Thursday, October 1, 2009

Function and form: of marriage, sex and Sodom

One of the striking things about many of the opponents of same-sex marriage is their lack of a sense of history. To them, marriage has been essentially the same down the ages, as one can see in the comments here. A slightly more sophisticated form of the same lack of a sense of the rich and varied history of human marriage is shown in columnist Charles Krauthammer’s statement:
… until this generation, gay marriage had been sanctioned by no society that we know of, anywhere at any time in history
which is either smug ignorance of much anthropological data or else arch narrowing of terms. Even supporters of same-sex marriage such as Steven Schmidt can make statements such as:
The institution of marriage is the foundation of society and alterations to its definitions shouldn't be lightly undertaken. It has always been defined as the legal union of a man and a woman, and it's understandable that many Americans are apprehensive about making a definitional change to so profoundly an important institution.
while standing in a land whose preceding cultures included ones that had same-sex marriages. (Of course, the Papacy had shown itself ready to take rigorous steps to ensure such social forms did not emerge where it had any say.)

Beyond simple historical ignorance, there is a deeper question. Is marriage a thing with a single nature, or a collection of phenomena in the human world? We are in deep philosophical waters here. People who say that same-sex marriages cannot be “real” marriages are saying that marriage is something with a specific content regardless of what particular human societies have or have not called ‘marriage’.

This is not a very scientific way of proceeding—it is certainly not one that anthropologists would adhere to. But it is a very powerful idea, that there is some definitive form of a thing. In the case of marriage, the Catholic Church adheres to that position on natural law and scriptural exegesis grounds. It is a common problem with natural law theory that it defines things in terms of what people are used to and passes that off as some general categorisation—thereby universalising the parochial. A theme which, in Christian thought, starts with St Paul on hair:
Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.
The above-cited comments are following in a long tradition.

That there is a definitive (as distinct from proper or preferred) form of marriage across space and time is not a view that is required by Christian or other religious belief. Christopher Brooke, in his The Medieval Idea of Marriage engages with what is meant by Christian marriage without pretending that thereby defines all marriage. His approach has no quarrel with anthropologists identifying various forms of same-sex marriages in actual human societies.

Yet it is clearly not the business of the modern state to enforce Christian marriage as the only standard, but some general standard of marriage that will cover believers and non-believers of all varieties. Hence, to the pre-existing philosophical claims of classical natural law theory, is added the political attractiveness of claiming that marriage has some inherent nature.

It is clear that marriage has always been an evolving institution: even the Catholic Church’s conception of marriage has evolved somewhat, driven in no small part by popular wants and resistances. All sorts of things have affected the evolution of marriage: such as the old-age pension—as that supplanted children-as-pension-plan—or the increasing economic independence, and self-control of fertility, of women.

What do we mean by saying what marriage is? Does it make any sense at all to try and find a single concept of marriage? Or is ‘marriage’ a quite general category into which a whole lot of different forms and instances fit, more or less well?
The general anthropological approach follows the latter. We have a general notion of what marriage is, then we look at the range of things in human societies that seem to be reasonably contained within that general notion (which may well evolve as we come across more cases). So we find polygamous marriage, polyandrous marriage, same-sex marriage, temporary marriage with a range of nuances and varieties within those broad categories. Connected to a range of quite divergent views and assumptions about sex, gender, parenting, kinship, property, etc. The notion of some definition of marriage that excludes what various societies have done seems just some form of arrogance. A case of our particular model of the world trumping how the world actually is. Universalising the parochial not as a bug or poor usage but as a basic feature.

The evidentiary approach insists that any model we use has to connect to the world to work as a model of the world (leaving aside the inherent limitations in being a model). So any such exclusion from the category of being marriages is just wilful arrogance.

Any model, however, only has to provide a congenial framing to appeal. It can be very appealing to say “I just know what marriage really is, and I do not care what other people may or may not have done”.

Of course, the issue for public policy is what marriage should mean legally in a particular society. But to have a normative concept parade itself as a defining concept is to imply there is no proper choice. Public policy should just conform to how marriage “really” is. There is no (other) proper choice in the matter.

Which is precisely the classical natural law way of proceeding. Define deemed proper purpose and forms that create the basis for judgement, these taken to be innate to how things are (hence I will use the term ‘purpose[i]’). A formulation that both defines what it is and defines what it ought to be. To conform to something—such as marriage—deemed proper purpose(i) and form is moral, to go against such is immoral. But if some actually existing marriages do not conform to such deemed proper purpose(i) and form, how do we determine what constitute said proper purpose(i) and form? Clearly, it is not done by empirical observation, for the concept of marriage is not defined by inference from the range of marriages-as-they-occur-in-the-world. An approach that is not merely anti-empiricist, it is anti-empirical.

Nor is the concept derived from what people want. To define according to proper purpose(i) and form is to trump human desires. Consent is not enough: it has to be consent in accordance with the proper purpose(i), within the proper forms. Just as a Marxist does not care (except to grade various levels of oppression) whether workers have consented to work in a capitalist firm—since a capitalist firm is “inherently exploitive”—so an adherent of classical natural law theory does not care that two people of the same sex have consented to live together as life partners, since same-sexual activity is not according to proper purpose(i) and form so such consent does not count, it has no positive moral weight.

Of course, any system is going to put bounds on consent. But to make purpose(i) and form the central source of legitimacy is to put strong bounds on consent. Indeed, on the significance given to human purposes. Hence St John Chrysostom, the “patron saint of preachers”, held (on natural law grounds deriving from Philo of Alexandria, also the likely source of St Paul’s use, notably in Romans, of the very un-Judaic notion of things being para physin, against nature) that engaging in same-sex activity was worse than being a murderer while the greatest proponent of classical natural law thinking, St Thomas Aquinas held same-sex activity to be worse than rape.

This elevation of category over consent continues. Professor Henry Jaffa holds, on natural law grounds, that homosexuality is wrong in the same way that slavery is wrong for it puts people in the wrong category:
Slavery is against nature, because it treats human beings like subhuman chattel. Sodomy is against nature, since it treats men as if they were women.
Actually, slavery is wrong because it is a pervasive and monstrous violation of human autonomy. But, then, anathematising same-sex activity is also a violation of human autonomy. Of course, under Prof. Jaffra’s argument heterosexual anal or anal intercourse would be just fine, which is not the classical natural law position. Elsewhere, Prof. Jaffa has said:
I challenge anybody who wants to defend homosexuality to say if they condemn slavery and genocide. Assuming they do condemn slavery and genocide (unless they are some kind of a Hitler) I think we would say that all would agree today that slavery and genocide are wrong.
However, as far as I can tell, the only ground on which they can be condemned is on the basis of nature.
Which is a pretty impoverished notion of both moral argument and respect for human autonomy.

Both Marxism and classical natural law theory, when in power, ended up deciding it was just fine to kill people if they did not conform to designated proper purposes(i) and forms. The former “purifies” society because there should only be one class, the latter because there should be only one sexuality: both are at war with the diversity of the human.

Which is another way to have a model trump reality. For why do we have ethics, courtesy, law, economies, rules and structures of any sort? We do because we are purposive beings. We act in the world according to choices driven by our purposes. These acts, choices and purposes interact: they require cooperation and restraint. Hence rules of morality, courtesy, law, social structures, economic structures, institutions: all the vast array of human norms. Forms of things are taken, moulded, structured according to those acted upon purposes. It is why the matter of preferred states of affairs arises in the first place. Human purposes are the point, the forms are what are acted upon or through in pursuit of human purposes. To elevate physical forms as morally primary must be to belittle human purposes and thus people. When Jesus said ( Matthew 15: 16-20)
"Are you still so dull?" Jesus asked them. "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.' "
He was showing rather more understanding what is morally central than many of His alleged followers have since. But elevating physical form—thus belittling human purposes and (specific) people—elevates the role of priests (it was, after priestly obsession with form that Jesus was preaching against: see also Mark 7:1-23), or their secular equivalents, as “gatekeepers of righteousness”.

It also sells effortless virtue: how hard is it for someone whose income does not come from business ownership (such as, for example, some tenured academic) to decide that capitalists are evil exploiters, or for a heterosexual to decide homosexuality is wrong? Effortless virtue based on contempt for others is not exactly the message of the Gospels.

The problem is not having concern for categories and the nature of things. All our perception is pervaded by putting things in categories (“this is a stone, tree, person, cat, …”) tagged with our direct and indirect experience of the nature of things: a process that is neither random nor manifests the perfection of necessity but as much a part of our perceiving as any “sense impression”. Such recognition is not only part of perception: it is central to the point of it. So much of learning is about developing such recognition. Any recognisable physical object has tagged knowledge associated with it as much as any recognisable piece of writing: different recognitions having different levels and types of tagged knowledge. Indeed, writing works by extending this normal part of perception: that we can grasp words as referring to things is simply an extension of the normal information associations of our perception. Though such extension may affect our perception of the physical world, just as Zen thinkers would argue.

An example of the importance of the information associations of perception is when looking at something out of focus. It is a blur of shapes. Once it comes into focus, not only do we have more information, we tag what we see with the associated information. The difference between looking at someone we know and someone we do not shows up the importance of associated information. As does looking at something, putting in one conceptual “box” with associated information, and the realising it is something else—such as thinking something on the ground ahead is a dead insect and finding, when we get closer, it is just some fluff and thread.

In reality, we are all, in a weak sense, Aristotelians. We all work with (or even shape) things according to their expected capacities. Just as social existence (let alone social analysis) is impossible without expected regularities in human nature, we equally could not act in the world without expected regularities within physical nature: both sets of regularities not being fortunate happenstances but based on inbuilt propensities and capacities. Our understanding of these is built up by experience, observation and thinking thereupon. Starting with how babies learn about the world around them. In the words of an email from early childhood educator, they:
… apply limited Action Schemes to everything they come across, which is part of learning about the world. The earliest action schemes are things like grab and suck. Babies are born knowing how to do this—or at least they can do it within hours of being born. Later there is grasp & shake, which is why we give babies rattles. There's also banging, dumping (around 9 months) and turning things over to see the other side. As babies develop they get to combine these basic action schemes into more complicated patterns. So younger babies are kind of looking at the world of objects as: is this something I bang, something I shake or something I ignore? Babies & toddlers put everything in their mouths too, just like animals do. Touch it, to feel its texture, grasp and shake and turn it over, taste it. Watch a gorilla do the same thing to an unknown item the next time you're at the zoo.
In other words, they explore the nature of things to build up a conceptual order that allows them to deal with what is otherwise a sensory cacophony. It is by assigning instances to classes, examples to categories, tokens to types—or whatever terminology we wish to use—that we extend our ability to act from this build-up of experienced associations.

It is a mistake to see this process as definitive, complete, certain or in any other way perfect. But it is also a mistake to note its incompleteness, uncertainty, fallibility, etc and to thus conclude that there is no understanding or knowing involved—that it is, in some sense, a perfect failure. Nor to fail to note its reflexive nature—that it is not separate from the world but of and in the world, with all the feedback effects that entails.

Reason and right
There are two problems with the innate-purposes model. First, in not grounding norms as coming from us being purposive beings. Rocks do not have norms. Living things do, and they do depending on the complexity of their purposivefulness—the range of purposes, the awareness of such purposes, the level of interaction (particularly possible reflexive interaction) of such purposes. This purposiveness distinguishes living things from non-living things: the level of such purposiveness the sentient from non-sentient. This is not to say that morality is just about what people want and feel. Merely that wanting, feeling and the capacity to deliberately choose one action over others in some considered way is what morality exists to deal with. Indeed, it allows morality to exist. Morality is not grounded in the nature of reality, it is grounded in our nature as sentient beings.

And also in the reality of conflict. If human purposes never conflicted the questions of how should I live? and how shall we get along? would never arise. In having purposes, we face conflicts between our purposes and between what we want and what we can do. Hence the issues of instrumental rationality (how do I act to achieve X?) and substantive rationality (how do I manage my different purposes?). In dealing with other people we face conflicts with our purposes towards them and between their purposes and ours. Hence morality and the vast array of human norms.

(As an aside, this fits in nicely with the conception of Paradise as the beatific vision, since conflict within and between purposes no longer arise. It also fits in with the notion of Satan essentially casting himself out of Heaven by, in his pride, bringing conflict to where it could not be.)

Rationality is about dealing with our own purposiveness. Given the demands of having sense of identity, of self; the reality of psychic pleasure and pain, the endless struggle to think well of ourselves; and that neither our time nor our capacity for cognition is infinite—hence the utility of habits, routines and using the apparent knowledge of others—a lot of what gets characterised as “irrationality” is rational management of purposiveness given limited cognitive resources. It is a trap to define ‘rationality’ as implying perfect reasoning (or as “agrees with me”).

Morality is about dealing with the interactions of the purposive using our sense of ourselves as moral beings within a moral community. Given that morality has functions, that consequences matter, that rules have both economising and signalling value, that morality requires our adherence, that it arises out of human purposes and purposiveness, that it has to create a moral order to work, with requisite authority, all the philosophically respectable theories of morality are onto something important about morality (which is how they get to be philosophically respectable in the first place).

Though divine command theories of morality, not so much: even if they do speak to the requiring authority point. Leaving aside objections such as John Stuart Mill’s, divine command theories of morality also suffer the problem that it is basic to any command that it is communicated, otherwise it is not a command. So such approaches only make sense within some particular tradition of revelation. But, as morality exists much more broadly across space and time than any specific tradition of revelation, clearly morality is not grounded in divine command since people to whom no such command has ever been communicated to still act morally, still act within a sense of moral order. This even without the problem of the uncheckability of such revelation or that there are moral issues that get dealt with without any specific command even within such traditions (which takes us back to Mill’s point about the good requiring a meaning beyond God commanding it).

All of which raises the question of whether theories of morality, such as utilitarianism or various forms of natural law theory, determine what is moral or do they provide various ways of structuring the pre-existing function of morality?: the better the “functional” fit, the better the moral theory. The former seems to imply that one has to know a specific theory to be “truly” moral (which seems highly implausible), the latter, which seems to be more like how things work, raises questions about the nature of moral authority.

The weight of nature
One sign of environmentalism being a religion is that it gives great metaphysical weight, such as to profoundly constrain human purposes, to nature. It thus greatly reduces the more weight given to human purposes in exactly the same way (if more broadly) that giving great weight to an aspect of nature—the procreative function of sex—devalues human purposes and thus people. (I think we can take it that burning people alive for getting married, throwing them to the dogs to be eaten alive because of how they dress and who they have sex with or denying them as much of the equal protection of the laws as can be managed, all manifest devaluings of people.)

That morality is grounded in human purposiveness is why morality, and norms in general, occur across religious and non-religious traditions. Indeed, why, given the persistence of regularities in human nature, there is a high degree of overlap in moral norms. The main contributions of religion are to add extra motivation, to provide a sense of belonging and to provide a role for priests and clerics as both moral exhorters and “gatekeepers of righteousness”. Which includes putting particular emphasis on those things that separate the community of the righteous from heathen “Others”. The observation of C.S.Lewis:
those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences
applies particularly to priests and clerics. Who so often find it useful to characterise the different as wicked. The same-sex attracted have generally been—before modern communications and mass urbanisation allowed the same-sex attracted to achieve social “critical mass”—very easy targets, since there are few people more vulnerable and easily isolated than a same-sex attracted youth growing up in a family and religious milieu that anathematises same-sex activity and attraction. Indeed, as the same-sex attracted have become harder targets, and as the impulse to make them targets has faded (an interactive process), so their social position has improved. (There are lags in this process: so there is evidence that public policy in the US, for example, is more hostile than public opinion [pdf].)

The second problem with the innate-purposes approach is having the model—the concept—trump reality. To not understand that concepts are models, what models are and what roles they play.

We live in a world of things that we put into categories. Some categories are pretty inescapable. Others are not: the world is full of continua. When we make distinctions, we draw boundaries in those continua. Boundaries that are often fuzzier than we are generally willing to admit. Colours are an obvious case, but so are things such as language, species, gender, institutions. Boundaries that are often more arbitrary than we realise—different languages make and elevate very different distinctions. Any concept is an abstraction from reality: that process of abstraction is also a process of simplification and is a process easily prone to error. The more abstract our thinking, the easier for it to go wrong. And our abstract thinking can easily go very wrong.

Which is why it is highly desirable to have strong checks on our abstract thinking—concern for evidence; concern for people’s experiences and concerns; concern for careful reasoning. That so much of the world can apparently be expressed mathematically has been a huge boon for our more abstract understanding of the world, since mathematics makes it so much easier to have rigour in our thinking. (Though mathematical models themselves can be a trap.) The manifold failures of actually existing socialism have been a very clear display of the failures of Marxism: a highly abstract and allegedly rigorous approach to understanding human society that is an excellent example of how our abstract thinking can go very wrong.

We may also reasonably feel that that classical natural law theory led to burning people alive, or throwing them to the dogs to be eaten alive, on the basis of who they had sex with is a pretty clear manifestation of serious failure as a moral standard. Just as are the highly adverse effects of parents failing to accept the sexuality of their same-sex attracted children. Also from a system that was highly abstract and allegedly rigorous approach to understanding human society. The consequences of basing judgement on a model of how people are supposed to be, rather than how they actually are, are not pretty. The oppressive tyranny of the utopian urge comes precisely from its war against people-as-they are in the name of people-as-they-are-supposed-to-be. It does not matter whether it is in the name of the “single legitimate” sexuality, religion, race or class: they are all murderous and tyrannical wars against the diversity of the human.

Any system that ends up selling effortless virtue based on contempt for others is not a good look. But how can any system of moral evaluation that is ultimately not grounded in human purposes end up anywhere else? Christ really did have an excellent point.

Marxism gets there by Marx’s labour theory of value (for as labour is the only source of value, workers are the only legitimate class), a theory of value which is most certainly not grounded in human purposes, even though it purports to be. Classical natural law theory gets there by use of Aristotle’s theory of causation, using it to hold that procreation is the only legitimate function of sex, thus making heterosexuality the only legitimate (active) sexuality. (Celibacy is permitted: indeed required outside of marriage.)

Cause and intention
Aristotle’s theory was based on there being four causes—the material cause (the underlying stuff something is made out of), the formal cause (the form, structure or pattern that it exhibits), the efficient cause (what brings a thing into being: technically, what actualises a potentiality in a thing) and the final cause (the end, goal or purpose of a thing). Post-medieval philosophy abandoned formal and final causes.

In this case, it is final cause that counts. For it is final cause that sets up a criteria for judgement about whether something is being used according to its deemed proper purpose(i) (and so within the forms which support that purpose[i]). So the Catholic Church declares all conscious sex, other than that where the ejaculation occurs into an unimpeded vagina, as unclean (that is, immoral). For only sex that conforms to the form of sex according to its procreative purpose(i) is moral. Hence, only sex within marriage (the social form for raising children, given that sex is limited to that procreative in form) is permitted and no other form of sex to the point of ejaculation is—even between husband and wife.

Edward Feser, in his admirably clear The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, states the notion of there being a definitive form of marriage (due to it having a final cause) with his usual clarity:
For the metaphysics underlying natural law theory entails that marriage is, not by human definition, but as an objective metaphysical fact determined by its final cause, inherently procreative, and thus inherently heterosexual (p.149).
So all those cultures which have encompassed same-sex marriages are just metaphysically deluded.

Moreover, the notion that any human institution has a single function, a single purpose, is generally dubious: to have it as a metaphysical necessity is nonsense. The same point applies to sex in general (particularly as sex is pleasurable, so can provide catharsis and express connection). Or any biological feature, since without the ability of something to evolve into something else there cannot be evolution. For, in the natural world, the purposes of living things drives use which drives form (hence a fin can evolve into a foot, a foot can evolve into a hand). [Biologist Ian Tattersall explains how the process of adaption of something into something else now has its own term:
what has in recent years increasingly been termed "exaptation." This is a useful name for characteristics that arise in one context before being exploited in another, or for the process by which such novelties are adopted in populations. The classic example of exaptation becoming adaptation is birds' feathers. These structures are essential nowadays to bird flight, but for millions of years before flight came along they were apparently used simply as insulators (and maybe for nothing much at all before that). For a long time, then, feathers were highly useful adaptations for maintaining body temperatures. As adjuncts to flight, on the other hand, they were simply exaptations until, much later, they began to assume an adaptive role in this new function, too. There are many other similar examples...]
Giving final cause defining moral weight as purpose(i), so setting proper use due to form, puts things precisely the wrong way round.

But even without the problems of requiring purposive singularity or reversing the process of how natural selection works, there is a difference between role
the role of this billiard ball in this causal sequence was to knock that other billiard ball into the side pocket as a result of being hit by a cue
billiard balls have the function of being part of a game of billiards
and purpose
his purpose in hitting this billiard ball with his cue was to knock that other billiard ball into the side pocket.
An asteroid striking the moon has a key role in the causal sequence that created a crater. A kidney has the function of processing and distilling liquid waste in the body. A kidney transplant has the purpose of replacing a failed kidney. One is an individual event, one is something embedded in a functioning (indeed, highly coherent) structure and one is a matter of conscious intent. Each higher level entails the ones below it: the reverse is not true. They may, in some sense, all be manifestations of intentionality in the sense of being directed to something: they are very far from being manifestations of the same sort of intentionality. Hence rocks do not have morality or moral dilemmas while humans do. For we are purposive in a way that rocks, for example, or bacteria, are not and bacteria are purposive in a way rocks are not.

The purpose in the kidney transplant comes from the mind of the participants, as does the purpose of the billiard player. Such purposiveness is not innate to the structure of things but arises out of human purposiveness.

Being consciously purposive creates the questions of how we should we live and how shall we get along. But these are not the same question—Robinson Crusoe confronts the first question but not the second—and treating them as the same question does not have a happy history for it gives controlling power to those who get to define “the good”. Which, of course, makes it very attractive to those who think they and theirs will get to do that defining.

To move between these very different forms of directedness without taking sufficient note of the very large differences between them is a form of a classic way for our reasoning to go wrong: shifting between concepts without noting it. Malthus engaged in a particularly clear example by failing to distinguish between two different notions of tendency. As did Darwin in his use of “struggle for existence”. Roland Barthes does a version in his seminal (and I do not mean that in a good way) Death of an Author essay. Indeed, as David Stove pointed out, entire philosophical traditions can be built on it. The purposiveness of the kidney transplant is not remotely the same as the function of the kidney or the role of the asteroid and does not have the same grounding.

Classical natural law theory imprisons human purposes within the deemed reproductive function of sexual organs, even though sex in nature clearly has much wider functions than just reproduction. For the function of sex in nature is, in classical natural law theory, not inferred from how sex is used in the natural world. Nor are the range of purposes animals have in engaging in sex taken seriously: again, an anti-empirical approach.

Such imprisoning human purposes within deemed biological function is profoundly belittling of human purposiveness, as we have seen: hence its deeply, indeed murderously, oppressive nature. The greater is imprisoned within the lesser, thereby both enjoining and requiring either changing (“reparative” therapy), constraining (imprisoning, flogging, etc) or eliminating (hanging, burning alive, throwing to the dogs to be eaten alive, etc) those who do not fit.

The classical natural law theory has a too simple a concept of order, of how things have natures. It imposes single (or at least absolutely trumping) concepts of innate function, with too strong a notion of intentionality, which do not evolve, on a much more mixed, indeed fluid, reality. The model ends up trumpingg reality. Hence it cutting out of the “properly human” those who are attracted to members of their own sex or cutting out of “marriage” historically existing same-sex marriages. Just as it produces too simple concepts of sex, of money, of how labour is organised, what hair is for, and so on. If things have trumping functions, trumping purposes(i), then whatever trumping function you can identify has to be the “right” one. Universalising the parochial is inherent—dare one say, natural—to classical natural law thinking. Which, of course, can be very useful as a mechanism for boosting the familiar and anathematising the different: a very useful feature for gatekeepers of righteousness. A feature that goes right back to Philo of Alexandria.

A nice example of universalising the parochial is provided by Edward Feser in The Last Superstition in his citing of disgust at homosexuality. While disgust is a universal human emotion (and may, indeed, be a distinctively human emotion), what excites disgust varies enormously among and within human cultures. Notions of disgust are particularly malleable to religious teachings—as we can see in the reaction of many Muslims to dogs. A devout Orthodox Jew, Muslim or Jain, or vegetarian, may well be repulsed by turning a pig leg into ham to be eaten: even those of us who love ham may find some of the processes involved somewhat repellent. Such malleability is particularly true of sex—human cultures have varied in their view of same-sex acts from homicidal anathematisation to making them compulsory. Indeed, the widespread adoration in the late Classical period of Emperor Hadrian’s deified lover Antinous (of whom we have more surviving statues than perhaps any other classical figure) bespeaks of how cultural presumptions change. As does the use (such as by Plato in the Symposium) of lovers and tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogeiton—icons of Athenian democracy: the first non-divine figures to be recognised by the Athenian polis with civic statues—as emblematic of how love between men was a support of a free society (a rhetorical commonplace for centuries).

So why should the disgust of some people in some times and places at same-sex acts count, but Muslim disgust at dogs or disgust by some politically correct left-winger at Edward Feser’s conservative Catholic views not? Obviously, it is not disgust but the criteria which makes some disgust significant and others not which is the authority here.

Feser also provides a tiresomely “clever, clever” argument about homosexuals being free to marry:
… the answer is that they can marry. But of course, what that means, as a matter of conceptual necessity, is that they can marry someone of the opposite sex. What they can’t do is marry each other … (due to the objective metaphysical facts of marriage, p.149)
All in the name of the One True Sexuality.

Well, suppose we have a theory of the One True Religion. Everyone is free to worship God in public service but since, as a matter of conceptual necessity, the only true service is Anglican (Americans would say Episcopalian) what Catholics are not free to do is to worship publicly in a Catholic service. We can immediately that this treats the wishes of Catholics with belittling contempt. In exactly the same way Feser’s argument about marriage does the same-sex attracted. (In my example, I am, of course, describing the situation in the England of Elizabeth I and the United Kingdom of Great Britain after the Glorious Revolution of 1688.) Feser replies that he has a theory: but so did the Anglican and Presbyterian establishments. Bigotry always has a theory. One, moreover, which taps into the “true” nature of the universe and the human condition, so is not bigotry. One way bigotry appeals is by providing a sense of being an insightful “knower” of the wicked and corrupting nature of the objects of bigotry. In the case of Georgian England, the righteous disgust of good Protestants at any movement towards any easing of the restrictions on the nefarious Catholics infamously led to the Gordon riots of 1778. But we have already established that some popular disgust counts and others do not.

The cause that doesn’t
Feser’s theory is Aristotelian metaphysics, where everything has a final cause. But that does not, of itself, set up any criteria for judgement precisely because it is a universal feature. John Locke tried to ground our moral status in us being God’s property: but, if God has property, then everything is God’s property. So, that gives us no special status. Similarly, if everything has a final cause then that provides no criteria for judgement.

Just as, if one cherry picks particular bits of Leviticus (such as Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13) but not others (in repeated defiance of Leviticus 18:4-5, 26; 19:19, 37; 20:22 which require all the laws set out be followed) then one’s authority is not Leviticus but whatever criteria one is using to pick and choose so, if one grants some final causes status but not others, one’s authority is not them having a final cause but whatever criteria one is using to elevate some final causes over others.

Consider a pig leg. Its final cause is to convey a pig around. But, unless we are vegetarians (or have religious objections to pig-meat), we have no objection to turning the pig leg into roast pork, or into ham. The original final cause which brought the pig leg into existence matters not, we choose to engage in a causal sequence which has a different final cause—to consume the pork or ham with : nutritional benefit and sensual enjoyment completely frustrating its original function. (Wild boar can be even better: fish, venison and kangaroo fine things.) The rights or wrongs of that, or any other action, do not depend on some particular final cause in the sequence of final causes any particular bit of matter goes through.

It is purposiveness that matters, not purposes(i). A vegetarian would argue that a pig has a sentient existence that trumps our wish to eat pig meat. Non-vegetarians would disagree. But it is the status of the pig as a sentient, and thus purposive, being that is the key issue. Is it enough like us in sentience to make eating it wrong or not? A practising Jew or Muslim may say that God has barred the eating of pig, but that is grounded in God’s explicit Revealed decision: purposiveness of the highest order in their religions.

Since the is’s of nature entails no oughts, people take the moral “lessons” from nature that they bring to it. For is us, our purposiveness, that is the source of values, so people take from nature the values they bring to it. Hence Nazis took from nature their obsessions with violence, purity, territory; environmentalists take their revulsion against capitalism and industrialisation; classical natural law theorists take from nature monotheism’s obsessions about sex. (One notes that the naturalness of nudity gets it no cred from the God-fearing.) Animist traditions, arising out of living embedded in nature, tended to have a much broader view of the function of sex because that is what they could observe thereby avoiding being in the position of deciding that some sex acts tell them about the nature and functions of sex and other sex acts do not. (And so to deciding that some marriages tell us about the nature and functions of marriage but other marriages do not, that some humans manifest how people are supposed to be and some do not.)

In the case of the original source argument about same-sex activity being “unnatural”—The Athenian in Plato’s The Laws—lacking recourse to the Judaic laws, it was grounded in false claims about there being no same-sex activity in nature:
If we were to follow in nature's steps … declaring that it is right to refrain from indulging in the same kind of intercourse with men and boys as with women, and adducing as evidence thereof the nature of wild beasts, and pointing out how male does not touch male for this purpose, since it is unnatural
… for making a natural use of reproductive intercourse—on the one hand, by abstaining from the male … on the other hand, by abstaining from every female field in which you would not desire the seed to spring up. This law, when it has become permanent and prevails … is the cause of countless blessings. For, in the first place, it follows the dictates of nature, …
Later natural law theorists then characterised such activity observed in nature as unnatural flaws in the animals concerned: a case of cutting away their original props, leaving them standing in mid-air, metaphysically speaking. Hence their recurring tendency to universalise the parochial, as in Feser’s characterisation of marriage or St Paul on hair, or St Gerald of Aurillac on work, or medieval Scholastics on money or … .

We do not exist for marriage, marriage exists for us: indeed, it exists from us. It is a social form grounded in, and created by, human purposes: not in some innate form that trumps human purposes. Hence, since we vary and our conceptions vary, marriage can and does come in all sorts of forms, forms that change over time. It is probably no accident that Aristotelianism collapsed in European philosophy just as Europe was being confronted with a huge range of new societies, lands, species and natural phenomena: the collapse of what historian Alfred Crosby calls the venerable model took Scholastic Aristotelianism, with its tendency to universalise the parochial, to judge the world rather than infer from it, with it. It is hard to maintain a strong sense of there being a definitive natural order when one is confronted with a riot of human and other diversity undreamt of in your philosophy.

In The Last Superstition Edward Feser argues that the historical philosophical arguments for abandoning Aristotelianism are poor. He looks to animus against religion as a motivator. Given many of said rejecting philosophers were believers in God, the simple inadequacy of classical natural law theory in the face of the riot of new knowledge seems a more plausible explanation.

As is anti-clericalism: more specifically, opposition to priestly power and its consequences. The opposition of priests in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, to intellectual freedom is longstanding and well attested. Descartes, for example, apparently stopped working on his cosmology after Galileo ran into a spot of bother with the Church. But, with the invention of printing and the Reformation (in part a consequence of the spread of printing), there was a further effect. Scientific printing in particular was essentially forced into Protestant lands because of the way Catholic priests (as “gatekeepers of righteousness”) exercised their power to license what was printed. This despite the fact that Catholic theology—with its notion that the world, as the direction creation of God, has primacy over Scripture, as a creation of the body of believers (however divinely inspired)—was more science-friendly than Protestant theology, with its notion of the primacy of Scripture. (Hence contemporary creationism is much more of a Protestant, than a Catholic, phenomena.) Indeed, Protestant printers would use the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books as a mark of what to print, because such works had both the lure of the forbidden and allow book buyers to celebrate their “Protestant liberty” in defiance of “Papist despotism”. (The more things change …) Since such priestly power was indelibly connected to medieval Scholasticism, Aristotelianism was further tarred by repressive association.

The diversity of the human
Whether to grant the same-sex attracted equality before the law is a public policy choice. But it is genuine choice, grounded in human purposes. There is not some definitive form of marriage built into the structure of the universe that leads us to only one proper choice about what form of marriage is permissible.

That opponents of same-sex marriage are not willing to venture any predictions about what will happen in the US States that legalise same-sex marriage is itself an indication of how not grounded in human purposes, and in human nature as it is, the opposition to such equality before the law is.

The question is whether the same-sex attracted are a legitimate manifestation of the human or not and so whether their relationships are to have equal protection of the law. The supporters say they are legitimate manifestations of the human, with all that implies:
The increasing presence of "openly gay" people in social life and in the media has changed our habits. And over the last 30 years or so, instead of thinking about the private activity of gay sex, many Americans and Europeans started thinking about the public category of gay people.
Hence attitudes to same-sex marriage being so much a division between generations. To the extent that the public animus towards same-sex attracted appears to be seriously hurting the standing of Christianity among young Americans.

A vivid and personal instance of this shift in perspective was provided by a National Party MP:
I have killed a man. In fact, I have killed men. Not through what I have done, but through my own pathetic and stupid prejudice. Not long ago I went to the funeral of a young gay friend of mine who had died of a rare wasting illness. He ultimately died of a broken heart – he died because he was sorry to be gay. He was a country bloke who didn't want to be gay, but he just was.
He didn't want the prejudice that he would inevitably face. I guess he wanted the textbook life that we generally romanticise about and call “normal'”, but it just wasn't him. At the cemetery I saw two of his friends, both male, holding hands as they lowered the casket, bawling their eyes out at the loss of their beloved friend. Through their tears my eyes were finally opened. Their love and respect was what mattered. Who cares what people do as long as they love each other?
I felt like a complete moron. In all these years of thinking that being gay was odd or unusual, in actual fact I was perpetuating prejudice that was killing young men – and which still kills young men.
I killed my friend through my failure to accept difference, and through the lack of understanding from other country blokes, just like me, who made him hate being gay. It is not overt prejudice or open vilification. It's the more dangerous, subtle, constant things we do that must have gnawed away at his soul. It was people such as me who give gay people a funny look, who make gay men ashamed in country Australia.
And I haven't just killed him, I have killed many. Killed them at the end of a rope in the back shed or at the barrel of their father's gun or next to an empty bottle of grog. It's a tough realisation to come to. I have been brought up and remain a strong Catholic, believing in strong “family values'' and that heterosexual relationships were what God was all about. But only a week after the funeral I went to a wedding where the priest read the Gospel where He says “of all of my commandments the most important one is to love thy neighbour''. Unless they cut out a bit on the end that said “unless they are gay,'' I reckon God didn't care much about who you love, so why do we?
Thomas, if you can hear me, forgive me for now I understand.
In other words, they stopped being flawed departures from what should be and became just people.

Apart from the utterly unnecessary human misery they create, the “mild” manifestations of bigotry matter because they keep alive the notion of a category of people whose existence is problematical, as a “problem” requiring “solution”. A final solution even: ideas have consequences.

The opponents say the same-sex attracted are not legitimate manifestations of the human:
Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.
and it is perfectly obvious where the idea that there exist people who are not legitimate forms of the human:
In that night our Blessed Lady and Mother of God was delivered of our Blessed Saviour upon the hay that lay in the rack. At which nativity our Lord shewed many marvels. … And it happed this night that all the sodomites that did sin against nature were dead and extinct; for God hated so much this sin, that he might not suffer that nature human, which he had taken, were delivered to so great shame. Whereof Saint Austin saith that, it lacked but little that God would not become man for that sin
leads. (Not only did it take decades to acknowledge that homosexuals were victims of the Holocaust, when the camps were conquered, they were often transferred from the death camps to ordinary prisons, since same-sex activity remained a criminal offence: that is, they remained not a legitimate manifestation of the human.) A homicidal and exterminationist view being involved right from the beginning of the welding of the natural law tradition to Scriptural revelation precisely because it has purpose(i) and form not only trump human purposes but setting the definition of what it is to be (acceptably) human.

It is simply mad to think that men having sex with each other, engaging in the “wrong form” of sex, is more morally offensive than rape or murder: as The Golden Legend avers. All the homosexual orgasms in the history of the world do not morally outweigh one person being burnt alive for having sex with another. Indeed, they do not outweigh the mental torture inflicted on one adolescent for having the “wrong” aspirations to love and be loved, for being induced to think that they are somehow outside the natural order and hateful to God.

For it is nonsense to say “against the sin, not the sinner”. If someone said “love you, but I hate the fact that you are black”, we would see it for the bigoted statement it is. Our erotic nature is a fundamental part of us, not some optional extra. Just as pretending that encouraging people to be thoroughly alienated from their own erotic nature “has their best interests at heart” is a specious and contemptible rationalisation of deeper animus at their being so dreadfully different.

For if the same-sex attracted are not legitimate manifestations of the human, what has been done to them in the name of such thinking does not count. If they are not are not legitimate manifestations of the human, what has been done to them in the name of such thinking does not tell us anything about the logic of such thought. It is a normal pattern of bigotry to either ignore the brutality and other harm that results from it or to blame such on the objects of bigotry: the problem is never the way bigotry frames matters but always with the objects of bigotry. (The self-righteous certainty of political correctness regularly operates in this way.) The whole point of bigotry is to deny the objects of bigotry the status of “real people”, with the consideration that would entail.

So the brutality arising out of the anathematising of same-sex attraction and activity is either ignored, belittled or any harm involved is the fault of the same-sex active themselves. Or attention is simply shifted to how “threatened” the huge heterosexual majority is by the small same-sex attracted minority’s “corrupting power”, just as Jew-hatred built up the Jews in the same way. For if the small minority does not have great corrupting power, then it is just a large majority monstrously bullying a small and vulnerable minority—which is central to why we see the same patterns in anti-gay activism as was manifested in anti-Jewish activism.

A corrupting anathema
The anathematisation of same-sex attraction is profoundly corrupting of moral sensibility. The elevating of forms and alleged purposes(i) over human purposes and purposiveness is profoundly belittling of what it is to be human. Not merely in the casting out of categories of people from the “properly human” but in not granting that purposiveness as the real root of all norms and so not treating what it is to be human with sufficient seriousness. Such elevation of designated forms and purposes(i) over human purposes, even over what it is to be human—indeed, to define what “counts” as properly human—must be oppressive.

For it was precisely Philo’s re-interpretation of Genesis 19 according to natural law principles which shifted the story from a warning to all not to treat the weak and vulnerable badly (so a story grounded in human purposiveness, which is how Christ used the story, following in the tradition of Ezekiel, and Zephaniah) to divine horror at same-sex activity (so a story grounded in form and function) and one which, moreover, was morally quarantined off as the anathematisation of an easily isolated, and thus vulnerable, minority: such that even tolerating such people became an offence against God. The notion of virtuous extermination was thereby embedded in Western civilisation. It is hard to over-estimate the evil consequences in re-casting the premier Scriptural example of the Wrath of God from a warning not to treat others badly to an anathematisation of the different: indeed, as an injunction to oppress and kill the different.

What is it to be human?
So, the debate over same-sex marriage is, in large part, a debate over what it is to be human. People vary, marriages vary: equality before the law is a way to cope, via simple decency, with the variety of the human rather than prosecuting an unending war against it.

It is, of course, deeply insulting, even infuriating, to be in the position to have to argue that, really, one is a fully legitimate manifestation of the human. But it is the position that Jew, blacks, women—all those who have had to struggle to achieve equal protection of the law—have had to go through.

In The Last Superstition, one has a grown man, and a philosopher, comparing homosexuality to alcoholism, autism, etc (p.134). No one who has suffered the destructiveness of the sufferer and those around them of alcoholism (or, for that matter, the travails of raising an autistic child) can possibly compare it to erotic attraction to one’s own sex without a seriously impaired sense of what actual pathology is, and is not. Particularly given same-sex attracted men are, as it happens, disproportionately likely to be volunteers, in the caring/service jobs or carers; tend to have more varied and intense friendships than heterosexual men; are less likely to engage in violence and more likely to be actively creative. But, then, Jews (if anything, even more wildly disproportionately intellectually creative) were equally dismissed as inherently pathological.

Again and again, those to be denied equal protection of the law are pathologised and belittled or are cast as somehow alien. Just as “decent conservatives” in the C19th American South did not want to see blacks as their moral equals, or conservative Catholics in C19th France, Austria or German would be outraged at the thought that Jews could be legitimately French, German or Austrian, so now many conservatives see homosexuality as somehow alien to the proper order of things. Of all the attempts to do cast out people in one’s own society as somehow alien, none is more nonsensical than seeing the same-sex attracted as such, as Bruce Bawer expresses so vividly:
Western civilization, far from being threatened by homosexuality, is to a staggeringly disproportionate degree the creation of gay men and women.
"Do you want to protect your children from gay influence?" I imagine [Allan Bloom] writing. "Very well. Destroy the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, silence Messiah and Swan Lake, and burn Moby Dick and The Portrait of a Lady. Gay culture is all around you — and it belongs to everybody."
But the effortless virtue of feeling superior to Leonardo Da Vinci, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Henry James, Alan Turing (for whose ill-treatment British PM Gordon Brown recently apologized) and all the other non-heterosexual creators of Western civilisation because, unlike them, you are not “queer”, must be a heady thing. It is also, of course, an utterly contemptible thing.

But, then, there is something profoundly pathetic about members of a huge majority trying to build up members of small minority as some great moral threat when, of course, it is the small minority who are the vulnerable ones. Leaving aside what happens in Muslim countries, in places like Jamaica or Nigeria even seeking to worship together can be actively dangerous. But freedom for the people-who-should-not-exist to worship, or to have same-sex marriage ceremonies, is not the sort of religious freedom that anti-gay activists concern themselves with when they bleat about religious freedom.

The madness, the pathology, is not in homosexuality. The madness is thinking it matters. That the same-sex attracted are anything more, or less, than just folks. Anything more, or less, than just a manifestation of the variety of the human.

The position of the Catholic Church is, as it has always been, that homosexuals, people with an “unnatural”, a “disordered”, attraction to their own sex, should not exist as they are. Once you have a category of people who should not exist, then clearly society, and decency, is served by making sure they do not exist or, if you cannot manage that, restrict that they exist as much as possible. Hence the Catholic Church’s position has been to be as exterminatory towards the same-sex attracted as it can get away within the existing historical circumstances. If they could be publicly killed them for acting on that attraction, that was done. If they were so outside the ambit of the Gospels that God could be portrayed as a Virtuous Exterminator, purifying the globe of their polluting presence before the Incarnation could even happen, that was done. If they could be denied any public space for manifesting that attraction, that was done. If they could be denied any legal rights or standing from manifesting that attraction, that has been done. For people who should not exist have no claim on the rest of humanity, the rest of society. Error has no rights, even to exist. (Something that the politically correct, in their ardent wish to police public discourse, tend to believe quite strongly.) But freedom means nothing if it does not mean the right to be wrong (with the normal caveats about being limited by the freedom of others), for otherwise we are under the power of whoever gets to define “the wrong”.

And the notion that there are people who should not exist comes to Christianity via the marriage of natural law theory with the Holiness Code using a reinterpretation of Genesis 19 to make that marriage work. In particular, the notion that functions are defined by innate purposes which thereby preclude any other purposes or uses from having any claim. The natural law approach of concepts that judge the world, not merely in a moral but in an ontological sense, has a natural exterminatory logic to it. Hence reinterpreting Genesis 19 to make God the Virtuous Exterminator of the people who should not exist, a logic expressed so fully in The Golden Legend. But that history of brutality and violence is only a moral problem if its victims and their experiences have moral weight. If they are people who should not exist, it is all mere action in defence of “decency”.

To accept equality before the law, one has to reject the notion that there are people-by-category who should not exist, or who are otherwise not fully legitimate manifestations of the human. Hence the power of philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah’s above-cited point about “accepting the public category of gay people”, which includes accepting their full humanity. Hence also the bitter resistance by the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, Orthodox Jews, Muslims and Evangelical Christians to granting them that full, public humanity: so many of whose adherents are clearly happy to engage in whatever level of contempt for others—and its concomitant sense of effortless virtue—that is required to maintain their sense of the authority of scripture, the authority of their church and of sex as something that—unless done in the right form—separates us from the divine. (Not a burden that animist or polytheist conceptions of the divine, which are often highly sexualised, generally labour under.) Hence monotheism’s strikingly insistent anathematising of same-sex attraction, regardless of whether the particular strain of monotheism adheres to natural law theory or not.

Which puts in perspective the transformative nature of the Gospel message, for the point of the rejection of the Old Law, of the Holiness Code, was that the Gospel message changed it all into a message of moral universalism, so not playing restrictive, priestly games with good forms and bad forms. But it is classical natural law theory which led Christianity to keep that one bit of the Holiness Code going, that one case of keeping form trumping human purposes (in violation of Matthew 15: 16-20 and Mark 7:1-20), to interpret Genesis 19 in an exterminatory way which justifies further extermination of the people who should not exist. A reinterpretation which also finds its way into the Qur’an’s presentation of the story of Lot.

Defining ‘marriage’ so as to exclude actual marriages is both characteristic of how classical natural law theory precedes and a manifestation of a very grim legacy. For just as it holds that some sex acts tells us about the proper nature of sex and others do not, some marriages tells us about the proper nature of marriage and others do not, it ends up with some humans tells us about the proper nature of the human and others do not and so—as with being the “wrong class” in Marxism, the “wrong race” in Nazism—those with the “wrong sexuality” are “surplus to requirements” and to positive consideration. With all the petty, and not so petty, cruelties that generates.

We should not need to ask what they consequences of such thinking are: they have long since become obvious. Though one case can stand for so many. In 1741, Jan Jansz, aged 17, was convicted in Amsterdam of sodomy. As a result of the authorities performing their duty in accordance with traditional Christian doctrine, he spent the rest of his life—fifty-seven years—in solitary confinement in his cell. Decades of torment in the cause of their consciences, just as C. S. Lewis identifies.

The question is why people refuse to face what such thinking means, despite the mountains of evidence? Because of the blindness of habit, the comfort of the familiar and the endless appeal of effortless virtue. It would be some grim comfort to think the tormenting of all the Jan Jansz’s were and are all just pointless barbarity. But such acts are worse, for they are purposeful and self-elevating barbarity, reducing one’s fellows to stick figure puppets in the self-serving passion play of our comfortingly righteous, effortless virtue. Let’s not go there any more, nor adhere to the false theories that take us there.

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