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Friday, March 07, 2014

The Strangeness of "Homophobia"

In a way, one has to appreciate the ironic jujitsu that took place in creating the word "homophobia": homosexuality had been classified as a mental illness, but now the tables could be turned: any criticism of homosexuality would henceforth be classified as a mental illness, a "phobia."

But what is odd about this maneuver is that this is a mental illness that is "treated" by unrelenting moral condemnation. If someone goes crazy when sealed in a box, we excuse their behavior by saying, "Well, they are claustrophobic, after all." We might recommend therapy, but we don't taunt them in public discussion by saying, "You vile claustrophobe!"

But should someone say, "I find Aquinas's case for the sinfulness of sex outside of traditional marriage to be convincing," they are told they are both mentally ill, and morally blameworthy for their own mental illness. This means that on the one hand, the "homophobe" cannot use rational argument to defend their position: of course the mentally ill have all starts of rationalizations for their weird behavior, but it is best not to listen to them, correct? They are all just "excuses." On the other hand, there is no reason to stop feeling morally superior to "homophobes": it is the special mental illness that is also a free moral choice!

21 comments:

  1. Do you have similar feelings about the word xenophobia?

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    1. Well, one does not see it use near me as much but... yes, I expect the use is the same: shut down discussion, because it is a mental illness, but also keep up the moral condemnation.

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  2. Homophobia originally had a precise meaning: fear of homosexuality or homoerotic feelings. It turned up, for example, among some queer-bashers--violence was a way of exorcising their hated inclinations.

    I dislike the wider usage, since one is discussing hatred or animus, not fear.

    An animus that is mostly a religious taboo parading as a moral claim. Even the claim that same-sex relations and eroticism is "unnatural" was originally mobilised to defend a religious taboo. An ironic adoption by Philo of Alexandria of Greek reasoning to turn against the Greeks in the Jewish-Greek kulturkampf of the time.

    The "right" to define classes of people as being "outside" the "properly" human and the belief that society is "protected" or "purified" by killing a "corrupting" group also come from that reasoning.

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    1. "Homophobia originally had a precise meaning: fear of homosexuality or homoerotic feelings. It turned up, for example, among some queer-bashers--violence was a way of exorcising their hated inclinations."

      Yes, the term may have valid uses!

      "I dislike the wider usage, since one is discussing hatred or animus, not fear."

      A lie, Lorenzo. Of course, sometimes, what one is discussing is hatred or animus. But much more often, it is moral disapproval. I disapprove of my good friend's serial adultery. I certainly do not hate him.

      "An animus that is mostly a religious taboo parading as a moral claim."

      Another lie, Lorenzo. The sophisticated moral reasoning used by Thomists is not "parading" as anything other than what it is: moral reasoning.

      'The "right" to define classes of people as being "outside" the "properly" human and the belief that society is "protected" or "purified" by killing a "corrupting" group also come from that reasoning.'

      Yep, there you have it: if I disapprove of my friend's adultery, it is just a tiny step to my rounding up the adulterers and sticking them in the gas chamber.

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    2. By the Lorenzo, it looks to me like you think you have the "right" to define all traditional Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc as "outside" the "properly" human. When will the killing start?

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    3. Apparently, you cannot tell the difference between disagreement and dishonesty.

      Who is protected by this alleged "moral disapproval?" No one. Who is harmed? Many people. Families are poisoned, children are alienated from their parents, folk are bullied, suicide rates are elevated; the effects are vicious and nasty. Why don't these effects get counted? Because the experience of homosexuals as a result of this "moral disapproval" is discounted. That is how moral exclusion works.

      Thomist moral argument may be "sophisticated" but it is still rationalisation of religious taboo. It uses the conclusion to set the ambit of its premises. The "purpose" of sex is deemed to be reproduction, so the (much richer) biology of sex is edited so that what lies outside the conclusion is excluded from informing us about the nature of sex.

      And I am not counting anyone as outside the "properly human" that is the point. Given the long history of monotheist brutality in the apparently endless war against human sexual and gender diversity, the comment is particularly inappropriate.

      But, as I said, moral exclusion works by discounting the experience of the morally excluded.

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    4. To put the point even more simply, a theory of the human is used to exclude the experiences of humans. This is very different from saying that a doctrine is false and pernicious.

      And yes, in a sense it is a moral claim. All bigotry is a moral claim; it is a claim about who (lacks) moral standing and to what degree.

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    5. Furthermore, according to Thomist reasoning, homosexuality is "against nature", it is literally unnatural. And the Vatican declares homosexuals to be "intrinsically disordered". What can these phrases mean other than not properly human?

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    6. "To put the point even more simply, a theory of the human is used to exclude the experiences of humans."

      Dumb: the fact that Thomist claim, say, masturbation is a sin does not "exclude" this experience! In fact, given man's fallen nature, we might say sin is our most common experience.

      "All bigotry is a moral claim..."

      So you think Thomists are "bigoted" against masturbators?

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    7. "Apparently, you cannot tell the difference between disagreement and dishonesty."

      Apparently you cannot tell the difference between noting something is a lie and calling someone a liar: people often repeat lies unwittingly.

      "And I am not counting anyone as outside the "properly human" that is the point."

      Riiiight, because here comes...

      "Given the long history of monotheist brutality..."

      Monotheists: outside the properly human.

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    8. "And the Vatican declares homosexuals to be "intrinsically disordered". What can these phrases mean other than not properly human?"

      No, no Lorenzo you can't get away with that here: the idea is that homosexual ACTS are a symptom of disorder. Just like, say, masturbation. Once again, do you think Thomists feel masturbators are not "properly" human?!

      Well, as we are all sunners, we are all less than "properly" human in one sense. But that criterion certainly does not pick out homosexuals as a special case!

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  3. Look up 'HOCD' (homosexual obsessive compulsive disorder) if you want to find something to which the word homophobia genuinely applies.

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  4. When the word "homophobia" was coined, it was actually true that people irrationally hated and despised gay people. Perhaps take a look at a history book at some point?

    The revisionism on this is just astonishing....

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    1. Let us grant your point, Barbara: "phobia" does not mean "hatred," it means "fear." Perhaps take a look at a dictionary at some point?

      Lorenzo, obviously very much on the pro-gay-rights side of this issue, clearly acknowledges the correctness of my fundamental point: "Homophobia originally had a precise meaning: fear of homosexuality or homoerotic feelings."

      But YOU (and your allies) have REVISED this original meaning to now mean, "An opponent of some gay rights legislation that I support," so that, for instance, on Lee's blog, you call the whole Catholic Church heirarchy "homophobes."

      Pure propaganda, Barbara. Orwell would love to be able to use you as an example.

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    2. obviously very much on the pro-gay-rights side of this issue Also known as equal protection of the law. (And no, I am not in favour of replacing one set of privileges with another.)

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  5. This is a valid point, but it's hardly unique to homophobia. Child molesters, drug addicts, and racists (to name just three examples among many) are often viewed as being both mentally ill and morally blameworthy.

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    1. Yes, good point, Shonk. However, it still is a little different: I have never seen anyone called a "pedophile" for merely saying "I think lowering the age of consent would be good," but you definitely will get called a "homophobe" just for saying "I'm not sure it is OK to force Evangelicals to photograph gay weddings."

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    2. "I have never seen anyone called a 'pedophile' for merely saying 'I think lowering the age of consent would be good,'"

      How about this guy? (See here for a particularly unhinged reaction.)

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    3. I stand corrected.

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  6. This reminds me of this:

    I have a friend who gets angry when people joke that they have OCD. He says that using it as a slang term for “excessively organized” is offensive. And I agree with him. I think those people are dumb.
    Or I would, except that historically, “dumb” is a medical term that means “unable to speak”, which isn’t what I’m claiming.
    So I’d say they’re lame. Except that “lame” means “paralyzed” and using that term informally should be just as offensive as misusing OCD.
    It makes me spaz out, but spaz is short for “spastic” and I’m not literally claiming that I have cerebral palsy.
    Instead of joking that they have OCD, they should say they’re anal retentive. But then you’d offend people who were actually constipated.
    I’d call them morons, imbeciles, or idiots. But they don’t have IQs below 70, 50, or 25, and apparently we shouldn’t use medical terms unless we’re making an official diagnosis.
    Using terms for mental disabilities as slang is crazy. It’s insane. It drives me mad.
    But I realize language evolves. And as medical terms are co-opted as slang, doctors come up with new terms and the world goes on. It’s happened before, it will happen again and the only reason people notice OCD is because it’s ongoing. Logically, there’s no reason to single out this particular term, while considering the others acceptable.
    So I no longer get offended when people who don’t literally have OCD claim that they do. I realize they’re exaggerating for comedic effect.
    Because I’m not a f**king retard.
    -Nathan Anderson

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  7. Our discussion prompted me to do a post on the scope of moral concern.
    http://lorenzo-thinkingoutaloud.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/the-scope-of-moral-concern.html

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