Dismiss real issues in three easy steps!

On a largely unrelated video, someone left this comment:

If the general experience & belief of the Christian is outdated & invalid, then why give them validity through focusing so much of your attention upon them? Respectfully, it seems as if, in your presentation & discussions, you hope(?) to bring them to a place where they will embrace, accept, & bless alternative sexual lifestyles via reason or ridicule. It almost seems as if you want them to validate you. Is this accurate at some level within you?

I was actually impressed by how, in just a paragraph, they managed to invalidate legitimate concerns so thoroughly and in so many ways. It almost makes me think this is practically a reflex action for such people. I figure it’s worth dissecting just how they do this – it happens so quickly, it could otherwise easily pass unnoticed.

So, what did this person do?

1. Flip the script, shift responsibility: “why give them validity through focusing so much of your attention upon them?” Our refutation of wrong reasoning and wrong beliefs is instead cast as an affirmation of this, simply due to the fact that we said anything about it at all. This sets up an obvious double bind. We can either say nothing, let this wrongness pass completely unchallenged, and be perceived as not taking issue with it, or we can say something and be accused of validating the wrongness just by talking about it. Is a majority of society Christian? It’s the atheists’ fault. Is our country still widely homophobic? Must be because of gay people.

There remains no accepted way to express disagreement or criticism – anything we do will always be turned against us, because of the fundamentally ridiculous implication that those who disagree are the ones responsible for validating the wrongness, rather than the vast majority who agree with and openly validate said wrongness.

2. Otherize: “alternative sexual lifestyles”. Depicting being gay, being trans, being an atheist, or any other such “lifestyle” that’s out of the traditional mainstream as an “alternative” means implicitly treating the alternative to this – being straight, cis, religious, etc. – as some kind of default. It positions that particular “lifestyle” as something that’s inherent to us all unless we choose otherwise, as though we’re all born heterosexual and cisgender and believing in some kind of god. It gives all of this a nice little seal of approval reading Official Life Path™; anything else basically amounts to running a nightly build of some unofficial fork at your own risk.

What differences we have are used to portray us as a fundamentally different people – not merely exhibiting some small fraction of the variety that occurs across all of humanity, but dissimilar enough from others to warrant placing us into a whole new category of lifestyle.

3. Personalize and isolate: “It almost seems as if you want them to validate you. Is this accurate at some level within you?” Finally, our stance on the issue at hand is condescendingly reduced to a mere personal issue, a presumably pathological need for validation. To distract from the actual issue, they’ve instead shifted the focus to (their guesses about) our psychology and personal needs. The reality of the situation is disregarded and erased, and our position on it is treated not as a reaction to an actual problem, but just the product of some imaginary windmill-tilting quest that exists entirely in the minds of a few deluded individuals. It almost suggests that our very understanding of the situation may be wholly disconnected from reality.

But even if they insist on making this about us as individuals, that does not erase the problem itself, hard as they may try to ignore it. Just because something is personal does not mean it is only personal. We have no choice in being impacted by common prejudices on a personal level – this is necessarily a personal matter. But it is not just in our heads. Those prejudices still exist, and insofar as you care about people’s lives and well-being, you should care about how these things affect us. We would like to be able to hold our partner’s hand in public without having to watch our back, talk to people in the course of everyday life without the irrelevant minutiae of gender coming between us and everyone else, and have a fair shot at public office without being required to profess a belief in a god just to have a chance. These are real things, and just because a thing is personal does not mean it is at all minor, insignificant or unimportant.

Personal things are people’s lives. Does this not matter? Not to those who take our objections to such treatment as evidence of mental or emotional deficiency, rather than part of the completely normal, completely human desire to be accepted by others and interact with them on an equal footing without being pointlessly shunned. For anyone else, it’s an entirely legitimate and unchallenged expectation. But of course, when we, the alternative lifestyle, expect this, we’re just being needy. We’re the ones who were affected by something real, noticed it, and called it out – and somehow that means the problem is with us.

Dismiss real issues in three easy steps!
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What are you afraid of?

Last week, I blogged about Christian Post writer Matt Moore, a self-described “redeemed sinner” who posted an open letter to gay youth proclaiming that Jesus would save them from a life of drinking, drugs and meaningless sex. As I’m sure you would expect, I found his goals misguided and his metaphysics incoherent. In response, one of my readers left a comment saying:

Why are people so threatened by Matt Moore’s experience? Because it takes away their excuse to continue to sin? If Matt can be set free from sin and God is real and homosexuality is sin, then it makes them wrong and no one wants have to admit that they are wrong and sinful. Is it easier to mock than face the possibility that Matt may be right? Could it be possible that you are wrong?

This may be the falsest false dichotomy I’ve ever witnessed. It seems this person believes the chance of that entire bundle of claims being true is high enough to warrant serious consideration, and they present it as though this is the only other option, rather than a conglomeration that becomes increasingly unlikely as a whole with every new claim that’s added on. But even if Matt Moore’s experiences contain some element of truth, this still doesn’t demonstrate that any of these other things are real.

While Moore might just be a religious huckster or opportunist, it’s also entirely possible that he genuinely believes being gay means a life devoid of true happiness, and he feels that God personally called him to stop having relationships with men. It could be that his life was indeed terrible, and that his religious beliefs have helped him to become happier and more fulfilled as an individual – unlikely as it may seem.

All of this might be the case, but none of it tells us anything about the validity of various supernatural and theological concepts. Moore’s religious feelings and life experiences do not mean that the idea of “sin” is actually a real thing, or something that ever had any bearing on him. It does not mean that this “sin” is something he was “set free” from, or that it is something that anyone can be set free from. It doesn’t mean that “sin”, whatever it is, has these particular dynamics at all. And it doesn’t mean that being gay constitutes one of these “sins”.

It doesn’t show how the designation of “sin” would relate to any structure of morality. It doesn’t tell us what the consequences are of this “sin”. It doesn’t say why this is something for us to avoid. It also doesn’t mean that any deities really do exist. It doesn’t mean the specific, Judeo-Christian deity named “God” exists. And it doesn’t mean this God is actually capable of “freeing” us from our supposed “sin”.

That’s a whole lot of completely unsupported assumptions packed into just a few sentences. And the idea that we would find this the least bit “threatening” further assumes that we’re just as ignorant as they are. Would they accept the testimony of a supposedly “ex-gay” Muslim as evidence in favor of a specific interpretation of Islamic doctrine and theology? It seems highly doubtful. So why would they think there’s any reason to treat one Christian’s feelings as credible evidence of claims like “God is real” and “homosexuality is sin”?

And atop this logical house of cards, they rest the accusation that we must be seeking an “excuse to continue to sin”, which Moore’s experiences allegedly deprive us of. But for it to be the case that our criticism of his writings is only a cover for our pursuit of a justification to “sin”, we would first have to accept all of the underlying assumptions that are required for the concept of an “excuse to continue to sin” to be meaningful. I certainly don’t. So why would I think I needed any sort of excuse to keep doing something I don’t believe is wrong?

As Megan McArdle said, “It is a vast, and pervasive, cognitive mistake to assume that people who agree with you (or disagree) do so on the same criteria that you care about.” And our Human Conjunction Fallacy here seems to believe the rest of us also suspect that the “God exists, gays are sinning” scenario could actually be true. In their estimation, we consider this probable enough to be scared by the possibility, but instead of accepting its ramifications, we’ve just chosen to stick our heads in the sand.

What they’ve failed to recognize is that we’re not just on the other side of the fence here. We’re actually worlds apart in our beliefs. They think we’re talking on the same level as they are, but they’ve made the mistake of assuming that the entirety of their personal theology is accepted by everyone. It’s rather like believing that those who don’t follow your god must be worshipping the devil. They really don’t understand just how much of this we truly don’t believe. That’s why they expected that out of all the possible sequences of supernatural claims, we would somehow be especially worried about this one.

If anyone is feeling “threatened” here, it’s probably the one who refuses to face the fact that their favorite god is neither loved nor feared by us, but completely absent from the equation. We see their god as no more of a cosmic danger to us than the gods of any other faith, and thus not a relevant factor in our lives. And because of us, they have to contend with the reality that there are people out there who aren’t just selfishly denying a god they know in their hearts to be real, but who honestly see no reason to believe this. Is that so threatening? It shouldn’t be, but I guess it’s easier to ignore the possibility that you might be wrong.

What are you afraid of?

Let's support Alexander Aan

Alexander Aan of Indonesia has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for saying on Facebook that he doubted the existence of God and posting cartoons of Muhammad. Just for exercising the same freedom that we do every day, he was beaten by a mob and convicted of “deliberately spreading information inciting religious hatred and animosity”. I ask that you please take the time to sign and share a petition for the White House to call on the Indonesian government to free Aan and respect citizens’ right to freedom of belief and expression. The petition has less than a month to gather the 21,000 more signatures needed for an official response, so let’s work fast and do what we can to fight this injustice.

Let's support Alexander Aan

Let’s support Alexander Aan

Alexander Aan of Indonesia has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for saying on Facebook that he doubted the existence of God and posting cartoons of Muhammad. Just for exercising the same freedom that we do every day, he was beaten by a mob and convicted of “deliberately spreading information inciting religious hatred and animosity”. I ask that you please take the time to sign and share a petition for the White House to call on the Indonesian government to free Aan and respect citizens’ right to freedom of belief and expression. The petition has less than a month to gather the 21,000 more signatures needed for an official response, so let’s work fast and do what we can to fight this injustice.

Let’s support Alexander Aan

The Boy Scouts' Futile Isolationism

No one should be especially surprised that the Boy Scouts of America recently announced they would maintain their policy of excluding gay people from membership. There’s little indication that they ever seriously considered revising their position that “homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts”.

The BSA now claims that this policy has been under review for two years by a special committee, whose existence was never announced and whose composition is entirely unknown. They’ve stated that this mystery committee contained “a diversity of perspectives and opinions”, which apparently led them to conclude unanimously that the Boy Scouts should be for straight people only. And they’ve dismissed the significance of this issue with the flippant statement that “Scouting believes that good people can personally disagree on this topic and still work together to achieve the life-changing benefits to youth through Scouting”.

Legally speaking, the Boy Scouts are a private organization, and they’re fully within their rights to exclude whomever they choose for any reason at all, with no accountability to anyone. But we still have every right to expect them not to discriminate against people without good reason, just as we expect everyone else not to be racist, sexist or homophobic. Instead, the BSA has decided that the “life-changing benefits” of scouting should be denied to an entire segment of the population that they’ve deemed immoral, unclean, and poor role models. They have done this without even the barest explanation of why they believe this is so. Rather than pretending that there’s any sort of reason for this and hiding behind an unaccountable secret committee, it would have been more honest if they had simply told us, “Because screw you, that’s why.” That’s all it really boils down to when someone calls you immoral and refuses to say why.

Last month, the BSA offered a minimal justification for their current policy, saying:

Scouting believes same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right and do not sign their children up for Scouting for it to introduce or discuss, in any way, these topics.

Of course, this raises the question of whether opposite-sex attraction is a topic that the Boy Scouts program does discuss – and why same-sex attraction is so different that it must not only be left unaddressed, but literally banished. Does the presence of heterosexuals imply discussion of heterosexuality? If not, why is the mere presence of gay people considered synonymous with introducing and discussing homosexuality?

The notion that you can exclude the very idea of same-sex attraction just by banning anyone who possesses that attraction is pure fantasy anyway. Perhaps, like Anthony Esolen of Touchstone Magazine, they believe that any public awareness of homosexuality itself is corrosive to friendships between men, introducing the possibility of an element of attraction and making all close friendship suspect. Esolen’s solution, that being gay must once again be stigmatized to the point of being unthinkable, means requiring all gay people to live in secrecy, rather than expecting men who are friends to exhibit the maturity needed to recognize that homosexuality poses no threat to them. On an organizational scale, the BSA prefers the answer that’s most convenient to their prejudice.

But this is a genie that isn’t going back in the bottle. If the Boy Scouts don’t want to talk about sexuality, they certainly don’t have to, but removing so-called “known or avowed homosexuals” isn’t going to make anyone forget that they exist. This is the wrong answer to something that isn’t even a problem. And as a result of their moral laziness, families like mine have to explain to our sons why they can’t join the Scouts: because the BSA has decided that their parents just aren’t good people. The only thing life-changing about this is having to teach our 8-year-old how ugly the world can be.

The Boy Scouts' Futile Isolationism

The Boy Scouts’ Futile Isolationism

No one should be especially surprised that the Boy Scouts of America recently announced they would maintain their policy of excluding gay people from membership. There’s little indication that they ever seriously considered revising their position that “homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts”.

The BSA now claims that this policy has been under review for two years by a special committee, whose existence was never announced and whose composition is entirely unknown. They’ve stated that this mystery committee contained “a diversity of perspectives and opinions”, which apparently led them to conclude unanimously that the Boy Scouts should be for straight people only. And they’ve dismissed the significance of this issue with the flippant statement that “Scouting believes that good people can personally disagree on this topic and still work together to achieve the life-changing benefits to youth through Scouting”.

Legally speaking, the Boy Scouts are a private organization, and they’re fully within their rights to exclude whomever they choose for any reason at all, with no accountability to anyone. But we still have every right to expect them not to discriminate against people without good reason, just as we expect everyone else not to be racist, sexist or homophobic. Instead, the BSA has decided that the “life-changing benefits” of scouting should be denied to an entire segment of the population that they’ve deemed immoral, unclean, and poor role models. They have done this without even the barest explanation of why they believe this is so. Rather than pretending that there’s any sort of reason for this and hiding behind an unaccountable secret committee, it would have been more honest if they had simply told us, “Because screw you, that’s why.” That’s all it really boils down to when someone calls you immoral and refuses to say why.

Last month, the BSA offered a minimal justification for their current policy, saying:

Scouting believes same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right and do not sign their children up for Scouting for it to introduce or discuss, in any way, these topics.

Of course, this raises the question of whether opposite-sex attraction is a topic that the Boy Scouts program does discuss – and why same-sex attraction is so different that it must not only be left unaddressed, but literally banished. Does the presence of heterosexuals imply discussion of heterosexuality? If not, why is the mere presence of gay people considered synonymous with introducing and discussing homosexuality?

The notion that you can exclude the very idea of same-sex attraction just by banning anyone who possesses that attraction is pure fantasy anyway. Perhaps, like Anthony Esolen of Touchstone Magazine, they believe that any public awareness of homosexuality itself is corrosive to friendships between men, introducing the possibility of an element of attraction and making all close friendship suspect. Esolen’s solution, that being gay must once again be stigmatized to the point of being unthinkable, means requiring all gay people to live in secrecy, rather than expecting men who are friends to exhibit the maturity needed to recognize that homosexuality poses no threat to them. On an organizational scale, the BSA prefers the answer that’s most convenient to their prejudice.

But this is a genie that isn’t going back in the bottle. If the Boy Scouts don’t want to talk about sexuality, they certainly don’t have to, but removing so-called “known or avowed homosexuals” isn’t going to make anyone forget that they exist. This is the wrong answer to something that isn’t even a problem. And as a result of their moral laziness, families like mine have to explain to our sons why they can’t join the Scouts: because the BSA has decided that their parents just aren’t good people. The only thing life-changing about this is having to teach our 8-year-old how ugly the world can be.

The Boy Scouts’ Futile Isolationism

Euphoria

First came the dreams, night after night, carrying the vision that refused to be ignored: myself from another life, if I had always been a woman. Undefined in her features, but unmistakable in her perfection. A formless ideal, overwhelming in sheer force of promise, shocking me awake at the sight of her. A tantalizing, desperate glimpse of what might have been, a fading afterimage slipping from my grasp.

The last time she appeared, I saw through her eyes, standing on a podium before a faceless crowd. She explained: If I had the choice, I would have made everything female. The epiphany that eluded my waking thoughts, blasted into consciousness by a mind that knew no limits. I couldn’t go back to sleep.

Decisions were made.

The first bra I ever wore was chosen by my partner, a voluptuous expert by necessity who knew exactly what I needed. Padded, sculpted, a shape for someone who has none: “barely there.” Apprehensively, I held it in my hands, simmering with the fear that it might just be wrong. Face to face with the spectre of feeling like no more than a cross-dresser, a man in a bra.

I slipped it over my head, pulling it into place, taut against a flat chest. Her face lit up as she adjusted it upwards – just right. I stood there a moment, paying close attention to how it clung to my body. Unfamiliar. Uncertain.

“Put your shirt on,” she encouraged me with a smile. The skin-tight, tie-dye green one from my hippie aunt and uncle in Seattle. With something new underneath. Small before, it was even smaller now. I walked to the bathroom mirror, tense and unsteady. Was this going to work?

The light came on. Her. Me. Life itself trembled, shifted, came to rest in a new pattern. Synapses rewired themselves at the sight. The painting, grown beyond its frame. The other half of the puzzle, the missing pieces flying exuberantly into place. The vision alive.

A taste of apotheosis.

And never wanting to let go.

Euphoria

Ethicists don't necessarily know what they're talking about

Purdue Pharma is currently running trials of the opioid painkiller OxyContin on 150 patients aged 6 to 16, after previously discontinuing expensive youth trials in order to redirect their resources to developing an abuse-resistant form of the drug. All of these children were already on other opioid painkillers to manage pain from cancer, severe burns and sickle cell anemia.  Doctors have already been prescribing OxyContin, but without the benefit of any studies showing its effects on children specifically, and the FDA’s offer of a six-month patent extension on the drug in exchange for conducting trials on children was enough to get Purdue to resume testing.

Ethicist Dr. Arthur Caplan has a problem with this:

“It looks to me like a raw, crass, last-gasp exploitation of a drug that has been synonymous with misuse, abuse and harm to patients,” said Dr. Arthur Caplan, the head of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Putting aside Purdue’s possible motives, I’m not sure why OxyContin should necessarily be considered uniquely “synonymous with misuse, abuse and harm to patients”, or why this is a reason not to acquire data about its possible effects in children who would already be taking other opioid painkillers anyway. Does OxyContin possess some property which presents a much higher risk of addiction than all other opioids in common use as painkillers? When used properly, is it still more harmful than other opioid painkillers? Are these same objections somehow inapplicable to other opioids, which also pose a risk of addiction and can be harmful when abused?

Or does Dr. Caplan believe that OxyContin itself now inherently possesses some kind of Aura of Badness just because of the widespread trend of people abusing it? If OxyContin did pose any sort of elevated risk to people beyond that of any other opioids they may be taking for pain management, then this argument should be made on the basis of relevant evidence – and OxyContin being a trendy street drug is not relevant evidence here. And even if it did carry additional risks, those risks should be weighed against its effectiveness as a painkiller, and viewed in light of the need these children have for pain relief. This isn’t as simple as “everyone is focusing on people abusing this one drug, therefore it can have no legitimate medical use.” If OxyContin itself is really so ethically objectionable, why not just pull it from the market entirely?

 

Ethicists don't necessarily know what they're talking about

Ethicists don’t necessarily know what they’re talking about

Purdue Pharma is currently running trials of the opioid painkiller OxyContin on 150 patients aged 6 to 16, after previously discontinuing expensive youth trials in order to redirect their resources to developing an abuse-resistant form of the drug. All of these children were already on other opioid painkillers to manage pain from cancer, severe burns and sickle cell anemia.  Doctors have already been prescribing OxyContin, but without the benefit of any studies showing its effects on children specifically, and the FDA’s offer of a six-month patent extension on the drug in exchange for conducting trials on children was enough to get Purdue to resume testing.

Ethicist Dr. Arthur Caplan has a problem with this:

“It looks to me like a raw, crass, last-gasp exploitation of a drug that has been synonymous with misuse, abuse and harm to patients,” said Dr. Arthur Caplan, the head of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Putting aside Purdue’s possible motives, I’m not sure why OxyContin should necessarily be considered uniquely “synonymous with misuse, abuse and harm to patients”, or why this is a reason not to acquire data about its possible effects in children who would already be taking other opioid painkillers anyway. Does OxyContin possess some property which presents a much higher risk of addiction than all other opioids in common use as painkillers? When used properly, is it still more harmful than other opioid painkillers? Are these same objections somehow inapplicable to other opioids, which also pose a risk of addiction and can be harmful when abused?

Or does Dr. Caplan believe that OxyContin itself now inherently possesses some kind of Aura of Badness just because of the widespread trend of people abusing it? If OxyContin did pose any sort of elevated risk to people beyond that of any other opioids they may be taking for pain management, then this argument should be made on the basis of relevant evidence – and OxyContin being a trendy street drug is not relevant evidence here. And even if it did carry additional risks, those risks should be weighed against its effectiveness as a painkiller, and viewed in light of the need these children have for pain relief. This isn’t as simple as “everyone is focusing on people abusing this one drug, therefore it can have no legitimate medical use.” If OxyContin itself is really so ethically objectionable, why not just pull it from the market entirely?

 

Ethicists don’t necessarily know what they’re talking about