Sunday, June 28, 2009

America and homosexuals

The Guardian (in the UK) published an editorial by a homosexual activist decrying the terrible situation for homosexuals in the US. Here's my response:

Is America heaven or hell for homosexuals? For this editorial writer the glass appears to be more than half empty. The commentors are all over the map.

Perhaps I can shed some light on this issue. I'm a native-born Californian who's lived in homosexuals' Mecca--the San Francisco Bay Area--for 40 years. I've also traveled widely, from Indonesia to the Netherlands and many parts of America.

To start working on an answer you have to realize the sheer scale of the nation we're talking about. The United States has 97% of the land mass of Continental Europe, and about the same population as Germany, the UK, France, Italy, Poland and Estonia combined.

The American South alone has a larger population than any but the biggest four EU countries.

This makes generalizations about America about as shaky as generalizations about the entire EU.

But you can be sure of some things.

1. It's possible to be murdered for being homosexual if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, hanging out with the wrong people. This is especially true in areas with low education, low income, limited contact with people who are "different" in any way--especially in the deep South.

2. It's possible to live your entire live as a homosexual openly, without fear of discrimination or reprisal, in nearly every way, in nearly every college town and major metropolitan area in the country, outside the deep South (which I regard as a foreign country myself).

3. So a homosexual who's residentially mobile--and America certainly supports residential mobility--can live or move somewhere where it would be hard to find a more accepting environment on Earth. And these areas aren't tiny enclaves. Anywhere from Miami to Boston to Seattle to San Diego will work.

4. Acceptance of homosexuals has, overall, become the defacto norm in urban areas--less so in Black and Hispanic communities, which tend to be more culturally conservative. Hence the interesting phenomenon of American Anglican churches that reject having homosexual priests joining African Anglican organizations.

5. California--in many ways a leading indicator of social trends--has had several referenda on homosexual rights. The latest one, prohibiting homosexual marriage, passed by 53%. The preceding one, a decade or so earlier, passed by over 2/3 as I recall. This is in line with my own observations. It seems reasonable to conclude that another referendum in, say, five or ten years, will tip in favor of homosexuals. And even the current one explicitly upheld homosexual domestic partner rights, while denying them the marriage right per se.

6. Homosexual rights activists have in some ways been their own worst enemies. During the recent campaign in Calfornia there were widespread incidents of homosexual activists denying the right of free political expression to those who opposed homosexual marriage. Many thousands of lawn signs were stolen, cars with pro-Prop 8 bumper stickers vandalized, and Prop 8 proponents harassed and intimidated in significant numbers.

Today we're having a Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco. Most likely, as in past years, participants will succeed in replicating every conservative's worst nightmare of Sodom and Gomorroh, engaging in PDAs (Public Displays of Affection) that are considered unacceptable among heterosexuals in public by society at large, up to and including oral copulation. These parades provide fodder for conservative campaigns and figured prominently in Prop 8 marketing. I was listening to a liberal radio station talk show this morning that had a number of homosexuals calling in to state how much they thought these parades harmed their cause. They are truly the gifts that keep on giving for conservative anti-homosexual activists, along with the documented vandalism and harassment I cited.

So is the glass half full or half empty? Let me put it this way: if I were homosexual, living somewhere on the planet, I'd certainly consider moving to America. Probably not to a small town in Mississippi! But compared to most other nations (remember Ahmadinejad saying "We have no homosexuals" ?) this is a great place to be homosexual.

Homosexuals have yet to be formally accepted in the military. Some states deny them all domestic partner rights, while others confer all rights to them, while most are somewhere in between. If a homosexual couple moved into my neighborhood their homosexuality would be irrelevant to their neighbors--the concerns would be more like do their keep their lawn moved and not have parties that keep up neighbors who have to go to work the next day. In other words, exactly the same concerns people would have with heterosexual neighbors. And if they had children, their kids would be free to play with other families' children and vice versa. When they applied for a job the concerns would be can they do the job. Period. And I speak from personal experience.

I hope this gives folks in the UK a balanced perspective on this issue.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Right doesn't like sociobiology (& neither does the Left)

Yesterday New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks wrote a column debunking evolutionary psychology. You can find it at:

Here's my debunking of his debunking:

Wow. This was a breathtakingly shallow editorial. Brooks argues persuasively against an evolutionary psychology that no evolutionary psychologist proposes. In other words, he's committing the "straw man argument" fallacy, where you oversimplify and distort someone's position, then knock down the oversimplified distortion.

Oh, and it's actually sociobiology. That was the original name for this field, and it still fits it best. Sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists persist in trying to be the last dog to whizz on every intellectual fire hydrant, perpetually rebranding areas of interest that cross over those disciplines' traditional boundaries.

Sociobiology just says that to understand modern behavior, it helps to understand where it came from. Nobody says that we act just like Kenyan hunter-gatherers did 50K years ago. Moreover--and here's one reason why I prefer calling it sociobiology--we are designed from the get-go to function in groups--some sociobiologists might go so far as to call an individual human being the instantiation of his/her gene pool.

Thus altruism is perfectly understandable when you look on us as a pack animal whose children are utterly dependent on us far longer than any other animal.

As for our vaunted malleability--well sure...up to a point. Those who are most controlled by their primitive heuristics are those who deny their influence the most.

Thus I know I'm hardwired to lust after salt/fat/sugar/meat--all vital to have in small amounts in our ancestors' world. That knowledge helps me fight the urge to overindulge in all of those things--yet I'm still packing 25 lbs. of lard I shouldn't be carrying--and the odds are that half or more of those reading this know what I do and still carry spare tires too.

Brooks really needs to read two books before he says any more about this field: The Moral Animal, which speculates about human morality evolved, and how the ingrained instincts involved are mediated in today's environment; and Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule our Minds, by a cognitive psychologist at MIT, which shows how primitive heuristics built into our brains helped us survive back then but distort our understanding of reality now.

One example: every time you see a three-pronged electrical outlet a face-seeking heuristic in your brain lights up and demands to know if that's actually a face. It was a vital survival trait for our ancestors to see faces quickly and in shadows--and far safer to see more than really are there than to miss one. I know this, and yet every time I see a 3-prong outlet I still feel that heuristic lighting up.

So yes, we can and do adapt. It's in our nature to be adaptable. But if you know anything about object-oriented programming (okay, I live in Silicon Valley--so sue me), you can think of our mind as having these nuggets of primitive instincts with modern adaptations wrapped around them. The wrappers can't change the nuggest, but they do let us function. However, in many circumstances--especially if we're unconscious of them--they subtly reassert themselves.

Liberals loathed sociobiology when it came out, because they need philosophically to see Man as infinitely malleable--a blank slate free for any sort of social experimentation, with no innate racial or gender mental differences whatsoever.

Conservatives also hated it because they need to believe that we are moral free agents, each of us totally responsible for everything we say or do from the instant of our 18th birthday onward.

Both sides forget Santayana's definition of freedom: arranging your chains as comfortably as possible...

Monday, June 15, 2009

"You're a RACIST!"

Race-baiting is rarely productive--even when it is true. Because it always ends the discussion.

Liberals will absolutely never persuade conservatives of anything once they've called them a racist. All that's accomplished is making the other side furious--and making yourself look like a smug, self-righteous jerk in the eyes of those you seek to persuade.

Whereas if you challenge their assumptions or bring up relevant facts you actually might persuade that person.

Your choice--insult or persuade. Depends on maturity, I guess.

It should go without saying that when Conservatives calls Liberals "Socialist!" the same is true, conversely. Actually they've just about succeeded in making the term "Liberal" a curse word, such that many liberals call themselves "progressive"--a tribute to the success of the right-wing propaganda machine.

So I'm making a nonpartisan point.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cuba--a new idea, for once

If we can have full commercial relations with corrupt, politically repressive countries like Saudi Arabia and Communist China, not only should we have the same with Cuba--it makes us look hypocritical and vengeful not to.

Pretty much all the complaints of the Anti-Castro crowd are true. So? If you think we should only deal with virtuous regimes, that would cut out many if not most of our current trading partners. Don't bother to argue against normal relations with Cuba unless you have a game plan that also includes cutting off China and Saudi Arabia, among others.

As for the OAS--every tinhorn quasidictator needs a big scary enemy to divert their people's attention from his own shady dealings and subversion of democracy. Chavez and other self-styled populists need America to oppose them, just as Bin Ladin does.

A good enemy is the first priority of rapacious pols. And we're the best--the biggest, the baddest, and with enough historical dirty dealings to let them build a plausible narrative in which we're the villain.

So we have to tread a careful path of neither kowtowing to these clowns--nor letting reflexive opposition to them dictate our foreign policy.

Lastly, as for Guantanamo--Cuba wants it back in the worst way. But I don't want to give it back to them. Close the prison and the naval base there--and turn it into the finest resort in the Caribbean, while normalizing relations with Cuba and offering a raft of well-paid jobs to Cuban "guest workers." Now wouldn't that grind the Castro brothers' grits? Guantanamo is a fine port and a short flight from the USA. It could be immensely profitable for us, and do more to subvert Cuba's dictatorship than all the ranting revanchists in Miami.

And we could up the current insulting $4K/yr. rent we pay Cuba for Guantanmo (I've heard they don't cash the checks), and instead give them, say, a 5% cut of profits generated by the resort. And make sure the Cuban people know about it.