Samuel Alito] went on to ask why, if
say they’re all consenting adults,
educated. They’re all lawyers” —
be denied the right to marry and form a single union.
— Jeffrey Rosen, Yahoo News
We should take seriously what Amy
Davidson has called "Justice Alito's Polygamy Perplex" and the
possibility that the legalization of gay marriage in the USA and elsewhere will
be what's facetiously called the thin edge of the camel's nose heading down the
slippery slope … in this case a slope leading to a reexamination of not only marriage
under the law but also new thinking about family formation.
Good God, I hope so! I hope we slide
down that slope with literally "all deliberate speed" — in the old
sense, before that line became a sick joke with resistance to desegregation.
Jeffrey Rosen tells us that "[…]
Justice Kennedy has insisted that laws disadvantaging gays and lesbians violate
their dignity and their constitutional rights to liberty and equality,"
and Justice Kennedy is correct. What I'm interested in, though, includes the
disadvantaging of gays by their not being able to take advantage of the crasser
advantages of marriage.
I'm an unmarried/never-married guy
with some background in history and ecology, and I understand that marriage has
long functioned and functioned well for what is known as "natalism" or "pronatalism,"
the encouragement of the production and raising of children for the security of
the State (see Exodus
1.8 f.) and prosperity of society: "People are the riches of a
nation." But some time after Earth's human population hit three billion,
pronatalist theory became pretty problematic ecologically, and military
engagements throwing mass armies at one another haven't worked out that well
from, say, the Napoleonic Wars through the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-89.
And with a current human population of over seven billion and rising rapidly, with
a significant number of countries with nuclear weapons for serious warfare,
with climate change offering significant challenges and nonrenewable resources
increasingly not renewed — let's say that nowadays natalism as public policy is
a bad idea.
So non-reproductive unions can be in
themselves a good idea.
Non-reproductive marriages where the
couple adopts are an even better idea.
It could also be a good idea to have
reproductive and family-raising units of more than two consenting adults.
The nuclear family has been a pretty
popular way to manage marriage and child-rearing, but it has hardly been the
only way; and the sort of rigorously nuclear family that's the dominant ideal
in America nowadays — Mom, Dad, kid(s) — is a relatively new invention. Until
recently, many children grew up in households, with a grandparent or two around
(if they lived that long), and in the house or fairly close by, there were
relatives, friends, and often a servant or, for the rich, a staff.
Indeed, I'm not that ancient, and I
grew up in a functioning neighborhood in Chicago where there were significant
adults in my life beyond my parents, and who helped raise me.
Anthropologists and science fiction writers
have documented (anthropologists) or imagined (fiction writers) complex ways
for getting children a good deal of adult attention in a manner that offers a
range of models somewhat beyond Mom and Dad and without, as in the nuclear
option, exhausting Mom and Dad — especially Mom — and often driving them, and
the kids, up the wall.
There are alternatives: "line
marriage" is suggested in at least four novels by Robert A. Heinlein,
and various forms of threesomes are suggested in novels such as Samuel R.
Delany's Babel-17 and Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time. And Ursula K.
Le Guin, author of much anthropological science fiction, has a good deal of fun
with the anthropologically baroque family life on her planet O,
where the people are divided into two pretty much arbitrary "moieties"
— halves — and "Marriage […] is a foursome, the sedoretu — a
man and a woman from the Morning moiety and a man and a woman from the Evening
moiety. You’re expected to have sex with both your spouses of the other moiety,
and not to have sex with your spouse of your own moiety. So each sedoretu has
two expected heterosexual relationships, two expected homosexual relationships,
and two forbidden heterosexual relationships." Le Guin concludes her
explanation drily with "It’s just as complicated as it sounds, but aren’t
What Justice Alito sees as a possible
reduction to the absurd of the logic of gay marriage might turn out a good idea
for variations on the theme of marriage.
Among other things the debate on gay
marriage should encourage consideration
of alternatives to the nuclear family, and the debate should combine that
consideration of examination of real conflicts on marriage and, well, money. We
need to debate vigorously the crasser advantages of marriage in tax breaks for
married couples as such and tax deductions for children, even as those children
are eligible for public support: for a major example, public schools.
I'm a former teacher and was raised a Chicago
liberal; and I believe with all my heart in well-funded public education
such as I got. I support downright generous public funding of schools and childcare
and preschools, plus generous tax breaks for the first child and for adopted
children. And for the second child
for a couple, and maybe a third, in case, as my mother would've said, "In
case, God forbid, something bad happens." Beyond that third kid, however, we
need to talk.
In a world of seven billion people,
should couples get tax breaks for exceeding a sensible bag limit for children?
Gay couples not reproducing are
moving in the right direction. Gay couples adopting, are doing even better.
And a reproducing foursome that
wants a third biological kid — well that's good, too.
From the Old Stone Age into the
middle of the 20th century, encouraging families was an excellent
idea. It can still be a good idea, but we must expand the definition of family
to include various combinations of consenting adults and, sometimes, their
kids. And we must get down to wonkish details about tax codes and crass
discussions of advantages for families in terms of money.
In 1970 or thereabout — anyway,
sufficiently long ago for the relevant statute of limitations to have run out —
I told the truth to an agent of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and probably
I told the agent, "Mr. N__ is a
very patriotic young man," which indeed he was. When he entered the
University of Illinois, he didn't just take ROTC in the standard varieties most
of us took, since required to, but entered Marine ROTC and had every intention
to go off to Southeast Asia to fight for his country. As time and the war wore
on, and as Mr. N__ studied US warfare in Vietnam and environs, he came to
believe first that the war was ill-advised, then that it was wrong, and finally
that it was an unjust war and immoral — and Mr. N__ became a highly active
participant of the anti-War movement.
Indeed, Mr. N__ was more active in
the movement than I and, let's say, unfanatical in his devotion to nonviolence.
He also rendered important services that I got to observe when he and I were
marshals at a demonstration and one of our local Anarchists or outside
provocateurs needed to be kept moving along and called Mr. N__ and me
(Yes, we had our troublemakers in
the Movement, and the Powers that Were supplied provocateurs, and even the
Peace Movement occasionally needed some muscle. And Mr. N__'s mere assertive
presence was enough to keep the moment peaceful.)
Mr. N__ loved America and served it,
so he was a patriot.
And so I affirmed to the FBI guy, in
full knowledge that I spoke the truth but probably not a truth that the FBI
leadership, at the time, would accept.
A lot of that was going on 1970 or
thereabouts: some really serious disagreements on definitions of words like
"patriot" as in whether a patriotic young American man resists his
government when his government does evil or keeps his mouth shut, submits to
the draft, and fights when he's told to.
I state the matter as I would have
back then and will state it even more emphatically now. America lost the
Vietnam War. We're still here. We've got problems, but we're doing okay, and
we'd be doing better if we had told the French to go to hell in 1946 and never
fought in Indochina. Therefore no vital interests of the United States were
involved in the war: had vital interests been involved — some "existential
threat" as politicians say nowadays, there would have been horrible
consequences when we lost. Q.E.D.
So Mr. N__ was a patriot because he
acted out of love of his country, and he was right.
You do not, however, have to believe
that to accept the point of the story for this blog post; you may indeed
believe that Mr. N__ and I and the other peaceniks were traitors. The point is
that argument over key words was and remains important, words like
"patriot" and "traitor."
A decade and a bit before I talked
to the FBI agent — before the 1960s and "the Movement" and the US
forms of "The Troubles," William Arrowsmith of the University of
Texas suggested that defining key terms was crucial during periods of stress in
ancient Athens and that the great Greek tragedies could be analyzed as each
defining a key term contested (as we'd later say) in Athenian culture. So
Sophocles's Philoctetes was about
defining timē ("price," "worth," someone's value)
and Euripides's The Bacchae was an
examination of sophia, "wisdom."
There's a brief shtick I heard
among country-western singers that starts with the rhetorical question,
"'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?'" and responds to it,
"Shee-ut! Not while there's outright theft." And I flattered
Arrowsmith and a tradition of Shakespeare scholars in writing a dissertation
in the late 1960s into 1971, mostly on defining "wisdom" and
"folly" in Shakespeare's major mature tragedies, with glances at
other key words like "Nature" with a capital and "nature"
without, "man" and "manly," and "traitor."
Recently, I've been re-listening to Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer
(1989) and Colin Woodard's American
Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Region Cultures of North America
(2012). Woodard's work stems from Fischer's, and both look at competing
cultural values, including meanings of some key words such as "order"
and, what I've finally arrived at, liberty.
When we were looking over the
"unalienable rights" part of the US Declaration of Independence, one
of my students noted that Thomas Jefferson, slave owner, was "a simple
hypocrite!" I thought for a moment and said, "Not simple."
Jefferson, as a well-educated and very bright person, was a hypocrite, if a complex one, in claiming liberty while owning
slaves, but his contemporaries in the Virginia 1% ca. 1776 weren't hypocrites,
at least not on this issue.
It's safe to assume that most Virginia
aristocrats didn't think enough about political issues to be hypocrites, and
those who did think thought in terms of "republican liberty" of the
old Roman sort, where owning slaves was part
of aristocratic liberty. Owning slaves gave the elite freedom from servile
manual labor — significant word, servile — and embodied the independence and power to order
about one's inferiors, plus the authority where those inferiors usually obeyed
and the power to coerce them when they got uppity.
Liberty meant elite independence
from interference from above, and the ability to enforce one's will on those
below oneself in the hierarchical order of things.
"Liberty" (libertas, classic liberty) was not a simple word.
"Liberty" still isn't
simple, although aristocrats nowadays usually have the brains not to call
themselves aristocrats and to condescend more politely to people they consider
their inferiors. Nowadays liberty gets most contested in claims of freedom from
government regulation in such matters as sex, religion, commerce, and dealing
Dealing frequently in blog posts
with sex and religion, I'm going to restrict myself to a couple issues on
commerce and kids, and I'm going to start with a statement on liberty that's
become pretty standard for traditional American liberals, conservatives, and
libertarians. Indeed, when I first read it at age eighteen — as soon as I'd
puzzled out the old-fashioned language — it seemed to me a commonsense
statement of the obvious. This is from John Stuart Mill's classic 1859 essay
"On Liberty," where, he
The object of this Essay is to assert one very
simple principle [….], that the sole end for which mankind are warranted […] in
interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is
self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully
exercised over any [adult] member of a civilized community, against his will,
is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a
sufficient warrant. […] The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he
is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. […] Over himself, over
his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign. ("Introductory,"
The principle was
paraphrased to me as a child as "Your right to swing your arms starts at
the next kid's nose," and there is a good chance you'll agree with it. The
challenge for Mill was applying his elegant principle in the messy real world,
bringing his full "Essay" to over 110 pages; and application remains
a challenge. To begin with, Mill was a laissez faire, "leave it be,"
hands-off libertarian radical when it came to commerce. He wanted the government
to stay out of the marketplace. But:
but Mill was a laisse-faire, "leave it be," hands-off libertarian
radical when it came to commerce on the grounds of "utility," what we
might call pragmatic grounds. In advanced commercial societies it was usually
better, he believed, to just leave the market do its thing; but commerce is
necessarily a social activity in which people's conduct definitely
"concerns others" — and therefore could be regulated "to prevent
harm to others."
Also, Mill excludes children
from his principle of liberty and, unfortunately, "those
backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its
Hey, he was radical for 1859, but that allowed for a heavy dose of what we'd
call ethnocentrism and condescension for the "wogs"
of the Earth: "Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in
dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means
justified by actually effecting that end." As we used to joke, "As H.
Rap Brown would
say" — a Black Power activist — "'Damn White of him to say that
it's still relevant that Mill would have State and society protect children and
young people below the age of
majority even from themselves; and he goes on to insist that
"There are also many positive acts for the benefit of others" that
any full adult in a society "may rightfully be compelled to perform"
in various kinds of "joint work necessary to the interest of the society"
that offers us protection" and "to perform certain acts of individual
beneficence, such as saving a fellow creature’s life, or interposing to protect
the defenceless against ill usage," concluding that "whenever it is
obviously a man’s duty to do," something he may "rightfully be made
responsible to society for not doing." This follows from the Principle of
Liberty because, clearly, "A person may cause evil to others not only by
his actions but by his inaction […]" — although he had of be careful with
trickier cases of making people do something positive to help others as opposed
to just forbidding them to hurt others.
clearly don't have a right to swing my arms randomly into some other guy's
nose, but things get tricky in cases were I may have an ethical obligation to
try to stop him from beating on some third person. Those fictional corporate
"persons" the US Supreme Court has been much concerned about can
clearly be stopped from doing harm, such as selling tainted meat, but can they
be made to reduce harm or even do some good?
is also the problem when people profit by encouraging and/or arranging for
other people to do that which society thinks will harm those others, even if
Mill's principle would have them free harm themselves. If an adult is free is
sell his or more often her sexual services and other adults are free to
purchase those services, it may still be permissible to forbid someone to act
as a pimp.
brings us to some issues in our time.
Mill's principle, it would be tyrannical for State or Society to prohibit an
action if it hurts some adult individual if that hurt is completely and
entirely confined to the individual acting and suffering the action. If you
want to ruin your health in one way or another, that, in itself, is something an
adult "you" is free to do. But if State and society may only act
prevent harm to others," we have often acted "to prevent harm
to others" in the area of public health.
If you've got a serious contagious
disease, the State can order you to stay home, and the State and your neighbors
are justified in enforcing a quarantine, even if quarantine blatantly and
seriously restricts your liberty.
But what about a positive action
like inoculations against contagious diseases, especially diseases of children?
Back when I was doing summer work in
the bio-science and medical biz, I was taught, "There is no such thing as
an absolutely safe procedure," and that theory was reinforced for me when
I drove home a colleague with a high fever from our inoculations at Illinois
Public Health — the bubonic plague shot probably — and when I myself almost got
a vein torn just getting blood drawn. Some kids are going to get bad reactions
from inoculations, and, given the great law of Nature, "Shit
Happens," a small number of those reactions will be dangerous and a very
small number will be deadly. The safest thing for your kid would be to live in an area where just about everyone else
has had inoculations or a childhood bout of some disease, avoid the shots, and
depend on "herd immunity."
Can the State coerce people to
forego that game and get their kids inoculated; and can Society, as in the
neighbors, act on our own to shame "Goddamn freeloaders!"?
Uh, yeah. The answer to the question
is "Yes." Carefully and reluctantly, we can so act; it is the
obligation of State and Society to protect kids generally, not just yours, and it's
a right and obligation of State and society to compel "positive
acts for the benefit of others" in protecting public health.
A more problematic situation
involves commerce and speech and the somewhat paradoxical idea that society
might have to allow people to act as whores and johns (and janes?) — in the
interest of liberty — but could, without injustice, forbid pimping.
And, of course, there can be
regulation of commerce when there are good utilitarian (and for Mill, Utilitarian) reasons for
regulating, especially when, again, public health is involved.
So: Even in the midst of an obesity
"epidemic," Carl's Jr. is free to make obscenely fattening burger
combinations — 1230
calories in one Half-Pound Mile High Bacon Cheeseburger — and adult
customers have the liberty to buy and eat them (although I shouldn't, since one
of those Mile Highs delivers the calorie allowance for an inactive day for a
man my size). But Carl's Jr. has had some fun, and apparently a good deal of
success, coming close to literalizing the expression "food
porn" in their 2014-15 commercials.
What are their rights, using John Stuart Mill's approach, for commercials and
Even adding in the US First
Amendment so beloved by aging dissidents such as I (Life Member, ACLU) — even
adding free speech, there's a fairly simple solution here.
You have the right to stuff yourself
at Carl's Jr. or more sufficiently with a Denny's Grand Slamwich, with Hash
calories), but they have an obligation to tell you the calorie count, and
not just on their websites or a smartphone app.
Those brilliantly produced TV ads
can have a slow-moving crawl across the bottom in a readable large font and
clear colors giving the calorie count of the food pushed by those gorgeous
models. Ditto for the menus, as some jurisdictions have already required.
Mill's principle of liberty was
paraphrased by one of my students as "Freedom is the right to screw
yourself," and I have asserted the right of people to "Go to hell in
our own manners, so long as we don't seriously annoy the neighbors." There
is no absolute right, however, to encourage people to screw themselves or
grease too much the road to perdition, or to obesity.
"Sex workers of the world,
unite! Solidarity forever! Form unions and free yourselves of pimps!" And even
before the unionization of sex workers, the pimping of other vices, like
gluttony, can at least be rationally regulated.
Obesity isn't an epidemic, but it
is a problem in American public health, and other places penetrated by American
"food ways." Pushing fast food (etc.) is commerce, and especially
when commerce affects public health we can at least demand disclosure and helping
to ensure people's informed choice is
buying a product.
I want to see calorie counts on all
menus for any food-pusher operations bigger than a pushcart or a mom-and-pop
corner dive. And Carl's Jr.: If you stick with those models, better put the
calorie count on the bottom and in a large diagonal band across the screen,
with the numbers where people's eyes go when checking out the models.
I have long been in favor of teaching young people, and
strictly enforcing in sexual situations, the old rule, "Yes means yes; No means no; and Maybe
emphatically means no more than maybe."
I also remain convinced that we ordinarily should not insist "that people engaging in sex should ask
permission for each stage of the encounter — each 'base' in the sports
metaphor." After the initial Yes
most couples can get along on body language and monosyllabics like No, Stop,
or Oh, yeah!" (for two
This issue has become immediate for me
because two California politicians I like and respect (and to whose campaigns
I've contributed money) are pressing for requiring California colleges to
require "affirmative consent"
at each stage of a sexual encounter; and the story on the latest round of their
campaign for a State mandate was headlined in my local paper, "Better
response urged for assault," with a subhead in a much less emphatic font, "Colleges
need improvement against sexual battery …" (Ventura County Star 18 April 2015: 2A). Additionally, this movement
for affirmative consent fits in with serious alarm over sexual offenses at
colleges — and similar legislation will be coming soon to other legislative
My concerns with the issue come from having
spent a lifetime in America with a large portion of it on college campuses —
thirty-five years teaching full time — and significant time helping to write
student conduct regulations.
Having grown up in America, I'm concerned
with what matters and who matters. Sexual assault and sexual battery are
serious issues, but so are nonsexual assault, battery, and what is still called
at law "mayhem." We've seen over the last decade far too many
expressions of distress over sexual exploitation and what was once called
"white slavery" — by people who are not generally concerned with exploitation
more generally. Similarly, I understand the need for politicians to go with
politically "sexy" issues and how "politically sexy"
frequently means issues relating to sex. And I understand how the American
public and media have, as the saying goes, the attention spans of beagle pups
and that politicians have to work with issues that grab attention and work
while those issues have our attention. As Winston Churchill
said, in a rule Rahm
Emmanuel recycled, "Never let a good crisis go to waste." But if some
politicians, pundits, and more normal folk don't ever complain about the exploitation of workers, I don't want to
hear from them about the exploitation of sex workers; if they are totally silent
on rates of mugging, assault, battery, and violence generally, they would do
well to remain at least soft-spoken when it comes to those crimes combined with
Having grown up in America through the
Civil Rights Movement, I'm concerned with which victims count and which don't
count so much. "The rate of rape and sexual
assault" of women 18-24 years-of-age "was 1.2 times higher for nonstudents
(7.6 per 1,000) than for students (6.1 per 1,000)" according to a posting on the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. And to
quote a Wikipedia article giving what should be a commonly-known set of
statistics, "A United States Department of Justice
report […] states that 'In 2011-12, an estimated 4.0% of state and federal
prison inmates and 3.2% of jail inmates reported experiencing one or more
incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staff in the
past 12 months or since admission to the facility, if less than 12 months'"
— which may "under report the real numbers of sexual assaults in prison,
especially among juveniles."
pundits, moralists, and other folk stressing sexual violence on US campuses,
people willing to mandate detailed regulation of sexual conduct to prevent even
ambiguous cases of sexual assault — I want to hear from them at least now and
then on sexual assaults against victims with less clout: poor women not in
college, prisoners, and, more generally, "People
not well connected."
main concern with the proposed legislative mandates, though, comes from having
helped write rules for The Student Handbook
at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio; 'cause a State mandate on affirmative
consent requires rules and makes inevitable clarifying guidelines and
information sessions and advice from Student Affairs staff on how to have
"Legally Safe Sex."
In most of the discussions I've
encountered, "affirmative consent" is defined as "'affirmative,
conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity' every step of
the way," and this formulation raises serious questions for collegiate
writers of the rules to ensure that the law is obeyed, and for those getting
out pamphlets and having (compulsory?) informational meetings for students on
how to obey the rules.
My first question as a rule writer would be how to write the rule for married
can't exempt married students from rules on sexual assault without having the
university denying the possibility of marital rape. On the other hand, to get
the State, through public universities, involved in the sex lives of married
people seems a horrible idea.
question of married students leads to dealing with graduate students, say
doctoral candidates in their late 30's. To what degree can the State, through
the university, tell mature citizens how they must behave sexually if they are
to ensure that they are obeying the rules, whether or not they're concerned
about being accused of wrongdoing by a partner. As a practical matter, such accusations are pretty much the only
serious worry for students engaged in sex, but writers of university
regulations and advice pamphlets have to tell people what to do to obey the
rules, not what it's safe to do if you aren't likely to get accused.
Should you tell doctoral candidates to be sure to ask explicitly, and with
words, what it is they want to do sexually, in private, with one or more
was not a problem in the old days of in
loco parentis, when schools were "in place of the parents" and
all students of any age were legally "infants" in relation to school
authorities. But what should be policy nowadays with thirty-year old graduate
students or a thirty-year old junior? What should be the policy for a
nineteen-year old sophomore male, registered to vote and registered for the
a time when arrested development is a major problem among young people in
America, it is a bad idea to treat college students like children and set up
self-fulfilling prophecies. Not so much in State statutes but in writing the rules to implement those
statutes, how strictly and explicitly should colleges and universities
advise adults on how to behave sexually — or risk punishment in university
disciplinary systems that offer fewer due process protections than US courts?
My second question would be how to reconcile requiring the asking of explicit
questions about sex with rules against sexual harassment. When does requesting
"affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement" at every step
become sexual harassment? When advising students on legally safe sex, what
should you tell them about when to start
asking explicit questions? In one form of ideal world, young men and women (or
post-pusescent girls and boys) would feel free and comfortable to go up to
someone they find attractive and say, "Hi. I find you sexually attractive.
Would you like to talk a bit and see if we'd both like to go over to my place
or yours for sex acts we'd both enjoy?" In one form of ideal world, such a
conversation would be unremarkable; but for good and ill, such a world is not
one we live in.
would you like to copulate and maybe engage in oral sex?" is not a line
likely to get a guy sex — although it might work for gals. Relevant here,
though, is it a line we wish to encourage or even require?
I haven't followed this debate into lurid detail, but what I've heard seems to
assume pretty vanilla sex, and, indeed, vanilla is what sex usually is. But not
always. With a bit of ingenuity a committee can probably write rules that cover
group sex without getting gross or grotesque, but the rhetorical and ethical
problems get more complex with, say, sadomasochism or just bondage. On the one
hand, I'm not sure I'd like to write rules or put together a PowerPoint
presentation or website entry that covered how to get consent in encounters
involving handcuffs and a ball gag, especially if the major objective of the
game is domination and silent submission. On the other hand, it is naïve to
think that no students at no time are going to engage in low-rent, 20-shades-of-off-white
S&M, one of the more popular perversions.
out a porn site or two for the range of sex acts to cover; the people writing
the university regulations will need to do so. And then consider if it's a good
idea for university regulations to stipulate what sort of sex games are
permitted or forbidden to initially consenting adults in private.
more practical concern is that the whole argument over the details of
affirmative consent and ambiguous cases of sexual assault draws attention from
simpler and more immediate issues.
the one instance when I had to deal with a rape issue as a member of a
university and civic community, there was nothing subtle involved. My student
was a serial rapist, and the solution to the problem he presented, from an
institutional point of view, was his being arrested, prosecuted, tried,
convicted, and sent to prison, which very effectively got him off campus and
will keep him away for a very long time. My experience proves nothing in itself,
but illustrates a wider concern: It may not be the case that "On college campuses, repeat
predators account for 9 out of every 10 rapes," but the policing of sex on campus (and elsewhere) should begin with robust police and prosecutor efforts against rapists and preventing patterns of rape.
are, though, social and cultural issues behind disturbing rape
statistics, more subtle issues with which colleges and American society more
generally must deal and deal seriously.
Few of my students had the phrase or concept
"macho asshole," nor had they sufficient experience with alternative
ideals of masculinity even to make jokes about SNAGs ("Sensitive New Age
Guys") or "the strong, silent type." A fair number of my
students had grown up in social and political subcultures and in niches of
popular culture where adolescent swagger was respected rather than scorned and
where violence was associated with strength and not weakness of character. As
time went on, increasing numbers of my students could use "bitch" and
"bitches" and "bitch-slapped" in everyday speech where they
would never use words like "nigger" (and didn't even know slurs like
"kike" and "dago"). In most cases, this background cultural
noise had little effect: the great majority of college students hit eighteen as
good kids and continue their way as being responsible young (and not so young) adults.
But some became macho assholes, if, with
college, better schooled and better spoken macho assholes. And part of the
macho asshole role is disrespect for women and weaker men, and occasional or
repeated violence toward them.
The swagger admired too widely in US
politicians does not help here, nor similar posturing by male leads in action
movies — nor their real-world behavior off-screen. We need more cultural ideals
of manhood involving self-control and low-key confidence, and an ideal of
courage consisting not in "Taking out the trash" and "Wasting
the bad guys" but in the sort of cop who doesn't fire until fired upon and
risks taking a bullet rather than shooting an unarmed civilian.
For nicely ironic balance, the production
of "good kids" both male and female is also and perhaps equally an
aspect of the sexual-assault problem gone after by "affirmative
Unlike the ideal of the macho bad boy, ideal
"good kids" don't drink booze in high school, and they don't try to
get laid. The law-abiding, dutiful parents of "good kids" don't give
their kids beer or wine or stronger drinks: as the sign says in the train
station in the fancy suburb of Highland Park, IL — and elsewhere — "Parents Who Host, Lose The Most." The upshot of such ideals and public
policies is that nowadays fewer parents than is healthy teach their children
how to "drink like gentlemen"/"drink like a lady" or how to
go about getting laid (etc.) like civilized grownups.
So young college students booze like
adolescents, and engage in sex in what one theologically sophisticated
undergraduate described as the good (Catholic) kid fashion of "Get drunk, get
laid," get penitent, get absolved … and then repeat the process as often as possible.
"Affirmative Consent" goes
against the subconscious strategy of being a relatively "good kid" and still getting laid. The
theology is straightforward, especially for a traditional Catholic. To get
drunk and get animalistic is to engage in bestial sins abhorrent to puritanical
cults and subcultures. But wordless, drunken, animalistic rutting is far less
sinful than getting demonic by warping one's divine Reason and Will with "affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual
activity," i.e., in traditional Christian terms, to engage in the mortal
sin of Lust realized in — for the unmarried — fornication. Falling into sin is
one thing; consciously choosing sin and articulating your choice is literally
willful disobedience and an enactment of Satanic Pride.
college students — hell, few American PhD's! — have the theological training to
do that sort of conscious analysis, but America's "good kids" can
still live out such logic with exquisite exactness over a drunken weekend.
The campus sexual assault problem will be ameliorated when assault generally in the United States is
reduced. It will be ameliorated when macho asshole serial rapists are regularly
arrested and imprisoned, and when macho swagger is laughed at and despised:
when it's no more socially acceptable to say "bitch" than for a White
to say "nigger." We'll go a long way toward a solution when American
parents teach their children how to use booze and not abuse it, and how to
engage in a variety of sexual activities sensibly and responsibly — and
consensually, consciously, responsbibly, and with minimal feelings of guilt and
Such sex should be engaged in with some
conversation, but not necessarily obsessively "talking dirty" over
each new move citizens in college want to try.
Damnation: If a number of traditional theories are correct, pre-marital
sex of any sort may send its practitioners to hell. In California, we have
occasional signs informing people that "The State of California has
determined" that some action or other is hazardous (e.g., as a risk of cancer
or birth defects). It would be a sensible accomodation to religious believers
to publish rotating notices along with affirmative consent rules, some
statement of unarguable fact like, "WARNING: Traditional Christianity has
taught that sex outside marriage — possibly any sex act without the potential
for reproduction — is an offense
against chastity and may condemn your soul to the lake of fire that burns
forever." Or, "CAUTION: Acts of male homosexuality are forbidden
under Leviticus 20.13, fornication by 1 Corinthians 6.18." As to whether
or not such teachings are correct, neither the United States nor any of the
States may take a position, but it would be courteous to traditional believers
to state the facts of traditional belief when, arguably, one is encouraging
young people to go against them.
Tuition and Fees: Off and on from the 1970s into the 2000s, I worked on
rules as part of the Service requirement for my job as a full-time member of a
university faculty. Nowadays at least the key portion of such work would be
done by lawyers from the Office of University Counsel — and/or at the office of
the state Attorney General — billing at the rate of lawyers.