Doesn't matter if it's a choice

Listen all you commenters; I’m the author at this here blog (along with Dr. Dave, Christina, and occasionally Michaelyn).  When you leave comments that are better than the material I provide, you make me look bad.  Let’s keep the insights to a minimum, ok?  Otherwise I have to dedicate entire posts to comments, like this one from DaveL.

Let’s assume for a moment that sexual orientation is a choice (it’s not; I never chose to be straight). Does that actually make it different from the civil rights movement?

What if race were a choice? What if we had a pill that a black person could take in the evening that would make them wake up a white person? A pill that would change their skin color, their features, their hair, erase their memories of their parents’ culture and the experience of growing up black in America, and implant false memories of white culture and experience?

If such a pill were available, would that make it morally permissible to roll back the civil rights movement, reinstate Jim Crow laws, etc.? Is racial equality something white people condescend to extend to non-whites because, poor dears, they just can’t help being what they are? Or is it an inherent right of all people, because being a person of colour is an equally worthy way of being human as being white?

Bingo.  I love this.  It puts the bigot about LGBT rights in the position of either having to affirm the morality of racism or ditch that argument.  Either way, they lose.

  • http://www.huganatheist.org Sylvia

    Excellent! Must remember that one :)

  • StevoR

    Well said DaveL well worth this blog entry of its own.

    When you leave comments that are better than the material I provide, you make me look bad.

    But remember, OTOH these are the quality of the people you are bringing to your blog and its your writing that attracts them here! :-)

  • joshuagoff

    That is a great little Catch-22 that I like to use when debating. It usually ends with some equality hating bigot admitting that he is just that because he “loves freedom, but just not for ‘those’ people.”

  • RickR

    The race thought experiment is interesting, but ultimately unnecessary if you’re going to argue legal equality for LGBT people with someone who thinks “nuh-uh, being gay is a choice!”. You know what else resides wholly and completely in the realm of personal choice?

    RELIGION.

    Full civil right protections for a quality that people actually choose.

    The person who thinks legal equality should be doled out only to people whose trait(s) that define them as different from the majority are immutable and “inborn” has to first explain why religion is also a protected class, or attempt to argue that a person’s religion (or lack thereof) is something they are “born with” while ignoring the mountains of evidence to the contrary.

  • DaveL

    Aw, thanks JT, you’re going to make me blush. I must admit, however, that it’s not an original argument, in that I’ve used it before in a couple of other places, including Dispatches. Also, it’s not like I went into it looking for a Socratic catch-22 in which to catch bigots – I’m genuinely squicked out by the way the civil rights movement is presented as being founded on the implicit acceptance of white supremacy.

  • RickR

    I’m genuinely squicked out by the way the civil rights movement is presented as being founded on the implicit acceptance of white supremacy.

    Exactly.

    It also rests on a premise common with conservatives that rights are things retained by the government, and doled out to the people only when a strong argument is presented, or when public opinion shifts to a great enough degree.

    Bullshit. I don’t concede them that premise in the argument. And the “I can’t help being ______. I can haz civil rights nao?” is part of that premise.

  • http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd Christina

    Even if race isn’t a choice, loving someone of “not your” race IS a choice, right? So the “choice” argument still works for interracial marriage.

    Those damn people and their interracial lifestyle agenda.

  • left0ver1under

    Let’s not forget one fact: many of those who want gays eliminated (because it’s what they want if they can’t “convert” people) are the same people who talk about things like:

    - “eliminating abortion” (including the murder of doctors and harassment of women)

    - “eliminating liberals” (some wingnuts like Coulter talk of “rounding them up”)

    - “eliminating the democratic party” (scum like Palin, Beck and Coulter have openly called for it)

    Political affiliation is a choice, so why be surprised that the fascist wing of republicans would try to eliminate things and people they don’t approve of, that they think choose to be a certain way?

    • JohnWDB

      Unfortunately, some liberals/democrats advocate eliminating or marginalizing conservatives. I’ve read many times “it’s time for the media to stop pretending their views are legitimate” on slate, daily kos, etc. There is scarcely an “us” that won’t have some ideas about eliminating, muzzling “them”. Sometimes it is religion, other times race, other times politics, other times intellectualism, and other times misanthropic environmentalism (in which everyone is a “them” except the author). I’m not advocating any sort of dehumanizing intolerance here for any group; simply pointing out it exists in all groups–it’s just a lot easier to see its expression among “them”.

      • Nate Frein

        Hah. you seem to have confused persecution with criticism.

  • petejohn

    Damn… that’s a good thought right there. Well said, DaveL.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    Excellent point. Thanks, DaveL. I try to make this point, but you said it so well. It reminds me of something I read a while back (an article about one of the X-Men movies). The author of the article wrote about a relative of his who usually stands up for equal rights for gay people, but when they saw the X-Men movie with the plot about the cure, this relative said he’d be okay with a “cure” that made people straight.

    @RickR: Yeah, it is rather frustrating. People act like the choice to be religious (or specifically to be a member of their religion) is the only choice that should be protected as a right while all other choices can be a basis for discriminaton. Adding to the absurdity is that the political party in the US that tries to make the argument that it’s okay to discriminate against gay people because it’s not like skin color or race are the same ones who do discriminate based on race. They just suddenly pretend to care about racial equality all of a sudden when homosexuality comes up.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    I found the article I mentioned above: http://www.advocate.com/politics/commentary/2006/06/02/its-good-be-mutant

    It turns out I misremembered. His nephew didn’t say he would cure gay people, but did say that being gay is abnormal while being straight is normal. I don’t agree with everything in the article (the soul, being against research to find out why people are gay) but the point that being different or a tiny percent of the population isn’t a reason for curing someone is something I remember being very happy to read.

    We go at the whole idea of equal rights from the wrong direction when we argue a person only deserves equal rights if they can’t change themselves to be like the majority. Not only is it squicky, but it also impedes knowledge, as people maintain that characteristic X is caused by Y regrdless of the evidence. Greta wrote an excellent post about this a while back, about how people work backwards and decide that homosexuality is caused by genetics or that it’s a choice based on what they want to be true and if they think that cause is compatible with thier stance on equal rights.

    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2008/04/born-or-learn-1.html

  • Makoto

    And this is why I like reading here at FTB – so many great blog posts, as are so many comments.

    This is an argument well worth using – it may not always help, but it’ll certainly put a big stumbling block in the standard arguments, hopefully making some people think!

  • John Horstman

    I’m a big fan of this sort of re-framing tactic, though this one doesn’t necessarily make a huge impact on people who bring up the ‘choice’ of sexuality. They’re pretty much always presupposing a particular version of Yahweh who considers homosexuality to be teh evulz, and within that frame, gay people are choosing to give the bigots’ (accepted-as-real-without-question) god the finger (it’s the same crowd that’s convinced atheists hate god/s, not understanding that we reject the basic premise of their worldview). That notwithstanding, it’s an awesome rhetorical move (one can do something similar with ‘fetal personhood’ vs. a woman’s right to bodily autonomy/integrity – personhood doesn’t matter, because actual people still don’t have the right to use one’s body against one’s will, even for survival, else we’d mandate blood/tissue/organ ‘donation’).

  • lanetaylor

    I generally take that argument one step further, and point out how their religious ideas are protected, and they are a choice. So by their own logic (using that term loosely…), we should go ahead and get rid of the freedom of religion in the US, because hey, it’s a choice…..

  • Janee

    You know what does make it different from the civil rights movement?
    The civil rights movement was about all black people/people of color fighting for rights, where as the comparison of the LGBTQ movement to that ignores current racism. Comparing the two ignores the racism LGBTQ people of color STILL face.
    So, how about we stop comparing the two. The fight for LGBTQ rights has its own merits, it is its own battle, and it is not comparable to the civil rights movement.
    And moreover, the gay rights movement focuses on cisgender men and women and the right to marry, so it’s not all inclusive in the same way the civil rights movement was.

  • RickR

    Can someone please decode Janee’s comment for me plz? Because I’ve read it over 5 times and I’ve got is a collection of non sequiturs.

    I like a good word salad, but can I get the dressing on the side please?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=611455454 boselecta

    I’m not sure that being religious really is always a choice. The people who follow religions do so because they genuinely believe (for the most part) that the factual claims that the religion makes are true – and, while their reasons for believing those claims are usually deeply shaky, unless they are talked out of it (or simply happen to do the maths one day and realise the contradictions), they are going to keep one believing. Indeed, some people will endure any amount of inconvenience in the name of their religion – the existence of martyr, and indeed, religious suicide bombers, is evidence against religion being just a choice. If I had to choose between ceasing to affirm a set of truth claims on the one hand and sudden, premature death, or in the case of many heretics through the ages, a slow painful death on the other, I would unhesitatingly choose the ‘stop affirming the truth claims’ option (at least in public).

    Most of the time we don need some sort of external stimulus to change our beliefs, and if that stimulus never comes, we won’t just choose other beliefs on a balance of convenience basis.

    Of course, the specific set of claims that a religious person believes is usually highly contingent on their upbringing in a way that sexual orientation isn’t, but there are people whose religious beliefs are as central to their sense of self, and as unshakeable by being made to suffer for them, as other people’s sexual orientation is.

    It is, however, usually easier to talk people out of religious beliefs than to talk people out of being gay:-)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=611455454 boselecta

      Dang, that one slipped through with a sentence missing. Should have gone:

      “I would unhesitatingly choose the ‘stop affirming the truth claims’ option (at least in public). The fact that some people cannot be dissuaded from affirming their religion even by the prospect of a horrible death suggests that for them it really isn’t a matter of choice, but a core part of their sense of self

      Also, why doesn’t this thing have an edit function? Disqus has an edit function and seems to more-or-less work.

      • RickR

        the existence of martyr, and indeed, religious suicide bombers, is evidence against religion being just a choice.

        No, it’s evidence that people are deeply irrational, especially when much of their worldview is based on belief in entities whose existence can’t be verified by any evidence, and yet they believe they know in their hearts what said beings desire. “This is what god wants of me”.

        Religious belief is intellectual assent to a certain set of ideas, not an immutable trait. People are notoriously hard to sway from their religious belief, especially if it has been inculcated from birth, or has been intertwined with nationalism and other aspects of identity.

        But it is not an inborn trait, and therefore cannot be put in the same category as things like eye color or race or who a person finds sexually attractive. Gay people can be manipulated to try to bury or suppress their attractions, but it is not possible to talk anyone into finding something attractive they are not attracted to, and vice versa. Even Ex-Gay organizations like Exodus Intl. have admitted they have never made a heterosexual out of a homosexual, and those were people who sought out such a change and cooperated with “treatment”.

  • http://faehnri.ch/ faehnrich

    Then there’s the, “They do have the freedom to marry, as long as it’s not of the same sex” argument. We shouldn’t just be allowed to marry, but marry whoever we want.

    People would go ape shit if we said, “You are allowed to practice a religion, as long as it’s Islam. “

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    @Janee (#15):

    You know what does make it different from the civil rights movement? The civil rights movement was about all black people/people of color fighting for rights, where as the comparison of the LGBTQ movement to that ignores current racism. Comparing the two ignores the racism LGBTQ people of color STILL face.

    So, how about we stop comparing the two. The fight for LGBTQ rights has its own merits, it is its own battle, and it is not comparable to the civil rights movement.

    And moreover, the gay rights movement focuses on cisgender men and women and the right to marry, so it’s not all inclusive in the same way the civil rights movement was.

    While I agree that there are problems of racism and sexism in the LGBT movement, that doesn’t mean it’s not comparable to the civil rights movement. Personally, if someone discriminates against me for being gay, I consider that just as bad as if someone discriminates against me because I’m female or where my family is from or my skin color. I compare them because it’s a similar situation of people deciding that a group that’s the “other” isn’t as good as them and doesn’t deserve equal treatment. This doesn’t mean I’m going to compare not allowing same-sex marriage to slavery, but I will compare not allowing interracial marriage to not allowing same-sex marriage and compare violent hate crimes based on race or gender to violent hate crimes based on someone being LGBT.

    Also, the description of the civil rights movement as being all-inclusive is incorrect. Just like now, there were people who favored rights for one group and not others. There were people who favored equal rights regardless of race but were still sexist, and people who favored equal rights for women but were still racist. There were people who who favored equal rights for people from certain countries and not others. Not to mention the people who favor equal rights regardless of race and gender but still favor discrimination against LGBT people. It goes both ways. It’s just as wrong for people who favor equal rights for racial minorities to discriminate against LGBT people as it is for LGBT people to discriminate based on race.

    @faehnrich (#18): The only way the “They do have the freedom to marry, as long as it’s not of the same sex” argument would even come close to making sense is if we decided to do mandatory arranged marriages in which no one could choose who they are going to marry. It always bothers me that people are fine with the redefinition of marriage in all the ways that’s made it better for them (e.g. being able to marry who they want, which isn’t true everywhere in world I hasten to add) but are against redefining it if it would make things better for others.

  • Pingback: So you say you don’t hate gay people, Part III

  • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com MarkNS

    I’ve long been pissed off by the debate between whether homosexuality is a choice or not. By playing that game we are falling into a rhetorical trap which seems to imply that there is something wrong with homosexual behaviour and calling it genetic comes off as an excuse.
    Anytime this question comes up in debate with assholes one should respond with “So what if it were a choice? Show me that there’s anything wrong with it other than your iron age book of myth. Skateboarding is a choice too…is that a sin?”

  • Eclectic

    I’ve heard such arguments, and I disagree: yes, it very much does make a difference.

    Many parts of law require a balancing of costs to various parties. How much do campaign finance disclosure requirements hurt the campaigner (which indirectly hurts the public through discouraging potential good candidates) vs. help the public? How expensive is a proposed building code addition? How expensive would it be to enforce a particular rule, and is that justified by the benefits?

    Wheelchair accessibility laws are justified because most people in wheelchairs can’t get up to step over a curb at any price.

    I’m not saying a law against “sodomy” makes sense, but if it’s is indeed a choice, it’s a more subtle and difficult argument: preserving a person’s right to choose vs. certain annihilation by Divine Wrath. (Which is famous for its poor aim.)

    It’s actually a distant cousin to Pascal’s wager: “the cost of denying something so central to myself is so high that the cost of the alternative doesn’t need to be examined closely.”

  • JohnWDB

    I don’t think catching someone in a trap is an effective way to enlighten. It’s better to empathically try to understand someone’s position. There’s this sort of idea that people are bad people because they have been taught something about homosexuality since they were 3 years old. In fact, they have about as much choice in that belief as they enter young adulthood as gay people do in their sexual orientation. Sure, that is more amenable to change than sexuality, and many do, but the ones who don’t often live insular lives. The difference for them may be to develop a relationship with someone who understands them–I don’t mean in a condescending way, but in the way that they are seen as equals.

    Also, religion in general is not chosen, and it better to think of it as encapsulated in “ethnicity”. People decide to become adherents of a religion in adulthood about as often as straight people decide to become gay. And someone can decide to change their ethnicity and primary culture about as easily as they can decide to stop speaking in a foreign accent. It is difficult to respect a religious person when you find their views grating, particularly when they interfere with your own priorities, but to have this fallacious view of how people come to their faith makes the same sort of short-sighted error that the religious person makes about homosexuality.


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