Friday, February 11, 2011

The mind, the body, the balls…

Let's assume, as many do, that the mind––the mental, the affective 'self'––is wholly a function of the somatic operations. This means, in part, that mental 'drives' or urges are no more or less semiosically relevant than other somatic components. For example, as evolutionary psychologists would have it, our incessant psychic urge to have sex is but a function of the evolutionary encoding in our bodies, based on the reproductive success of such urges over numerous prior generations. Likewise, as biologists recognize, the design of the human hand is but a function of similar prior selection pressure on our somatic makeup. We know the function of our hands by recognizing how we can use them now as well as understanding how their evolution brought our species this far. Our entire 'psychosomatic' makeup is a sign of our species' natural ends, as they are progressively sculpted and optimized by natural selection.

The problem is that the same evolutionary thinking is typically used to cut back against finality per se, by saying there is no 'intrinsic' functional (semiosic) link between our somatic makeup and our ethical choices. To wit, just because a man has a penis and semen and a woman has a vagina and ova, does not mean this is an intrinsic 'sign' of some 'higher' natural order.

And yet…

Yet, note the perilous tension in this argumentation. The ethical defense of, say, homosexual behavior is that it's "natural" for homosexuals to feel and act as they do. It is, in other words, what everything in their psychic makeup points to, the contradictory indications of their gentilia be damned. Yet we had already agreed that even the psyche is but a dimension of somatic semiosis. So we face a dilemma. If homosexual urges are intrinsically signs of a homosexual's natural dispositions, which must be defended precisely because they are his proper nature, then we concede that there are genuinely proper ends of human nature. On the other hand, if we deny that homosexual urges are intrinsic signs of human nature, then we force a cleft between the psyche and the body's construction, a cleft which secularism cannot abide. If they are metaphysically unified, identical, no less, then by what criteria do we trump the semiosis of the body with the semiosis of the psyche? Is this trumping not an argument for the radical freedom of the 'self' from any and all antecedent causal constraints which simply happen to be encoded in the body?


Isaac said...

This topic seem fret with peril.
Let me know if I am reading this wrong, at first I thought you were trying to set up those who justify homosexuality as natural are falling for the naturalistic fallacy. Upon a second read I think you are setting up that homosexuality by its nature doesn't lead to an evolutionary advantage and therefore contradicts itself as being natural.

Either way I'd like to add some thoughts. First, and this is anecdotal, I recall my first interest in the opposite sex in a quasi sexual way when I was 5 or 6. My cousin brought over a lingerie catalog and I was intrigued enough to later steal it and hide it behind the couch for later study. So when my gay friends recall being attracted to the same sex at a prepubescent age I'm inclined to believe them.

Yes I'll agree that just because something is natural doesn't mean it is good for society. I'm sure rape and murder can be described as natural and clearly both are detrimental for society. However in our current society, when two consenting adults regardless of sex, desire to be intimate in a responsible way I don't see how this could dissolve society into anarchy.

Just briefly on an argument that homosexuals can't breed and therefore are in a sense unnatural I would argue that nature itself provides evidence to the contrary with animals that exhibit homosexual behavior. Fitness in the biological sense doesn't always have to be from producing fertile offspring. One can still have a certain level of fitness by attending to the young of siblings, or other closely related individuals. In effect we don't all have to be breeders to do our part in preserving our species.

I'd like to go on but let me see how far off the mark I was first.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

This post is not so much about the adaptive success of homosexuality as it is about the logical status of the premises I take to be behind arguments in defense of homosexual, or for that matter, any traditionally immoral sexual behavior.

PREMISE 1: There is no human nature which we share.

PREMISE 2: Lacking a universal nature, there are no somatic drives or functions or structures intrinsic to human behavior which all people must respect. The body is endlessly open to ethical interpretation. E.g. the testes are not intrinsically reproductive organs.

PREMISE 3: Yet we must all respect the intrinsic psychic drives of ourselves and everyone else.

The problem is that, if the psychic drives just are somatic drives, then there is no basis for saying they reflect proper human behavior which must be universally respected (from premises 1 and 2). Why *must* society protect homosexual psychic desires but not heterosexual somatic operations?

Ilíon said...

One shouldn't seek, or expect, logical consistency in secularist dogmas.

abiologistforlife said...

I used to believe more or less Codgitator's premises 1 and 2. That is, I knew it would be bad (emotionally, etc) for *me* to be promiscuous or whatever, but I thought

@Isaac: the kin-selection explanation for homosexuality is *really* shaky... especially in humans. If we were some species that had thousands of offspring of which normally only a few survived (so better care could increase a relative's reproductive output manyfold), it might work. But humans are so strongly K-selected (few offspring/long childhood/lots of parental investment per offspring) that it's just not feasible.

(A sibling has about 50% of your genes, so for 'helping your siblings raise kids' to be a competitive strategy, you'd have to be able to enable your siblings to *increase* the number of children they successfully raised by *twice* as many kids as you could successfully raise if you were having kids. Which is simply not feasible in humans.)

If homosexuality is primarily biological* it's, in evolutionary terms anyway, a disorder (maladaptive).

*It may not be. Probably the majority of the ancient Roman upper class (at any rate, a far greater proportion than in the modern West) was bisexual; there simply has not been enough time for a biological change on that scale. I think social environment in childhood and puberty has a far bigger role to play than is admitted by most people.

abiologistforlife said...

oops, missing end of sentence "but I thought there was nothing inherently wrong with it for people whose emotional makeup was capable of it. At that point, I wasn't really aware of human nature as a real thing."

Isaac said...

Abiologistforlife you are more or less right to find my argument shaky. I was more trying to make a point that homosexuality in the broad sense is not a life choice, is found in other non-human animals and it doesn't always have to be about producing fertile offspring directly. But since I made the argument I tried to find some evidence to back it up. Although not without some problems as the author states, it is at least not a unique hypothesis stated the following:

The theory of kin selection has been cited by many. Kin selection theory explains why some animals will display "altruism," such as squirrels which give warning cries of predators to help their relatives even while endangering themselves or unmated birds which help rear their younger siblings. Close relatives such as nieces and nephews also carry on an individual's gene line. This theory has been applied to homosexuality and it has been argued that homosexuals can help tend and see to the survival of their close relatives such while not having to undergo the disadvantages of parenthood themselves, thus increasing their close relatives' survivalship and offsetting their own non-parentage (Ruse, 1981; Denniston, 1980; Kirsch & Rodman, 1982). One problem with this theory, however, is most animals which engage in homosexuality do quite well meeting their quota of heterosexual sex, and may even enjoy greater than average dissemination of their genes for some of the reasons discussed above.

I more or less agree with the mentioned authors opinions on the reasons for homosexuality being complex and likely having multiple factors, genetic, reaction to stress, result of hyper-sexuality,surrogate sexual satisfaction, etc.

Because homosexual behavior can be observed in non-human animals, and because it has existed in humanity always(?) I'd disagree that in evolutionary terms it would be exclusively maladaptive.

I don't know if if is too late to leave the science part and go back to what Codgitator said, but I'd like to know how he defines "immoral sexual behavior." While maybe not the most thought-out position I have trouble making sex a moral issue. If I had to define "moral sex" as an interaction with others I'd say "non-destructive sexual behavior between consenting adults". Codgitator, how much more specific would your definition be?