Tuesday, September 13, 2005

On Homophobia, Science and the Non-Existence of Morality

Why the morality or immorality of homosexual behavior is irrelevant.


In what will probably be my most controversial post to date, I'm about to tackle a major issue: homosexuality. The route will be winding, making a sharp detour toward my stance on moral relativity. I guess, for an issue as large and multi-faceted as homosexuality, it would be remiss for me to not start with the Infallible Word of God on the subject. Let's see what the inerrant Book has to say:


"You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination."

Lev. 18:22

"If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them."

Lev. 20:13

Shit.


But then again, there's this...


"As for your male and female slaves whom you may have--you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you."

Lev. 25:44

So maybe Leviticus isn't a suitable guide to determine 21st century policy.


Back to reality now, the seed for this commentary was planted when I saw the headline about Arnold Schwarzenegger vowing to veto a California gay marriage bill. The move, according to Schwarzenegger, is "out of respect for the will of the people." It's sure a good thing political leaders weren't thinking like that back in the '60s, when interracial marriage was the controversy of the day. In January 1967, the Supreme Court struck down the anti-interracial-marriage laws in Virginia and 18 other states. And in 1967, these laws weren't just leftover scraps from a bygone era. Two years before, at the height of the civil-rights revolution, a Gallup poll found that 72 percent of Southern whites and 42 percent of Northern whites still wanted to ban interracial marriage. Sometimes, small-minded people need to be nudged in the direction of liberty.


I'm not going to drag out the debate about whether homosexuality is innate or learned behavior. However, to pass on a sense of the scientific debate surrounding whether homosexuality resides in the genes, I direct you Here for more information.


Some salient quotes:


"Sexual orientation is not an either-or trait but exists as a continuum (Haynes 1995). Those with some heterosexual orientation can still contribute homosexual genes (to the extent it is genetic...)"


" The most manifest heterosexuals may have homosexual tendencies, too. Homophobic male heterosexuals showed more arousal to homosexual images than did nonhomophobic heterosexuals (Adams et al. 1996). Societal condemnation of homosexuality may contribute to its genes being propagated by causing latent homosexuals to behave heterosexually."


" It should be noted that the question of explaining homosexuality is not limited to humans. Homosexuality exists in hundreds of animal species (Bagemihl 1998)."


The last quote should serve as compelling evidence that homosexuality is not a human method of rebelling against God and societal rules. It is natural to the extent that it occurs throughout nature. Indeed, it seems to be the product of instinct, whether acted upon or bottled up. Here is some more information about homosexuality/bisexuality in the animal kingdom:


"Bonobo

The bonobo, which has a matriarchal society (unusual amongst apes), is a fully bisexual species -- both males and females engage in heterosexual and homosexual behavior, being noted for lesbianism in particular."

"In October 2003 a study was released, stating, that homosexual behavior in sheep is related to a region in their brain (called 'ovine sexually dimorphic nucleus' or oSDN). The scientists found: 'The oSDN in rams that preferred females was significantly larger and contained more neurons than in male-oriented rams and ewes. In addition, the oSDN of the female-oriented rams expressed higher levels of aromatase, a substance that converts testosterone to estradiol so that the androgen hormone can facilitate typical male sexual behaviors. Aromatase expression was no different between male-oriented rams and ewes.'"


The reference for the information is: Bruce Bagemihl: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity. St. Martin's Press, 1999. The quotes come from Here.


Now, the homophobe will immediately counter all that information with a simple question, "So, just because animals do it, we should also?" It's actually a trick question, because nobody "should" do anything. I'm a moral relativist. I don't think "absolute objective morality," even if it does exist in the abstract, can be discovered by humans. Our perception/senses are far too fallible, and the notion of morality is far too intangible and immeasurable. The same principle applies to concepts such as "civilized society," which inherently include human value judgments.


The human species has adopted a societal structure (including morals), in many different forms to adapt to different cultures, but with significant similarities. Analogously, other species, such as chimpanzees (with whom we share about 96% of our genome), have created societies, with behavioral rules and social expectations. Here is more about that:


"Anatomical differences between Common and Pygmy (Bonobo) Chimpanzees are slight, but in sexual and social behavior there are marked differences. Common Chimpanzees have an omnivorous diet, a troop hunting culture based on beta males led by a relatively weak alpha, and highly complex social relationships; Bonobos, on the other hand, have a mostly herbivorous diet and an egalitarian, matriarchal, sexually promiscuous culture."

Source: Here

Who is to say any human society is more "civilized" than common chimpanzee society or Bonobo chimpanzee society? Who is to say American society is more "civilized" than Saudi Arabian society? To make judgments such as those is to appeal to one's fallible perception of totally unquantifiable notions (morality/immorality, right/wrong, good/bad). Not to mention, as human Americans, we approach it from a totally biased standpoint. To a human American, our society is probably perceived to be best. Ask an Iranian cleric and I'm sure the response will be different than the American's. And I'm sure Bonobos are equally sure of the correctness of their species' societal structure. Nationalism and speciocentricity blind us to the utter relativism of it all.


So, do I perceive homosexuality to be acceptable behavior? Sure. Maybe I'm right; maybe I'm wrong; maybe there's no such thing as objectively acceptable/unacceptable. Maybe, as I suspect, it's all a matter of personal opinion. If that's the case, I move to let consenting adults (my opinion rears its head to make a restriction) engage in whatever relationships they please, be they heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, incestual, polygamous or any other conceivable combination. If it's all a matter of individual opinion, then it falls beautifully into place in my rugged individualism ideology.


Craft your own morality. Give others the same privilege. That's the only ground rule. Laws should be devised in that vein: Let people do absolutely whatever they want, so long as their actions do not impede others from doing absolutely whatever they want. "Morality," much like "value of life" and "sanctity," should be expunged from the consciousness of the species. [The "value of life" notion, for example, is terminally biased by the fact that we (as a species) are an “interested” party. It’s only natural that humans arbitrarily decide human lives have more intrinsic “value” than the lives of other animal species--we have a vested interest in staying alive.] Our only concern should be eliminating all barriers to the free exercise of personal choice, both our own and that of others.


But then again, all that is merely the product of a fallible human's imperfect thought processes.


~TLD

13 Comments:

Anonymous Tanooki Joe said...

Quite a good post here.

I think the fact that homosexuality occurs frequently in other species is important because one of the most common charges against homosexuality is that it is unnatural-- that is unique to humans. But if other animals do it (who would, presumely, not possess the "free will" that allows them to "sin") one must wonder why God programmed so much of his creation to sodomize. (perhaps teh gay is infecting the rest of reality! :P)

I must say, though, that you kinda got muddy in the last three paragraphs. I agree with your conclusion, but I'm not so sure if I agree with your route there (or at least how you phrased it). Nevertheless, its a good post, and thanks for the sources.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Aaron Kinney said...

Oh no! Moral relativism! ;)

I am definitely not a moral relativist, so Im gonna have to disagree with you a bit on this one. Although I agree with your reason for allowing homosexuality, I think you are borrowing from objective morality when you do so.

I also think that your mention of speciocentricity doesnt make morality relative. Instead, it makes it contextual. Morality is contextual to the subjects in question. In other words, it is moral for a life form to promote itself and its own kind. This way, it is moral for a human to kill other life forms for food, and it is also moral for those life forms to defend themselves from the humans. Speciocentricity is compatible with an objective morality.

Back to the homosexual argument you provided: I think you borrowed from objective morality itself when you said: "Let people do absolutely whatever they want, so long as their actions do not impede others from doing absolutely whatever they want."

The funny thing is that what you said is almost exactly something that I would say! It's also similar to what Ayn Rand would say. Observe this quote from What is Objectivism:

"I will not sacrifice myself to anyone - nor sacrifice anyone to myself" --Ayn Rand

Both your quote and Ayn Rand's quote are similar because they both rely on an objective moral standard.

As for me personally, I would use this argument in defense of homosexuality: "Consentual sex between adults is OK regardless of gender or the number of parties involved. Objectively, homosexuality itself is only immoral if it interferes with the sustaining of the species via reproduction, which so far doesnt seem to be any problem whatsoever."

I hope you dont mind my criticisms about moral relativism. You know we are buddies!

11:51 PM  
Blogger The Libertarian Defender said...

Hey Aaron...

This intrigues me. It seems that your definition of objective morality is directly linked with the Theory of Evolution by natural selection. That is to say, homosexual behavior would only be immoral if that behavior interfered with the survival/propagation of the species. Even I, surprisingly enough, can see some objective truth to that standard!

I'm just not sure where the objectivity factor relates to the "You do your thing, I do my thing" quotes. I come to the above-quoted conclusion based upon the relativity of right and wrong, thus allowing every person to decide those issues for themselves. I only institute the groundrule about not impeding other peoples' freedom because forcing your will on others, in any way, runs counter to relativity.

If you would be willing, could you explicate further how this principle is grounded in absolute and objective Truth? How could it be tested, measured, gauged or quantified such that we are sure it is not illusory?

BTW, don't worry about disagreeing with me. I don't want this blog to be a mutual admiration society!

12:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a rather funny look at how homosexuality can be used as a tool against a rapid birth rate, I suggest The Wanting Seed by Alex Burgess (yes, the same author of A Clockwork Orange). Though it's fiction, it shows quite nicely how society makes its own morals; from "It's Sapiens To Be Homo!" to the downfall of what was once considered modern society, leading to cheerful cannibalism, warfare to cull the people, and the family being en vogue again. Very interesting as a snapshot of how people, as a whole, will not only follow like sheep, but change their morals at a near whim to follow along with no real need for reason.

-- Sokudo

12:27 AM  
Anonymous Subnormal said...

This is one of the best things I have ever read. It is very well thought-out and puts everything into a perfectly logical little package. I found out about www.thesystemhasyou.com from the totalfark sample page (a free page of totalfark.com from sometime in january) which lead me to atheism online, the liberal defender, and the evangelical atheist. i will be reading every single one of these sites daily from now on. i have been a libertarian now since just about the time i turned 17 (2 years ago) and an atheist since i was 11 (just about old enough to think for myself) i would have to say i was always a libertarian at heart, i just didnt know the name for it (until then i had considered myself somewhat of a "quasi-democrat" god damned 2-party system in america really gets me down sometimes)

ONE LAST THING:

www.impeachbush.org

HUGE IMPEACHMENT MARCH ON WASHINGTON SEPTEMBER 24th AT NOON

be there, LET FREEDOM RING

1:33 AM  
Anonymous James said...

O.K., I think I may have a shot, here. First, I agree with your assessment about the legitimacy of homosexuality. From your libertarian perspective, i.e., that any behavior is perfectly legitimate as long as it doesn't impact any other's right to behave as he/she/they wish, it follows trivially. Moreover, I acknowledge that humans are bounded away from any knowledge of objective morality, if any exists, on the grounds of human fallibility, as well as, in Hume's view, the simple logic that moral assertions are inevitably expressions of preference, only, when sufficiently examined.

On the other hand, morality does present a practical challenge to the libertarian prespective, it seems to me: how to we effect a mechanism to ensure that every individual retains her/his libertarian rights, in the presence of real human greed, insensitivity, ignorance, and just plain cussedness? Can we do that without common action, and without assessing the relative desirability of some behaviors over others, in a common way? We don't yet have a totally unbaised AI agent ensuring that each of our individual actions is prevented from impacting the nearest (for example) other's libertarian rights. Yet we live in society, so we must have some means to enable us collectively to continue to enjoy the benefits of that style of life; unless you want to espouse pure social Darwinism, I think you'd have to opt for some rule-creation and inculcation mechanism, e.g., value education in primary grades, say. I'd want to say that morality might, at its best, be the distillation of what we can collectively agree upon as limits to our individual behaviors, that we would all agree should be socialized into our developing members; what say you?

BTW, sorry to stray off your choice of topic; I did address it at the beginning ;^).

Cheers,
jwl

1:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, all say it again: Aaron is a hottie and so are you Libertarian Defender! I'm so glad you guys agree on homosexuality - maybe you can take some pictures to add to my collection! Man, it's great to meet guys who are smart, atheist, and totally hot as well!

10:10 AM  
Anonymous subnormal said...

you dont have to be a homosexual in order to recognize that it's the person's preference as to which sexual orientation they want to belong

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Tanooki Joe said...

AK,

LibDefender isn't borrowing from objective morality, he simply reached the same conclusion by other means.

I think the problem with your claim of objective morality is just what LibDefender said: How exactly do you epirically substantiate a claim of morality?

You seem to claim Rand as objective morality, but I posit this: what makes Objectivism a objective moral standard? It always seem to me that they just seemed to deem themselves objective by fiat.

My personal view is a bit different from LibDefenders (I tend to take after Hume), but my thoughts refuse to settle right now, so I'll have to come back to it later, I think. :P

6:34 PM  
Blogger The Libertarian Defender said...

Tanooki...

"I think the fact that homosexuality occurs frequently in other species is important because one of the most common charges against homosexuality is that it is unnatural-- that is unique to humans. But if other animals do it (who would, presumely, not possess the "free will" that allows them to "sin") one must wonder why God programmed so much of his creation to sodomize."

Great point! If God has a divine plan, it sure seems as though sodomy plays a significant part in it. I wonder why God would program his creatures to engage in a supposedly damnable act?

Subnormal...

Great to have you! Thank you for your comments here. I hope you enjoy the rest of the blog.

James...

"On the other hand, morality does present a practical challenge to the libertarian prespective, it seems to me: how to we effect a mechanism to ensure that every individual retains her/his libertarian rights, in the presence of real human greed, insensitivity, ignorance, and just plain cussedness? Can we do that without common action, and without assessing the relative desirability of some behaviors over others, in a common way?"

I think the notion of morality just clouds the issue. Moral/immoral, right/wrong, good/bad...these are all value judgments. We need not rely upon them in crafting law. The standard is simple: Laws should promote personal freedom and personal responsibility. Whether the actions involved are subjectively deemed moral or immoral is irrelevant. One should be allowed to do absolutely anything one wishes, so long as that action does not impede others from doing absolutely whatever they wish. All laws should answer to that principle. With that, morality can be expunged from the equation.

Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful comments!

7:28 PM  
Blogger Aaron Kinney said...

LD and Tanooki:

I think the problem with your claim of objective morality is just what LibDefender said: How exactly do you epirically substantiate a claim of morality?


Very easily. We can empirically determine what promotes life, and what inhibits life. And we use these empirical observations to reach conclusions about what is moral and what is not.

Morality is performing the optimal action given a set of choices. And the optimal action is that which promotes life.

Since the promotion of life requires objective actions, and the promotion of life is moral, we can say that morality is objective.

I suggest this website, What is Objectivism? for more info.

Of course, Im more than happy to answer any other questions or provide specific examples if you want :)

8:47 PM  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:19 PM  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

Brokeback Mountain’s terrific reception has suddenly brought all the homophobes out of the woodwork. So now, here are three excellent counterarguments to present to homophobes and others who disapprove of homosexuality (Bible-based disapproval or otherwise).

1. Leviticus is morally bankrupt.

Here are two oft-cited passages from Leviticus that condemn homosexual activity:

"You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination."
Lev. 18:22

"If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them."
Lev. 20:13

However, Leviticus also contains many more commands:

As for your male and female slaves whom you may have--you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you.
Then, too, it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession.
You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another.
Lev 25:44-46

If there is a man who marries a woman and her mother, it is immorality; both he and they shall be burned with fire, so that there will be no immorality in your midst.
Lev.20:14

Also the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by harlotry, she profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire.
Lev.21:9

"Speak to Aaron, saying, 'No man of your offspring throughout their generations who has a defect shall approach to offer the food of his God.
For no one who has a defect shall approach: a blind man, or a lame man, or he who has a disfigured face, or any deformed limb,
or a man who has a broken foot or broken hand,
or a hunchback or a dwarf, or one who has a defect in his eye or eczema or scabs or crushed testicles.
No man among the descendants of Aaron the priest who has a defect is to come near to offer the LORD'S offerings by fire; since he has a defect, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God.
He may eat the food of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy,
only he shall not go in to the veil or come near the altar because he has a defect, so that he will not profane My sanctuaries. For I am the LORD who sanctifies them."
Lev.21:17-23

Further, you will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters you will eat.
Lev 26:29

By the way, Leviticus also has some flat-out factual inaccuracies…

Leviticus 11:6 states that rabbits chew their cud.

Leviticus 11:20-23 speaks of four-legged insects, including grasshoppers.

2. Homophobes might be overcompensating.

"The most manifest heterosexuals may have homosexual tendencies, too. Homophobic male heterosexuals showed more arousal to homosexual images than did nonhomophobic heterosexuals (Adams et al. 1996). Societal condemnation of homosexuality may contribute to its genes being propagated by causing latent homosexuals to behave heterosexually."
Source: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB403.html

3. Homosexuality and bisexuality are pervasive.

"It should be noted that the question of explaining homosexuality is not limited to humans. Homosexuality exists in hundreds of animal species (Bagemihl, 1998)."
Source: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB403.html

The research of Bruce Bahemihl, PhD:

*Silver gulls (females)*
percent homosexual: 10
percent bisexual: 11
percent heterosexual: 79

*Black headed gulls (both sexes)*
percent homosexual: 22
percent bisexual: 15
percent heterosexual: 63

*Japanese macaques (both sexes)*
percent homosexual: 9
percent bisexual: 56
percent heterosexual: 35

*Bonobo chimpanzees (both sexes)*
percent homosexual: 0
percent bisexual: 100
percent heterosexual: 0

*Galahs (both sexes)*
percent homosexual: 44
percent bisexual: 11
percent heterosexual: 44

11:03 PM  

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