Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Consequences of Biodeterminism

Some years ago in university, I gave a speech to a student group I was a part of to open up a discussion; the speech was on the limits of tolerance, and tackled the problem of the shape of discourse/opinion/action on the topic of tolerance and policing. One of my longstanding opinions is that politically immature forms of liberalism necessarily look away from many hard facts of reality, and that they often cannot really face the foundations on which they rest; this problem is more pronounced in multiculturalist flavours of liberalism, but also present in mainstream liberalism; I have had a commitment to pop these delusions, no matter how much of a bad guy it might make me look, because at some point someone will hold a mirror up to people with this problem and it should ideally be another liberal who can offer them more mature concepts to replace their naïve ones.

In case the topic is not clear to my readers yet, the tension sits in efforts of some kinds of liberals to be maximally tolerant of every perspective and not to do social shaping; both of these intuitions are fine in their lesser forms, moderated by understanding of need and logical consistency, but their stronger forms are rubbish; any society or movement that aims to be tolerant or respectful of diverse worldviews will have its tolerance based around some centre and find itself excluding in order to sustain its intent in that form. Without ground rules (that would exclude people who break them), no order (reasonably tolerant or not) is possible, and in practice there are enough irreconcilable differences that touch upon parameterisation of any notion of tolerance that one must practically take sides. There is nothing wrong with this; it is necessary and healthy, but we should be able to state clearly that this is what we are doing. If we operate from a sphere where people of all races have equal humanity, we will need to exclude those who demand a recognition of superiority from those of other races (as one example). Most of these suppositions have either become invisible to us or are things we delude ourselves into being objective and natural; this lie becomes so natural that it enables a false humility as we hide parts of our worldview into "universal human rights"; no. These are our assertions of what is right, and they are given power by our consnsus, not any deluded claim that they are part of the nature of things. We are naturally in conflict from those who differ from us on those grounds, and we might reasonably decide that their perspectives sit outside the pale; perspectives we decide not to tolerate. And that's fine.

It is a mark of maturity of a philosophy that it can look in the mirror and see the hard truths on which it is built and recognise them. Those who cannot do this and claim moral high ground in their delusions merit no airs.

Anyhow, JJ McCulough recently commented on another Dan Savage speech where he spoke against bullying and anti-gay culture while criticising Christianity as the origin for much of such behaviour.

Does McCulough have a point?

Savage might have made much of his point without any mention of Christianity, and made it easier to build bridges with the (many) flavours of Christianity that would either condemn the bullying more than homosexuality or that are entirely okay with homosexuality. That might be tactically wise for some notions of tactics, and certainly would be the tamest thing he might've done.

Did Savage have to do that? What if he read the religious texts, took them seriously and extrapolated from the purported acts of Yeshua in the Christian Bible that any reasonable reading of Christianity is going to be hostile to homosexuality, that in the long run conservative (and honest) readings of Christianity will continue to surface from the prominence of the texts and be hostile to homosexuals, and felt that the mysticism in Christianity is holding us back from having the discussions we should be having that would presumably obliterate homophobia? Should he not express his thoughts on that because it might offend? (Or should he have less of a voice?)

I sympathise with Savage's calling the Christian Bible "bullshit". I am not bothered by a fear of offending people. I do hope for the end to faith. But personally, I am committed to a long-term win there, not a short-term one. We won't be ready (or have a means) to convince the world even over the course of a century or two. We don't yet have secular communities that can provide what religious communities provide to people now. I don't think we (seculars) should be shy about our worldview or what we want, but in the long run we want to convince rather than enrage people, all while maintaining the dignity of self-expression and the willingness to challenge and confront others. We are not looking for coexistence in the long-term, but we should win through civil dialogue and good arguments. I do prefer not to damage useful alliances though, which is an area where I'd tread more lightly than Savage; topical alliances with liberal Christians can make sense for certain causes. Keeping that alliance should not mean hiding who we are any more than we would demand crosses be hidden; if the crossbusters and cross logos can be worn by people working together for select causes, all the better. If not, we should not be the ones to sacrifice our identity for the sake of cooperation.

For those who actually would legally deny rights, from marriage to adoption, to gays, we can reasonably hope to build consensus against them and make them lose. For those who bully homosexuals, we do the same. We should leave space for those who consider such acts sinful but don't harass, intend to deny rights to, or build consensus for legal/bullying harm against homosexuals, as part of a general acceptance of diversity of opinion; the line sits there. Note that while I am speaking of homosexuals here specifically, the same idea applies, mostly, to other minority groups I have spoken of before in the light of meriting protection.

I extend this further with a thought experiment; would it change my thoughts much if I were convinced that sexual orientation were literally a choice. I consider this a counterfactual; I have been sexually interested in people of both genders ever since puberty (actually became interested in guys a bit younger than gals), and most people I've known don't seem to have my inclinations; homophobia in the United States is part of what it's like to be inculturated into traditionally male gender-roles, and like everyone else I internalised that and struggled with it during and immediately after my relationship with the guy I dated. I've felt that people who are not straight and who have never managed to undo that homophobia do have a certain, often visible brokenness in how they talk and act about sexuality; I might be checking out the butts and legs of people of either gender as they run by in the park (and they can check me out if they like while I run), but I'm not particularly ashamed of it, just potentially unsure how other people will take it so I keep it low-key. Same with faces and necks. With closeted bisexuals/gays with self-disapproval on that issue, this takes a different form; a smaller glance, a guilty look. Anyhow, for a lot of reasons, I've felt that my not being exactly straight was something that turned out to be part of me, different from most of those around me and not something I chose. It wasn't a choice, but I don't resent it (or think much about it most of the time, actually).

If we explore what I'm calling a counterfactual, and pretend orientation differences don't exist and that anyone is qually able to be in a sexual or romantic relationship with people of either gender, how would it change how we think about homophobia? I suspect it would change things considerably; the justice concerns for immutable categories probably merit a lot more protection than those for mutable ones. If a sizable portion of the population intrinsically needs a certain option to feel natural/happy/have a reasonable life, in a way that we have little or no ability to shape, we give that a lot of leeway. For things that are more of a choice, like religion, nationality, language, clothing style, etc, we should be prepared to say "no" to their specifics, or to shape or eliminate or create diversity or similar.

Biological diversity has precedence over more voluntary diversity; groups that seek to eliminate or supress a biological difference generally merit grave concern (Exceptions being things outside normal human variation, like being deformed or mentally ill, where we might reasonably hope to correct such things with genetic or other therapy). Voluntary diversity, by contrast, is subject to a battlefield of ideas and any decision for some kind of tolerance is pragmatic and of lower priority.

I recognise that voluntariness is not a hard-and-fast line; for some topics these concerns would scale upwards or downwards based on how voluntary they are.


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