Over at The Washington Monthly‘s blog, Hilzoy has been writing some exceptional posts of late. I like the one-two punch of Steve Benen and Hilzoy that the Monthly has featured since Kevin Drum left for Mother Jones. Benen is a more typical blogger – tending to use short posts that link to a story, quote heavily from it, then produce some pithy commentary. Hilzoy, on the other hand, writes posts which are quite a bit longer and more detailed, drawing from multiple sources and producing some really insightful commentary on the issue.
My favorite two of late were her piece regarding Pope Benedict’s declaration that alteration of someone’s god-given gender is an unnatual act, “contrary to the Spirit Creator,” an error which can be corrected only by ” listening to the language of creation.” She starts from that declaration about the language of creation, and moves further into a discussion about the odd combination of irrational faith and willful ignorance that religious fundamentalists have to inculcate in order to believe that their idiosyncratic cultural prejudices are somehow reflective of the “natural” state of affairs.
It is not true that the natural world teaches us that marriage is between a man and a woman — it doesn’t have teachings on the subject of either human or divine institutions, and it surely does not teach us that homosexuality is unknown in nature. (The Pope is reputedly very smart and intellectually curious; did he somehow miss the stories about gay penguins, fruit flies, bonobos, and even, topically enough, black swans?) Lots of fish change sex, as did this ex-hen. There are male animals who act like females, and vice versa.
More to the point: so what? Lots of things that we find immoral are widespread in nature. Spiders eat their mates, for instance, but that doesn’t imply that it’s OK for us. Lots of things we think are just fine are unknown in animals — number theory, for instance, or blogging. If you want to argue about what we learn when we “listen to the language of creation”, you need to explain how we distinguish it from, say, the language of prejudice. Does the fact that the purpose of eating seems to be nourishment imply that it is immoral to drink diet soda? Does the fact that we ‘naturally’ get around using our legs imply that we were wrong to invent the bicycle, or, for that matter, the wheelchair? Does the fact that we are born vulnerable to a whole host of diseases mean that we should not develop vaccines and cures?
Actually, I do think there is something vaguely immoral about diet soda, not to mention rather disgusting. Another one of those new resolutions – no soda. I actually haven’t had one for nearly a month, although I don’t expect to make it all the way through the year without it. And I do think diet soda is actually worse for you than regular, but that’s a story for another post.
Anyhow, Go read Hilzoy’s whole post. I am actually terribly interested in the study of human being’s natural behavior, and what it can tell us about how to live our lives so as to be happier and more well-adjusted than our culture has tended to make us. I think there’s some very interesting work in this field, although the best work comes to us from anthropology, not theological studies. And, probably not surprisingly, a lot of the conclusions drawn from anthropology are completely antithetical to the Pope’s conclusions.
Hilzoy’s other post I really liked was entitled ‘An Eye For An Eye Makes The Whole World Blind‘, an old Gandhi maxim, and its subject was the recent round of hostilities in the Gaza Strip. If I were a better writer, I could have written exactly what she said.
One of the many things that makes the Israeli/Palestinian conflict so utterly dispiriting is that it’s impossible to think of anything good coming of any of this. Worse than that, it’s hard to imagine that even the people involved think anything good will come of it.
What, exactly, do the Palestinians lobbing rockets into Sderot think they will accomplish? That the Israelis will look about them and say: Holy Moly, I had no idea this place was so dangerous!, and leave? Do the Israelis think: even though we’ve bombed the Palestinians a whole lot, and it’s never done much good before, maybe this time it will be different! Maybe Hamas will say: heavens, this is a pretty serious round of attacks; maybe we should just sue for peace — ? Or what?
I imagine what people on both sides are thinking is something more like: do you expect us to just sit here and take it? Do you expect us to do nothing? To which my answer is: no, I expect you to try to figure out what has some prospect of actually making things better. Killing people out of anger, frustration, and the sense that you have to do something is just wrong. For both sides. And its actual results are numbingly predictable:
I hope to have a post of my own on the Gaza attacks soon, but I’m not sure I can say anything smarter than that.