The Out4Marriage deserves our thanks. By asking chaps prominent in show business, politics or, in Boris Johnson’s case, politics as show business to speak out in favour of homomarriage, the organisation effectively applies an intelligence test. So far every one of their spokesmen has failed.
The latest such underachiever is Stephen Fry, whose reputation for awesome brainpower rests on his being good at quiz shows. Here he provided ample proof, if any was needed, that extensive knowledge of trivia should not be equated with intelligence.
I am not going to take issue with the essence of his argument. Doing so would draw accusation of bias, for I oppose homomarriage as resolutely as Mr Fry supports it. Such accusations are part and parcel of modern debating techniques, honed as they are by a society that insists that any argument is as good as any other.
Rhetoric is not taught any longer, and few people these days realise that it is an ad hominem fallacy to argue against one’s opponent and not the specific points he makes. In fact, once an idea crosses someone’s lips it stands on its own legs. It is not the man but the idea and the thinking behind it to which a sound logician can possibly take exception.
Such a person would also not hesitate to commend the quality of his opponent’s argument even if he disagrees with it. For example, I have been known to put forth any number of philosophical, theological, legal and empirical arguments in favour of the death penalty. Yet on occasion others have countered with arguments with which I disagree but whose validity I acknowledge.
Mr Fry’s arguments in favour of homomarriage do not fall into that category. Here is his main point:
‘At least 260 species of animal have been noted exhibiting homosexual behaviour but only one species of animal ever… has exhibited homophobic behaviour — and that’s the human being. So ask which is really natural.’
Surely a man of such widely acclaimed intellect must realise that the argument ‘animals do it too’ is inadequate. Animals do all sorts of things most of us find objectionable: they drink out of puddles, eat faeces, chase one another around the block, kill without hesitation, hump strangers’ legs or bite them off, eat their young and so forth. An appeal to the fauna is therefore not just hollow but unsound.
It is equally unsound to equate what is natural with what is good. The whole purpose of a civilisation is to prevent people from doing many things that come naturally. Many of us, for example, refrain from gratuitous violence even if it comes naturally. We just know it is wrong.
Then again, what is natural about homosexuality? Even if we accept the number Mr Fry cites, and he is the trivia maven, 260 species constitute an infinitesimal minority, considering that the earth is inhabited by about 10 million species, give or take a couple of million. The most extensive research among humans in Britain has put the proportion of homosexuals at about one percent, a bigger chunk than among animals but not big enough to merit the claim of naturalness.
On purely mathematical evidence homosexuality is not natural, and even if it were this would not ipso facto make it morally acceptable. This points at another hole in Mr Fry’s intellectual trousers: man is qualitatively different from other species in that he is the only animal endowed with the capacity for moral choice.
Over the five millennia of recorded history man’s moral choice excluded homosexuality as a valid option. Mr Fry disagrees with this choice and he may be right or wrong, but one way or the other this is irrelevant to my argument that his appeal to the amoral animal kingdom is spurious and ill-considered.
Contextually he equates opposition to homomarriage with homophobia, which is another glaring flaw. ‘Homophobia’ means fear and hatred of homosexuals, yet even many people who are themselves not the marrying kind, such as Brian Sewell, are opposed to homomarriage. Fry’s argument is thus no argument at all – it’s an ad hominem attack worthy of a half-crazed propagandist screaming off a soapbox but not befitting a man of even average intelligence.
It is possible, and I am speaking from personal experience, to have nothing against homosexuals personally while regarding homosexuality as wrong and homomarriage as socially damaging. ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner’ is a founding principle of our civilisation, even though Mr Fry’s enviable erudition clearly does not extend to such trivia. Again, he may not regard homosexuality as a sin, but this does not redeem the intellectual paucity of his argument.
Then he explicitly put the blame for this imaginary phobia at the doorstep of religion, dislike of which indeed comes naturally to Fry and his ilk. The implicit argument is that only ‘the more extreme end [of Christians] screeching with outrage’ can possibly have anything against homomarriage. Yet I know many unbelievers, and so doubtless does he, who oppose this affront to our ancient institution on purely secular and empirical grounds. Surely Fry must have heard from all quarters numerous secular arguments contra. These may be right or wrong, but they are clearly not restricted to religious fanatics.
Out of the blue, Fry then stated that the Olympics and Paralympics Games proved that Britain is an open, generous and tolerant society which is diverse and ‘full of love’. Exactly how did those tasteless spectaculars prove that? What do sporting contests have to do with love? It is best not to ask, for fear of hearing another outpouring of drivel.
If an intellectual proposition can only ever be supported with rhetorically infantile arguments, there must be something basically wrong with the proposition. People are of course entitled to their opinions. But, until they have learned how to support them with sound thinking, they should not be entitled to an audience.