Biological Adaptation, Psychological
Adjustment, and Morality
The ideas I have been discussing here have been around for many years, but they have been neglected, perhaps in part because many have found them politically distasteful. I think this attitude results from misunderstandings about the relationships between biological adaptation, psychological adjustment and morality. In short, many people seem to have confused these really unrelated concepts. Gadpaille (1980:354), for example, argues that "homosexuality as a preferential or obligatory mode must by definition be biologically deviant," and implies that preferential homosexuality is pathological. Similarly, the psychoanalyst, Arango (1989), in proposing a close tie between dominance hierarchies and homosexuality, argues that homosexuality is not "love" but "masochism." But let us be clear here. Biological adaptation is not the same as "psychological adaptation" or "psychological adjustment." Biological adaptation refers to the passing on of genes. It is genes that are passed on, and that are adaptive or not. Individuals are never passed on – they always die.
The heterozygous argument has often been presented as the "sickle-cell" argument, in analogy with the well-known case of sickle-cell anemia. In malaria areas, individuals homozgyous for the sickle-cell die of sickle-cell anemia, and individuals homozygous for the absence of sickle-cell are more likely to die of malaria - so only heterozygous individuals pass on genes to the future. Now in the case of sickle-cell anemia we really are talking about an illness! No one wants to get sickle-cell anemia, and people die from it. "Illness" and "health" are defined in terms of individual well-being, and perhaps at times (e.g. psychopathic killers) in terms of social well-being. People do not need to pass on genes to be considered healthy. They need to feel themselves as healthy and happy, and to not cause harm to others. Certainly homosexuality should be considered "healthy." Arango's argument that homosexuality is "masochism" is also suspect, because it makes it sound as if our "real" selves are what we find in the innermost regions of the brain. But human nature is based on our whole brains. And of course all the different forms of human "love" (not just homosexual love) have their evolutionary history. I doubt very much whether Arango would reduce these forms of love to their homologues in ancestral fish!
Biological adaptation also tells us nothing about whether something is moral or not. As Rachels (1991) points out, attempts to link the two commit the basic philosophical fallacy of concluding from what "is" to what "ought to be". Sommer (1990) has very nicely shown the absurdity of using the criteria of "natural" (adaptive) or "unnatural" (maladaptive) to decide whether homosexuality is "good" or "bad". He found historical examples of scholars who argued for all the different possibilities: 1) that homosexuality is natural (found in animals), therefore it is good, 2) that homosexuality is natural, therefore it is bad, 3) that homosexual is unnatural, therefore it is good, and 4) that homosexuality is unnatural therefore it is bad.
Still, there may be a tie between the notion of morality we actually have (not necessarily what we should have) and homosexuality. In short, surrendering one's own interests to the interests of another is what we mean by morality. Humans are capable of such surrendering because in their evolutionary past they learned to yield at times rather than aggressively defend their own interests. If the heterozygous argument is right, then the evolution of morality depended on the evolution of homosexuality. This may sound bizarre. If homosexuality is at the base of morality, why are exclusive male homosexuals so badly treated in so many places? I think the answer is simply that they are easy to mistreat – they generally yield more easily than others.
This contradiction between what we define as moral, and how we treat those who most comply, may well be one of the major conflicts in human society. It deserves a name at least as catchy as the Oedipus Complex, although it is not an individual psychological complex, but rather a social complex. If it is really as important as my argument suggests, then I imagined this complex must appear in human myths. There are several possibilities. For example, the Kayapo Indians have a story about a boy who shunned men's work, and was sexually abused by a bat man, which caused him to giggle - the very first laugh ever, unworthy of a warrior, but necessary for life (Werner 1984). Among the Cashinuaha there is a story about a great transvestite artist who showed the Indians how to draw, but who died because he was impregnated by a lover, and the baby could not be born (Lagrou 1996). But the best fitting story is closer to home. The story of Jesus is about a man who "turned the other cheek" instead of fighting, who did not compete with other men for women, and who, in the end, was easily mistreated. Perhaps someday humans will learn to recognize this "Jesus Complex" and things will change, Then maybe Jesus' prophecy will be born out: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following form of citation:
Dennis Werner, World History of Male Love, "Gay Studies", On the Evolution and Cross-Cultural Variation in Male Homosexuality, 1998 <http://www.gay-art-history.org/gay-history/gay-literature/gay-studies/evolution-homosexuality/male-homosexuality-biological.html>
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