This is why ‘Pragmatism’ isn’t an ethical system [Blogathon 1/12]

This is why ‘Pragmatism’ isn’t an ethical system [Blogathon 1/12] June 11, 2012

This post is number one of twelve for the Secular Student Alliance Blogathon.  I’m responding to comments in the “Go Ahead, Tell Me What’s Wrong with Homosexuality” thread all day.  You can read an explanation of the Blogathon and a pitch for donations (even if you’re religious).


Nolan wrote:

An objection I’ve heard often relates to health. Critics will point to health disparities between gay and straight people (higher depression, suicides, std’s among gay people), and say this is reason to avoid gay relationships.

I think I’ve seen people point to higher rates of other undesired actions, like drug use, promiscuity, and break-up rates among gay people.

First of all, I love empirical predictions, so many thanks to Nolan.

It’s definitely true that gay people are at higher risk for depression and suicide, but the data don’t tell us why.  Is it because they’re living out of accord with their nature and God’s plan, and the incongruity rankles or is it that gay people are treated uncharitably and intolerantly, and the cruelty, directed at a core part of their identity is intensely destabilizing?

The data fit either explanation, so these findings don’t improve the case against an active, homosexual life.

The kind of data we should probably be looking for instead is longitudinal data from multiple countries and track gay depression/suicide rates against expansions of gay rights and decreasing feelings of repulsion by homosexuals.  This data won’t prove causation, but it may be suggestive.

Of course, in all probability, the longitudinal data doesn’t exist or is really misleading.  You can’t track gay suicides or gay depression if, in the past, the only queer people out were the ones who got caught.

Better methodological approaches welcome in the comments.  This is actually a pretty tricky problem.

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  • anodognosic

    Here is where I think that longitudinal studies of the so-called “ex-gays” would be particularly instructive, especially of those who are no longer in treatment, dividing up our groups into those who live heterosexually, so to speak, and those who come to terms with their orientation (change the language if you feel it’s tendentious, but I can’t bring myself to type out “homosexual lifestyle” without scare quotes). It’s not perfect, because, anecdotally, we know that a lot of “ex-gays” still have same-sex sexual contact, and “ex-ex-gays” don’t easily escape the guilt that they’ve been indoctrinated with. Still, it would prove an interesting test group in addressing this question.

  • keddaw

    If the data doesn’t exist for exactly what we want to track we must be a bit more creative. Let’s see if what people predict/say about gay marriage was also true of, for example, inter-racial marriage. Did people in inter-racial marriage suffer higher divorce and suicide rates than same-colour people? If so do those higher rates still exist now that we are (slightly) more tolerant? What about people of different religions? What about atheists, did they have higher rates of suicide and various health problems before being accepted, or are they currently higher in places where they are not accepted (e.g. the Bible Belt) compared to where they are accepted (Blue States)?

    If we can see an inverse correlation of the problems and toleration of people because of (religion, colour etc.) then it makes it less likely that it is being gay that is causing the issues.

  • Nolan

    Wow, an honor to be the first responded to today! I’m struggling to remember the source, but I listened to a female Catholic speaker talk about homosexuality, and she addressed the hypothesis that depression and suicides are caused by the negative social atmosphere associated with being gay. Her response was to cite a study that found depression and suicide rates among gay people were the same in the US as they were in a more socially accepting country (Netherlands I believe). I think it’s the same study cited by Nate Suave in response to my comment (Sandfort et al 2001). Because of this, she concludes that higher rates of mental illness are inherent to homosexuality.

    Now this is definitely the sort of evidence we are looking for, but is it sufficient? It seems like there is drastically more (correct me if I’m wrong) data that suggests that discrimination does lead to higher incidence of mental illness.

    For example, Caitlin Ryan et al published a study in 2010 that family acceptance towards LGBT family members was linked with higher levels of mental health. Deborah Hasin published a study pointing to more psychiatric disorders in states with institutional discriminatory policies (i.e. banning same sex marriage). Michael Benibgui published a thesis in 2011, which demonstrated that teens that experienced bullying and homophobia had higher stress hormone levels, associated with mental and physical health problems.

    • Nolan

      These are just three examples based on a quick look at the science daily website, and I think a thorough, professional survey of the literature would bring much, much more, given my experience reading up on science news and APA consensus statements. I may be cherry picking, and a wider knowledge of the literature might show that the above studies are not representative, so this is a provisional conclusion on my part.

      Still, citing one study from Netherlands appears to be a very narrow view of the science, one that is not strong enough to refute the hypothesis that health problems can be accounted for, at least in part, by the negative social climate surrounding homosexuality.

  • Joe

    I think your title is well suited. It might help to think the issue through this way. Are promiscuous people more depressed then the monogamous? If so, maybe its because people call them names like philanderer and slut. Im not sure there is much data on this so I can’t say exactly how you came to the conclusion that the “hook up” culture was wrong but I think you would say that this type of behavior is objectively contrary to a virtuous life. I don’t see why we need any stats giving us the negative consequences of engaging in objectively bad behavior. We’re not pragmatists or utilitarians. In any case Im not sure societal mistreatment is a good indicator for suicide. African americans(probably the most abused minority in this country)have a much lower suicide rate then whites.