Monday 21 February 2011

A Criticism of H.O.M.E.'s "The Case Against Homosexual Activity"

What's about to follow has nothing to do with games. It is, instead, an academic piece of philosophy evaluating the logical validity of an interesting piece of anti-homosexual theory I read. Given my recent write up on Infinite Ocean's philosophy you'd be forgiven for thinking the blog was taking a new direction. Maybe it is a bit, but not much. Long story short, I'm as passionate about philosophy as I am about interactive art, and I have a blog, so it seems like the right place to put it.

Again, this has nothing to do with games.

So. A few weeks ago I was writing a piece of fiction where I had my protagonist facing off against a homophobe. I wanted my bad guy to put up a fight, so I researched some common anti-gay arguments and came across the 'Heterosexuals Organised for a Moral Environment' website. I'm sure they appreciate the irony of the acronym.

I've written up a critique of their essay. HOME's original essay is 5,000 words, so I've made up...

The Long Version - About ten pages, very academic, plus some jokes and spelling mistakes on my part
The Short Version - About four pages with all HOME's unnecessary rhetoric taken out; less entertaining, but, you know, shorter. Still has spelling mistakes.

In the interest of full disclosure I should say that I am straight, that I fiercely oppose irrational discrimination, and that I consider myself an atheist moral subjectivist. The latter is a poncy way of saying I think morality is just another religion.

I've written to HOME to give them the opportunity to reply. All considered comments extremely welcome.


  1. HOME's Response:

    Thanks for the "genuinely thoughtful" comment. Your critique also was genuinely thoughtful, especially compared to some of the immature emails we get.

    On demonstrating homosexuality damages society:
    Public sex, for example, occurs naturally in the animal kingdom. Assuming evolution is a fact, our human ancestors undoubtedly engaged in it. If we are raised to accept it as a normal part of life, it shouldn't damage us. That being the case, I still think it's wrong and shouldn't be legal. Some things should just be private in a society devoted to high (less animalistic) standards.

    On nature vs nurture:
    We just make the case that if there are homosexuals for which there is no evidence for gay genes but they are still homosexual, then those homosexuals who don't have any heterosexual genes can be heterosexual---and somewhere on our website we note that the scientific consensus is that nature and nurture contribute about equally to our orientations. One path to happiness for people with homosexual orientations is to realize that they can be happy WITHOUT engaging in immoral, physiologically unnatural sex. There are plenty of happy heteros out there who are not in love and are not having sex with anyone.

    We believe, for example, that a father who wants to have sex with his adult son or daughter has psychological problems. We believe an adult who masturbates by playgrounds, even if he/she isn't "hurting" anyone, also has psychological problems. We don't think it's wise or psychologically healthy for a society to go down the slippery slope to approving more and more disordered lifestyles. And we don't think a high divorce rate or high out-of-wedlock birthrate are "symptoms" of a really healthy society but are symptoms of a slowly regressing, deteriorating society.

    On my religious beliefs:
    Incidentally, if you are one of those atheists who take the position God doesn't exist, then, since you can't prove that, you are merely a "believer" somewhat like religious people are believers. I myself am an agnostic who considers atheism to be as untenable as religions.

  2. I'm pleased this has prompted a civilised discussion. I still have issues, primarily around what I see as an assumption on HOME's part (using telling phrases like "Some things should just be...") that sexual deviations are necessarily negative influences.

    I also see the rising divorce rate as a positive thing. I see it as a sign that our society is casting off artificially imposed ways of life in favour of what actually makes sense to people at the time.

    Finally, I'd accept his point about atheism vs agnosticism to a point. He's absolutely right that, technically, I could be considered an agnostic in so far as I don't have any /conclusive/ proof that god does not exist.

    This, however, is to fall into one of the oldest religious fallacies known to man: the assumption that lack of evidence against constitutes evidence in favour. It's also called the flying spaghetti monster fallacy. Google it.

  3. Sorry I haven't had a chance to take a look at your essay just yet - all my time is tied up with our new home and ongoing Neptune's Pride diary.

    But: rising divorce rate as positive? I see where you're coming from, but when you mix children in, that's a bitter positive pill to swallow.

    I'm not saying people should be forced to stay together, but children under happy parents that remain intact don't have it as rough as those with parents who end up getting divorced.

    While society is now accepting of an individual having multiple partners over the course of their life, there are no good answers right now as to how children fit into a picture of such churn, who typically want parental stability above all else.

    I would like to see signs that we're moving towards a place where families work and persist. I have my own ideas about the meaning and function of marriage - but don't think I want to get into that here =)

  4. I'm sorry that I have not read a great deal of the essay, but I think it needs to be said; the author wields the word "moral" like a trident in a retirement home.

    Their argument of the age old religion fallacy is indicative of their attitude toward objective truths. To say that one cannot justify the credibility of one's religion is another way of saying that you cannot prove your moral standpoint. The problem is, neither can they and as a result they simply sound conservative and prejudiced as opposed to justified.

    Entering into these debates should require a brief manifesto of moral views. It would seem that they have done a fine job of avoiding simple definitions as such as "God" as a moral scapegoat, and as a consequence they have just made a series of brazen accusations. These views have been employed to trump the moral abiguity of anyone who doesn't support them.

    These kind of personal values are important. If the author is just going to make vicious stabs from behind the thick curtain of moral indicision, then the argument is already invalid.

  5. I understand marriage and kids is a big topic; but my sense is that a kid is better off with happy divorced parents than a quarrelling nuclear unit.

    Thanks for your thoughts, guys :-)

  6. I thought it was odd that he equated homosexuality with public masturbation. Public intimacy isn't sexual in and of itself. Masturbation is only sexual.

    In all honesty, there was a time when anybody kissing in public got on my nerves (frustrated single man period, y'know). Does the fact that it made me uncomfortable mean it should've been made illegal? What about all the children that don't understand attraction and think it's weird?

    Think of the children!

  7. Their essay is full of claims to have logically proven something without any actual evidence, and completely inappropriate asides about the foolishness of liberalism. Snide comments are not the essence of logic.

    As for homosexuality in animals, it has long been established that it exists - not as behaviour demonstrating dominance, but as a sexual orientation. There is plenty of research on the subject.

  8. Wow, I'm not sure "arguments" in defense of the always-already-foregone conclusion of conservative christian morality deserves a response, much less the kind of rigorous minutiae that you unleashed on HOME's erhm, case.

    I mean, philosophical method may give you the tools you need to strip down their seeming arguments to their bare and baseless prejudices, but then again this has been done in extenso for decades in every sorts of venues online and offline. HOME's thing is only the latest.

    At this point, I think the ignoring or ridiculing of homophobic christian dogmatism is much more called for than reasoned argument, just like creationist arguments are now routinely mocked rather than methodically refuted on the Web. Been there, done that.

  9. "Heterosexuals Organised for a Moral Environment"

    I felt my stomach turn reading that. But I'm glad you've taken the opportunity to not only gather some substantial research into the mindset of a homophobe to support your fiction (which I hope we get a chance to read at some point). But have taken the argument to them in a dialectic manner.

    As a bisexual man I find the idea that there are people out there who would like to persecute me on the grounds of my sexuality alone to be a little scary (not all that scary since living in the UK I'm fairly safe, if I was living in certain parts of Africa it's sad to say I'd probably be in jail or dead), but I find the idea that a witch hunt is being turned back on them equally as scary. Reasoned argument is the right way, sure it's the hard way and their is a possibly valid argument that not only will it not change their minds, but give them some what of a platform. I say possibly because my own mind hasn't been made up on that front yet. But what I am certain of is that ridicule and persecution may well do much to dissuade any who are even a little unsure of their views from voicing them, but for those who feel they are certain and right, it will do nothing but to strengthen and intensify their resolve, which can lead to something very ugly indeed. What's more, how can ridicule and persecution over a point of view ever be right, however distasteful that point of view may seem?

    I'm looking forward to reading your critique when I get a chance, and I for one love these forays (not really the right word but for the life of me I can't think of a better one right now) into philosophical argument and thinking. This is after all a blog about writing as well as games, so I see nothing wrong with it.

  10. Actually on second thoughts ridicule is fine, persecution isn't. After all Socrates, arguably the greatest debater on record often used to resort to ridicule, it's just it was always supported up by an argument, which is very different from ridicule that takes the form of simplistic verbal abuse, that in itself comes too close to persecution for my liking.

  11. Also excuse the typos... that should have been "there is a possibly valid argument" not their, and no up after "was always supported"... ok I'm guna stop posting now, my bad :P

  12. I'm pleased this has prompted so many passionate responses :-)

    I can understand the desire to just leave these topics alone: if someone's being irrational there's no arguing with them (by definition).

    This said, a world where people don't bother having an argument just because they think the other person is wrong isn't one I particularly want to live in.

  13. Agreed, Tom. Finding two opposing parties that won't stoop to name calling or using assumptions as evidence can be off-puttingly difficult, though, which can poison a person against well-reasoned opposition in the future.

  14. Hey, I should have said that I'm not opposed to your responding to them in the extensive manner you chose. I just think it pointless in the context your blog (which I greatly enjoy).

    HOME doesn't seek intellectual engagement but promotional opportunities ; their point of view is already thoroughly marginalized, to the point where their very name make most everyone raise an eyebrow. I just don't think publicly voiced and understood arguments against bigots and fanatics deserves exhaustive reiteration every time said bigots come up with a new acronym.

  15. I've done my fair share of Internet "debates" on matters of religion and mores : in my experience, regarding bigotry and other deeply-held cultural beliefs, no amount of reasoned, evidence-backed arguments will change a thing. Not on its own.

    People change through long-term, historical interface between their beliefs and reality, that is, through -experiential- arguments. Just look at the many Internet brigades of fundies and atheists. Not a whole lot of them find themselves changing sides, but when that happens, the story has to do with personal experience, and not on being on the short end of the stick in too many online debates.

    Logical arguments have many purposes, even practical ones, but in the context of unreasoned religious or cultural beliefs they're mostly academic performances.

  16. @The Mathmos:
    That may be so, but the original intention of this dialogue is to further Tom's... well, dialogue.

  17. You're right, of course, Sid.

    Next up : "A criticism of Stormfront's white nationalism". Can't wait.

  18. ...and this post now officially has the most comments of any on the site. Which is interesting, but does mean it's going be one of the first things that pops up on the right hand side just above... oh god: "Endearing or Titilating?"

  19. Haha, I'm now doubly sorry to have made such a fuss. Talk about counter-productive.