Mirror of Justice

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Disgust

I understand why Robert George and Michael Scaperlanda were upset by Michael Perry’s Christmas Eve post. But once Michael P gave an explanation as to his meaning, it is not clear to me why one of Michael’s central points was not addressed. In response to Robert, Michael P said: “My point was and is that the “Yuk”—my shorthand for an emotional disposition of disgust—is what animates, in many, the search for and construction of a rational vindication of the disposition.  The “Yuk”—the disgust—is not the argument but an important factor animating the search for and construction of the argument.  Now, I know that this is not true for everyone who is in the grip of the conviction that homosexual sexual conduct is necessarily immoral, but it is certainly true for many.  See Martha Nussbaum, Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law:  From Disgust to Humanity (Oxford Univ. Press, 2010); Martha Nussbaum, Hiding from Humanity:  Disgust, Shame, and the Law (Princeton Univ. Press, 2006). “

In looking through the posts I see regrettable personal attacks on Michael P’s capacity for toleration and integrity, on Cathy Kaveny’s comparative analytical rigor, logical precision, and depth of insight, and a dismissal of Martha Nussbaum as if her arguments are not to be taken seriously. But I do not see a substantive response to Michael’s point.

Clearly the traditional Catholic position opposes homosexual conduct with the same brush that opposes unmarried heterosexual sex. Disgust does not seem relevant here. Nonetheless, many (Catholics or not) seem particularly agitated by homosexual conduct. Why? The disgust explanation is somewhat complicated. My recollection of the evidence is that men generally are attracted to lesbian pornography and repulsed by same sex male pornography. I have not read Nussbaum's work on this. I do not know if she addresses this. The suggestion that disgust plays no role in the conservative attitudes of many toward same sex relations is difficult to credit in my view. But lesbian sex seems to me to complicate the picture. And, by the way, I do not know what the evidence is with respect to women and pornography in terms of gay and lesbian sex (though there is probably evidence on this in the Meese Report).

Understand, I think most heterosexual liberals who favor gay marriage are nonetheless disgusted by some forms of homosexual conduct. The existence of disgust does not show that one’s position on homosexuality is defective whether it be liberal or conservative – unless disgust is the exclusive basis for opposition. I have no clue how many persons fall into that category. I suspect that disgust plays a strong motivational role with respect to many who are particularly agitated by the issue.

 

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