Monday, October 18, 2010

Ken Buck Puts His Foot In His Mouth: Twice

Well, Colorado Republican Senate Candidate Ken Buck believes that homosexuality is a choice. Foot-in-mouth insertion number one. I wonder, then, if he thinks that heterosexuality is also a choice? But I'd bet not. I'd bet he thinks human beings are hardwired for heterosexuality and that we have no "choice" in the matter. But if that's the case, he's got to admit that sexuality is something that is hardwired -- which logically must lead him to the possibility that homosexuality is also something that can be hardwired. Worse, though, he equates the genetic predisposition towards homosexuality as akin to the genetic predisposition towards alcoholism. In other words, homosexuality is a genetic perversion just like a disease. Foot in mouth insertion number two.


eric said...

I think the idea that sexuality is a combination of heredity and environmental factors, which is essentially what Buck is saying, is supported by most of the science I have seen on the subject. You may not be able to control who you are attracted to, but the decision to engage in the sexual act is always a choice, unless we are talking about rape. To that extent, he is correct.

And while I don't see homosexuality and alcoholism as being on the same moral footing, the genetic and environmental factors that guide them could very well be similar.

This brings up an interesting question. Let's say a gene that increases likelihood of homosexuality is identified and science finds a way to safely turn it on and off. Would you be willing to allow Christian or Muslim parents who believe homosexuality is sinful to have their children genetically tampered with in order to turn this gene off? I wouldn't be willing to do that to my kid, but I have a hard time finding a compelling reason why somebody else should be forbidden from doing so.

Huck said...

Eric - I don't think Buck would agree that sexuality is combination of hereditary and environmental factors because to do so would imply that heterosexuality is just as arbitrary (or conditioned) a thing as homosexuality. I think Buck is trying to have his cake and eat it, too, when it comes to the nature/nurture explanation. He applies it to homosexuality, but not to heterosexuality.

And it's precisely the moral footing of equating homosexuality with alcoholism that is the problem. Why not equate homosexuality with some other genetic, morally-neutral predisposition like left-handedness? Instead, he essentially equates it with a disease. And I find that telling.

Buck is also not talking about behavior as such, as much as he is talking about one's fundamental, immutable being. Yeah, a gay person can choose never to have sex, just like you and I could also choose this. But, speaking only for myself, that is not an option if I want to live a happy life.

As to your interesting question, it's simple to me. And it should be simple to anyone who respects the individuality of the human person: turning off the "gay gene" is a decision on the person who has it should make. Since the "gay gene" causes no harm to others, since it poses no inherent biological threat to the child's life, parents have no business making such decisions for their children.

eric said...

"I don't think Buck would agree that sexuality is combination of hereditary and environmental factors because to do so would imply that heterosexuality is just as arbitrary (or conditioned) a thing as homosexuality."

But the very article you link to specifically says that Buck does believe this:

"After the debate, Buck clarified that he thinks there is "some element of predisposition" in homosexuality. He noted that he mentioned alcoholism as an example of another behavior that can be influenced by genetic factors."

"I wasn't talking about being gay as a disease," Buck said. "I don't think that at all."

And I don't think the argument that sexuality has a genetic component necessarily means that heterosexuality and homosexuality are equivelant. It could also mean that homosexuality is an aberration from the norm, as is left-handedness and alcoholism. Given that the species would have a very difficult time perpetuating itself if homosexuality was the norm, I don't think this is such an extreme view. That doesn't mean homosexuality is wrong or should be banned, but it might mean there are reasons why heterosexuality could be preferable if given the choice.
I'm a lefty, and being left-handed does not make me evil, but it does mean I have a statistical risk of having an appendage amputated that is 4.9 times greater than that of right-handed people. It may be true that if my parents could have made me genetically right-handed, they'd have been doing me a favor.
So I don't think the answer is a simple as you make it out to be.

Huck said...

But the very article you link to specifically says that Buck does believe this

No, Eric, I think you missed my point. In the article, Buck says nothing about sexuality in general terms (as you did in your original comment) and limits his comments to homosexuality. He wasn't talking about heterosexuality as a "genetic predisposition" or a "choice." I'm fairly certain that if Buck were asked if heterosexuality were a partly choice and partly biological (just like he claims homosexuality to be) he'd say no.

eric said...

Well, OK, I see the point you are making but don't quite see why you are so certain what his response would be. His indication that homosexuality has a genetic component is also a defacto admission that heterosexuality does too. The question is whether a homosexual gene that has been turned 'on' is to be considered normative or aberrant from a scientific standpoint (not from a moral standpoint).

Huck said...

Eric - True, I can't be certain for sure what Buck would say, since he wasn't asked that questions specifically; but I think his response would be not to consider heterosexuality to be both conditioned by genetics and by choice -- probably because I think Buck would side with the heterosexuality=normative and homosexuality=aberrant line of thinking that you offered. I also think that your question is perhaps the critical question to try to answer. And this is probably where much of the disagreement comes into play. I would say (and I think most advocates of gay rights would say) that the terms "normative" or "aberrant" shouldn't have any bearing on policy -- just as left-handedness or red-headedness or albinoism or dwarfism or any other scientifically "aberrant" physical genetic condition (if by aberrant you mean statistically relatively small compared to the broader population) shouldn't. The fact is that human beings should be treated as the individuals they are and not whether one part of their genetic makeup puts them in a statistically smaller population that is then equated somehow with inferiority or with sickness. I have to ask you what is the purpose of defining homosexuality as either "normative" (i.e. like to most others) or "aberrant" (i.e. unlike most others) if not to use this to make a moral distinction that has implication for social policy? Otherwise it's just an exercise in statistics, from which all of us can be classified as genetic "aberrants" of some sort in some category.