Though the topic has been in the news, Martha Nussbaum’s book on it does not date from yesterday. The title: From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law (Inalienable Rights)
Yet, it is always valuable to examine the ideas of one of America’s leading intellectuals.
Nussbaum is an important professor and liberal thinker.If we want to know what the American left is thinking when it does its best thinking, she is the place to go. And when you want to know how the left works to manipulate public opinion, it is good to have access to its strategy sessions.
Martha Nussbaum believes that Americans who oppose same-sex marriage need therapy. They disagree with her because they have the wrong feelings. They feel disgust toward homosexual behavior, and this bespeaks a lack of empathy and imagination.
In truth, many people do feel some measure of disgust, or disinterest, in male homosexuality, but they do not have the same feelings toward lesbianism. This would lead one to believe that people have different feelings about different kinds of homosexual behavior and orientation.
Nussbaum explains this by saying that two men are more threatening because they both have an organ that might violate the body. Double the trouble... so to speak.
I would imagine that Nussbaum intends her emotion-centered views to represent womanly thinking as an antidote to fact-based masculine thought.
But then, why does the universal human practice of opposite sex marriage necessarily entail that people are disgusted by homosexuals. Or that people who think this way have no feelings for homosexuals as human beings.
Before entering Nussbaum’s confused and confusing emotional maelstrom, I would emphasize that her premise is absurd and wrong.
If you have no experience with this type of argument, which originated with Socrates, the important point is that if you accept the faulty premise your interlocutor will ultimately seduce you into accepting her point of view.
Thus, when faced with such a self-evident premise, the right response is to reject it. Let’s ignore the idea that same-sex couples have not been allowed to marry because of unresolved disgust issues.
Of course, no human society has ever institutionalized same-sex marriage, for a very obvious reason.
All human societies require new members and same-sex couples cannot, never could, and will never be able to reproduce.
Since human institutions must make sense to the humans who function within them, it has made sense to limit mating rituals to people who might actually mate.
Such are the facts. And, given that all people have equal access to facts, they are a better guide than private emotions.
As it happens, cultures that are small and threatened with extinction tend to be far less tolerant of non-procreative sex because they need a maximum effort to create new members.
Other cultures believe that their survival or their dominance requires their members to produce large numbers of offspring. Such cultures also tend to disparage non-procreative sexual activity.
If we were to do a more complete calculus we would also want to consider the influence of infant mortality rates. The higher the infant mortality rate the more likely the culture would want to encourage generative sexuality.
If this is true, then a culture that had too many people might well be more tolerant of non-procreative sexual acts. That is, unless it can tyrannize the populace into a one-child policy.
We can explain why societies have always created rules to regulate human sexual behavior without referring to right or wrong feelings… assuming that, by some miracle, we know to a high degree of certainty exactly what people are really feeling.
Nussbaum wants to replace this putative disgust with empathy for the common humanity of people who are different from us.
(I will mention that in the not so distant past homosexuals reveled in the fact that they were different.)
We all believe that we understand what a common humanity is, but it is still a mushy concept because it ignores, purposefully, the fact that people belong to groups. And that their membership in groups makes them into moral beings. You need to fulfill certain moral duties to maintain your group membership.
People belong to the species, because of the composition of their DNA. By definition, no human being can be expelled from the human species.
Unless, of course, you do not have the right feelings about same-sex marriage. Nussbaum is not simply trying to persuade you; she wants to use the power of the government to punish you for having the wrong feelings.
If you disagree with her position, you are fomenting hate, and should be prosecuted.
Considering that same-sex marriage has never existed as a human institution, if Nussbaum’s thought were put into practice, it would be a boon for the therapy industry.
As of now, Nussbaum notes the improving poll numbers in favor of same-sex marriage and gays in the military and announces that her form of therapy is working.
You can call this therapy or persuasion, as you like, but the fact remains that Nussbaum’s thinking has come to dominate the public debate, to the point where those who oppose same-sex marriage tend to be denounced as bigots. They are even accused of engaging in hate speech.
You cannot have a free and open debate if you decide that one side of the question, the one that supports the one and only institutional practice that all human societies have used, should be ostracized.
Surely, attitudes have changed, at least as far as the polls are concerned. But it is equally likely that people just want to stop the conversation. Like it or not, most people do not think that the most pressing issue facing the nation today is same-sex marriage, and they simply do not want to continue discussing it.
If it makes Martha Nussbaum feel better to think that this means that therapy has succeeded, well and good. We all need our illusions, even famed professors.