X Prime Followup
Posted on April 24, 2003 Posted by John Scalzi 2 Comments
Mmmmm. Lots of activity here over the last day or so thanks to the “X Prime” posting, which received more than 100 comments (even once you subtract mine) — almost all of them engaging and interesting. I have good commenters. I’m so proud. It’d be Herculean task to compress all the ideas that are getting bounced about in that thread, so I’m not going to bother with that. But I would like to comment on and expand upon a couple of ideas brought up in the thread.
* At least one person brought up a potential flaw in my “I don’t have a problem with X, I have a problem with X’ ” argument, which is that there are several instances in which it makes perfect sense: For example, “I don’t have a problem with circumcised men, I have a problem with circumcision.”
This is not a bad point, and requires me to make the following modification, which is that X’ has to be an affirmative action willingly entered into by the person performing the action. In our culture, for example, most people who are circumcised don’t agree to it themselves, it’s chosen for them by someone else, so it doesn’t fit. But one does (as another example) choose to register Republican, so that one does.
* A number of people suggested that Santorum’s “I don’t have a problem with homosexuals, I have a problem with homosexual acts” statement is just a clumsy and rather specific variation of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” The implication being that “lts, hts” is a more acceptable argument on several levels. But on purely technical grounds, it doesn’t track. By Christian theology, the act of being a sinner fundamentally requires no conscious affirmative act on our part; that’s handled by Original Sin. Unless you don’t want to love anyone, you have to “love the sinner.”
Naturally, this means that the “love the sinner” argument doesn’t fit into the X/X’ argument, and it leaves you free to love sinners all you want. Now, I understand that that’s not exactly how people mean the argument to go, and thereby I’m avoiding the argument on a technicality. But, you know. I didn’t make up the sin schema in Christian theology. I’m just telling you what it is.
Anyway, the “love the sinner, hate the sin” argument is somewhat less than compelling for those of us who, by dint of having no religion, likewise dispense of the concept of sin. In my world, there’s not a thing that’s sinful, although there are a number of things that are immoral, and even more that are simply stupid. However, homosexual acts are in themselves neither.
* Someone asked me about the “is homosexuality a choice or inborn” question, trying to ascertain my views on the matter. My view is, primarily, who cares? No one ever seems to ask if, say, being Republican is a choice, or if people are born with some tendency that expresses itself in our particular culture by signing up for the GOP and clamoring for tax cuts. Maybe someone should.
To be entirely honest about it, my thoughts about the choice/inborn debate have been pretty much limited to the suspicion that the end result of finding a “homosexual gene” would be that a lot of religious conservatives would suddenly find themselves to be perfectly okay with abortion. Aside from this, it’s a tiresome and pointless red herring, deflecting from the point that regardless of how people get to being gay, they are gay, and there’s not much that’s wrong with that.
*The question comes up as to whether creating a new words (like “homophilia”) and new definitions for old words (like “homosexual”) actually does anything of any semantic use. If instead of saying “I don’t have a problem with homosexuals, I have a problem with homosexual acts” you say “I don’t have a problem with homophiles, I have a problem with homosexuals” how does that change anything?
Well, for one thing, it’s now less ambiguous. Currently “homosexual” has a number of interpretations, and which interpretation you choose makes a difference for how you perceive the sentence (note the length of the comment thread for the previous entry). By parsing out one of the meanings and providing it with a new word, communication now becomes more clear. Obviously, that may not be of benefit to Santorum, or other people who use words ambiguously to give themselves wiggle room. But it is of benefit to those of us trying to figure out what others are really trying to say.
It also has the additional benefit of no longer divorcing “acts” from the people who perform them. One of rather annoying rhetorical things about complaining about “homosexual acts” is that the phrase seems to imply that the action is an object in itself — for example, that out there in the world there’s a disembodied, whirling vortex of male-male fellatio that men somehow (you should pardon this pun) get sucked into. Obviously this is stupid. Homosexual acts are performed by homosexuals. If you have a problem with the act, quite naturally you have a problem with those who perform them.
*People have brought up the “slippery slope” argument Santorum has raised, the gist of which is that if people are able to have gay sex in the privacy of their own home, it’s just a hop, skip and jump to bigamy, polygamy, incest, sheep fondling, and so on. These sort of arguments always amuse me, because they offer insight into a fearful world in which the slavering hordes of immorality are poised at the door, wanting to violate innocent children and household pets. It really seems to be that lots of the people who want to hold the line on sodomy laws genuinely believe the rest of us are simply lascivious pigs who hold off boinking our sisters only because the cops have the right to bust in and pry us off her.
It’s a messy argument anyway. The path from gay sex to bigamy and polygamy is particularly unclear, since the former is homosexual sex activity, and the latter two are heterosexual marriage structures. But the point of the argument is not to make sense, it’s to pile on perceived deviances until the reader or listener’s ganglions are misfiring in sweaty, moistened fear. So if it’s all the same, I’ll pass on getting all worked up about it.
However, I’ll personally be willing to make Rick Santorum a deal — stop getting worked up about homosexuals having sex, and I promise not to sleep with my sister. Heck, I’ll even promise not to sleep with my brother, and I’ll throw in not sleeping with my parents as a freebie. That’s a hell of a deal, Rick. I don’t see how you can pass it up.
[Deleted due to extreme stupidity]
Not X Prime
Rebutting The Premise: I don’t want to discuss the core issue, but instead directly rebut the approach John Scazi used to do so.