Thursday, February 26, 2009

APA Petition

I had been hoping to avoid this whole scuffle over the APA's discrimination policy (started here and continuing all over the place [that Technorati link only catches posts that actually link to the enforcement petition]; the petition itself is here), particularly as it seems that the longer it has gone on the more like children my colleagues have been acting. I have no patience for virtually any of the arguments that have been put forward by either side; more blatant examples of conclusions leading arguments rather than vice versa are hard to find. But it keeps going on and on, and so I thought I'd mention my own view of the matter and have done with it. Rather than write a new post on the subject, I've just pasted a comment at Prosblogion:

I think both sides have been a little silly through this whole thing. On the one side, there can be excellent reasons for a Christian college (or any other sort of college that has as part of its distinctive character certain relevant features) to expect faculty to show themselves to be exemplary not merely in the classroom but as general role models. Likewise, refusing to distinguish orientation from activity, or recognizing morally relevant differences between the two, seems as silly to me as refusing to distinguish capacities and exercises of those capacities.

But on the other hand, I think it's very clear that 'sexual orientation' is extremely ambiguous in ordinary discourse, and ordinarily does cover both orientation in the proper sense and activity in conformity with it. (Actually, I think it's so multiply ambiguous as to be virtually a useless term, but that's another argument.) Further, in ordinary cases we don't require discrimination to be against identity directly in order to be counted as discrimination against identity. If one were to say that a policy allowing a person to be fired for being pregnant is not discriminatory against women because a woman doesn't have to get pregnant, that is obviously using 'discrimination' is a much narrower sense than it is usually used. Moreover, it seems to me very unlikely that when the policy was put into place the terms were expected to be taken in the narrower sense. Such policies as are being criticized are contrary to APA policy; one can attribute this either to an insufficient precision in the policy or to the inadequacy of the policy itself, if one wishes to do so, but I really don't see any sense in trying to argue that the APA is consistent here.

After all, this is the APA we are talking about; if its policies were consistent, precise, and rational, that would be surprising, because it rarely happens.

In any case, the policy should be enforced; and if people don't like that, they should go through the ordinary process of trying to persuade people to change it.

Precisely one of the reasons the APA is so annoyingly ineffective and silly in so much of what it does is that it ends up a mish-mash of compromises that try to please everyone and therefore do nothing effectively. That's a tradition I see no point in continuing. Enforce the policy; the world will not end if it is enforced.

[ADDED LATER: I just recognized that the part that says "recognizing morally relevant differences between the two" should read "to recognize morally relevant differences between the two". Otherwise it sounds confusing.]

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