The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1269  Wednesday, 8 May 2002

From:           Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 8 May 2002 12:59:17 +0100
Subject: 13.1254 Issues Arising from Discussion of Possible
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1254 Issues Arising from Discussion of Possible
Southampton Portrait

Jack Heller comments on Joseph Cady's refutation of the Bray/Foucault
'new invention' theory of homosexuality:

> As I recall, Joseph Cady's evidence for challenging "new
> inventionism" are two or three citations of "masculine love"
> in the works of Thomas Heywood and Francis Bacon. As
> I further recall, whatever Heywood meant by "masculine
> love," the context(s) implied he wasn't in favor of it.

So Cady's not wrong? Cady also has one French and one Italian example.

> I have found Cady's evidence to be rather minimal for the
> sweeping claims he bases on it.

One has only to find a single example of an homosexual identity in the
period in order to demolish the Foucault/Bray claim that there wasn't
one. Cady finds four. Moreover, he closes with an objection to the 'new
inventionist' reliance on legal definitions.

I objected that Philip Tompowski's electrical engineering metaphor
("genetics hardwires shame), is inappropriate for the interaction of
genetic and cultural pressures, and Philip responded:

> Surely you don't mean to suggest that such fundamental human
> traits as shame are not intrinsic to the human psyche.  You would,
> I think, be hard pressed to find a reputable mental health professional
> who would suggest that the inability to feel shame was not a serious
> abnormality. What shames us, and how we react and express that
> shame are the factors affected by cultural and environmental conditions.

It's not obvious what you mean by the adjective "intrinsic", which is no
clearer than the verb 'to hardwire'. Both words suggest a distinction
between the immutable-biological and the changeable-cultural.  This is a
false distinction. The important difference is between the slow rate of
evolutionary change and the rapid rate of cultural change.  Like all
creatures we live with genes which are well adapted to situations
encountered in the past.

> Cultural phenomenon create complex, and often
> contradictory social effects.

So do genetic phenomena. Sickle-cell anaemia, for example, results from
inheriting an abnormal 'haemoglobin S' gene from both parents and is
life-threatening, but getting it from one parent gives one a beneficial
resistance to malaria. Even more simply, we don't need an appendix
(which processes cellulose) but we have one because of our pre-human
ancestors' feeding habits, and it conflicts lethally with other bodily
processes we now have.

> Your theory implies, to me, a direct linear causal
> relationship between a social change and a biological
> effect.  Tolerance of homosexuality leads to fewer
> 'cover' heterosexual marriages, thereby fewer children
> of homosexuals, ending with fewer homosexuals altogether.
>  You fail to consider other, conflicting scenarios, for example,
> greater tolerance of homosexuality leading to more gay
> families in which one or both partners bear or sire children.
> I feel you dismiss too lightly the suggestion made by Jonathan
> Hope and myself that the desire to procreate is likely to play
> an important part.

I'm not 'implying' that there is a causal relationship, I'm claiming it
overtly. Your calling it "direct" and "linear" implies that my claim is
simplistic, but you haven't shown why. Like Jonathan Hope you claim that
other factors might outweigh it, and I accept that possibility.  But
your evocation of these counterbalancing forces surely indicates your
acceptance of the existence of the pressure that you call upon them to

> We are, of course, engaged in a moot debate.

Aren't all debates moot? "That can be argued; debatable; not decided,
doubtful" (OED moot a.) Is there another

> For my part, I see no reason to assume that the level of
> homosexuality has ebbed and flowed as a result of social
> and cultural factors.

The strange assumption would be that the level hasn't changed despite
social, cultural, and genetic factors, unless one can find a pressure to
promote stability.

> Given that these factors play off genetic proclivity
> in complex and conflicting ways, it seems logical
> to me that, to some extent, they cancel each other
> out to create a condition of evolutionary stasis.

To create "stasis" they'd have to cancel not merely "to some extent", as
you assume, but quite precisely. It may be that at a certain level of
homosexuality in a population there is achieved a system which has
advantages over systems at other rates of homosexuality, and that these
advantages tend to give systems at this rate greater longevity than
others. Were it the case that a system near to such a level experiences
a pressure to go to the advantageous level, one would expect to find
systems at the advantageous level more often than would be the case if
systems had, as it were, to stumble upon the advantageous level and had
nothing to keep them there. Such a 'local pull' around the advantageous
level would indeed create a pressure towards stability.

In the absence of such a pressure towards stability, the reasonable
assumption is that the rate of homosexuality is not stable, even in the
absence of knowledge of the interaction of genetic and cultural
determinants of the behaviour. In other words, without evidence of an
optimum level of homosexuality it should not be assumed that there is an
optimum level and that the current level is it.

One should not assume that the 'local pull' effect happens only in
respect of characteristic-levels at which benefits of stability and
longevity are conferred on the system. Equally possible is a local pull
around a level of a characteristic that drives the characteristic (or
indeed the entire population) to extinction or to rapid growth.

Gabriel Egan

* Perhaps you meant 'moo'? ("A cow's opinion; doesn't matter", JTED moo

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