RE: In Defense of Homophobia

Jonathan Katz is amongst the individuals selected by the Obama administration to deal with the present oil leak. I was surprised to see that he had written a paper entitled `In Defense of Homophobia‘ (warning: link as offensive as it sounds). I decided to have a look.

It was immediately apparent that the title was not hyperbole but rather that the essay was a genuine defence of homophobia. More surprisingly, for such a scientist promoted to such an important role, Mr. Katz’s argument is full of logical fallacies.

Filled with such lovely nuggets as:

If you are religious, you probably agree with the homophobic position… If you are a rationalist, you ask for logical explanation, beyond the word of the Bible, and beyond the revulsion which most people feel. Why have most cultures adopted this attitude? The rationalist does not accept any book as the word of God, but regards it as the embodiment of traditional wisdom. He cannot reject it out of hand; he must ask why traditional wisdom came to this conclusion.

his argument to rationalise his discriminatory views seems to summarise to the following (though many of the points are not explicitly stated, they are necessary for the argument to be logically valid):

  1. Homosexual acts spread HIV, furthering AIDS and endangering society.
  2. Acts the endanger society are immoral.
  3. Homophobia is the stance that it is immoral to engage in homosexual acts.
  4. It is moral to hold an immoral thing to be immoral.
  5. Therefore: It is moral to be a homophobe.

It is the premises (1) and (3) that I take issue with.

There are a plurality of problems associated with (1). Let’s look at what he is putting forward in more detail:

the modern AIDS epidemic began suddenly about 1980. Its first victims were promiscuous homosexual males; it was initially called “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency”…. acceptance led to the toleration, and wide practice, of gross homosexual promiscuity. HIV, falling onto that fertile soil, made the AIDS epidemic…

The human body was not designed to share hypodermic needles, it was not designed to be promiscuous, and it was not designed to engage in homosexual acts. Engaging in such behavior is like riding a motorcycle on an icy road without a helmet….

Unfortunately, the victims are not only those whose reckless behavior brought death on themselves. There are many completely innocent victims, too: hemophiliacs (a substantial fraction died as a result of contaminated clotting factor), recipients of contaminated transfusions, and their spouses and children, for AIDS can be transmitted heterosexually (in America, only infrequently) and congenitally.

HIV has certainly been transmitted by sex. But as Katz himself acknowledges, albeit in a way that attempts to trivialise it, it can also be transmitted by heterosexual sex. (I couldn’t find any studies providing actual stats, presumably because of the intrinsic ethical issues, but it seems to be accepted that homosexual sex transmits HIV somewhat (but not hugely) more readily that heterosexual sex.) Additionally, not all homosexuals promiscuous and danger-loving: many are in monogamous relationships, many practice safe sex… Once we consider this, we realise that the set of people who endanger others by spreading HIV and the set of homosexuals are, while not disjoint, relatively unrelated — at best there may be some degree of correlation. The fact that Katz, a trained scientist, tried to present them as identical is alarming at the very least. In an update, Katz gives a disturbing response to this:

Post-Script October 9, 2005: In recent weeks this essay has been the subject of controversy at, and even beyond, Washington University (see, for example, recent issues of Student Life). A number of critics have asked if monogamous homosexuals are also culpable. Quite apart from the question of the definition of monogamous (sexual contact with only one person in a lifetime? serial monogamy? some cheating? etc.), I suggest the following analogy: A man joins the Ku Klux Klan. He is not violent, and would never hurt a fly; he just wants a safe place to express his racist feelings. Is he culpable for the Klan’s past acts of violence? I believe that even though he is not criminally responsible for acts that occurred before he joined, he is morally culpable for joining the Klan. The Klan has blood on its hands, and anyone who joins must share the guilt. So, too, with the homosexual movement.

This is simply a false analogy. Firstly, the ethical issues with being a member of the Ku Klux Klan are not merely supporting the actions of other members: discrimination against blacks, for instance. Secondly, as demonstrated earlier, there’s no real connection between being gay and acting as a vector for aids; homosexuality just provides a means, as does heterosexuality. It would be like if I argued that all knife owners are immoral because knifes can be used to kill and even if the owner never would, by owning knives they support the individuals who use them to kill. Do you see the fallacy?

As regards the premise (3), that homophobia is the stance that homosexuality is immoral… well, we must have different dictionaries — and even etymologies, given the presence of phobia. Personally, it calls to mind a relation of mine who told me that `Gay people don’t have rights because they’re fags,’ and thought there was no difference between them and `child-diddlers.’ (He also maintains that global warming is a government conspiracy to give power to the UN…) Frankly, this seems like another case of people defining things in a way that is convenient for them, while not actually meaning it (eg. define God as initial cause but jump to something more convenient).

In any case, I felt compelled to respond because of the source and the offensiveness. Several of the nicest people I know are LGBT and they deserve to be treated a lot better than having this sort of garbage written about them. Furthermore, I find it very difficult to believe that this argument could be presented in anything other than a disingenuous way, given the education of the author, which is concerning in its own merit as a scientist should really be above make deceptive arguments, especially in an essay when he has time to craft his argument. (I can’t claim to be perfect in this regard, but I try not to do this and hope that I am getting better as I get older…)

Despite the idiocy of this argument, I don’t really think that the last couple of hours, spent picking it apart, are wasted: pin pointing flaws in arguments is a good exercise, though describing them is a tad tedious….

Update: Katz has been removed from the clean up team.

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10 Responses to “RE: In Defense of Homophobia”

  1. dude Says:

    i found this to be a slight shocker as well. i tried to read it with an open mind but couldn’t see past his tortured logic. i honestly don’t have a problem with anyone who chooses to make moral judgments about other people, their lifestyles, etc. (given they aren’t violent) … its not exactly the best use of time but its a natural part of being human. anyway, my gripe is that given his education, he just really wasn’t close to a legitimate point of view.

    he tried to mask his personal bigotry with a sinister and overarching threat to humanity. its funny that someone this smart can draw the conclusion that unhealthy sexual practices are prominent in an unfamiliar LGBT subculture and that these people alone pose a grave threat to the gene pool at large. Yet he does not see or he chooses not to see the parallel given the abundant sexual misconduct in the heterosexual majority. Does it not make perfect sense that the latter lends itself at least statistically (given the numbers that majority implies) to a broader range of sexually associated health risks?

    I can see the logic in taking issue with the risks associated with sexual gratuity but scapegoating one faction of those who are sexually active undermines the argument. my guess is he is either repressed sexually, closet religious scientist, or has lost someone close to AIDS, or perhaps knew someone infected by a transfusion.

    either way he has been selected to go real deep, plug a very dirty hole and stop the spewing. how ironic. god knows he wont need any lubricant.

    • christopherolah Says:

      > my guess is he is either repressed sexually, closet religious scientist, or has lost someone close to AIDS, or perhaps knew someone infected by a transfusion.

      I’d be pretty confident about the second, although the possibilities are not mutually exclusive. The Bible is mentioned several times in sections framing the argument (argument matrix?), along with references to God. And some of the language used lifts quite heavily from the Bible. Some examples:

      > If you are religious, you probably agree with the homophobic position

      > The rationalist does not accept any book as the word of God, but regards it as the embodiment of traditional wisdom.

      > The religious believer may see the hand of God

      > These people died so the sodomites could feel good about themselves.

      > Almost everyone, at one time or another, covets another’s property. They do not steal. Many people feel great anger or intense hatred at some time in their lives. They do not kill.

      et cetera…

  2. Bukko Canukko Says:

    I got tipped to this homophobic essay by one of the left-wing U.S. talk radio shows I listen to via the computer here in Canada. Sad that Obama appoints such a revolting person to an important position. Hopey’s no liberal. That’s part of the reason my wife and I are never repatriating to the United States.

    • christopherolah Says:

      While it’s unfortunate that the author was selected, I think it’s important to keep in mind that his unpleasant opinions aren’t the reason he shouldn’t have been appointed: given the gravity of the circumstances, those best qualified to deal with matters should be selected, no matter how unpleasant we may find them.

      Rather, it is the thought process exemplified in this essay that impacts his credibility. To me, it is clear that this is an example of rationalisation (see http://lesswrong.com/lw/ju/rationalization/ ) which is something a scientist should be above. What if he has an inclination towards some solution to this mess and then rationalises that? The fact that he wrote an essay filled with logical fallacies so obvious that a high school student can pick out on a first reading doesn’t support him either. That’s the problem, to me.

  3. yes Says:

    “1. Homosexual acts spread AIDS, endangering society”

    not just AIDS, but drug resistant gonorrhea and syphilis as well

    http://www.thebostonpilot.com/article.asp?ID=11775

    • christopherolah Says:

      Horrible… But the argument still fails. As long any of the following are true, his argument is flawed:
      (a) The disease can be transmitted heterosexually,
      (b) Safe sexual practices can prevent its transmission, or
      (c) homophobia is, in practice, a euphemism for mishomonism.
      Update: With respect to the article you linked to… Firstly, it obviously has a bias (at the end it talks about how `we as Christians’ should act) which makes it rather questionable. It focuses on the claim:
      > According to the CDC, MSM are 44 to 86 times more likely than exclusively heterosexual men to become HIV positive and 46 to 89 times more likely to become infected with syphilis
      Which is certainly alarming. But correlation does not imply causation. The fact of the matter is that while there may be a correlation between `MSM’ ( their acronym for homosexual males) and these conditions, it isn’t necessarily _due_ to homosexuality. Additionally homosexuals can be homosexuals without engaging in unsafe sex… And that’s before we consider the bias of the source of these statistics.

  4. Telpeurion Says:

    I see it as a non issue, he stated his reasons, he is not calling for banning the practice, nor I think the marriage idea. He is afraid of viruses and bacteria, and is afraid of sticking it in the buttocks. He can have his views, and they certainly do not endanger anyone. Is it a crime to disassociate from others, even if your reasons are not exactly sound?

    • christopherolah Says:

      I’m not sure where the idea that I’d consider it a crime comes from. Katz has a right to freedom of speech. So do I. Mine happen to disagree with his.

  5. Hunter Says:

    It’s worth noting, by his (ridiculous) logic, heterosexuals are way worse people than lesbians, because our sex is about as much more likely to transmit HIV than theirs as male homosexual intercourse is than ours… Yay absurdity!

  6. Mitchell Young Says:

    I came across this post in searching for the Katz essay.

    Let me first congratulate you on actually taking the time and effort to seek to refute the essay’s points with logic and evidence. All too often homosexuals and their supporters simply engage in name calling (‘bigot’, ‘homophobe’ and the like). There is some of that here, but mostly its a reasonable essay. Good work.

    I won’t refute all of your points — some of them are solid. However, Katz is on firm ground on the HIV/AIDS point. Nearly 30 years after the epidemic was first identified, male homosexual contact alone still accounts for nearly 50 percent of new HIV cases, and another 5-10 percent of such cases are from ‘male homosexual contact with drug use’. That is, 2% (at best) of the population is accounting for over 50 percent of the HIV cases. (I would also add that the ‘high risk’ heterosexual behavior that accounts for about 30% of new HIV cases is in large part, no doubt, activity such as prostitution that is socially stigmatized, illegal, or both)

    Fact is, anal sex is a ‘better’ vector for a lot of diseases, and while certainly not unknown among man-woman couples is certainly less common than among male homosexuals. Ignore that fact at your peril.

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