Homophobia, racism, and the value of inexact analogies

I got quite a bit of traffic from Reddit over the weekend for my post about excuses for homophobia vs. excuses for racism, but it didn’t come from /r/atheism but from /r/lgbt. That’s great! But there was one comment in the Reddit thread complaining about “appropriationism,” linking to a post titled “Queer History vs. Black History,” which is also linked in the banner of /r/lgbt, so apparently it’s gotten some traction there.

The Queer History vs. Black History post makes some good points about the differences between the two movements. But I think it would be misguided as a response to what I had written, or as a response to a lot of other cases of using examples from the race issue to make a point about gay rights.

The key thing here is that when you’re talking about topic A and use an example from topic B to make a point about topic A, topics A and B don’t have to be perfectly analogous. They never are. What you need to check for, rather, is whether your example does what you want it to do in the point you’re making.

For example: if someone is saying it’s wrong to judge anyone for their opinions, wrong to tell them “that’s not acceptable,” wrong to not associate with someone over their opinions, the case of racism is a serious challenge to that claim. Similarly, if someone is claiming that if something is a deep conviction it can’t be bigoted, racism is a serious challenge to that claim.

Those were the points I was making with my last post. And this wouldn’t be worth explaining at length if it were just one Reddit comment confused about this, but I’ve seen this before: people complain about perfectly logical examples if the analogy isn’t perfect in every way. Understanding why that isn’t a problem may be an actual benefit I’ve gained from studying philosophy.

Thunderf00t’s “MISOGYNIST!!!” post
Analogies for animal rights: civil rights vs. the antiwar movement
Bill O’Reilly’s argument for the existence of God
Abolitionism vs. reformism
  • left0ver1under

    The sort of people who do this, who look for ludicrous exceptions and cases to “disprove” an analogy or argument, remind me of lawyers willing to twist laws every possible way without breaking them.

    Such people don’t like the accepted and normal interpretations of laws or valid arguments, so they look for any exception to get around it, no matter how ridiculous. They’re too dishonest to address the point, or they know theirs is a losing argument, so they pretend the argument is about something else.

    To give one example, if you make a comment about obese people who are unhealthy due to their eating habits, you will inevitably encounter one or more idiots who raise the issue of people with glandular problems, as if to infer that all overweight people have glandular problems.

  • jamessweet

    It’s a teensy example of this general problem, but one thing I struggle with is that there are some excellent points made in Letter from a Birmingham Jail about the accomodation-y phenomenon of people saying, “yes, you’re right, but don’t say it so loudly because you’re upsetting the moderates!”… and yet, I feel awkward citing it when the relevant issue is something less serious. For instance, just recently, I was referring to the basic principle in regards to the struggle to make public breastfeeding more acceptable, but I didn’t want to cite Letter because it seemed totally disproportionate.

    Of course, as you say, that’s not a valid argument against it. If an analogy works between two issues, then it works, even if one issue is a lot more serious than the other. But I still feel reluctant about it.

  • http://www.cherry-fizz.com Tiffany

    To be fair, I don’t think that Stay on Fountain was responding to your post in particular.

    The best comment I found on reddit about the matter –
    “However, we can’t say the struggle is the same. Our movement included privileged white men from the beginning, men who were well educated, had money, and had connections. They may not be privileged from a GSRM standard, but they were politically and had access to the market. As a result, our movement has gained momentum far faster than the movement for racial equality and I believe we will achieve equality sooner.
    This is a tragedy. Appropriating and not supporting racial minorities in their struggle is disturbing.”

    The main thing is it coming down to privilege – http://tjlp.org/privilege101.pdf is a good document on it.

    Yes, both struggles are analogous, but to say they’re exactly the same diminishes the pain on both sides – which I think was more of the point. :) Good article, though!

    • http://www.cherry-fizz.com Tiffany

      WASN’T responding, Geez. Sorry – typo! :D