Interview with Loren Cannon

Headshot 2016Loren Cannon teaches at Humboldt State University.  His teaching interests include Ethics, Environmental Ethics, the Philosophy of Sex and Love, Social Theory, and his newly developed course in Trans Theory.  He has published and presented on the topics of Marriage, Trans Theory, and Collective Responsibility.

Q:  What are your main interests in SPSL?

LC: I have a number of interests that fall under this broad umbrella.  Firstly, I have devoted quite a bit of time researching and thinking about the concept of gender.  I believe that gender, or at least many of the dominant assumptions of it, is a behind the scenes player both in our relationships and our theorizing about those relationships. On my view, many traditional assumptions about gender (the nature of masculinity and femininity or the presumed legitimacy of a binary sex/gender system), are problematic, and can give rise to limited views regarding notions such as romantic love, sex, marriage, and even social justice more broadly concerned.

Secondly, I have a keen interest in the concept of friendship, which is often included under the category of PSL (Philosophy of Sex and Love). I believe the dominant culture leans toward a prioritization of romantic relationships and yet it is friendships that can sometimes be just as significant and sometimes even longer lasting. Especially for those whom often face rejection (or worse) by their birth families, (thinking of LGBTQ folks here), chosen families are pulled together for mutual support. These friend groups can fill the gap left in the wake of birth-family disconnect and nurture a sense of acceptance and belonging that is vitally important. Additionally, in the present age of social media and online connection, there are many interesting questions about how the notion of friendship may be changing and the value of those changes. For instance, what is the nature of Facebook friendships, and if they are friendships at all does this imply there are duties and responsibilities that need to be fulfilled?

Q:  What project are you working on now?

LC: I find myself thinking quite a bit about the relationship between the Supreme Court decision of 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage,  what this means for the  Institution of marriage itself, and the dominant culture’s relationship to those in the LGBTQ population. Since this decision of just last year, we’ve seen an unprecedented number of anti-LGBTQ bills proposed and/or passed in several municipalities as well as an increased level of both visibility and violence against trans persons. I have written on the legalization of same sex marriage and am in favor of the right for all to participate in this social institution, but, am also sympathetic to those that argue that this political freedom does not address the gravest of injustices against the most vulnerable of LGBTQ individuals.

Also, the nature of gender (as a composite, not an atomic notion), is never far from my mind. Distortions of this concept have been used in an attempt to justify certain oppressive practices toward transgender and gender non-conforming persons. On my view, theoretical engagement is a tool that can be used to understand our world, our subjective place within that world, and provide the basis for conversation among those with similar and dissimilar experiences and theoretical leanings. Theory, whether in or outside academia, should never be used as a weapon – but instead should be used as an invitation to contribute to ongoing conversations of significant importance.

Q: Is your work related to events in the news? Do you see your ideas as having practical implications?

LC: Yes, of course. There are few things that are as hotly contested as many of the issues related to sex, love, gender, relationship. As mentioned, how one understands the nature of gender will have ramifications on policies that affect education, social policy and health care. As we have recently seen, considering the nature of marriage (as a right independent of one’s gender) has had ramifications on who can become married and also who can access the privileges thereof. Lastly, the notions of friendship and family (whether chosen or inherited) are vital to nurturing a flourishing life. I suppose many of the topics that hold my interest, in the end, involve human flourishing and justice.

Q: Why is the philosophy of sex and love particularly important and/or difficult to do well, in your view?

LC: I believe that the philosophy of sex and love is particularly difficult to do well because the topics of sex or sexuality, love, friendship, relationships, gender, play a role in everyone’s life. It is because they are so common that it is easy to think that there is no deep philosophical investigation to engage in. We see these kinds of topics on TV, movies, as part of political scandals, and in topics on top-forty radio stations. The ubiquity of these representations can, I think, make it seem that these issues are superficial or completely subjective. Instead, I believe that many of the topics in PSL of great significance to many people’s lives and deserve thoughtful philosophical attention.

Q: Do you work in other areas of philosophy as well? How does your work in philosophy of sex and love relate to your work in other areas?

LC: I work in other areas of philosophy, (environmental ethics, applied ethics, social theory) and I do think that there are many points of intersection between these sub-fields.  Normative ethics and PSL overlap whenever we discuss the appropriateness (in appropriateness) of a given action, practice, or policy, whether it be state-sanctioned marriage of a certain type, monogamy, prostitution, adultery, the use of pornography, or the value of different kinds of relationships. Interestingly, with regard to the concept of love, there are important ties to some topics in environmental ethics. For instance, in PSL we might discuss the concept of love and how romantic love may differ from how one may love a best friend. Similarly, in environmental ethics theorists discuss the nature of the love of the land and the non-human entities that reside within it.  What is the nature of such a love, often called “bio-philia”?  On an even more relatable level, can land, a special tree, or a pet be said to be a friend in the same way that one may have human friends?  What is the nature and potential depth of human and non-human relationship?

Many years ago, while teaching outdoor education in mid-state New York, we had a saying at the camp I worked at that “There is more life on the edge.” This had several meanings. First, it was a nod toward those lifestyles which could be described as one is “living on the edge.” Meaning, roughly, that one takes chances, challenges themselves, lives with gusto. Indeed, life itself may seem much more vibrant when climbing up a rock face than when entering data from one’s office cubicle. (Since that time I have reflected on the classism and ableism that can accompany the valuing of this kind of edgy-life, but believe the idea can be used in a way that minimizes these problems.) Secondly, the phrase has an ecological meaning in that there is a greater diversity of life on the edges of different ecosystems.  There is more life on the edge between a land and an aquatic ecosystem, or even the temporal edge in which day turns to night. In a similar way, I believe that there is rich philosophical work to be done on the edges of subjects, as in the edge between PSL and environmental ethics, or the edge between the philosophy of sex and love and political theory, or even the edge that PSL shares with epistemology.

Q:  Do you have any advice for young scholars interested in this area?

LC: Just to follow your own interests and practice being excellent in whatever area of philosophy that peaks your curiosity. On my own view, we are living in a time in which social and political changes require us to think deeply about many of the foundational and relational parts of our lives and many of these fall in the realm of the philosophy of sex and love.

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