Monday, May 22, 2006

Objectivists and Causes of Homosexuality

Updated: It seems like some Objectivists are quite in disagreement over the causes and moral status of homosexuality. Of course, wrestling with that issue is not unique only to us, as much of contemporary society is dealing with trying to understand gay people like me and why we are the way we are. Even we homosexuals are divided over these important issues regarding our sexual identities. Over at Trey Given’s blog, a young discussion has arisen over the causes of homosexual identity. Trey is of the opinion that homosexuality is entirely or mostly biological (genetic), and therefore homosexual behavior is simply amoral- and that’s that. Diana Hsieh is of the opinion that while she finds absolutely no reason to hold homosexual identity as immoral, she cannot accept that there are any biological or genetic roots to its manifestation in some people. Diana asks some crucial questions on the topic: How could homosexuality (or any sexuality, for that matter) be innate (i.e. genetic) without innate concepts of male and female…. Are our brains programmed with not just the innate capacity to distinguish male from female, but also an innate desire for one or the other? How exactly might that work? Do we have all kinds of other innate knowledge and desires? Or is sexuality some kind of radical anomoly [sic] in the way our brain works? My own opinion is that homosexuality is a bit of both, and maybe more. The two alternatives proposed by Trey and Diana, of being mostly genetic or entirely psychological, respectively, are inadequate and fall short of capturing the vast range of differences one finds in human sexual manifestations. Moreover, coming from an Objectivist perspective, such disjunctive bifurcation of the human sexual identity in either the wholly genetic or the wholly psychological wrongly sustains the separation of the mind from the body – a dichotomy that Objectivism vehemently rejects in every understanding of man. Trey’s insistence that homosexuality is almost entirely dictated by genetic predispositions does not fit into our current understanding of human sexuality as a rich, complex, and varied phenomena. It furthermore would need to admit that all manifestations of sexual orientations, like heterosexuality, transexuality, bi-sexuality, bestiality, etc. etc. are also entirely determined by genetic causes (as people bearing these identities often claim for themselves). I don’t believe this position can be viably held in the face of current and future revelations on the matter. On the other extreme position that Diana holds, i.e. sexual orientation could not be genetic at all, and must be entirely psychological, similarly goes against current science, and on a more personal level, it goes against my own (and other gays’) experience and understanding of sexual identity. The questions Diana poses regarding homosexuality could also be asked of heterosexuality. [Note: Diana does emphasize that even heterosexuality cannot be genetic and is therefore, psychologically developed - either consciously or sub-consciously.] Why is it that throughout history, the majority of human population have been heterosexuals if it were possible for them to easily develop sexual attraction to any thing or any person (since it is not genetically determined)? Why didn’t people develop a pre-dominantly homosexual orientation, leaving reproduction to the 10% minority? If there are no innate concepts of male and female, and no innate attraction for one or the other, then the overwhelming pre-dominance of heterosexuality needs crucial explanation beyond our current understanding of its evolutionary causes and roles. I’ll copy/paste here some of the arguments I posted on the comments at Trey’s blog. If you are reading this and are interested in participating in the discussion, please proceed to his site to include your comments and get a complete picture of everyone else’s arguments. My post here is mainly for my own purpose of synthesizing my scattered opinions on homosexuality in one place, on my blog. ================================================ Explanations such as physiological suitability of opposite sex organs dictating the *choice* people made throughout history is very inadequate for atleast two reasons I can think of right now: 1) I personally do not find any difference in the *physiological* suitability between heterosexuals and homosexuals (yes, even among lesbians). This notion of "suitability" probably carries some subjective and arbitrary beliefs of the purpose of sex and our sex organs. If the "suitability" of sex organs are viewed with a subconscious view that they are primarily for reproduction, then I would only concede so much that TODAY opposite sex organs have better suitability than same-sex sex organs. If "suitability" is understood in the view of sex as expression of love, pleasure, lust, etc... then to claim that one set is more "suitable" than the other is simply arbitrary. 2) If sexual identity was indeed totally unconnected with genetic causes, then, given the variety of human sexual choices we already witness, the number of heterosexuals should have been far lower - or atleast widely ranging during different periods of history depending on prevailing socio-cultural norms. However, I believe it is a matter of fact that homosexuality has remained at a steady minority rate, and hetersexuality has maintained a huge majority throughout history. Other sexual identities (possibly, as I mentioned earlier, due to random genetic/evolutionary processes) have been typically lower than homosexuality.These trends cannot be explained away by saying simply that the large *majority* of people throughout history just chose to be heterosexual because of the suitability of opposite sex organs. If choice were truly the main factor, then the diversity of sexual choices would have been more evenly spread out. I've always held that homosexuality is not entirely or merely a genetic/biological phenomena. I believe there is certainly some environmental/psychological aspect that probably triggers a latent "gay" gene in the people that have it. I’ve read some studies to this effect – which I find to be the most plausible scenario. Yet, I have also held firmly that homosexuality - whatever its causes - is not immoral in any sense. If given a chance to change my sexual orientation (I don't like the word "orientation", but I can't think of any appropriate one to use right now), I would choose not to do it. However, I don’t mean to imply that I am somehow more comfortable with my homosexuality and Trey – because he leans toward being open to change – is somehow not fully comfortable. I agree with Trey that it is purely an individual decision made in their given contexts. It seems to me that all the "inconveniences" or "hurdles" or "problems" associated with being gay actually has no proper root in the fact of being gay, per se - but of being gay in *today's* cultural environment. Being gay as such does not give rise to any uniquely different or significant problems that would not similarly arise among heterosexuals... I agree that there are real problems homosexuals experience - but it is because we are gay *today*, in *this* cultural environment. However, we must remember that our situation is much, much, better off that gays living only 20 or 30 years ago. My understanding of the "gay" gene does to correspond to a cognitive or conceptual understanding of gay sexuality, masculinity, etc. I understanding genetic basis of behavior dispositions as simply *tendencies* - not a hard-wired *programmed* formula. There are genetic tendencies that different people have to differing degrees... for example, scientists have studied some people's genetic predisposition to a short temper, get angry more quickly and easily, or get hooked on some addiction or alcoholism, etc. However, my argument is that these predispositions are tendencies that typically are latent unless they are triggered early on in a person's life (depending on what those tendencies are) by environmental or psychological factors. Thus, a person with a predisposition for easy addiction (maybe a gene that allows for a quicker neural connection in the brain to process drug-induced chemicals and respond quickly with a positive "high" experience)... might not actually be an *addict* until they actually interact with some trigger in their environment (peer pressure to smoke at an early age, drug abuse at home, etc.). Similarly, the gay genetic tendency is not present in all persons... and even those who DO HAVE that genetic predisposition might not manifest it in their conscious sexual orientation unless it had already been triggered through some means early enough in their psychological development. That might explain bi-sexuality, latent homosexuality, anecdotes of abuse in childhood common among many gay people, etc. If […] homosexuality is *entirely* psychological or developmental, then it implies to whatever degree, a deliberate choice I made after understanding concepts like my masculinity, sexual attraction, other males, etc. But I must say, and I think Trey would agree, that I cannot ever remember making any such choices nor understanding any such concepts in my early childhood - when there were already clear signs of my homosexual attraction. My earliest memory of being attracted to another male (a little boy, actually) seemed to arise automatically and naturally when I was only 3yrs old, and he was maybe only a few yrs older than me. Was that childhood attraction possible because even at that age I had some concept of sexual roles, gender, penis, masculinity, etc? I don't know. But I doubt it. To me, it seems more like the physiological reaction of my gay gene after being triggered positively, releasing positive and reinforcing emotions in me. I take it being analogous to a person who has good genes that respond quickly to muscle-building when the person works-out in the gym only few days a week, while another person sweats out 2 hours everyday at the gym and yet can barely maintain a decent physique (I submit myself as an example of the latter!) I cannot honestly agree with any theory that regards homosexuality as completely devoid of any genetic, physiological, or biological roots. It creates an unresolvable conflict in my mind between what "stomach-feeling" I have and what that theory would espouse. I think homosexuality (its different degrees, and bi-sexuality, etc.) are caused by some interactive influence of both, the biological and the psychological.All behaviors are subject to moral judgement. Harmful addiction is immoral regardless of the person's genetic predispositions - because, as I mentioned, those addictive acts are still under the control of the person's deliberate choices. Homosexuality is not immoral regardless of its causes.


Blogger Ergo Sum said...

Hmm... Diana's point is interesting. Maybe, as she says, homosexuality is initiated in early childhood through psychological, environmental, parental influences (to name a few) and as one grow older, those neural pathways in the brain corresponding to homosexual attraction, gratification, and reinforcement gets solidified, thereby becoming "hard-wired" in the brain, with little or no possibility of "re-progamming".

But, how then, would one explain the issue of "late bloomers" - those who realize their homosexual identites much later on life... some, way into adulthood? How did they develop a neural pathway strong enough to convey a homosexual identity at such a late stage in their psychological development??

5/22/2006 04:19:00 pm  
Blogger Jason Hughes said...

Ah, the old "Nature Vs. Nurture" Debate...

I personally am a nature proponent, with nurture kicked in for reinforcement...

There have also been some studies in the last few years that point to hormonal balances in the mother during pregnancy that may also be a factor in the whole argument, besides being simply genetic or nurturing... would that make the argument "Nature Vs. Nurture Vs. Diet"?


great post!

5/23/2006 09:22:00 pm  
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