Sunday, February 11, 2007

Changing Tastes


http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/12/nyregion/12group.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&pagewanted=all

You guys think giving up the homosex habit is tough? Try quitting cigarettes. So far I haven't been able to do it permanently, not that I don't keep trying, and trying and trying. I don't think there's anything morally wrong about smoking--it's just the costs, risks and consequences that get me down. A pack costs $5.52 and, at 1+ packs a day that's real money. It's a little less if I buy by the carton, but then I'm committed to smoking another 10 packs. People regard smoking as a dirty habit, my kids condemn me, it messes up my teeth (and my dentist and dental hygienist make sure to have moralistic little conversations about it while I'm sitting in the chair with my mouth full of their machinery); I don't care for the risk of lung cancer; and I smell.

If there were a pill or a talk therapy or brain zap that could stop me you had better believe I'd try it. Not that I think others should take advantage of such a procedure if they don't mind the costs, risks and consequences. De gustibus.

Why is sexuality such a loaded issue? If you like men, fine; if you like women, fine. Who cares? If you're living in circumstances where homosexuality is socially acceptable and it isn't inconsistent with your moral convictions, fine--no reason to try to change your sexual preferences. If you want to be a Mormon or a fundamentalist then maybe you have a reason to want to change your sexual tastes. Fine also. Why is this supposed to be a bad? What's the big deal?

Years ago when I lived back in New York a friend whose family was working class set out to learn to like ballet. We went to a performance together at Lincoln Center and I was bored to death. I don't have any interest in dance and have no desire to learn to like it. By now however I suppose she's learnt to like ballet. Good for her. I have no interest.

Why is this whole business about sex and sexual preference so loaded? It always seems to me that people who imagine that they're liberal on these matters are still dogged by idiot, puritanical doctrines. The perennial theme that sexual orientation is innate and unalterable is a case in point. Who cares? If a heterosexual person set out to cultivate same sex desires in order to have more scope for sexual pleasure I think that would be a reasonable thing to do--all things being equal, the more sources of pleasure you have the better off you are. I suppose I'd be better off if I liked ballet because it would be yet another source of pleasure, but I've got enough pleasures, I don't like ballet and I'm too lazy to cultivate the taste. Maybe I'd be better off if I were sexually interested in other women, but I'm not, never have been and have no interest in cultivating the taste. Given what I'm like, it would probably take a very substantial effort to cultivate either of these tastes and I doubt that I'd succeed, but I have no real interest in trying.

I suppose I understand why this business of sexual preference is loaded: it's the consequence of 2000 years of moralism and puritanism, the idea that sex is a bigger deal than ballet, and that sexual tastes are a bigger deal than tastes in entertainment. Liberals though are just knuckling under to this view instead of being honest, with themselves and others, and telling the real story--that it just plain doesn't matter whether you have sex with members of the opposite sex or members of the same sex, that it doesn't matter whether you like men or women or both, any more than it matters whether you like ballet or not. Promoting the doctrine that sexual orientation is innate and unalterable seems like nothing more than caving into conservatives: don't blame us--we can't help being gay; ought implies can.

I suspect that sexual orientation is like handedness--innate but amenable to modification--but that like handedness it probably isn't worth changing. I'd suspect also that it's a matter of degree and that some people are ambidextrous--and that the ambidextrous are truly blessed. If however this is the way it is we should be honest about it and not pander to puritanical fundamentalists by pretending that sexual tastes are a bigger deal than handedness or a taste for ballet.

4 comments:

MikeS said...

Here, here. Another good (I was tempted to write 'great', but you don't need my accolades) exposition. I wonder to what extent your politics coincide with that putative libertarian, and one time communist, the late R.H.Heinlein?

H. E. said...

If he's a libertarian, I'd say, "not much."

DaN McKee said...

I always find it interesting when people say that there is nothing "morally wrong" with smoking. Although in terms of consequences for the smoker themselves, this is probably true; surely the fact of passive smoking gives the act of smoking a deep level of moral doubt in regards to its effect on OTHER PEOPLE?

As those who choose not to smoke get their own health affected by those who do, the smoker is not smoking in a moral vacuum, and if smoking sends out potentially harmful products into the air which could contribute to the ill-health, or even death of non-smokers who breathe it in, then it is not obvious that smoking is not morally wrong.

One might argue that cars do the same thing; but our desperate desire to find alternative forms of fuel and transport that do not contribute to ill-health and global warming show us that such a defence is no argument at all: driving polluting cars is arguably morally wrong on some level too!

That said, such transport is often sadly a necessity in contemporary society until alternatives are found. It is a necessary evil we are hoping to eventually make unecessary once alternative fuels are found.

Smoking, however, is in no way essential - although our addictions may make it seem otherwise - and one would be hard pressed to come up with a decent argument in support of the unavoidable necessity of smoking in the modern world.

Given smoking is an entirely unecessary and arbitrary act of personal choice - if it causes health problems for those around it who did not make that choice, then it would seem such a choice is entirely morally wrong, and hard to justify outside of a minor appeal to unbreakable addiction, which in itself is no argument against it being morally wrong, but simply for why one might not be able to stop doing it regardless of its accepted moral wrongness.

HippieNation said...

If we are free-willed, then logically our sexuality must be breakable habit. That goes for any behaviour, in fact. Since sex is pleasure, it isn’t hard to imagine this. As for morality, I totally agree - who and what people wish to copulate with is ultimately their own business.

The crux of the matter is that people also inject great drama into their love lives. The easy way of achieving this is self-victimization – we insist to ourselves and others that love isn't a choice. This is will-to-power – creating values that offer a pleasurable option over truth.

Cheers.