Gene Therapy

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Eugene Volokh posts on the importance of getting down to details in sociological argument, invoking his extremely useful paper on slippery slopes. He's talking about gay marriage here, but the more general point is a crucial one to keep in mind in the midst of often abstract arguments about the broad social effects of this or that institutional change. It's all too easy, in such debates, to be hypnotized by vague language about how some reform will "undermine families" or "debase the culture" or have some other such terrifying consequence. Volokh stresses the importance of asking: "What's the mechanism?" It's a simple question, but one with an uncanny power to carve through the squishy sheath of pseudo-profundity and reveal the pit of naked assertion at the center of the argumentative avocado.

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  1. More like fear-mongering fettuccini.

  2. ^quiet down you traitorous turnips

  3. Sir Real,

    If polygamous and polyandrous societies “existed for a long time,” then I would call that evidence that we don’t even need marriage to stay as it is to ward off social collapse and a plague of locusts, etc. (Not that you were postulating that, just saying…)

    Also, if pairing is the historical norm, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “hard-wired,” if by that you mean genetically. It might simply mean that pairing results in the best outcomes for individuals and/or societies and so it is culturally selected the most often. This could explain why it’s so prevalent yet not universal.

  4. 2 – 3% gay poplulation? I thought it was closer to %5. A guy I used to work for who “went gay” thinks it’s closer to 10% – wishful thinking on his part maybe?! Anyway, the whole gay marriage thing is mostly about health care benefits and making homosexuality an accepted norm. And with my survey sampling of one homosexual, when they decide to essentially tie the knot (pair up permanent-like) it will definitely be an “open relationship” (ie. the dude I know intends to continue having homosexual sex with at least one other guy)

  5. anon @ 1:42 PM,

    Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!!!

  6. Yeah, those polyandrous and polygamous societies are really compatible with our economy and lifestyles. There’s New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and certain tribal areas in Africa…

    On further review, the call is reversed; I’m not sure we want to consider any facts in this debate. It’s much easier to just have a sit in and shout “racist sexist anti-gay, Rick Santorum, go away!”

  7. The fact that polygamy is so rare in western, industrial societies might actually have something to do with the fact that it’s not compatible with our economics and lifestyle. Hence the argument made by fyodor above. If it was, it would be more common and probably non-problematic. Either way, no need to ban it.

    I’m willing to buy the fact that maybe homosexuals are ‘more likely’ to engage in open relationships (if for no other reason than that no one loses out in a ‘menage a’ trois), but currently they are not allowed to be married in most states. Thus, allowing gay marriage will only increase the number of marriages (even if most gays choose not to have traditional marriages). I think this can only strengthen the ‘institution’ of marriage. The example it sets that may influence straight behavior, crudely, is ‘look, even the gays are getting married – must be something to that’.

  8. An email was posted on The Corner at NRO today, saying homosexual marriage would be more acceptable to that person if arbitrary interpersonal linkage was acceptable in general, i.e., if Aunt Clara could “marry” Gramma Lucy, so as to establish legal health and survivorship benefits between the two. I don’t have a dog in this fight, so I don’t know which side of the slippery slope this is on, but I thought it was an interesting view in any event.

  9. Don’t believe ’em!! They’d be screaming if Aunt Clara could marry Gramma Lucy, but they know it ain’t gonna happen so they get to use it as a wedgie!

    Private companies get to decide health benefits on whatever basis they wish, no matter who can legally marry. As for governments, maybe they should just extend benefits to a “guest” and not worry about the relationship.

  10. the more general point is a crucial one to keep in mind in the midst of often abstract arguments about the broad social effects of this or that institutional change.

    Such as the argument that outlawing flag desecration will result in book burning next week? Or that halting partial birth abortion will overturn Roe v. Wade tomorrow? Or, for that matter, that banning assault weapons will result in wholesale gun confiscation prior to the next deer hunting season?

  11. one other factor to remember is that for a good chunk of time non-paired, non-heterosexual couplings (or grouplings?) were generally set on fire or whatever the method du jour was for the catholic/protestant/muslim authorities at the moment.

    i’m finding open relationships more common amongst friends and aquaintances, with some variance here and there. if nothing else i do think there’s a greater tendency to eschew the marry–>mate–>die model, but it’s probably still a miniscule minority.

  12. anon @ 1:42 — I believe the 10% gay figure (which was commonly accepted for quite a long time) came from the Kinsey report of the late 40’s, and turns out to have not withstood further scrutiny (read: It was pretty much fabricated).

  13. “Such as the argument that outlawing flag desecration will result in book burning next week […]”

    Well, sure. As Volokh points out, a slippery slope argument is only any good if you can plausibly specify the mechanism by which the “slide” occurs. Nobody should accept any of those claims without that crucial bit of argumentation. And they may all well be false. Actually, I think slippery slope arguments are harmful in another sense, in that they often abandon the central territory of the debate too quickly. I’m not against laws prohibiting “flag desecration” because I think we’ll be burning Ulysses soon thereafter. I’m against them because I think you damn well have the right to burn a flag, however obnoxious the rest of us might find that.

  14. If you burn Old Glory, what symbol would you hoist in its place?

  15. I don’t know, but I do believe this whole gay “marriage” thing is primarily about elbowing one’s way to the gubmint benefits trough.

  16. Julian – good link.

    I find it amazing to hear all these dire predictions about how gay marriage will undermine traditional families. Homosexuals make up 2-3% of the population.

    By way of comparison, around 50% of all marriages currently end in divorce. There’s your 800 pound gorilla.

    Also by way of comparison, we seem to have weathered the 60s and their very questionable theories on pairing fairly well. Twenty five years ago, wife-swapping, free love, open marriages and the like were all the vogue.

    There’s an important conservative observation that conservatives are suddenly abandoning, and it is this: Human nature is more or less fixed. All the grand attempts at improving human nature (communism, war on poverty, war on drugs, etc.) have failed. Humans naturally pair – that is an unshakable fact. It has stood the test of time and all sorts of tribulations.

    The notion is patently absurd – that after millennia of tinkering around with the idea of marriage and ultimately always returning to it, this 3% of the population that’s gay is somehow going to lay wast to society. It’s bigotry, nothing more.

  17. LOL @ “argumentative avocado.”

  18. Pat-

    While I agree that Human nature is more or les fixed, I’m not buying your hard-wired pairing idea. Human history has demonstrated that polygamous (and to a lesser extent, polyandrous) societies have existed for a long time. Claiming that “pairing up” (I take as code for monogamy) is biologically driven doesn’t have a lot of science behind it.

    OT: there’s a very interesting correlation between Monogamy/Polygamy and the length of the growing season- shorter growing seasons correlate to higher incidence monogamy. Not getting into correlation/causation, though.

    Strange to be arguing biological determinism, when I agree with your conclusions…

  19. You can’t dispute the fact that the vast majority of human beings have exhibited strong pairing tendencies for all of recorded history. There are counterexamples, as their always are and always will be, but they are on the fringe.

  20. Ya gotta love Gene Volokh. There’s just nothing he can’t say in ten thousand words or more. And tell us “further study” is required. LOL

  21. If you look at today’s media, you’ll find dire predictions about more than just gay marriage. If you tune into the news today, you’ll find any of a thousand different reasons why the world is supposedly going to hell in a handbasket.

    Average temperatures are on the rise. The world is going to hell in a handbasket.

    Obesity is on the rise. The world is going to hell in a handbasket.

    The federal budget deficit is on the rise. The world is going to hell in a handbasket.

    SUV ownership is on the rise. The world is going to hell in a handbasket.

    Gay marriage might be legalized. The world is going to hell in a handbasket.

    The cost of medical care is on the rise. The world is going to hell in a handbasket.

    Al Qaeda could be planning another terrorist attack. The world is going to hell in a handbasket.

    The predicted consequences of all of these things by our media today are simply outrageous. It’s almost as if the media’s role is to get people to overreact to as many different stories as possible by making them as overly dramatic as possible. I understand it’s all about ratings, sales, and all that good stuff. I just wish that journalism across the board was more responsible and moderate in its tone, as opposed to its current modus operandi of trying to shock us all into thinking that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

  22. It’s also something that Howard Dean appears to grasp. “Facts are a better basis for decisions than ideology.”

  23. Is an “Argumentative Avocado” anything like a “Persuasive Persimmon”, or is it more like a “Debatable Durian” sprinkled with a little “Creative Cumin”?

    Tom

  24. So what even if they do want government benefits! Are heterosexual couples scumbags for wanting government benefits? If those government benefits shouldn’t be there, address that. But don’t diss one group of people for wanting the same benefits that others get!! Well, unless you’re a bigot, of course, then it’s okay….

  25. Sow –

    I completely disagree. The clamor of gays for the right to marry is mostly about the desire to be recognized as full human beings. Awfully cynical of you to assume they’re doing it primarily for government benefits.

  26. “The world is going to hell in a handbasket.”

    Makes me want to invest in handbaskets.

    “The clamor of gays for the right to marry is mostly about the desire to be recognized as full human beings.”

    With access to government benefits, of course.

  27. With the same rights as any other married couples, you asshole.

  28. From the Claremont Institute’s weblog, The Remedy on same-sex marriage:

    Tom Krannawitter, a few entries down, discusses whether conservatives still have a mind to oppose gay marriage, and on what grounds we might do so. In considering these questions, it is good to know where one stands–with friend and foe alike. Our foes are plentiful. Our friends are few, and evidently on this question, even fewer than we thought. Consider Eugene Volokh’s thoughtful, but ultimately wrong-headed (and incomplete), arguments against nature as a moral standard here.

    A while back I raised the question of whether Gene believed in natural rights. Regretably, it seems the answer is becoming clearer.

    And:

    Our friend and former Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow (class of 2000) Lee Bockhorn asks in the Weekly Standard one of the most important questions of our day: “Are there any conservatives who still believe that the gay-marriage battle can–or even should–be won?” To which I respond: Yes, there are. Nothing is more pressing in our national life than saving what is left of the American family, and we at the Claremont Institute have been working for years to show the confused (at best) and sinister (at worst) intentions that drive the attacks on marriage and the traditional family.

    But Lee is correct to highlight the defeatist attitude that seems to be sweeping through parts of the conservative movement. At the heart of that defeatism, I believe, is a loss of faith that there is a rational defense of the family. When conservatives argue that heterosexual marriage and the family that usually results from it reflects their religious or cultural “values,” they have no rational response to the claim of homosexual activists asserting different “values.” So while a majority of Americans may disapprove of same-sex marriage, they find it difficult to triumph in courtrooms or legislative halls when they cannot muster a reasonable argument as to why traditional marriage and families are good, and same-sex marriage is not.

    For those with eyes to see, the problem confronting conservatives on the marriage question illuminates the cancer that is draining the moral vitality out of the American soul: the abandonment of the idea of objective morality–morality that is true always and everywhere and applies equally to all men and women of all religious and cultural persuasions. If an understanding of the moral law cannot be recovered, then victory in the battle over marriage and family is unlikely, if not impossible.

    Articulating the problem of moral relativism and all the social and political evils that come with it, while defending and explaining the truth of the moral law, has been at the core of the work of the Claremont Institute since its founding in 1979. As an example of that work, consider Professor Harry Jaffa’s review of Gays/Justice by Richard D. Mohr and the ensuing exchange between Jaffa and Philip Dynia, especially Jaffa’s response.

    To wit:

    Clarifying Homosexuality and Natural Law

    A Review of Gays/Justice: A Study of Ethics, Society, and Law, By Richard D. Mohr

    By Harry V. Jaffa
    Posted January 1, 1991

    The author is ? we are told by the dust jacket ? an “openly gay professor”: who has turned his attention

    to the lives of gay people in American and to the ethical issues raised by society’s perception and treatment of gays.

    This “timely book,” it is said,

    will prompt Americans to consider whether they have consistently applied their basic values to lesbians and gays.

    Professor Mohr invites us to recognize sodomy as belonging to that sphere of privacy recognized in the Griswold case as deserving constitutional protection. In Griswold the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Connecticut statute that made it a felony for a physician to prescribe birth control devices to a married couple. Mohr would have us place homosexual relationships on the same level as the privacy of married couples; he argues that homosexual liaisons ought to be offered the same legal footing as the marriage of a man and a woman.

    Mohr claims not to be a moral relativist. “One of our principles,” he writes,

    is that a lot of people saying something is good [or bad!]…does not make it so. Our rejection of the long history of socially approved and state enforced slavery is a good example of this principle at work. Slavery would be wrong even if nearly everyone liked it. So consistency and fairness requires that the culture abandon the belief that gays are immoral simply because most people dislike or disapprove of gays and gay acts, or even because gay sex acts are illegal.

    What Mohr says here about morality being independent of opinion is common ground between us. He and I agree that “slavery would be wrong even if nearly everyone liked it.” What he fails to see is that homosexuality is equally wrong ? no matter how many say they like it. 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.

    Consider that a man is a species-being, and the species to which he belongs ? the species that defines his nature ? is both rational and social. Man cannot live at all ? much less live well ? except by the mutual protection and mutual support of other human beings. Morality refers to those rules that mankind has learned, both from reason and experience, are necessary for surviving and prospering. The inclination of many men ? what we might call the inclination of their lower nature ? to take their sex where they find it and ignore the consequences, must be subordinated to their higher nature, which includes the interest of society (and the interest of nature in the species). For in no other species are the young so helplessly dependent for so long. Hence the importance, even for survival, of the laws both moral and civil governing the institution of marriage and of the family. We know that the relaxation of these laws leads to disorder, disease, and death, no less surely in the most advanced cultures than in the most primitive. But the good of the family is not merely self-preservation and survival, but the higher good ? the happiness ? of all its members, including those whose original horizon may not have extended beyond immediate gratification.

    Homosexuals like Professor Mohr take the position that whatever is done by consenting adults is morally right. The position has implications that extend beyond sodomy to other sexual practices that have traditionally been condemned as immoral. Consider, for example, the question whether incest is wrong. We find this curious sentence in the book before us:

    Incest used to be considered unnatural [sic!] but discourse now usually assimilates it to the moral machinery of rape and violated trust.

    Mohr seems reluctant to say candidly that the abhorrence of incest is just another superstition. But someone who cannot say that sodomy is unnatural cannot say that incest is unnatural. Mohr, like other advocates of “sexual liberation,” appears to make consent rather than nature the ground of morality, without regard to what is being consented to. Incest, in this view, is bad only when the victim is too young or dependent to give “informed consent.” It becomes morally acceptable with the parties are both adults.

    It is painfully but unfortunately necessary to repeat the obvious. Incest, like adultery, strikes at the good order of the family, because jealousy ? properly understood ? necessarily accompanies that passion by which and out of which the family is constituted. This jealousy is acknowledged in the traditional marriage service, in which the partners promise to “renounce all others.” A wife does not expect to be in sexual competition with other women, and a husband does not expect to be in such competition with other men. Confining sexual friendship to its proper sphere ? between man and wife ? is the very core of that morality by which civilization is constituted. It did not require Freud to instruct us in the fact that the sexual passion in its primal force is anarchic, and that the “discontents” of civilization may be traced to its imperfect sublimation. Nevertheless, without the control of the libido by the super ego, all the interests of civilized existence are at risk. Our contemporary moralists, whose categorical imperative is, “If it feels good, do it” have forgotten the lessons of Freud no less than those of Aristotle or Aquinas.

    The dissolution of the family is at the root of nearly all the social problems afflicting contemporary American society. The high rate of divorce is making emotional cripples out of children at all levels of society. And the children of divorce become divorced themselves at much higher rates than others. Crime, drug abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, venereal disease, low educational achievement, lack of job related skills, inability to function well on jobs, all of these things ? and many more ? are due at least partly to the disintegration of the traditional family. And at the root of the disability of the American family is the ethic that says that sexual gratification is and should be only a matter of personal preference and personal choice. The traditional family, the embodiment and expression of “the laws of nature and nature’s God,” as the foundation of a free society, has become merely one of many “alternative lifestyles.”

    The first cases of AIDS ? and the first isolation of the HIV virus in the United States ? occurred in 1981. In its origins it was entirely a disease of male homosexuals, generated in and by anal intercourse. At the present time, according to the latest statistics I have seen, more than eighty-five percent of AIDS cases are male homosexuals. AIDS can be contracted by women from bisexual men, and they in turn may spread it to other men and thereby to other women. Infected women may transmit it to their unborn children. Intravenous drug users may contract it by sharing needles with infected persons. Others may contract it from transfusions of infected blood. While the proximate cause of AIDS may not now in every case be sodomy, the etiology of every case leads back to sodomy as its point of origin.

    Why AIDS now? That the first case was diagnosed a little over a decade after the “Gay Rights” and “Gay Pride” movements gained momentum may not be coincidental. It was as if the number of smokers had increased by a factor of four or five, and the per capita consumption of cigarettes per smoker had gone from one to three or four packs a day. The result would have been a sudden jump in the incidence of lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease. Homosexuality has always been with us. But in the last generation we have seen it “come out of the closet.” We have seen growing public acceptance of the doctrine that there is no moral distinction between promiscuity and chastity and that the only morality of sexual behavior is conformity with personal preference and personal choice. That nature itself seems to reward chastity with health, and punish promiscuity with disease, is seldom if ever mentioned. For AIDS is a venereal disease, and as much as the result of promiscuity as ever were syphilis and gonorrhea.

    The reigning assumption is that it is the function of science to emancipate human behavior from the restraints of nature. But it is by no means clear that is possible in the long run. There was a time in the 1960’s when antibiotics appeared to have conquered syphilis. Together with the the birth control pill, this seems to have promoted an increase in heterosexual promiscuity. It would certainly seem that nature had an interest in the morality that is conducive to the family, and punishes behavior inimical to it. I would suggest therefore that the quest for a cure of AIDS, unaccompanied by any attempt to modify the behavior out of which AIDS was generated, is ultimately futile. I would venture to suggest that if a cure for AIDS were discovered tomorrow, it would not be very long before a new venereal disease would make its appearance, just as herpes did in the 60s and AIDS did in the 80s. What is needed above all is not a medical miracle cure but a moral and behavioral change.

    As an abstract debater’s point, one might perhaps distinguish between homosexuality and promiscuity. Some homosexuals, especially women, maintain “exclusive” relationships. These may reduce somewhat the incidence of venereal disease. If they are sufficiently discreet ? that is to say, if they remain in the closet” ? they may avoid the evil of scandal. “Marriages” between homosexuals would not solve any problems, however. It was not the lack of marriage certificates that produced the bathhouse culture, but rather the uncontrolled indulgence of sexual perversion. Legalizing sexual perversion could only make matters worse. Promiscuity, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is best controlled by moral constraint.

    No civilized person today wants to persecute homosexuals, or to see them suffer and die from horrible diseases. But it is equally true that no civilized person should wish to see homosexuality accepted as an equally valid “alternative lifestyle.”

    Harry V. Jaffa is a distinguished fellow at the Claremont Institute. He is Professor Emeritus of Government at Claremont McKenna College and the Claremont Graduate School. He received his B.A. from Yale, where he majored in English, in 1939, and holds the Ph.D. from the New School for Social Research. He is the author of A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War

    Phillip Dynia’s response to Jaffa:

    To the editors:

    Sodomites began to realize that, if all actions were governed by natural laws, then their sexual conduct could not possibly be unnatural. The inevitable dialogue between proponents of the two world-views took place in seventeenth-century Italy when a confessor told a sodomite, “This is a sin against nature,” and was told in reply, “Oh father, but it is very natural to me.”1

    [L]egal scholars often are stigmatized by their peers for addressing homosexual issues, and…the legal community often trivializes and ignores legal issues involving homosexuals.2

    Professor Harry V. Jaffa’s “book review” of Richard Mohr’s Gays/Justice (in Volume 8, No. 1 of Constitutional Commentary) may well top the dismal evidentiary heap. I am reluctant to call Jaffa’s piece a book review ? only 47 of its 161 lines discuss Professor Mohr’s arguments (which Jaffa either misunderstands or ignores completely). The remainder is homophobic, (arguably) misogynous screed cum jeremiad verging on the hysterical (in both the clinical and comic sense of the word).

    Jaffa begins in this way: “The author is ? we are told by the dust jacket ? an ‘openly gay professor’ who….” The gift for nuanced innuendo Jaffa displays here will occur. The quotation marks around “openly gay professor” seem merely to indicate Jaffa is quoting the dust jacket. But there is also the hint of some kind of contradiction between being gay and being a professor ? much like my use of quotation marks when I refer to Jaffa’s “book review.” Jaffa probably would deny vehemently that the validity of a person’s arguments should be judged on the basis of his or her sexual orientation, but those who do so (often unconsciously) have all the information they need about Gays/Justice.

    Later Jaffa tells us that “[h]omosexuals like Professor Mohr take the position that whatever is done by consenting adults is morally right.” It is unclear whether Jaffa means “some” homosexuals (Mohr included) or “all” homosexuals ? probably the latter, since Jaffa’s subsequent remarks suggest a monolithic and stereotypic view of gays (i.e., gays as promiscuous slaves to “the uncontrolled indulgence of sexual perversion” and the inevitable “bathhouse culture”) quite out of touch with the reality of many gay lives ? even before AIDS. At any rate, he has again reminded us of Mohr’s sexual orientation, which may deflect attention from the distortion of Mohr’s views. Mohr, and other philosophers, gay and strait, at least since the openly heterosexual John Stuart Mill, take the position that whatever is done by consenting adults ? especially in the privacy of their bedroom ? is not concern of the government if what they do causes no harm to themselves or others. Laws forbidding their actions based on religious views or majority loathing cannot be morally justified. As Mohr explains:

    [T]he feelings of disgust that some people have to gays will hardly ground a charge of immorality. People fling the term “unnatural” against gays in the same breath and with the same force as calling gays “sick” and “gross,” and when they do this, they give every appearance of being neurotically fearful, while at the same time violating the moral principle that one needs justifying reasons for moral beliefs.
    When “nature” is taken in technical rather than ordinary usages, it looks like the notion also will not ground a charge of homosexual immorality. When unnatural means “by artifice” or “made by man,” one need only point out that virtually everything that is good about life is unnatural in this sense….

    Jaffa continues:

    This position has implications that extend beyond sodomy to other sexual practices that have traditionally been condemned as immoral. Consider, for example, the question whether incest is wrong. We find this curios sentence in the book before us: “Incest used to be considered unnatural [sic!] but discourse now usually assimilates it to the moral machinery of rape and violated trust.” Mohr seems reluctant to say candidly that the abhorrence of incest is just another superstition. But someone who cannot say that sodomy is unnatural cannot say that incest is unnatural. Mohr, like other advocates of “sexual liberation,” appears to make consent rather than nature the ground of morality, without regard to what is being consented to. Incest, in this view, is bad only when the victim is too young or dependent to give “informed consent.” It becomes morally accepted when the parties are both adults.

    The line that so discombobulated Jaffa is on page 34. Clearly Mohr is reluctant to say either sodomy or incest is unnatural because their “naturalness” vel non is irrelevant to whether they are immoral. He is saying that like rape and violated trust, incest is immoral. He believes the law can punish rape and there I assume he also he also believes the law can punish incest. Later he says that “not everything that is consensual is private” and suggests that incest, like marital rape and child abuse, is illegitimate. But that’s on page 105 (of a 357-page book) ? since the quotation above is the last we ever hear about Mohr or his ideas in Jaffa’s piece I suspect Jaffa never got that far.3 From the little Mohr says about incest, it seems unfair to attribute to him the belief that incest between consenting adults is either moral or beyond the law’s reach.

    Jaffa neither discusses nor evaluates the validity of Mohr’s criticisms of Bower v. Hardwick. To paraphrase Professor Tribe, the central question posed by that case is not what Michael Hardwick was doing in his bedroom, but what Harry Jaffa’s forces were doing there. In Hardwick, five of the nine justices agreed ? unfortunately, not all at the same time ? that what Hardwick was doing was protected by the Constitution against State intrusion. I presume Jaffa would join justice White’s opinion on the grounds that sodomy is immoral because unnatural. As Jaffa puts it: “Sodomy is against nature, since it treats men as if they were women.” So much for the position of women in Jaffa’s schema. (Is he defending the morality/legality of heterosexual sodomy?) At least he answers a question bewildering constitutional scholars since Justice Holmes. The Fourteenth Amendment enacts Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. Or maybe Plato’s Laws.

    The remaining two pages should have been published as an editorial in The Dartmouth Review or Osservatore Romano. Jaffa bemoans the dissolution of the traditional family ? “at the root of nearly all the social problems afflicting contemporary American society” ? and the rise of “‘alternative lifestyles.'” “Legalizing sexual perversion could only make matters worse.”

    Among contemporary social problems, he is particularly concerned about AIDS. Jaffa writes:

    The first cases of AIDS ? and the first isolation of the HIV virus in the United States ? occurred in 1981. In its origins it was entirely a disease of male homosexuals, generated in and by anal intercourse. At the present time, according to the latest statistics I have seen, more than eighty-five percent of AIDS cases are male homosexuals…While the proximate cause of AIDS may not now in every case be sodomy, the etiology of every case leads back to sodomy as its point of origin.

    At this point, Jaffa is not just writing nonsense but ? to borrow a phrase from a philosopher Jaffa ought to read more often ? “nonsense upon stilts.” Vicious, malignant nonsense.4 Jaffa’s statement will be a revelation to the million people who in recent months, according to the World Health Organization, contracted HIV worldwide, 90% through heterosexual intercourse; enlightenment to those in the medical community who believe that HIV is a mutation of SIV and originated in Africa, where it was first transmitted from monkeys to humans. (Perhaps Jaffa theorizes that the virus was “generated” by a flamboyant San Franciscan buggering a chimp while on safari in the 1950’s.)

    Jaffa has an even more profound question upon which to instruct us:

    Why AIDS now? That the first case was diagnosed a little over a decade after the “Gay Rights” and “Gay Pride” movement gained momentum may not be coincidental…. Homosexuality has always been with us. But in the last generation we have seen it “come out of the closet.” We have seen growing public acceptance of the doctrine that there is no moral distinction between promiscuity and chastity…. That nature itself seems to reward chastity with health, and punish promiscuity with disease, is seldom if ever mentioned….
    It would certainly seem that nature had an interest in the morality that is conducive to the family, and punishes behavior inimical to it. I would suggest therefore that the quest for a cure of AIDS, unaccompanied by any attempt to modify the behavior out of which AIDS was generated, is ultimately futile. I would venture to suggest that if a cure for AIDS were discovered tomorrow, it would not be very long before a new venereal disease would make its appearance….

    As an abstract debater’s point, one might perhaps distinguish between homosexuality and promiscuity.

    Jaffa staunchly resists the impulse toward fundamental fairness ? never mind logic ? hinted at in that last sentence. But there we have it: Homosexuals (all rabidly promiscuous by nature) created the HIV virus by their unnatural sex acts. If the gay liberation movements had sprung up in ancient Greece or Rome, the virus would have generated much earlier. At any rate, nature will guard the traditional family, even if it means killing every queer on the planet. And every promiscuous heterosexual (if as an abstract debater’s point we distinguish between homosexuality and promiscuity.)

    Consider another abstract debater’s point. Jaffa’s etiological inquiries reveal that “AIDS can be contracted by women from bisexual men, and they in turn may spread it to other men and thereby to other women.” Among traditional families, presumably there are some in which only one partner is promiscuous, but nonetheless the non-promiscuous one becomes infected with HIV through sex with the promiscuous partner. Apparently, in its zeal to protect the traditional family, nature has created a virus that cannot distinguish between promiscuous and not, let alone gay or strait, and is not destroying people whether in traditional families or pursuing “alternative lifestyles.” Can nature get nothing right? Maybe next time nature will come up with some disease that only kills promiscuous queers (is the phrase redundant?). Until then thank “nature’s God” for latex.

    Jaffa concludes: “No civilized person today wants to persecute homosexuals, or to see them suffer and die form horrible diseases. But it is equally true that no civilized person should wish to see homosexuality accepted as an equally valid ‘alternative lifestyle.'” An important step toward ending persecution of gays would be the passage of anti-discrimination laws of the kind Mohr defended at great length. Mohr also had strong views about the AIDS crisis and government’s responsibilities to respond. Jaffa never mentions these sections of Gays/Justice. The governmental actions that were taken ? i.e., none, at least while it seemed only gays were dying ? are consistent with the Jaffaesque philosophy quadrennially dusted off by the Reagan-Bush-Quayle administrations.

    Whether eliminating laws criminalizing sodomy in the privacy of the bedroom between consenting adults would “only make matters worse” I do not know.5 Five reasonably civilized gentlemen ? Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall and (however belated) Lewis Powell ? did not think so. I do know that no person who thinks sexual orientation is simply a lifestyle choice (as if someone would choose a life of public and private discrimination and subjection to serious, sometimes lethal, violence); who premises his argument against sexual relations between males on the supposedly degraded status of women; who blames victims for their disease ? no such person can be taken seriously when he pontificates on the values that define a civilized person.

    Philip A. Dynia
    Chair, Political Science Department
    Loyola University (New Orleans)

    Notes

    1 David S. Greenburg, The Construction of Homosexuality 350 (U. of Chi. Press, 1988). (Return)

    2 John Charles Hayes, The Tradition of Prejudice Versus the Principle of Equality: Homosexuals and Heightened Equal Protection Scrutiny After Bowers v. Hardwick, 31, B.C.L. Rev., 375, 394, n. 97 (1990). (Return)

    3 An earlier mention of Mohr alludes to a central section of Gays/Justice. Jaffa thinks Mohr’s discussion (at pages 49-133) of Griswold v. Connecticut and its progeny is a plea for legalized gay marriages. Mohr actually goes out of his way to avoid that argument, believing that “[t]he sanctifications that descend instantly through custom and ritual on current marriages, descend gradually over and through time as gay ones ? and in a way they are better for it.” Mohr does explore why sodomy laws are wrong, the inconsistency of Bowers v. Hardwick with privacy case law from Griswold v. Connecticut to Hardwick, and the existing (and possible alternative) constitutional basis for the right to privacy. (Return)

    4 By keeping statistics as to the demographics of those diagnosed with AIDS primarily by such limited variables as sexual orientation, race and IV drug use, many other variables which more accurately describe AIDS victims and which may have greater utility in explaining HIV transmission become masked and obscured. The absence of statistics as to the extent of homophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry suffered by people with AIDS both before and after diagnosis makes in unlikely that we will ever be able to conclude, using current empirical principles of causation, that bigotry is a medical cause of HIV vulnerability. Nonetheless, a causal model that incorporates psychological and political factors in disease patterns would underscore the effects of homophobia, racism and poverty as significant contributors the AIDS epidemic in the United States. Such a multidisciplinary causal model for AIDS would no more accept the popular explanation of sexual “promiscuity” among gay men as the “cause” of AIDS in the United States than it would accept the explanation that AIDS in Africa is “caused” by heterosexuality.

    Mary C. Dunlap, AIDS and Discrimination in the United States: Reflections on the Nature of Prejudice in a Virus, 34 Vill. L. Rev. 909, 920 (1989). (Return)

    5 States that have decriminalized sodomy or protected gays from discrimination have experienced neither increased criminal behavior nor increased spreads of AIDS. Mohr, Gays/Justice at 43 (cited in note 3). (Return)

    Philip A. Dynia is the Chair of the Political Science Department of Loyola University in New Orleans.

    ———————————————–

    Jaffa’s reply to Phillip Dynia:

    Professor Dynia prefaces his diatribe with an epigraph. A priest advises a sodomite that his sin is against nature. The sodomite replies, “Oh, father, but it is so very natural to me.” Professor Dynia evidently thinks the sodomite’s reply is a sufficient one, although it should be evident that the priest and the sodomite are using “nature” in two entirely different senses.

    The antebellum slave owner, who sipped his mint junlep while sitting in the shade, as Sambo chopped cotton in the burning sun, thought it entirely natural to do so. The Inca priests, who disemboweled maidens on their alters, evidently thought human sacrifice to be entirely natural. Hindus, who burned widows on their husband’s pyres, evidently thought suttee to be natural. Hitler, of course, thought it quite natural to kill Jews.

    The central point of my review ? which Professor Dynia nowhere addresses ? was that the only ground in unassisted human reason for objecting either to slavery or to genocide is the ground of nature, not in the sense of what “is,” but in the sense of what “ought” to be. We ought not to enslave other human beings ? as we may “enslave” dogs or horses or oxen ? because we recognize in them a nature that we share. We ought not to slaughter (or eat) other human beings, as we may cattle, for the same reason. All moral obligation arises form the perception that another being is a human being ? towards whom we should act as we would have him (or her) act toward us ? and not a being of a lower order of nature. At the normative center of the idea of nature itself is the distinction of male and female, which is the ground of morality because it is the ground of the existence of nature itself (the being of being). If then sodomy is not unnatural, in the same sense in which the priest said it is, then nothing is unnatural, and nothing (including the persecution of sodomites) is wrong.

    Harry V. Jaffa
    Claremont, CA
    August 19th, 1992

    ——————–

    Weblog Comments:

    Volokh is much more rational and convincing on this issue than is Jaffa. Jaffa compares voluntary homosexual acts to Ted Bundy’s serial killing and, if I read him correctly, sees homosexuality as wrong as slavery and genocide– that is just downright bizzare.

    Jon Rowe | July 15, 2003 | 07:22 PM

    ———-

    Unfortunately, Jaffa–for all his brilliance, or perhaps because of it–sometimes speaks and writes in great leaps, instead of little steps. Thus, his arguments may appear difficult to follow, or even to some, absurd.

    But just for the sake of argument, what would say to the proposition that the arguments of the most strident advocates of animal rights are indistinguishable from the defense of genocide? It appears absurd, of course. But the point would be that both reject the distinctive dignity or sacredness of the human.

    Does that mean people who want to save bunnies from cosmetic testing are morally equivalent to Hitler or Pol Pot? Of course not. It simply means that those who would defend the idea of the human–the idea of a distinctive human teleology grounded in nature–must confront many challenges, some naive and even well-intentioned, and some genuinely evil; but all, in the end, denying the same fundamental point.

    Glenn | July 15, 2003 | 10:19 PM

    ————-

    For Mr. Rowe: Jaffa’s argument is very simple, and airtight. The homosexual movement is one of several movements that sprang from the sexual revolution of the 1960s. At the heart of the sexual revolution was a conviction that morality, especially sexual morality, is entirely a social or cultural construction. There is no true, objective morality; there are only subjective and fleeting moral preferences.

    Most people deduce from this nihilistic position that if there is no right and wrong, then they can do whatever they please — there is no moral ground upon which their actions can be criticized as wrong. This is the fun, sexy side of nihilism, the superficial argument that every man can rightly do whatever it is he pleases.

    But Jaffa shows with startling clarity the logical conclusion of that position, which includes the not-so-fun half of it: If there is no objective morality, then there is no ground upon which ANYTHING can be judged to be wrong — not Ted Bundy’s murdering and raping, not chattel slavery, not Nazi genocide.

    Nietzsche understood all that is implied by nihilism and moral relativism, captured in his aphorism that when everything is permitted, nothing is prohibited. Nothing! Think about that, Mr. Rowe. Think about what it means if NOTHING is prohibited. If that is your position, it means not only condoning or affirming the homosexual skipping towards Gomorrah, but also condoning or affirming the Nazi who would execute him. That is what nihilism means.

    Of course, one need not be a nihilist. Nihilism is intellectually untenable, morally impossible, and politically destructive. The alternative is the moral law, which is to say morality rooted in the nature of the only moral creatures on earth, human nature. This is the natural law. It is what Jaffa has been defending for half a century. It is the only foundation for justice, and the only security of the rights of all people, whatever their sexual appetites might be.

    Where people like you seem to have difficulty is that you want morality — I am sure you are appalled at slavery and genocide, as any decent person is — but at the same time you defend homosexuality, which directly contradicts the natural law, upon which all morality rests. How do you square up the moral law with a rejection of the moral law? It is a problem. But it is your problem, not Jaffa’s.

    Thomas Krannawitter | July 16, 2003 | 01:00 PM

    ———————

    Jaffa’s theory of homosexuality based on the laws of nature and nature’s God simply, “cannot be taken seriously” in the words of Bill Kristol.

    There is nothing self evidently wrong about two individuals of the same sex engaging in a voluntary sexual act, and one need not be a nihilist to make this assertion.

    I will post a reply that demonstrates that your’s and Jaffa’s notion of homosexuality and natural law is untenable tomorrow, when I have more time.

    jon rowe | July 16, 2003 | 06:38 PM

  29. Stephen Fetchet,

    Yeah, let’s elevate the level of this debate by saying something really witty like “we all know the real problem is Santorum is working for the [stage whisper] J.E.W.S.”

  30. Kontaktanzeigen are pretty cool, aren’t they?

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