What's Wrong With Gay Sex?
30-Jan-2009

This one is easy. The short answer, just like the last question: nothing.

And due to the potentially offensive nature of the subject, I guess I need some disclaimers, like -- I've never engaged in gay sex, find the prospect of doing so abhorrent, and am not really all that enamored with gay marriage either. But all that is outside the scope of the question, yet you never know who will be reading this who does not understand the point of this exercise.

No God?

The question implies the existence a Christian-like God to judge "right" and "wrong", which, as in the previous question, I find no evidence of. Without such a judge, there can be no "wrong". Therefore gay sex cannot be wrong. What others do with their bodies, and the bodies of competent, consenting majors, is their business. Just don't impose it on me.

Cast more abstractly, the question asks us to consider the question of absolutes. Absolute truth, absolute morality, absolute right and wrong. A more interesting wording of the question might be, Is it a universal, absolute truth that gay sex is immoral? I just prefer word it -- Are there absolutes?

I've actually spent a great deal of my earlier life thinking about this question. It all started with a rock song, Just Like Heaven, by The Cure.

But Just Like Heaven

The first time I heard that song, I felt it was one of the best songs ever recorded. It just blows you away (and still does for me, over 20 years later). I wondered, is there something absolute that makes that song better than most others? What if I played the album it is on for people who aren't really familiar with that genre of music? Would most pick that song as the best? If I played that song, and a really bad song, say Bennie and the Jets, for African tribesmen who have had no exposure to Western music at all, would most prefer Just Like Heaven? Would such results suggest there was some sort of absolute truth in the art of that song?

Who knows? My budget does not allow me to perform, at least, the latter experiment. But there is a mountain of evidence that suggests that that song is considered "better" than virtually all of its peers. I didn't know this at the time, but I came to learn that there wasn't a critic to be found who did not put that as the best song, or near best, of the genre (pre-grunge alternative, for anyone interested), as well as DJs, fans, countdown lists, etc. It was a stunning result, for me at the time, and convinced me that there was absolute truth in art, inasmuch as there is an example of art that is independently considered by many to be the best. It has even been reported that Robert Smith has said that he thinks that it is his best song, and is the best responded to by his audiences.

(As an aside, this song came to be bounced by Smells Like Teen Spirit when the grunge era of alternative music arrived. There is reason to be suspicious of this; in particular as that song was out a good year with no critical or popular acclaim before it was promoted, and its later acclaim is no doubt more a result of its part in breaking Nirvana/grunge/alternative from the underground to the mainstream, rather than its absolute artistic merit; it was "in the right place at the right time" when it was time for something, anything, to kill hair metal, and only arose when people became so fed up with that form (its a good song, but its popularity stems from its novelty)).

Absolute Faith

Given this observation, that there was widespread critical and popular acceptance of the idea that Just Like Heaven was "better" than pretty much all of its peers, and I, at least, independently arrived at the same conclusion, it seemed reasonable to conclude that there were absolutes in art. We all "know" that some art is simply "better" than others. I'm not sure I'd describe this as evidence of absolutes, but certainly it was fingerprints.

I came to believe that there were many such absolutes, such that it was absolutely evil to commit murder, and absolutely good to help an old lady across the street, despite having no other axioms, such as lack of heavy faith in Christian-like Gods. It all came down to evidence. Why couldn't a faith be based on a list of universal absolutes, rather than a Western-style God? At least there was a little evidence for the former, and at least they were reasonable tenets to guide one's life. This would cut across all cultures without the awkward problem of culture X not believing in a Western-style God, yet still observing that murder is bad. Such a notion appears to solve alot of problems rather cleanly. If there was an absolute truth that gay sex was wrong, there you have it. If there was no evidence of such an absolute, well, that which is not explicitly prohibited is allowed.

Well, I don't intend to solve the question with that answer either. It is sort of a "whatever" answer. Besides, its wrong (except for the part that there is no evidence of an absolute prohibiting gay sex).

Or Is It All Relative

The opposite of absolutism is relativism. What if there is a relativistic way to explain the Just Like Heaven and "murder is evil" observations without axioms, without absolutes? What if there is evidence that a relativistic answer could be right, or at least not absolutist answers that can explain things?

Turns out, I think there is. Relativism suggests that there are no absolute rights and wrongs, no absolute truth in art, nothing, really, when you get down to it.

So why does it work? Why do we have right and wrong, morality, etc.? Why is murder bad? Why might gay sex be wrong?

Well, I don't think lions think murder (or at least infanticide), is wrong. When a male lion takes over the pride, it kills the pride's existing offspring. It doesn't go to jail or anything like that, nor is it even socially ostracized. I doubt it goes to "hell" either.

So that's it, we're just beasts in the jungle, and nothing matters? No (but wouldn't an absolute apply to a lion?) The evidence suggests that morality is an evolved behavior. The short version is that the evidence suggests that humans evolved as highly social creatures where cooperation was a life or death matter, and immoral actions, or non-cooperative actions against other individuals could compromise the survival of the entire group, thus members of the society evolved procedures to detect and remediate immorality or anti-social behavior, as well as evolved morality so as not to be subject to such remediation, as being so is surely the death knell of you and your genes. As in classical evolutionary theory, those groups that had members who evolved cooperative and moral group behavior had a competitive advantage over those who did not, and thus moral traits evolved in humans. Bottom line, moral creatures had a better survival rate, thus moral creatures evolved and propagated, at the expense of immoral ones (this is an over-simplification, and I wasn't all that careful on the genotype/ phenotype thing, but that stuff doesn't really matter at this level).

(It would be way, way, too many pages to present the evidence here. Some of the books at the end so much better than I could attempt to anyway. My reading is that this theory, which I call the "evolution of virtue", is a touch more controversial than the basic theory of evolution. There are alot of mainstream evolutionary biologists and cognitive psychologists on board with this, tho it is not without its serious detractors. Like evolution, I personally believe it is right, and it is how I rationalize relativism, and come up with a definitive answer to this chapter's question).

Common Evolved Morality (Illusionary Absolutism)

So, what we end up with is a morality that has evolved in our genotype, and presents in most of us (certain pathologies seem to compromise it or prevent it from presenting in everyone). It appears as an absolute as it presents pretty much the same in every human in every culture, because there is very little variation between humans, regardless of culture. Absolutism looks right on several questions, such as those of morality, because we are all the same person really, but that is an illusion, as a relativistic explanation also exists, and there is biological and sociological evidence for the latter.

We don't need to appeal to absolutism to explain our thoughts on morality. We are moral not because it is the right thing to do in the eyes of God or some other absolute that must be taken on faith, but because it is the right thing to do in society.

I'll admit I'm a bit uncomfortable with social relativism. I like the comfort of a list of absolutes to live by, and some judge punishing the transgressors 100% effectively. But there is no evidence for such a construct. There is evidence for the evolution of morality in the explanation I have presented above, and thus Occam's Razor demands it be accepted, as unpalatable as that seems, until different or contrary evidence or thought trumps it.

(Just a note on the Just Like Heaven example. That was my way of thinking about absolutism, and trying to conclude if it was right. The relativistic explanation would be along these lines -- It has been demonstrated that most humans, regardless of culture, when shown landscape pictures, prefer those of rolling grassy plains with sparse trees to most other landscape pictures. That would appear as an absolute preference in art, but as humans evolved on the savanna of Africa as opposed to other landscapes, they have evolved to take comfort in that scenery. I don't know what components of Just Like Heaven humans may have evolved to respond to as opposed to other songs, but it is likely that similar explanations underly many responses to art without needing to resort to absolutism. (There is a little fancy footwork here, in that if there is an absolute, it would be mathematics (this concept is at least as old as Plato), and music and alot of other art is a manifestation of math, but I'm handwaving over that here, as the construct was set up only as a way to think about absolutism and relativism, and I'm not convinced that the mathematics, but other factors, underlie the appeal of Just Like Heaven).

So, I find gay sex to be governed by social relativism, and not God or any other absolute, and thus not "wrong", although it may be contrary to the mores of the local society (it is against the law in parts of the United States, and it is punished by society (outside the law) in other parts). It may appear wrong in a society where so few practice it, and that society may make claims that it is wrong, even to construct theology to that effect to scare the living bejeezus out of its practicioners, or justify the earthly punishment of same. It may also appear as an absolute if so few engage in it openly.

Gay Planets and Uncles

Imagine the planet Yag, who, because of extreme population constraints, has evolved such that only 10% of the population reproduces and engages in heterosexual sex, while the other 90% engages in gay sex. Would gay sex be "wrong" there? That planet is in our universe; do we have the same God? Doesn't seem fair to them, does it? On Yag, gay sex is perfectly within the mores of their society, and no, no one is going to hell for it.

I do not even find homosexuality a universal social more on the this planet. Due to population constraints in certain environments, present and historical, there is evidence that it is an accepted social more in some of these.

One final point. What if there a survival advantage to having gay siblings? I call this the "gay uncle" postulate. It has been suggested that the biochemistry of the womb makes it more likely that the third brother in a set of brothers from the same womb will be gay (in short, this science suggests that for every older brother, a man's probability of being gay increases by one-third). Some of this is speculative, but the theory holds that the progeny of brothers with a gay uncle will be better off than the progeny of three heterosexual brothers. The gay uncle will commit resources to the survival of his nephews and nieces, while a third straight brother will commit his resources to his own progeny first. In a resource-thin environment, the progeny with the gay uncle will have more resources at their disposal on average than the progeny of the three straight brothers, and thus will have a competitive advantage. Since their genes are shared with the mother who had this womb with this biochemistry, this syndrome will be passed along, and could be selected for. Speculative, true, but possible. If so, it would be an evil God indeed who sent the gay uncle to hell for being part of a more apt-to-survive genome.

Well, time to see how the Prof thinks. I wasn't too bad on the previous question. Give myself a B- on the philosophy, and a C on the writing.

Worth Reading

Back