In Homosexuality is natural. Fine. But what if homophobia is too?, Sean Thomas writes:
[I]t is at least arguable that homophobia is unconscious – and inherited.
If we’re going to extend equal right to homosexuals, because homosexuality is perfectly natural, we also need to extend equal rights to homophobes, for exactly the same reason.
telegraph.co.uk, 28 May 2013.
This is an argument I’m starting to see increasingly raised. The extremely religious in the United States laughably talk about how they’re constantly persecuted; politicians in various countries have talked about how equality laws persecute people who believe that homosexuality is wrong, and there have even been cases of people insisting that since the anti-marriage equality camp is now in the minority, they should have their minority wishes respected. (Yes, pot, meet kettle!)
There’s a seductive logic in what Sean Thomas writes, but I’d suggest it’s both hypocritical and dangerous to pursue.
In Let’s call a bigot a bigot, Ralph Jones wrote:
Things have reached a slightly ludicrous situation when a gay rights group can be patronised for labelling as “bigots” those individuals who have gone most out of their way not only to prevent gay rights becoming a reality but also to viciously insult and ostracise the entire homosexual community.
New Statesman, 3 November 2012.
This call to protect the rights of bigots is as ludicrous as it is dangerous; it’s often espoused under the notion of free speech, but free speech shouldn’t cover hate speech – Voltaire, quite simply, was wrong.
Sean’s original argument went like this:
[I]t is at least arguable that homophobia is unconscious – and inherited. And it’s not hard to see why such a reflex might have evolved: before the era of the test tube baby and artificial insemination, parents who happily tolerated gayness in their kids would be smiling on the extinction of their genes. Not good.
Again, seductive logic – but let’s now turn it around. The population of the planet now exceeds 7 billion, and is rapidly rising. It’s a population that’s completely unsustainable given over-utilisation of resources, yet people keep on popping out babies all around the globe every second. The birth rate exceeds the death rate, and governments just aren’t doing enough to keep the two in balance.
Using Sean’s logic, surely that would mean it’s natural for people to start looking down on people who have children … instead of sneering calling people faggots, what if we started sneeringly referring to breeders? Would anyone seriously argue that bigotry against people who have children should be considered protected? (And to be perfectly clear, here: there’s a marked difference between someone who thinks or even tries to logically suggest that parents should limit themselves to one child, and someone who say, beats up any pregnant woman pushing a pram with a baby already in it.)
Sean’s argument also seems to include a tacit acceptance that because something is unconscious and potentially inherited, it should in some form be excused. Children at age 2-3 have very little concept of possessions – they tend to believe everything belongs to them. Wouldn’t that mean that’s acceptable behaviour, and when parents teach children to respect belongings owned by others, they’re doing a bad thing?
It’s also questionable whether it’s a DNA-based inherited trait or a learned meme. In Liberty and Equality, I wrote:
Coming out of a store about 9 months ago now, I was carrying a case of cider. A man was walking into the store with his son, who was under 10 years old. The son asked “Dad, what’s cider?” To which the father replied “It’s sort of like beer, but only girls and fags drink it.”
What logical reason should I have had to let that go? In one statement the father had deliberately conveyed his bigoted attitude to his son, which would undoubtedly have either started to or continued to set the behavioural pattern of inappropriate social behaviour. So I turned and said, “Excuse me, I prefer to be called gay”.
In other words, I’m saying that it’s ridiculous to suggest people are born bigots, rather than trained into it. Put 20 babies of different ethnicities and skin colours into a creche together and watch them play, and you’ll soon realise there’s nothing inherited in bigotry.
Mental traits and patterns can be trained out. I had a severe speech impediment as a child and learnt to speak through months of flash card training. I learnt to read as I learnt to talk, but years later I realised I also developed an image association with a lot of core words based on those flash cards. Call it a variant of synaesthesia, if you will – that’s certainly the closest comparison I can think of. I came to this conclusion when I realised the word hate had powerful resonance with me – to the point that the image I associated with it was uncomfortable. So I trained myself not to use it. (You might want to give it a go, too.) Then after a while, I realised when I’d stopped myself using it long enough, I stopped thinking it, too. I stopped hating.
That’s just an example, of course. Almost everyone is aware of situations where people train themselves to think differently. Psychology, for instance, is about helping you build new thought frameworks in order to effect change. Weight loss is a perfect example – some of the most successful at permanent weight loss are those who change how they think about food.
In No, you’re not entitled to your opinion, Patrick Stokes wrote:
So what does it mean to be “entitled” to an opinion?
If “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion” just means no-one has the right to stop people thinking and saying whatever they want, then the statement is true, but fairly trivial. No one can stop you saying that vaccines cause autism, no matter how many times that claim has been disproven.
But if ‘entitled to an opinion’ means ‘entitled to have your views treated as serious candidates for the truth’ then it’s pretty clearly false. And this too is a distinction that tends to get blurred.
The Conversation, 5 October 2012.
In this case, Patrick was making a case against the anti-vaccination network, and one might suggest that bigotry represents the kinds of grey areas Patrick was definitely not trying to include in his argument. That being said, I believe there is one important link: the difference between having a point of view and acting on it.
You want to think homosexuals are immoral? Sure. You want to act on it by behaving like a bigot? No, you can’t do that. Your personal opinion doesn’t allow you to limit my rights, and isn’t carte blanche for infecting the world around you with hate.
Equality for bigots? As long as they don’t behave like bigots, yes.