Lots of no doubt very wise people avoid comment threads here, but the comments on Universal Human Experiences are really worth it. The post was about how people mistake their own unique and individual ways of experiencing the world for human universals and assume anyone who says otherwise is speaking metaphorically. And boy did people have a lot of good examples of this.
I want to turn lots of them into extended discussions eventually, but for now I’ll settle for the one that reminded me how I still fail at Principle of Charity.
Principle of Charity, remember, says you should always assume your ideological opponents’ beliefs must make sense from their perspective. If you can’t even conceive of a position you oppose being tempting to someone, you don’t understand it and are probably missing something. You might be missing a strong argument that the position is correct. Or you might just be missing something totally out of left field.
People always accuse me of going too far with this, and every time I’m tempted to believe them I always get reminded I don’t go nearly far enough.
I’m pretty good at feeling tempted by most positions I oppose, which satisfies me that I understand them enought to feel justified in continuing to reject them. The biggest exception is that opposition to homosexuality has never made sense to me. I can sort of understand where it fits into a natural law theology, but a lot of anti-gay activists are, no offense, not exactly Thomas Aquinas.
Chris Hallquist commented:
I remember hearing once on Dan Savage’s podcast that he gets letters from gay men who grew up in very conservative parts of the country, who didn’t know that being straight was a thing. They assumed all men were attracted to men, but just hid it.
Dr. Paul Cameron, founder of the anti-gay Family Research Institute, is quoted as saying: “If all you want is the most satisfying orgasm you can get – and that is what homosexuality seems to be – then homosexuality seems too powerful to resist… It’s pure sexuality. It’s almost like pure heroin. It’s such a rush. They are committed in almost a religious way. And they’ll take enormous risks, do anything.” He says that for married men and women, gay sex would be irresistible. “Martial sex tends toward the boring end,” he points out. “Generally, it doesn’t deliver the kind of sheer sexual pleasure that homosexual sex does” So, Cameron believes, within a few generations homosexuality would be come the dominant form of sexual behavior. Apparently, some people build their entire lives around not knowing that being straight is a thing.
So imagine that you’re one of those people Dan Savage was talking about – a closeted gay guy who doesn’t realize he’s a closeted gay guy. He just thinks – reasonably, given his own experience! -that the natural state of the human male is to be attracted to other men, but that men grudgingly have sex with and marry women anyway because society tells them they have to.
(I don’t know if this generalizes to women)
In that case, exactly the anti-gay position conservatives push makes perfect sense for exactly the reasons they say it makes sense.
Allowing gay marriage would destroy straight marriage? Yes! If everyone’s secretly gay, then as soon as gay marriage is allowed, they will breath a sigh of relief and stop marrying opposite-sex partners whom they were never very attracted to anyway.
Gay people are depraved and licentious? Yes! Everyone else is virtuously resisting all of these unbearable homosexual impulses, and gay people are the ones who give in, who can’t resist grabbing the marshmallow as soon as it is presented to them.
(I’m referring to this experiment, not some sort of creepy sexual euphemism. Get your heads out of the gutter.)
Teaching children about homosexuality will turn them gay? Yes! The only thing preventing them all from being gay already is the social stigma against it. Teaching them in school that homosexuality is okay and shouldn’t be stigmatized cuts the last thin thread connecting them to straightness.
This can’t be a universal explanation for anti-gay attitudes. Something like half the US population is against gay marriage (previously much more) and probably five percent or less is gay. Closeted gay people don’t explain more than a small fraction of the anti-gay movement.
But it’s probably bigger than the fraction who read Thomas Aquinas. Maybe all these idiosyncratic arguments that only a few people can really appreciate turn into soundbites and justifications that get used by other people who feel vague discomfort but don’t have a good grounding for why. That means they’d have an impact larger than the size of the groups that produce them.