With all due respect to its authors, this op-ed column is moronic. The authors think that people make moral judgments and then, as if by way of afterthought, manufacture victims. In other words, people refuse to believe that there are harmless (victimless) wrongs. But in every example the authors give, there are arguably victims. Homosexual "marriage" harms not only children, who need both a mother and a father for proper care and psychosexual development, but also those who are lawfully married. (If you can't see why the lawfully married are harmed by allowing two men or two women to marry, stop reading. I'll give you a hint: wealth.)
Rubbing feces on a Bible offends, even if it doesn't harm, Christians. (Are those offended by an act not victimized by it?) One cannot control sexual arousal, but one can control the situations one puts oneself in. If one pruriently seeks out images of "animals mating," one is potentially harming one's spouse, one's community, or society generally. Do I have to go further and point out the harms of "adult pornography," "prostitution," "drugs," or "homosexuality" (by which the authors must mean homosexual conduct)? Calling something a harmless (or offenseless) wrong doesn't make it harmless (or offenseless). Reasonable people can and do disagree about which of the behaviors cited by the authors is harmful or offensive. Even masturbation arguably harms the person engaging in it, or society generally (and no, not by risking blindness).
I'm not making a case that these behaviors are harmful (or offensive). I'm saying that the authors' assumption that they are not harmful (or offensive) is question-begging. Philosophers debate many of these issues. My teacher, Joel Feinberg (1926-2004), wrote an entire book on harmless wrongdoing, in which he acknowledges that some wrongs harm and others do not. Perhaps the problem is that the authors think harm must be (1) direct, (2) tangible, (3) individual, and (4) other-regarding. None of these assumptions is correct. Consider:
- Harm can be indirect (or diffuse) as well as direct. Things we do today can have effects on (i.e., can affect) others far into the future. Things I do to individual A can affect individual B, who in turn can affect individuals C and D.
- Harm can be moral as well as physical, psychological, or economic, as anyone who reflects on corruption, bad parenting, or peer pressure knows. If I weaken your resolve, tempt you, or teach you to aggress upon others, I harm your character. I make you a morally worse person than you would otherwise be.
- Harm can be collective (i.e., to groups) as well as individual. Feminists have been telling us for decades that rape harms women collectively as well as individually. Homosexuals tell us that they are harmed both collectively and individually by certain expressions, such as "fag," "queer," and "dyke." One of the hottest topics in philosophy right now is collective harm and collective responsibility. Groups, many philosophers maintain, are real entities, with interests that transcend the interests of their members.
- Harm can be to self as well as to others. See Feinberg, Harm to Others (1984) and Harm to Self (1985). (For an earlier treatment, see Immanuel Kant.) Indeed, one can harm one's own character.
When scientists wonder why they get no respect from laypeople, op-eds such as this one are why. Sometimes scientists are as dumb as stumps.