Thursday, September 07, 2006
Historical Uniformism v Historical Positivism, or, Did Homosexuality Exist in Ancient Greece?
Imagine that you have a set of four conceptual behaviors, patterns, phenotypes, whatever. We will call the elements "A," "B," "C," and "D"
Set of Four Observables
You are able to operationalize them, and demonstrate all four exist in the world around you. In other words, you can give A, B, C, and D and objective definition, observe them, and with that same definition others can observe them too. These four elements can all be observed at the present time
Four Observables that Exist Now
Yet the question remains -- did these exist earlier?
Determining the Pedigree of Observable Facts
Scientists and historians regularly run into this problem. Broadly, there are two approaches to them. One is based on observable evidence, and is a Positivist approach. Positivism is a fact-based method of inquiry that says something exists if there is positive evidence it exists. Another approach may be called uniformism. This belief, based on a presumption that the past is like the present, assumes something exists unless it can be proved it doesn't.
Positivism, besides being a "fact-based" epistemology, limits what we think we know to what we can observe. Uniformism, being a "faith-based" method of inquiry, lets us believe all manners of things because "absense of evidence is not evidence of absence."
As I will explain below the fold, a belief in the ancient existence of homosexuality requires a "faith-based" research agenda.
Same-sex relationships among males have been broken into four broad categories
- Pedophilia: A Man-Boy Sexual Relationship, or a relationship that originates as such
- Pederasty: A Man-Youth Sexual Relationship, or a relationship that originates as such
- Faute-de-Mieuxa: A Man-Youth Sexual Relationship in a Unisexual Environment, or a relationship that originates as such
- Homosexuality: A Man-Man Sexual Relationship in a Bisexual Environment, or a relationship that originates as such
(Necrophilia, lesbianism, bestiality, and other sexual relationships that are not between living human males will not be addressed here)
The contemporary existence of pedophilia, pederasty, faute-de-mieux, and homosexuality is established. All those phenotypes can be empirically demonstrated easily:
Pedophilia, Pedastry, Faute-de-Mieux, and Homosexuality Current Exist
Likewise, it is straight-forward to establish historical antiquity for pedophilia, pederasty, and faute-de-mieux. Greeks who we would now label as sexual predators had dyadic sexual relationships with ("preyed on" in contemporary terminology) males who had not undergone puberty, who were undergoing puberty, or were in unisexual environments.
Homosexuality Not Recorded as a Pre-Modern Fact
But did homosexuality exist? There is no evidence for homosexuality before the dawning of the Modern World (that is, no evidence earlier than 1453). Indeed, what words we have seem to close the door on its existence. Take, for instance, the speech or "Aristophanes" in Plato's Symposium (I am grateful to Matti for pointing out this work in another discussion thread):
But they who are a section of the male follow the male, and while they are young, being slices of the original man, they have affection for men and embrace them, and these are the best of boys and youths, because they have the most manly nature.
Here, Plato mentions that all exclusive male same-sex partners who were introduced to such relationships by either pedophiles or pederast.? In addition, we may add to this reliable historical accounts of faute-de-mieux in the Greek armies.
Yet nowhere do we see homosexuality: we have positive evidence for the ancient pedigree of three phenotypes, but not a fourth.
Thus we are left with two choices.
- Have faith that the evidence must be there, but has not been found yet. Thus, those who say that homosexuality existed in ancient Greece are relying on faith in uniformism.
- Believe only what we have evidence for. Thus, those who say there is no reason to believe homosexuality existed in ancient Greece rely on facts to guide them.
Faith-Based Uniformitarians Assume Ancient Existence of Present Facts
Of course, facts can be incomplete. A positivist will change his mind when new facts arrive, but a uniformist must have his faith taken away for new facts to change his beliefs.
Are the "now" graphics supposed to have "pedophilia" twice?
Posted by: purpleslog | Friday, September 08, 2006
Nope, that's incompetence... the list should be Pedophilia, Pedastry, Faute-de-Mieux, Homosexuality
Thanks for the notice :-)
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Friday, September 08, 2006
Homosexuality existed in the Nazi party; it was founded in a gay bar.
Try to debunk this one ;)
Posted by: Claymore | Saturday, September 09, 2006
As Nazi Germany existed in the Modern World, I'm not sure why it would need to be debunked. (Nor if ideologically driven research into the question is primarily anti-Nazi or anti-Homosexual, heh) I gather from excerpts, such as
"To understand the pagan mind in this context we must recognize the truth about left-right polarities in the political sphere. With minor discrepancies, all left-wing ideology can be identified as “regressive,” and right-wing ideology as “progressive."
That the author is opposed to both.
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Saturday, September 09, 2006
The definition that you give to homosexuality in this article clearly differs from the standard definition of the concept. The standard definition of homosexuality is sexual attraction to persons of one's own sex (as experienced by men or women). Your model falls apart as soon as we abandon the artificial sociological categorisation you have devised and turn to the generic psychological definition of the concept: all same-sex sexuality is homosexuality, regardless of the type of relationship in which it finds expression.
Your model is made possible by the decision to define sexual orientation, a psychological concept, in sociological terms from the viewpoint of "relationships". If we chose to look at the history or cultural variation of same-sex sexuality from the viewpoint of relationship models only, I should not be surprised to find marked differences, just as I am not surprised to find differences in the social organisation of heterosexual desire in different periods and in different cultures. However, if we adhere to the standard psychological definition of homosexuality, we find that homosexuality is an ahistorical constant: men and women have always betrayed a sexual fascination, through whatever outlet, with persons of their own sex. A sexual attraction (whether mutual or unrequited) to a boy, youth or physically mature man is homosexual regardless of the particular social setting in which it occurs.
The artificiality of your model is evident also from your treatment of Agathon and Pausanias in our previous discussion about Symposium. I mentioned then that the two men whose sexual relationship is discussed in the play are based on a homosexual couple that actually lived at the time (link to Brisson below). You tried to explain their homosexual relationship away by saying that their sexuality began as a man-youth relationship and cannot, therefore, be regarded as homosexual at all. I notice that you have now updated your definition of pederasty to include sexual relationships between physically mature men that "originate" in a pederastic relationship. For the record, Agathon's age at the time he became Pausanias' lover falls between 15-20 years, and Pausanias' between 30 and 40 (see the biographical section in Brisson). Their relationship lasted for 30 or so years.
Imagine if a woman of, say, 16 years embarked on a relationship with a man considerably more advanced in years, and this relationship would be strictly isolated from the concept of "heterosexuality" simply because the initial age difference presumably renders it "paedophilic" (although a remarcable double standard exists as to the definition of paedophilia, which results in homosexual relationships being more keenly labelled as paedophilic than similarly age-asymmetric heterosexual relationships). Now, imagine that this relationship would continue to be deemed a non-heterosexual paedophilic relationship even after it had lasted for 30 years, when she may still be beautiful but, really, a woman well past her rosewhite girlhood.
It is your stated opinion that in ancient times a sexual relationship between two physically mature men which had begun as "pedagogical pederasty" has as its psychological motivation a desire that is not at all homosexual. What, then, is this desire that the men presently experience? It seems highly counter-intuitive to presume that it is, on the part of the older partner, still the same desire of a grown man towards a boy on the verge of manhood, considering that the object of his affections is now a fully grown man in his own right. It is also curious how you ignore the experience of the younger partner. Why does he remain in a same-sex relationship that, according to convention, should have ended long ago?
A more probable explanation than the special mature "pederasty" you suggest is perhaps that the age-gap is not always as decisive a factor in Greek homosexuality as is often presumed. What mattered more than the age difference – psychologically, beyond mere social convention – was in fact the Greek ideal of male beauty. Agathon and Pausanias' relationship began as pedacogic pederasty, because this was the socially sanctioned form of homosexuality in their society, but the fact that they defied the taboo associated with sexuality between grown men indicates that Greek homosexuality was not necessarily limited to pederasty. This should be a major problem for any analysis that relies on a categorical separation of pederasty and male homosexuality. However, you seem determined to conceptualise homosexuality out of history, which is why you try to get around such problems by adding yet another category into your already dubious model. Now it is some kind of adult variety of "pederasty."
The institution of pederasty for some men must have been simply a socially dignified outlet for homosexual desire, a desire which could just as well have found its fulfilment with grown men. The age difference is not as decisive, psychologically, as is often thought and pedacogic pederasty was in fact more a cultural idealisation of sexuality between males than the only conceivable sexual relationship between males. These are positive indications that the type of sexuality you are willing to grant the name "homosexuality" was not unheard of in antiquity. That there was a cultural taboo associated with sexuality between mature men of equal social rank only further presses the point: is there ever a sexual taboo without a conceivable transgression?
Sixteen is now a typical legal age of consent, the age when both males and females are thought to reach their sexual maturity and when they are just beginnig to seem sexually desirable. The younger partner in Greek pedagogical pederasty was, according to Brisson, roughly 12-18 years of age. How would you categorise a man who is attracted to a youth, perhaps 18-years-old, but also to considerably older males, provided they are pleasant to behold? What about the sexual relationships between youths? Which label would you ascribe to a youth who is sexually involved with another youth immediately after a pederastic union with a man (see Brisson)? A teenage pederast? Will you update your categorisation every time some new problematic viewpoint arises, desperately trying to close all doors to the possibility that your understanding of ancient sexuality relies on an unrealistically static categorisation?
Your model seems to be in a permanent state of ad hoc redefinition, which is made possible only by its dismissal of any consideration of the psychological aspect of male-male sexuality. Where will it end? Will the perennial revision of the category of "homosexuality" finally reach the stage when it only includes the sexuality of those men who have sexual relations with men and who are also part of a modern style gay subculture: "There could not have been anything genuinely homosexual in ancient Greece because there were no discos. Show me a discotech in ancient times and I will believe you! Show me just one discotech that dates to antiquity!"
For me, your model is already very nearly that ridiculous. I believe I am not alone in my bewilderment as to the stunning conceptual obfuscation evident in your analysis. It is far-fetched and contrived to the extent of being unintentionally parodical of queer theory. Are we actually to believe that in the ancient times a long-term sexual relationship between two men was "pederastic" without betraying a trace of what we would now label homosexyality simply because it began when the age difference was more pronounced? You seem to divide sexuality to orientations (which are psychological categories) in purely sociological terms with no regard to the psychology behind various acts and relationships. It is all socio-cultural minutae with no consideration of underlying psychology. You speek of the difference between faith and positive evidence. As far as I can see, it is clearly a faith-based assumption to say that homosexuality did not exist when positive evidence to the contrary exists. There is a sexual relationship between two men: the less likely and indeed highly improbable conclusion would be that homosexuality was not at all possible.
Many of the social identities and institutions which render homosexual desire intelligible to the late modern individual differ from those whose development the cultures of ancient societies made possible. But just as Greek antiquity had its own myth of male homosexuality, as embodied by the idealised model of pedagogical pederasty, it also had its transgressions – the tabooed homosexual relationships between men which did not fit an established social form. Our own time has not tried to confine male homosexuality into an established social institution but into a category of psychopathology. Now it is "gays" and all the culture-specific stereotypes and behavioural patterns it entails; the summ of which somehow comprises, in the mind of the average man of the street at least, what is dubbed homosexuality. The surface variation does not, however, cancel out the fact that it was psychologically possible in Plato's time, as it is now, for a man to be sexually attracted to another man.
Posted by: Matti | Monday, April 23, 2007
How then ( if homosexuality didnt exist before the 1400's) do you explain Alexander the Great who was know to have a adult male lover? Another is Ceasar Agustus who also had Many male lovers. Not youth, not children! your saying no homosexuality existed before modern times is a bunch of bunk...I suggest you do more study...and put the FACTs not falsehoods.
Posted by: Bob | Friday, January 18, 2008
"How then ( if homosexuality didnt exist before the 1400's) do you explain Alexander the Great who was know to have a adult male lover?"
He also could access, and had, female lovers.
"Your model falls apart as soon as we abandon the artificial sociological categorization you have devised and turn to the generic psychological definition of the concept: all same-sex sexuality is homosexuality, regardless of the type of relationship in which it finds expression."
I think I agree with this... and that such is my point.
I'm arguing that exclusive male-male sex, in avoidance of male-female sex, is a modern phenomenon.
"Your model seems to be in a permanent state of ad hoc redefinition, which is made possible only by its dismissal of any consideration of the psychological aspect of male-male sexuality. Where will it end? Will the perennial revision of the category of "homosexuality" finally reach the stage when it only includes the sexuality of those men who have sexual relations with men and who are also part of a modern style gay subculture: "There could not have been anything genuinely homosexual in ancient Greece because there were no discos. Show me a discotech in ancient times and I will believe you! Show me just one discotech that dates to antiquity!""
A good and valuable point. I wonder where the line between the new and the old is, and if it really is as superficial as discos.
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Friday, January 18, 2008
I think homosexuality have existed since many centuries ago. It doesn't matter the age or the time we are living nowadays. Perhaps the only factor that changes is that the tendency to appearing more homosexuals are more common now.
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