American cable station A&E has put Phil Robertson, star of its hit reality series Duck Dynasty, on an indefinite hiatus for making comments in the January issue of GQ magazine in which he disparaged gay people. There have been two broad categories of reaction to this. LGBT rights supporters are happy, believing that A&E’s move sends a message that criticizing homosexuality is no longer okay. Conservative Christians, on the other hand, are upset–they believe that A&E has stifled Robertson’s free speech rights. Who’s right?
One of the most common arguments used to advance the cause of gay rights is the thought that individuals do not choose their own sexualities. Some people are naturally disposed to be gay, some to be straight, some somewhere in between. The argument goes that we ought not to blame individuals for behaviors that arise from desires they do not choose, at least insofar as those desires do not result in harm being done to others (the desire in pedophiles to have sex with children also arises naturally, but pedophilia harms children, while homosexuality is not in and of itself harmful). I’m not here today to contest this argument–I broadly agree with it–I’m here to explore the possibility that it might have significant moral, legal, and philosophical implications outside the LGBT issue. What other desires arise in the same way the sexual desire does?
The rapper Eminem released a new album (The Marshall Mathers LP 2). As is his tendency, Eminem dropped some rhymes with morally dubious meanings. And, as has also become the norm, my fellow writers decided to take positions on the matter. Kicking off the discussion was Scott Meslow at The Week, who first drew attention to homophobic lyrics in Eminem’s song, “Rap God”. Meslow has now followed that piece up with a second one, detailing the reaction to his first piece and what he has gleaned from it. Today I’d like not so much to wade into this discussion as to call its utility into question–what purpose does it serve to write pieces criticizing artists for moral or political messages, either explicit or implicit?
I’ve been hearing the song “Same Love” by Macklemore for a while now. I agree with the song’s central message–that gay people should be afforded equal treatment by the state and in society. I also quite like the song, in no small part because unlike most songs, it’s very direct with the point it intends to make. The lyrics make clear arguments without hiding their messages in metaphors and other methods of obscurantism. There are entire websites devoted to helping music fans come to understand the veiled messages in their favorite artists’ songs, and it’s nice to not have to have inside knowledge to get the point being made. That said, it also illustrates one of this blog’s running themes–lay people lack expertise. While Macklemore makes a point I firmly agree with, the argument he uses to reach our shared conclusion is not very good.
There is a wide spectrum of disagreement on political and ethical questions. It is often wondered how it is possible for so many people to have so very widely divergent conceptions of what it means to do good politically. In an attempt to answer this and similar questions, I have developed a mathematical model to roughly estimate the ethical rightness or wrongness of a given government policy that illuminates where these differences come from. Today, I would like to share it. It’s called “The Core Goods Model”.