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Guest Thinkers

True Selves and Closet Cases

My friend Josh Knobe has an interesting piece in the New York Times about his research on the concept of the true self.

Most people would agree that the crusading anti-gay pastor who feigns interest in his wife for the sake of propriety while lusting after men is not being true to himself. But what if being true to yourself is defined in terms of living according to your principles, however ridiculous they happen to be?

A lot of commenters at Jezebel seem to be misunderstanding the philosophical question. This isn’t about whether sexual orientation is hardwired or how people choose their religions.

The philosophical question is whether your “true self” is defined by your desires or your values. If you’re unfortunate enough to have anti-gay values and gay desires, are you being truer to yourself by holding tight to your bigoted values and being a closet case, or by jettisoning your principles and having the gay sex you’ve craved for as long as you can remember?

Even if you agree that holding fast to bigot principles is the best way for a bigot to be himself, that doesn’t imply that you approve.

You can be true to yourself and a terrible self. Or, you can change. You might say that the anti-gay bigot who becomes an out, proud gay person has been “untrue” to his former self. Certainly if his former self could see him now, the former self would be furious. But so what? His old self wasn’t worth preserving anyway.

Which goes to show that splitting hairs about the nature of the true self is basically a waste of time. Though it might still be interesting to study what people mean by the concept.

[Photo credit: Willie Lunchmeat, Creative Commons.]


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