Friday, September 22, 2006

Biology

I don't have a lot of knowledge of the Levay experiment in which the structure of a hypothalamic nucleus was found to be morphologically distinct in straight men, women, and gays. I only know what I've read, and I have not read the primary sources. They are supposed to be significant for the impact the conclusion has on homosexuality being a choice. Because some believe this topic actually has some merit, I googled some responses, and they sound like a mix of legitimate and stupid concerns, but you can find those as easily as I can.

My impression is that nobody should be surprised if there are brain morphology differences between gays and straights and there should be no surprise if there are genetic contributors to personality and other aspects of human identity. Big fat hairy deal.

All this scientific effort will have shown that people are indeed not "created equal" but that we have to work within our unique set of personal circumstances. It's not fair, true, but a perceptive toddler could conclude as much about life. Hell, make that an UNperceptive toddler. You deal with it the best you can rather than expecting the world to somehow make it up to you by redoing expectations of behavior and morality.

That's not to say that there aren't plenty of non-biological issues related to the morality and social circumstances of gays. But the biological arguments I've never found compelling in the least.

At the same time, the biological experiments wouldn't be as big a deal if it weren't for the monumentally stupid idea that sexual attractions are chosen. But, neither the far right nor the far left feel served by putting the issue in just such precise terms. It's better to discuss the idea that "being gay" is chosen so that both sides can indignantly battle for the broad political implications that follow from affirming or denying that statement, vague as it is.

Misinterpreting the science for a political agenda, most often inadvertently, is the standard practice. The gay rights movement (bless their little hearts) have bought in to the philosophical approach that the end justifies the means, a hair slow in noticing that strong advocacy for aims popular to some gays is harmful to other gays. Much (if not all) of the published scientific data is influenced by bias at some point in the scientific process (largely from advocates--sometimes the scientists themselves), despite all the best efforts to mitigate it (or disguise it).

There's a fair chance I just don't get why all this science has much meaning. But I sort of think the odds are in my favor that it's the scientists and political pundits who just don't get how much the biological science doesn't matter on this topic and other matters of morality.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

without science i could be spending a lot of time thinking that my sexual attraction to men is due to my or my parent's thinking or decisions. it is a very fast transition from thinking to blaming to hating. once science has cleared the air, then i can start thinking about moral behavior.

you may say that it "is a monumentally stupid idea that sexual attractions are chosen" but it wasn't that long ago that autism was attributed to cold, distant mothers--a monumentally stupid idea now but conventional wisdom 50 years ago.

biological determinism or unblinking obedience--both are attempts to provide easy answers where none exist.

by the way, i thought that the levay studies could not be reproduced in other labs and are therefore discredited.

santorio

Anonymous said...

I just don't worry about the "scientific why". It just doesn't matter to me. I'm beyond that and I don't care to know why anymore. Whether there was a "cure" or whether there was a scientific conclusion of "who to blame" won't change anything.

I worry more about how to live with things as they are and as I want them to be. I worry about how what I want to be isn't how things are.

--Beck

-L- said...

Yeah, Levay studies couldn't be reproduced, and also there were confounders like all the gay men having AIDS. You know, just tiny little nit-picky things. But still... I'm not sure the experiments have been washed aside altogether.

I do think there are family and social factors that influence sexual development and orientation, but I don't advocate blame and hate... even if the data were clear. I'm very pro-science, but as you say, it's how the data is used or misused that rubs me wrong.

keeper said...

For me one of the biggest issues arising from studies such as Levay's - or from the people citing them - is that the underlying assumption "biology creates behavior" seems to be their only conceivable model - that it's only a 1-way street.

Does a smaller hypothalamus ensure homosexual behavior - or vice versa?

Our pre-conceived notions - even Scientists have them! - can so easily blind us to all the possibilities.

Anonymous said...

All this scientific effort will have shown that people are indeed not "created equal" but that we have to work within our unique set of personal circumstances.

This is a disturbing statement. Isn't it the idea that despite our differences we are created equal (not the same, but equal nonetheless)? What an unfortunate twisting of such an important phrase.

And is it that wrong to expect the world to "redo[] expectations of behavior and morality" if those expectations are based on "the monumentally stupid idea that sexual attractions are chosen"?

Some of our legislators are still refusing to pass anti-discrimination legislation on the basis that gays can avoid such discrimination by simply backtracking on their choice to be gay.

Scot said...

Does a smaller hypothalamus ensure homosexual behavior - or vice versa?

I believe Levay did address this, but my be wrong.

Still, did you know you could make ferrets gay by damaging the hypothalamus?

R. G. Paredes” and M. J. Baum, The Journal of Neuroscience, October 1995, 75(10): 6619-6630 “Altered Sexual Partner Preference in Male Ferrets Given Excitotoxic Lesions of the Preoptic Area/Anterior Hypothalamus

I guess no one could get the funding to do that on humans ;-).

I’ve got a bunch of this sort of research. I’ll eventually get around to putting up my entire list of references along with a brief synopsis and personal critique of the research.

Still, I agree with L, even if gayness were 100% in the genes, that’d not change morality, for me. But it does for many others, and there is always the value in learning more about why things are the way they are, regardless of the social implications.

-L- said...

Anon, you have committed the precise equivocation that I highlighted in my post. Anti-gay-discrimination advocates often refuse to make any distinction between attractions (which are not chosen) and behaviors (which we are accountable for). It's fundamentally important to the issue, and failing to appreciate the legitimate points on both sides of the issue is why it's such an inflammatory and unapproachable topic.

As for the line about not being created equal, I'm very sorry you are disturbed. But the harsh realities of life are sometimes disturbing like that, and I'm going to write about them sometimes. I'd like to believe that me and Michael Jordan are equal, but unfortunately he's better than me at basketball. (At least, so some say.) Whether people are inherently equal depends on what you are talking about, and I am here directly contradicting another equivocation in the way the word is often used.

Equivocation. The theme of the day, apparently.

stenar said...

The biggest problems I see with Levay's study are:
1) He did not know any of the cadavers he dissected were truly those of gay men. He made the assumption that they were probably gay because they had died of AIDS.
2) AIDS may have had an impact on their hypothalamuses changing their size or shape.