny the very possibility of all knowledge.

The "moral" world - even at the basic, axiomatic level, regarding beliefs like "happiness is the point of life" or even "life has value" - changes from person to person, from era to era, and from situation to situation. Also, it is entirely possible to reject those beliefs entirely and simply live an amoral, selfish life. So while philosophical skepticism over the existence of the physical world denies the possibility of all knowledge, and therefore quickly devolves into absurdity, there is nothing necessary or or objective about the existence of the moral world.

Which leads me to...

We can't prove these things, but if we're going to do anything, if we're going to interact with the world, we still act as if these things are so, even while being aware philosophically that there's no certainty they are.

But see, I absolutely can interact with the world while denying the existence of morals, or the value of life. That's not problematic at all. On the other hand, I can't interact with the world while denying the existence of the world.

the only way my earlier "axioms" (which is not how I usually break down ethics) differ from that outline was in an attempt to suggest that humans in general aim for that sort of life.

Okay, then explain to me how you get from "humans in general aim for that sort of life" to "I should care about the goals of other humans even when I don't feel like it, and should sometimes put their needs before my own".
posted by gd779 at 10:13 AM on December 8, 2003


the only way my earlier "axioms" (which is not how I usually break down ethics)...

How do you usually break down ethics, then?
posted by gd779 at 5:16 PM on December 8, 2003


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