Thursday, May 03, 2007

Let a Thousand Bisexual Flowers Bloom:

Andrew Sullivan talked about this a few days ago. Harry Jaffa et al. (antihomosexual natural law proponents) take note. One reason why I think Jaffa's argument against homosexuality is so wrong is that it rests on a clearly erroneous factual premise. Jaffa writes:

Of all the distinctions in nature from which morality can be inferred, nothing is more profound than the distinction between male and female, which runs not only for human nature but through all nature.

This errs as much as 2+2 = 5. There is no question that "the distinction between male and female...runs not only for human nature but through all nature," and as this article shows, when we look at "all of nature" we commonly see such distinctions blurred. Hence it is false to assert that gender distinctions in nature are more profound than distinctions between man and beast or man and God. The distinction between man and God has never been blurred or observed in nature (other than Jesus, if He really were God and man; but that is something natural reason cannot answer). Likewise, blurred distinctions between man and beast (meaning all non-human life) are not at all found in nature (though such chimeras are being created in non-nature and may raise some ethical dilemmas in the future). Gender, on the other hand is commonly blurred in nature. As I wrote in my original post:

First, not all species reproduce heterosexually. Some reproduce asexually. Some creatures have both male and female genitalia. And some species naturally and spontaneously “switch” genders in their lifetime.

Although many of these examples are in animal nature, Hermaphroditism exists within human nature. Because of what we know about how gender differences arise in nature, it shouldn’t surprise us that nature often blurs the line.

I then quoted James Q. Wilson discussing how "[a]ll fetuses begin as females; only in the third month of gestation does masculinization begin. And when it does begin, it sometimes is a process prone to error, leading to all manner of deficiencies and abnormalities...."

As a matter of psychology (and I accept the premise of biological "male" and "female" brains) gender purity doesn't exist; even the straightest man has some "female" in him and vice versa. Think of the "Tomboy" whose stereotype has long been accepted as a "normal" gender variation, even in conservative times, provided she eventually married a man. When it comes to gender, gleaning nature informs that variation is the rule. A better norm thus would be let a thousand flowers bloom, not the absurd conclusions of the natural law that homosexuality, masturbation, and contraception are all "unnatural" and thus wrong, or even worse, Jaffa's notion that homosexuality is wrong along the same lines as genocide and slavery.

Indeed, let a thousand flowers bloom, a thousand bisexual flowers even.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Likewise, the distinction between man and beast (meaning all non-human life) is not at all found in nature...

This is a good argument. If one claims there's a distinction between man and beast (which Biblers like Jaffa indeed do), then one cannot use the law of the beasts to determine what is "unnatural."

But on the other hand, if what makes man different from the beasts is his teleology, his cosmic purpose (end)---and believe this they do as well---then that teleology is inherent in his nature, and one may fairly use "unnatural" for what is adjudged to be contrary to that teleology.

"Natural," then, is used in the first instance scientifically/ mechanically, but in the latter it's a philosophical term. Neither side can have it both ways, and indeed it appears that the Jaffa side is the far more guilty. Junky riff.

Jonathan said...

Great comment. You talk of the difference between nature and Nature. The traditional Thomist line of thought is more internally coherent than Jaffa's variation on it.

I wrote this post last night after work when tired. I meant to say (which I corrected) "blurred distinctions between man and beast (meaning all non-human life) are not at all found in nature."

The bottom line I was trying to make was that Jaffa may be right that since the distinction between man and beast is so strong (we have humans on the one hand, and non-human life on the other) it may make sense to therefore draw such moral distinctions (i.e., I can eat that cow but not that human). But gender distinctions, profound as they may be in some sense, are not nearly as profound as the distinction between man and beast or man and God. That nature commonly blurs gender distinctions (they are minority deviations; but nonetheless replete in nature) in a way it never does with man/beast or man/God shows the latter to be profounder than the former.