Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Model of Decorum and Tranquillity

(At a pub in a Canadian university town, two brothers are arguing about natural law and the morality of homosexual sex. The scales of the argument have just been upset by the arrival of a young woman, Sheila. It's an open secret that Germanicus has been in love with her for years, but he's too good a Platonist to ask her out.)

Sheila: (Taking a seat as Germanicus orders her a drink) Hey guys. I saw you through the window. I hope you don't mind me butting in?
Catullus: Not at all. I welcome the support. Germanicus has been trying to convince me that it's unnatural for me to have sex with men.

Sheila: Germanicus! Really? I'm so sorry Catullus. He doesn't mean anything by it. It's just that he has Asperger's syndrome, so he can't really relate to the way that the things he says make other people feel.
Germanicus: Asperger's syndrome? When did I develop that?
Catullus: It's all right, Sheila. I have been his brother for quite some time, and I did agree to the argument.
Sheila: Well he's wrong anyways. Obviously, if you're gay it's natural for you to have gay sex.
Germanicus: Don't give me the gay wolf argument. Please don't give me the gay wolf argument. I have far too much respect for you, and if you start talking about lesbian seagulls, my faith in your intelligence is going to be seriously shaken.
Sheila: It has nothing to do with lesbian seagulls, Germanicus. If someone has a strong, innate desire, going back to the time when they first started to have sexual thoughts, then it's reasonable to think that for them that desire is natural. It just makes sense.
Germanicus: So if I have a strong, innate desire to go around bashing people's skulls in with rocks, and it goes back to my early childhood, then that's natural for me?
Sheila: Sure it is. It may not be right, but it's natural.
Germanicus: You're equivocating on the word “natural.” I'm talking about “natural” in the sense of “in accord with the ideal-form of a thing.”
Sheila: Oh my god. I remember this argument from when we were studying for my philosophy exam. I just can't get my head around the idea that something can be considered “in accord with nature” when you can't actually find it anywhere in nature.
Germanicus: It's really not that complicated. The point is that things, whether they're human beings, or moral acts, or tea-kettles, are intended for a specific purpose. I don't care if you believe in god, or in evolution, or if you're a dumb stump football fan who has never entertained a metaphysical speculation in his life, it's just obvious that sex is for procreation.
Sheila: Obvious how?
Germanicus: Look, I know this may be a really abstruse and difficult point, but the reproductive system is a system, right?, which is meant for reproduction.
Sheila: If you're a frog.
Germanicus: What?
Sheila: Not if you're human being. Look, it's like saying that the mouth is part of the digestive system and that therefore it is unnatural to use it for any purpose except eating. That talking, and smiling, and kissing are contrary to the “natural law.” It's absurd. Human bodies aren't dishwashers. They don't come with a sticker that says “Warranty void unless used in accord with the manufacturer's instructions.”
Germanicus: No. But you can clearly see that certain things are bad for you. That they're a misuse of the body. Like smoking, for example, is a misuse of the lungs.
Sheila: Right. Which is a really strong argument against the idea that sex is only for procreation.
Germanicus: How do you figure?
Sheila: Because Germanicus, most people aren't like you. I mean, I remember the first time that we had this argument, you totally convinced me you were right. Everything you said made so much rational sense. But when I tried to do it in practice, it was just a mess. I felt lonely, I felt depressed, I felt like I was missing out on life. Eventually I got so up-tight that I couldn't even function, I was just spending all of my time and effort doing nothing except trying not to have sex. People can't live like that. And talking to people other than you, I know there isn't something wrong with me. Almost no one can go that long without doing something, even if it's just masturbation. But on the other hand, there's no way that I could just start procreating all the time. I mean, back before they had contraception, when people believed that it was a sin to have sex without trying to have a baby, one of the leading causes of death amongst women was childbirth. My body is not intended to be pregnant all the time. It's not designed to have a baby every time that I have sex. I mean, if nature is so determined that all sex must be procreative, then why am I only fertile three days in a month? Why do pregnant women still want to make love? Why is the way that it actually works in reality so utterly divorced from the way that it is in Plato's head?
Germanicus: I didn't say that there's not more to it than just reproduction. I mean...obviously the multitudes account it blissful, and there's all the gooshy emotional stuff, and I understand that if someone gets married that probably they're going to need to have sex with their spouse more often than is strictly necessary to have children, because otherwise their spouse is probably going to start looking for someone else. But --
Sheila: Germanicus...honey...listen. I know that this doesn't really make a lot of sense to you, but that's not how other people see it. Most people don't have sex with their wives just to prevent adultery. Most people have sex with their wives because they really want to, because it makes them happy. It's not a chore. Now I know that I used to accuse you of being erotophobic, and I've realized that that's unfair and actually kind of judgemental. There's a woman in my gender-studies class who identifies as asexual, and she made me realize that for some people not having sex really is natural. And that's okay. But you need to understand that for most people that's not how it is. And that's okay too.
Germanicus: I'm not erotophobic, or asexual, and I hate when you diagnose me with disorders. Look, I understand that this is something that people really like to do. I'm sure that whenever I get married, I'll be really happy to do it too. In fact, I have absolutely no doubts on that account. However, I think that until I am ready to be in a relationship that is specifically intended for the purpose of having children it's totally irresponsible for me to do something that could get a girl pregnant with a baby that I'm not ready to look after.
Catullus: (laughing) And how likely do you think it is that I'm going to get my partner pregnant? Or visa versa, as the case may be.
Sheila: Catullus is right, Germanicus. And it doesn't just apply to people who are gay. I mean...if you're not ready to have kids, and you're really not asexual, what would be wrong with mutual masturbation? Or oral sex?
Catullus: Or, for that matter, the “unnatural act”?
Germanicus: (texting for back-up under the table) What would be wrong with it, is that it's not what sex is for. I mean, if I were married, then even sex that didn't actually lead directly to procreation would still be ordered towards the good of my would keep my wife happy, and my marriage intact, and, yeah, okay, admitted, it would also probably help to keep me frosty and kindly endeared towards my wife, which would certainly be in the interests of my kids.
Catullus: Ah, but let's imagine that your future wife were, purely hypothetically, waxing melancholic one night. For years she's been throwing herself at you, and for years has found herself rebuffed, and now she has come to the end of the line. “He will never love me!” she cries, and cursing Plato in her heart she goes out on the town. It could happen, couldn't it Sheila?
Sheila: It's a distinct possibility.
Catullus: There can be no doubt. A girl can only take so much rejection. So now, overcome with loneliness and sexual frustration, she becomes easy prey for unscrupulous mongrels of every stripe. She is plunged into a cesspool of immorality, syphilis, sodomy and snake porn. Would that be in the interests of your future family?
Germanicus: Don't be absurd. Of course it wouldn't. But that's why it's so important for people to practice self-control.
Catullus: Yes. But knowing, as you do, that Sheila is not going to suddenly become a Platonist overnight, wouldn't the responsible thing to do, the loving thing to do, the thing to do in the best interests of your possible future children, wouldn't the best thing be for you to be the one to take her home?
Germanicus: I thought we were talking about the morality of homosexual sex. Not about whether Sheila and I should...
Catullus: Make the two backed beast?
Germanicus: Catullus, I'm going to kill you.
Sheila: Exactly why is it okay for you to have a philosophical argument about your brother's sexuality, but not about your own?
Germanicus: (Cell phone beeps. Germanicus checks his messages and sighs with relief.) Praise Athena. The cavalry is on the way.
Catullus: Cavalry?
Germanicus: Lydia, apparently, has all her kids in bed so she can join us for a drink. And you won't be able to beat her with cheap psychological tricks.
Catullus: (Suddenly becoming very pale and agitated) You asked Lydia to join us? Germanicus! Oh gods, I knew I never should have come out, not even just to you. That if I ever told anyone, you'd all know within a week. But I did think at least it would be done behind my back, and you'd all feel compelled to pretend you didn't know.
Germanicus: Sorry. Heat of battle. I didn't think about it...But I haven't told her anything. Just that an argument's afoot.
Catullus: All right, Sheila, here's the deal. I have never so much as contemplated having sex with men. We are having a completely abstract discussion. I have a girlfriend, and I'm certainly not gay.

(End of Part IV)


  1. Natural law arguments give me a lot of headaches. In this particular section, it looks to me as though Sheila makes good sense, and Germanicus seems to make a thoroughly circular argument.

    How does one know what is natural? By reasoning out what one thinks should be natural? Or by observing what happens in nature? Plato reasons out an “ideal” of which the extant reality is an imperfect reflection. Perhaps, but, if so, how does one determine what that ideal actually is? The problem is that we are in a fallen world, one that does not operate as the Designer may have intended. As St. Paul said, the whole creation groans and travails, waiting for a fulfillment that has not yet appeared. Thus (at least as I would see it), the only ‘natural’ we can know without revelation is by observation of what actually is in this flawed universe. What is the ‘natural’ purpose of anything? We can perhaps identify its main purpose by observation, but, if it is capable of other things, how is that capability not part of its ‘nature’?

    In the matter at hand, it is certainly obvious that the reproductive system is well designed for reproduction, but it is also well designed for the giving of pleasure, and, by the very nature of its design, it has the capability of giving pleasure in ways far removed from reproduction. These things are all inherent in its design. Moreover, it is evident to anyone looking honestly that homoerotic attraction is a reality among humans, and surely does occur among animals. (Cavalier dismissal of the gay wolves and seagulls, though not entirely germaine, seems to me to constitute a refusal to take observation into account) It certainly is both unreasonable and unfair to assert that those burdened with such desires have chosen them – I surely did not. If both the attraction and the action do occur in nature, then how can we assert them to be “unnatural’?

    There is one way, but it requires moving from the general revelation found in nature to the specific revelation given by the Creator, in other words, to what is received by faith. It is Scripture and Tradition through which the Creator has revealed His intent for sex. It is by revelation that we can know what He considers to be the nature of things. The only way we can know that certain uses of the sexual organs are outside His plan is by asking Him. Our observations will reveal that all these things indeed do occur in every human society, as do a whole range of other sins, all of which are, so far as observation can detect, eminently natural. The sins, in fact, are at least as ‘natural’ as the laws which attempt to regulate them, in some views perhaps more so.

    I do indeed take a very traditional and conservative view of sexual practice, but I find I can’t argue it on the basis of “nature”, but only on that of revelation. Perhaps subsequent chapters may help me move beyond that, but perhaps not. At this point I suspect the latter.

  2. "Please don't give me the gay wolf argument"...oh that was a gem. I really needed to read that. I have "Anarcho-Communist" friends all about how significant the sex lives of bonobos are for human society. I wish you could come to speaking about the hetero hook-up culture's foundations in gay male culture.

    1. Hi. That argument was not originally a stand-alone argument, but a response to one.

      The original argument was that same sex activities are unnatural because only humans do them. That not same sex activities existed in the natural world, which was proof that it was just the sinners who wanted to sin more.

      The observation of same sex activities in the natural world is used as a response to that. To refute the idea that only human sinners do it.

      People just don't remember the times when anti gay folks wouldn't shut up about same sex being only a -depraved- human thing away from the beatitude of the natural world. They now act as if they had never used that argument, and indeed as if it were a ridiculous thing to say.

  3. Kinda bummed. Maybe it's just me, (or maybe there are more out there who feel as I do).
    I really don't do good with making one's point through a story of a dialogue debate because there is too much time spent deciphering people's premises and whether or not they are valid. The larger problem is that one doesn't really know if they have determined their premises or positions accurately.
    Maybe this kind of story telling works for people, but it has left me flat and really confused and it's put most of it over my head. I'm a simple guy. Simpler styles are needed for me. Oh well...

    1. I think the point of this kind of argument is not so much to establish the superiority of one view over another as to illustrate that neither view is really self-evident, but rather that each has to be carefully considered. No one is telling you what to think, but rather asking you to think, hoping that enough will be presented that the reader may, of his/her own volition come to ones own conclusion. Yes, Dan is exactly correct in his evaluation, and it does require work. It makes one examine ("decipher") the premises of both sides, and that is really what we must always do if we are to make up our own minds intelligently. The alternative is to let someone else do the thinking for one. My comments to a couple of these posts arise from trying to grapple with just exactly this process -- and I'm thankful to have been asked to do so. The other would be easier, but would leave me with no necessity to think it through and get my own thoughts in order.

  4. I suppose that, in a blog, you are reading one person's opinion and forming some thoughts based on that opinion. I don't think a blog is meant to tell someone what to think.
    In this kind of format, when one comes to a part in which they don't agree with a premise, the rest of the dialogue presented is based upon something that a reader may have already determined is based on a premise they don't agree with, so it makes going forward difficult as the story goes forward on reasoning that one disagrees with.

    1. Hi Dan,

      Sorry that it's not working for you. I'm planning to post an explanation of the reasons for writing this series this way after part 6 goes up. I hope it helps. Otherwise, I'll go back to writing normally after that.



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