Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The 747-8 of morality

No one can argue that the 747 is one of the greatest airplanes ever made. It was the biggest and heaviest and longest-range airplane in the world when it was first introduced over 40 years ago (and even today is just a hair smaller than the other giants). It was the first twin-aisle passenger transport. It is currently the fastest airliner in operation. (The Concorde and the Convair 880/990 have been retired; Passengers thought that the cost of extra fuel for going fast just wasn't worth it). Over half the world’s air freight is transported by 747 cargo planes. The factory built to assemble the 747 is the biggest building in the world by volume. Most importantly for you and me, the efficiencies introduced by the 747 (primarily the very-large-bypass turbofan engine, and also the wider cabin) made international air travel affordable to the masses; No longer would “the jet set” refer only to the very rich. Its impact in the world cannot be overstated.


(You may by now be thinking that I took an entry meant for one of my aviation blogs/podcasts/publications, and mistakenly posted it here. That’s not the case. Bear with me).


If there’s one product that could be manufactured without changes or improvements, you’d think that the 747 could be it. I mean, it’s a fantastic machine! Why change it? Who in their right mind would take the risk, the cost, the time, and the inconvenience to change (and re-test, and re-certify) such a phenomenal design?


Well, Boeing is doing it. It turns out that we’ve learned a heck of a lot about airplane design in the past 40 years. New materials are lighter, stronger, less prone to corrosion or fatigue, and more durable. New turbofan engines have longer, curvier, more optimized blades, allowing for yet another drastic drop in fuel consumption, leading to even cheaper tickets and an even longer flight range. Aerodynamicists have figured out how to distribute lift over a wing in a way that allows it to create less drag, to give the pilot more control at a wider range of speeds, and to be bendy and flexible enough to absorb most turbulence. And all kinds of little things, from air conditioning pumps to hydraulic pistons, can be built much better today than in 1969. Boeing invested a lot of time and money to develop these technologies as much as currently possible for the 777 and 787, and then asked itself: If we were designing the 747 today, how would it be different from the 747 of 1969? Can we implement these new technologies, epitomized in the 787, into the 747? The result is the “747 dash 8”, a vast re-design of the classic jumbo jet, bringing it into the 21st century. It is currently in the middle of a several-month-long series of FAA-certification tests: 70% of the airplane has been modified from the previous version, including all-new engines and an all-new control system which are pretty much right out of the 787.


It’s always risky to apply new technologies to aviation. You think that you know how to design a fuselage to withstand the fatigue from repeated pressurization-depressurization cycles… and then you find out that you’re wrong, and people die. You think that you understand the forces of trans-sonic flight… and then you find out that you’re wrong, and people die. You think that as long as your structure is fail-safe, then it does not require regular inspections, since one part can fail and the others will carry that load… and then you find out that you’re wrong, and people die. You think that your cockpit displays do a good job of telling the pilot which way he’s going, and how much fuel he has left, and whether the runway is clear of other aircraft, and whether the weather at the destination airport has dropped safety margins below the minimums… You think that a quadruple-redundant hydraulic control system can withstand a failure at any one spot, or that your fancy computer-controlled fly-by-wire control system can prevent pilot-induced oscillations and inadvertent engine commands… You think that structure will have small stress hot-spots that can function as a canary in a coal mine since it will fail first, and fail safely, rather than a whole bunch of evenly-loaded structure all failing at the same time… You think that your computer simulations will accurately predict how and when a piece of carbon-fiber will start to break… You get the idea. Even updating as solid a design as the 747 brings about inevitable minor problems with aerodynamics, structures, etc.


In any company, government agency, or other group, be it Boeing or Toyota or Apple or Pfizer or NASA or the US Marine Corps, “new technology” is practically synonymous with “risk”.


But we develop new technologies, and we face the risks. Why? Because we have determined that, in the long run, the benefits outweigh the costs. Because where there is potential to make everyone’s lives better, we feel the imperative to investigate the possibility, to at least give it an honest shot before we decide that it’s not as beneficial as we thought.


Now I actually get to my point.


What could be more important to human well-being than our moral system? By that I mean: Our expectations of everyday behavior, our feelings about which behaviors are “good” and which behaviors are “bad”, our systems for encouraging good behavior and deterring against bad behavior, and so on.


Different societies have different moral systems. Each society has a moral zeitgeist that changes over time. And different people within a society will carry and defend different sets of moral values. Each country’s laws try to capture this moral system – this belief that certain actions are detrimental to justice and to everyone’s well-being – but the differences in moral preferences mean that no single legal code can capture all of the moral beliefs of all the citizens it applies to. (Besides, there's a difference between what things are right/wrong, and what things a government should have the power to regulate).


Most societies’ moral systems change over time. There exist many widespread social beliefs that such-and-such an action is detrimental to justice and to everyone’s well-being. Some of these beliefs get coded into law, some do not. Some of these beliefs are true, and some are not.


Here’s the interesting part: We’re still learning about ourselves. As different people experiment with different modes of behavior, as more data is gathered about the correlation of certain behaviors with certain consequences, as neuroscience reveals more about how we form our preferences and convictions, about what makes us happy and why… we are continuously in a better position to re-evaluate those moral beliefs.


Maybe the use of tobacco in public spaces is detrimental to most people’s well-being! Maybe state recognition of same-sex marriages isn’t detrimental to most people’s well-being. Maybe tough and strict gun-control laws don’t reduce (and actually increase) the rates of gun-related crimes! Maybe valuing kids’ self-esteem doesn’t help them become more successful! Maybe removing some traffic signs leads to an improvement in road safety! Maybe corporal punishment isn’t the best way to teach kids about discipline, or to reform criminals! Maybe drawing pictures of the prophet Mohammed, or naming a teddy bear after a boy named after the prophet, doesn’t hurt anyone other than angering some silly people.


Any issue – any proposed legislation, any decision made by an organization, any question about what everyday behavior is right or wrong – can be framed in these terms: When it comes to people’s well-being and to justice in a society, will [one of the alternatives in the issue] be beneficial or detrimental?


This is called consequentialism. You evaluate whether something (such as the adoption of a certain rule, or the choosing of a certain option) is right or wrong by evaluating the impact of its consequences in terms of justice and people’s well-being.


This is in contrast with absolutism. That’s when some things are “just wrong”, and some things are “the proper right way to behave”, whether or not these things are unjust and/or optimize people’s well-being.


Consequentialism involves always trying to get more data about people, about the impact of trying different things, so as to be able to make better choices in the future. You can only make data-driven choices, choices based on what actually works and what actually doesn’t, if you’ve observed how people actually behave. As you learn more about how people behave, you change your optimal choice-making systems accordingly, if your goal is to optimize well-being. Consequentialism is the moral equivalent (or, one might even say, the moral field) of science and engineering, which try to understand the mechanisms and processes of the world and to apply/harness them towards some goal (such as optimizing well-being).


Absolutism, by contrast, does not change. Even after a certain action is shown over and over to be harmless, or even beneficial, an absolutist can keep considering it to be “just wrong”.


All but the most liberal religions contain absolutist moral beliefs. Many Muslims consider it “bad” (fit for corporal punishment or even execution) to draw an image of the prophet Mohammed, to name a teddy bear after a boy named after the prophet, to publicly display romantic affection, etc., even though these things cause no harm (other than angering the people who believe them to be “bad”). Many Christians consider it “bad” for people of the same gender to have romantic relationships, even though these relationships are no more likely to cause harm than any other romantic relationship. Many Jews consider it “bad” to eat meat and cheese together, to eat pork or shrimp, to cut the hair that grows on their temples, etc, even though those things can all be safely done today. Many Christians consider it “bad” to teach kids about sex and contraceptives, even though teaching kids about these things leads to lower rates of unwanted pregnancies and of STD infections. Some Christians think that, since sex cannot be 100% safe, the optimal course of action is to abstain from it entirely (although, for unknown reasons, they do not feel this way about driving cars, flying in airliners, etc). These people feel this way because their absolutist moral code was sketched out thousands of years ago by people living in tribal or feudal societies, then edited by power-hungry leaders of empires. When designing these moral systems, the writers sometimes had their own power as a higher design objective than justice or people’s well-being. And even when they DID aim to optimize people’s well-being (such as by observing that people who ate shellfish tended to get sick, and then telling people “God says; Don’t eat shellfish!”), their data set was very limited, and was gathered in an ancient world lacking many of today’s medical technologies and understanding of sanitation.


(To be fair, some Christians - like Randy - try to support their moral convictions in a consequentialist way. They point to studies about the supposedly-nonbiological causes and supposedly-detrimental consequences of homosexuality, about how the sexual revolution of the 1960s supposedly made women worse off and was supposedly a detriment to the well-being of most people, etc. I sincerely appreciate their efforts, and wish them the best of luck. Because, who knows, their moral beliefs might be right. And such consequentialist research is the only real way to find out).


Some Christians are proud of the fact that their moral system works, and has worked pretty much unchanged for thousands of years. They say that it’s better to not mess with a winning team. They say that any change to those systems could only be bad. They say that, when you observe the consequences of some behavior and make recommendations based on your observations (“People who do X Y and Z tend to be healthier/happier”, etc), there are unacceptable risks, because your observations might have missed some crucial subtle consequence that make the recommended behaviors actually be detrimental in the long run.


All the arguments in the paragraph above are the same arguments for continuing to build the 747 from 1969, unchanged. I believe they are not very good arguments.


Let’s try and learn more about human behavior and human happiness by observation. Let’s try and apply those observations, to use them to create and promote behaviors that seem to improve justice and well-being. We’ll make mistake sometimes. Those mistakes will be costly. But we will learn from them (something that absolutists refuse to do).


It certainly beats the alternative: Restraining ourselves to a moral system sketched 4000 years ago by tribal leaders, edited 2000 years ago in order for a power-hungry empire to keep its citizens under control, and tweaked 700 years ago by unjustly-powerful monarchs and religions to claim that their power was divinely ordained. A moral system that explicitly allows slavery, and calls for harsh and painful punishments to actions that we today know to be inconsequential (by which I mean: beneficial to those who engage in them, and not harmful in any way other than angering the people who mistakenly believe those actions to be “wrong”).


How do we figure out which behaviors are good and which are bad? How do we tweak and optimize our moral systems? The same way we tweak and optimize other systems: The scientific method! We gather tons of data about what is working and what is not working, we maybe run some experiments to see whether this behavior or that behavior leads to greater justice and well-being, we use this understanding to develop better moral codes, we make mistakes and learn from them to make even BETTER moral codes. This is how we create, develop, and continuously improve things like buildings, medicine, airplanes, and even systems of government.


How is this possible even though “happiness” and “well-being” cannot be precisely defined? Well, “health” cannot be precisely defined either, but we know it has to do with longevity, with physical strength and endurance, with the absence of pain, with a mind that can think and remember and have fun and express itself, with the ability to do certain things unassisted, and so on. This loose understanding of the ideals of health – one that is different from culture to culture and from person to person – has not kept doctors and researchers from coming up with recommendations for how people probably should take care of their bodies. Some of those recommendations have been tragically wrong on occasion, but those are far outweighed by the good ones. We all live much much longer than we did just a few centuries ago, are far less impacted by most physical conditions, and can cure or outright extinguish many diseases. Yes, sometimes a medical recommendation leads to disaster until people realize it, but no one would sacrifice all of modern medicine to prevent the occasional mistake. It just wouldn't be worth it.


Why don’t we apply the scientific method to optimize our morals and our happiness, as we do for our health?

Because some absolutists think that they already have all the right answers, that their moral systems are either already-optimal or that the risk of change is too great.


They are wrong. Let us build the 747-8 of morality. Many people already are. The absolutists may win small victories, but it is only a matter of time before their mistakes are exposed by us consequentialists. The long arc of history favors us, and the absolutists will gradually be left in the dust.


How could we go about doing this deliberately scientifically, the way doctors and researchers do it for health? I'll let Sam Harris (video, article 1, article 2) take it from here.

20 comments:

Randy Kirk said...

I hopefully have emails that contain all your comments that are lost if it is the case that you didn't have back ups.

As usual your post is beautifully constructed, easy to follow, exceedingly logical (to a point), and I appreciate your contribution to this blog.

For the moment, I'd like to start just one thread. There will be more

Airplanes do not grow up, adapt, go through a fraction of the experiences, intrusions by other living creatures large and small, and are not effected by history, society, etc. They are designed for a very clear and singular purpose, change little, if at all, during their life, and are made out of non living materials.

Finally, airplanes are not designed to be happy, sad, courageous, timid, scared, triumphant, optimistic, depressed, and do not need qualities such as love, charity, sobriety, etc.

Thus, while I find the analogy interesting to a degree, it falls well short of being truly satisfying.

Which is to say that engineering humans or even human institutions is many orders of magnitude more difficult than an airplane. When an airplane fails, you lose a few hundred humans. When human experimentation fails it can mean many millions, or even the entire species.

The best part of this post, and the reason why it might even become a formidable treatise is that it points out the very horrific result that most Christians would ascribe to naturalistic atheism: The hubris that we humans can or should attempt to engineer society in this way, and the clearly stated goal of doing so.

I prefer to find my love and lose it, cry out in exultation at the birth of my children and in desperation at the tragic loss of a friend, face my demons and overcome them, zealously follow my dreams and passions, and deal with my defeats all without the help of those who might believe they can tweak me into some invented idea of happiness.

Bernardo said...

I wasn't trying to compare an airplane with a living thing. I was trying to compare an airplane with other human-designed systems - such as a system of laws, a system of government, or a system of morals. These are systems/designs that we continuously adapt and improve as we sfind sub-optimal inefficiencies, injustices, loopholes that allow malicious people to get away with harming others, etc. Fixing those problems (like making a better airplane) always involves risk (because we never REEEEALY know what we're doing) but I do think that those risks are worthwhile.

"Which is to say that engineering humans..."

None of what I'm saying has anything to do with "engineering humans". I'm more than happy to allow humans to continue to breed naturally as each parent-to-be sees fit.

"...or even human institutions..."

THAT is what I'm talking about here.

"When human experimentation fails it can mean many millions"

So you're saying that the US should never have seceded from Britain, and should never have tried to set up a constitutional democracy? That the French should have continued to put up with their disastrously selfish royalty? That Martin Luther should have kept his mouth shut to avoid the Reformation? Large revolutions like civil wars, independence movements, coups, etc, and (relatively) smaller efforts like the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the gay-rights movement of today, all recognize one fact: The current societal experiment (and EVERY society is an experiment) isn't satisfactory, and it's time to try something else. At one point, the risk from trying something else is not as large as the suffering from doing nothing.

"The hubris that we humans can or should attempt to engineer society in this way"

We need to engineer society in SOME way! What ELSE could we do? Just wing it? Last weekend we celebrated one of humankind's most significant accomplishments; A group of philosopher-politicians in the 1770s thought carefully about the fragile balance between individual freedom and stable government power, thoroughly reminded themselves of all the pitfalls from each previously-attempted system of achieving that balance, and engineered a system that became vastly more successful than anything before or since. Like the 747, it wasn't perfect, but it was monumental, it incorporated everything known by that point, and it worked dang well.

I don't think it shows too much pride or hubris to believe that, when we ask ourselves "How can we make society better?" and really think about it, we can come up with some pretty effective answers.

"I prefer to..."

I, too, very much enjoy certain experiences and actions. The question now becomes: Which of those actions unfairly harm my neighbors? If you prefer to drive at 120mph on the highway, if you prefer to practice using your firearm in your backyard in a crowded residential area, if you prefer to fly aircraft that are not FAA-certified or to sell food or medicines that are not FDA-certified... Then it is reasonable for me to say "These things cause an undue, unfair, and effectively-harmful amount of risk".

How can I say this? By measuring your actions against some moral standards.

Are my moral standards perfect? No. Should we work to improve our moral standards? I think we should. You think that doing so is too risky, either because you don't trust the data about what causes happiness/suffering or because you think that your moral standards are so good and so optimal that they don't need changing.

And you're saying that MY ideas show hubris?

Bernardo said...

Maybe all these generalizations, these examples of different scales from different points in history, these airplane metaphors, and these almost-ridiculous examples of driving too fast and shooting guns unsafely, aren't helping me make my point. They might be getting in the way, more than anything else.

So let's take two issues that really incorporate the exact thing I'm talking about: same-sex marriage and abstinence-only education.

Conservative Christians oppose same-sex marriage mostly for absolutist reasons. They believe, incorrectly, that a gay couple cannot have the kind of loving relationship that a straight couple can have. (And don't say anything about procreation. That'd be ridiculous. Anyone who actually thinks that marriage should be only for procreation would be fighting to pass laws that invalidate the marriages of old people, infertile young people, people who have no interest in having kids, etc). How can we settle who is right? The consequentialist says: Let's look at the data. Let's see if same-sex marriage is detrimental in any measurable way. Are married gay people less happy than married straight people? Do they get divorced at higher rates? Are their kids less successful? Are the neighbors, towns, states, with lots of married gay people suffering in any way, are their economies and health-care systems taking a hit? Choose your metric, any metric, to show that gay marriage is detrimental to the people in it and the society around them. The consequentialist, like me, will say "Let's look at these data so we can make an informed decision". The absolutist, like you, will say "It's not worth the risk". So, on the OFF CHANCE that gay marriage is harmful (and I really fail to imagine how it could be), you want to deny millions of people the chance to have their deeply rewarding relationships recognized in the same way that you and I do. You don't want to experiment with removing this injustice, "just in case" (in the very unlikely case) that it is somehow detrimental in a way we fail to predict.

The effectiveness of abstinence-only education is slightly less clear-cut. Studies show, with ALMOST 100% consistency (not quite), that kids who get comprehensive education about sex and contraceptives are less likely to catch STDs and to end up pregnant (or with a pregnant girlfriend). If you want to reduce teen pregnancies and STDs, then the consequentialist thing to do is to educate kids thoroughly. But absolutists don't really want to prevent STDs and teen pregnancies, they want to prevent teen sex, and will push whatever educational practices minimize teen sex (even when those practices make the teens who do have sex more likely to suffer due to STDs or pregnancies).

Even if you claim that the moral systems behind these conservative positions work as well analogously as a 747, I still claim that it's worth it to try and upgrade them given our new data - even if this does involve a little bit of risk.

Randy Kirk said...

Over the weekend, I'm going to split this into about 3 or 4 discussions. For now, with limited time, I just want to list a few of my projects for your new approach to "experimenting with society. One side note of great importance. The "experiment" that is the USA was based on voting and making it very hard to change things. I like that.

My list of experiments:

1. STD's definitely create great human health issues, discomfort, embarrassment, and are passed to unsuspecting folks who may have been seduced or worse. Therefore, all women without a valid marriage license should wear chastity belts with transponder keys that only their husbands possess.

2. Teenage punks are responsible for most of the crime, drug distribution, and other antisocial behavior in our neighborhoods. These individuals clearly take more from society than they contribute. I would recommend a triage where each punk who wears colors or engages in even minor offenses be shipped off to an island similar to the camps in Georgia during the early days of America. They would stay there until age 25 when they could be evaluated for reintroduction into society.

3. America started with only the propertied being allowed to vote. That worked really well. Now we have folks on welfare voting themselves bigger checks. I would like to experiment with going back to property being a requirement of voting. Alternatively a poll tax of $1000 could be paid.

4. Polls have shown that women commonly vote based on personal attraction to the candidate, and are clueless as to the issues or anything about the candidate other than looks or charm. I would recommend that we experiment with requiring women to pass a political science test prior to registering to vote.

5. Parents who abandon their families clearly create massive unhappiness that transfers the results into emotional issues for their children far into adulthood. Parents who abandon children should be executed.

6. Drug and alcohol addiction have been shown to have a negative effect on an average of 16 other people in their family. Anyone who does not become sober within a year of being declared an addict should be sent to a detention center until clean and sober for at least 2 years.

7. Lawyers probably create more negative and horrific tragedy on their fellow citizens than any other professional group. Most lawyers are themselves very unhappy and hate their profession. I would experiment with eliminating all lawyers and establishing a system of forced arbitration without counsel for all legal issues.

I could go on.

Randy Kirk said...

One more comment today. The great experiment that resulted in this great country was in every way based on Christian principles. Some legislatures were known to ask of every new law offered "Where does it say that in the Bible." I'm totally ready to try any experiment that comports with Biblical direction.

Bernardo said...

The great endeavours that resulted in every great jet airliner (including the amazing 747, A380, and 787, and the super-popular 737 and A320) were based on 707 principles. The 707 was a huge leap, way ahead of anything else in its time.

Does that mean that, overall, 707 principles were pretty good? Yes.

Does that mean that 707 principles are optimal? Does that mean that EVERY future airplane must be designed around 707 principles? Does that mean that we will NEVER learn anything that could cause us to reasonably decide to tweak or abandon these principles? No.

Same with Biblical principles. Were they revolutionary and visionary in their time, a huge step from what came before? Yes. Are they good? Yes. Ideal? No. Have we learned anything new about people in the last 2000 years, things that allow us to see that some Biblical principles are non-optimal? Yes.

Again, I point out that you use words like "pride" and "hubris" to describe atheists, but you're the one saying that your 2000-year-old book (which condones slavery, says that women should be killed if they are unfaithful, says that God doesn't want people to eat shellfish) has all the answers.

Bernardo said...

As for your experiments:

1) Let's balance the discomfort, embarrassment, control issues, and other detriments of chastity belts, with the potential detriments from being unfaithful. Is there a significant number of people who think that the balance favors the chastity belts? Would doing so violate any human rights, such as one person being effectively the property of another? if the answer to the first question is "Yes" and the answer to the second question is "No", then I would say, sure, let's try it. But those are not the answers. Practically no one thinks that chastity belts would cause a net increase in happiness, and most people don't want some other person to have full control over their sexuality. In other words, this experiment is so unlikely to increase happiness and justice that it's not worthwhile.

2) If the problem is how young punks cost a lot and provide no benefits to society, sending them to camps would only increase their cost and reduce their benefits, thus not addressing the problem.

I could go on. But you get the idea. The experiments I'm talking about are not about "solving this one problem at any cost". That kind of thinking is what leads us away from the delicate power balances that the founding fathers, and most politicians since, have struggled to achieve and maintain. The experiments should look at all foreseeable consequences of a change, and balance the good ones against the bad ones to see whether there's a chance that it's worthwhile. If the costs are likely to far outweigh the benefits (like in the examples you provided), then the experiment would not be attempted.

Bernardo said...

But look at what you did. You set up straw men. Surely you can agree that there are experiments where the good/bad balance of the outcome is not clearly bad. For example:

A) Homosexual couples have romantic relationships as profound as heterosexual ones. But they cannot be recognized as spouses, a fact that leads to all kinds of detriments (from work-benefits and tax issues, to not being able to be at their partner's deathbeds). Terefore, let us try formally giving spouse status to the homosexual couples who want it. That should solve that problem, and have no detrimental effects.

B) Teenagers, in general, want to have sex. Teaching kids about the risks of sex, in a thorough and maybe even exaggerated form, does cause a small decrease in the percentage of kids (of any given age) who have sex. Teaching kids about contraceptives might not reduce the percentage of kids (of any given age) who have sex, but it does significantly reduce the chance that this will result in STD transmission or pregnancy. Therefore, let's try teaching all kids about contraceptive use (which is not mutually exclusive with teaching them about the dangers of sex... although some of the impact of that might indeed be reduced by the knowledge that a condom prevents the transmissions of many of the more common STDs and significantly reduces the risk of pregnancy). The balance here is: slight decrease in teenage sex but large increase in teen pregnancy and STDs (no contraceptive education) versus slight increase in teenage sex but large decrease in teen pregnancy and STDs (comprehensive contraceptive education). I think any reasonable person would prefer the second one, unless it is somehow reasonable to say that the mere act of having sex is so bad that it must be reduced as much as possible (even if this means more teens getting STDs, getting pregnants, and - let's face it - getting abortions).

You have to balance all the outcomes. You can then talk about what your values are, that make you see some set of good outcomes out-weighing or not out-weighing some set of bad outcomes.

Again, maybe we should stop talking about exaggerated straw-men and bad metaphors (I'll admit that I started it; my bad) and talk about whether or not it's time to start updating our moral system to leave behind a clearly-suboptimal system (unless you can somehow explain how your system is not suboptimal for the two current-events examples I list above).

Page1Listings.com said...

Have you honestly ever studied the truth about homosexuals. It is absolutely impossible to tell the truth today, because you will be called all kinds of names. Just a few years ago, even the LA Times was still telling the truth, but not any more. Your information is coming through a filter. The end (making homosexuality normal) is being promoted at any cost, including truth.

The funny part is that the ultra liberal Law and Order program has come closest to keeping the truth about abhorrent sexual behavior in the public arena.

You want to destroy a culture. Open the door to promiscuous behavior of all kinds. Have the leadership actively promote anything goes sex or pay no mind. Sexual acting out, jealousy arising out of multiple partner arrangements, lack of commitment to the family unit, sexual power being imposed on young children by older, more powerful individuals.

You couldn't have picked two straw men that could more perfectly show how the dusty old Book has it right, while modern experimentation will result in the worst kind of destruction. I have the personal stories of my wife and adopted daughters as examples. But as I think you know, I was on the daytime Geraldo show 15 years ago as the expert to speak out against bisexuality.

And I obviously do not think chastity belts are the solution, although I'm confident that we could invent one that would be quite comfortable. However, the discipline of chaste behavior would be a great place for our society to start towards a reform that would result in discipline in other areas rather than the rank nihilism we see today.

Bernardo said...

Where's the data?

What is this truth being covered up? Do you have evidence for it, or just anecdotes?

You unfairly lump together harmless things and harmful things into "abhorrent sexual behavior" and "promiscuous behavior", and then claim that the harmless things are bad because the harmful things are bad.

Some people like having a car with the driver's side on the right (such as a cool vintage British car). Some people like driving 120mph on the highway. It would be unfair to lump those two things together into "abhorrent driving behavior". Because then I could ask for a law that allows people to drive right-hand-driver cars in the US, and you would say "But don't you realize that abhorrent driving behavior, like driving 120 on the highway, is deadly?!"

There are sexual behaviors, in which most of the population does not engage, that are harmful to relationships. And there are sexual behaviors, in which most of the population does not engage, that are NOT harmful to relationships.

Most homosexual people want to have monogamous relationships, exactly the kind of family unit that you're so fond of. What's wrong with that? How is that in any way similar to "sexual acting out, jealousy arising out of multiple partner arrangements, lack of commitment to the family unit, sexual power being imposed on young children by older more powerful individuals"?

"the dusty old Book has it right, while modern experimentation will result in the worst kind of destruction"

Where's the data?

"I have the personal stories of my wife and adopted daughters as examples"

Where's the data? (Note: The plural of "anecdote" is not "data").

"I was on the daytime Geraldo show 15 years ago as the expert to speak out against bisexuality"

I'm skeptical of experts, especially when your expert opinion contradicts everything else I have learned about this topic. (If someone says "I testified at the Salem Witch Trials as an expert on witchcraft", that does not necessarily mean that what they think they know is correct).

"Your information is coming through a filter"

Then please link me to the information that is being filtered out from my sources.

Everything I know, from everyone I trust, says that homosexual romantic relationships can be as functional, as committed, as loving, as stable, as profound, and as beneficial to all parties involved, as heterosexual relationships. Like I said, pick your metric. And then show me the data.

And even if, on average, they ARE a little bit less healthy and functional (e.g. because they do not benefit from a supportive society full of helpful resources), I fail to see how this is grounds for not recognizing their marriages. We let all kinds of screwed-up heterosexual couples get married, so why not screwed-up homosexual couples? Or are you suggesting that heterosexual couples should pass some kind of psychological test before they can be allowed to marry? (That would be less crazy, and less insulting, than the chastity belt, which to me still implies some kind of slave-like ownership, no matter how "comfortable" it may be).

Bernardo said...

"You want to destroy a culture."

I want to destroy a particular injustice. Imagine people who wanted to overthrow a monarchy, their opponents saying "You want to destroy a culture". Imagine people trying to end slavery, their opponents saying "You want to destroy a culture". Imagine people in the US trying to allow immigrants from the Mediterranean or from China to become naturalized citizens, their opponents saying "You want to destroy a culture". Imagine people trying to end segregation, trying to end racist laws, their opponents saying "You want to destroy a culture". No, I just want to destroy one unjust aspect of the culture.

And I didn't even get to the sex education part...

Page1Listings.com said...

You started the discussions without providing any data. This is what is so much fun about science today. Someone will do one study, they will do a press release about the results. The news will pick it up and shout it in headlines. Weeks or months or years later, we find out that the experiment was poorly constructed, that the data was not gathered properly, that the researchers kind of used some data that agreed with their notions and left other stuff out, or that the entire effort was fraud. And those are just the ones that we find out about.

Then later in your argument you offer me "Everything I know, from everyone I trust." Well that's pretty helpful. Same for me. But who do you trust? Do they have an agenda? What do you read? Do you read all the studies? Do you read older studies or only ones from the last 10 years? Have you looked at the raw data to determine if the study was properly conducted? Do you have any idea of whether the raw data was collected from representative groups or skewed? Do you really know if there was any real data collected or if it was created?

Just 40 years ago, when there was no agenda regarding homosexuality, the literature said that the pathologies I mentioned and more, existed. They literature said there was a 30% cure rate. Do you believe that this science was concocted? Or is it more likely that politically driven science is suspect?

Page1Listings.com said...

"And even if, on average, they ARE a little bit less healthy and functional (e.g. because they do not benefit from a supportive society full of helpful resources)"

Why do you add the parenthesis? Do you have any factual evidence for that causality statement?

My own research indicates that men are driven to have multiple partners, and this would fit with Darwinian biology. There has been a cultural desire on the part of men to have younger sexual partners, although this might also have biological reasons. There is an almost universal male interest in virgin partners. These three elements alone seem far more likely to explain why homosexual relations tend to head towards promiscuity, and towards attraction to young virgins.

As with all behaviors that have addictive tendencies, there becomes a point at which each level of sexual engagement is no longer capable of giving the rush that is sought. This is when drugs, S&M, orgies, and very young boys are added to provide more punch.

Does this mean that no homosexuals are happy to settle down with a long term mate, and stay in a committed relationship with no need for behaviors listed above? Of course there are some who want to and can live that way. But, then we can go down the slippery slope. Some adults would like to have a long term relationship with children. Some would like to have harems. Some would like their marriages to be arranged by the parents. Some want to use chastity belts. Some want to cover their women in Berkahs, and stone the women who are raped. Many possible experiments.

You will argue that letting those few homosexuals who want that long term relationship get married won't hurt anyone. I would argue that anything that we as a society do to encourage homosexual behavior is likely to result in more of it. That is how life works.

Finally, you contend that plenty of screwed up heteros get married. True. And some get screwed up after they get married. A test might be a really good idea. For me, I'd rather go back to the faulted divorce and the shame and embarrassment that society heaped on Dads or Moms who left their families to pursue their own selfish interests. The experiment in no fault seems to me an abject failure that we seem unable to put back into the box that it came out of.

Bernardo said...

"Then later in your argument you offer me "Everything I know, from everyone I trust." ... What do you read? Do you read all the studies? Do you read older studies or only ones from the last 10 years? Have you looked at the raw data to determine if the study was properly conducted?"

Yes, like you said, all the data I have seen has been pretty one-sided. Which is why I keep asking you to show me the data that supports your claims; I've never seen it. Whether it's because I turn a blind eye to it, or because the zeitgeist says you're a bigot if you promote those conclusions, the bottom line is: I haven't seen it, and I would be curious to. Please show me some.

You tell me that I'm missing out on a whole side of this debate. I'm asking you to please open my eyes and inform me. I don't know what more you could want from me in this respect.

"men are driven to have multiple partners ... There has been a cultural desire on the part of men to have younger sexual partners ... There is an almost universal male interest in virgin partners..."

Sure, all those things make sense from a biological point of view, I'll buy them...

"These three elements alone seem far more likely to explain why homosexual relations tend to head towards promiscuity, and towards attraction to young virgins. "

Why would this be any more so than for heterosexual relationships? All those factors also point to heterosexual relationships "tend to head towards promiscuity, and towards attraction to young virgins", not any less than homosexual relationships.

"As with all behaviors that have addictive tendencies, there becomes a point at which each level of sexual engagement is no longer capable of giving the rush that is sought. This is when drugs, S&M, orgies, and very young boys are added to provide more punch".

One: I don't think anyone here is saying that including young boys in older people's sexual activities is a good idea.

Two: Even if S&M, orgies, and drugs, do gradually decrease the enjoyment one gets from sex (and I'm not sure they all do, but let's assume for the sake of argument that you're right), how does any of this mean that homosexuality is detrimental to anyone?

"Some... homosexuals are happy to settle down with a long term mate, and stay in a committed relationship with no need for behaviors listed above"

I'm glad you can see that. So now my question is: Why not recognize their romantic relationships the way we recognize heterosexual romantic relationships? Why treat those homosexual relationships as second-class relationships? Give me one good reason.

(As for how you say "some", I would say "most"... but I'll admit that that'd be from anecdotal data, not real data. Until there's real data, we can't really know whether it's "some" or "most").

Bernardo said...

"But, then we can go down the slippery slope."

Ah, yes, another fun fallacy. Bring it on:

"Some adults would like to have a long term relationship with children."

Can we agree that this is harmful to the children? Can we agree that consensual responsible adult homosexual relationships are NOT harmful to anyone involved? Then what is the similarity? Why even bring this up? You might as well say "Some adults would like to murder their spouse", and this does not invalidate ANY other kind of relationship where spouse-murdering does not happen. Non-sequitur.

"Some would like to have harems."

Is everyone in the harem a consenting adult? Would this harm anyone else in any way? If not, let them at it. If it would (e.g. their kids), then point this out to them, and if they care about their kids, they'll change their behavior accordingly. (If they DON'T care about their kids, then you have a bigger problem in your hands than what kinds of sexual practices the parents do or do not engage in).

"Some would like their marriages to be arranged by the parents."

If everyone is a consenting adult, why not?

"Some want to use chastity belts."

If everyone is a consenting adult, why not? (I suspect that the person wearing a chastity belt would not consent under their own volition, though. But I could be wrong, if they themselves see it as a tool to help them be disciplined).

"Some want to cover their women in Berkahs"

If everyone is a consenting adult, why not? I suspect that the woman wearing a burka belt would not consent under her own volition, though. This very example is discussed repeatedly by Sam Harris in his video and articles.

"Some want to ... stone the women who are raped."

Again, I don't think this would increase the happiness of the women being raped.

In short:

Many possible experiments. Just because SOME of them would clearly be a bad idea, doesn't mean that ALL of them would clearly be a bad idea. Sure, what I'm saying is, for SOME things we won't know until we try. For some things, we can pretty safely guess, before trying it, that it wouldn't work. (In the airplane analogy: Boeing occasionally builds some proof-of-concept prototypes to test new ideas, but some new ideas never make it past the napkin stage because people go "Well, that's just crazy").

Again, I repeat my traffic-laws analogy: This is like proposing a system whereby people could be licensed to drive right-hand-side-driver cars in the US, and you saying that this is not worth trying because a 120-mph speed limit is clearly a bad idea so therefore any traffic-law experiments would be a bad idea.

"I would argue that anything that we as a society do to encourage homosexual behavior is likely to result in more of it."

So? Even if that is true (and I'm not sure it is), you have still failed to explain why homosexual behavior is in itself detrimental to anyone.

"The experiment in no fault seems to me an abject failure..."

You may quite possibly be right.

"...that we seem unable to put back into the box that it came out of.

If someone took up the initiative, then maybe they could put it back in the box. If they are unsuccessful at putting it back in the box, then it's because people like it after all, in which case you're wrong about this system being detrimental.

Page1Listings.com said...

"Why would this be any more so than for heterosexual relationships? All those factors also point to heterosexual relationships "tend to head towards promiscuity, and towards attraction to young virgins", not any less than homosexual relationships."

The reason it is more so for homosexuals is that there are two males and no modifying behavior from a female with a different set of priorities. Nor is there the need for the relationship to be committed due to family responsibilities. The male may still want a young virgin, but the wife, the mother-in-law, even the mother, and the kids all put pressure on the man to stay put.

The reason why homosexual behavior is not to be encouraged is that the result is all the things already mentioned. The push for more "exciting" sex results in a willingness to act out in ever more inappropriate ways including drug induced, etc. The multiple partners clearly leads to self worth issues, depression, and STD's.

We now have a few states with the experiment in place. In a few years I'm sure we'll have some better evidence of what takes place in that environment.

I will have to take a pass on providing studies right now, as time doesn't allow. You, on the other hand, have not produced any of the studies that you say exist.

Your statement regarding getting folks to vote on No Fault is precisely what I recommend on Gay marriage. But let the vote stand. The turning to the courts to find a liberal judge to create new law is not the same.

Page1Listings.com said...

Consenting adults. Now there's a hoot. In most legal situations, you have one person who isn't consenting. I'm not consenting to a no fault divorce. Neither are my kids or grandkids. One person gets the choice.

I'm not consenting to taking out soda machines in schools. Nor am I consenting to teaching my kids a history that is liberal and leaves out much truth. You probably aren't consenting to churches getting tax deductions. My neighborhood requires tile roofs at double the cost of composite. There was a vote. I lost. So, if we vote in chastity belts, it doesn't matter about consent.

Page1Listings.com said...

Study finds gay unions brief
By Amy Fagan
THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A recent study on homosexual relationships finds they last 1-1/2 years on average — even as homosexual groups are pushing nationwide to legalize same-sex "marriages."

The study of young Dutch homosexual men by Dr. Maria Xiridou of the Amsterdam Municipal Health Service, published in May in the journal AIDS, mirrors findings of past research.

Among heterosexuals, by contrast, 67 percent of first marriages in the United States last at least 10 years, and researchers report that more than three-quarters of married people say they have been faithful to their vows. Same-sex "marriage" has gained new attention since a Supreme Court decision last month struck down state laws against homosexual behavior. Conservative activists say they expect the state Supreme Court in Massachusetts to rule this weekend on whether to recognize homosexual "marriages."

The Dutch study — which focused on transmission of HIV — found that men in homosexual relationships on average have eight partners a year outside those relationships. Earlier studies also indicated that homosexual men are not monogamous, even when they are involved in long-term relationships.

In "The Male Couple," published in 1984, authors David P. McWhirter and Andrew M. Mattison report that in a study of 156 males in homosexual relationships lasting anywhere from one to 37 years, all couples with relationships more than five years had incorporated some provision for outside sexual activity. "Fidelity is not defined in terms of sexual behavior but rather by their emotional commitment to each other," the authors said. "Ninety-five percent of the couples have an arrangement whereby the partners may have sexual activity with others."

Page1Listings.com said...

A brief survey of the current online literature proves that this issue is so politicized that it is almost impossible to get clarity. That is why I tend to believe the studies from 40 years ago that were done in a neutral climate.

However, you wanted the other side. Here is the where the documentation is deepest and seemingly well done.

http://www.citizenlink.org/FOSI/homosexuality/maf/A000010409.cfm

Bernardo said...

"no modifying behavior from a female with a different set of priorities [...] the wife, the mother-in-law, even the mother, and the kids all put pressure on the man to stay put."

So you're saying that men don't want to settle down? I believe this is an incorrect generalization. I want to settle down! I want a stable family, and each element that's required for that (steady partner, spouse, kids... maybe even in-laws) does indeed give me more incentive to settle down. But these elements aren't what made me want to settle down in the first place. They make the process easier by creating immediate negative consequences if I try to back out. Besides, I think gay people want this too. If you'd allow them to marry and adopt kids, they too would have all the reasons to stay settled down, same as a heterosexual couple.

"The reason why homosexual behavior is not to be encouraged is that [...] the push for more "exciting" sex results in a willingness to act out in ever more inappropriate ways including drug induced, etc."

I don't see how homosexuality leads to promiscuity any more than heterosexuality does (let alone to drugs, etc), except for the fact that society does not recognize committed homosexual relationships in the same way it recognizes heterosexual ones.

"The multiple partners clearly leads to self worth issues, depression, and STD's."

Again, ONCE society recognizes homosexual relationships as full relationships, THEN we can make a meaningful study of whether homosexuals really are less committed / more promiscuous by nature. Until then, I don't believe that homosexuality inherently leads to multiple partners, etc.

"A recent study on homosexual relationships finds they last 1-1/2 years on average"

My relationships, on average, have lasted less than that. Sure, once day I'll get married and have a decades-long relationship that will bring my average up. Problem is, gay people can't get married. If they could, then their average relationship length would rise too.

"In "The Male Couple," published in 1984..."

The world has come a LONG way since 1984! Back then, gay people were seen as disgusting immoral deviants, so it's little wonder that it was harder for them to form the kind of relationships we all want. I laugh when you call this "a neutral climate".

Bottom line: You think gay people should not be allowed to marry because they are promiscuous and their relationships are, on average, not as committed or solid. I think that their relationships are not as committed or solid because they are not allowed to marry and because many people think they are disgusting immoral deviants.

So, like you said, let some states experiment for a decade or two, and THEN we will be in what can be called "a neutral climate" where meaningful data can be taken, in a society that tells gay people that their romantic relationships are recognized and positive and meaningful.