Note: Been gone awhile, I know. Things are crazy at work. But I’ve got two weeks of vacation coming up and I plan to use it to get some good writing done!
Some California lawmakers are now proposing a bill that would, essentially, punish religious schools for upholding the teachings of their religions. Their argument is that since these schools accept some form of government money — through loans and whatnot — they are obligated to set aside the aspects of their faith that make progressives uncomfortable.
Yeah, yeah, yeah: “What if they were discriminating on the basis of race? Wouldn’t you support what they’re doing?” I’ve explained before why I believe this is an extremely poor analogy, but let me put it a different way. You realize, don’t you, that by tying any form of public support to an ever-narrowing range of permissible opinions, you’re undermining the very notion of public support? If I’m not permitted to use a government-backed loan to pay for the school of my choice, well, maybe I’m going to tell my lawmakers that I don’t believe the government should be making those loans in the first place. If you’re not subsidizing my choices, why the hell am I subsidizing yours?
But whatever. My main point in bringing this up is that if this sort of thing spreads outside of California, I do not see any way it will not lead to the dissolution of our country. And chances are very good that it won’t stay bottled up in California. If, as seems likely, Hillary Clinton is elected president this fall, and liberals finally gain a solid 5-4 voting bloc on the Supreme Court, there are already people advocating total, all-out judicial warfare against conservatives, and especially conservative Christians. You really should go over and read that link I just posted; I’ll wait.
Back yet? Okay: The program this man is laying out is nothing less than a recipe for the end of the United States of America. In the last paragraph of After Virtue, the Scottish philosopher Alisdair MacIntyre famously pointed out that in the fall of Rome,
A crucial turning point … occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium.
The well-known legal scholar I linked to earlier, the one wanting scorched-earth legal tactics against conservatives, is proposing to accomplish that very thing. He would build a new legal regime that is implacably hostile to at least 40 percent of the population. Not tolerant — hostile. As in: Holding or being sympathetic to traditional, conservative religious beliefs, while not illegal, will be officially viewed by the state as less than fully American and a potential breeding ground for treason. That means 40 percent of the country, while not necessarily hostile, will not see the continued health and prosperity of the United States as being in their best interests. Like Jews living under Roman rule in the first century, these people might not wish for America’s destruction, exactly — a few will, but most will just grind their teeth and bear it. But they’ll also regard the United States of America as wholly unworthy of their time, treasure or blood.
That is unsustainable. From there, the only two paths I see are some kind of peaceful dissolution, or civil war. Well, there’s also a third option, I suppose: A sort of federalism-on-steroids, where certain parts of the country are granted a limited local autonomy as long as they pay their taxes on time and don’t cause too much trouble for the central government. This is more or less the arrangement Northern Ireland has with Great Britain; it’s also the solution the Roman Empire settled on in its later years. This would be a stopgap measure, but it could probably be made to work for a century or two.
ADDENDUM: Can’t believe this didn’t occur to me before, but my “federalism on steroids” scenario of wide local autonomy is also, of course, the solution the U.S. government adopted towards the South from the late 19th century until the mid-20th century.
After the Civil War, the Union had not the time, money, nor inclination to conduct a long, drawn-out guerilla war across the South, so the solution was to allow the South to enact Jim Crow. In return for the South surrendering peacefully and abandoning slavery, northern political interests basically allowed Southern states to set their own rules for how to deal with newly-freed black “citizens.”
This, again, should underline the fact that this is a less-than-optimal solution, even if it provides some short term peace. I should also remind readers that this “solution” came about only AFTER the bloodiest war in our nation’s history.
Another long absence — they’re killing me at my job, I tell you. Anyhow, this is the seventh part in a series of posts I’m doing about the liberalization of sex laws throughout the West. Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here. Part 4 can be found here. Part 5 can be found here. Part 6 can be found here.
Why do I think “mutual consent” will ultimately be a poor basis for restricting adult sexual choices? It comes down to a question of teleology.
“Teleology” is a fancy philosophical term which simply means the study of things and ideas with regard to their purpose. The “telos,” or teleological purpose, of a car is to transport people and cargo from point A to point B faster than could be achieved with natural methods of locomotion, such as walking or riding a horse.
What is the telos of human beings? This is a key question, because the answer provides a compass for navigating moral dilemmas. When we are faced with two or more contradictory moral pathways, teleology is often the deciding factor: What is the ultimate destination we are trying to reach?
Starting with the establishment of Christian supremacy back in the Dark Ages, Western culture’s traditional answer was: A harmonious relationship with our Creator. Even non-Christians in the West largely shared this conception; even Western societies which held a more skeptical view of the state’s role in religious affairs — the U.S., Great Britain, and post-revolutionary France — still held quite religious views about the nature of society, as distinct from the secular institution of government. John Adams — a major critic of mixing church and state — nevertheless wrote that “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
For Christians, the aim of “society” was to usher in God’s Kingdom, whether here on Earth or up in Heaven (the exact specifics of how this was supposed to work have been a subject of intense debate among Christians since the earliest days of the church, but I think this thumbnail description accurately summarizes the theological views of the vast majority of the faithful).
This vision of human destiny was memorably summed up in the final lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy, when Dante has entered Paradise and finally beholds God at the center of the Universe:
But now was turning my desire and will,
Even as a wheel that equally is moved,
The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.
It might be worth pointing out here that Beatrice, Dante’s guide through Paradise, or Heaven, was apparently based on a real woman whom Dante may have had a crush on. Thus we see that in the traditional Western conception, sexuality itself is ultimately seen in the context of an eventual reconciliation with God.
Today, of course, the fashion among the learned is to dismiss all of this as gibbering Sky God nonsense. Fine. But “what is our purpose?” is not an optional question, because the answer is a foundation stone for society. And for any person who does not live alone on a desert island, society — the arrangements we develop in order to live together and to allow our institutions to function — is not optional.
When I ask, “what is mankind’s purpose?”, choosing not to answer is an answer in itself, which will lead to predictable real-world outcomes, just as entering “0” as a value in a physics formula leads to predictable real-world outcomes. If we choose the null response to the question of teleology — the null response can come in many forms, but the functional outcome is the same — then the answer to what is our telos, our purpose, reverts to the individual.
That is all fine and good and it has inspired much stirring art, poetry, and song, both lamenting man’s existential fate and celebrating his freedom and indomitable spirit. But existential struggle, however useful it might be for individuals, cannot form the basis for society. For us to achieve anything higher than a Hobbesian state of bellum omnium contra omnes, society must still have some animating purpose.
It does not have to be an “animating purpose” as presented, for example, in Marxism: a great eschatological goal for which all mankind must unite to achieve. I just mean that, if you and I are to live together peacefully as neighbors, we have to have some general consensus about why we’re bothering to work and cooperate, instead of enslaving or killing each other — or simply avoiding all contact.
This is more than just a simple social contract; it precedes the social contract, because a social contract is impossible without some shared vision of “the good life.” No social contract is possible if your vision of the good life requires the crushing or diminishing of me and my kin.
A broadly shared, mutually-compatible notion of teleology — “the good life” we are all striving for — must be part of the foundation of any workable social contract.
In the absence of an explicitly Judeo-Christian teleology, then, our social contract must zero in on some other teleological imperative. While there are a multitude of alternatives we could turn to, the answer we’ve gradually settled on is one of radical individual autonomy. We define “the good” as the maximum possible freedom for the individual to exert their will upon the universe in pursuit of personal pleasure and self-conception.
If this is the standard we adhere to, if this is the goal — if this is our conception of humanity’s Eschaton, be it theistic or non-theistic — then other, competing goals will be sacrificed to achieve that end.
Now, it’s important to understand here that these goals won’t be sacrificed immediately, or even at the first sign of conflict. Change happens slowly. Decent and polite folks do not much want to hassle their neighbors, even if they regard them as retrograde bigots. As much as is possible, nice people of all persuasions will gravitate towards a social contract which can be stretched to include as many of their friends and neighbors as possible.
But this balance cannot be maintained indefinitely. As long as our different utopias remain in the distant future, we can agree to disagree. Society, though, does not remain in one place. As some once-unthinkable ideas start to attain substance and even a small measure of approval, people’s calculations begin to change. I’ve written before about how changing conditions on the ground can radically alter the political calculations of different groups within society, and I think this applies just as much to our sex laws. If radical individual autonomy, including sexual autonomy, is to be our guiding principle, then as we close in on the possibility of complete sexual liberation, it naturally follows that competing values, such as religious orthodoxy, will be required to yield.
Not just passively yield, either — any religious believers who want to have normal intercourse with society will be required to positively affirm these new values, just as “normal” Christians are now expected to salute the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance. As Erick Erickson has written, “you will be made to care.” You will not be given the option of refusing to take a side, any more than you can currently refuse to take a side on, say, racial segregation. You have that right in theory, of course, but exercising that right in a specific way will bar you from any kind of participation in normal life.
Of course, that still leaves believers with the freedom to largely withdraw from society, like the Amish or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is what Rod Dreher has been talking about the past year or so with the so-called “Benedict Option” for Christian orthodoxy. This might indeed be the way the Christian church is headed, but it won’t change the direction of society.
Coming next: The practical implications of all this.
Dead at 57. Easily one of the greatest pop musicians of all time. I was a completely un-ironic fan of Prince even when I was going through my disaffected teen metalhead phase, when I wasn’t supposed to like anything but heavy metal. Prince was just that good. There was just no way to deny the man’s genius.
He had a supernatural musical versatility. In addition to playing multiple instruments, he could play just about every style of music with ease, like he’d been playing it his whole life. Really, the guy’s range as a musician was unreal. It’s hard for me to think of any musician, other than the Beatles, who could move so effortlessly from one style to the next. And the Beatles were a group; Prince was just one guy.
Over at Ace of Spades, Ace posted a list of his pick for the top 40 — 40! — Prince songs. I’d argue about the order (I’d put “Kiss” at No. 1), but still: How many artists have produced 40 great songs over the course of their career? And this even leaves off a lot of songs I would have included! Here’s Ace’s list:
40. When Doves Cry
38. Nothing Compares 2 U
37. I Feel For You
36. I Wanna Be Your Lover
34. I Wonder U
33. Darling Nikki
32. The Beautiful Ones
31. Do Me, Baby
29. She’s Always in My Hair (B-side)
27. Jack U Off
25. Sometimes in Snows in April
23. The Ladder
21. Let’s Pretend We’re Married
20. If I Was Your Girlfriend
19. Little Red Corvette
18. Pop Life
17. Let’s Go Crazy
16. New Position
15. Take Me With U
11. I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man
10. Alphabet Street
9. When You Were Mine
7. I Would Die 4 U
6. Baby I’m a Star
5. Erotic City (single B-side)
4. Purple Rain
2. Raspberry Beret
1. U Got the Look
What’s incredible about that list is the diversity. All of these songs have their own unique sound, and they all sound great. Again, just incredible. The world will not see this man’s like again for some time.
On Facebook the other day, I made a joke about this story out of Middleton, Wisconsin, where a school district is upset about an off-campus event with a Christian religious focus. The specifics are kind of odd, but here’s the controversy as I understand it.
This school allows students to eat their lunch at an off-campus public park. A group of students and parents enjoy meeting up at this park at lunchtime to discuss their Christian faith. The administration is upset about this, because they feel it amounts to an impermissible religious service on school property. The crux of the matter seems to be the ambiguous status of this park. It’s a public park, open to the public at all times, but the school “leases” the property, so they consider it part of school property, even though it still functions as a public park. So: If the park is actual school property, then the administration is free to bar students and their parents from holding religious services or discussions there, at least during school hours. But if it’s an actual public park, the school has no say in the matter.
At any rate, I posted a joke suggestion on FB that the Christians here ought to switch the name to “Mohammed Lunch” and claim they were discussing Allah and the Holy Q’uran. They could even wear patches with ISIS logos. Then let’s see how many brave secularists stand up to challenge them. 🙂 (I wish I could claim this was an original insight, but I have to confess that I sort of swiped the idea from a throwaway line I saw on the Ace of Spades blog.)
It was just a dumb joke, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought something like this could kind-of-sort-of work. Not seriously, of course, but as a type of Saul Alinsky style monkeywrenching for Christians to engage in. There’s actually a precedent for this: Atheists have invented joke religions like Pastafarianism and The Satanic Temple to poke fun at what they see as society’s inappropriate deference to, and accommodation of, serious religious believers.
Well, that sort of thing can work both ways. Most Christians have, of course, noticed that the culture of political correctness has a serious double-standard when it comes to Islam. This, of course, is because Christians — even the off-the-wall freaks at Westboro Baptist Church — do not have a mysterious tendency to spontaneously explode in public places, killing dozens of innocent bystanders. Leaders of the Religion of Peace, meanwhile, repeatedly make clear that insults to their faith will result in body bags stacking up at the morgue. True, those morgues usually aren’t in America — they’re likely to be in some benighted Third World locale that doesn’t even have a Starbucks, the result of “uncontrollable” protests erupting in countries which normally don’t flinch from controlling protests with liberal applications of machine gun fire. More recently, the body bags have been stacking up in Europe, but with the exception of 9/11, the U.S. has largely escaped the brunt of the Spontaneous Muslim Detonation problem.
Still, the fear is real enough that many progressives who are happy to spew toxic venom at Christians can barely stir themselves to mention Islam. (There are, of course, some honorable exceptions — Bill Maher is particularly notable for refusing to give Islam a pass.) Progressives are also loath to criticize Islam because of their reflexive deference to cultures exploited by “colonialism.” (Islam’s long tradition of colonial oppression doesn’t count, of course.)
Seeing the indulgent treatment often granted to Muslims, it occurred to me: What if traditionalist Christians decided to “convert” en masse to Islam? I don’t mean a real conversion, of course. Instead, these Christians could claim to be founding a “new sect” within Islam, one which affirms all traditional Christian doctrines, but claims to recognize the Prophet Mohammed as a kind of religious reformer, along the lines of John Calvin or Martin Luther.
These new “Muslims” could approvingly recite the Islamic shahada, or confession of faith: “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” The difference, of course, would be in how they defined those terms: “Allah” in this case would be the traditional Christian triune God, and “Mohammed” wouldn’t be a “prophet” in the sense of the prophets of Hebrew Scripture; he’d just be an inspired evangelist, a kind of C.H. Spurgeon of Arabia. For full effect, these new “converts” could grow out their beards and adopt traditional Islamic dress, take on Arabic names, only consume halal food, and pray five times a day — to Jerusalem, instead of Mecca, because that’s what Mohammed originally taught his followers, ya know. 🙂 Basically, it would be a Christian version of Crypto-Judaism, only wearing a clown nose. (Although if things keep going the way they are in Europe, the Christians over there might have to do this whole “pretend Muslim” thing for real.)
Oh: These new “Muslims” would also be sure to talk approvingly of martyrdom and suicide bombings. They’d sport ISIS patches and talk about the glories of jihad.
I confess I don’t know enough about Christian theology to know if this is realistic. Can the Great Commission be stretched to include inventing joke religions to highlight the inconsistency and hypocrisy of unbelievers? My guess is: Probably not, which is why I described this as a “semi-joke suggestion.” Still, it IS very amusing to think about the creative ways this could be used needle progressives and separation-of-church-and-state absolutists, the way they use Darwin fish logos and the Flying Spaghetti Monster to make sport of Christians. It’s right there at No. 4 on Alinksy’s “Rules for Radicals”: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If Christians are fair game, but we have to bend over backwards to respect and honor Muslims, what happens when Christians present their faith under the guise of “Islam?” Will public schools start uncritically presenting Christian doctrines as if they are perfectly neutral facts? How do you think the restless “Arab Street” will react to worldwide reports of a “Muslim” coach who’s forbidden to pray at a high school football game? (I work in the news media, so I am confident you could rely on the press to mangle the distinction between Christian pseudo-“Muslims” and real Muslims when this news got reported in Muslim countries.) Think of the demonstrations!
Like I said: Probably not realistic. But it’s fun to think about, regardless. 🙂
Sorry for the absence — been swamped at work. This is the sixth part in a series of posts I’m doing about the liberalization of sex laws throughout the West. Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here. Part 4 can be found here. Part 5 can be found here.
If we establish mutual adult consent as the iron standard underlying our morals, ethics, and legal codes governing sexual behavior, it will eventually force us to loosen restrictions on a lot of currently-forbidden arrangements. It won’t happen overnight, because cultural inertia is still strong enough that people instinctively recoil from immediately … well, legalizing prostitution, for example. The idea of a Sex McDonald’s on every corner is still sufficiently nasty to enough people that they’re happy to keep it illegal without thinking too much about it.
But this cultural resistance is ultimately built on sand. Because it has no firm intellectual foundation that the vast majority of us can agree upon, it will collapse if enough pressure is applied. And the pressure will be applied, because while resistance is strong, it is diffuse. Meanwhile, the motivation to change is narrow but highly concentrated in a small group of people who are extremely motivated.
As we’ve seen with gay rights, this is usually all it takes to upend powerful customs whose roots have nevertheless withered away. When the modern gay rights movement first began to coalesce around the 1969 Stonewall riots, it’s probable that upwards of 90 percent of Americans were perfectly happy with society’s then-current arrangements regarding homosexuality. I think I can confidently say that almost no Americans in 1969 — probably not even most gay activists themselves — wanted a world with mandatory nationwide gay marriage, up to and including legal penalties for businesses and individuals who declined to participate in gay weddings. (It certainly wasn’t what I wanted, and I’ve been in favor gay rights and gay marriage for as long as I can remember.) They’d probably be horrified if you laid out such a vision of the future, and might have questioned your sanity. Yet less than 50 years later, that’s what we ended up with. Who’s to say we won’t see the same thing unfold with prostitution, polygamy, or incest?
Still, that “iron standard” of mutual adult consent still rules out a handful of particularly sick sexual practices, right? Bestiality, child pornography, and child sex are still off the table. Right?
Maybe. But probably not. Let’s examine each one of these in turn.
First, bestiality — sex with animals. Clearly, animals have little or no ability to either consent or object to sexual contact.
But here’s the thing: We already disregard the consent of animals in a number of different circumstances. We still kill and eat animals, for instance. We draft them into involuntary servitude, both for work and for simple companionship.
It’s true that as civilization has advanced, we have gradually become more sensitive to the treatment of animals. If our concern is with possible harm that might come to animals, this could conceivably form a neutral basis for banning certain forms of bestiality. (Though again, it’s hard to square this concern with the fact that we still kill animals for food and sport.) But even with this caveat, a blanket ban on bestiality based solely on consent would be hard to justify, at least when seen in the context of how we currently treat our animals. I don’t want to turn the reader’s stomach with too much detail, but I’ll note that with at least some types of bestiality, the animals involved do not seem to find the treatment objectionable. Some species, in, fact, seem quite enthusiastic about some hot interspecies sexy fun times. If the animals don’t care, why should we?
What about child pornography, then? Kids can’t consent to sex, after all.
True — although, as I’ve already pointed out, I don’t believe the insistence on “consent” will ultimately be enough to stop this from being legalized, at least on a limited basis. However, that’s a discussion for another post. Here, I’ll just focus on the problem of definitions when discussing child pornography.
Some child porn, for example, doesn’t involve sex — some of it is just nude pictures of children. (For serious pedophiles, even nudity is not required — just normal pictures of children are enough to arouse them, the same way a normal person can be sexually aroused by a picture of an attractive, fully clothed adult.) This poses a problem, because a blanket ban on all nude images of children is impossible.
It would, for starters, criminalize a lot of famous works of art. It’s not immediately obvious that the male model for Michelangelo’s sculpture of “David” was older than 18 — he certainly can’t have been much older than his early 20s. It’s said that the statue depicts David at the moment he decides to fight Goliath — that would mean the statue is supposed to be a boy of about 16, though clearly he’s a 16-year-old who’s
been spending a lot of time at the gym. (Note: While this would have been an inaccurate depiction of the historical David, it might have been an accurate depiction of an active and well-developed 16-year-old of Michelangelo’s time. We know Michelangelo wasn’t going for strict historical accuracy because his “David” is shown as uncircumcised — which is comically implausible, if one takes the Old Testament more or less at its word.) If that example seem a little ambiguous, trust me, the world’s museums are full of nude paintings, sculptures and yes, photographs whose subjects clearly and unambiguously fall on the younger side of our modern rules about the “age of consent.”
I know, I know … maybe you’re not so concerned with faggot-sounding “artistic value” crap and would be happy to burn all those pictures and smash all those statues. Fine. But there are also scientific and medical uses for nude images of children — pediatric specialists have to learn the specifics from somewhere, after all. There are historical and cultural justifications — one of the most famous photos from the Vietnam war features a naked nine-year-old girl; meanwhile, anthropologists trying to document the lives of primitive indigenous societies cannot do much about the fact that those societies sometimes have relaxed attitudes towards child nudity. Candid family photos of children may also feature images of child nudity — yes, there have actually been cases of parents who’ve been hauled into court for possessing a snapshot of their babies in the bathtub.
All of this means that police and prosecutors who handle child porn cases can sometimes be forced to make tricky judgement calls. But why should they? If we are committed to a society in which the sexual pleasure and fulfillment of adults must always be maximized, why insist on a hard-to-define distinction about whether a nude image of a child is or is not “prurient” or “obscene?” If the child’s parents consent to allowing such images, and the results do not feature any obvious sexual elements, why does it matter if adults might use such images for sexual gratification? Is it because such images might “trigger” adults to molest children? That seems unlikely; normal adults are not inspired to go out and rape people after viewing adult pornography, even of a very violent nature, and child molesters can be motivated to go out and molest kids just from viewing non-sexual images of children. If we trust reasonable people to keep their impulses under control in one instance, why not the other? (I feel compelled to point out here that I am not endorsing this view — I am just pointing out that this is the direction we’re headed in.)
This being 2016, there’s a further twist with child pornography. In a few years, it will be possible for an amateur working with basic desktop computer equipment to produce fully synthetic hardcore child porn. It will be indistinguishable from the real thing, yet will feature no human actors. These images, or even entire movies, will be entirely produced by fully consenting adults. No non-consenting children will ever be involved. In theory, it’s possible to produce such material right now, though as I understand it, the level of necessary expertise and cost of equipment would require a Hollywood-feature-size budget — not something that could be easily whipped up by a random gaggle of perverts, in other words. This won’t always be the case, though — if Moore’s law continues to hold, eventually this technology will be within easy reach of pretty much anybody.
I ask again: What, aside from “tradition” (an argument with an extremely poor track record against the many changes we’ve undergone in the past several decades), will be the rationale for keeping such works illegal?
Will it be because such productions “simulate” an actual crime? By that standard, you’d have to outlaw nearly every video game I’ve played in the last 20 years — all of them feature “simulated” killings that, regardless of how they might be justified within the context of the game’s narrative, would undoubtedly qualify as first-degree murder in real life.
Suddenly the much-mocked “Hays Code” of old Hollywood doesn’t seem so unreasonable, does it?
This all sounds incredibly shocking to you, I know — but remember, it won’t come all at once. It will be a drip-drip-drip process, and at every stage, the people pushing for just a little loosening of this or that restriction will be the most normal, sympathetic people you can imagine. Not a single one of them will look like a creepy pervert driving around in a spooky-looking rusted-out van.
Still, sex with kids: That’s the ultimate taboo, right? There’s no way we’ll ever slip that far into the abyss, right?
Well, possibly. But I remain doubtful. Before I delve into such a white-hot controversial topic, I’ll need to lay the groundwork with a diversion into philosophy.
This is the fifth part in a series of posts I’m doing about the liberalization of sex laws throughout the West. Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here. Part 4 can be found here.
I don’t think any reasonable person reading this today actually wants a future of sexual debauchery with no legal limits. But past a certain point, what we “want” has nothing to do with it. The outcome is already embedded in the premises; we just haven’t reached it yet. But eventually, we’re going to reason ourselves into this position down a slow but slippery slope of logical deduction: “If x is perfectly legal, then what’s the basis for keeping y illegal?”
Religious believers have a ready answer, of course: It’s illegal because God disapproves. But people who are uncomfortable leaning on Sky God mumbo-jumbo for moral instruction will have some issues. Decent, fair-minded folks who have no strong religious convictions will repeatedly be faced with the problem of how to respond to nice, polite, responsible, well-mannered people who nevertheless feel compelled to engage in sexual practices which are against the law.
Spoiler alert: None of these people will appear to be disgusting perverts or sulfur-breathing demons. They will not dress like they just emerged from a sex dungeon, and they won’t have fangs for teeth or cloven hooves or horns on their heads. They’ll be well-dressed, well-groomed, and seemingly well-adjusted, with normal jobs and hobbies and political views. They’ll have pleasant, soothing speaking voices, which they will use to plead their case in a cheerful, nonthreatening way.
They’ll bake a mean apple pie, just like the kind mom used to make. All this will make it very hard for polite and tolerant people to resist their appeals. The Gundersons were okay with certain things being illegal when they imagined that only icky weirdos were interested in those things. But that Smith couple down the street seems so nice and normal! It just seems mean and wrong to throw the Smiths in jail for what they choose to do in their bedroom. It’s not like what they’re doing hurts the Gundersons, after all.
If you’re a non-religious person who’s troubled by the scenario I’m laying out here, I imagine you are now trying to think of some alternative, non-religious basis for society to restrict people’s sexual choices. In fact, I’ve got a pretty good idea where your mind is going right now, so allow me to further discourage you.
Let’s dispense with one line of thinking first: That certain sex practices must be restricted “for the good of society.” That horse has already left the stable, I’m afraid.
The problem with basing our sex laws on what’s “best for society” is that it opens the door to different categories of restrictions which many people are uncomfortable with. As I’ve already demonstrated, the Foundational Consensus on sexuality which we’ve rejected was all about controlling sex “for the good of society.” One could argue that maybe some of its requirements were too harsh for the modern world, given our wealth and technological sophistication. Fine, but that raises the possibility that these requirements can and should be reinstated during more trying times. Maybe easy divorce is OK when the economy is booming, and parents can be assured of getting good jobs and providing a relatively stable life for their kids — but maybe divorce needs to be a lot harder when the economy turns to crap, and a child’s welfare becomes more dependent on mom and dad staying together.
Indeed, as I pointed out before, this was exactly what happened in the past: People were looser about sex when times were good, but the old harsh Consensus was always looming in the background, ready to be enforced when times were bad. Thus, the relatively freewheeling sexual atmosphere of the Roaring ’20s gave way to the starchy puritanism of the Great Depression.
But in recent bad times, this kind of moral “snap-back” hasn’t happened. It didn’t happen in the stagflation of the 1970s, and it hasn’t happened during the Great Recession. That’s because the Foundational Consensus has been successfully dismantled. Our entire notion of sexual ethics is now grounded in the idea that adult sexual pleasure is not a luxury to be enjoyed when we can afford it, but a good in and of itself, like free speech — indeed, sex is now seen as so central to the human experience that, as with speech, the default assumption is that what’s “good for society” must take a back seat to what’s good for the individual. It’s difficult to see how we can walk this back without raising serious questions about our current levels of sexual permissiveness.
Since that seems unlikely, you’ll probably try and fall back on some kind of libertarian, transactional model of morality. This is what I referred to in my last post as “least-common-denominator” morality, because it’s the only framework that is broad enough to accommodate starkly different moral traditions. Looming large in whatever model you come up with will be the notion of consent. This, you believe, is the iron wall which will protect us from the abyss.
It won’t work.
Why? Well, to begin with, polygamy, incest and prostitution are all possible in an environment where all parties are on equal terms and offer full consent. A consent-based ethics of sexuality cannot plausibly reject any of these arrangements. Not in principle, at least. Of course, it would still be possible to outlaw such arrangements based on nothing more than social tradition. But this has proven to be a very flimsy barrier in the past.
That leaves bestiality and various forms of child sexuality. Here, you have situations where one party is presumed to have an impaired ability to offer consent. This, I am afraid, is a fortress built on a foundation of shifting, uncertain sand.
As you may know, I’ve been doing a series of posts about my misgivings about the direction of sex laws in Western society. Now, thanks to the nonsensical save system used by WordPress, I’ve lost my next two posts, which I’d already completed and planned to post in the coming days.
Crap. I really don’t get this. You’d think if I’d already saved something, it would stay the way I’d saved it. But WordPress uses some weird system where a saved file can revert to an earlier version if you make changes to it — I don’t really get how this works, but it’s incredibly annoying. This isn’t the first time I’ve had this issue, but it’s the first time when I’ve lost so much work. I guess the lesson is to not depend on WordPress to save work-in-progress files from now on.
Well, I suppose that means I’ll need to reconstruct my completed posts from memory. It shouldn’t be too hard, since I already know what I want to say. But it’ll still be a bit of work, and a huge pain in the ass. So pardon me if there are some gaps in my postings on that topic for the next week or so.