Monday, May 25, 2015

Alito's Obergefell errors/omissions on Plato and gays

     One'd thought of putting the following in Part II of Grand Theft Bonauto, but it deserves its separate space. (By the way, the present essay was fully published on May 26, though an accidental publishing on May 25 locked in that date.) --During the Obergefell oral arguments on April 28, Justice Samuel Alito commented on Plato and the ancient Greeks being supporters of homosexuality. The transcript for "Question 1" says, in pertinent part,
     JUSTICE ALITO: But there have been cultures that did not frown on homosexuality. That is not a universal opinion throughout history and across all cultures. Ancient Greece is an example. It was it -- was well accepted within certain bounds. But did they have same-sex marriage in ancient Greece? . . . . And they had -- and they had same-sex relations, did they not?
     MS. BONAUTO: Yes. And they also were able to --
     JUSTICE ALITO: People like Plato wrote in favor of that, did he not?
     MS. BONAUTO: In favor of?
     JUSTICE ALITO: Same-sex -- wrote approvingly of same-sex relationships, did he not?
     MS. BONAUTO: I believe so, Your Honor.
     JUSTICE ALITO: So their limiting marriage to couples of the opposite sex was not based on prejudice against gay people, was it?
     MS. BONAUTO: I can't speak to what was happening with the ancient philosophers. . . .
     However, did Plato really write "approvingly of same-sex relationships"? This is a common misconception, or partial misconception, fueled by memes such as the sometimes-lesbian, sometimes-gay-male New York sex club "Plato's Retreat".
     Plato may have seemed to write approvingly, or not fully disapprovingly, of homosexuality at times. However, let's take a look at Plato's last work, the Laws, courtesy of PLATO: AGAINST HOMOSEXUALITY, which shows that Alito may have erred by omission of some contrary authority:
     . . . Presumably it is with states as it is with human bodies – one cannot prescribe one definite treatment for one subject which involves no physically injurious consequences along with its beneficial effects. For example, these physical exercises and common meals you speak of, though in many ways beneficial to a city, provide dangerous openings for faction, as is shown by the cases of the Milesians, Boeotians, and Thurians. And, in particular, this practice is generally held to have corrupted the ancient and natural rule in the matter of sexual indulgence common to mankind with animals at large, and the blame for these corruptions may be charged, in the first instance, on your two cities and such others as are most devoted to physical exercises. Whether these matters are to be regarded as sport, or as earnest, we must not forget that this pleasure is held to have been granted by nature to male and female when conjoined for the work of procreation; the crime of male with male, or female with female, is an outrage on nature and a capital surrender to lust of pleasure. And you know it is our universal accusation against the Cretans that they were the inventors of the tale of Ganymede; they were convinced, we say, that their legislation came from Zeus, so they went on to tell this story against him that they might, if you please, plead his example for their indulgence in this pleasure too. With the tale we have no further concern, but the pleasures and pains of communities and of private lives are as good as the whole subject of a study of jurisprudence. (Laws I 636a-d)

     That was exactly my own meaning when I said I knew of a device for establishing this law of restricting procreative intercourse to its natural function by abstention from congress with our own sex, with its deliberate murder of the race and its wasting of the seed of life on a stony and rocky soil, where it will never take root and bear its natural fruit, and equal abstention from any female field whence you would desire no harvest[.] (Laws VIII 838e-839a).
     "Deliberate murder of the race"! Well, so much for "Platonic approval of homosexuality". (Supposedly, the Symposium and Phaedrus said, or implied, some tolerant things about homosexuality; however, near the end of his life, Plato was not so happy about that lifestyle, see the Laws excerpts supra. Indeed, in the Symposium, "Alcibiades spent the night sleeping beside Socrates yet, to the deep humiliation of Alcibiades, Socrates made no sexual attempt (219b-d)."

     See also, e.g., classics professor R.E. Allen's 1993 letter to the New York Times: ". . . Plato condemns homosexual intercourse in both the 'Laws' and the 'Republic.' [etc.]"

      So, "Alito" may sound like "Plato", but that doesn't mean that Alito knows Plato, oh no...

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