Friday, November 04, 2011

Homosexuality and the Choice Argument

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about the relevance of choice in morality. I argued that morality requires determinism because it is ultimately about using social forces such as praise and condemnation to promote some desires and inhibit others.

I applied this to smoking and obesity to outline criteria where, in a determined world, people can be held morally responsible for these actions and obligated to pay their own costs.

These points are also relevant to the issue of homosexuality. In this issue, we frequently encounter the claim that homosexuality ought not to be condemned because it is not a choice, "Do not blame me, I did not choose to be gay."

Recently, when people are confronted with the opinion that homosexuality is a choice, will make the retort, "When did you choose to become straight?"

Clever, right?

Actually, no.

It is a clearly flawed response that suggests that the speaker is clutching at straws in a desperate attempt to defend a strongly desired conclusion, without regard to the reasonableness of the response.

Critics can instantly see the flaws – particularly given the fact that people are far better at seeing the mistakes that others make than they are at seeing their own mistakes. This argument gets cheered, but the cheers generally come from people displaying the same desperation to ignore the flaws in an argument that supports a desired conclusion.

To prove how poor this response is, simply note that a pedophile can give the same response. "Do not blame me. I did not choose to become a pedophile. When did you choose not to become attracted to children?"

How many nanoseconds did it take you to see the flaw in thus argument.

"Perhaps you did not choose to be a pedophile, but you do choose whether or not to act on those desires. And the choice of whether to not to act on those desires is very much under the influence of social forces such as praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment. So, it is very much a legitimate object of moral concern. Perhaps it makes no sense for me to condemn you for having the desire, but I can certainly have a lot of very strong reasons to condemn you for acting on them. And that is the choice I am talking about when I condemn you and people like you."

At this point, the gay rights activist will shout, "How dare you compare homosexuality to child abuse!!"

Thus proving just how effective emotional rationalization can be at missing the point. This response does not compare homosexuality to child abuse. It compares an argument offered in defense of homosexuality to a potential argument in defense of having sex with children. In doing so, it shows that the argument is unsound. However, proving that an argument is unsound does not prove that the conclusion is false.

There is no moral case to be made against homosexual acts among consenting adults. The gender of one's sexual partner relative to oneself is entirely morally irrelevant – whereas, for many reasons, the age and mental capacity of one's sex partner is highly relevant.

The amount of choice one has in acquiring the desire is equally irrelevant. It is the choice one exercises in acting on the desire that we are looking at in making moral evaluations.

The fact is, the decision of whether, when, how, and with whom one will have sex can be influenced by social forces. There may be limits, but there is also some flexibility. We see this in the different sexual norms of sexual cultures – differences more easily explained by the applications of social forces than by the presence of genes.

Homosexual acts are not like child abuse. We have many and strong reasons to use social forces to promote an aversion to having sex with children. We have no reason to promote an aversion to having sex with somebody of the same gender.

Many of us have such an aversion. But many of us also have an aversion to eating raw fish. Having such an aversion does not justify the condemnation of those who are different from us. It does not justify condemning those who do not have the same aversion.

Homosexual acts are not immoral. Or, I should say, the factors that determine their morality - coercion, honesty, the safety of one's partner - are the same for heterosexual and homosexual acts. Gender partner relative to oneself is not on the list of factors.

However, grasping at straws in defense of a desired conclusion is immoral. We have way too much of that going on the world, and we are made worse off as a result. This is something that we have reason to condemn. And this applies to the way that the defenders of gay rights use the "choice" argument. In the moral sense, homosexual acts are a choice.

Besides, why choose an option that makes you look desperate and rationally blinded by a need to defend a desired conclusion when you don’t have to.


Anonymous said...

So where do you get your definitions of morals?

Joshua Bennett said...

@Anonymous: Alonzo's moral system is called desirism, and there's links about it on the sidebar.

Thanks, Alonzo, for posting this. I've often used the argument that you show here to be unsound. Needless to say, I won't anymore. :)

kipkoan said...

Well said, Alonzo. Serendipitously, I was just telling some people this same thing a few days ago. I would like to add one thing, though:

While "homosexuality is not a choice" is not an argument in defense of homosexual actions, it is an argument in defense of homosexual desires. A lot of moral condemnation is aimed at the homosexual desires themselves, as if those desires could be changed. Studies have shown this is false. Homosexual desires are biological, not something that a person chooses (and not something that can change due to social pressure).

Matt said...

Being straight as a choice is not a flawed response to the claim that being gay is a choice.

Your comeback to this is whether being attracted to children is a choice. That does not make the first response flawed. It just means that the response to THIS comeback is, that whether it is a choice is irrelevant.

That there is a comeback doesn't mean that the response is flawed, it just means that there is a response to the comeback.

Kristopher said...

nice post.

History is full of instances where sexual prefrences differ from culture to culture. other poeple assure me that it has been proven by scientists to be genetic. I haven't looked at the study but if we assume It's well made then we can say that sexuality is defined both by culture and genetic disposition.

and while the causes of sexual orientation is interesting they are irrelevant to whether or not we should support the lbgt community. We have every reason to support humans entering into eqalitarian relationships that fullfill their desires and the desires of others.

it would seem to me that if we wanted to make a society that efficiently fullfilled desires we would encourage bi-sexuality without condemning single gender relationships. I am not bi-sexual but i can see that it doubles the available partners and thus the chance that one who could find a compatible relationship. and if soceity had bestowed upon me and my peers this disposition (in so far as it was able) it would lead to greater desire fullfillment oppurtunity within society.

this holds for group marriage as well. if people weren't taking themselves off the market after marriage it would be easier for pepople to find life partners and meaningful relationships simply becuase there would be more opputunities.

i am not saying that single gender single marriage partner relationships should not be condemned. but that egalitarian bi-sexual group marriages should be praised (not traidiotnal mysogonistic ploygamy). since, as a system, it would lead to the most desire fullfillment. it seems to me the person with perfect desires would be both bi-sexual and open to a group marriage between consenting adults in an equal relationship.

p.s. @ mat, if you read the sentences after that quote you would have learned that he was not equating the activities, he was comparing the arguments. He was showing that the argument which we use to support something good (gay rights) could also be used to support something bad (pedophilia (or anything for that matter)).

furthermore the act of comparing good and bad activites is not idiotic even if it had been done. one needs to compare things in order to better understand those things and the differences between them.

Flimsyman said...

I've never heard someone say that pedophilia is wrong because it's a choice that someone makes. That it's clearly acceptable to punish child molesters because it's a conscious decision. No one has to rationalize to that point when figuring out how acceptable it is to punish pedophile behavior. By and large, people acknowledge that acting on pedophile desires is wrong because it harms children.

People absolutely argue that it's acceptable to punish homosexuality because it's a conscious choice. When people run out of nonsense arguments for why homosexuality is harmful, they rationalize their bigotry by insisting that it's a choice, and thus that people could just stop being gay. THAT is the obvious and valuable place of pointing out to the heterosexual bigot that they did not choose to be straight.

Anonymous said...

Sad to read some of the comments. If one does minimal research they can identify that there is no scientific studies that are conclusive to show that Homosexuality is genetic. There are some poor correlations. If someone is black can they become white? There are many, many homosexuals that decide not to be homosexuals... This goes against the political homosexual agenda so it gets buried. It is a shame that the country has been debased so much by the homosexual agenda. It will change though when more and more people get tired of the politics and really look at science. That will be a great day for the USA.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

You should have read the post and not just the comments.

The post concerns the fact that genetics does not matter. If being black was a choice (if some sort of milkshake could make a person white), it would still be immoral to discriminate against those who chose to be black. Failure to do so would be to inflict harms on others for no good reason. Indeed, the only reason we have for inflicting harms on homosexuals is because some pre-historic bigots thought homosexuality was icky and they gave the same opinion to the god they invented.

Genetics does not matter. Causing harm for no good reason is what matters.

Chanaka Palliyaguru said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I fully agree. I think that homosexual desire and action is not immoral but having sex is a moral choice for human beings, every time with anyone whom they choose to engage in sex. The "it's not a choice" argument is damaging to everyone. If I had a child, heterosexual or homosexual I would want them to understand that having sex is a moral choice. I would encourage them not to have sex because they are to young. I think the "choice" argument puts children in danger, especially homosexual children. They must learn that having sex is a moral choice no matter who or what they are attracted to.