Friday, June 18, 2010

Morality, Willingness to Pay, and Homosexual Desire

I'm considering the merits of the proposition that we can measure a virtue in terms of cumulative willingness to pay to realize a state of affairs in which a given malleable desire is made universal. This willingness to pay is qualified by what agents would be willing to pay under conditions of equal wealth and true beliefs.

So, let us look at a desire for sex with members of the same sex . . . homosexuality.

I am not interested in defending the proposition that homosexuality is a virtue. That is to say, I am not going to argue that homosexuality is a desire that people of equal wealth and true beliefs would have many and strong reasons to encourage.

Certainly people have many and strong reasons to avoid a state in which everybody is homosexual. However, people have many and strong reasons to avoid a state in which everybody is a bus driver, or an engineer, or a math teacher. These states would all be desire-thwarting. In fact, the last three would be more desire-thwarting than the first, given that we have reproductive technologies that do not require heterosexual acts.

Yet, this does not imply that driving busses, engineering, and math teaching are evil and must be eliminated. When the argument given against homosexuality is, "What if everybody were a homosexual?" the best response would be to ask, "What if everybody was a priest?"

The question under consideration is cumulative willingness to pay among people of equal wealth and true beliefs to realize a state in which no homosexual desire existed.

Early on, we must also repeat the fact that morality is concerned with the molding of malleable desires – those that social praise and condemnation can actually strengthen or weaken. A fixed desire – or any point at which a malleable desire is immune to further change – is outside of the realm of moral discourse.

The next thing to note is that there really is no such thing as homosexual desire. This is misleading. There is a desire to have sex with men. And there is a desire to have sex with women. In some cases the desire to have sex with men resides in a man's body, and the desire to have sex with women resides in a woman's body.

Or, if we want to get more clinical, the desire to have sex with a man resides in a body of XY chromosomes, and the desire to have sex with women resides in a body with XX chromosomes, though there are complicating factors involving XXY chromosomes and other possibilities.

So, let us realize that we are dealing with a desire to have sex with men, and a desire to have sex with women, not "homosexual desire" per se. Some argue that the former desire should not exist in the body of a man, and the latter should not exist in the body of a woman, but that the desires themselves are not to be gotten rid of.

Now, I argued earlier that to measure virtues and vices one has to measure willingness to pay based on true beliefs. Many of the people willing to pay to selectively rid the world of these desires ground their willingness to pay on false beliefs.

So, how much would you be willing to pay for a bottle of water?

Does it make a difference whether the bottle contained fresh, treated water versus water collected off of the surface of the Gulf of Mexico just south of New Orleans?

It is willingness to pay given true beliefs that is important, not willingness to pay. And the vast majority of those willing to pay to rid the world of homosexual desire are not grounding their willingness to pay on true beliefs. They hold to myths about God and God's will, and about what is natural, that simply are not true.

They think they are buying a bottle of fresh, treated water, when what they are getting is contaminated Gulf of Mexico seawater. If they knew what they were buying, many of them would be willing to pay far less.

Furthermore, many of them who are willing to pay to rid the world of homosexual desire are also willing to lie to us about the benefits that come from this. Even people who have true beliefs about God's wishes and what is "natural" are fed false beliefs through the popular media - particularly through election campaigns - about the merits of ridding the world of this desire.

Homosexuals molest children. Homosexuals are responsible for AIDS. Permitting homosexual relationships will lead to the destruction of civilization comparable to what happened to the Roman Empire.

Any of these things, if true, would provide people with a reason to pay to rid the world of homosexual desire.

None of them are true. So we cannot look at actual willingness to pay to rid the world of homosexual desire as a measure of what people with true beliefs would be willing to pay. There are far too many people in the world today whose willingness to pay is corrupted by false beliefs.

This gives us reason to question the desires of those who exaggerate the reasons that others have to promote a particular desire or aversion.

For example, those who say that homosexuals molest children are parasites who care little about the welfare of children. What they are trying to do is hyjack other people's concern for children and use those resources for their own evil purposes. Because their bigoted values are more important than than the welfare of children, they want to take some of the resources devoted to promoting the welfare of children and divert it to their bigoted ends. Those ends have nothing to do with the welfare of children and in many cases do more harm than good.

If a person truly cares about the welfare of children, he is going to ask himself, "Is this true?" He is going to want to make sure that these claims are true precisely because he will be worried about the possibility of diverting resources dedicated to the welfare of children from that end.

If he does not ask - if he does not investigate and pay attention to what the principles of sound reason tells him - then he must not be motivated do so. That is to say, he really does not care about the children. He pretends to, in order to hijack other people's concern and twist it to serve his alternative agenda.

Of course, we can ask of those people who are convinced by these absurd claims how much they really care about children if they allow their concern to be so easily hijacked – if they allow themselves to be persuaded too easily.

Here, we would have to ask about the value of a genuine interest in the welfare of children - which tells us how important it is to condemn those who seek to hijack concern for the welfare of children to promote other ends that are at best neutral and at worse causing harm to children and to the futures available to them.

If they are truly concerned with the welfare of children, then their willingness to pay to rid the world of such a desire may be negative, while their false beliefs drive them to claim it is positive.

The people who have an actual desire to rid the world of homosexual desire have their interests counted. However, those who are mislead into believing that the welfare of children is at stake by those making unjustified claims about the threat to children because it furthers their agenda do not have real reasons to pay to reduce or eliminate the desire. They have purchased some moral snake-oil - snake-oil that will cause the customer to harm those who the snake-oil salesman wants to have harmed.

We do not need people like that in our society. We have a lot more reason to condemn them then the man with a desire to have sex with a man, or the woman with a desire to have sex with a woman.


dbonfitto said...

Consider also, the opposite side of the Ron Popeil question, "Now how much would you pay?" by flipping it: "How much would you have to be paid to allow this to happen?"

It might be a more useful tool for weighing undesirability. e.g. How much is it going to cost BP to make things right with a Gulf Coast fisherman? How much to fix things for a dead oil rig worker's family? How much to get me to buy their gas again?

If I give you $1,000 can I punch you? What about $1,000,000? How about punching a relative? How about a stranger? How much to take away your right to vote?

Maybe money isn't the tool we should use to measure the desirability of things. It seems to have a lot of baggage.

I'd love to see a more accurate instrument.

dbonfitto said...

So DM, you appear to be responding to my request for a more accurate instrument for measuring moral value by demonstrating a quantifiable technique. i.e. "GOD 1 - atheists 0"

Could you explain how these numbers are determined? Is there a metric or any sort of experimental data available?

Also, do you type the whole thing in every time or are you just pasting the text from the clipboard?

Doug S. said...

Please ban the troll.

SirMoogie said...

Just stumbled upon this now. So, does the truth of a belief that influences a desire come into play when evaluating whether or not the desire is "good" or "bad"? This seems to be what you're suggesting, which would make desirism more than just the thwarting or fulfilment of desires.