There are a few unfortunate belief trends in any sort of groupthink. The first is to assume that whatever is said often must therefore be true. That is, to assume that currency is accuracy. Not so. Another is to assume that those outside the group are all apiece. That is, to assume that everyone that isn’t like us is exactly like all the others who aren’t like us. “They” are all alike.
So, for example, in heterosexist discourse, the Bible “clearly says” that homosexuality is wrong. But the responsible person is the one who seeks evidence before embracing an assertion. And of course, one sort of usually legitimate evidence is that of the general credibility of the one who makes the assertion. A generally reputable person asserts something, there is no known reason to disbelieve this particular utterance of this generally reputable person, so one accepts the assertion as truth.
But eventually, some proposition becomes self-authoritative, thus without any evidential footing whatsoever. I’m not talking about truisms that can be readily verified. I’m talking about propositions that are taken carte blanche as true merely because they are common beliefs. I’m talking about propositions that are clutched to the chest of a society despite evidence that clearly defeats them. I’m talking about cherished false beliefs.
For example, it is a plague of the internet that people, upon receiving via email some bit of gossip, some threat, or some promise that looks as if its official in some fashion, forward it to all their friends and relations without so much as a glance at Fact Check or Snopes.
One might think that I’m now going to offer some argument about the problems in heterosexist argumentation. But then one would be wrong.
My concern is actually about the groupthink tendencies in the gay community. We are just as guilty of assuming the oft-repeated as by default true. We are just as guilty of mindlessly embracing commonly stated propositions as self-evident. Again, I’m not implying that the fact that proposition p is often repeated entails that p is false. I’m saying that this repetition is insufficient to ensure p is true. And it is irresponsible to pass such things on without thought, without reflection and maybe a little fact checking, especially when not much is required.
I’ve got a few beefs, but just one annoys me enough to blog about just now. And that is the presumption that when somebody S takes a strong homophobic stand, it is likely that S is a closet gay. Let me restate that formally:
Presumption (call it P): When somebody S takes a strong homophobic stand, it is probably because S is a closet gay.
Let’s spell this out in argument form:
S makes a public homophobic stand.
Therefore, S is a probably closet gay.
Okay, so this is not a good argument. There is absolutely no inference from 1 to 2. There are a couple ways to improve this argument, neither of which justifies this conclusion. I call them the Universal Gay Generalization (UGG) argument and the Statistical Gay Generalization (SGG) argument.
S makes a public homophobic stand.
Anyone who makes a public homophobic stand is a closet gay.
So S is a closet gay.
We now have an argument, whereby the conclusion can legitimately be derived by the premises. That is, I’ve made explicit the inference needed to get from 1 to the conclusion (now 3). But 2 is clearly untrue. Thus, the inference from S making homophobic claims to S’s being a closet gay is not a good one. It just doesn’t follow.
Of course, this is, one hopes anyway, not the inference had in mind by those who say that people who make homophobic diatribes are closet gays. It is true that some of the most vitriolic anti-gay stands are made by closet gays. But arguing that because some vitriol comes from closet gays that all vitriol comes from closet gays is absurd. Rather, I think this second argument is more likely the one had in mind.
S makes a public homophobic stand.
Many people who make a public homophobic stands are closet gays.
So S is probably a closet gay.
I think this is much more apiece with the thinking involved when somebody presumes P. But SGG is just as bad an argument as UGG. In this case, the argument is a statistical generalization, and the conclusion is therefore a claim of probability. That makes (to my mind) SGG a better argument than UGG, but it’s still not a good argument. The problem here is that 2 does not supply sufficient evidence to ensure anything at all about S’s motivation. The problem here is that ‘many’ does not say anything at all about the percentage of homophobes that are also closet gays. Say there are sixteen thousand vitriolic homophobes who make public stands. And say a thousand of them are closet gays. S is one of these people, but then the odds of S being a closet gay are fifteen to one. Certainly this does not probabilify S’s being a closet gay, even though many of these homophobic people, a thousand of them, are closet gays.
It’s simple logic, certainly not beyond the capacity of the average intelligent adult to evaluate. A lot of people who do x are y, but there is no evidence pro or con to say that a majority of people who do x are y. So it is unwarranted to conclude that because this person did x, this person is probably y. It does not follow that because somebody is an outspoken homophobe, that somebody is a closet gay.
There is another side to this. It isn’t just that the argument is invalid (or weak, as the case may be). It is also lends a stereotype of closet gays that is just as unwarranted as the stereotypes of open gays. Gays hate to be stereotyped in negative ways, just like anyone else. But among the anyone else are closet gays. It is true that some closet gays are homophobic. Certainly true that a lot of them have self-hatred. But it does not at all follow that all or even most closet gays are homophobic. Closets, gay literature often notes, come in all shapes and sizes. And some are not colored by hate. Some are colored by self-preservation. Some closeted gays, like I was until recently, are supportive of gays and would never dream of saying anything unkind (let alone hateful), but are themselves closeted because they cannot think of any other way to ensure their own personal survival in an unkind world. Presumptions like P not only stand on abysmal reasoning, but they suggest that everyone in the closet is a homophobe, which is itself a presumption that lacks evidence.
The presumption that when somebody makes a public homophobic stand it is because that somebody is a closet gay is simply unfounded. In fact, the claim is untrue. It is true that many people who make homophobic statements are closet gays. It is also true that many closet gays make public homophobic statements. But these together only entail that many closet gays are homophobic and that many homophobes are closet gays. The two groups share some members. That is all these tell us. Specifically, these give no reason to conclude that a particular homophobic individual is a closet gay. And it does us no favors to focus our judgment on a group of people who are not any different than we are, we whose closets are roomier than theirs. All this does is make public our own particular brand of unfortunate groupthink.