I wanted to mention yesterday that I had spent a part of the morning singing to myself Van Morrison's "Crazy Love" with the name of Germany's manager (Jogi Löw) in place of the title, and that I thought he and assistant Hans-Dieter Flick looked like a cruise ship Beatles tribute band in their matching blue t-shirts and black jackets. But that would have been a bit irrelevant and I couldn't find a good picture of them. What I did find was this video, which shows Löw picking his nose and eating it. Not so nice.
Martha Nussbaum talks about the kind of disgust such acts provoke in her book, From Disgust to Humanity, which I review here and here. Her idea, backed by empirical research, is that we are disgusted by various things (cockroaches, snot, etc.) and then become disgusted by things associated with these primary objects of disgust. We might be reluctant, for instance, to lick a finger that we had seen pick a nose even if we knew the finger had been carefully washed.
Her theory about anti-gay sentiments is that they are the result of a similar kind of associative disgust: people think of gay sex in terms of unprotected anal sex (as Howell's case illustrates), feel disgust at the thought of the male body being penetrated and semen mixing with feces inside it, then project this disgust onto gay people and their relationships. Something like this does seem to be going on in Howell's email, but it is not all that is going on there, and it is not a big part of philosophical arguments against gay sex. Those arguments, after all, are designed to apply to lesbian sex, masturbation, and a range of other sexual acts that don't necessarily involve men, penetration, or feces at all. It's not as if these philosophers just say "Yuck!" and leave it at that. There is some sense of disgust in Elizabeth Anscombe's writings on sexual ethics, but there is also a strong sense that certain good things (the human body, human life, sex itself perhaps) are not properly honored by "deviant" sex. The argument is not purely a negative reaction, that is to say, but an attempt to articulate and make sense of something positive. There is much more concern with psychology and good faith in Anscombe's work than Nussbaum (who doesn't mention Anscombe, as far as I can remember) recognizes in the conservative position. Of course there are multiple conservative positions, but it's worth dealing with the best, which would surely include Anscombe's. I don't mean that Anscombe is right, but I do think that views like hers are worth getting right, and it's a shame that Nussbaum does not address them in her book.