Saturday, January 07, 2006

Toying With Theoretical Models - Part I: Motivations

This is part I of a series of essays:

Part I Motivations

Part II Obvious Problems

Part III What Evidence Must Be Addressed

Part IV Towards A Layered View

Part V Beauty and the Beast

Part VI The Critical Thoughts


With a Conservative government a distinct possibility in Canada {as much as I dislike the prospect}, we can fully expect to see the resurrection of various "social conservative" hobby horse issues in the near future.

Of course, the social conservatives have an amazing focus on human sexuality - in fact it almost borders on near obsession much of the time.

In particular, the Religious Conservative community seems to take some rather hard-line, absolute views. In essence, they assert that sexuality is a matter of choice, and therefore subject to proscription along moral lines. Further, the more extreme interpretations go as far as using that same basic line of reasoning to assert that the "gay rights" movement does not bear a legitimacy that is similar to the racially focused civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960s.

I think it's quite fair to say that we really don't know the roots of human sexual behaviour - and in fact, I don't think that there's a whole lot of chance that we will come to any kind of "clarity" on the subject for decades to come - if ever. While religious conservatives will point repeatedly at so-called "ex-gays" as proof that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. On the other side of the coin, gays will stand on their own individual experiences as evidence that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice. Similar lines of argument also apply to the transgender discussion - which the social conservatives often confuse with sexuality issues.

Unfortunately, conservative and progressive people tend to be speaking to the same topic from radically different perspectives, with distinctly different assumptions, worse, they are sharing a common vocabulary but not the meanings.

Consider the argument of the conservative that claims that sexual orientation is a choice. Often, if you dig long enough, you will discover that they are in fact talking about sex acts. Meanwhile, those on the other side of the debate are often talking about sexual attraction. Both are using the word 'sexual orientation', but with rather different intended meanings.

Second, even where there is objective data available, the conclusions drawn from that data often differ radically. The people at NARTH believe that sexual orientation is mutable through "reparative therapy" techniques; however, the American Psychological Association states quite clearly that sexual orientation is not readily changeable. In the debate, conservatives will often argue that even a single example of "change" is adequate to reinforce their point, meanwhile more skeptical views of the data point out that when we are talking about human behaviour, it is difficult to make much out of a single case in a population.

Needless to say, the conversation can go in circles indefinitely as long as all parties are working from different assumptions and interpretations of the same raw information. I fully expect that if Stephen Harper's Conservatives win the next election, there will be a resurrection of the same debate that tore through this nation in the Spring of 2005. It is my intention in what may become a small "series" of essays to lay out some common grounds upon which an intelligible dialogue may be based.

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