March Diary
Gay marriage, tiger moms, and more.


John Derbyshire

Analysis Paralysis on Marriage     We — some colleagues and I — were discussing the two pieces National Review published recently on homosexual marriage. Jason Lee Steorts’s “Two Views of Marriage” in our February 7 issue had been written in reaction to a paper posted online by Sherif Girgis and others: Then, Girgis had responded to Jason with an article titled “Real Marriage” in our March 21 issue.

I had read both pieces with careful attention. Both were literate, humane, and well-argued. Like the poet, however, I came out by the same door as in I went.

The problem with both pieces, I tried to tell my colleagues, was that they were scholastic, in the pejorative sense — angels on pin-heads, the cooking up of elaborate rationalizations for positions you are determined to take anyway. As Bertrand Russell said of Aquinas: “The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading.”

Such arguments are persuasive to nobody whose personality, circumstances, and life experience have not already made the conclusion appealing to them, or mandatory. Speaking personally, as an incorrigible empiricist, scholastic rationalism drives me to liquor. Yo guys: Only algebra is algebra.

Another colleague agreed. Some years ago, he said, when the issue was new, he had spotted a piece on it by a highly respected writer he admired very much. “Aha,” he had thought to himself, “When I’m through reading this, I’ll be fully armed with waterproof arguments against homosexual marriage!” So he’d read it. Like me with the Steorts/Girgis exchange, he’d come away with nothing.

That, I’m afraid, is where conservatives are stuck. If, to maintain marriage as traditionally understood, we have to resort to angels-on-pinheads scholasticism, then the castle is lost.

As I remarked seven and a half years ago on this site: “There are regions of life, thought and behavior that are beyond reason’s scope, and ought to stay there.”

Is homophobia adaptive?     On a related theme, I have long thought that from a biological point of view, homophobia is more interesting than homosexuality.

The modern cant is that homophobia is “socially constructed,” which means that it is instilled by indoctrination into the sheep-like masses by power elites who find it useful to their self-preservation.

As with “racism,” that is all nonsense. Attitudes so widespread, in so many times and places, call for some deeper, more coherent explanation than the sub-Marxist gibberish of crackpot French intellectuals. So what’s the explanation for homophobia?

The current intellectual fashion is to look to evolutionary psychology for explanations of common human behaviors. I have some reservations about this, but it’s certainly an advance on Jean-Paul Sartre and his vaporing disciples. At least it is respectful of scientific enquiry.

Well, this month has seen a small kerfuffle among biologists on whether or not homophobia is adaptive — that is, on whether persons or groups inclined to homophobia have, net-net, an edge over more tolerant types in reproducing themselves.

Research psychologist Jesse Bering got the ball rolling with a March 9 post on the Scientific American blog, title: “Natural homophobes? Evolutionary psychology and antigay attitudes.” Bering was mulling over some research done 15 years ago by Gordon Gallup, to which another psychologist, John Archer, had reacted:

The Gallup-Archer debate hinges on a multi-study empirical report by Gallup. In it, he aims to test his hypothesis that negative attitudes toward homosexuals is [sic] a function of parents’ implicit concerns that their children’s sexual orientation is malleable.