the gay bomb and don't ask don't tell
Tuesday, June 12 2007
The other day I read an eleven year old article at Slate.com about what exactly is meant by terms like "elegance" and "æsthetics" in science. It turns out that Thomas Kuhn's "paradigm shifts," the ones he identified as necessary for revolutionary new theories to be accepted in science, are underlain by something Kuhn didn't discuss in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: changes in what is considered "elegant" and "æsthetic." For example, part of the reason there was initial resistance to Newtonian physics was that it demanded the existence of a mysterious force acting from a distance: gravity. That mysterious forces could reach out through space and affect objects seemed a little too occult to the Enlightenment thinkers of Newton's day, who preferred a corpuscular model of material interaction in which objects respond only to direct contact with other objects. (There is a possible corpuscular explanation for Newtonian gravity, although few people accept it today.) In the end, then, the popularity of new scientific theories is akin to the popularity of clothing fashions. There is an underlying root æsthetic (women must cover their breasts/every theory must be testable by experiment) upon which the fashions/theories come and go. Mind you, discussing science in this way is mostly an exercise in historical interpretation, as no experiment in the last hundred years has led to the toppling of a generally-accepted scientific theory.
The underlying æsthetic (artistic, moral, and otherwise) plays a strong role in shaping all sorts of societal goals and can lead to ludicrous excess. Take for example today's news that the American military spent 7.5 million dollars in the 90s developing a bomb that would, when exploded, somehow make the opposing military force instantly homosexual, thereby ruining their effectiveness as a fighting force. The pursuit of such a bomb suggests three dubious presuppositions:
- It's possible to quickly and reliably make people homosexual by exposing them to an environmental agent.
- Homosexuals are inferior warriors to heterosexuals.
- Making another fighting force homosexual is a better way of rendering them impotent than other methods (in terms of cost-effectiveness and/or humanitarian goals).
That such a plan ever reached the stage where it could receive a hundred dollars in research grant money, let alone 7.5 million, boggles the mind. But the existence of such a program fits in perfectly with the military's psychological paradigm during that time. Remember, in the early 90s Bill Clinton initially hoped to scrap the military's anti-gay policy but quickly met such resistance from entrenched military homophobes that he eventually had to settle for the infuriatingly compromised "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy. In those days the military brass had such faith in the inferiority of gay soldiers that it comes as little surprise that they would approve research for a bomb to render foes gay (and thus helpless against our noble — and assuredly — heterosexual warriors). Doing so would be a huge fuck you to the weak-wristed Clintonistas, a money-where-the-mouth-is demonstration that gayness is such a liability that it's actually worth weaponizing. In other times, under other paradigms, I can imagine a military approving bombs that would render other armies black, female, Jewish (or otherwise non-Christian), or, best of all, non-American. I wonder how many millions would have to be spent on a "bomb to make a foe non-American" before someone asked, "But what if the foe isn't American to begin with?"
This afternoon Gretchen decided to use the gas-powered lawn mower for its first deployment in over a year. The grass had grown beyond the capabilities of our human-powered spool mower, and while we awaited the delivery of a better spool mower, it seemed like a worthy excursion into the gasoline paradigm. But, after years of altercations with rocks, that mower's blade is so bent and distorted that it tends to catch on things, inevitably slamming something so hard that it ends up bent into a compromised shape. After it arrived at such uselessness during today's mowing, I tried to remove the blade but found the 5/8 inch bolt holding it had seized. This forced me to do the best I could at banging the blade into shape while it was still attached to the mower. Let me tell you, that is some seriously miserable work.
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