Let me start off this post with some clarifications. This is not an attempt at gay bashing or hurting any particular group’s feelings. I’m setting out to appraise this common argument and show some inherent flaws in using the “born this way” approach. It’s true that this argument has become a popular argument in LGBT communities but it’s also been used for decades in schools all over the world by kids who are bad at certain subjects. So I ask that you’d read this post as a critique of the reasoning behind this type of argument and not as an attack on LGBT folks. Without further ado, let’s get into it. There are two major breeds of the “born this way” argument. There’s the more negative version that comes from a type of genetic fatalism and there’s a positive version from the “natural is good” perspective.
First let’s talk about the negative form of the “born this way” argument, Genetic Fatalism. According to Google, “fatalism is the belief that events are determined by an impersonal fate and cannot be changed by human beings”. Thus genetic fatalism is setting your genes or ancestry up as the cause of your fate. My own stipulative definition goes like this, “genetic fatalism is the appeal to heredity as an excuse for behavior or inability to perform a function”. Mostly likely, all of us have employed this argument at some point in our lives; like I said earlier, we especially make use of this argument in school. Those of us who aren’t naturally inclined towards math have likely said “I’m just not good at math, i’m just not wired that way”. Those who aren’t particularly artistic have likely said, “I’m just not good at drawing, I wasn’t born that way”. Now there’s nothing wrong with having different sets of skills and giftings, but this argument is used as an excuse not to try things that are difficult or to get yourself off the hook for poor performance. This usually has a negative flavor to it, as it is used as an excuse. The arguer is saying that they shouldn’t be held responsible for their action or inability to perform an action because they’re not naturally confident or proficient in said action. More simply put, you ought not hold them responsible since it is the case that they are predetermined to be less “able”.
Natural is Good
The positive form of the “born this way” argument says that, “I was born this way, therefore it must be morally acceptable and even commendable for me to act in this way.” What’s natural is what’s good. My natural inclinations and proclivities must be good because, well, I was born with them! If it is the case that I was born this way, then I ought to continue to live this way.
Those of you who are familiar with the British Philosopher, David Hume, may know where I’m going with this; you can’t get an ought from what is. This is known as the “is-ought problem” or “Hume’s Guillotine”. You can’t move from descriptive statements to prescriptive statements. Just because something happens to be the state of affairs does not necessarily mean that it ought to be the state of affairs. Just because it is, doesn’t mean it ought to be.
When we say we were born this way or that way we are seeking to derive an ethical ought from what is. When we make use of genetic fatalism we’re deriving an ought from an is. I ought not be held accountable because it is the case that my genes are different. When we make use of the “natural is good” form we’re also seeking to get an ought from an is. It is the case that I was born this way, therefore I ought to continue living this way.
“But why can’t we do that, Park? Just because some dude named David Bloom said we can’t?”. Let me give some examples for those who aren’t convinced. Children are born selfish. They typically only think about themselves. They hit and bite and punch without anyone teaching them how. It is the case that Billy bites his sister when he’s mad at her, but that doesn’t mean he ought to bite her. Let’s say Billy has been warned that if he bites his sister he will be punished but he proceeds to bite his sister anyways. You find out and you reveal his punishment but Billy says, “you shouldn’t punish me, even though I knew better, I could’s help bitting her, I was born this way”. How many of you would find his argument compelling? Just because little Billy was born with selfish and bitey desires doesn’t mean that he ought to act on them. He most definitely should change to become less selfish and way less bitey.
We are all born with different feelings and inclinations but just because the serial killer was born a sociopath doesn’t mean he ought to have acted on his “natural” desires to kill. There are lots of good arguments and justifications for living the way you choose to, but the “born this way” argument is not one of them.