Monday, April 8, 2013

Lifestyles as Means and Ends

During a recent discussion about "nature vs. nurture" as it pertains to homosexuality, I heard a prominent radio host say something that seemed fairly odd to me. He said something like the following:

"I totally think that people can be born that way, but I think that there are some people who are doing it just because they enjoy that lifestyle."

I might be off in how I interpreted it, but, in context, it sounded like he was saying that there are a sizable number of people who not only are not genetically predisposed to have such a sexual orientation, but in fact don't have that orientation at all. Rather, they think it's just a cool thing to be and so play the part.

I'm not sure if this was a misguided formulation of "nature vs. nurture" on his part, or if he was aware that this particular view was somewhat heterodox. The nurture argument, as far as I understand it, states that such preferences can be the result of our environment rather than our biology. What it doesn't say, to my knowledge, is that such things aren't actual preferences at all. Can "being gay" be a means to "living the gay lifestyle"? Does this make sense?

Upon some reflection, I think I have to conclude that it's not particularly coherent; at least not in the statement's strongest form. Let's look at a hypothetical claim that might reflect such a state of affairs:

"I love being a pitcher. I don't like throwing baseballs."

Is this a coherent series of statements? I would say that they're not, or at least they are not as currently stated. The reason it doesn't make sense is that it seems like throwing a baseball is a constitutive part of being a pitcher. We can't really make sense of what it even means to be a pitcher without throwing a baseball, or to like being a pitcher, but not like throwing baseballs.

I find the argument for liking the gay lifestyle but not actually being gay to be a similar outline of thoughts. It seems to me that actually being gay is a constitutive part of the gay lifestyle. What would it mean for someone to enjoy "being gay" but not having such actual sexual preferences?

Well, there are certainly other parts of the gay lifestyle which might not include the orientation itself. Likewise, there are parts of being a pitcher that don't revolve around throwing a baseball (wearing a uniform, making lots of money, etc.). But then it seems like you simply have an affinity for some smaller individual component of the overall act/preference. And that is quite different from saying that you enjoy the product of those smaller constituents.

Think, for instance, of your favorite song. That song is composed of individual notes. Could we make sense of you saying that you liked the song, but didn't like some of its constitutuent notes? No - because the song JUST IS those notes. If we claim that we like a particular song...but without a particular set of its constituent notes...then it seems what we like is actually a different song altogether.

All that being said, it's hard to say exactly what statements like the aforementioned one could mean. I've heard similar claims in other contexts where the aim seemed to be something like:

"Well...a lot of people aren't really like that at all. They just do it because they want to be cool."

You see this type of sentiment a lot when there are two groups of people with some amount of traffic between them. For instance, some Caucasians get uncomfortable about the "urban lifestyle" of a subset of other Caucasians - claiming they aren't really urban, they are just acting it out.

You could turn such statements into something somewhat intelligible if you twist them into something that confines itself to describing action (and not preference). For instance, to go back to my earlier analogy, you could say that someone has a preference for living the life of a pitcher but fails to execute pitching very well. Or you could like a particular song, try to play it, and not be able to play it. And I suppose we could even jeer at you a bit for it in the right context. What we would have a much harder time doing is applying a similar critique to your preferences themselves.

I will lay out the important caveat that we could desire the larger thing if that thing itself was a constitutive part to an even larger thing - if it was a means to a larger end. But then it wouldn't really make sense to say that we have an individual preference for the constitutive component in its own right. For instance, I want to work because I have a preference for income. But that doesn't mean that I enjoy working. Working has become an instrumental means to something else at that point.

I feel comfortable enough to leave our commentator this kind of exit. But I'm not sure how it might apply to his comments. If living a gay lifestyle is an instrumental means, what is it then a means to? When you've moved into the realm of talking about living a whole lifestyle as a means to something, you've moved pretty high up on the praxeological totem pole. Unless a there is a post-life religious argument being made on its behalf, it doesn't seem to leave us much explanatory room. In any case, it seemed like an unjustified and somewhat perplexing statement to make - one that belies the acceptableness of such preferences to begin with.

No comments:

Post a Comment