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):
- Homosexual acts spread HIV, furthering AIDS and endangering society.
- Acts the endanger society are immoral.
- Homophobia is the stance that it is immoral to engage in homosexual acts.
- It is moral to hold an immoral thing to be immoral.
- 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.