Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I is for Immoral

Many people make free use the word “immoral” where “wrong” might do instead. In March, 2007, General Peter Pace referred to adultery involving military spouses as immoral. He also called homosexual acts immoral. The latter remark created a furor. The former was passed over in silence.

Some cynics might maintain that this is because adulterers are not an organized group demanding equal rights. I think there’s more to it than that. If General Pace had said that he “disagrees” with the homosexual life style, or finds it “wrong” and thinks the army should not condone it, there would have been no flap. Using the word “immoral” suggests that it is something objectively depraved, not just subjectively repugnant.

What’s the difference between adulterous and homosexual acts? And what makes any act—sexual or otherwise—immoral?

Truly immoral acts hurt people in some sense of the word. This is obviously the case with physical assaults, or with sexual acts performed on, or in, the presence of children or non-consenting adults. But there’s also something called psychic harm. There’s no question that adulterous acts, if discovered, can cause great psychic harm to the partners of the offenders. Such acts, if discovered, might also cause real psychic harm to children and other family members.

What about homosexual acts? If they are performed in private between consenting adults, it’s hard to see what harm they can cause, unless someone becomes infected with a sexually transmitted disease. But I don’t think that’s what General Pace had in mind. General Pace and millions of others like him consider homosexual acts to be “immoral” by their very nature.

Are homosexual acts really and truly immoral in any non-Biblical sense? Do they do any consenting person physical or psychic harm? It is easily possible to conceive of someone engaging in his or her first consensual homosexual act coming away from the experience disgusted or wishing it had never happened. But heterosexual acts can produce the same reactions. If you didn’t like it, don’t do it again.

Many would argue that homosexuality is “unnatural.” But if that’s the case, why is it so widespread among humans and even among many other species? And what about herteosexual acts that cannot produce offspring? Are they “unnatural” as well? When you come right down to it, words alike “immoral” and ‘unnatural” are really devoid of any objective meaning. Their use, especially their frequent use, tells us a lot about the person using the words, but almost nothing at all about the acts they deplore.

And finally there’s the question of choice. I’m confident that General Pace is among those who look upon homosexuality as a choice and not a condition. I’d like to ask the General if and when he chose to be a heterosexual, or was his heterosexuality something he discovered about himself. Homosexuality would seem to be a strange choice for any person to make since it is likely to expose him or her to a lifetime of ridicule, persecution and denial of opportunity. Speaking of denial, in the last few years over 10,000 homosexuals have been forced out of the U. S. Armed Forces. Meanwhile, the military is so overstretched by the Iraq War that it has had to lower its standards and has begun recruiting high school dropouts and people with criminal records to fill the ranks. Given this acute manpower shortage, you’d think the General would keep his private opinions to himself.

General Pace is surely guilty of sloppy speech, rhetorical overkill and, most likely, unscientific thinking. For the first two he should apologize. For the third he needs to be educated. But he need not apologize for telling us something about himself that we did not know before. He’s simply succeeded in outing himself.

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