Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Teen Sex and Other Matters

(Welcome, Dadmanly Readers! This is his other blog.)

A week ago, Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit linked to a post by a Patri Friedman at Catallarchy, The Voice of Hedonism. Glenn capped his remarks by noting an “interesting discussion in the comments.”

Now I respect Glenn and his Instapundit tremendously, and along with Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette inspired me and informed me most about this strange new world of the Blog. But I have to say, The Catallarchy post and its comments was the most distressing threads of conversation I have ever come across. (Perhaps Glenn meant interesting in the sense that a train wreck can be morbidly interesting.)

I want to admit that I am reacting as a Father of daughters (now 18 and 22), and in trying to raise them responsibly, had several difficult discussion about premarital sex, the various kinds of predatory and manipulative behaviors that some individuals practice, things the watch for, lessons Mrs. Dadmanly and I had to learn the hard way. So I’ve been over a lot of this ground already, while I still have a 9 year old son at home. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I deplore and lament the philosophical approach employed by Friedman, and the amoral (note, not immoral, just the absence of morality at all) support this can receive from the gullible as noted in his many (mostly positive) comments.

The Voice of Hedonism

In the update to his original post, Friedman summarizes his argument thusly:
I am making three main arguments. The first is that restricting your children’s knowledge, in the belief that this will help them make better decisions, is both foolish and unlibertarian. The second is that teenage sex is fun, and if done safely is worth the risks. This is an argument about the particular costs and benefits of a particular choice, and thus has little to do with libertarianism, except in the basic assumption that if an activity doesn’t harm others, cost/benefit analysis is the right way to decide if its a good activity. And the third, which got relatively little discussion, is that teenagers are real people and should get to make their own choices. The last is a libertarian argument.
In the comments, many readers objected to Friedman’s equating the promotion of abstinence with promoting ignorance. Friedman rebuts:
Promoting ignorance is unlibertarian. Advising an individual on a course of action you think is in their best interests is not unlibertarian, although forcing that cource of action on them is. (I should note that “force” here is a tricky gray area. Parents shouldn’t have to pay for actions they don’t approve of, but when kids are totally financially beholden to their parents, the latter have a lot of leverage).

But I do believe that the choice to keep your kid ignorant is the exact opposite of libertarianism. It is a policy of restricting knowledge from individuals who have the capacity to use it to make better choices, because you think you know better. It is exactly what we protest in government censorship and regulation - what could be less libertarian? We aren’t talking about a baby reaching for an electric socket, we’re talking about people whose brains and bodies are almost fully developed. They may not always make good decisions - but neither do adults, and I don’t think there is a large difference.
Friedman’s philosophic core is libertarian, and he makes a deep connection between parents and government:
Both government officials and parents have their own cost/benefit analysis at heart, even when making a decision for another.
Which then leads him to the inevitable conclusion:
Parents advise, kids decide, seems like a superior policy, once the kids are reasonably old.
And further, Friedman admits that he disagrees with the ages commonly viewed as the ages of adulthood, consent, majority, or the age at which full or partial rights are vested in the individual:
What I disagree with is the choice of 18, which I think is too high, and the sudden and discontinuous nature of achieving majority. Legally, people go from kids to adults on a single day. There are good reasons for bright line rules in legal situations, but I don’t see them for parenting. Hence as your kids get older, and more capable of acting as adults, you should steadily more often let them act as adults. A 16-year old, in my opinion, should be making a lot of their own decisions (which is how my siblings and I were raised).
Friedman makes a point that there are avoidable and unavoidable costs to teen sex. He labels painful breakups, getting into committed relationships too early, and other emotional entanglements as some of the unavoidable costs. (I would add premature sexualization and susceptibility to predatory or other manipulative “relationships” to the list as well.) The rest of the costs most parents are most concerned about – sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, abrupt marriages, temptation to abort, single parenthood – Friedman views as focus based on emotion and not logical analysis. And as he views them as entirely preventable, Friedman dismisses these concerns -- in his cost benefit analysis, he drastically undervalues these costs:
My suspicion is that these risks (pregnancy in particular) are the ones we faced through most of our evolutionary history, and hence we are hard-wired to worry about them. But like many other hard-wired instincts, this is just not rational in the modern world, and we can make better choices by consciously overriding them.
And when it comes to the costs incurred by society as a whole because of teen pregnancy, Friedman states:
Some brief points, first: abstinence-based education does not decrease pregnancy rates, and second: adult pregnancy (say among poor 20-year olds) has costs too. But I do agree that this is a genuine cost imposed on society. Heck, I agree so much that I’d seriously consider a policy where people had to post bonds (or indicate assets) sufficient to raise a kid, or be put on birth control. Its no different than requiring insurance for things you might do to harm others - which seems like a reasonable policy for Ancapistan. I just don’t think its particularly unique to minors, or that less graphic sex ed actually helps.
Neat trick! First Friedman states that abstinence education doesn’t reduce teen pregnancy (as if that’s the only solution on the table). He then balances these costs against societal costs relating to adult pregnancy, which is outside of the set he has presented for his cost benefit analysis. (Think of it as a corporation that makes themselves look profitable by transferring a disproportionate amount of costs to a backwater subsidiary.)

Friedman’s conclusion is an important one, in suggesting that the issue reduces itself to the central issue of moral agency:
This is a complicated subject, and I believe the central philosophical issue is one of individualism and moral agency. Who should make decisions for an individual? When is a person old enough to make their own decisions? There is also a central practical issue, namely the costs and benefits of teenage sex, about which there seems to be widespread disagreement. As a libertarian I think this question is less important. What matters is that people should get to make their own decisions; after that we can fight about what the right decision is.
A Digression on the Abortion Debate

Friedman – and much of modern society – views abortion as a means of dramatically lowering the tangible and intangible costs of unwanted (teen or otherwise) pregnancy. This is false on several levels, and immoral beyond that. From a strictly utilitarian perspective such as Friedman’s what he doesn’t say (because it’s not his concern today) is that the calculations and cost benefit equations that allow abortion to cancel out any costs of teen pregnancy could likewise allow infanticide as a means to cancel out the costs of (unwanted) parenthood.

Abortion brings with it many tangible and intangible costs, many of the intangible ones not easily recognized by irresponsible youth in particular, and a very extreme cost to the individual whose life if terminated as a by-product of the calculation. As Americans, we might rightly shudder at the very idea of decisions of life and death being reduced to cost benefit equations, unless the individual who’s very well being rests on the decision has some part in it!

Chronically, the press and our elites so misrepresent the basic arguments for and against abortion as to make public debate impossible. We can’t agree on any premise for debate, as the various positions are distorted in the popular imagination.

Thus I found very helpful an explanation offered this past week by Edward Whalen in the National Review Online, Abortion and Justice.
Whalen identifies three competing positions on the constitutionality of abortion, as excerpted below:
1. The pro-abortion position. The first position is that the Constitution prohibits, to one degree or another, laws that protect the life of an unborn human being against her mother's desire to have her killed. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court adopted an extreme version of this "pro-abortion" position. The Court invoked the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment — which provides that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law" — to overturn the abortion laws of all 50 states. The Court ruled that the Due Process Clause prohibits protection of the lives of unborn human beings at any time through the second trimester. And even from viability until birth, the Court, under the predominant reading of Roe's companion case, Doe v. Bolton, requires that abortion be available whenever the abortionist determines that it would serve the mother's well-being.
As Whalen relates, a five-justice majority later ratified Roe in the 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Their basis for so adjudicating:
"At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."
Whalen then presents what he sees as the second and third position:
2. The pro-life position. A second position is that the Constitution prohibits, to one degree or another, laws that permit abortion. Under this "pro-life" position, unborn human beings would be recognized as "persons" for purposes of the Due Process Clause. The argument for this position would begin with the historical fact that, prior to Roe, the American tradition long provided broad legal protection for the lives of unborn human beings from the time that those lives were understood, in light of the biological knowledge of the age, to commence. It would build on the modern advances in embryology and genetics, which establish that the life of each individual member of the species Homo sapiens begins at conception. Consistent with the American tradition, this pro-life position might allow limited exceptions for abortion — for example, where continuation of the pregnancy threatened the life of the mother.

3. The substantively neutral position. The third position is that the Constitution generally does not speak to the question of abortion. Under this substantively neutral position, American citizens would have the constitutional power to determine through their state representatives what the abortion policy in their own states would be.
For all political commentators and the press, note the commonsense semantics suggested by Whalen:
Insofar as sensible political labels might be applied to these three positions, it would seem plain that the first (pro-abortion) position would be labeled liberal (with the Roe version of that position being radical), the second (pro-life) would be labeled conservative, and the third (neutral) would be labeled moderate.
Needless to say, these are not the standard definitions employed by media in discussions of this issue.
Why do I bring this into a discussion of teen sex, and what I view as a disturbing treatise on its cost beneficial aspects? As just one example of how, when morals and any sense of moral framework are removed from a discussion, what is lost is more valuable than what is retained. By not making the issue real in any personal sense – and actively discounting or devaluing very real (albeit subjective and intangible) costs -- such arguments are like the dummy strawman, where a phony situation or state of affairs is propped up precisely so one can that much more easily knock it down.

One More Digression, from Glenn Reynolds

When Glenn originally linked to the Catallarchy post, he linked to an article he wrote for Fox News about teen sex from three years ago, Teen Sex and the Media Hype . While I am not in complete agreement with Glenn, there is enough of value in his article that I wanted to include some worthy points.

Glenn made (makes) the argument that we infantilize our children, and even infantilize ourselves as adults. I strongly concur with his assessment.
As Glenn describes it, where once teenagers were “adults-in-training,” now we have nothing better for them to do, indulged and sheltered. We took away adult responsibilities. Glenn quotes Thomas Hine writing in American Heritage, “We stopped expecting young people to be productive members of the society.”

“We have infantilized teen-agers,” Glenn asserts, “and then we act surprised that they behave immaturely.

In conclusion, Glenn suggests a different approach:
If we want teen-agers to be more adult, in their virtues as well as their vices, we should try treating them more like adults. Teen-agers should be encouraged to hold jobs in addition to going to school. (Or instead of since high school is not for everyone.)
One of the things that drive me crazy about our society and culture, large portions of both are dedicated to mitigating or eliminating the consequences of (bad) decisions.

That’s how we learn, isn’t it? If we’re protected from the consequences of our behavior, how are we to learn what behavior we may want to avoid in the future? From a parent telling me not to? I doubt it. From a parent who is honest enough to say, “these are choices I made, and these are the things that happened”? Perhaps. Silence is never going to end up being the right answer.

But to the extent that teenagers engage in adult behaviors, they absolutely need to be confronted with the realities, with the tangible and intangible “costs.” We fail them with anything less, diminish their ability to render right judgments about the world in which they make their way. And minimizing the costs of teenage sex is very much a vain and dangerous conceit.

But in seeking after pleasure with diminished perceptions of consequence, these former teens, now wiser adults, will discover where all this misguided boosterism led them. To that extent, as Friedman claims, knowledge is good. But it helps if you get it when it can do you some good.


Before I end my critique Friedman’s thesis, something else in the comments to his original post gripped my attention.

In answer to Friedman’s post, one of the commentators mentioned that she thought she might be one of the only teenage girls at her college that did not have sex with Mr. Friedman. This is hardly definitive proof that such promiscuity is the case, and could be entirely spurious, but I would suppose that if there is anything much to it, Mr. Friedman’s reputation on campus is fairly well established.

I would have no doubt that anyone who stakes out a position so willfully dedicated to unmediated libertinism is wholly in favor of teenagers having sex. It suits him, doesn’t it, and allows him to believe he lives for pleasure without any negative consequences? His benefits are all tangible, his partners’ costs are mostly intangible. On simply utilitarian grounds he can play his games and win rhetorically with the lazy logic crowd.

Morals and ethics have intrinsic value to both individuals and society, and dry appeals to logic and consequences can’t hope to compete with Peter Pan like appeals to the ecstatic. I am convinced, though, that these same “explorers” (or rather, not the explorers but their willing deck hands) who range beyond the bounds of what have been traditional guideposts for appropriate and socially constructive sexual relationships within marriage will discover who the man behind the curtain is, too late, and reap consequences in later life they can’t possibly appreciate in youth. Failure at marriage, difficulty bonding, sexual dysfunction, difficulty with intimacy.

Long term monogamous relationships cemented through committed marriage provides a strength and security young people do not naturally seek, nor realize they’ve missed until such relationships are usually no longer within their reach. No amount of statistical tabulation nor clinical assessment will measure these effects. Intangible they may be, but sometimes catastrophic in their emotional impact.

Priapus has a strong appeal, and some maidens are no doubt tempted, but it is no accident he can so easily be recognized. Call it mid-life crisis, call it sexual predation; it’s hollow, ultimately unfulfilling, and incredibly lonely.

(Linked at Basil's Blog for Lunch, part of Morning Quarters at the Indepundit, all while stuck in the Traffic Jam Outside the Beltway.)


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My first thought when I read this post was that Friedman's Libertarian view is designed to justify Mr Friedman's own desire to have sex with teenage girls. Therefore it negates his whole opinion on the issue of teenagers' ability to protect themselves from sexual predators like him.

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