I’m Not Sure if This Is a Post About Love

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

Related Post Roulette

119 Responses

  1. I don’t have any real insight to make, here, Jason, but this was a great post. I think your journey in discerning love (for lack of a better term) is valuable for those of us who haven’t gone through it–both so that we may develop a little more understanding of others, and so that we may apply the lessons to our own situation to, hopefully, be a little more self-aware.Report

  2. James Hanley says:

    It comes back anyway.


    We meet behind a veil of ignorance…Would we ever think to establish homosexuality? Of course not.

    Respectfully, I disagree. The veil of ignorance assumes that we know things that might be, just not what our position in that world might be. Someone might very well say, “a thing that might be is that some of us will be attracted to the same sex, and none of us knows if it will be us…on the chance that you might be the person in that position, how do you want the rules concerning love to be structured?”Report

    • Murali in reply to James Hanley says:

      And you don’t even know the probabilities. So, while you know that you could be attracted to person’s of the same sex, you dare not create rules that would deny you (if it came to that) the possibility of a fulfilling life. And since the veil also blocks all knowledge about what fulfilling lives consist in, you also cannot rely on traditional arguments to waive away the possibility that being with the same sex partner you love would turn out to be your best or even the only chance at a fulfilling life.Report

  3. Glyph says:

    This is terrific, Jason.Report

  4. Maribou says:

    This is a beautiful post – probably the most personal you’ve ever posted here? – and you’ve honored us with it.


    I hear you. In some ways – smaller ways, easier ways – I have felt some of these things. Knowing you even in the small, easy ways that I do, I would be surprised if you felt differently (any of it, the joy, the distress, the hope … ). And yet.


    For most things in life, I stay well away from Berkeley. The experience of stubbing one’s toe proves only a few things, most of them obvious or unimportant.

    But somehow, true love – the kind that feels concrete, palpable, *alive* when I’m in the same room with it – has never fit within the rest of my frame.

    Whether or not it lasts, while it’s there, it is the most solid of all impermanent tangibles. Irrefutable, unquestionable, realer than anything else in a universe that mostly consists of the connections tying together mostly empty spaces. As real as God should be.

    Y’all have an awfully big rock. And I am fiercely, selfishly glad that it exists. I’d be an intellectual scoundrel if I pretended to an objectivity – or a neutrality – that I will never actually hold. Perhaps that makes me an insufficient judge. Perhaps not.


    I sometimes wonder whether for some of us love is easier to see from the outside? As absurd as it sounds, I doubt that I am loved; I doubt that I love; but I’ve never seen any two creatures that obviously love each other, and *honestly* wondered if it were otherwise.Report

    • Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

      Ech. I should probably just OWN being an intellectual scoundrel, because I get carried away and say the thing I don’t mean instead of the thing I do fairly often. For example, I *have* honestly wondered. Many times. But not in the last 10 years. I’ve *stopped* wondering, is what I mean tto say.

      (Jeez, rhetoric-wielding self. Stop embarrassing me!)Report

  5. Kim says:

    “Would we ever think to establish homosexuality?”
    History says yes to this point, though I doubt it was
    conscious. Which societies survived, got stronger —
    and more importantly, grew bigger, was highly dependent
    on a few factors.

    One is the ability to regulate reproduction, particularly during hard times.
    Another is the ability to work together.
    And, dare I say it, intelligence.Report

  6. zic says:

    Jason, I cannot begin to express my love of this piece.

    I have two brothers who are gay; one is now happily married, the other dead of AIDS.

    I love them both, deeply. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years mourning for them; mourning the lack of role models, the out and open loving relationships that would have helped them feel their attraction and their loves were within the ranges of love people experience. You’ve captured this lack in our representation of human love far better then I imagined it possible to capture.

    How you live your life in love, how you model being in love to your daughter, to your friends, in your writing, becomes part of the tapestry for future boys who have a crush on another boy. We’re in the midst of a generational change, or so I hope, and the recognition that this, too, is love is most welcome.Report

  7. Kim says:

    This is indeed a lovely piece….
    I think most people are genuinely capable of love
    towards a wide range of people — the people
    who have a true and honest preference for
    heterosexual love are relatively few (25%, maybe?) —
    these are the people who it would genuinely
    “not Make Sense” if they fell in love with someone with
    the same gender.

    I figure most people are sheep, and they’re likely to
    consider same-sex love as “best friends forever”
    rather than letting it go any further, even if they’d be
    likely to do so if it was opposite-sex.

    I find it kind of weird to do so, but as I look back to
    my high school days, I think of a few girls that
    if they had been guys, I totally would have had a crush on.Report

  8. dragonfrog says:

    Thank you Jason, that was a beautiful and moving post.Report

  9. North says:

    The post is stellar Jason and I feel it and for you though I don’t share your experience directly and thus lack some of your burdens.

    Yes I was a gay kid and yes I lacked gay role models but mercifully my parents were functionally atheist (Church was for weddings, funerals and pancake meals before the 1st of July). As such I wasn’t indoctrinated with that traditionalist view that you acquired. Obviously this is subjective but I disagree about their power. For those of us who were not indoctrinated, they are nothing, just ashes and dust on the breath of their disciples. Their assorted assertions (even those of the best of them) of the traditionalist views are irredeemably circular or at best rest on the assumption of an effable God who’s existence cannot be proven to exist but who’s intent somehow can?
    Unless they’ve been branded into the brain of a malleable child those attitudes and assertions just don’t pass the snort test. They can’t stand on their own and they’re best left discarded.

    Happily more and more gay kids are growing up free of it. The new generations are astonishing in their confidence, their matter of factness and their sheer almost blind acceptance of homosexuality. I look at the kids and I honestly can believe that homosexuality could be like left handedness in a relatively short demographic order.

    That all said, man that was a great post, kudos! I will resist the urge to talk about my first crush.Report

    • zic in reply to North says:

      I wish you would, North.

      and not just the first real-person crush, but the first distant crush; the crush that leads to putting posters up all over the wall crush. I had one of those on Davy Jones of the Monkees. My cousin, on Donny Osmond. One of my first gay friends said his was on Gino Vannelli. I’ve never asked my brother or his husband, I think I will.Report

      • Maribou in reply to zic says:

        Hah. Our brains, in sync.Report

      • zic in reply to zic says:

        Great minds and all that.

        Plus outsized curiousity about North’s love life.Report

      • North in reply to zic says:

        @maribou @zic
        Since you and Maribou both asked Zic I’m happy to oblige.

        He was one of my best friends (let’s call him Morgan) about a half year older than me and on top of it a gymnast. Those of you who don’t know gymnasts probably won’t groc to the significance but I will lay it out starkly; in terms of raw eros the boy (for we were both boys) was incredibly beautiful. We were in our mid teens and spent enormous amounts of time together night and day. My experience is unique, perhaps, in that I cannot say for absolute certainty whether my love and lust for Morgan predated my actual experience of intimacy with him or whether the intimacy came first. I guess it’s unique also in that my crush was not unrequited en-toto; we never actually -discussed- what we were doing but we covered the very basic A-B-C’s of sexual education. Then the passage of events drew us apart, I was introverted and uninterested in athletics; he was extroverted and very much in sports. He even went to the Olympics (though I don’t believe he placed) but whenever our orbits would intersect the un-discussed silent adventures would continue.

        I cannot speak to Morgan’s view of the matter but it put me in a curious position in that my crush and my romantic interest was something I’d actually experienced to a significant degree. Putting up posters or sighing over fellows on TV didn’t occur to me for years to be honest; I could count on (occasionally) getting my hands on the real fellow. So I was cursed or blessed to miss out on that aspect of the gay experience. In any event the years passed and we both became (very young) men. While I do not recall experiencing much in the way of public terrorizing of gays the silent assumption was that everyone was straight so I made noise about interest in girls and I know he dated. In time I began to get the feeling that his interest was waning, it was a continuum I would say with him instigating initially, then gradually the roles reversing over the years until I was the motivating partner. Throughout these years we remained friends but increasingly distant ones as our orbits continued to diverge. One Christmas as part of some inane family meal (his family and mine dined together often on holidays) he looked me dead in the eyes and told me he wanted children. I somehow knew that there was serious meaning behind the comment and I touched his leg under the table and (very earnestly for I believed it when I said it) told him he’d make a wonderful father.

        That summer I formalized plans to move to Minneapolis to learn something of the big wide world. He called a day or two before I left, asked me to call him back and I somehow didn’t get around to it. That decision will haunt me until I die; what was he calling for? To wish me luck? For something else? I will never know. I grew and learned so much in the States and eventually returned to Canada for university. We were in the same city and he was even more beautiful than I remember though we again crossed paths infrequently. I considered trying to reach out now and then but so much was unspoken, my shyness was ferocious and I had another budding relationship developing. He married a woman in my last year of university. I went to the wedding; he was ineffably beautiful. Their wedding theme was singing, guests had to sing a song to get the couple to kiss (in lieu of clinking glasses). My sister and I did this clowning shtick where we sang the song from “Beauty and the Beast” only with us stopping at the title line because we couldn’t agree on whether the groom or bride was the “beast” and had to repeat it to try and resolve the conflict, on the final (third) sing through we ended up finally singing it by identifying Morgan’s mother as Beauty and her husband as the Beast. The people laughed so hard they spilled their wine and the entire reception stood and clapped. Morgan and his Wife both hugged me, that was the last time I touched him.

        I still see them on the rare occasion, they live in the same area as my Mother. Morgan is a police officer now and with agnostic Jesus as my witness he’s more beautiful now than ever. His wife is a gorgeous kind and sweet catholic girl. They have four blond haired blue eyed moppets, mind meltingly cute and happy children.

        Is Morgan a gay man deeply closeted and living a lie? I do not believe it could be so. Morgan had a gay uncle who his family was generally open about. His family’s embrace of me as a gay man was unconditional and lacked any hint of falseness to it. Morgan himself is a deeply confident and gregarious person; I cannot see him foisting such suffering on himself. I have mulled the question over and can only assume he is/was a Kinsey 2.5-3.5 who is probably capable of going either way. A bisexual most likely then.

        Ironically this lends a certain twist to the knife of history- had I been a different person, a more open and direct one, how would his and my future have gone? I adore my husband who I love to death and we suit each other to a T but you never ever forget your first love. I would never dream of trying to broach the subject to Morgan. We inhabit different worlds and the time for trying to sling such ropes is so utterly past as to render such efforts petty, grasping and cruel. There is too little to be gained, far too many people to be hurt, to say nothing of ignorance sometimes being bliss. If I could wish myself the true answer from Morgan would any answer he gave be a pleasing one? No I don’t think it would.

        In any event, by the time the space between Morgan and I yawned wide enough for burgeoning teenage hormones to begin trampling through the internet had introduced itself to me as a phenomena. I was connected to an international network of gay people like myself who provided both for the wholesome social contact and the more sordid and tawdry aspects of any human man’s life so I had no need of distant fan obsessions or crushes. No posters on my wall or hours spent listening to a public entertainer in a daydreaming haze.

        I hope this isn’t a let down.Report

      • Maribou in reply to zic says:

        @north – of course it wasn’t a let down; rather, it is exactly the sort of story I feel lucky to have people tell me about themselves. thank you.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to zic says:

        @north — Best post ever.Report

      • zic in reply to zic says:

        @north that is a wonderful story.

        I hope he’s very happy.

        I think there’s far too much pressure on people to be either — gay or straight, and that there are people who are definitely one or the other. But there’s a big mass of humanity in the middle, who have the capacity to love someone because they love them, not because of their gender. I’ve certainly met women I felt I could love and be happy with.

        Thank you.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to zic says:

        I was completely and totally and convincingly “straight” before transition — by which I mean I liked women. And it was totes for real. Not a hint of the closet.

        Dudes? — yuck! gross! not even!

        I mean, I had an impossible-to-define sense that I was a lesbian, at least a strange attraction to lesbianisms that felt very different to me from the normal straight-guy-turned-on-by-girl-on-girl crap.

        In fact, such dudes viscerally annoyed me. It was obvious to me why they were completely gross, and no lesbian ever had to explain why. I felt it in my bones. Those dudes do not belong.

        Which made me feel really awkward, since I had no idea yet that I was a woman.

        Then I made the big change. And I still love women. In fact, I am surely homoromantic, by which I mean my romantic attractions are deeply and exclusively for women.

        Women! Women! Women! All the way.

        But damn I love a hot guy now. Just to have him grab me, to kiss me, to do more.

        OMFG it turns me on. Like nothing ever.

        (I could not type things that I promise would make you blush. All of you. No, YOU also.)

        I now call myself bisexual, although I’m not sure if that’s quite right either. “Queer” fits me best.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to zic says:

        Note, I mean I could NOW type things… 🙂Report

      • zic in reply to zic says:

        Yup. I have a friend who’s lesbian; and who, for reasons she doesn’t grasp, found herself so attracted to a particular guy that it just about drove her bonkers and did drive her partner of many years away.

        And yet she still has an eye for the ladies, too.

        I suspect there’s also a lot of meaningful same-sex relationships that form in prison — not prison rape, but prison love. Our boxes and our closets don’t do these kinds of love and these kinds of lust justice.Report

      • North in reply to zic says:

        Thank you all, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Veronica I had an acquaintance in high school who perhaps had similar inclinations. He later described himself as wanting to have sex with girls (so far so normal) but desiring to do it -AS- a girl. So, as we confusedly parsed, you truly wish you could be a lesbian which he, or I suppose she, assented that she did. I know she went into transition after community college but I cannot claim with any truthfulness that I put much effort into remaining in touch. It’s a pity, I am sure she could have used a friend.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to zic says:

        @north — It’s very common. In fact, it has its own (very broken and reductive) psych classification: “autogynephilia.”

        Which as a descriptive term is fine, but it is wrapped up in some pretty horrible, homophobic “theory” created by cis men who hate us. But anyway, it is a common enough story.

        Which reminds me, there is a great passage in Imogen Binnie’s Nevada where the main character, Maria, is describing this stuff to a not-yet-out-not-yet-accepting trans woman, who is still named “James.” Maria says this (paraphrase): you can lie to yourself in many ways, but you cannot lie to yourself when you’re getting off. When you’re doing that, only the truth will do. So if your fantasies are being a woman, well, that’s a big clue. That’s the stuff that you cannot accept in the day to day, but must see when your eyes are closed.

        Anyway, big truth bomb. There is a reason Nevada is the best trans novel yet written, and why that is unlikely to change.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to zic says:

        @north That was so beautiful. It made me cry in a DC metro station last night.Report

      • Glyph in reply to zic says:

        @north – yeah, this was great. Thanks.

        This should have been a Symposium post all its own; to tie it back to Jason’s OP, this is a story as big and as moving as any of the straight romances and heartbreaks that were taking place all around it every day and were probably the subject of much attention and gossip; yet this one took place largely out of sight of anyone but the people involved. That’s both beautiful and a little sad.

        And I’m guessing that at the time Morgan said it, “I want kids” implied only one available path for him; but here in 2014, we know that’s no longer the only way forward.Report

      • North in reply to zic says:

        Veronice, thank you I have a new addition to my reading list.

        Jason, I am very honored that you were moved.

        Glyph, feel free to comment rescue if you want, I don’t know if it’s really post worthy in itself. Regarding the children this was in the mid 90’s so even then children for gays were possible. I honestly don’t know what Morgan meant. Was it a simple statement- I’m going for women or was it an invitation. Had I enthusiastically concurred that I longed for children too one day (God(ess)? my mother would have been delighted) what might have happened. It’s all the unknowns, I think, that make me always return to the subject of Morgan and gingerly turn it over and over in my mental hands like a blind man handling a broken shard of glass.Report

      • Glyph in reply to zic says:

        @north – done, thanks, it’s an off-the cuff. I have to run out for a few hours, so if there is some issue, contact any of the usual OT gang.Report

    • Maribou in reply to North says:

      I will resist the urge to talk about my first crush.

      *wishes for your resistance to falter*Report

  10. Shazbot11 says:

    “The veil of ignorance says no to homosexuality. It should not exist. Were we able to end it, we should do so.

    The veil of ignorance says no to discriminating against homosexuality. It says nothing at all about homosexuality itself, nor heterosexuality either.

    If you are implying some criticism of the concept of the veil of ignorance or the version of liberalism that rests on it, this is literally the worst argument you could come up with.

    Hopefully, you’ll clarify as I can’t imagine someone as smart as you making such an awful argument reflecting such a misunderstanding of the concept of the veil of ignorance.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Shazbot11 says:

      If homosexuality were a matter of policy, which is an implied in that section, then “establishing” homosexuality would indeed be related to the veil of ignorance. Because by establishing it, you would be consigning some people to homosexuality and others to heterosexuality. The VoI might be instructive as to whether or not establishing homosexuality were a good thing or a bad thing.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Shazbot11 says:

      The veil of ignorance says no to discriminating against homosexuality. It says nothing at all about homosexuality itself, nor heterosexuality either.

      The participants take discrimination to be a thing that humans will do, and not a changeable part of our social institutions. Maybe that’s true. Maybe that’s false. Let’s say it’s false.

      Still, we have the problem of unrequited love, which we make worse if we institute homosexuality.

      Assuming that we can get rid of homosexuality, we perhaps should. That’s the most that the argument says. It doesn’t say that we can. And there may be other reasons to want to keep it around.

      If you are implying some criticism of the concept of the veil of ignorance or the version of liberalism that rests on it, this is literally the worst argument you could come up with.

      No. I’m saying that my mind spends an inordinate amount of time arguing about the social status of homosexuality — and it constructs arguments both for and against marriage, tolerance, and the like. This was an argument for the anti-tolerance side.

      As far as I know, it’s original. But I don’t think it’s sound.

      For one thing, I disagree that the veil of ignorance is a terribly useful intellectual construct. I think you get out of it almost exactly what you put into it — up to and including monarchism. If monarchists go into the experiment, they will bring with them the intellectual apparatus of their times, in which it is common knowledge that all of nature, and all of humanity, exists in a hierarchy, and that society needs a monarch to survive.

      Surprise, surprise: They emerge having agreed upon a monarchy. Rawls’ own arguments against this outcome are appallingly weak, and I will be happy to comment on them in a future post. But it all boils down to this: one need not be a self-dealer to favor monarchy in the abstract.

      Even granting that VoI reasoning is useful, it does not follow that it offers useful guidance about homosexuality. Consider the parallel case of being an amputee: Behind the VoI, no one would say “we should cut off the arms or legs of 5% of the population.” But that gives absolutely no guidance to how to deal with the real world, in which there are indeed amputees.

      The argument is bunk. It’s not offered either against VoI or against homosexuality. It’s offered as a glimpse into some of the darker and less happy corners of my own mind. Nothing more.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        if we institute homosexuality.

        As I understand the veil of ignorance business, it’s about instituting social/political/economic structures, no human characteristics (unless, perhaps, you combine a strong social constructionist view with the VoI).

        So homosexuality isn’t something to be instituted or not; only the socio-political institutions that affect homosexuals is.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Right, like I said above, you’d be very careful about legislating things that aren’t a matter of choice, or that aren’t personally avoidable, behind the ignorance, because when you emerge from it, you might find those things thrust upon you.

        You don’t really make the sorts of practical arguments Jason’s making behind the veil of ignorance.Report

      • If it were a sound argument, I think it would get us as far as this: If we could cure homosexuality, we should do it.

        I don’t think it’s a sound argument. I also find that the so-called cures are all ineffective.

        Finally, there may be some use to asking about what institutional implications the argument might have, but that only gets us so far. It is after all an unsound argument.

        I’m really more surprised that people didn’t zero in on the argument just after it, which I find more interesting and possibly even sound.Report

      • zic in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        If by the argument after, you mean this:
        To argue with someone properly entails respect. We must take our interlocutors seriously. We must see them as human beings fully equal in worth and dignity to ourselves. We must honor their intelligence, or else we must be silent. There are no honest half measures.

        I think it puts a burden on the people you’re arguing with to live up to that same standard. I fail to see this happening with the Catholic woman saying you cannot understand true meaning of marriage; she’s not coming from a place where you are fully equal in worth and dignity.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Yeah, reading the argument in the post again, it seems to say:

        1.) Discrimination is bad.
        2.) Difference inevitably leads to discrimination.
        3.) Discrimination is bad.
        4.) Therefore we should outlaw difference.

        It’s not just an argument about homosexuality, but about race, hair color, eye color, and everything else. It says that, behind the veil of ignorance, we should all decide to be the same person.

        It then adds some extreme cases — all gay or only a very few gay people — and suggests that, because those extreme cases would be bad (they objectively would be), we should outlaw homosexuality, but this is really just a version of the argument in 1-4 above, and ultimately leads to us all being the same person again.Report

      • Your urge to formalize is getting in the way here.

        Yes, it absolutely is an argument that weighs in favor of more uniformity. But it’s also not necessarily opposing all differences with equal weight.

        Those that we are capable of knowing will cause more problems are more disfavored. Presumably people who acted on this argument behind the VoI would also institute an official religion, for example. Because religious discrimination is awful.

        Which is not to say that I support a state religion. Rather that many things aren’t up for us to legislate effectively, a constraint that the VoI seems to encourage us to disregard.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Those that we are capable of knowing will cause more problems are more disfavored.

        Doesn’t matter. If behind the VoI we could choose against homosexuality, then behind the VoI we could choose against bigotry. You can’t choose that we could change the one and not the other, and your argument appears to depend on that impossibility.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Right, the argument is an argument against discrimination or bigotry, not against homosexuality. In order to argue that homosexuality should be legislated against, we’d have to show that it causes the harm, rather than the discrimination, particularly since discrimination’s harm is not limited to homosexuality. It will in fact extend well beyond it, and if we outlaw everything that results in discrimination, we’ll end up placing so many limits on people that we’d have to conclude we should legislate against the veil of ignorance. 😉Report

      • Even without bigotry, we would still have the problem of unrequited love. Why make more of that in our world?Report

      • Maribou in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Having been in unrequited love, I’m not sure I’d give up those experiences. Easy for me to say, in my very comfortable, thoroughly requited, long-term relationship. But I wouldn’t. Plus it’s not a determinative argument *for* universal heterosexuality in that case, merely an argument for requiting – that genuine wholehearted love for a person would engender a reciprocal level of love in the love object. Which seems more than a little creepy, but would be a far more efficient solution to the problem – and I’m not sure it’s any less creepy than a more general hijacking of human sexuality would be.

        (I get that you KNOW it’s an unsound argument, incidentally. But the unsound arguments that haunt me, I’m always thrilled if I bring them to light and someone chases them out of my mental space with a broom.)Report

      • Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        There are all sorts of things we should outlaw, then. Like, say, unattractiveness, because if there are too few unattractive people, they will not be loved.

        If your argument is not about law, but more abstract than that, namely that on the whole homosexuality is bad for gay people themselves, because of the greater possibility of unrequited love (as seen from behind the veil) and because of discrimination, then while it’s a dangerous argument because it can still be made about so many other things (it’s better not to prefer red heads, because there aren’t many of them, so chances are you’re not going to end up with one, which in turn means it’s better for there not to be red heads, and so on), it’s probably the sort of argument one could make, again, as long as we’re dealing with an entirely new conception of the veil that is more social than political, and therefore produces more abstract principles that aren’t meant to be legislated (just because something is bad doesn’t mean it should be legislated, even from behind the veil).Report

      • Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Put different, this is a sort of playing God veil, rather than playing statesmen (statesperson?) veil.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Also, we’re going to have to settle the question of whether it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, because if it is not the case that it is better to have loved than lost, then we’re going to have to rule out ever falling out of love.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


        Are you assuming we can create/change human characteristics? I stand on my position that this is not what the VoI is about, so it’s not the kind of question you should be spending time contemplating.

        But assuming erroneously that we were crafting humanity behind the VoI, I also don’t think the argument really works the way you want it to. There’s all kinds of minority preferences out there–one of the greatest things about markets is that they make it possible to satisfy an awful lot more of them. So behind the VoI would we really be trying to make everyone alike, or would we be trying to set up structures that promote the satisfaction of all kinds of minority preferences (assuming they cause no others harm)? That is, why wouldn’t we promote ways to make it easier for people who are gay to seek each other out, just as we would promote ways to make it easier for people who like anchovies on pizza to seek each other out?Report

      • Are you assuming we can create/change human characteristics? I stand on my position that this is not what the VoI is about, so it’s not the kind of question you should be spending time contemplating.

        It is commonly thought that homosexuality is not an immutable characteristic. I experience it as one, but that doesn’t mean it is one.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        You’re really going to rely on the worst available arguments just to make yourself feel bad?

        Even if homosexuality is not biologically based, that doesn’t mean that behind the veil of ignorance we would have any idea how to purposefully create/prevent it.

        And even if we could, the rest of my argument still stands against trying to prevent it.Report

      • I find this entire sub-thread quite interesting, but I think it misses the point, a bit.

        What I got from the OP is not that Jason is arguing that there are valid traditionalist or philosophical arguments against homosexuality (necessarily), but that these arguments and thoughts (which may have varying degrees of merit) still come to him and he is forced to confront them.

        Further, the very reason they come to him at all is because of his upbringing in relation to being gay. It seems as though there were aspects of his life that were constantly, and sometimes effectively, poking at his sense of self.

        Such experiences can’t be argued away. What he has had to live can’t be dismissed by logic–however sound it may be. The OP presents ideas and perspectives that the rest of us need to better understand, not insecurities that we can easily eliminate.

        …or I could be completely full of it, and, if so, apologies Jason. Either way, it was a hella good post.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


        I think you’re right except about the point that those old thoughts can’t be argued away. Logic can’t immediately eliminate them, but it can weaken and chip away at them. Because they’re so powerful, each time some angle is logically refuted there’s an immediate shift to another supporting argument, which also has to be logically attacked. Over time, as each element supporting the old thoughts gets chipped away, they get weaker and weaker. They may never go away, but their power ought to wane significantly.

        E.g., it’s still possible to give me a moment of deep fear at the thought of hell, but it’s now very much a passing moment, and the more I dwell on the thought the less it bothers me, rather than more.

        I get the impression that Jason thinks these arguments actually do have some substance, and that’s part of why he can’t shake them. They don’t have substance, though. They’re logically weak and unsupportable. I’m not sure he’s persuaded of that, but I think if he was he’d find them less bothersome, even if they never went away.

        But I should say it’s damn good for me to read this post and hear where he’s coming from, because I’m in the position to be a person who reinforces or undermines those feelings for a particular young person, and I hadn’t thought of this aspect before. Being aware of it will influence my own actions.Report

      • zic in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        @jonathan-mcleod and @james-hanley

        What you’re describing here strikes me as remarkably similar to what I experience as a survivor of a pedophile; an experience that so defines your core of self that you cannot set it aside even as, logically, you deny it as defining.

        I suggest that these types of experiences are actually part of the spectrum of of PTSD; where a situation triggers some past experience, and it overwhelms the fight-or-flight; it’s a memory that the brain cannot get out of the amygdala. I’m not suggesting the mechanism is the same, but that the memory overwhelms the free will to feel, ‘I’m safe,” or “I’m loved,” or “My love is acceptable.”Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I don’t see why the basic insight of the Veil of Ignorance couldn’t be extended to monkeying with how humans would be constructed if (as is the case) we didn’t know what kind of humanity we’d be born into and (as is not the case, hence thought exp.) we could control the options. It doesn’t give us nearly as much insight into what to do as it does in examining the structure of rules and institutions and so forth, because we in fact have no control over the variables and variation of human biology and psychology where as we have some control over the structure of our institutions. But it can give us some insight into the social value and difficulties human difference.

        And that’s where it gets complicated.. Because if we conclude we wouldn’t bring homosexuality into existence if given the choice, what other differences among humans that exist in the world would we eliminate or retain? Is diversity a large net benefit to humanity whose lesser but significant costs are borne by a small minority? If so, how do we deal with that fact in terms of fairness and justice? I think surely the VoI is a kind of structure of thought experiment that is well-conceived to at least help us think about that question to some extent.

        You know who I think could help us think about this? @Murali , that’s who.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        You can’t choose that we could change the one and not the other, and your argument appears to depend on that impossibility.

        Sure you can. We can create both those imaginary Veils as well as any other conceivable variation (after all, all these Veils are imaginary, including Rawls’ original one), and choose which one to use at a given time for a given purpose (presumably in search of a given insight). Whether it’s useful or not can obviously be discussed, but Jason can surely do this.

        (FWIW, on reflection, I think you have a good argument that, given what we can control, the practical insights about addressing justice with action largely end up returning to Veils that are more or less like Rawls’. But that doesn’t mean that the ones with more radical assumptions have no value in giving more abstract insights about value, the particular contours of injustice, and the possible imperatives of justice .)Report

      • Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


        Rather explicitly, general facts about society and human nature are allowed in the veil. This means that the parties know in advance what can and cannot be changed. Hypotheticals about magic pills are not what the veil is about. The GIGO aspect is constrained by your best publicly available facts. The issue, though is not about objective moral truth, but about the social order that is acceptable to everyone. It’s like saying that the scientific method is crap just because it generated results in the past which we now know to be false. That was the best we had then. That it still turned out to be false does not invalidate the epistemic superiority (at that time) of those beliefs.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        “You can’t choose that we could change the one and not the other, and your argument appears to depend on that impossibility.”

        Sure you can. We can create both those imaginary Veils

        No. If you want to go outside Rawls you can say that we can create a VoI where we can change/create human nature. But you cannot–logically–say one aspect of human nature can be changed behind that veil, but another part of it cannot.

        If you do that you put yourself in a position where you have to explain why some aspects of human nature can be determined behind the veil, why others cannot, and what distinguishes the changeable aspects from the non-changeable aspects.Report

      • Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


        Unlike Jason, I do think that there is a sound argument for the various features of the original position. But, the very nature of the argument made precludes its wider applicability to things other than the basic structure of society under plausible considerations. for one, it is only at the level of the basic structure do you need the requirement that the principles be applicable to all. Coordination becomes impossible if different people have conflicting rules about when to advance and withdraw the claims they make on one another. It is this latter fact which justifies the veil of ignorance. Once we can antecedently suppose that there is some conception or family of conceptions that everyone finds acceptable, (or is just or any other such criterion you care to name), we know that in any choice situation which is supposed to simulate the reasons that would favour said family of conceptions, all parties would arrive at that same family of conceptions or that would not be a choice situation which modelled the relevant reasons. Given that all the parties would arrive at the same family of conceptions regardless of who they represent, information about who they represent can be eliminated without affecting the outcome. If, however, you are not talking about the basic structure and hence where coordination given the circumstances of justice is not an issue, there is no reason to impose the quasi universality constraint that ensures that everyone abides by the same set of rules.

        In this case, when you are talking about the distribution of dispositions like homosexuality, that condition breaks down.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        But you cannot–logically–say one aspect of human nature can be changed behind that veil, but another part of it cannot.

        I don’t see why this is the case. These “veils” are figments that exist purely to serve our analytical ends. We can devise them in myriad variations to serve those purposes. What logical constraint applies that keeps me from considering a case in which I can control whether it turns out some humans are gay or not and nothing else? It’s you who has to argue for this; I see no need to defend against your mere assertion that this isn’t logical.

        If you do that you put yourself in a position where you have to explain why some aspects of human nature can be determined behind the veil, why others cannot, and what distinguishes the changeable aspects from the non-changeable aspects.

        Why? Because it’s a thought experiment whose features we utterly control by stipulation. All is changeable in any given version, while anything can be held constant and unchangeable in a given version. What distinguishes what’s changeable and unchangeable in a given version is purely our hypothesizing about what kinds of insights different versions of veils in which different aspects of human nature or social structure can be changed by us might give us. What constraints make this not the case?

        BTW, none of this is to say, to agree with jason, that any given argument that someone might make about what we should do in view of considering these thought experiments is sound. I.e., even if we concluded (as i think we would not) that we shouldn’t bring homosexuality into being, to argue from that that if we could, we should “cure” all homosexuality is not sound.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


        If I am not mistaken, what you’re saying breaks down is the ability to produce sound arguments that should command broad if not general assent about arrangements we would make for the world we’d live in after the veil is lifted. I’m not saying these kind of hypotheticals would produce such arguments. I’m just saying (and I did say) that it seems to me they could be useful for personal consideration of some basic social values, such as diversity, tolerance, injustice, etc.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


        Perhaps at a higher level we agree. What I’ve been saying from the start is that a limitless variety of veils with different changeable features of humanity or society can be constructed. So in a sense I’ve been saying what you’re saying: ultimately, everything is changeable, because the only limitation is the ability of the mind to produce permutations of the basic set-up. But it’s just that within that ability lies the ability to perfectly logically construct experiments in which one or some but not all aspects of human nature can be tinkered with. I still don’t see how that’s illogical. Rather, I think it’s useful in arriving at the same conclusion -namely, that the logic of preventing homosexuality from occurring might well result in preventing many, many other kinds of diversity from arising. this is the result of considering the homosexuality-only veil and Jason’s suggestion we might not bring about homosexuality of given (only) that choice, but then immediately thinking, well, what about a veil in which we could prevent both homosexuality and ________? And then ________ as well, and so on. You end up with uniformity, and that’s (presumably) not desirable (although as I went through it, that process did produce some interesting questions to be considered).

        Maybe what you’re saying is illogical I’m saying is (to me) a logical result of considering a series of thought experiments in that way. (In fact, it was).Report

      • Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


        We are justified in imposing a veil of ignorance on a given choice situation if and only if we are justified in believing that the information so blocked will (as a whole) not vary the outcome of that choice situation.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


        The point and sole function of the veil is to deprive us of knowing what position in a hypothetical society we’d occupy, right? And we’re only justified in trying to adopt that perspective when we think it wouldn’t change how we’d change whatever variables we’re allowing ourselves to consider changing? (Otherwise I don’t know what you’re saying there – feel free to explain more.)

        I’m not looking to challenge you on the central thesis of your dissertation or anything so I’m not going to argue it with you, but I have a hard time seeing that. The veil seems to me like a pretty basic way to think about how to justly structure society – I think people who’ve never heard of of Rawls implicitly employ it all the time.Report

      • Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


        Rawls’s argument is that the point of the veil is to deprive people of morally irrelevant information. The problem with this argument is that it doesn’t really work.

        1. How can we know whether some information is irrelevant without begging the question? Note that the point of saying that whatever would be chosen in the Original Position is just is obviated if you adjust the features of the OP until you get something that looks intuitively acceptable.

        2. In order for Rawls’s argument to work, it must be the case that without the veil, the parties would have chosen differently and that there would either be substantive or procedural problems with a choice situation without the veil. But not only is it difficult to show that there would be a) substantive or b) procedural problems, it is difficult to see how the principles chosen would be any different.
        Consider the following:

        ai) Even with the veil of ignorance, if I change the account of people’s highest order interests, the principles yielded can end up favouring one group rather than another. (In fact, you can generate just about any conception of justice by playing around with the account of the highest order interests and the account of general acceptable facts.

        aii) Even when we remove the veil, parties would have no incentive to choose principles not acceptable to everyone as they antecedently know that those principles would be rejected out of hand. The only principles that they could chose would be those that they know everyone would be willing to accept, which ex hypothesi are Rawls’s two principles of justice.

        b) The procedural argument basically is that there is some unfair bargaining advantage that parties could obtain if they found out that they would be getting a favourable position in society under certain principles. However, whatever the fate of the persons represented by the parties, they all have the same BATNA, which in general, can be presumed to be much more horrible than most of the alternatives they have. If there is no difference in BATNA there is no way to get a bargaining advantage.

        3.The form of the argument doesn’t make sense. In order for it to be the case that the Original Position yields principles that are properly responsive to the moral reasons we have, it must be the case that there must at least be something to the prima facie preference that the mutually disinterested parties have. That is to say, if there are no prima facie reasons in favour of a system of rules in which a given person’s highest order interests are achieved, there is no reason to think that the principles generated by the OP are responsive to any sort of moral reason at all? Why because the bottom line of the way to OP is set up is that the principles chosen from within it are chosen on the basis of which principles are best (given the information constraints) at achieving any given person’s highest order interests. But, if, without the veil, any given party is only concerned about the highest order interests of the person she represents, then she is only concerned about a rather narrow subset of the totality of moral reasons. The form of the argument, thus is the following:

        Subset of relevant reasons (perhaps with some irrelevant considerations mixed in) – a bunch of irrelevant considerations = principles that are grounded by all relevant reasons.

        The math just doesn’t add up. Now, we may say that the veil forces us to consider everyone’s interests. But, does it make us consider everyone’s interests in the right way? how would we know that without begging the question?Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Thanks for the explanation, @murali.Report

      • Shazbot11 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Chris and James are right here about the veil of ignorance. It is a device used to determine the best way to arrange the basic structure of political institutions, given facts about our biology, psychology, scarcity, etc.

        The problem that Jason is worried about has little to do with the veil. It is a question for any system of morality or justice that has any hedonistic consequentialist leanings at all, i.e. any inclination to the belief that we should always avoid causing overall suffering and instead maximize overall happiness.

        I suppose that if -and this is a huge “if”- it is true that the presence of homosexuality causes more suffering than happiness, then any form of happiness-based consequentialism indicates we should try to eliminate it. This seems to me to be a problem. I think that diversity (of lots of different things) is intrinsically good even if it makes the world a little less happy overall.

        These questions about what is good in life are outside of the scope of Rawls’ theory, which is an attempt to determine how best to structure political institutions given that we don’t all share a common conception of what is morally good for ourselves or others.

        These sorts of considerations lead me to want to be an ideal utilitarian like G.E. Moore. Moore believed that there were goods other than pleasure, like beauty. It seems to me that same sex attraction is beautiful and if we removed it from the world and kept overall pleasure the same, a good of great intrinsic worth -the unique beauty of same sex love- would be lost.

        But ideal utilitarianism has problems, too. For instance, how do you know what sorts of things have intrinsic goodness?Report

  11. Burt Likko says:

    I know that your marriage, and your love for your husband, is equivalent to my marriage and my love to my wife, when I read this:

    With my husband, even doing nothing is amazing. I escape to him. With him, even the really awful things get better.

    That’s precisely what I feel about my wife.

    We’ve been married ten years and yeah, after ten years some of the thrill-of-the-new is gone. Age robs us of our youthful beauty; we no longer look as we did when we first fell for each other. Fortunately, wisdom and experience allow us to see the beauty within one another which endures, deepens, and nourishes in a way that the surface beauty of youth does not. And everyone, gay, straight, or inclusive-other-identification, should be able to feel that openly.

    Which is why I think you’re wrong about the veil of ignorance. If we meet behind the veil of ignorance and further assume that we do so with the Godlike power to alter human nature, I think we would not only not eliminate homosexuality as a way that someone might be — we would create a culture and a rule of law for people to live in which did not elevate one’s attraction to particular kinds of sexual partners to a level of significance that rises above the trivial. Because if we have the intelligence and insight that is supposed to inform our choices when we are behind the veil, we would see that the value of long-term romantic love comes from that deeper care and fulfillment, and we would want to maximize the opportunities for everyone to experience it.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Epistemologically, you’ve verified that the two are similar. But that doesn’t establish the truth of the proposition.

      The claim that gender constitutes an essential difference that renders same-sex marriages inferior isn’t falsifiable, which is why it isn’t entitled to very much respect. After all, I could as easily turn the tables and assert that same-sex marriages are superior, for similarly essentialist and similarly unfalsifiable reasons.

      But I don’t. I’m a nice guy. Really I am.Report

      • zic in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        The claim that gender constitutes an essential difference that renders same-sex marriages inferior isn’t falsifiable,

        I’m struggling to understand this since it seems a double negative; can you parse what you mean?Report

      • And not only are you a nice guy, you’re also one who takes care to write with intellectual integrity and, in the case of this OP, some rather searing and personal honesty, which indicates a healthy dose of courage. Props.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Karl Popper’s epistemology holds that properly formulated scientific claims are falsifiable: You can at least imagine evidence that could lead you to reject the claim.

        That evidence may be easy or difficult to obtain, but it has to be conceivable. It doesn’t have to exist, but we have to be able to say what it would look like if it did exist.

        An example of a non-falsifiable claim would be: “God made the entire universe thirty seconds ago, including all of our memories and all of the other evidence suggesting that the world is older.”

        Scientists rightfully refuse to take such claims seriously.

        The claim “gender difference makes heterosexual marriage superior” is similarly situated. Why does gender difference make heterosexual marriage superior? I have no idea, and the statement doesn’t tell us, and probably the true believer doesn’t really know either.

        The result is that you can do all kinds of mischief with it.

        Without more detail about causality or just what “superior” means, we can go no further. But if we do supply those details, some interesting things happen. Consider:

        Gender constitutes an essential difference that renders same-sex marriages inferior, because heterosexual unions are better for kids.

        Let’s consider both logical possibilities:

        (a) Heterosexual marriage is better for kids. But from this it doesn’t necessarily follow that homosexual marriage is inferior in general. They may be inferior for a particular purpose, but that is all.

        (b) Heterosexual marriage is roughly the same or even worse for kids. From this it doesn’t necessarily follow that homosexual marriage is not inferior. We can always cast about for some other reason, and then once more assert inferiority.

        That’s because the claim we’re trying to address can’t be falsified.Report

      • Back in first year, a bunch of us were sitting in the campus coffee house/bar (which sadly went dry ten-odd years ago). The subject of gay marriage came up and one friend stated with absolute certainty that the love between two men* is exactly the same as the love between a man and a woman.

        Another friend–thoroughly tolerant and progress… but also a tad contrarian (and quite smart)–disagreed and said, no you can’t say it’s exactly the same; it’s different. His tone of voice carried more context than typing this out does, and the first friend, slightly sheepishly, agreed. She did, however, counter that you can’t say that any two relationships are exactly the same, to which the contrarian whole-heartedly agreed.

        Seems to me this is where Jason’s coming from.

        Also, I believe he’s a nice guy.

        *I’m sure it says something that this debate so often gets framed in terms of gay male relationships rather than lesbian relationships, but I don’t feel like going there right now.Report

      • Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        This is I think largely because common law used to forbid gay male activities but not lesbian activities. And also because of patriarchy and all that.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        This is I think largely because common law used to forbid gay male activities but not lesbian activities.

        Which is weird, because as a man I want other men to be too busy having sex with each other to compete with me for women.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        @brandon-berg – you heard it here first, folks…it’s the straight guys who are secretly pushing the gay agenda. It’s even more diabolical than you thought.
        @murali @brandon-berg – IIRC, this is because for many, many, many years, common law couldn’t even really decide if what two women did together WAS sex, since there was no penetrative aspect (or at least any that lawmakers could easily imagine).

        Ironically, old narrow-minded conceptions may have worked out for the best there.Report

  12. Lab Rat says:

    “If marriage really is about choosing the person you love, and not about biology, reproduction, or any higher plan for humanity, then we should expect about half of all marriages to be homosexual.”

    Love is about biology and reproduction. I cannot begin to imagine how to separate them, but this does not leave out homosexual love. If (for argument’s sake) we agree that homosexuality is a choice, homosexuals still share the same endocrine and nervous systems, evolved to feel love and facilitate pair bonding. In this hypothetical reality, a person simply has control over the mechanism, effectively choosing who they love. Even in this example, I can think of no physiological reason the subjective experience of love would be substantially different between homosexuals and heterosexuals.

    If homosexuality has a genetic component, and it looks increasingly likely that it does, then it still about biology and reproduction. Neither population genetics nor human evolution is my field of expertise, so I will not speculate as to the mechanism, but I am looking forward to the publication of this study.


    • Kim in reply to Lab Rat says:

      Then you consider some Japanese marriages to be invalid, Labrat?
      After all, they do have asexual marriages there. Hard to see how an
      asexual marriage is about biology or reproduction.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kim says:

        Asexual marriages are not even limited to Japan. Or so I am told.Report

      • Maribou in reply to Kim says:

        If a biologist *wanted* to make an argument that even voluntarily, mutually agreed-upon asexual marriages are fundamentally about sex and reproduction, they could. (I’ve seen such arguments, back when I had the energy to read things that made me fulminate, but mostly they were pretty easy to pick apart as bad science without going outside the argument itself.) It would mostly likely be a very bad argument even if it *was* scientifically sound on its face, because of the lack of respect that approach shows for the individuals involved, and for their lived experiences.

        I think @lab-rat’s point was more that biology is inextricably part of our lives, but also inextricably only part of our lives.Report

      • Matty in reply to Kim says:

        There is a distinction made in studies of animal behaviour between proximate and ultimate causes. While I don’t think social institutions reduce down completely to evolved tendencies I at any rate need this distinction to make sense of what Lab Rat is arguing.

        Put as simply as I can it is entirely possible that the urge to form stable couples has an evolutionary advantage on a population level without every such couple passing on their genes or even wanting to. For an analogy that may, or may not help consider language. Assume the reason language evolved was to talk about hunting, once the tendency to form languages is there it doesn’t go away because you are not hunting, it doesn’t even go away if you develop a language with no words connected to hunting.

        How a thing originated is not the same as what it is doing right now.Report

      • Lab Rat in reply to Kim says:

        That is an unfair criticism, the original quote from Jason’s post mentioned marriage, but I never did. Marriage is a social and legal construct. Love had very little to do with marriage for most of human history. That is a recent invention of rich, industrialized, liberal societies. I do not seek to invalidate anyone’s marriage or relationship. Whether a couple has good or bad reasons for entering into marriage, it is no business of mine.
        My point was purely physiological; humans share proximate biochemical pathways responsible for feelings of love. I argue, unless you posit the existence of the immaterial, feeling love is similar whether one is heterosexual, homosexual, or asexual. Lust, as it relates to asexuals, may be a different topic entirely, I will not speculate.
        I perhaps worded some my initial comment poorly. When I said, “love is about biology and reproduction,” I was referring to ultimate causes. Selective pressure on traits directly related to reproduction is very strong. It is not a big jump to correlate pair bonding with increased survival of offspring. What we do with our predisposition to pair bond is up to us.Report

  13. James K says:

    This is a very moving post Jason, but I think the traditionalist arguments you bring up can be dismissed pretty easily while still taking them seriously.

    1) One of the problems with the Veil of Ignorance is that if you allow altering humanity as a policy option, it places excessive value of homogeneity. After all, would we have more than one race? More than one hair colour? Wouldn’t it be better if everyone was exactly the same, then the only way everyone wouldn’t find someone to love was if there were an odd number of people. Diversity is economically and culturally important, and veil-of-ignorance analysis (or at least veil-of-ignorance analysis with this level of sophistication) doesn’t account for that fact.

    Furthermore, you can’t meaningfully compare utilities between states of the world where people’s utility functions are not the same across those world states. A heterosexual Jason Kuznicki is not the same person as a homosexual Jason Kuznicki, and asking whether the one has more utility than the other is incoherent.


    Why does it just so happen that so many people “love the very most” a member of the opposite sex?

    Because romantic attraction and sexual attraction are correlated? When you think about it, it would be strange if that wasn’t true really.


    The happily married Catholic looks me in the eye and smiles. “I know this sounds patronizing,”

    Because it is.

    “but there are things about traditional marriage that you can’t understand without being in one. You may think you know true love, but what you have isn’t it.”

    Aside from the fact that (as you noted above) this is the most special of special pleading (“I have secret knowledge you can’t access that assures me that I’m right and you’re wrong” – seriously !?), before assigning much weight to the argument, you need to assess the strength of the evidence behind it. Your hypothetical Catholic says this because their religious tradition says it, and their religious tradition says it because … nothing. They have to assert your love isn’t real so as to rationalise the doctrine that makes homosexuality sinful. This is not an attempt a good faith argument, but rather an attempt to buttress an unsupported assertion in the face of contradictory evidence. In this case, it is your interlocutor that is the intellectual scoundrel.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to James K says:

      “Why does it just so happen that so many people “love the very most” a member of the opposite sex?”

      “Because romantic attraction and sexual attraction are correlated? When you think about it, it would be strange if that wasn’t true really.”

      So what you’re saying, then, is that male is made for female, and vice versa. It’s not about love, it’s about fulfilling the plan. And about deviants like me who don’t fit in with it.

      That’s what I’m getting at here, anyway.Report

      • Can I just say that I’m enjoying the fact that you–you–put forth the most persuasive social conservative arguments on the site?Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Jason, might I induce you to take a class in statistics, so you would think in terms of standard deviation, rather than non-standard deviancy? Because not yet mentioned, I think, is that your argument is based on an empirically false binary view of hetero vs. homosexuality.Report

      • James K in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        So what you’re saying, then, is that male is made for female, and vice versa. It’s not about love, it’s about fulfilling the plan. And about deviants like me who don’t fit in with it.

        Ah, no that’s not what I’m saying at all. All I’m saying is that people are more likely to be romantically attracted to people they are sexually attracted to than people they are not sexually attracted to. In that model you’re not even an outlier, much less a deviant.Report

  14. Sam Wilkinson says:


    Obviously, we disagree more often than not, and obviously, part of that disagreement goes toward our shared ability to assume the worst about each other’s positions. So please let me encourage you to take this following bit in the best possible way, even if I mangle what I’m trying to say: what I read here seemed to imply such pain and I hope that at some point, it stops forever. There is no better model than the own happiness that you’ve found and created, perhaps simultaneously. Nothing superior happens on the other side of the fence. There is no fence.

    Thank you for having written what you did.Report

  15. veronica dire says:

    On the “you can’t understand straight love” thing:

    So, perhaps you cannot. But so what?

    Your Catholic friend surely cannot understand queer love —

    and maybe our love is better. Waaaaaay better.

    After all, equal odds.

    Why shouldn’t breeders get one sort of thing, the commonplace that keeps the species alive, while we queers burn like the sun?

    Again, equal odds.

    I find something profound in being queer, a thing sublime that I do not even try to explain. I feel it most when I go dancing, all the lights, the beauty around me — men, women, and otherwise. So many smiles. I feel so much.

    Even in my sadness, which can be so intense, but then I take a walk in the moonlight. Or I find a friend and talk. Maybe we kiss.

    I’m a poly-kinky-queer freaky transsexual. It’s kinda awesome.Report

    • Boegiboe in reply to veronica dire says:

      This resonates with me. I’m not sure I really think my love is more profound than straight love, but it is true that my love is strong enough to make the world change around Jason and me, rather than us allowing ourselves to change to suit the world. Also there’s this: Being loved by someone can make you feel good about yourself, but the effect isn’t as strong if that love is easily found. Because Jason is a brilliant, handsome, D&D-playing, freedom-fighting, easygoing-athiest, shock-humor-loving gay man who loves me and makes me happy, the idea that I don’t somehow deeply deserve that happiness seems very unlikely.Report

  16. Boegiboe says:

    I really appreciated this. It took me a bit longer than it did you to figure out that I didn’t know what love really was. And it took me until falling in love with you to discover how terrifyingly powerful love can be.Report

  17. Mike Schilling says:

    The argument that straight people experience love while gay people experience a pallid and inferior substitute is precisely as convincing as the argument that true love is a reflection of Christ’s love for humanity, and those who have not accepted the latter are thus incapable of experiencing the former. Neither should keep you up at night.Report

    • veronica dire in reply to Mike Schilling says:


      (I did that on purpose.)Report

    • At a law firm I worked at in Tennessee, we hired a receptionist, who within her first day or two of work saw my wife drop by the office to have lunch with me and thought we were charming and enjoyably in love with each other.

      Then she learned that I am an atheist. She was confused, and indeed shaken. “But you don’t believe in God? How can you love somebody without God?” Because I’m basically a nice guy, I swallowed the unintended insult embedded in the protest, and instead bought her lunch to let her get to know a real atheist. She’d never met anyone before in her more than thirty years on the planet who wasn’t a Christian, and this being Tennessee, by “Christian” you should know I mean “Baptist.” As with a lot of people, her first step out of the bubble was a bit uncomfortable.Report

  18. Rose Woodhouse says:

    This was a beautiful and moving post, Jason. I’m glad you wrote it. I wonder if gay children will grow up experiencing this differently when gay marriage is settled fact of life.

    I do, however, take issue (as others have) with your interpretation of the VoI. The whole purpose of the VoI is not to eradicate differences, even differences that are disadvantageous to society (even if you accept that homosexuality is disadvantageous, which I do not). We are not, for example, supposed to decide to eradicate the less talented among us (which indeed is much more to Rawls’s point), or even eradicate their lack of talent or motivation. The point of the VoI is to acknowledge differences and ensure fairness despite those differences. (Okay, he’s weird on disability, but that’s a whole nuther ball of wax.)

    But your broader point doesn’t need the VoI. It’s more: would the perfect society include homosexuality? Given that it leaves certain people (arguably) at a disadvantage in finding love, given that people seem overwhelmingly to be in heterosexual unions?

    Well, you know. Would the perfect society include people of different talents, interests, and abilities? Would it include some whose passion is different?

    God, I hope so.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

      I know the purpose is not to eradicate differences, but only to force one to justify what differences emerge. I think I’ve been misread here – the thought experiment doesn’t yield “suppress homosexuality NOW.” It yields “look for a cure, and apply it when we actually have one.”

      Would the perfect society include homosexuality? If I could, I think would probably make everyone 50-50 bisexual. It would maximize everyone’s chances of finding a life partner.

      And I don’t want to be taken as someone who despises difference. On the contrary, I love difference. As the classical liberal Auberon Herbert put it, progress is difference. Our growth as a society, in complexity, in economic and technical development, and in cosmopolitanism, are all about difference, and I hope to see more of it.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I hear you.Report

      • zic in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Would the perfect society include homosexuality? If I could, I think would probably make everyone 50-50 bisexual. It would maximize everyone’s chances of finding a life partner.

        I think this gets closer to humanity, Jason. I don’t think this is a binary, it’s a spectrum; but we condition ourselves to the ends — gay/straight. Most of the people I know who’ve explored their sexuality at all have had same-sex and opposite sex contact. My suspicion is that the people who identify as gay are really the far and of the spectrum, and the 90% or so who identify as straight include the 10% at the straight end and the 80% in the middle with varying degrees of bisexuality.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        In my experience, folks who spend a lot of time thinking about how to engineer the perfect society usually end up in a very ugly place, since the perfect society is not available and attempts “get there from here” seem to cause more harm than good.

        In social justice circles, there is a concept called “harm reduction,” which is, in a sense, an implicit rejection of Kant’s Categorical Imperative. In short, harm reduction says this: “We can’t fix all this shit, and it’s actually destructive to try — as doing so leads to such things as arresting sex workers for carrying condoms, since sex work is “bad” — but instead we take this shitty situation as a given and focus on small, achievable steps to make things better.”

        An example of harm reduction is needle exchange.

        It is foolish to worry about how everyone should act, since everyone won’t actually act that way. Instead we focus on what we can do here and now, in the actual social context where we find ourselves.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Would the perfect society include homosexuality? If I could, I think would probably make everyone 50-50 bisexual. It would maximize everyone’s chances of finding a life partner.

        Or … the perfect society would be one in which everyone’s sexual proclivities map exactly on to existing distributions, but where cultural norms are sufficiently different such that individuals are able to realize, identify and pursue their own desires without their decisions and self-identities being determined by externally imposed societal pressure?

        I mean, sure, I get the point your making. But is the absence of real love in people’s lives a result of having too few targets? Or is it that the targets people end up choosing or trying to choose aren’t good matches for who they are?Report

      • zic in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


        An example of harm reduction is needle exchange.

        Read something the other day that suggested needle exchange actually helps addicts confront and deal with addiction; that it’s a message of, “I care,” refuting the “You’re worthless,” language junkies most often hear. It provides a reason to sober.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        @zic — Makes sense.

        In the end these are empirical questions, which mitigations have the best results. But then, it is really hard to measure lifetime outcomes. It is far more straightforward to measure HIV infection rates.

        To me the social policy arguments for needle exchange (as well as free condoms) are pretty clear.

        Of course, the arguments against these things, since empirical measures are hard to come by, end up being about “message sending” — do these things “encourage” drug use or teenage sex? To my view, the message we send is this: we love you and want you to live, even if you make a questionable choice.

        So, yeah, I have little doubt what you say is correct.Report

  19. Rose Woodhouse says:

    Not that homosexuality is a disability. But this reminds me a bit of my love for my son with disabilities.

    Well before I had my son, I remember reading about a man who killed his child and then himself. The article described the child’s disabilities, and part of me felt like I couldn’t blame the guy – his life must have been a living hell. That child was less disabled than my own.

    I read, before and after my son was born, Peter Singer suggesting that infanticide of disabled children is justifiable (possibly even obligatory) partly for the parents’ sake. Because raising a child with a disability is so miserable, so grating on the parents’ life.

    Yet here I am adoring my son as is. And I know what (some) other people think of that, because they’ve told me: it’s adaptive preference, or a kind of sour grapes. I have deluded myself into thinking my love for my disabled son is as deep and genuine as it is for my typical children, or any parents’ for any typical child.

    And how can I not take that seriously? I know that adaptive preference occurs. Yet my feeling of love is as deep, and does not seem to depend on his abilities or eventual flourishing. (I even think he is flourishing, which may be a sign of my delusion).Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

      Yes. This is also why, if a “cure” ever came along, I would resist it. I still strongly suspect that society would want to force it on me.Report

      • North in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I don’t know if they’d force it on adults Jason, but I think we can agree that society would allow parents to use it on their children. The ultimate effect would be homosexuality going the way of Downs Syndrome which is what lends urgency to our communities quest for normalization. It is potentially a race against time.Report

      • zic in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        @north I think this is part of why pointing out the failures of conversion therapy — the abusive nature of conversion therapy — matters greatly. And not just for children who might be gay, but for children who are trans.

        It’s the right to have honest relationships as a teenager. And in the trans child, the right to shift physically before the ravages of puberty. The opportunity to never grow facial hair or breasts, to have a voice that reflects the pitch in your head.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        but I think we can agree that society would allow parents to use it on their children.

        Why do you think that? It doesn’t at all obvious to me.Report

      • North in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Stillwater, it somewhat follows. Assume for a moment that an early in vitro marker for a predilection to homosexuality is discovered with society as it is now. Even parents who are generally pro gay might hesitate to have a gay child. This is a subject where even most of the fanatically pro-life people in practice become pro choice. Gays would just vanish over the course of a generation or two.Report

  20. Mike Dwyer says:

    I don’t have much to add here that hasn’t already been said. It was a beautiful post Jason and deserves the praise it is receiving. All I can say is that it is stories like this, from you and others here, that make me so glad that I am part of this community and the internet does have the power to change people when you are open to it. I have been profoundly affected by stories like this from people here who I consider to be friends. Thank you for your honesty.Report