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Slippery Slopes

Ross Douthat, all upset about exciting new medical developments that will save lives and improve quality of life for the living, notes:

Remember when they created the first test-tube baby, and all the hysterical religious types said it would lead to cloning and bioengineering and human-animal hybrids and all sorts of then-nightmarish scenarios? Boy, I'm glad we didn't listen to them!
Yeah. I think it's interesting that social conservative analytic arguments have a very good track record. Racial conservatives argued that abolishing slavery would eventually lead to political equality. Most racial liberal poo-pooed that, but the conservatives were right. And, again, it was said that after political equality, next thing you know some black dude would be marrying your daughter. Poo-poo, again, but again the conservatives were right. You've seen much the same thing with sex-and-gender issues. Probably if everyone in the United States circa 1960 had known that taking modest steps in the direction of feminism would, in fact, lead during their lifetimes to the legalization of sodomy, to gay men marrying each other, to a small but growing number of fathers staying home to take care of the kids, to legal abortions, etc., etc., etc. the public woud have overwhelmingly rejected those early steps. But the poo-pooers won the day, the people did not believe, and now majorities support most of those developments, and all signs are that the unpopular cause of gay marriage will grow more popular after some generational turnover.

Now I think it's just great that the slope has slipped as far as it does, and hope it will slip more. So I have mixed feelings about the pragmatic political necessity of convincing people that the slope will not, in fact, slip. But it seems to me that gay marriage probably will lead -- not as a matter of metaphysical certainty, but just as a matter of banal causal fact -- to some kind of legal recognition of polyamorous relationships at some point down the road. And I think that's fine. Just like I'm not particularly frightened of the prospect of human/animal hybrids or a world where pushy transgendereds abolish gender-segregated bathrooms.

April 27, 2005 | Permalink

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Matt Yglesias slips down the slope, and likes it! Probably if everyone in the United States circa 1960 had known that taking modest steps in the direction of feminism would, in fact, lead during their lifetimes to the legalization of... [Read More]

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» "THE PEOPLE DID NOT BELIEVE" from JunkYardBlog
Matt Yglesias slips down the slope, and likes it! Probably if everyone in the United States circa 1960 had known that taking modest steps in the direction of feminism would, in fact, lead during their lifetimes to the legalization of... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 28, 2005 10:17:45 AM

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Matt Yglesias slips down the slope, and likes it! Probably if everyone in the United States circa 1960 had known that taking modest steps in the direction of feminism would, in fact, lead during their lifetimes to the legalization of... [Read More]

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» Matthew Yglesias, slip sliding away from Thumos
It was only a year or two ago that Senator Santorum was ridiculed for suggesting that "discovering" constitutional protections for sodomy (e.g., Lawrence v. Texas) and gay marriage would be a slippery slope to, inter alia, state protection of polyamo... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 28, 2005 12:31:58 PM

» When Ignorance's Bliss Turns Dangerous from The Narrow
I understand that in this country we are all afforded the freedom of speech. We are free to think what we want as free-willed moral agents. But, what happens when one's ability to think, ignorant thoughts in this case, affects... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 28, 2005 3:15:54 PM

» When Ignorance's Bliss Turns Dangerous from The Narrow
I understand that in this country we are all afforded the freedom of speech. We are free to think what we want as free-willed moral agents. But, what happens when one's ability to think, ignorant thoughts in this case, affects... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 28, 2005 9:25:20 PM

» When Ignorance's Bliss Turns Dangerous from The Narrow
I understand that in this country we are all afforded the freedom of speech. We are free to think what we want as free-willed moral agents. But, what happens when one's ability to think, ignorant thoughts in this case, affects... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 28, 2005 9:46:21 PM

» Slip Sliding Away from Thumos
Senator Santorum was ridiculed for suggesting that "discovering" constitutional protections for sodomy (e.g., Lawrence v. Texas) and gay marriage would be a slippery slope to, inter alia, state protection of polyamorous relationships and "marriages."... [Read More]

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Comments

Ross Douthat joins the Leon Kass school of morality decided by how icky it makes me feel.

Posted by: theCoach | Apr 27, 2005 1:44:53 PM

I'm concerned about the animal human hybrids because I can envision the development of monkey slaves, and cloned people disturb me because I can see a rational being developed for owning them. Say some guy ordered up a clone of Uma Thurman type of thing. I think slavery of all kinds is very attractive to segments of the population and it is ALWAYS bad, bad for the owners, worse for the owned. But I don't care who or how many people anybody has sex with (excluding my own personal relationships) as long as we are talking about consenting adults. I do hope that in the future, religious groups or whoever foments these concerns will devote themselves as much to worrying about whether the kids down the street are getting enough to eat as to whether they are screwing each other.

Posted by: Cathy | Apr 27, 2005 1:55:54 PM

I agree with Matthew regarding polygamy.

However this is another story: the prospect of human/animal hybrids

Um? Really? So can we now call you Matthew "man on dog" Yglesias?

Or am I misreading the post and this is all somehow snarky and tongue-in-cheek?

Posted by: Al | Apr 27, 2005 1:57:17 PM

I'm actually in favor of monkey-slaves. I plan on running for my local city council with a monkey-slave provision as a major part of my platform.

I AM against man-monkey slaves, however, because they would be just ghastly looking. And grouchy to boot, I am sure.

Posted by: alex | Apr 27, 2005 2:01:28 PM

Al,
I would assume that with human/animal hybrids we are talking about genetic engineering, not Santorumism.

Posted by: theCoach | Apr 27, 2005 2:02:56 PM

Why does this make me think of Daniel Davies' One Minute MBA? ("Good ideas don't need lies told about them in order to sell them.")

Posted by: Bob McGrew | Apr 27, 2005 2:04:09 PM

No… gay marriage is about letting everyone enjoy the rights and privileges of socially sanctioned monogamous commitment. Polyamory is by definition not monogamous, so there’s no logical connection, although some people on the right and left claim there is.

It’s rather like if one argued that the desegregation of public bathrooms would eventually lead to it becoming legal for people to just piss in the streets.The two concepts are similar, but not logically related.

Posted by: RC | Apr 27, 2005 2:09:03 PM

Cordwainer Smith becoming more relevant everyday.
Whoda thunk it.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 27, 2005 2:23:39 PM

and all the hysterical religious types said it would lead to cloning and bioengineering and human-animal hybrids and all sorts of then-nightmarish scenarios? Boy, I'm glad we didn't listen to them!

Hmmm. I've been under the impression that it is hysterical, left-wing anti-technology types who were (and still are) the ones pitching the nightmare scenarios with respect to bioengineering.

Posted by: mw | Apr 27, 2005 2:32:06 PM

I really don't see how cloning is a threat of the kind Cathy worries about. There is no basis at all for the fear that cloning would lead to a rationale for human ownership or slavery. Cloned human beings would be perfectly normal human beings, no more unusual than an identical twin, and no less obviously entiled to the rights enjoyed by the rest of non-cloned humanity.

More interesting and ethically troubling perhaps would be genetically engineered semi-humans. Rather than an Uma Thurman clone, imagine a sort of genetically lobotomized Uma Thurman, engineered to be born with lower brain functions but without a cerebral cortex, and designed to be a sort of fleshy sex toy. Not a very satisfying partner, but superior to a latex blow-up doll I suppose. But again, even this worry is far-fetched, since it would take about 20 years to grow the fully-developed UmaDoll, and rather difficult to have her grow into something as fit, healthy and attractive as the real thing - I don't think they would get many orders.

The main point with all these developments is that we can legally prohibit and criminalize the specific applications that are universally found to be ethically repugnant, and legislate the write the kinds of intellectual property laws we need to prevent invidious claims of "ownership" of organisms we think should be protected. There is no need to ban whole technologies at the outset because of hyperactive worries about mad and unlikely uses of those technologies. The slope isn't that slippery, and we can keep ourselves from sliding down.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Apr 27, 2005 2:38:59 PM

Does Matt not think human/animal hybrids are likely to happen, or does he just not find them scary?

Posted by: flip | Apr 27, 2005 2:51:45 PM

Legal gay marriage is happening because the law is catching up to the facts on the ground, specifically the fact that committed gay relationships are now considered ok by most people. So I wouldn't expect any sort of legal recognition of polygamy or whatever, until our social norms change to make polygamy more acceptable, and I don't see how gay marriage is leading to that.

Posted by: cs | Apr 27, 2005 2:52:32 PM

Accurate or not, Slippery Slope arguments are still fallacious, when they are used to change the subject. Regardless of whether proposition A will lead to outcome X,Y, and Z, the merit of A is what's important.

Posted by: Grumpy | Apr 27, 2005 2:53:31 PM

In my last lifetime as a gay activist, I always used to say that conservatives were absolutely right to fear such things as positive portrayals of gays on TV and teaching tolerance in the schools. If you really, truly believe that homosexual behavior is evil, then you are right to believe these developments will lead to more incidents of homosexual behavior. Thus, for those on the pro-gay side of the issue, it's really important to argue why homosexual behavior is not wrong -- not just that it should be tolerated.

Polyamory? I dunno. It seems there's a perfectly legit societal interest in preventing the kinds of crazy polyamorous relationships that occur among fundie Mormons: gender equality, generally not really consensual, greater burdens on the state, etc. Remember, marriage is a legal institution that the state sanctions and approves. The state can decide that there are legitimate state interests in not approving some kinds of marriage. So far, in the gay marriage fight, the states (Hawaii, Mass, WA) have failed utterly to show a state interest in barring gays. But the states could show an interest in barring polyamory.

Posted by: pdp | Apr 27, 2005 3:01:34 PM

Cordwainer Smith bio page

A nice site, maintained by his daughter. Anyone snobbish about SF should try to explain how anyone with that resume could write uninteresting stuff. Linebarger/Smith is relevant because one of his main themes is of a enhanced intelligent animal underclass. From his youth spent in the retinue of Sun-Yat Sen, his stories are also permeated with Chinese mythology and philosophy...and multi-lingual puns.

Taiwan reaching deal with ROC?

A blog plug. Elaine Supkis was a frequent commenter at angrybear who has started her own blog. Focuses on energy, economics, and the far east from the perspective of a serious sixties radical. She knew Ratzinger when he was fallible back in the late 60's. This post, if her analysis is true, probably marks the end of the American hegemony.

Sorry if wildly off-topic. Animal-human hybrids made me think of Smith, which made me think of China. Seems I keep drifting back to China inadvertently on a regular basis.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 27, 2005 3:14:08 PM

One thing to add about polygamy, if one guy has eight wives at least 7 guys get no wife. The pickings would get pretty slim for impecunious nerds. Maybe a rethink would be in order.

Posted by: j mct | Apr 27, 2005 3:15:53 PM

"Polyamory? I dunno. It seems there's a perfectly legit societal interest in preventing the kinds of crazy polyamorous relationships that occur among fundie Mormons: gender equality, generally not really consensual, greater burdens on the state, etc." -pdp

"[When asked why polygamy isn't as much a civil right as gay marriage is] Gay activists typically answer by saying that marriage by definition is between two people... The real response, however, has been, in effect, that only crazy right wing fundamentalist heterosexual rural Mormon white people want to practice polygamy, and we all know that civil rights don't apply to them." -Steve Sailer

The problem depends partially on how gay marriage is legalized. If legislatures choose to legalize, then they can logically draw the line at polygamy by saying "we approve of this, and not of that." But when gay marriage is legalized by the courts on the basis of general principles of "right to privacy" and on "non-discrimination" then it becomes harder to justify disapproving of a consensual marriage contract between adults regardless of reason. If marriage is at the discretion of the legislature, it can define it how it wants. If it is a fundamental right between any two people (not I said "any two," not "any two but only two," then there really are no logical limits the state can recognize as to who can marry whom; that is, if I want to marry Sue and she wants to marry me, the fact that I am already married is not a reason to discriminate, unless perhaps my other wife disapproves.

"gender equality, generally not really consensual, greater burdens on the state, etc."

But that can be dealt with by enforcing anti-statutory rape laws, or by raising the marriage age. To ban polygamy because of this is like banning homosexuality because of same-sex pedophilia and ephebophilia (ephebophilia = sexual interest in underage adolescents).

Posted by: Glaivester | Apr 27, 2005 3:25:56 PM

But it seems to me that gay marriage probably will lead ...to some kind of legal recognition of polyamorous relationships at some point down the road.

Sure, but so what? Considering the kind of momentum the push for group marriage is now gathering, it will take most of the next millennium for all of our legal codes and social infrastructure to adapt to this concept--not to mention the time required for the necessary evolution of human nature. You can't just "pronounce" three people to be all married together if the law won't understand such a relationship.

Which is the problem liberals are facing in this debate. We're still in the habit of thinking of marriage as the product of a religious ritual when it's nothing of the sort.

Posted by: Adonais | Apr 27, 2005 3:34:55 PM

j mct,

if one guy has eight wives at least 7 guys get no wife.

No problem. You solve that with embryo selection. Just get 8 female born for each male. Suddenly, everything male must spend 100% of his time honoring his many significant others (and recovering from the effort). No time left for other manly endeavours, such as hunting, going to war, upper corporate management or Washington politics.

Additional upside, lower caretaking load on each female as you can reach a stable demography with something like a 1.2 child per female ratio so females can do something more of their life than child bearing.

In one generation and a little bit of science, we get the perfect world. No wars, no CEOs and men getting to screw around all day long.

I'd say : let's go for it !

PS: Actually, I'm may even be serious. It makes a lot of sense ...

Posted by: Fifi | Apr 27, 2005 3:35:28 PM

Does Matt not think human/animal hybrids are likely to happen, or does he just not find them scary?

I'm betting on the latter, though I'm also not actually clear on what a human/animal hybrid would be in any meaningful sense. Omigod! That person contains DNA from bonobo monkeys! Well, we already do. I think it would be slightly more plausible to engineer for higher intelligence in other primates, rather than trying to isolate some mythical single "bone-crushing strength" gorilla gene and splice it into humans. (And yes, I'm thinking of David Brin's uplift novels.) Then the problem of legal status for non-humans would arise.

Oh, and on the other, more salacious topic, remember that polyamory and polygamy do not necessarily imply polygyny. Hmm, shades of "ontogeny begets phylogeny."

Posted by: mds | Apr 27, 2005 3:39:00 PM

Remember, marriage is a legal institution that the state sanctions and approves. The state can decide that there are legitimate state interests in not approving some kinds of marriage.

pdp said it much better than I could

Posted by: Adonais | Apr 27, 2005 3:39:42 PM

One thing to add about polygamy, if one guy has eight wives at least 7 guys get no wife. The pickings would get pretty slim for impecunious nerds. Maybe a rethink would be in order. Precisely why George Bernard Shaw said most polygamous societies fail: not because the women rebel against it but because of the vast mass of men that will be condemned to celibacy as a result would rise up against it. Because, as he expressed it, any intelligent woman would rather have a 25% or a 33% share of a first-rate man than 100% of a loser. If MY thinks it's hard to get laid now, he should think about what it will be like 12 years from now, when he's a bit plumper about the waistline and still knocking out opinion pieces for <50K a year, while his classmates who are now junior partners in K Street law firms will be coralling the premium women--something they'd be doing even in the absense of legalized polygamy, just informally, as they do now.

Posted by: Lady Lawyer | Apr 27, 2005 3:50:57 PM

The problem with animal/human hybrids is that
it leads down the slippery slope to alien/human
hybrids, and we all know where THAT leads...

Posted by: matt Newman | Apr 27, 2005 3:52:09 PM

"ontogeny begets phylogeny."

Nonono, it recapitulates phylogeny. Although the other is a kind of interesting image...

Posted by: Jeremy Osner | Apr 27, 2005 3:53:52 PM

There have been societies with institutionalized polygamy, but I'm not aware of any society where polyamory was a norm. It has been experimented with at times (like the free love communes of the 60s), but it never lasts.

There's a good reason why: the evolutionary preference for male sexual jealousy. Actually, the lyrics 'Mr. Brightside' being discussed over on the next thread are an illustration of this...

Posted by: RC | Apr 27, 2005 4:08:45 PM

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