Tyler Clementi

It would be disingenuous and misguided of me to pretend like I can at all relate to what happened to Tyler Clementi. I’m a white male whose biggest claim to having anything remotely close to a hardship is being an atheist. The stigma that surrounds my lack of belief is trivial in comparison to what gays and other minorities go through. And there’s a significant difference: I choose to be an atheist. Tyler Clementi didn’t choose to be gay, no more than one chooses to be black or white. That was his identity – and he was forced to keep it in the ‘closet’. We have society to blame for that.

Minorities have been held down and ostracized and mocked ever since early humans began to notice the superficial differences we have between us. But how many minorities have been forced to stay silent on who they were? Blacks have historically been kicked, but they haven’t been forced to hide the physical color of their skin as a routine matter. The same goes for all racial minorities. This doesn’t make their plight any less significant or less important than any other plight, but it does make the discrimination gays face a unique beast. Gays are in the unique position where they can disguise who they are. The horribly hateful bigots out there take advantage of this, proclaiming the existence of some fairytale ‘homosexual agenda’, suggesting homosexuals want to teach gay sex to children, among all the other ugly lies we hear every day. This forces many gays to keep a major defining aspect of their lives a complete secret; fear drives them to hide who they are.

That’s why Tyler Clementi killed himself. If society accepted who he was because, damn it, he’s a human being and deserves at least as much, he would still be alive. He would graduate in three and a half years from Rutgers University, ready to contribute as much as he could to society, to his family, to his friends, to his own well-being. Instead we’re left with an unnecessary and permanent absence because that very society to which Tyler Clementi would have contributed so much is so immersed in a dark, dark hate.

Obesity

In my recent post where I show how Suzanne Franks wants to find sexism where it doesn’t exist, I skipped one important point because I didn’t want to derail the specific topic at hand. The truth is that my concern over her post stems in part from a disdain for active obesity. But that term needs explaining because it just begs to be misinterpreted.

By “active” I mean obesity which is still receiving contributions, if you will. People who are obese and do nothing about it are immoral. Here’s the way I get to that conclusion.

If it is agreed that one ought to treat humans with respect and a certain level of care, then that principle should be extended to one’s self (henceforth referred to as “the self”). No convincing reason exists for why the self should be excluded from generalizations of how one ought to treat humans. Afterall, a human is a human is a human.

This then means that if overeating can be considered a mistreatment of a human being (and I think it can), active obesity is thus immoral. But just to be sure there are no misunderstandings, this is not to say that merely being overweight or obese is inherently immoral. Plenty of such unhealthy people do things to improve their health. No one expects them to be perfect at it; it’s a struggle. But the fact that they have put forth a reasonable effort brings them into morality.

Now, there are a huge number of caveats to this and I won’t be able to address them all. Are obese kids immoral? On the whole, no, because blame can generally be placed upon the parents (not to mention the inherent short-sightedness of being a child). Those with disorders or disabilities? Presuming a reasonable effort is being put forth (which may be well less than what an average person can do), then of course not. Should one expect a perfect exercise and diet regiment in order to call a person moral? Here I would appeal to a utilitarian perspective where it is necessary to maximize pleasure. Whereas overeating inherently undermines pleasure for most (because it increases the likelihood of death, not to mention all the other displeasing things that come with obesity), living an anal retentive life of absolute health will probably also not make one very happy. I don’t think an exact point of balance can be drawn for anyone, but it is possible to find a reasonable balance of a healthy lifestyle and still having fun. And the caveats go on and on.

So when I see that picture on CNN (see my post on Franks), I see a somewhat justified objectification. Active obesity is a bad thing and should not be respected. Now, there’s no way to know if the obese people in the image are trying to correct their behavior or not (hence the phrase “somewhat justified”), but it is obvious that most overweight and obese people do not put forth an honest effort. (In fact, even thin people don’t put forth much of an effort.) We should roundly denounce that and actively tell them to take care of their bodies. And, again because misinterpretation is begging to happen here, that doesn’t mean we ought to mock and belittle the overweight and obese. Personally, I favor doing what I can to help. In my own life, I will often discourage others from eating crappy food (provided they do it as a routine, not a rare treat). I don’t go too far, however, because I am careful not to tread on their personal choices. Unlike the bigots who have so often made marriage a privilege for heterosexuals, I do not believe my ideas of morality should be imposed upon others.

Finally on an aside, all this philosophy originally comes from a consideration of why suicide might be wrong. I always had a fascination with the laws many places have which make suicide illegal, so that naturally raised the question of why it ought to be illegal. Ultimately, I concluded it was equivalent to homicide based upon the principle embodied in “a human is a human is a human”.