Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pop Psychology: Born This Way Edition

Let's get one thing out in the open: I'm fully in support of gay rights.

Let's get another thing out in the open: While Lady Gaga clearly supports gay rights, her science comprehension is off and her logic isn't consistent.

I hate this song, as I hate most political music.

That should be enough background. Today, I'm going to go over - as briefly as possible - why this song annoys me so much. Let's begin with the opening lyrics:




It doesn't matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M
Just put your paws up'
cause you were Born This Way, Baby

The first two lines I have no problem with; they're a genuine statement of personal views (as much as "put your paws up" can be, anyway). It's the third line that really gets to me, and here's why: We have little to no idea what actually causes homosexual orientations or when sexual orientations are determined. Twin studies show that concordance rates of a homosexual orientation are about 30-40% in men and 50-60% in women (those are the odds that if one identical twin is homosexual, the other will be as well). So while genetic factors clearly do play a big role, they aren't the sole cause.
What is also unclear is how genetic factors play a role, and what environmental variables moderate their effects. Also, as far as I know, it's not easy to assess a child's sexual orientation at birth. While I'm admittedly no expert on such assessments, making the statement that sexual orientation is a trait fixed at birth is stretching way beyond the available facts.


MY MAMA TOLD ME WHEN I WAS YOUNG
WE ARE ALL BORN SUPERSTARS...
"THERE'S NOTHIN WRONG WITH LOVIN WHO YOU ARE"
SHE SAID, "'CAUSE HE MADE YOU PERFECT, BABE"...
I'M BEAUTIFUL IN MY WAY
'CAUSE GOD MAKES NO MISTAKES
I'M ON THE RIGHT TRACK BABY
I WAS BORN THIS WAY

I just included those lines from the verse because it fits with the theme of the chorus/song. The message Lady Gaga appears to be trying to get across (unless I'm misreading her terribly) is that everyone should accept themselves for who they are, as everyone is perfect just the way they are.

This, of course, is nonsense.

The first issue I have is the name-dropping of "God" in there, which always makes me cringe. No one will ever win intellectually by invoking deities. But even ignoring that for the moment, I doubt anyone who likes this song would take away the message that everyone should love who they are and everyone is perfect. For starters, it removes any meaning from the word "perfect"; if everyone is perfect, the word stops having any ability to discriminate between people. It would be like calling everyone tall.

The second big reason that concept is nonsense is that I doubt Lady Gaga (or her fans) ever took the meaning of the song to apply to those they dislike, such as homophobes. Following the logic Lady Gaga laid out, homophobes should love themselves the way they are - they are perfect after all - because God made them that way, and we already know God doesn't make any mistakes. QED, God made homophobes as they are, and there's nothing wrong with the homophobes embracing themselves.The same logic would apply to murders, rapists, liars, and all other manner of people who engage is socially undesirable behavior.

For that matter, using being born one way or another (passing over for the moment what that is actually supposed to mean, as I suspect Lady Gaga isn't well versed in that on-going discussion over what the concepts of 'innate' and 'learned' are supposed to refer to) as a justification for saying something should be socially acceptable commits the naturalistic fallacy. There are people "born with" all sorts of behavioral predispositions who's behavior we find socially unacceptable.

Continuing on that point, I'm not so sure Lady Gaga - or any gay-rights supporter - wants to base their claims to equal rights on the supposition that homosexuality is a trait people are "born" with (presumably, she means biologically determined, which would show how poorly versed in the 'nature/nurture' debate she is). I say that because - as previously mentioned - we don't know what causes homosexuality, and it's far from being totally genetic in nature. If further research uncovers that people can come to develop a homosexual orientation for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with being "born like that", I wouldn't want to see the argument for equal rights slip away. For example, homosexuality appears to be a very different phenomena for men and women, with it being a less "fixed" trait in women (see Sexual Fluidity). There are far better grounds to make the argument for equal rights from.   


NO MATTER GAY, STRAIGHT, OR BI,
LESBIAN, TRANSGENDERED LIFE
I'M ON THE RIGHT TRACK BABY
I WAS BORN TO SURVIVE
NO MATTER BLACK, WHITE OR BEIGE
CHOLA OR ORIENT MADE
I'M ON THE RIGHT TRACK BABY
I WAS BORN TO BE BRAVE



I'm all for fighting against harmful discrimination, but I don't feel the need to do so by using logic as selectively and facts as loosely as Lady Gaga seems to. In the span of one song she invokes God and the naturalistic fallacy (very selectively) and misrepresents the research on homosexuality, extending beyond the available facts in big ways. I doubt she's ever really researched the matter academically, if at all, given her views in the song, and yet she still seems to feel qualified to make sweeping statements without a hint of doubt.

Despite this, I'm sure there will be a million people singing and dancing along anyway. Actual science might be more popular if it had some catchy beats. 

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