Metal Yarmulke
Saturday, March 06, 2004

Some thoughts about "nature"

I just posted a version of this on the Findlaw board. I'd gone there to comment on David L.Hudson, Jr.'s excellent piece, "Silencing Student Speech — and Even Artwork — in the P ost-Columbine Era," when I noticed that a vigorous debate over gay marriage was in progress.

Has anyone else noticed a certain, well, toggle switch in the religious-conservative arguments against gay marriage arguments? Those who think that gay marriage will destroy "the fabric of society" or whatever are quite fond of citing "nature" as the basis of their beliefs. When gay-marriage proponents, however, point out that homosexuality is actually quite common in the animal kingdom, the response is to harrumph, "Well, we're better than the animals."

I, myself, would tend to agree with Katharine Hepburn's character in The African Queen that " what we were put on this earth to rise above." However, if a person wants to indulge his or her nature and it harms no one else, I don't have an objection to it. And I really don't see the marriage of two men or two women in the category of "harming others." Including any children those two people may choose to have with members of the opposite sex, or adopt.

There is a new book out, Homosexuality and Civilization by Louis Crompton, which is the product of three decades of research. Crompton's findings are that the Judeo-Christian abhorrence of same-sex behavior and marriage are, historically speaking, an anomaly, not the rule, among humanity. Anti-homosexual sentiment has largely been exported by the West in recent centuries.

Of course, Crompton is both gay and an academic, both of which open him up to criticism from certain, um, factions. (Not that I myself don't think that many academics aren't bright enough to come in from the rain, but I try to judge what the individual professor is saying on its own merits, and the evidence s/he presents, before I buy or dismiss the argument.)

On an unrelated note, does anyone else find it interesting that when evolutionary biology, or evolutionary psychology, is brought into the argument, many of those who champion it are people who, if they heard the word "evolution" in any other context, would start yelling, "Evolution isn't a fact! It's just a theory!"? Funny, but when people refer to Einsteinian theory, everyone seems to understand that the word "theory" means something different in scientific usage than it does in common usage.

Evolutionary bio and psych do NOT mean that modern-day humans have absolutely no control over our actions. Conservatives (and libertarians) are correct to insist upon laws that discourage people from letting their natural drives harm others. Such laws include those against murder, given that the propensity for violence certainly arose in pre-human — heck, pre-primate — nature as a survival trait.

However, I notice that when it comes to certain topics — mainly, those regarding how the sexes interact — the same conservatives seem to think we have no control over our behavior. "Men prefer young and beautiful women. And people in general prefer attractive people. So 'looks discrimination' is nothing but whining from ugly losers and old hags." When's the last time you heard shallow women who only want to date rich, "successful" men defended in these terms?

(Interestingly, it seems the men who complain the most about such women are the men with the most stringent standards for what their mates should look like. Quite aside from the "pot, kettle, black" issue, it stands to reason that no woman is going to spend hours every day on her looks, whether they're at the gym or her vanity table, unless she expects to get a return on the investment of all that time.)

More seriously, there are no small number of people out there who think that the strength of the male sex drive means that men have no control over it. So we still hear the argument that unless all heterosexual women agree to "save it for marriage," all heterosexual men will choose to live like playboys, and Marriage And Children As We Know Them will disappear. I haven't seen this borne out by the reality around me — and I live in a notoriously liberal part of the country. (A variation on this argument is that women who pick up married men in bars are responsible for the shattering of those men's marriage vows. Well, it's certainly sleazy behavior, but they who took the vows are they who are responsible for upholding them, IMHO.)

Even less lovely is the argument, still heard in certain Neanderthal circles, that rape is brought about by the actions of women, and the men who commit it are helpless to control themselves. And here, I am not referring here to rape cases in which the question of whether there was consent or not is truly unclear, but to those in which any unbiased observer of even average intelligence can discern that the woman was unwilling. 
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