In Ira Veritas?

Atheist blogger Greta Christina is taking D.J. Grothe (president of the James Randi Educational Foundation) to task as part of a discussion about sexism and violent rhetoric in the atheist blogosphere.  Like the last time I linked to a Greta Christina post about sexism, I’m not spending  whole post rehashing the discussion, so let me quickly get you up to speed.

A person targeting Greta on facebook posted a variety of nasty comments that included a desire to “slap the bitch” and “kick them in the cunt.”  [and at this point in the post, if you aren’t familiar with the tremendous abuse that women bloggers are subjected to, please pause and read “A Woman’s Opinion is the Mini-skirt of the Internet” and learn about the #mencallmethings tag, especially if your first instinct was to wonder why people are overreacting to internet spleen].

The argument with Grothe began when he accused Greta of taking the threats out of context and being too quick to use the ban hammer. He said:

[T]he guy’s initial comments were reasoned, and then he was roundly and personally attacked by a number of Christina’s ditto-heads in that FB thread. He reacted poorly, and that’s what Christina I think rather opportunistically ran with.

And now we’ve come around to the topic I want to take on: anger as an excuse.  Plenty of defenses (and many movies featuring explosions) are premised in the idea that you can only push a good man so far before he snaps.  So let me just say one thing first: it is one thing for the thing that makes you lose your grip be, oh, everything that happens to Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight and another for it to be an internet comment thread.  Descending into a bestial rage over that hardly makes you Milton’s Lucifer.

The internet didn’t do this to you

The above isn’t meant to be any kind of sticks and stones argument.  It’s valid to be upset by arguments on the internet and there are a variety of productive ways to try and  respond.  But no matter what someone says, your hurt never gives you license to try and make others bleed.  The goal has to be to correct them, not to maim them, and, if you’re not the one to do it, and you’ve already outlined your position, maybe it’s time to walk away from a fight.

What really frightens me is the idea that there’s some monster inside us that we can’t be expected to control.  It puts responsibility for your behavior on other people who need to be careful not to provoke you.  It teaches people that they are helpless before their own emotions (and telling people they’re powerless tends to sap their willpower and decrease their own feelings of culpability).

There’s no authentic you that gets revealed in moments of high stress.  You’re not a latter-day Hyde, and your nastiness isn’t some profound revelation about the nature of Man.  It’s just the same old you behaving badly, and maybe you’ve just learned something about who you’re most likely to lash out against, so you can guard yourself more closely now.

I’m lucky and unlucky that my worst angry responses happen internally.  I don’t hurt other people directly, but I don’t get called on my bad habits and it’s hard to be accountable to someone besides me.  My besetting sin is that I tend to wish anyone who’s teed me off is a lot worse than they are, so that I can stop having any kind of moral obligation to them.  And visualizing their bad qualities too intensely tends to let me stop thinking of them as people.  I’m trying to work on this.  This tendency is part of who I am, but, whether you call it transhumanism or dressing up as Christ, I’m trying my darndest to burn it out.


*The title of this post is “In anger, truth.”  When I was asking college friends for help checking my declensions, one suggested that “In furia veritas” would “either mean we tell the truth when we are furious or at least one of the furies tells the truth.”

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  • dbp

    What really frightens me is the idea that there’s some monster inside us that we can’t be expected to control. It puts responsibility for your behavior on other people who need to be careful not to provoke you. It teaches people that they are helpless before their own emotions (and telling people they’re powerless tends to sap their willpower and decrease their own feelings of culpability).

    Interesting. I argued along the same lines at very great length but applied to a different topic, and no one seemed at all interested in the distinction I was trying to make. (My discussion there focuses on ‘appetites,’ but I think it goes equally for ‘passions’ like anger.)

    Still, I think both are a manifestation of a central delusion of our age: that our passions and appetites are at the sacrosanct core of our being-as-humans, and that we neither can nor should subordinate those to the will or reason. I do not maintain that people should not feel anger (or same-sex or bisexual attraction!), and did not in that comment thread, either. I am not even, here, implying that one should not indulge either according to their . I only argue that there is something dysfunctional in the compulsion people feel to accept those passions and appetites as-is.

    Leah, it seems to me you have an uphill battle to fight here. Ours is an age that enshrines urges as defining characteristics, and the satisfaction of those urges as among the highest goods. You may (correctly, in my opinion) identify it as ultimately harmful in this case, leading to people acting badly, but the advice to moderate this urge here goes against the whole schema of modern self-definition– one into which, in certain areas at least, you yourself seem perhaps to have bought.

    PS: I don’t want to retread that whole, abortive thread, in which I tilted at something no one else seemed to think anything but a windmill. So if anyone wants to take on the content of what I wrote there, please carefully read the second and third paragraph of this comment before doing so. Perhaps that will be clearer in light of today’s topic.

    • “Still, I think both are a manifestation of a central delusion of our age: that our passions and appetites are at the sacrosanct core of our being-as-humans, and that we neither can nor should subordinate those to the will or reason.”

      I agree with this part here. One of my frequent frustrations as a teetotaler is the assumption others make that you really get to know someone when they’re drunk and have dropped their inhibitions. I feel that I know someone when they’re sober and I can see how their inhibitions restrain their desires. That‘s who they are. (At least, that’s who I am.)

      And apologies for the digression.

    • Hibernia86

      dbp, it isn’t about a person’s appetites but rather about what they seek to do (or would seek to do under normal circumstances). Someone may have feelings of violence, but what is the main concern is whether they, under normal circumstances, want to type out those violent feelings onto comment boards. Similarly with gays (that you mentioned in your other post that you linked to) if you feel attracted to someone of the same gender, but would never, even if you were of a different political persuasion or religious belief, ever actually seek to actually have sex or date that person, then you wouldn’t be gay. You might have these feelings, but if you would never act on them in any possible world even if your moral views were different, then they are just feelings, not your identity.

      • dbp


        Thanks for your response. I’m interested to get a contrasting opinion on this.

        So, what you said is a reasonable way to think, but it is either contrary to the prevailing GLBT ethos or is so abstractly stated (“never in any possible world, even with different political or religious beliefs”) that it doesn’t actually apply to anyone. If the latter, it’s a bit disappointing, because I don’t see how it adds anything to the discussion; maybe you can explain further.

        So, assuming there are people your statement applies to, here’s why I think it runs contrary to how our culture, and GLBT culture in particular, discusses sexuality.

        As I observed in that thread, issues pertaining to homosexuality can get muddy because the word can be applied to the inclinations (attraction), to specific activities (intercourse), or to life-defining choices (commitment/marriage/whatever). ‘Gay’ could conceivably make sense as an identity in any of the three senses, or all of them, depending on what you use to define your identity.

        But bisexuality allows us to look at it differently, especially if the hypothetical individual of this orientation makes commitments and governs his or her activities on the basis of something like covenant marriage. At that point, whatever his or her attractions, the activities and commitments are locked in to a single individual and therefore are, in themselves, either gay or not, period.

        And yet, people vehemently and vociferously claim that they must still ‘identify’ as bisexual; that it would be somehow ‘dishonest’ or ‘self-censoring’ to act any other way; and that it would be so even if that identification could be argued to have some attendant ill-effects (internally or with one’s partner or whatever– though note I am not here arguing that it is necessarily so in all cases or in any particular case. I’m just trying to point out the mindset that seems to actually exist). This point of view makes no sense unless it is the appetite, and not the will, that is driving the identification.

        And, we find, this is entirely consistent with the rhetoric of the GLBT community, as well. ‘Coming out’ is seen by many as practically a moral obligation, and people can’t think of a life without indulging their sexual attraction as ‘living a lie’ or whatever. It needn’t be: yes, it might be a lie to say, “I do not feel attracted to that man,” but most people are not called upon to say such things. And if a person feels pressured to be constantly talking about whom they are attracted to (such that that kind of lie becomes somehow a social necessity), it just reinforces my point all the more: we as a society are unable to escape the gravity of our attractions and appetites. (And, as I said in the other thread, I don’t by any means claim this is because of or at all unique to people with same-sex attraction.)

        Is this making my point clearer? Anger and people’s inappropriate response to it is a manifestation of a much deeper social pathology. And if Leah wants to confront it in anger, she’ll find herself fighting a much bigger battle than she expected– one in which she seems to have dallied at least a little on the opposite side.

        Either way, I appreciate your willingness to see take my remarks in the context they were meant, and not as a blanket denunciation of either bi- or homosexuals.

        • Hibernia86

          Let me give you an example in regard to bisexuality.

          There is some overlap between the genders as far as what cues are used to decide if a potential mate is attractive. In both men and women, having a symmetrical face that is unblemished is attractive, for example. Occasionally these cues cause the brain to “misfire” and be momentarily attracted to someone of the same gender who you wouldn’t normally be attracted to. So there are plenty of straight men who may come from conservative cultures and may bash homosexuality, but who find themselves momentarily attracted to a man because of one of these misfires.

          But these men would never have sex with this other man. Even if they were super liberals growing up in San Francisco, they would never have sex with this other man because it was only a momentary misfire not something that they want to plan for their life. Leah, on the other hand, if she wasn’t dating a man, might date a woman. This wouldn’t be based on a momentary attraction, but rather on a potentially life long decision. The reason gay rights is such an important issue is that people’s life choices are being limited and because of biology, they might not be able to make the “normal” choice of being happy in a heterosexual marriage and regardless of how much choice is involved there shouldn’t be limits on people’s choices if there is nothing wrong with those choices.

          • dbp

            Thanks for the clarification. That example isn’t something I’d considered, and it does make sense. I think, though, that such things hardly even rise to the level of real attraction, being so fleeting. Either way, I don’t think it affects my argument much but I’ll grant the point as a legitimate refinement of the issue.

            The reason gay rights is such an important issue is that people’s life choices are being limited and because of biology, they might not be able to make the “normal” choice of being happy in a heterosexual marriage and regardless of how much choice is involved there shouldn’t be limits on people’s choices if there is nothing wrong with those choices.

            See, this is precisely what I’m not talking about. In the linked thread and above, I explicitly make the point that, here, I’m not concerned with choices, but with attractions and how people view them. Any sexual commitment a person makes to another person is necessarily either heterosexual or homosexual in nature, and hence ‘bisexual rights’ is a juxtaposition of heterosexual rights (which, so construed, no one contests) and homosexual rights (which some do). So bisexuality as such, in the case of a pre-existing till-death commitment to another individual, is purely a matter of attraction and not activity or long-term commitment. That commitment is either homosexual or heterosexual; and yet the identification of bisexual is still jealously guarded.

            That’s why deiseach’s reply below is perhaps more apropos, and raises a more legitimate objection, which I will address there.

        • deiseach

          I disagree to a point with you. I agree that it is (or should be) the will and not the appetites that is taken for normative in matters of personal identity, and we seem to accept this in other ways: a person may and (if I understand the necessity to deal with it correctly) indeed must acknowledge that he or she is an alcoholic, with all that entails, but no-one seriously advocates that alcoholism is the total signifier of that person’s identity and that they should – in order to be authentic to themselves – live a drinking life. We accept that in this instance, at least, it is more desirable to not express identity but to seek to live with it in a way that emphasises more than one element in who that person is as a person.

          However, with bisexuality (and this is approaching the matter from outside in a theoretical fashion) I think that it is possible – even if you decide to be commited in a monogamous relationship with one individual, whether you mean marriage or partnership or even cohabitation – that you can acknowledge a capacity for physical and, more importantly, emotional attraction to a person of the same or other gender. The same way a heterosexual person may never intend to commit adultery, but can acknowledge “I find him/her to be attractive and indeed, I could easily fall in love with him/her if I let myself”. The same way a homosexual person may intend not to cheat on his or her partner but can acknowledge “I find him/her to be attractive and indeed, if I let myself, I could easily fall in love with him/her”.

          I don’t think that, regardless of whether a bisexual person is in a commited relationship with a member of the same or opposite gender, that physical, sexual and emotional attraction can be turned off that easily. In fact, it might even be dangerous to do so; a (for instance) bisexual woman might be happily married, never give a thought to other men, and then “out of the blue” (but it’s not really so) find herself falling in love with a female friend or stranger, because she had ignored the warning signals of attraction by living in a ‘oh, I’m straight now and that’s all behind me’ fashion. Besides, I think bisexuals get it in the neck from everyone: pick a side! Be gay or straight! Make up your mind! You’re not really attracted to men/women, you’re just in the closet/going through a phase!

          And to go off on a tangent, looking at the mixture of pronouns I used in the above, I really wish English had a workable neuter noun. It would have been a lot easier to write Si qu’on vive comme…


          • Hibernia86

            Whenever I have to write “him or her” I just replace it with “they”. English is evolving so that the sentence “They went to the park” can mean “Multiple people went to the park” or it can mean “The person I refered to in my last sentence went to the park” and just not reference their gender in that sentence either because it could be a person of either gender or because you don’t know what their gender is.

          • dbp

            Heh, it never occurred to me to compare bisexuality to alcoholism, but you raise an intersting point, and a point I should clarify.

            I think there’s a very important difference between self-knowledge and self-identification. I’ve never claimed that a person should try to pretend they don’t feel something they feel, and actual lying to oneself will never end well. But this is the case with sexuality in general: I (a married, heterosexual man) need to be just as careful about my own sexual attractions as a bisexual person would. But to dwell for that reason on my heterosexuality would be just silly. The heterosexuality is a complete non-issue, not even worth mentioning. If either a girl or a guy started making moves on me, my response should be to reject either– not as a matter of attraction, but as a matter of fidelity to my wife. That’s the case whether I am actually attracted to the person in question or not; in fact, admitting an attraction (to the person in question, at any rate) in such cases is not only NOT a duty I have to myself, but, surely, would be totally counterproductive both for me and for the propositioner.

            In that sense, bisexuality, just like my heterosexuality, is important in the sense of being a potential stumbling block to fulfilling one’s goals and commitments. But that doesn’t make it worth elevating and focusing on. If anything, I’d argue the opposite: wouldn’t it be better to simply focus more on the positive elements of sexuality that contribute to the health and happiness of your committed relationship?

            What I’m arguing is that the whole arithmetic of human passion and appetite is skewed, and the rhetoric of the GLBT community reflects and reinforces that fact. But it is, most certainly, not a problem peculiar to them, and I’ve never made such a claim. Furthermore, I’m not arguing here that any specific instance of sexual attraction or orientation is wrong in itself; only that we tend to sanctify these things in ways which can be unhealthy and counterproductive. And, beyond sexuality, it becomes a part of a cultural inability to order one’s feelings in accordance with reason and will. And this phenomenon where people claim an inability to restrain themselves in anger, or an absolution from the consequences of not doing so, is a product of exactly that mentality.

          • deiseach

            To address what dbp is saying, and I apologise in advance to those who may be offended by comparing homo- or bisexuality to alcoholism – I have to say that I’ve been influenced in my opinions to change them slightly by reading blogs by same-sex attracted people living chastely in accordance with Church teaching and their struggles to do so.

            It isn’t helpful to deny or minimise their sexuality; the same way it would not help an alcoholic to tell them “Oh, you don’t really have that condition, you just need to exercise your will-power!” For someone who drinks to excess but is not an alcoholic, that’s good advice. For an alcoholic, that is not so helpful and may even be dangerous.

            Or let’s say a diabetic, rather than an alcoholic. While it is beneficial to us all to cut down on the carbohydrates, manage our sugar intake, and watch our diet, it’s a much more vital and necessary, even life-threatening, matter for a diabetic. And it doesn’t just involve ‘watch what you eat’, there’s a lot more management of the condition that needs to be done.

            So let’s not even talk about marriage or partnership, let’s talk about single straight versus GLBT persons. We’ve been talking about bisexuals, so let’s go on. For you (or me) as straight persons, while we might say “Okay, I’m not gay, but in the case of that member of our gender X, I totally understand how attraction is possible because he/she is so fine-looking and fun and great”, it’s not really the same thing at all.

            If you were a widower (God forbid) or single or even as a married man, a handsome man making a pass at you may get the “I’m flattered but no thanks” response as would a beautiful woman, but in the matter of which is the more likely to be an actual temptation that needs conscious work to be overcome, it’s the beautiful woman for you (and the handsome man for me).

            But for a bisexual man or woman, where it is indeed possible for physical attraction to both genders to be sparked – and not just the physical, but I submit, a genuine emotional attraction and the real possibility of love, if we ask them to live by a social or religious code, it is not too much for them to ask us in response to remember that their struggle is not precisely the same as ours, and that although they may not choose to solely or majorly identify as ‘my sexuality defines who I am’, it is not the same for them as it is for us as heterosexuals living in a heterosexual-defined world where we don’t think about the assumptions underpinning our behaviours anymore than we think about living as a left-handed person in a right-handed world.

            What I’m saying, I suppose, is that sexuality is a legitimate element of one’s identity (not the most important, or the sole, or the defining one, and I mean this for heterosexual as well as GLBT – the pressure on single people to be part of a couple, even outside of marriage, or to be sexually active lest they be thought odd, wrong or unnatural); an element amongst others, but one that must be acknowledged – in fairness – to be somewhat different for those not of the majority orientation and so needing extra or different angles of approach in dealing with it.

          • dbp

            deiseach: I don’t think we’re disagreeing significantly. I emphasized self-knowledge because we all have personal areas of strength and weakness to overcome, and the struggles of each will, absolutely, differ depending on those features of oneself. For some, sexual attraction of any sort may be a trial on the level of overcoming alcoholism; for others, it may be more like the temptation to take money out of the tip jar at a coffee shop (i.e. not normally a difficult thing to resist). Either way, the person should know and tailor their internal discipline, and their self-awareness, according to fact and not some kind of delusion. I’m totally on-board with that.

            What I’m saying is, even if the attraction is strong, it doesn’t help anyone to suggest that they should somehow self-identify on the basis of that attraction, and to set up a social framework that looks on it as a lie to do otherwise. If they want to, fine, but that’s just a choice; and like other choices it seems to me it should only be made if it contributes to the long-term goals and aspirations of the individual. The current rhetoric inverts the discussion, and considers allegiance to one’s ‘orientation’ a matter of primary importance and separate from the question of goals and intentions.

            And to further illustrate the problem this inversion creates, let’s take a different example. What about a pedophile? If I had sexual attraction to very young children (which, thankfully, is not a cross I need to bear), does that attraction form a core of my identity? Need it? Is it at all healthy to cultivate? The answer is no, in every case. Recognizing it to the point of being on guard is important; but it would serve no purpose to see it as anything other than a cancer to be excised (if possible) or at the very least a handicap to be mitigated. If that attraction got so strong and controlling that it approached the alcoholism side of things, it may even be prudent for this hypothetical me to get the heck out of any situation that required or allowed me to be alone with children, lest I lose control and do something very bad. But it would be a very exceptional case indeed where I would feel it either compulsory or productive or proper to go around advertising myself as a pedophile. And God forbid I ever allow myself to accept, let alone praise, that inclination as an acceptable facet of my personality.

            The point is, we don’t owe any allegiance whatsoever to sexual attraction as such. None. Its proper place and function is in subordination to a way of life properly chosen and executed. One can argue whether committed homosexuality, or even no-reasonable-offer-by-either-sex-refused open sexuality, fits that definition. But if it does, I argue that it should only do so by virtue of choice.

            As the pedophilia example shows, even with choice people can generally be made to realize that there are restrictions that impinge on the sovereign self-determination of the will. And, as the whole foregoing discussion is intended to show, self-identification really ought to be more a matter of decision and much less dependent on passion or appetite. The rhetoric of the GLBT community doesn’t seem to recognize either fact.

            I’m not trying to pick on the GLBT community especially. This is just one symptom, thrown in especially clear relief in the case of bisexuality, of a larger problem, an attitude that is endemic to modern society. That’s why I think it’s relevant to the discussion of anger. If people can claim they are controlled by their anger, or that that somehow makes bad behavior OK, the reason only is because they, too, feel themselves to be determined by their passions.

            It’s false, and it’s a dangerous falsehood.

          • @dbp
            I, too, want register partial disagreement with this.
            Humans are, by nature, sexual beings, being created in the image of God as man an woman. It’s no accident this is mentioned explicitly where intelligence and things like that aren’t. Sexuality is not just something we do but in a large part also what we are. Even celibacy isn’t asexuality, it is a different realization rather than a non-realization of our sexual natures.

            As for the pedophile, I’m not convinced totally rejecting that part of their identity would always be the ideal answer. Sublimation might be a more realistic course. I relate to woman differently than to men even if I’m totally uninterested in a relationship with them. There is a reason for eros, agape, caritas and amor getting only one English word, they just don’t separate that clearly in real people. The pedophile could, for example, develop drugs against children’s illnesses, or donate lot’s of money for children’s projects, or write children’s literature or whatnot and thus live pedophilia in a potentially sanctifying if painful way.

            Coming back to the question of anger, short of the eschaton, I wouldn’t want to lose the passion. It’s integrated into the regulatory structure of my mind as both an active and a passive part and it probably couldn’t be removed without changing that structure and making me no longer me. So in a real way i am determined by it even if I struggle not to give that determination practical effect. And ignoring that would be a bit of a lie.

          • dbp


            Actually, I agree with much of what you wrote. I don’t mean to minimize the sexuality of the human person, and I don’t think what I’m saying requires it. A few points:

            1) I don’t think sexuality properly understood is as narrow as it is usually considered– i.e., pertaining almost exclusively courtship, mate selection, and sexual congress. But isn’t this missing large parts of the story? The word ‘sex’ properly refers first and foremost to maleness and femaleness, not specifically to copulation, which is exactly why you’re right when you say that celibacy isn’t asexuality. Now, I think there is very much about human maleness and femaleness that is both properly sexual and also more or less unrelated to sexual intercourse except in that they flow from the common source of human sexuality.

            So, where does sexual desire fall into this picture? I feel that it is oriented primarily to the sexual act; it does not represent the whole of our sexuality. It does indeed have dignity, but only because of the dignity of the source from which it flows (our sexuality in the broader sense) and of that to which it is oriented (the sexual act).

            I think it follows that a discussion about subordinating sexual desire to the will and the intellect does not somehow cut sexuality over all out of its proper place in the human person, and this for a variety of reasons. First, because I think you’d find that sexuality affects both the will and the intellect as much as it does the emotion; second, because the will and the intellect are also intimately involved in the proper execution of all sexual activities, including courtship, mate selection, and sexual congress; third, because although we are sexual, sexual is not all we are, and our likeness to God is perhaps not predicated primarily on our sexuality but on our intellect and will.

            2) The more properly sexual an act is, the more private it becomes, culminating with sexual intercourse itself, which is (usually) done with just the two people concerned and usually almost secretly (indoors, out of earshot, often in the dark). I don’t think this is either accidental or improper. And whatever else may be public about our sexuality, our sexual attractions are oriented toward those most intimate expressions of our sexuality (intercourse between two partners, both physically and otherwise). It’s not clear why they should be made much more public than the actions to which they refer, let alone why they should become the cornerstone of our public persona.

            3) I mostly agree with your discussion of sublimation, but only inasmuch as what is to be sublimated is rooted in something wholesome and good. A person sexually attracted to children may indeed have some more worthy inclinations underlying the physical attraction, and sublimation could work with those to produce something wonderful. But such sexual attraction will not be satisfied by doing something like developing drugs for children; if it brings satisfaction, it is because desire to do such things for children replaces the attraction. A person who attempts such a thing is worthy of admiration, but is so specifically because they used their intellect and will to redirect unworthy passions toward worthy (and willed) purposes.

            So, again, self-knowledge is absolutely key, and trying to pretend passions and appetites don’t exist is not a good strategy in any event. But bringing them under the control of the will is.

            4) Anger (both as a passion and as an active emotion) is good in its proper measure and context, just as sexual attraction and expression are in theirs. It would be neither good nor possible to cut it out of yourself completely. But I think you overstate its significance. You could make a very similar argument, even in similar terms, about concupiscence generally speaking, both individually and as a species. (For instance: selfishness is a sin, but God has so ordained it that in this fallen world selfishness can actually work toward the good, as when it fuels industry when otherwise another sin, sloth, would make it grind to a halt. And, certainly, we would not be the same people we were now if concupiscence were removed!) Yes, we are determined by it, and yes, it is a part of our identity generally speaking. But that doesn’t mean that we must somehow owe anything to either our concupiscence or our anger, and that includes making a public show of it.

            Conclusion: I do not advocate the repression of sexuality in general, or reject the integral role it plays in one’s identity. I am speaking specifically about the place for sexual attraction, and sexual orientation to the degree that it is rooted in attraction. Even then, I am not here arguing that the attraction should be repressed or that it is wrong to make decisions based on it. What I have been saying since the beginning is just this: that modern society sees the will as compelled by such appetites (compelled to ‘come out of the closet,’ or whatever). The point about ‘living a lie’ is this: that it isn’t a lie to make a decision which denies a passion that one has chosen rationally not to indulge in light of a larger purpose. Appetites are essential; but their proper place is under the direction of the will and the intellect.

          • @dbp
            I don’t think sexual attraction can be reduced to the desire of sexual congress. What I want from a woman and not from a man and what I want to give her does, of course, include that act but definitely isn’t limited to it. There is also the loving and cherishing and so on and sacrificial desire to do good things for her not because she does reciprocate but because she is she. In fact I can be unhappily in love with a woman while an other physically more attractive woman would be readily available. That alone shows that while I want intercourse, intercourse isn’t the only or even main thing I want. Now this doesn’t really define it, because all of this are things I could also say about friendship with other men, but I’m sure you understand the qualitative difference I’m alluding to. If not we have a problem because I don’t think I can really define it verbally.

            In its most specific form this is, of course, a desire ordered to marriage. But that isn’t all of it. I have alleviated forms of that relational disposition to woman I would never want to marry. For example, even if I want a woman to marry a specific man different from me, I still feel instinctively protective of her. If he cohabitates with her for years without ever popping the question, I may get a little judgmental of him not because he got her but precisely because he won’t get her. And if I see a cute woman carrying along her kid that makes me smile more than a dad doing the same. And I’m pretty sure these kind of feelings are connected to woman being the kind of beings I want to be with even if this is not what I want in any individual case.

            Now what gay people report, and for many of them I have no reason to doubt it, is that all these feelings (or their female analogues), too, are aligned to the wrong sex. And bisexual people, presumably could have them for both sexes. This is not just the will to one act, it is a general natural disposition to people of one sex. For example, while friendships across the line of potential attraction are possible, they are something qualitatively different form friendships without that complication even if the attraction never materializes.

            What I’m saying is, we are sexual beings and that is woven so deep in the fabric of our nature that it is part of the definition of who we are. To put this in terms of a thought experiment suppose there was a pill that made gay people straight. I don’t think that is possible even theoretically, but let’s look at it as a counter-factual. Now I would support giving that pill to early pubescent children, who are still forming their personality. But as for adults I’d probably opposed. For adults I would expect their behavior in friendships, their taste in art, their humor, their personal way to God, basically everything to have grown around it, so that it couldn’t be ripped out without extinguishing the whole personality. If, to turn it around, I were to awake gay tomorrow, my immediate sexual situation wouldn’t change much. I would still be unmarried and not having sex with men looks basically the same as not having sex with woman. But I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t see it that way. And I think losing a potential future would be the smallest part of it, there would be something much bigger that can’t be put into words.

            Going from there to your points:

            1) I’m totally in favor of subordinating sexual desire to the will and this includes disordered sexual desire. But I don’t think it is at all irrelevant which passions exactly the will is quashing. Not having sex with woman is different from not having sex with men.
            2) Yes, but that’s less than there is to it. I am, for example, more shy around woman than around man, and if I was gay I could imagine it to be the other way around. Now this is about as public as it can get. Here I could imagine hypothetical gay me being better off if out, because otherwise he would, quite paradoxically, seem like seem like someone interested only in sex and not in company.
            3) For one I would expect the pedophila too to be more than the desire of the physical act. So even if that specific desire ceased the person would be a saintly chaste pedophile not a non-pedophile. But moreover, I can well imagine the pedophile being driven by that never-ceasing desire. I imagine it as a much more intense version of myself reading at night so as not to do something else. That wouldn’t satisfy the pedophiles sexual desire, but it might well satisfy the pedophile as the person ruling over it. And in that case I don’t know how the pedophile saint could be rebalanced if that desire was removed in their temporal existence.
            4) Yes and no. It’s certainly nothing to be boasted about and it’s quite possible to take pride in false humility, but keeping concupiscence out of our public identity would be narcissism.

            So for my conclusion: Yes, sexual desire should be subordinated to the will. But what exactly is subordinated to the will makes a vast difference, and that will make it hard or impossible even for chaste people to sever their sexual orientation from their identity.

  • anonymous

    All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.
    Flannery O’Connor

    Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.
    Flannery O’Connor

  • I concur that anger isn’t an excuse for bad behavior. After all, if I say that I become violent or dangerous when provoked, that doesn’t mean that I’m not responsible; it proves that I am responsible, because that’s the kind of person I am; I have dispositions to act in that way under those circumstances.

    When Mel Gibson was pulled over and drunkenly told the police officer that the Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world, it’s safe to say that it was something he had been thinking for some time, and it was just his lowered inhibitions that made him blurt it out. Most people, after all, don’t spontaneously turn into anti-Semites when they get drunk. In a similar way, anger has an inhibition-lowering effect, and if I’m moved to make threats of violence when I’m angry, it must be because those are the kinds of thoughts I frequently entertain.

  • @b

    Anger is always confined inside a skull, never out in shared space like barbed words and violence.

  • deiseach

    I think we tend to excuse our anger in things like flame wars because we say “I’m not doing this for myself, but X is so completely wrong about the obvious facts and the merits of cause Y that he/she has to be either deliberately malicious or naturally stupid”.

    Then we permit our indulgence in expressing spleen and being as nasty as we wouldn’t dare be face-to-face (for fear of getting punched in said face) under the cover of “It’s not about me, it’s about THE CAUSE!!!” and that allows us to feel that we’re not being pains in the backside, we’re being righteously angry.

    That being said, there are some headcases out there who are just angry, violent, disturbed or plain weird. I’m grateful that I haven’t seen much of the anti-woman vitriol that’s out there, but I’ve seen a little bit. And it’s worse when it comes from guys who call themselves feminists and/or liberals and see no incongruity in lecturing a list full of women on how they’re all wrong about rape/sexism/economics/whatever other topic you can think of, and when you call them on that nonsense, they fall back on sexual invective and using “feminist” as a slur.

    (I’ve had experience of this with one fansite I frequented about five years or so ago; the guy slipped in a few initially innocuous comments on a post, then eventually went off on rants about how women didn’t take violence towards men seriously and ended up blaming FEMINISTS!!!! for all the ills of the world – he was one of those who have a bee in their bonnet about infant male circumcision and went off on tangents about that being the exact same thing as female genital mutiliation and how men were raped in the same numbers as women and that women found domestic violence against men funny – basically, if we didn’t agree with his obsessions, we were all fanatical feminists who wanted to castrate men – and I don’t think he meant that bit metaphorically.)

    • Hibernia86

      I agree that someone having a different opinion does not justify being nasty or violent toward them. And I do think that we should listen to women and not use the word “feminist” as a slur. However, if a man has a different opinion on issues surrounding how to deal with rape/sexism/economics/or any other topic, he should be listened to as well. His gender does not automatically make him wrong on these things. In the end it is the facts that matter, not a person’s gender.

      The problem with the man that you talked about is that most of his accusations simply aren’t true. Male circumcision isn’t nearly as destructive to a person’s life as female circumcision is because male circumcision still leaves most of the sensitive tissue in place whereas female circumcision doesn’t. And the number of women who have sexually abused adult men is miniscule compared with the number of men who have abused adult women (I’m not saying that we should ignore the men who are, but lets not make false statements about the numbers). Without context I don’t know whether he was being metaphorical in the castration comment, but it goes without saying that this isn’t true for the vast majority of feminists. And while he is correct that domestically abused men are more likely to be mocked by society or not taken seriously compared with domestically abused women, he is wrong to blame feminism for this. It is based on gender roles that say “manly men” shouldn’t complain if they are physically assaulted, especially by women, because that would make them “weak”. While it is true that you will occasionally hear a woman make an exaggerated or false statement about men, which is sexist, it is again wrong to blame all of feminism for this since on the whole they do point out real issues.

      • deiseach

        Oh, sure. I wasn’t saying that all men hold those opinions or that there isn’t room to differ on questions of gender and sexuality and politics and money and all the rest of the things we hairless apes spend so much time squabbling over.

        But my friend that I mentioned wasn’t interested in facts. He had his own view and no matter what you said, he twisted it around. For instance, when one poster said that instead of saying men shouldn’t hit women, we should say that the stronger person shouldn’t hit the weaker (because that covers cases where sometimes a particular woman may be stronger than a particular man, or a stronger man should not use his strength to intimidate a weaker man, or adults with children, or the healthy with the sick and disabled), he said “Oh, so you’re saying it’s okay for women to hit men?” . When she said “Did I say what you’re alleging?” his reply was (and I’m going to quote him verbatim, just for you to see the twisty way he responded to every effort to engage him):

        “Yeah you did. “Physically stronger” is a way to say “men” while trying to sound gender neutral. So you implied it was ok to hit “physically stronger” people (ie men). Why did you say that? Why not just say people shouldn’t hit other people?

        Male victims of domestic violence are commonly stronger than their abusers. Your words seem to say that domestic violence against these men is ok.”

        He managed to derail the entire thread into a demand on his part that “Why can’t you just say that it’s wrong for women to hit men?” and then – you’ll love this bit – claimed that women were being taught to sexually assault men (his wording: “Why do you think women are trained to hit men as if there’s nothing wrong with it and even advised where to hit them to hurt the most?”). This, when I managed to disentangle his train of thought, turned out to be: in self-defence classes, people (and men take these classes as well as women, you know) are told that as a last resort, if you can’t get away and you can’t talk your way out of it, then hit or knee or kick your assailant in his groin and run for it. When I asked him if this was what he was talking about, he said “I was. Women are trained to sexually assault men during these classes” (for him, kicking someone in the goolies and then legging it to get away from being turned into mincemeat constitued ‘sexual assault’).

        He liked to present himself as liberal, pro-equality, pro-justice, but he retorted with lines such as “No big susprise though when you consider how pro-imperialist many feminsists are…. if it comes down to a choice between “women” and say Iraqis we know where the feminist is going. But for you quite a low point I would say. ”

        And then he started in on really nasty insults, which I won’t repeat here. Looking back at it, I have to wonder at us: why the hell did we spend about four weeks, women and men both, trying to engage in rational argument with this guy instead of calling him a wanker and having him immediately banned?

        • Hibernia86

          I could debate these points with a rational person, but I agree that he seems just to want to go on the attack instead of having a rational debate. The problem is that if we get in the habit of banning anyone who doesn’t seem rational, we are going to ban a lot of people who are rational and just disagree with us. I’d say the compromise would be for people to just ignore him and see if he went away or improved and if the problem continued to ban him then.

          • deiseach

            He certainly wasn’t rational 🙂

            We did let him go on for several weeks, we did engage with him not by name-calling (though I couldn’t resist using humour and bad jokes to retort to some of his more outrageous statements) and eventually we took a vote on ‘let him go on or ban him?’

            He didn’t seem to be an ordinary troll (e.g. deliberately making outrageous statements simply to get the wasp’s nests buzzing) which, really, was all the worse; he genuinely appeared to be convinced by his own arguments. He would make a statement about, for example, how rape wasn’t all that important because worse things happened and in the same post say that feminists (his straw man – or straw woman – of choice) discounted the real and sizeable proportion of men who were raped in order to maintain a ‘woman are victims, men are the patriarchy’ blinkers. One of us would actually look up the reported incidence of male rape and try to engage with him on this. He would come back with ‘you’re saying women can’t rape men because women don’t have a penis’ (seriously, he said this). So he would twist from ‘feminists make too big a deal out of rape’ to ‘feminists don’t take rape seriously enough if it happens to men’ to ‘women rape men and nobody says anything about it’ to ‘your definition of rape only includes a penis so you deny that women rape men; what else do you call a woman forcing a man to have sex?’.

            It was impossible (and wearying) to get any kind of dialogue, much less a discussion or reasoned argument, going with him. He said that for him, equality mattered not gender, then he made a comment about how a woman’s (four-letter word starting with “c”) was more important than ten men’s lives as far as feminists (and all of us) were concerned, in the midst of a divagation about warand how it was mainly men who suffered from war, being killed in war, because men were soldiers and we didn’t care about that and when we (this was back in 2006) quoted the situation in Rwanda about how rape was used there against women predominantly as a tool of war to break resistance, shame the enemy, and enforce the superiority of the conqueror, so that non-combatants also suffered, he made the above remark vis-a-vis our attitudes to women’s genitalia and men’s lives.

            You can have a fruitful result from meeting a different or opposing view and opinion. You can’t argue with crazy.

  • keddaw

    The internet allows people to vent their frustration and anger in a manner that they couldn’t do in public as there is little negative feedback, as in: physical violence; verbal retort; social shunning; or, ultimately, being arrested.

    It also feels that you are doing less damage to the person you are threatening or insulting because there is no feedback and it you are simply a keyboard at the end of the internet -whether this is true or not – it also tends to reduce the empathy for the target of your ire and allows you to say things that are in excess of what you might actually feel.

    Not remotely justifying it just trying to explain it as I see it, personally I try to be civil and only go so far as to be smug or sarcastic, which can be infuriating to the other person and that serves as the outlet for my anger at their ignorance/insults/wilful misreading of what I have written. On the other hand, I am a virtual zealot when it comes to free speech…

    • Hibernia86

      I agree with you that free speech is an issue that we should be concerned about. The best blogs are those who don’t ban people with different opinions ( for example, On PZ Myers blog it seems like half the time people are banned for having opinions he greatly disagrees with rather than the way they act on his site, which is unfortunate). However, as a private blog, blog owners are allowed to ban as they like. And I think if someone is harassing others they should be banned.

  • Charles

    Tell me I am not the only one who for a brief second thought this post was going to be about this weeks episode of This American Life.