Sexual morality

-Why is it wrong to steal?
-Because you might get caught.

Is it wrong to have a date with someone who has a partner? Well, have I any obligation to that partner? No, though she has; and she might hurt herself, too; though this might be the destructive act she needs to take to decisively move on with her life. Then again, if he might get angry with me that might be a practical rather than moral consideration. Even if we were to get involved, I might have no obligation to protect her from harm, only not to deliberately harm her myself. That sort of protecting could be enabling bad behaviour and encouraging unhealthy dependence and so, er, wrong. It is better to treat each other as adults. So it is her obligation to consider any duty to her partner, not mine; but seeing that she did not value that obligation I might choose not to get involved.

I could meet her, though, simply out of interest. People are interesting. No-one can be summed up on a side of A4.

I am interested in moral considerations. What is right? I will feel uncomfortable with something I think wrong, though might persuade myself it was not. Or I could meet her simply for a coffee and a chat- or tell myself that; but while the frontal lobe was telling itself one thing the amygdala might be doing something entirely other.

All this is apropos of nothing at all.

Moral considerations are separate from impulse. Something happens and all your attention is engaged. Hang the consequences. A friend said, “Of course you still fall in love; but you don’t act on it, because you are in a partnership”. This is a matter of self-interest, not just noble self-sacrifice. Then there are practicalities; and finally concepts of right and wrong. “I hurt you because I want to and I can” revolts me, and contradicts Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law. Though that may be slave morality, for the good of the community rather than the nobility of the strong.

Oh! Why can’t we all get along!

It seems to me that I am a communal body, that I want people to support each other, to bear one another up with a tender hand, and I suppose that could just arise from circumstances rather than being a character trait. “Can I get away with it?” I am nervous round that question. The allegation against the Christian is that he makes a virtue of his weakness, but in the war of all against all we all suffer. One answer is that there is no possible overarching understanding, and that moral frameworks are only there to make us feel better, until we want to break them; whereupon we need only a new rationalisation. I am quite clear that physical intimidation is wrong in a civilised society- but then, I am not physically intimidating.

Happiness II

Happiness is dangerous. It is a threat. I might do something in spontaneous joy, and it would be silly, and I would look a fool, and that would be a complete disaster!

It is strange that when I drag the Foundational Truths of my Existence into consciousness, and examine them, they appear so wrong. I don’t think I have exaggerated this. I would far rather be right than Happy.

And yet recently I have had moments of Happiness, and- the world did not end.

The heart of the human is Love, and love is simple. It is unaffected. It is effortless. It is me.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, the mystical marriage of St Catherine

“Rather be right than happy.” Mmm. So “right and happy” is possible in some situations, but we are discussing situations where it is not; and both “right” and “happy” have to have some meaning.

If “right”, I am in a place of intellectual understanding which I can justify by rational argument to myself. It’s not what works, because we work with other people; rather it is what ought to work, what by my own moral judgment ought to be accepted. That is, my right is judged by others to be wrong, but that is OK, because they are wrong.

I would rather be right. I would rather be alone with an understanding which no-one else accepts, with a plan which does not work, than surrender my understanding and-

I am working this out as I go, here. The alternative to my rightness is shadowy, I can’t quite picture it, but I know my rightness is Wrong. It is treasuring my comfortable resentment. It is what I have always known, it is where I am now, lonely yet keeping myself to myself, retreated to my living room.


Stupidity is doing the thing which you know does not work. Yet if I have an idea of how to achieve something and it does not work, I would be happier doing it again, like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the Hill-

for Sisyphus defied the Gods, sought Control in defiance of Reality-

so I try my plan again, and though it does not work, again, it is my plan, it ought to work, I am safe in my comfort zone. Happy enough, or as happy as I can be, even though miserable.

I would rather be Right, because Right is what I know. Opposed to this is the strange, shadowy concept of-


My immorality

To see oursels as ithers see us…

I fear that your lawyer’s mind is far too supple and devious for me to cope with; it is, indeed, beyond my ken. Oh dear. So our friendship is over, and he does not want to see me again. He continues, his position was there were no absolute moral laws or absolute moral values. I think you agree with him. My contempt for him knew no bounds.

Our disagreement was about tactical voting. In 2010, at the election, the Tory majority in my constituency was 1,951. At the by-election, the Labour majority on a much reduced turnout was 7,791. I read somewhere that the likelihood of a Tory victory was 12%, a suspiciously precise figure and too high for my liking. The other candidates are unlikely to win. I proposed voting Labour, because the Labour candidate is preferable to the liar.

R resigned from the Green Party because he was considering voting tactically in the neighbouring constituency. He thought it dishonourable of me to consider voting for another party while remaining a member.

Well, I don’t. I don’t want a Tory MP, so want to use my vote in the best way to prevent that. My reason for voting Green would be that I favour their policies, and want to improve their national vote share, not because I think I could elect an MP. I also support the party with my membership, being part of the “Green Surge” and such leafleting as I have been doing (not a lot) in a neighbouring constituency. I am unsure whether my favouring the Greens is Moral, in the interests of the Country, or merely self-interested.

So I looked at him on Tuesday, as he expressed his disgust for my considering voting tactically, and wondered whether to explain. He counselled against, as it might increase his disgust. He thought of walking out, there and then. I thought of lying by stating that I would vote Green, definitely, or even changing my voting intention, but something, whether pride or morals, made me dislike these ideas. His email ending our friendship came on Thursday.

I find this deeply hurtful and inexplicable. I thought of phoning my friend with the Aspergers husband, but that would do no good: it is not because of Aspergers, nor can she necessarily get me a handle on how he will behave. I want him to back down on this, but can’t see any particular way to make him so will not respond.

The considerations are so small. My vote will have negligible effect, and I am unsure I want a Labour MP: Labour needing SNP support would be better than a Labour majority. Yet it matters to me, and I do not want to be told what to do.

I emailed the woman who ended her friendship with me, and had a moderately friendly exchange of emails.

The green sofa  *oil on canvas  *65.4 x 92.4 cm  *signed b.r.: J. Lavery

My morality

Conceptually, my morality is a mess, but it works for me.

I had thought I was so Consequentialist that my response to, say, deontological ethics was, well, what good does the rule do? I have to define what is good: whatever promotes the flourishing of human beings and the good of the biosphere. As a queer, I have enemies and persecutors and I want them corrected; but assert that is for their own good.

My morality is about balancing conflicting principles. It is good to live in a State with laws to protect us, so I should obey the law; but nuclear weapons are abominable, so I would break the law to resist them, if I see a worthwhile opportunity. My morality is contingent. Yes, Universalisability; but circumstances will be so varied that I can always find something to distinguish my situation from another’s.

Thinking of deontology, though, there are rules which I accept. Formerly, it was important to me that my morality was my own: I choose rules and assent to them, rather than having them enforced on me. I tend to feel don’t lie, don’t steal are good rules. I am fascinated to learn of virtue ethics. I see that virtues may be developed as habit, particularly virtues of courage or persistence. I love Aristotle’s Golden mean, the virtue between two vices, though the only one I could think of was courage between cowardice and foolhardiness, and that was the first on Wikipedia too. Eventually I found this.

I want what is fitting and honourable, paying proper respect to myself and the World, partly as an end in itself and partly to see myself as a good person. “I am the kind of person who…” keeps me on the right track, or attempting, or pretending. Virtue and rules may affect me more in the moment of impulse, performing an act or making a choice.

Thinking of decisions, I am more consequentialist, though I have a sense of what is fitting, what is ugly or beautiful in conduct.

Quite probably I rationalise in favour of my self-interest; but that includes considering others.

You see? A mess. But then life is complex, not to be reduced to an understanding expressible in words.

John Lavery, Evelyn Farquhar

Monkey ethics survive, I need others in my community to show empathy, the ability to learn and follow social rules, reciprocity and peacemaking. So do other primates. The beginnings of our ethics and morality help a group in a social species flourish.

Other primates show reciprocity: If two monkeys perform the same task in an experiment, and are rewarded unequally, the one who is rewarded better is as angry as the one rewarded worse.Chimps are more likely to share food with those who have groomed them, than those who have not.

They show empathy: Given the chance to obtain food by pulling a chain which gives another an electric shock, rhesus monkeys will starve for several days. When two chimpanzees fight, others will console the loser, but among macaques a mother will not even console her injured infant. Consoling another requires a level of self-awareness and empathy only great apes possess. Female chimps will attempt to reconcile competing males, and prevent fights by taking stones from the males’ hands. So explains Frans de Waal in his book Primates and Philosophers, reviewed in the New York TImes.

They show a sense of social rules: where a chimp refused to share bananas he has found, the rest of his group punished him. I got this last from Stand to Reason, a Christian site which seeks to mock the idea of monkey morality: morality comes from God. It points out that in making moral judgment, we assess motive and intent, but asserts that we cannot infer that from the chimps’ apparently punishing behaviour- though it does not posit an alternative explanation for it. Strange to see the God of the Gaps argument trotted out, when it has failed so many times before: especially when it is already failing in this instance.

There are disputes among evolutionary scientists: EO Wilson believes that the better survival of some groups than others can drive evolution, as the survival of the fittest individual can, a view Richard Dawkins derides. Hume believed that moral views derived from emotional states, but Kant derived them from reason, which other animal experiments demonstrate animals using. Hume appears in “Stand to Reason” too: you cannot derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’, it asserts. It is my feeling that my support for the woman’s right to choose derives from an empathetic emotional response to the woman’s need, and I then apply reason to justify that in argument. Kant opposed lying in all cases, regardless of anticipated consequences. (I know this because many non-philosophers like me find that view inexplicable, because we can imagine consequences we find revolting. Note the conflation of reason and emotion in that last sentence.)

For de Waal, morality is a sense of right and wrong that is born out of groupwide systems of conflict management based on shared values. All great apes manage conflict in this way.

Born that way a comment here, Coleman Glenn explains why, unless you see gay lovemaking as morally neutral, the “born that way” argument fails.

He is careful to say that he does not think homosexuality is anything like paedophilia, because paedophilia has a victim. He thinks gay sex harms those who practise it, though he does not say why. He says that “attraction to children” is classified as a mental illness in DSM5, and that arguably people are born with that orientation. But we who accept equal marriage would not accept that those attracted to children should act on their desires, and therefore for someone who believes gay sex is wrong, the “born that way” argument does not make it right. Let us debate other reasons why gay couples should be left in peace.

Well. Coleman is a Swedenborgian, and all I know of Swedenborg is that he was some kind of Christian whom William Blake despised- much of “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” is against Swedenborg. As a Christian, Coleman would value “It is not good for the man to be alone” and “it is better to marry than burn”. So, when I say that gay people are born that way, I argue that the person to assuage my loneliness, or the person who could stop me burning, is one of my own sex. So the “born that way” argument should work against Christian objectors to gay people, which explains the energy they put in to trying to argue we are not, in fact, born that way.

“Born that way” should also work against atheist objectors, if there be any such: if from your own experience you believe it is better to be part of a couple than not, “born that way” shows that gay people form couples which are- gay.

The real problem with the “born that way” argument is that it gives credence to people bleating that there is something wrong with equal marriage, or that gay one night stands might in some way be worse than straight ones. No. Really, no. Come up with some moral argument, and I might engage. Bleat that gay sex is wrong or icky without such an argument, and I have better things to do with my time. The homophobe has failed the basic test of human empathy, so the “born that way” argument will not work on him or her.

Added, late: if you came here from Facebook, please let me know how the comment thread there went.

The Benefits of Nazism

Paisley Abbey New Gargoyles 6My friend’s school put on The Producers recently. Perhaps they thought it edgy for a child who learned German at his mother’s knee to wear a Nazi uniform, but with the grandchildren of combatants now in middle age, it is time to see the benefits of Nazism. I don’t mean all we have learned from them- “First they came for the Jews”, and I know that it is for me to do something about that, because I am a Jew- we learned that from their opponents. The Nazis were so wrong that what is right became crystal clear. The Nazis- testing the Wrong Way to destruction, so no-one else need ever go there. What I mean is all that is tempting about their ideology.

Paisley Abbey New Gargoyles 5One tempting thing is the Ourselves Alone loyalty. So Foreigners are dangerous, and must be restricted: David Cameron portrays Romanians as benefit scroungers, and seeks to have them excluded from the country, playing on our fears and resentment.

Paisley Abbey New Gargoyles 4Another is the black and white morality. Anti-abortionists can get together and feel one with the Group, a powerful and delightful feeling, and feel Right, which is even better. They are divorced from reality, but their feelings are wonderful. This causes suffering for others. The Northern Ireland Justice Minister is consulting on extending the category of permitted abortions from pregnancies which threaten the life of the mother to pregnancies where the baby could not survive outside the womb.

Paisley Abbey New Gargoyles 3That anyone could imagine it was right to force a woman to go through with a pregnancy where the baby could not survive outside the womb is horrifying: and the other political parties have expressed opposition to the extension of the law.

Paisley Abbey New Gargoyles 2There are extreme cases in the abortion debate- partial birth abortion at 38 weeks, where there is no threat to the mother or foetal abnormality, say- and in my pro-choice position, I swither between a pragmatic view that such extreme cases are so rare that I need not have a position, most abortions take place before Paisley Abbey New Gargoyles 1twelve weeks, and a clear view that the woman has the right to choose. But this is not the tempting moral simplicity of the anti-abortionist, but a refusal to make a judgment on the woman, who will have feelings for her child, and will only have an abortion if she cannot see an alternative. It is not for me to decide. I refuse to define myself against the Outsiders, the Bad People.

I am not saying Mr Cameron is a nazi, merely that he had adopted a central plank of the nazi world view, rather than a peripheral one like Hitler’s vegetarianism. For illustration, I thought of Prince Harry’s nazi uniform at a fancy dress party, but found it too disgusting. Here are the Paisley Abbey New Gargoyles, by Colin.

Springtime for Hitler and Germany!
Tomorrow belongs to me!

Paisley Abbey New Gargoyles


Deep-V-Neck Sheath Floor-Length Orange Red Chiffon GownMy blogging and facebook friend Michelle Krabill, who remains Evangelical but has a beady eye for Evangelical folly, quotes a survey of what women’s clothes Evangelical men found “immodest”. A choice example is that 65.4% said it was a “stumbling block” when a girl reaches into her shirt to adjust a bra strap. So, if my strap falls down, I must walk around unable to move my upper arm, until I can find a restroom and correct my dishabille in private- or risk tripping a man up with Naughty Thoughts, so that he falls off the true path of Christ and heads for Hell. But then, my breast will be lolling about inside my shirt, unsupported, perhaps even jiggling a bit. Oh! What is a girl to do?

Is it not amazing that I have such power over men’s souls? Or at least, that women younger, more attractive, and cissexual, have that power?

When skirts were all floor length, a glimpse of stocking really was something shocking- something unlooked for, which suddenly drives a man to thoughts of SEX. Some men have sex drives so strong, insistent and unrelenting that any sudden glimpse sends them wild. Which is why we wear slit skirts, of course: a glimpse is so much more fascinating than a clear view. While 29.1% of the survey said that slits in skirts are immodest, I am sure 100% would find the slits illustrated horribly fascinating. God have mercy, that woman is showing her knee! Graceful-Regency-Chiffon-Halter-Neckline-Open-Back-Side-Slit-and-Sequins-Accented-Evening-Dress

Halter necks like these dresses have are immodest, say nearly three quarters of the 1600 men surveyed. Indeed, a quarter would object to the models exposing their (rather sexy) collar-bones. We really cannot win: if we wear a niqab, some men will object to seeing our eyes, and in Afghanistan even these are obscured, behind a grille, within a loose, tent-like thing. The Taliban Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, modelled on the similar Saudi ministry, then objected to women wearing shoes with hard soles which made noises as the poor slaves walked.

When a commenter said that “most of the people responding [to the survey]  are Mennonite/Amish/Quaker” I got wound up. It is true that we tend to wear modest clothes, though I have no objection to showing off my collarbone, even my chest almost as far as my non-existent cleavage. But we do not enforce these standards on each other through fear, like these men. Rather, we value “plain dress”, which like “plain speech” is part of our testimony to Simplicity, from self-respect. Our plain dress is also practical, and lacking display.

Morality enforced by others will always be tyranny. The only way is to trust each other to behave like moral adults. Judge not.

For connoisseurs of Evangelical idiocy, here is an attack on and defence of the weird doctrine of Dispensationalism,

Moral thinking

armaments don't give securityCan reading moral philosophy help my own morality?

I am consequentialist. An action is good insofar as it promotes the flourishing of human beings. If I accept certain rules, such as the principles of natural justice, that is because I can find consequentialist arguments for them. I would find an ought from an is: because this is a good result, it follows that we ought to seek it- unless my definition of “good” makes that a circular argument.

Moral philosophy might help me discomfit opponents: a blog said homosexuality is Wrong, and a comment called the blogger’s thinking “deontological”. That might be a good tactic, to bamboozle another with long words. But how much of my morality comes from moral rules? Is my belief in the equal value of human beings a moral rule? I could make that consequentialist: another human being has more value to me as a free collaborator than as a slave to do my will.

Is gay sex immoral? Clearly not. Next question. The claim that it is causes suffering. But then, I would say that wouldn’t I. Here is a conservative evangelical who says that her lot are far too obsessed with us queers. She heard a sermon about gay sex indicating “relational brokenness” and believes the preacher should have considered instead sex before marriage, adultery, divorce and remarriage, and many other inappropriate relationships that permeate the Christian church. I agree that if preaching against sexual temptation a preacher is better to address the temptations of the whole congregation rather than a small part of it, but-

She met a man recently who had left his wife, because she had the same chronic condition from which the blogger suffers. My heart goes out to both women. Having freely vowed “til death us do part”, he should have kept his word; but just possibly she has as much self interest in preaching about other sexual sins as I have. I do not imply that her husband is considering leaving her, merely that it is easiest to empathise with a person when you can imagine yourself in her position.

Even when I seek what is “Right”, or what has the best consequences, having been socialised into civilisation, there may be self-interest there. That is why Quakers have such involved ritual and myth around our decision making. Yesterday, having ate together at my meeting house, we sat in silence, then spoke to matters of business one by one, each knowing that we must set aside self-interest in seeking the Good, and having experienced the Good emerging before. We minuted a decision only when we could unite behind it.

A modified ritual is available for an individual who wishes to make a decision, to sit in worshipful silence with others and seek together for the Right.

Legitimate rape

File:Blastocyst.JPGFrom this side of the Atlantic, Todd Akins appears to be a gift to the pro-choice side of the abortion argument. What he said:

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”

Then Congressman Steve King weighs in:

REPORTER: You support the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act that would provide federal funding for abortions to a person that has been forcefully raped. But what if someone isn’t forcibly raped and for example, a 12-year-old who gets pregnant? Should she have to bring this baby to term?

File:Ultrasound image of a fetus.jpgKING: Well I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way and I’d be open to hearing discussion about that subject matter. Generally speaking it’s this: that there millions of abortions in this country every year. Millions of them are paid for at least in part by taxpayers. I think it’s immoral for us to compel conscientious objecting taxpayers to fund abortion through the federal government, or any other government for that matter. So that’s my stand. And if there are exceptions there, then bring me those exceptions let’s talk about it. In the meantime it’s wrong for us to compel pro-life people to pay taxes to fund abortion.

Mr King’s argument interests me, because I think genuinely pro-life people should not be compelled to pay taxes towards military spending, to buy tools to kill people, or, for that matter, to pay for executions. In the early 19th century, when British local militias were paid for out of local taxes (“rates”), Quakers corporately decided not to pay the military rate. Generally, politicians agree that tax is apportioned by government, not directly by citizens, and think that the right to opt out is unworkable.

Akins’ outburst appears to be a gift because he is utterly repulsive, so that even Mr Romney had to denounce him. And yet he is a member of Congress, so File:Sucking his thumb and waving.jpgmust have some political skill: he must have thought such opinions would endear him to his electorate, rather than disgust them. It is terrifying that people might agree with such views.

Even if by “legitimate rape” Akins meant “rape as defined in law” rather than “rape which the law allows”, the proper meaning of the words, it is disturbing: it is as if he says that people bandy about the word “rape”, and so its use needs to be restricted.

No abortion, ever, is his desire. Rape victims are not an argument against this, because they are a tiny proportion of the abortions carried out in the US. Oddly enough I find something there to agree with him. The fact that women who have been raped need abortions is not a useful argument on the pro-choice side, just as the disgust I feel at partial-birth abortion is not an argument on the anti-abortion side. Partial birth abortions were 0.17% of US terminations in 2000. The argument is in the middle. Not a woman who will die if her foetus is not aborted, not a woman who was raped, and not a woman who wants to destroy a foetus which might survive if born.File:3dultrasound 20 weeks.jpg The real argument is about a woman who is twelve weeks gone and feels that she will be unable to care for a child, or to give one up if it is born. Such a case represents a far higher proportion of terminations than intact dilation and extraction on the one hand, or rape victims on the other.

It is only a tiny amount of agreement. Mr Akins has an absolute principled stand, no abortions, never, not nohow. Such a simple principled stand leads to the ritual humiliation of the vaginal probe, as legislators desperately try to roll back abortions. Whereas I want to consider the cases which actually happen, and have compassion on all the human beings involved.

I think an anti-abortion stance fails to have that compassion. It judges the woman. It says she has done a bad thing- whether that is unprotected sex, or sex while not in a loving relationship- and so should suffer the consequences. I would keep the law out of the matter entirely, and provide abortion on demand. I trust mothers not to abort unless it is necessary.