A Philosopher's Blog

Homosexuality & Choice

Posted in Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on February 12, 2014
English: Gender symbols, sexual orientation: h...

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Since the matter of choice is rather interesting to me, it is hardly a shock that I would be interested in the question of whether or not sexual orientation is a choice. One obvious problem with trying to settle this matter is that it seems impossible to prove (or disprove) the existence of the capacity for choice. As Kant argued, free will seems to lie beyond the reach of our knowledge. As such, it would seem that it could not be said with confidence that a person’s sexual orientation is a matter of choice. But, this is nothing special: the same can be said about the person’s political party, religion, hobbies and so on.

Laying aside the metaphysical speculation, it can be assumed (or perhaps pretended) that people do have a choice in some matters. Given this assumption, the question would seem to be whether sexual orientation legitimately belongs in the category of things that can be reasonably assumed to be matters of choice.

On the face of it, sexual orientation seems to fall within the realm of sexual preference. That is, in the domain of what a person finds sexually appealing and attractive. This seems to fall within a larger set of what a person finds appealing and attractive.

At this time, it seems reasonable to believe that what people find appealing and attractive has some foundation in neural hardwiring rather than in what could be regarded as choice. For example, humans apparently find symmetrical faces more attractive than non-symmetrical faces and this is not a matter of choosing to prefer one over another. Folks who like evolution tend to claim that this preference exists because those with symmetrical faces are often healthier and hence better for breeding purposes.

Food preferences probably also involve hard wiring: humans really like salty and sweet foods and the usual explanation also ties into evolution. For example, sweet foods are high calorie foods but are rare in nature, hence our ancestors who really liked sweets did better at surviving than those who did not really like sweets. Or some such story of survival of the sweetest.

Given the assumption that there are such hardwired preferences, it is conceivable that sexual preferences also involve some hardwiring. So, for example, a person might be hardwired to have a preference for sexual partners with light hair over those with dark hair.  Then again, the preference might be based on experience—the person might have had positive experiences with those with light hair and thus was conditioned to have that preference. The challenge is, of course, to sort out the causal role of hard wiring from the causal role of experience (including socialization). What is left over might be what could be regarded as choice.

In the case of sexual orientation, it seems reasonable to have some doubts about experience being the primary factor. After all, homosexual behavior has long been condemned, discouraged and punished. As such, it seems less likely that people would be socialized into being homosexual—especially in places where being homosexual is punishable by death. However, this is not impossible—perhaps people could be somehow socialized into being gay by all the social efforts to make them be straight.

In regards to hardwiring for sexual orientation, that seems to have some plausibility. This is mainly because there seems to be a lack of evidence that homosexuality is chosen. Assuming that the options are choice, nature or nurture, then eliminating choice and nurture would leave nature. But, of course, this could be a false trilemma: there might be other options.

It can be objected that people do chose homosexual behavior and thus being homosexual is a choice. While this does have some appeal, it is important to distinguish between a person’s orientation and what the person choses to do. A person might be heterosexual and chose to engage in homosexual activity in order to gain the protection of a stronger male in prison. A homosexual might elect to act like a heterosexual to avoid being killed. However, this choices would not seem to change their actual orientation. As such, I tend to hold that orientation is not a choice but that behavior is a matter of choice.

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Why the Obsession With Homosexuality?

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 20, 2010
Balboa setting his war dogs upon Indian practi...
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While it might be an exaggeration to say that some story involving the matter of homosexuality appears in the American news everyday, it certainly seems to be a popular theme. The usual pattern is that someone will make a remark that is offensive to homosexuals and this will open the floodgates for responses and commentary. Obviously, I am guilty of being caught up in the flood. Mainly I am curious about what seems to be an obsession with the subject.

The easy and obvious answer is that being critical of homosexuality is an easy way for politicians on the right to establish their conservative bona fides. Of course, this sometimes takes a problematic turn for some allegedly anti-gay folks when there is an unfortunate boner find.  On the left, leaping to criticize such remarks is an easy way to polish those liberal bona fides. As such, people obsess about this matter because it is an easy way to score…political points, that is.

Another obvious reason is that it is not uncommon for religious folk to regard homosexuality as  sin, hence the grounds for concern. However, religious texts like the bible are chock full of sins that people are not very concerned about (such as usury and eating unclean foods). As such, the religious answer only pushes the question back since it is sensible to ask why religious folk are often so very concerned about homosexuality. After all, it is not even in the top ten list of what to do/not do (unless one is engaging in adultery).

The easy and not very helpful answer is that people are very interested in sex in general and hence they would be very interested in and critical of homosexuality. Perhaps this arises from curiosity that transforms to guilt and then anger (“I wonder what that would be like…gosh, I feel wicked for thinking that…damn fags!”) in some cases. Perhaps it is a lack of confidence in one’s own sexuality. Or perhaps it is simply a classic case of certain people being afraid of what is different from what they do.

Some people do claim that they are concerned because it is an important moral issue: either it is a wicked thing that must be fought to protect God, Country and The Children or it is a matter of freedom that must be allowed in a free society. Now, if homosexuality is an evil, it hardly seems to be the greatest of evils and it would seem that moral crusaders could better spend their energy addressing matters for more dire and damaging. The other side does seem to have a better case given how homosexuals are often treated and what they are often denied, namely equality.

In my own case, I regard homosexuality as morally neutral: neither good, nor bad. I do believe that people should be free to chose their sexual partners within the limits of informed consent. This requires that those involved be capable of understanding the matter and that they are free from coercion and compulsion. This nicely handles the stock claims that tolerating homosexuality means tolerating bestiality, pedophilia, rape and so on. Obviously enough, animals and children cannot give informed consent. In the case of rape there is, by definition, no consent. Hence, the slippery slope does not even get sliding here.

At this point someone will no doubt be thinking about necrophilia. No, not about committing it but about the claim that tolerating homosexuality entails tolerating necrophilia. The easy way out of this “criticism” is that tolerating homosexuality between consenting parties no more entails tolerating necrophilia than does tolerating people of different faiths or nationalities getting married. At the very least, the burden of proof lies on those who would make such a claim. Also, a corpse cannot give consent.

Naturally, it might be replied that sex toys cannot give consent either, but it would seem acceptable for people to have sex with them. After all, they are just objects so consent does not enter into the matter. So, one might argue, if we are tolerant about homosexuality, then we must tolerate necrophilia since corpses would be functioning as sexual objects. The obvious problem with this argument is that it would not be that tolerance of homosexuality entails tolerance of necrophilia. Rather, it is that tolerance of sex toys would somehow entail tolerance of necrophilia, which certainly does not seem to follow. After all, there is an important moral distinction between a dead person and a mere object.

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Does Obama Have a Socialist Agenda?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 5, 2010
Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

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Obama has often been accused of being a socialist and has sometimes been accused of having a socialist agenda. I thought I would take a few moments to sort this out a bit.

The classic form of socialism is an economic system in which the state controls and owns the means of production. In more modern terms, the state would own and control the economic entities of the nation. This is, of course, consistent with private ownership of personal items.

Economic socialism is, of course, consistent with many political systems ranging from democracy to totalitarianism.  After all, there could very well be direct voting by the people while the state owns and controls the economic entities.

There is a tendency to confuse socialism with totalitarianism. Under totalitarianism, the state has complete (total) control over all aspects of  life. Obviously, complete totalitarianism would also be socialist in character, since the state controls everything and thus controls the economy. But, this does not entail that all socialist states would be totalitarian (the fact that All Ss are Ps does not entail that all Ps are Ss). Not surprisingly, some folks accuse Obama of also having a totalitarian agenda, but that is a subject for another time.

There is also a tendency to take almost anything the state does as socialism. These cases typically involve the state using tax revenue to provide public goods. For example, Social Security is often cast as socialist because of this.

Getting back to the main point, does Obama have a socialist agenda?

Under the definition of classic socialism, clearly not. Obama’s actions seem to point towards a clear desire to keep the economic system in private hands. Obviously, folks will point towards GM as an example of his socialism. True, the state did take control of GM. However, the plan is for GM to eventually be private again. In this case, the state is acting like a corporation-providing cash in return for control.

It might be argued that Obama as a socialist agenda under a very broad definition of socialism: he wants to expand state power and use the tax payers’ money t0 fund social programs. Under this definition he would be a socialist. But, of course, every government would also be socialist. In this case, the charge of socialism would be as meaningful as accusing Obama of being a politician or a human being. After all a charge that applies to everyone really cannot be a special problem for anyone. So, Obama is a socialist on this view. So was Nixon, Reagan and both Bushes.

But, one may ask, what about his secret agenda? Well, if it is secret…how do you know he has it?

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Posted in Business, Environment, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 16, 2009
Secretary-General Opens High-level UN Conferen...
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As the political theater plays out inside, folks are protesting outside the climate summit in Copenhagen.

On one hand, it is a good thing that representatives are meeting to engage in the political game playing that makes up a summit. After all, climate change is a matter of serious concern and can have a very significant impact on human civilization. While I am skeptical of the efficacy of political talk, that is (ironically enough) the starting point for action (or inaction).

On the other hand, it does seem like the elites are meeting to create more useless hot air: to posture and pontificate (and line up new political and financial deals). While there is a scientific consensus on global warming, the recent disclosure of the hacked emails has raised serious doubts. After all, if some scientists have allegedly engaged in duplicitous behavior then it would not be unreasonable to be concerned about how far this has spread. After all, climate matters are now intensely political and this means that bias is to be suspected-both on the part of those who contend for and those who content against the claim that global warming is real and worrisome.

Green is now a big industry and has generated vast sums of money for folks like Al Gore. While this does not prove that Al and folks are biased or making false claims, the fact that people stand to make a lot of money from green does create a situation of possible bias. After all, the need to go green rests heavily on assumptions about global warming. If global warming were not occurring, then the motivation to go green (and hence the green to be made from going green) would be substantially reduced.

That said, if global warming will be as harmful as some have claimed, then going green would be rather important to the well being of our species. The fact that some people (such as Al Gore) will profit greatly from this has no actually effect on the truth or falsity of these claims. Obviously, the scientific community has reached a consensus on the matter, thus lending credence to the claims about the dangers of global warming. But, as noted above, the leaked emails and the fact that green is now a major profit (and political) engine do raise concerns that are worth paying attention to.

I am for saving resources and I am against pollution. As such, I was “green” even before it was in to be green. However, I do not think that green should serve as a trump card and that our actions regarding the climate should be carefully considered in a realistic manner. Of course, part of being realistic is being aware that the matter is highly political and economic-so much so that the truth no doubt has been long lost amidst the green.

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Global Warming Data Missing

Posted in Ethics, Science by Michael LaBossiere on December 2, 2009

While there seems to be  a consensus in the scientific community about global warming, there seems to be some problem with the temperature data from the 1980s. To be specific, the raw data is missing and the remaining data is modified data. The exact quote is as follows:

Since the 1980s, we have merged the data we have received into existing series or begun new ones, so it is impossible to say if all stations within a particular country or if all of an individual record should be freely available. Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e., quality controlled and homogenized) data.

This is obviously a serious problem. After all, it is rather critical to keep raw data. After all, anyone wishing to check on the conclusions drawn from the data would need to be able to examine that data. Having only “value added” data is not adequate. After all, this “value adding” changes the original data and might do so in ways that bias the data. Of course, without the original data it cannot be determined whether the “value adding” was legitimate or whether it involved changing the data to support a specific hypothesis (rather than drawing the hypothesis from the data).

Does this prove that global warming is a hoax? Not at all. The fact that some data is missing does not disprove the hypothesis. However, it does raise serious and reasonable questions about any findings that are based on the missing data and it also provides some rather high caliber ammunition to those who are critical of the global warming view.

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Fraud, France & Scientology

Posted in Religion by Michael LaBossiere on October 27, 2009
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A French court recently convicted the Church of Scientology of fraud. The church is still allowed to operate in France, but has been warned to stay on “the correct side of the law.”

The basis for this case is the fact that Scientologists use a electropsychometer or E-Meter, to “locate areas of spiritual duress or travail so they can be addressed and handled” and then (the plaintiffs claimed) try to sell vitamins and books to those “tested.” Obviously enough, there is no scientific evidence that this device does what it is alleged to do and hence it seems quite reasonable to regard this sort of behavior as fraudulent.

Not surprisingly, the Church is characterizing this ruling as being an Inquisition. This is, of course, hyperbole. Now, if Scientologists were being tortured and killed for their beliefs, then it would be like the Inquisition. Also, the church is not being persecuted because of its religious views. Rather, it was prosecuted for trying to sell people things using what certainly seems to be a  bogus machine.

While religions are generally granted a great deal of leeway in many countries, fraud and other misdeeds by churches are still crimes. The Church of Scientology certainly seems to be committing fraud and hence should be treated like anyone else.

Of course, the Scientologists might see themselves as being unfairly singled out. After all, churches routinely ask people for money and often imply that such giving will win favor from God. Since none of these churches can prove this claim or even that God exists, all that would seem to be fraud as well.

Of course, many of these folks are no doubt sincere in their beliefs. Hence, they are also deceiving themselves. From a moral standpoint, this does seem to be an important difference. After all, if I sell you a holy relic that I think is real and will really heal your H1N1, then I am not engaging in intentional deceit. I am just mistaken and making money from the fact that you are also mistaken. This is like selling medicine that is believed to work, yet actually does not.

But, if I am selling “holy relics” that I make myself and sell them to people believing that it is all bull, then I am engaging in fraud. This is because I know that what I am selling is not really what I claim it is and I am counting on people believing this deceit in order to make money.

So, if the Scientologists truly believe in their E-Meter and are sincerely trying to help people with their ills, then they would not be acting in an immoral way. However, if they know that the E-Meter is a hoax and are using it to push vitamins and such, then they are acting immorally.

Naturally, I am open to the possibility that the E-Meter works and that Scientology is true. I just need proof. As with divine healing, I’d be happy to help set up a properly controlled experiment to test the E-Meter. But, Tom Cruise would not be allowed to jump around on my couch during any testing. That would freak out my pets.



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