Everyone Chill Out About Other People’s Parenting

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Parenting is scrupulosity hell, and I don’t even have a kid yet.

Like, effective altruism gets a bad rap, but at least most effective altruists are aware that excessive guilt is an issue and try to combat it. The parenting advice world, however, is full of articles with titles like If You Send Your Kid To Private School You Are A Bad Person, Facebook friends-of-friends who say that not homeschooling your child is child abuse, comment sections who think that agoraphobics shouldn’t have children, and parenting books that say that if you tell your baby not to cry you better put aside a lot of money for their therapy bills.

I don’t mean to say that there’s no such thing as bad parenting. It’s a bad idea to call your kid a stupid lazy failure who will go nowhere in life. You should probably take your children to the doctor on a regular basis. It is not a good idea to give your child lead lightly sprinkled with arsenic and botulism for dinner. Notably, sending your child to private school, not homeschooling your child, parenting with a mental illness, and saying “don’t cry” are not actually in any of those categories.

First of all, there’s not actually a whole lot of evidence that parenting does much of anything. Of course, don’t abuse or neglect your kids and don’t decide that the Vitamin K shot is a bad idea because technology is bad epidemiology is scary and Thomas Edison was a witch. And you have a lot of control over how happy your kids are in childhood and, relatedly, how much they hate your guts as adults– and substantial control over how happy a human being is for literally two decades is nothing to sneeze at. But for a lot of the things the Mommy Wars are over– formula vs. breastfeeding, homeschool vs. private school vs. public school, positive discipline vs. timeouts vs. nonabusive spanking– the best evidence shows little to no effect on long-term outcomes. (For more, check out The Nurture Assumption and Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.)

On a related note, for a lot of parenting, the evidence is very mixed. Bob doesn’t let his children under two watch television, following the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Alice, on the other hand, notes that a lot of the research the AAP relies on is correlational, and better designed studies suggest that television is, if anything, mildly positive. It can make sense for Bob to explain to Alice why he trusts experts more than his own assessment of the literature, or for Alice to explain the studies she’s relying on. Yelling at each other about how they are terrible parents doesn’t promote sharing information; it just makes people feel like shit.

Even if the evidence is clear, parents have different needs and constraints. Charlie’s kid is being severely bullied in public school, and sending him to private school is the only way Charlie can think of to keep them from being repeatedly assaulted. Dana is a single mom who works two jobs, and frankly she barely has time to sleep, much less homeschool– she knows that if she homeschooled her children they’d wind up being educationally neglected. Eve has wanted children for her entire life, but she’s struggled with agoraphobia for years: right now, thanks partially to good coping mechanisms and partially to working from home and Instacart, she’s managed to minimize its interference with her daily activities, but she knows that eliminating her agoraphobia will take years and may never happen. She has planned to live with roommates and to have her husband drive the children to activities.

I don’t think that Charlie is a bad person, Dana is a child abuser, or Eve shouldn’t have children. They are doing the best they can in their circumstances. Even someone who’s a hardcore homeschooler can admit that public school is better than educational neglect or homelessness, even someone who’s very much in favor of diversity in schooling can admit that a child being assaulted is too high a price to pay, and even someone who’s leery about mentally ill people having children in general can recognize that a manageable, chronic condition does not necessarily mean one shouldn’t have kids. Since they agree with those statements, they need to stop using the harsh rhetoric that makes it look like they don’t.

The most important thing any child needs is a happy and healthy parent. If you’re running yourself ragged trying to be Supermom, all that’s going to happen is that you’re going to stress yourself out, snap at your kids, make your kids feel guilty because of all the sacrifices you’re making for them, and make parenting decisions you wouldn’t have made in the right state of mind. If you have to bedshare (increased risk of SIDS!) or let the baby cry it out (not respectful of your baby’s needs!) in order to get a good night’s sleep, do it; I’m pretty sure either way the downsides are outweighed just by the risk of you falling asleep at the wheel of a car, not to mention all the other benefits of actually getting to sleep. If breastfeeding is ruining your relationship with your baby, don’t breastfeed. If driving kids to fourteen activities leaves you with no time for yourself, ask them which activities they really want. Even if the only thing you care about is your children, in the long run the right decision is to take care of yourself.

No one is a perfect parent. Even parents who are committed to respect and kindness get pissed and scream at their kids. Even parents who care a lot about their children’s autonomy have days where they don’t care about respecting your ability to choose the pink shoes or the purple shoes, just wear this one and get in the car we’re fucking late. Even parents who care a lot about their children’s nutrition have weeks where they get McDonalds for every dinner because they’ve been on their feet for fourteen hours and they can’t bear to cook from scratch.There is not a person in the world who manages to go eighteen years without making a mistake. Think of it like a primary relationship: even if you’re committed to good communication, self-awareness, and emotional maturity, there are going to be times when you say things that you don’t really mean, you have stupid fights that could have been avoided if you just explained what you meant, or you skulk around the house saying you are FINE just FINE when you are clearly no such thing. That’s not to say that it’s a good idea to skulk around the house saying you’re FINE, any more than it’s a good idea to scream at your kids. But what it means is that you should apologize, say you were having a rough day, and stop beating yourself up about it. And it means that if you’re being judgmental of someone for screaming at their kids, you should stop, unless you would like to go through the greatest hits of times you did things that went against your values.

But my most important point is that children are different from each other. Again, think of it like a primary relationship. Obviously, there are some baselines that apply to everyone: it’s a bad idea to have contempt for your partner, you ought to respect your partner’s needs and boundaries, you should own up when you’ve done something wrong, and so on. But a lot of advice simply doesn’t generalize to everyone. “Watching porn is a great way to strengthen your relationship!” works for sex-positive people but not for the serious Catholics. Some people find playfully calling each other assholes breaks the tension, while other people would find that tremendously disrespectful. Some people take time for their weekly date night, while other people find that unnecessary and stuffy. Some people sit down for State of the Relationship talks, while other people just bring up things as they come up. People need different things in their relationships, and so naturally relationships are going to work differently from each other.

The difference between parenting and primary relationships is that children spend quite a few years without a good model of their long-term needs (“I need ice cream for dinner and all the toys in the store!”) and even after they develop such a model are powerless to leave the relationship if it doesn’t suit their needs. It’s very possible for a parent– even a good, loving parent– to make mistakes about what their child needs. So where you might shrug and go “well, I guess it works for them” at a friend’s incomprehensible primary relationship, a friend’s incomprehensible parenting style might prompt you to go “holy shit! That’s horrible for your child!”– even if it’s exactly what their child needs. And of course this bitterness is most natural on the part of children whose parents had a parenting style or practices that just didn’t work for them.

To pick an example close to my heart: Borderline personality disorder is caused by a combination of a genetic predisposition to BPD and an invalidating environment in childhood. Some invalidating environments are genuinely awful, such as being a victim of child sexual abuse or being abused. But some invalidating environments are just what’s called, evocatively, “a tulip in a rose garden”. Borderlines get born in families that are very emotionally controlled, that encourage stoicism, and that teach them to keep a stiff upper lip. If your child has a genetic predisposition to BPD, that makes them feel like their emotions are stupid and that they’re worthless, fails to teach them any useful coping mechanisms for extreme emotions, and encourages them to make their emotions bigger so that people will pay attention to their pain– all of which lead ultimately to having a personality disorder.

The problem here is that encouraging stoicism and emotional control are great ways of parenting some children. Saying “look, it’s not that big a deal” can help teach a child to reframe the situation and look at the bigger picture. Modeling control of your emotions in the face of negative life events helps many children learn to face their problems effectively. Most of the parents who teach their children emotional control do that because it’s what worked for them as kids.

There’s no such thing as a perfect parenting style for every child. There’s not even any such thing as a parenting style that is 100% guaranteed not to give your child a personality disorder. Even if you do the best you can, you might hurt your kid. That’s terrifying. And I understand why people back away from this terrifying reality by claiming that they know the One True Right Way To Parent and if anybody else disagrees it’s because they’re horrible people and child abusers. But it still has the possibility to hurt other parents and your own children.

Before you criticize parenting decisions, consider why you believe what you believe. Do you believe it because of:

  • High-quality academic evidence, like twin studies or Cochrane reviews
  • Low-quality academic evidence, like correlational research
  • Ethical principles (e.g. “don’t hit people unless you have a really good reason”)
  • Anecdotes about what worked for you (either as a kid or a parent) or kids or parents you know
  • Having read a parenting book that includes wildly enthusiastic testimonials from people without surnames

If you believe something because of relatively less valuable evidence, consider toning down how angry you are about people not following it.

Consider the context as well. If someone is treating your child in a way you consider disrespectful, it’s totally justified to complain to a friend or in a Facebook post. If a stranger is making a parenting decision you consider unwise, or you have read an article about a parenting technique you think is evil, maybe consider toning it down and recognizing that things that work for you don’t necessarily work for others. And when you issue general advice, always be aware of the many circumstances that keep people from following any piece of ethical advice; make it clear that you believe that people should do the best they can, and there is no shame in not doing something you’re not able to do.

Against John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man, Part the Last

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Last part of a series in which I argue with John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man. Part one here, part two here, part three here, part four here.

5.5 The Investment of the Interest In Virginity 

John C Wright argues that your partner has a right to you being a virgin.

To be clear, before I begin, one has a perfect right to any dealbreakers one chooses. If you, personally, don’t want to marry anyone who isn’t a virgin, good luck and Godspeed. And there are lots of situations in which I think it’s wise to only marry a fellow virgin. If you’re in a sexual relationship with someone, it’s important that that person share your sexual values; if your values say that sex is only to be shared with your life partner, or that God frowns on non-marital sex, then finding someone who shares those values will usually mean finding a virgin. (But not always! It is possible, after all, that someone made a mistake.) Nothing I write here should be taken to imply that people who have thought about it carefully and decided that non-virginity is a dealbreaker should not have this dealbreaker.

5.5.1. Economic and Prudential Considerations 

 If you fornicate with another before marriage then you bring to your marriage partner a diminished capacity for love. Merely on economic terms, your marriage partner now knows you have shared the most intimate moments known to you with another, and so the intimacy you have remaining has less value.

It is possible that I am expressing my diminished capacity for love here, but what? . My husband has held me when I cried, learned secrets I didn’t tell anyone else, brought me my favorite dish from our favorite Chinese restaurant, supported me through the ravages of an excitingly diverse collection of mental illnesses, and stood with me in front of our friends and promised to be together for the rest of time, and you’re telling me the most intimate thing we’ve done together is an exchange of genital friction and bodily fluids? I have to say, if I were listing off the most intimate moments in my marriage, sex would not be number one. It probably wouldn’t even make the top ten. (Admittedly, I’m cheating a bit, because most people don’t get two wedding ceremonies, but even so!)

Frankly, this strikes me as a very juvenile attitude towards sex, one more reminiscent of a teenager excited that she let me touch her boob!!! than an adult seriously contemplating a lifelong commitment. Sex is just one part of an overall relationship. Often an important part, and one that allows people to express their feelings for each other– the same way that they express their feelings through compliments, holding hands, spending time with each other, being on their partner’s side about how awful his fucking boss is, making mixtapes, finally cleaning out the garage, or killing the terrifying bugs.

(Tangent: I am definitely the bugkiller in all my relationships, partially because I have dated people with a strong aversion to touching bugs, and partially because I enjoy slaughtering them and saying “cower before me! behold my might! I REVEL IN THE LAMENTATIONS OF YOUR INNUMERABLE MANY-LEGGED CHILDREN!” …aaaaaand I’m pretty sure Brian Tomasik’s going to fire me now.)

while past behavior does not predict the future, she had a reason to suspect you have less ability to withstand the temptations of adultery, should those arise in the future, than perhaps other potential suitors for her hand…

He, your theoretical rival, can claim his physical affections are and always will be an outpouring of his noblest affections. He has never made love except when he has been in love, and he has been in love only with one bride.

Hey, wait. How do we know that he’s better at resisting adultery if he’s only been in love with one person? You have no idea how he’d respond if after long nights at work his mind turns slowly from friendship to love, or whatever, because he’s never been in love with anyone but you before! What you really want is someone who has been in love with other people but not had sex with them, or perhaps someone with a history of long-term relationships in which they did not cheat.

You, on the other hand, have two choices.

One: you can say that those other girls really meant nothing to me, baby. I was thinking of you when I was ejaculating into her! Or I would have been had I known you! That was before I met you baby, and my standards were lower back then!

Again, on purely economic terms, all this makes your protestation of true love less valuable (and less persuasive) then someone with no history of taking love to be a casual matter.

Two: you can say that you loved Rosalind (or whoever) with your whole heart and soul, and deep as the sea and as high as your heart could reach, BUT, that you did not love that other girl enough to marry her. This signals to your prospective bride that your capacity for love is limited, and, yes, self-centered, and that your prudence is wanting.

So there are two things here.

First: loving one person does not diminish your love for another person. As we poly people say, “love is infinite, time is not.” A father who has ten children cherishes each of his children as much as if he only had one. A woman with four friends feels as close as if she had only had a solitary friend. A woman whose father died before she was born does not love her mother more than a woman who was raised by two parents. Why is this any different for romantic love? Mr. Wright provides no such argument.

Frankly, if I adopted that sort of attitude, I would lose a lot of self-respect. Love is a good thing. Sometimes love has to be put aside rather than cherished– if the person you love doesn’t want a relationship with you, or if it’s romantic love and you’re in a monogamous relationship with someone else, or if you’re giving up a child for adoption. But that is always sad, and always a sacrifice. And I do not want to be the sort of person who says “I am angry at you because, breaking no promise and telling no lies, you loved other people”, any more than I wish to be the sort of person who is angry about the existence of food I don’t like to eat or sunrises I cannot see. I do not wish to be the sort of person who hates the existence of the good.

Second: you have a third option. You can say, “I have loved deeply and widely and well. I did not seek you out because I had no other option, because yours were the first pretty face and deep voice who stopped by my farmhouse door. I have loved many men, enough to compare them in all their qualities, and of all the men I could have married, the one I have chosen is you. Yours is the character I admire most; yours is the personality that most delights me; yours is the life I want to make myself part of; yours is the smile I want to wake up to every morning. My love for you was not something imposed on me from afar. I choose you.”

Personally, I think the latter is quite romantic.

5.5.2 I perfectly agree with: your partner is wise to expect that you will adhere to your and his values. My one quibble with Mr. Wright is that I don’t think there’s anything imprudent, uncourageous, unjust or intemperate about nonmarital sex. 5.5.3 and 5.5.4 point out the obvious fact that if one wishes for people to remain virgins, then it’s wise to have this expectation before they meet their spouses, and that social norms may help them do this.

6. Matrimony or Fornication

John C Wright argues that either non-marital sex is punished or it is not:

Fornication (including adultery) either is or is not against the law, and either it is punished or not. If it is either not against the law, or is against the law but not punished, then no deterrent exists, and the law is a dead letter…

Under these facts, the proposition that adultery is licit when all three parties agree and give their consent, and is otherwise illicit, cannot be carried into effect. In a society where the Libertine position is the consensus, If Arthur goes to the magistrate carrying a paper in hand, which purports to be the document where Guinevere vowed eternal fidelity, a contract she broke, the magistrate cannot condemn or punish her beyond what terms the contract stipulates. The magistrate cannot, in the long run, enforce the contract, because the contract does not follow the values and opinions of the consensus. A society that approved of adultery would be outraged that a mere legality, a flimsy piece of paper, would block her sacred right to commit adultery: the outcry would ring to the sky. But even if the outcry were ignored, and the penalty stipulated in the contract enforced (if there could be such a thing) such contract laws would only penalize the short-sighted, and the social utility of punishing adultery would be lost.

Under any practical consideration, adultery cannot be against the law in a Libertine society, even if the two individuals would have it so. The law reflects the consensus, not the individual will.

Likewise the opposite: in a commonwealth where adultery is illegal, the magistrate has no choice but to punish it, even if the three people involved agreed in writing not to complain, lest the law be no deterrent to others and hence of none effect.

It is literally the entire job of contract law to deal with contracts that are different from each other. If I went to the magistrate to complain that McDonalds was not paying me my $10/hour wages, the magistrate would not say “well, some people are making forty dollars an hour! How can I tell apart the wage theft of you not making ten dollars an hour from the wage theft of you not making forty dollars an hour? Truly, the only way we can have enforceable wage contracts is for everyone to be paid the same amount of money!”

This is clearly not the case. The law is perfectly capable of distinguishing the injustice of me not being paid the ten dollars an hour that McDonalds agreed to pay me in my employment contract from the injustice of me not being paid the forty dollars an hour that no one anywhere agreed to pay me. Judges are not, in the real world, confused by the fact that contracts are sometimes different from each other.

(“But Ozy!” you say. “All marriages in reality are the same sort of contract, and in practice in order for you to have no-fault divorce everyone else has to have no-fault divorce too!” I agree, that’s ridiculous, people should be able to customize their marriages much more than they currently do. Prenups are a step in this direction but frankly don’t go far enough.)

If fornication (including adultery) either is or is not rigorously and vigorously penalized by social opprobrium. In this, there is not much latitude for diversity of opinions: the society as a whole is either committed to the proposition, or is not committed. The minority has a veto over the majority. If the majority condemns adultery, but a sizable minority does not join in that condemnation, the condemnation has no real force or effect. Anyone suffering ostracism or mockery for his adultery can move to the neighborhood where it is not condemned. The society merely polarizes in this case, it does not form an enforceable consensus…

As the magistrate keeps the laws, so too does the consensus of public opinion keep the customs. The laws cannot bind if custom does not, and the keepers of the public opinion operate under the same restriction as restricts the magistrates: public opinion cannot track each individual contract, or carve out exceptions. The society that allows for adultery when a contract stipulating open marriage allows for it, will be at best lukewarm in its condemnation of extra-contractual adultery. It is simply risible to assume that a society could condemn the loss of honor involved in breaking a contract, but embrace the loss of honor involved in breaking a marriage vow.

Or public opinion has to switch its norm from “no adultery” to “no lying to your partners and breaking promises.” Public opinion already deals with lots of issues where the difference is consent. Public opinion’s support for having sex with your husband does not imply that it’s lukewarm about raping your husband; public opinion’s support for giving your friends money if they need it does not imply that it’s lukewarm about theft; public opinion’s support for boxing and karate does not imply that it’s lukewarm about assault. Therefore, public opinion can damn well condemn people cheating on their partners without condemning consensually polyamorous individuals.

The best a woman can hope for in a society like ours is to dump the guy before she gets dumped herself.  If she goes from man to man, breaking hearts and hoping her contraception holds out, she can maintain her self-esteem. Or she can be lucky enough to snare the ever-shrinking pool of nice and decent guys who want to settle down and get married early on, before the lifestyle begins to tell on her.

7. Prudence Regarding Matrimony

All non-essentials forms of sexual gratification are unchaste in essence.  The mock or impersonate the sex act with the same physical sensations as the sex act, but they are sexually by accident, not sexual essentially. This means that a proper concern for virtue (and virtue is based on habit) should permit, if at all, these non-essential sexual acts when and only when they are part of, or leading up to, or added to, the sex act. With apologies to my Christian friends, I see nothing wrong with unnatural sexual acts with your own wife, provided these acts increase the union and love of matrimony.

But care must be taken not to allow non-essentials to drive out essentials. There are people who suffer a neurosis (there are harder words for this, but I will not use them here) where ordinary sexual acts or sexual stimulations will not stimulate them. Their sexual attraction does not attract them to sex, but, rather, away from it. We call this neurosis sexual deviancy.

Here we must make a distinction between sexual deviancy and merely sexual difference. The extreme cases are easy enough to distinguish: a man who prefers redheads to brunettes merely has a difference of taste. He will say Ginger is more attractive then Mary Anne (and, of course, he will be wrong on that point!) but there is no accounting for taste. A man who cannot get an erection unless his love is dressed in a Nazi uniform with stiletto-heeled boots, on the other hand, is neurotic. Likewise for a man attracted sexually to creatures with whom he cannot, biologically speaking, have sex: prepubescent children, dogs or sheep, dead bodies, and so on. There are specific names for each neurosis: pederasty, bestiality, necrophilia…

There is a gray area where certain things that seem like mere differences of taste might be neuroses, or things that seem like neuroses are mere differences of taste. The touchstone for making the distinction is whether or not it adds to or subtracts from normal and healthy lusts for normal and healthy copulation.

If it is neurotic, the lust for the non-essential will grow over time, and drive out the appetite for the normal. It will be a substitute rather than an adjunct. Ladies, if your man looks at a racy magazine rather than at you before the loveplay so to encourage an erection, that is odd, but not unhealthy. If he cannot get an erection at all without the magazine, he is addicted to porn, and that is unhealthy. Such a man is powerless, addicted to vice.

His erotic emotions and appetites and passions not longer serve the purpose of erotic love. This is not a matter of taste. If I prefer beer to wine, that is a matter of taste. If I drink urine and it tastes like wine to me on my tastebuds, there is something objectively wrong with my tastebuds. My appetite for wine is objectively disordered: it no longer reflects reality; it is as illogical as a statement that is false.

I would like to draw Mr. Wright’s attention to a neurosis he has perhaps overlooked: kissing.

Kissing is connected with sexual gratification, but obviously not PIV intercourse. It is not a human universal. (About half of cultures do not have romantic kissing before it is introduced to them by the West.) And yet in the West this neurosis is so widespread that nearly all sex is proceeded by kissing. Many a woman, in fact, would refuse to make love to her husband unless she is kissed first! This unchaste form of sexual gratification which mocks or impersonates the sex act with the same physical sensations is endemic! Even worse, many couples make out– often for hours!– with no intention of the making out leading to sexual intercourse!

Now, you might say ‘non-essential forms of sexual gratification’ refers only to things that result in orgasm, but Mr. Wright has specifically stated that not being able to get an erection if your partner is not dressed as a Nazi is a neurosis, regardless of whether you orgasm from your partner dressing as a Nazi. By extension, needing to kiss before you have sex must also be a neurosis.

I am not saying that there are no differences between dressing as a Nazi and kissing. One might argue that incorporating Nazis into your sex is disrespectful to the victims of Nazism, or that bringing violence and oppression into the bedroom harms the unitive purpose of sex, or what have you. I disagree with these arguments, but they could be made. Mr. Wright does not make them. He defines a sexual neurosis as a non-essential form of gratification pursued for its own sake which eventually is required to appreciate the normal, and if you accept that argument every Westerner is sexually neurotic about kissing.

(Is this [porn gif] the most virtuous form of sex, as it contains the least nonessentials? Inquiring minds…)

If you were among the Tapirapé, a Brazilian tribe which finds kissing disgusting, needing to kiss before sex would seem as perverted as needing to dress up as a Nazi is to us. Among Americans, needing to kiss before sex is not perverted; if anything, needing to not kiss before sex would be. The difference is, well, that for Americans kissing is popular, and for the Tapirapé it is not. Which is, what’s a nice word for it… culturally bound? Subjective? Not relating to the fundamental nature of sex?

Human sexuality is diverse. It evolved for the production of children, and now involves actions as diverse as sublimation into art, getting sucked off at a gloryhole, and having sex with stuffed animals– just as our ability to make mental maps evolved to help us figure out where the water hole was and is currently used to make memory palaces, and our visual processing evolved to help us see predators and is currently used to understand Magic Eye pictures. I don’t think Magic Eye or memory palaces mock or impersonate waterhole-finding or predator-fleeing, and I don’t think that fetishes mock or impersonate procreation.

What I have learned from this essay is that Mr. Wright believes that every American who needs to kiss to become aroused is powerless, addicted to vice, objectively disordered, no longer reflects reality, and as illogical as a statement that is false– or rather than he makes an unprincipled exception for the fetishes which happen to be common in his own culture.

8. Closing Remarks

John C Wright is wrapping up his argument, so I think it is about time to wrap up mine. In this absurdly lengthy post series, one might have gotten confused about which points were incidentals and which points get to the meat of our respective arguments, so I will outline exactly where Mr. Wright and I differ, the cruxes (I believe) of our respective positions.

Mr. Wright holds that morality is objective, while I hold that it is subjective. Still, one may answer questions like “what allows the average human to best fulfill their values, reach their goals, and pursue eudaimonia?” While I don’t expect my arguments to be persuasive to serial killers, unfriendly AIs, or that nice German man who got eaten, and presumably Mr. Wright does, Mr. Wright and I could still theoretically come to consensus on how we prefer society to be set up and the best way for a normal person to live.

Unfortunately, Mr. Wright and I disagree very much on the issue of fundamental human nature. I believe that people are more likely to be different from each other than he does, and thus that their ways of pursuing their goals are more distinct. Thus our respective opinions on polygamy, divorce, children being raised by people other than their biological parents, parents having a high degree of control over the lives of their adult children, etc., as well as my investment in coming up with social norms in which people can choose different life paths and still have the promises they made to each other enforced by social disapproval. I believe this difference may be at the core of the difference between the Matrimonial and Libertine positions.

One specific and quite important way this difference manifests is that Mr. Wright believes that there is a single best way to enjoy sex and other ways are insulting or degrading the best way, while I believe that people can have different thoughts on sex without any of them meaning the other ones are less valid. Similarly, Mr. Wright believes that only penis-in-vagina intercourse counts as real sex, while I think that ‘real sex’ is a silly concept. Thus we get my approval of homosexuality, kink, and oral and anal sex, and his disapproval of same.

The second key difference between me and Mr. Wright is that he believes that birth control is significantly less effective than I do, and thus that all non-marital sex runs a significant risk of conceiving a child without biological parents. I, however, believe that this problem is best solved through nudging people into using long-acting reversible contraception.

The third key difference between me and Mr. Wright is our philosophies of casual sex. Mr. Wright does not believe in sex accompanied by positive emotions other than the various forms of romantic love, while I do. I believe it is romantic to be chosen out of many potential romantic partners and unvirtuous to declare the existence of love itself to be wrong (as opposed to breaking promises, murder, etc. that may be caused by the love), while Mr. Wright disagrees. These differences lead to all of our disagreements about nonmarital sex that are not the product of our disagreement about the effectiveness of birth control.

Mr. Wright believes that men are worse than women, while I believe that human evil is dished out equally among the genders. This leads to surprisingly little difference, since if I agreed with him on the other things I would merely point out that men need to be protected from women, and not just the other way around.

Mr. Wright is absurdly optimistic about the ability of alienation of affection torts to keep people from committing infatuation-motivated crimes.

Thoughts on Moral Licensing

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So I spend time thinking about the moral licensing effect. For people who are unfamiliar, the moral licensing effect is a subconscious effect where if we do one good thing, we are less likely to do other good things. As someone who wants to do all the good things, this is naturally terrifying. However, as far as I know, the research on moral licensing doesn’t suggest how it works, which is annoying, because how we should respond to it depends on how it works.

For instance, it might be that moral licensing is because we have a certain amount of resources we want to direct to each value. For instance, I might be willing to spend up to one hour (or equivalent in money or foregone utility) on my physical health each day and up to ten percent of my income (or equivalent in money or foregone utility) on altruism. So if I exercise for an hour, I’m probably going to eat chocolate afterward, because I already used up all the resources I want to use on improving my physical health exercising. In that case, I’m not sure there’s much to do beyond making sure my resources are allocated in the best way possible: if I’m using up all my altruism resources volunteering for my local homeless shelter, I’m not going to donate to GiveWell. In that case, the best way to respond to moral licensing is making sure that all of your discourse about ethics clearly states how important the ethical thing is and steering clear of ethical rules (such as language policing or modesty culture) which consume lots of resources for little altruistic benefit. (But you should also be careful to make sure that you don’t use up your whole altruism budget on telling people that they’re wasting their altruism budgets.)

Or it might be that we want to maintain a self-image as a virtuous person who cares about their health and people in the developing world and so on. So when I take a multivitamin, I think “ah yes! I am taking a multivitamin! The way a healthy person would!” and then I feel free to drive without my seatbelt fastened. In that case, in addition to paying attention to the costs and benefits, it might be a good idea to try to raise the amount of concern about your health that you have to do to maintain your self-image as a virtuous person who cares about their health, such that you both take the multivitamin and drive without a seatbelt.

Or it might be that morality is like a muscle. Immediately after you pick up heavy things and put them down, you’ll be really tired and probably not able to pick up any more heavy things. But if you keep picking up heavy things and putting them down, eventually you’ll be able to pick up much heavier things, and for longer periods of time. In that case, it makes sense to do as many compassionate things as you can: you’re developing your ability to be a compassionate person. Even if caring about a cat or an acquaintance might not be the best way to accomplish good in the world, it’s practice for your compassion muscle, which will hopefully extend to people and animals you don’t know.

Or maybe it’s going to turn out to fail to replicate and there’s no point worrying about it at all.

Against John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man, Part the Fourth

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Part of a series in which I argue with John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man. Part one here, part two here, part three here.

5.3.4. Exclusivity

This section is quite short:

A similar consideration governs the exclusivity of the contract. The Libertine position would allow for open marriages, orgies, three-way, four-ways, n-ways, temporary or permanent alliances and liaisons, but such things are evidently not in the best interest of the parties involved, for reasons covered above: neither the paternity of the children is clear, nor the obligation as to who is to raise the children, nor is the affection of the father engaged, nor is the marriage as a cornerstone of civilization safe, nor is the woman wise to let herself be exploited by the fly-by-night lovers, nor is the man’s position as the head of his own house and father of his own children secure.

We have paternity tests and birth control. I agree that in the absence of paternity tests and birth control polyamory would work poorly with modern American sexual norms, although it works quite well with the practices of the Mosou (among whom uncles care for their nieces and nephews) or the Tibetans (among whom several brothers marry the same woman).

In actual polyamorous families, the primary partner or partners of the woman help raise the children, with possible assistance from her friends and lovers. Many hands make light work, as they say; no doubt many families with four parents wonder how families with two manage it, just as families with two parents contemplate how stressful it would be to be a single parent. If you are a man who is incapable of feeling affection for a woman who is having sex with other people, that is perfectly all right and polyamory is not for you, but you shouldn’t generalize your incapability to everyone else. And if you wish to be the head of the house (not all men do) and you wish to be polyamorous, then you should form a triad or quad with people who want you to be the head of the house, or you should only have one primary relationship. I do find the assumption that men are necessarily the head of the house strange; my understanding is that most people do not want to be in 24/7 D/s relationships.

I continue to be unimpressed by Wright’s arguments that polyamorous marriage can’t also be a cornerstone of civilization or that fly-by-night lovers are necessarily exploitative.

5.3.4.1. Polygamy

The argument can be made that the competition for the scarce resources (not to mention the limited love and attention) of the father is and must be naturally divided among the several wives in a harem. Even if the women are (as only happens in male fantasies) perfectly content and harmonious with each other, a natural competition of interests exists or may grow up between them, for Darwinian reasons if nothing else, forcing any wife to take any steps they may to remove the father’s love and attention away from the children of rivals and toward her own.

I agree that one penis policies are a terrible idea– you will find many polyamorous people who agree– but have no idea why this is being held against ordinary group marriages, other than Mr. Wright’s failure of both imagination and research. And as for the history of patriarchal polygamy, need I point out the history of patriarchy in monogamous relationships? Within my lifetime it was legal in some parts of the US for a man to monogamously rape his wife.

5.3.4.2 Violence Between Sexual Rivals

In Common Law, even if true love binds Guinevere and Lancelot, it is illegal for him to court her or to urge her to leave her husband for him: the crime is called alienation of affection.  This law has been undermined in recent years, but the principle still remains in effect as a moral principle: under the Matrimonial position, is it morally wrong to ask a woman to divorce her husband and marry you, even if you are in love with her and her husband is not, because the bond of matrimony is (in the matrimonial position) exclusive and lifelong…

This means that all the extravagant and even violent things men do to win the attention of potential mates are not closed when a Libertine marriage contract is signed. I know of cases where a young man climbed a roof at night and jimmied a window to break into a girl’s bedroom just to get a chance to speak with her, and this was when the girl was dating someone else; I know guys who broke into girl’s dorm rooms at college. We are not talking about rape attempts here, just desperation brought on by sexual attraction.

Now, here is where my experience may differ from yours, dear reader. There is a man I know—I have stayed at his house—whose brother is serving a life sentence in jail for murder. The murder was prompted by a woman, and she seduced this brother into murdering her husband. I have never met the brother myself, but I have heard tell of him…

I hope you know a better class of guys than I do, but if you do not, the people who act this way exist. We are not even talking about stalkers and obsessives and nutjobs. Just among ordinary young men of ordinary upbringing, getting into a fistfight over a girl, to drive away rivals, is natural.

Are we to assume that men willing to commit trespassing, breaking and entering, assault, and murder, against both social and legal sanctions, but not willing to commit alienation of affection? How is alienation of affection so effective? Is it because it’s a tort? Perhaps we should make murder a tort, if that works so well at discouraging behavior.

Now, perhaps you argue that infatuation makes people do crazy things, and the fear of alienation of affection keeps people from becoming infatuated in the first place, when they are actually amenable to reason. But I don’t think infatuation necessarily works that way. Many people, after all, become infatuated after a conversation or reading another person’s writings or even a glimpse of a person’s smile, and knowing that someone is married does not necessarily prevent you from talking with them, reading them, or looking at them. Even more people become infatuated when they are friends or work colleagues with someone else. While it’s possible to have a society in which straight married men are only friends and colleagues with straight men and straight married women are only friends and colleagues with straight women (this system breaks down for queer people), all the work is being done by the separation of people who might be romantically interested in each other– which, notably, Mr. Wright does not propose.

In the Libertine position, those who may not mate is defined only by those who cannot legally grant consent: children, drunks, and rape victims. Hence even if Guinevere is married, she is not offlimits for Lancelot to court her, since the Libertine position both allows for the possibility of a three-way orgy, pending Arthur’s consent, and allows for the possibility of an open marriage, if Arthur is as stupid as Ayn Rand’s husband, and can be browbeaten into believing that adultery is meaningless.

Since both these possibilities are not open to criticism or condemnation, efforts to persuade the interested parties are likewise not open to criticism.

An interesting question: under the Matrimonial position, is a woman permitted to swear herself to celibacy? Is it is any way gauche to send a marriage proposal to a nun, or hit on a woman who has chosen to spend the next six months celibate so she may focus on self-improvement or her art or her God? After all, Mr. Wright does consider marriage and religious life to both not be open to criticism and condemnation. Surely that means that any interested party may try to pitch a nun on marriage to him.

Obviously, that is not the case. While marriage and celibacy are both valid life choices, it is extraordinarily rude to try to convince someone who has clearly stated that they are currently celibate to have sex with you– particularly if she has sworn a promise to be celibate for the rest of their lives. And under a Libertine framework, while monogamy and polyamory are both valid life choices, it is extraordinarily rude to try to convince someone who has clearly stated one preference to adopt the other so she can date you– particularly if she has sworn a promise to be monogamous (or polyamorous) for the rest of her life. While some people might try to convince other people to be monogamous– just as some people might try to convince other people that they are called to the religious life– it is probably not a good idea to do so if you have a romantic interest in the answer of the question.

5.4 Third Parties to Marriage

According to the libertine position, if Arthur, with her consent, copulates with Morgan le Fay, it is no one’s business but their own. However since Mordred, the bastard son of Arthur, has a claim on the throne, the fact that he was born has an influence or an effect on Guinevere, and any children she might produce.

It seems to me the wisest solution to this problem is not having kings. In the modern era, I may bequeath my property to my children, my favorite charity, or my cats, and I do not think the right of inheritance of the children I have with one partner means I shouldn’t have children with another, any more than it means I shouldn’t have charities or cats.

At best, the Libertine position allows that if and only if Arthur and Guinevere so mutually agree, he will keep his royal member in his trousers for such times and places as they mutually see fit. If she does not read the fine print, or overlooks to get him to make such a vow, he is not bound.

Yes. You do not get to expect people to do things unless you at some point told them that you wanted them to do the thing. People cannot read your mind. (And the Matrimonial position is in the same boat; if Guinevere neglected to ask her partner for exclusivity, she might also neglect to ask her partner for marriage.)

5.4.1 The Father of the Bride

The Libertine position recognizes no interest the father (or mother) of the bride might have in seeing to it that his daughter not be unhappy in marriage.

Of course we do, we just think that the individual woman (perhaps, if she chooses, consulting the advice and counsel of her parents) is best suited for figuring out whether or not she will be happy.

However, since she produces (or abandons) his grandchildren, the question arises whether he has a vested interest in permitting or driving off suitors courting the daughter. The Libertine answer is in the negative: grandparents have no duties to protect and love their grandchildren, and hence no right to meddle with any arrangement the daughter might make or fail to make to provide for any child she might bear.

I speak here of fathers and daughters only because historically this was the most common case: indeed, it is not until relatively recently in history, and only in Christian lands, that a daughter selecting her own mate was the commonplace. While we might look on this type of arranged marriage with distaste, it nonetheless behooves us to note the logic behind the social arrangement: in the modern day, if the father had no role in driving off unworthy suitors, that father is the one most likely to have to bear the expense of raising the grandchild if the daughter returns pregnant and in tears if (as often happens) the unworthy suitor proves to be truly unworthy.

The father is also the one most likely to have to bear the expense of supporting his daughter if she goes off to college and gets a degree in classics, and then discovers to her horror that Cicero translation is not a valuable skill in today’s working world. Indeed, the father is more likely to support her in the latter case, as there is quite a large chance that a pregnant woman in the modern era is capable of supporting herself without her parents’ money, and there is no such guarantee for those of us with nonvocational degrees. Mr. Wright’s argument would imply that fathers have the right to control what degrees their adult offspring get and forbid them from going to any college that would lead them to have excessive student loan debt, or at the very least that colleges should be forbidden from offering frivolous degrees in philosophy and literature instead of computer science and petroleum engineering.

Alternately, fathers have the same control over their adult offspring’s romantic lives as they do over their vocational lives: they may give often-unheeded advice, refuse to financially support decisions they think are poor, and throw their adult children on the street, but they are not permitted to decide for adults. For better or worse, adults have to stand on our own two feet.

My wife’s best friend and roommate from way back was married to an unworthy suitor, an empty-headed boy who did not take the vows of matrimony seriously, and, as it turns out, did not have to. She was completely loyal to him, and he decided he wanted out, and he dumped her in one of the ugliest divorces I ever sat through. There is no certainty that a stricter law of marriage would have sobered up and deterred this boy; but there is certainty that he would not have been able to victimize my friend with impunity, if he could have found divorce only for cause.

I am extraordinarily puzzled by the logic that characterizes a man as an empty-headed unworthy man who had an ugly divorce, and then says that the woman should have been shackled to him in his empty-headedness, unworthiness, and ugliness for the rest of his life. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.

5.4.2 The Grandparents of the Child

…are the same people as the father of the bride, at least in most circumstances, so I am somewhat puzzled why this is two sections, particularly since it is covering all the same arguments. I’m not going to repeat my arguments, but I am going to address a side issue.

the specter of an unwanted pregnancy (which is impossible, aside from medical considerations, under the Matrimonial position)…

I call it impossible because the Marriage ceremony is obviously a fertility ceremony: the meaning of the rite cannot possibly (except by committed Leftists) be misconstrued or misunderstood. You might not want to have children when you first get married, but you cannot think the marriage ceremony is a celebration of the fact that you will not be having children: no one can confuse wedding vows with the vows of a nun to maintain perpetual virginity. In any case, even if the point of the mating ritual is lost on you, in the eyes of the law, no additional ceremony or contract or vow is needed to make all the obligations legally enforceable to raise and care for the child once born.

What?

Unwanted pregnancies happen in marriages all the time. While married people are less likely to get abortions (17% of abortions were performed on married women), you will note the important difference between 17% and 0%. Mr. Wright didn’t say “less likely”; he said “impossible,” although I suppose there could be an epidemic of women aborting wanted children without a medical reason because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Of the most common reasons to have an abortion, many apply to married people as much as to unmarried people: for instance, married people may still be poor, overwhelmed by their currently existing children, unready to have a child, or rape victims impregnated by their rapist. Even granting that the marriage ceremony is solely about having children (it’s not), a commitment to having children at some point in your life does not mean that you are ready for any individual pregnancy that might happen.

A bachelor who seduces a foolish girl and leaves her pregnant can argue, and with a surface appearance of justice, that he neither expected nor intended to father a child. He can claim he was relying on the girl to use birth control, or, if he is either a modern man or an ancient Spartan, he can say he was expecting the girl to dispose of the baby either by a visit to the abortion provider or to the pit called Apothetae, where newborns were thrown.  For all we know, she may have told him that was the plan.

But no married man can make this claim, not without sounding an utter fool. No man of ordinary prudence gets married without knowing he is henceforth bound to the obligations of fatherhood when and if his bride bears children.

What else can he say? “I was not expecting to be a father! I thought marriage was so that I could treat my sex partner as an unpaid maid and housekeeper!”

Not all married men wish to have children. Childfree married couples are a small but growing minority. Even ignoring the sex issue, there are lots of reasons to get married even if you don’t want kids: personally, as a person of some neuroticism, I like the security that I will have someone I love and whose judgment I value visit me in the hospital, make medical decisions for me when I am incapable of making them myself, and dispose of my body when I die. And even if you want kids, that doesn’t mean you want this specific child. A father and mother can very well disagree about whether their finances will stretch to another child, whether they should abort a child with Down Syndrome, or whether it would be nice to never have to change a diaper again. If anything, Mr. Wright’s proposed solution makes the betrayal worse: a father who has a child he didn’t wish to have must be loving and take care of the child anyway, while a pro-life father whose child was aborted must spend the rest of his life knowing that the love of his life murdered his child. Neither is useful.

There are reasons to get married besides wanting kids and wanting an unpaid maid and housekeeper. You know, friendship, companionship, a comfort in times of sickness and sorrow, a person to share your joys? All that stuff? True love?

Also do your damn share of the dishes, honestly, there is no excuse not to have a fair and equitable chore division.

 

Against John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man, Part the Third

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[content warning: gruesome uterus facts, child murder, anti-abortion sentiment]
[Comments that talk about paper abortions will be deleted on the grounds of being shit Ozy doesn’t want to read about.]

Part three of my post disagreeing with John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man. Part one here, part two here.

5.3 Prudence Related To The Sex Act 

John C Wright writes:

The question to be raised here is, suppose you get pregnant, ladies, or suppose you get your lover pregnant, gentlemen, what does morality command we do about the baby? What does prudence suggest we do beforehand, so we are not caught unawares or unprepared?

Prudence, of course, is not prognostication. Even if the sex act does not lead in most cases to pregnancy, and even if contraception is licit and is effective nine times out of ten, prudence requires that all cases be treated as if they were the tenth case, for the same reason that prudence requires we buckle our safety belts when entering a car, or don a helmet when mounting a motorcycle, each and every time, not merely the one time in a thousand when we have an accident. Nature does not tell us beforehand when the accident will occur. The reason why accidents are called “accidents” is because they do not necessarily happen.

Well, I use the implant, which is over 99% effective– which, to be clear, means that of 100 couples using the implant for a year less than 1 will get pregnant, not that of 100 acts of sex less than 1 will result in a pregnancy. I also use condoms with every partner other than my beloved husband. As a result of combining these forms of contraception, if I have sex for five thousand years, I would expect one unexpected pregnancy. That is well within the risk tolerance prudence demands. We must wear a helmet on our motorcycles, and buckle our seatbelts when we’re in cars, but prudence does not require that we avoid motorcycles or cars altogether.

Prudence suggests that women consider carefully how high a risk of an unexpected pregnancy they are willing to accept, and choose their contraception accordingly, that most women should be on some form of long-acting reversible contraception such as the implant or the IUD, and that all people should use condoms unless they are in a committed long-term relationship in which all parties have been tested for STIs and, if nonmonogamous, are regularly getting tested and use condoms with everyone outside the relationship. Prudence does not suggest celibacy.

The choices are to kill the baby in the womb or raise the baby.

Mr. Wright is missing an option, one I encourage all who have moral qualms about abortion to consider: adoption. In the US, there is a shortage of babies for adoption (the shortage of adoptive parents is mostly for older children, as many prospective adoptive parents do not wish to help an older child recover from abuse), so you need not fear that your child will languish in a foster care home. I myself consider the one-in-five-thousand-years risk of having an unexpected pregnancy, enduring nine months of pain, and then bringing joy to an infertile couple, to be quite acceptable.

While prenatal infanticide is a commonplace in our current society, logic suggests that it is not in the best interest either of the child, nor of any parent or grandparent with a vested interest in seeing his bloodline preserved…

She should discuss the matter… with the grandparents of the child—who, in the Darwinian scheme of things, even ignoring any moral considerations, would find it in their genetic advantage to make provisions to preserve the child once he exists even in his fetus-stage. The Selfish Gene, after all, does not care what stage the child is in when the child is killed, since any stage before the child reproduces is a failure from the Darwinian viewpoint.

First of all, that is not the reason any sensible person has qualms about abortion. The only good reason to have ethical qualms about abortion is that you are afraid you might be committing murder. I am actually kind of horrified by this sequence of arguments? It is as if a man came up to me and explained I should not bash my six-year-old daughter in the head with an axe because it would reduce my inclusive genetic fitness. I mean, yes, it would, but that is hardly the primary thing to object to in this situation.

Second, from a Darwinian perspective, there is no reason to prioritize the already-conceived fetus over fetuses that might be conceived. If having an abortion allows you to bear two children, that is all to the good, from a gene’s perspective. About a fifth of pregnancies end in miscarriage: most of them were disabled fetuses whom, from a cold Darwinian perspective, take up too many resources for too low a chance of reproducing. Humans are not rats; we do not have as many babies as possible and hope some of them survive. We invest in our children, which implies that we will not have as many children as we could, if the marginal resource would be better spent investing in the children we already have.

Further, if Mr. Wright’s argument held, the grandparents of the child ought to be equally upset about their daughter using contraception or natural family planning, breastfeeding her children, being abstinent until marriage, delaying marriage, or in any way choosing a lifestyle other than one baby per nine months. (The parents of men, of course, will be horrified by any career choice other than sperm donor.) Naturally, this is not how people actually work. Not only are humans not rats, but we don’t even care about inclusive genetic fitness on a conscious level.

Ladies, whether you think abortion is a sacred and private woman’s right, or you think it is the crime of Medea, prudence suggest you make provision for this eventuality before it arises. Will you need comfort and support at that difficult time? Has he agreed to provide such comfort? Or does he assume that all the risks and expense and heartache are on your side, and on his side he gets the benefit of the pleasures of your body, and then he wants you to get up in the morning and make him an egg while he lies in the rumpled bed smoking a cigarette?

I find this a puzzling argument. Surely a woman who wants casual sex could arrange for a friend or loved one to provide support and comfort in the event of an abortion; there is no law that says that the support and comfort must come from the father of the child. Indeed, in quite a lot of instances of casual sex one would not want emotional support from the father of the child, on account of one has known him for a few days or weeks (or minutes). Much better to find a friend who has been your friend for years and will comfort you, and then have sex with men as feckless as you please.

The man was delighted, honored, and overjoyed to be a father, and he did what he thought was the honorable thing and asked to marry the woman: and she went out instead and had the baby killed in the womb. This was after he had bought some baby toys and clothes and so on in preparation for the blessed event.

This is an unfortunate consequence of an unfairness of biology. Among adults, we have agreed, the individual is allowed to decide for themself what medical procedures they will have performed on their own body. I am not allowed to take someone else’s kidney without their consent (even if I will die without it); I am not permitted to require my husband to get a mole removed, no matter how unsightly it is; and I am not permitted to forbid any woman from getting an abortion or not getting an abortion, as she prefers. This leads to an unfortunate situation for men, who have no control over what happens to fetuses that are biologically related to them. (One may argue that women get the more unfair biological situation overall, given that they are the ones who menstruate and get pregnant, and that it is extraordinarily rare for a man to, say, get bits of uterine lining lodged in places where they ought not to be and where they bleed menstrual blood into his pelvis every month, while 2-10% of women of childbearing age suffer from this malady. But nevertheless the existence of other unfair things does not somehow eliminate the existence of one unfair thing.)

John C Wright’s solution is as follows:

The only way to solve an ambiguity is to make the matter unambiguous: a ceremony, a contract, a formality. The ceremony has to be strictly binary, so the gray areas and uncertainties are minimized: either you are bound by the obligations or you are not, and the obligations need to be spelled out. The ceremony has to be public even if the mating act is private, so that multiple witnesses can confirm or deny whether the formalities are carried out.

I would like to point out that this doesn’t actually solve the problem. Quite often, men do filter their partners for willingness to have an abortion or bear a child. But there’s many a pro-life woman for whom an unwanted pregnancy is far more horrifying in grim reality than it was in theory, and many an adamantly pro-abortion woman who discovers she could never bear to abort the new life growing inside her. As long as the woman is the one who makes the decision, the man gets no more input than what she chooses to allow him. There are solutions– one could, perhaps, require the consent of both parties to go through with an abortion, or alternately to bear a child– but marriage is not one of them. All it means is that the woman who (from your perspective) murders your child is your wife, whom you’ve sworn to love and honor and cherish for the rest of your life.

5.3.1. Humans are Altricial

I agree with Mr. Wright that two sets of hands makes parenting much easier. (The same, of course, applies to three or four sets.)

What I find puzzling is Mr. Wright’s insistence that the second set of hands must be those of the child’s biological father. After all– as we see in the case of many straight couples and perhaps most lesbian and gay couples– it is perfectly possible for a person to happily raise a child that is not related to them. Of course, your coparent will likely be quite angry if you lie to them about whether or not a child is related to them or coerce them into raising an unrelated child when they do not wish to, but those are simply special cases of people getting angry at you if you lie to them or coerce them into raising children. Even if one accepts Mr. Wright’s argument, that is not an argument that one should have the biological parents of the child on board with raising them, just that one should have lined up two enthusiastic coparents before commencing a pregnancy.

And in the event that a person becomes a single parent, why is it the responsibility of the other biological parent to take care of the child? (Prudence, of course, demands that Mr. Wright make provision for single parents as well, because we have yet to experience the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.) Why is the financial support of children not the duty of the government (after all, if society wishes children to be fed, society ought to make arrangements for this itself, instead of shanghaiing random individuals connected to the case)? Why can’t the support desperately needed by single parents– some time away from the child, someone to watch the child as they work, adult company– be provided by their friends and community, including the church Mr. Wright considers himself a member of? This seems to me to be the proper pro-life and pro-child attitude.

The rule must apply even if the mating act is not meant to result in mating (as, for example, with a sterile partner or through the use of contraception) merely because otherwise the mating ceremony is without legal or social effect.

How?

A once-in-five-thousand-years chance of a pregnancy that you firmly intend will end in adoption does not, by any reasonable stretch of the imagination, count as producing a baby, as you can tell by the vanishingly small chance that you end up raising a baby at any point. Given that it is much easier to notice whether or not someone is pregnant than it is to notice whether or not they’ve had sex– using contraception or not– the latter would be much easier to enforce both legally and socially, in the event that one chose to enforce “no babies without a coparent” instead of the more sensible path of having a society that supports parents.

My other quibble is with this point:

The easiest way (although it is not successful in all cases) to have a father love the child is to have him love the woman who is her mother beforehand.

Mr. Wright appears to be equivocating between romantic love and love the feeling in which someone’s happiness is essential to your own. Of course, valuing someone’s happiness is essential for maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship and building a family and rearing children together. But the passionate storm of emotion is far from necessary. Indeed, historically, many, many children were raised by parents who did not feel passionate romantic love for each other, either because their marriages were arranged or because there was no option for divorce once romantic love was replaced with platonic friendship. Presumably these children were not universally neglected or abandoned. Indeed, given the modern happiness and stability of arranged marriages, one might argue that that is a far better strategy for stably raising children than romantic love.

5.3.2 Bastards and Cuckoos

It is astonishing how often Mr. Wright gives advice that completely ignores that we now live in a society with contraception, paternity testing, and adoption.

5.3.3. Permanence

John C Wright argues that marriage is the foundation of civilization through an argument that, oddly, mentions only fatherhood and brotherhood, both of which would exist without marriage. He does not provide an argument that marriage with no-fault divorce is less functional at being a cornerstone of civilization than marriage without. He then argues that permanence is necessary due to prudential concerns:

Now, keep that in mind. Suppose a man, your prospective mate,  let us call him Rhett, put a piece of paper in your hand on your wedding day, to give you a clear and written contract that you could sign defining the precise nature of his and your mutual obligations. Suppose this contract said your man would kick you out once you were old and gray, but until that time, he would love, honor, and cherish you. It’s a twenty year contract. After you bear his kids, he kicks you in your now-overlarge and liver-spotted buttocks down the stairs, and he will forsake you and cleave to Anna Nicole Smith. When you ask him in tears what you shall do and what shall become of you, he tells you he frankly does not give  a damn.

What bride in her right mind would sign such a stupid contract? But according to the Libertine position, when the man acts this way with or without a signed contract, he has done nothing that can be condemned, nor even criticized.

Let us suppose further that a second man, another prospective mate, let us call him Ashley, were willing to put a contract in your hand without that provision in it. His contract vows to love and honor and cherish until death. It is permanent. It lasts until eternity calls.

Independent of any consideration of morality or honor, is not the second marriage contract clearly in your best long-term interests?

Surely it depends!

Let us assume that the contracts go both ways– that is, that one may leave the relationship with Rhett whenever one desires, and that one must continue to be married to Ashley until death do you part. And let us assume that Ashley and Rhett are identical except for the fact that one offers to marry her for life.

Now, the sensible woman must consider several points before she decides which contract to sign. First, she must consider the likelihood that she has made a mistake about Ashley’s personality and character or that he will change over time. What is the chance that Ashley will spend her entire paycheck on gambling and drinking, or that he will grow cruel and insult her, or that their every conversation will turn into a screaming match? Second, she must consider the likelihood that, in twenty years, Rhett will sign up for another twenty-year contract: that he will consider her kindness and thrift and good humor shown over twenty years of marriage, the amount of time required to accumulate shared memories and shared injokes and teach his new partner how to do that thing with her tongue he likes, and not irrelevantly his own overlarge and liver-spotted buttocks, and decide that his best option is her. Third, she must consider her own options in twenty years. Perhaps she fancies her odds of finding a better man with twenty years to search, perhaps she herself will enjoy being a cougar initiating eighteen-year-old men into the ways of love, or perhaps after twenty years of marriage she thinks curling up with a cup of tea, a good book, and four or five cats sounds just about right. Fourth, she must consider the leverage that “I’ll leave” provides her when Ashley does something she despises: does she wish to give up the power of “go to therapy or I’ll leave”, “spend enough time with me or I’ll leave”, or “stop spanking the children or I’ll leave”?

I myself agreed with my husband to stay married as long as we both shall live, unless one of us should stop being an effective altruist, I decide that I don’t want children, or we are in a high-conflict relationship, so I do not mean to say that we must always come down on the Rhett side of the question. Indeed, I expect people will be all over the Rhett-Ashley spectrum– although a full Ashley seems quite unwise, and I support people having more moderate Ashley positions like my own– and I support the creation of institutions like covenant marriage that allow people to enforce their desires. (Bit annoyed covenant marriages don’t let you pick your own preconditions for divorce, though.) But for exactly that reason it is by no means obvious that permanence maximizes a person’s relationship happiness.

 

Against John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man, Part the Second

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[content warning: discussion of rape, abuse, and human rights atrocities; satirical misandry on my part; actual misandry on Mr. Wright’s part; slurs]

Part two of my post disagreeing with John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man. Part one available here.

4.4 Men Are Jerks

Speaking as a man, and on behalf of the spear side of the race, let me tell any ladies reading these words that men are jerks. Perhaps the males you know are finer beings than what I describe here: if so, you need read no further. Nothing in my cynical world view will persuade you. None of the dangers I deem it prudent to protect against seem like threats to you. So be it.

I can only base my judgments on the evidence presented to me by my experience. If you have never been abandoned by a father seeking a lover younger than your mother, never been subject to a date-rape, never been dumped without a word by a man to whom you gave as much of yourself as you can give, never been abandoned by a lover and left to fend for yourself, never been driven to the abortion clinic at midnight by your best friend because the father of the baby was nowhere to be found, or never been divorced because your husband sought after a younger and prettier trophy-wife, then let me not disturb the curtain of candy-colored clouds in which your romantic hopes for life are wrapped. My view of the world is darker. I have friends and family members, people I know well, to whom all these things have happened. Time will tell which of us is closer to the truth.

I hope any feminists reading these words – if so impossible a chimera can be imagined as a feminist reading anything written by John C. Wright – will agree with me that females have been disadvantaged, exploited, and betrayed by the lusts of men since the dawn of time, and men seek to keep women in a position of weakness, to rob them of their natural rights, because both masculine indifference and masculine ego urges them to do so.

Well, I’m a feminist, and here are my thoughts:

If I actually believed everything John C Wright said about men, my conclusion would not be “men are so awful that each woman should spend the rest of her life with one of them, live with him, share her finances with him, sleep next to him at night, and generally place herself in a vulnerable position in which he may rape or murder her at any time.” That is a bizarre conclusion. In general, the correct way to respond to threats is to escape from them, not to marry them.

If I believed what John C Wright believed, I would encourage women to start a separatist commune. Any men who tried to enter should be expelled violently. (Men are physically stronger than women, you say? God made man, but Samuel Colt made them equal.) We won’t be unreasonable; heterosexual women can go off-commune for sex and even brief flings, although we will encourage them to be appropriately armed at all times. All male fetuses should be aborted. As this commune grows to slowly include all of womankind (as it no doubt would, given how horrible John C Wright thinks men are), we will shift policies. Now, only ninety percent of male fetuses will be aborted; the rest will be confined in brothel/prisons under strict guard, and any woman who wishes may visit for sex. (Naturally, men will be permitted to refuse sex with those they don’t like; we’re not monsters.) We will research into creating artificial sperm and into transforming all women into lesbians, so that men can be finally, painlessly eliminated.

The observant reader of my blog may note that I do not advocate this policy. Unfortunately, human evil is not so easily eradicated.

I do not wish to disturb the curtain of candy-colored clouds in which Mr. Wright’s romantic hopes for life are wrapped, but: Women rape. Women dump men without a word after he has given her as much as he can give. Women abandon their lovers and force them to fend for themselves. Women divorce their husbands to search for a stronger and more handsome man. And, unfortunately, all those disadvantages, exploitations and betrayals, those keeping women in positions of natural weakness and robbing them of their rights, were supported by women. Women crippled their daughter’s feet so they would never again walk without pain; women circumcised their daughters, causing them tremendous pain and taking sexual pleasure from them; women taught their daughters to throw themselves on the pyre when their husbands died, to graciously accept being raped because they have no right to refuse sex from their husbands, to be secluded so they would never see the sun.

There is, I suppose, one large difference between women and men, which is that men are more likely to hit you, and women are more likely to lie about being on birth control so they can trap you in the relationship because if you leave you are abandoning your child in a situation where you can’t protect them. I am not entirely certain that the latter is superior.

Let me ask the mythical feminist reading these words think about a particular example: when a powerful and well-connected World leader, let us call him Bill, has a young intern working for his staff, let us call her Monica, a lady perhaps half his age, not only convinced that he means to divorce his wife to cleave to her, but also convinced to kneel in his office and suck on his crooked penis, do you think the social rules and institutions surrounding sexual acts were successful in this case in protecting her from exploitation and betrayal? Were they successful in protecting his wife, let us call her Hillary, from exploitation and betrayal? Were the successful in protecting his daughter, let us call her Chelsea, from exploitation and betrayal? If any feminist were ever to read these words (an unlikelihood, I admit) I would wish to ask her whether the interests of the women involved, Monica, Hillary, and Chelsea were being served or betrayed by the Sexual Revolution and the mores and customs it ushered in to predominance.

Do you think the Sexual Revolution invented the concept of mistresses? That would be news to Nell Gwynn and Madame de Pompadour; indeed, it would be news to Maria Crofts Halpin, Lucy Mercer, Sally Hemings, Nan Britton, Carrie Fulton Phillips, and Lucia Calhoun, to name just a handful of presidential mistresses before the sexual revolution.

Today, a woman whose boss coerces her into sex may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and receive damages. A wife whose husband cheats on her may divorce him without going through the humiliating process of revealing her private struggle to a judge to obtain a fault divorce, and without the fear that the judge will decide to not grant it. These are small improvements, yes, but they are improvements. Prior to the sexual revolution, the hypothetical Bill would have experienced no consequences; now, there is at least a chance he will receive some.

5.1 The Sex Act 

John C Wright provides two reasons why only PIV intercourse ought to count as sex proper.

First, he points out that in the common law consummation is required for a marriage to be valid, which means PIV sex (even if contraception is used or the partners are sterile), but not oral sex, anal sex, etc. I am unclear why a Catholic appears to be such a strong supporter of a law that would judge the blessed Mary ever-virgin to have a non-binding marriage. I am equally unclear why the common law says things about the fundamental nature of sex. Notably, nonconsummation is not necessarily grounds for annulment in the civil law, which leads one to the curious position that PIV intercourse is the only proper form of sex as long as one does not happen to be in France at the time.

The purpose of marriage, in the common law, is to minimize the number of bastards. If no act that could possibly produce a bastard has occurred, then there’s no harm to ending the marriage. Oral and anal sex are treated differently because they cannot produce bastards. When the common law was being devised, there was no effective form of contraception and the causes of infertility were not understood, so naturally no exception was made for sex between infertile or contraception-using individuals. Admittedly, in the 1100s people did know that postmenopausal women couldn’t conceive, but also women who got married after menopause in the 1100s and who wished to end their marriages were a tiny percentage of the population who were probably ignored for the sake of a clean rule. While this is all very interesting, this does not mean that the rules devised for minimizing bastards in the 1100s are remotely useful for a philosopher trying to discern the nature of sex nine hundred years later.

Second, Wright argues:

Imagine begin a young bride, wafted off to the Honeymoon, only to hear your loving and devoted young bridegroom, his eyes shining with romance, announce that he will not now and never will consummate the marriage. Instead, you and he will engage in sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, and mutual masturbation. Assume moreover that there is nothing physically or mentally wrong with him: he is not suffering from an old war wound to the thigh. You will never mate with your mate. Does that seem like a proper culmination of romantic love to you, or does there perhaps seem to be something missing, even if you cannot at first put your finger on it?

This is a fun thought experiment, and I fully expect that half the comment section will be people sharing their opinions on it. I admit that many people would be annoyed at not getting to have PIV, but many people would also be annoyed at not getting to have oral sex, manual sex, seeing their partner naked, kink, etc. This does not mean that cunnilingus is the true kind of sex and PIV is a mere imitator, it just means that people don’t like it when you take popular sex acts off the table for the rest of their lives. (Personally, I’d rather never have PIV again than never give a blowjob again, but that’s me.)

John C Wright goes off on a tangent about how the “natural” in natural law is different from the “natural” of what trees do when left to their own devices, which I agree with and shan’t argue with.

John C Wright’s conclusion is as follows:

Let us leave this old-fashioned language to one side, and merely point out that copulation with a sterile partner, or during a sterile time of the month, is necessarily and legally in the same category as copulation with a fertile partner, whereas sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, mutual masturbation, even if done as preliminaries, or “safer” substitutes, are not only not copulation, in any sense of the word, and they are sexual only in their inessentials, a mockery or substitute for sex, a way to enjoy the sensations without the thing itself, the way vomiting up a meal is an inessential substitute for eating, a way to enjoy the taste of food without the act of really eating and digesting it.

On an emotional level, while the same feelings, base or sublime, lustful or devout, and the same physical sensations which attend the sex act may indeed accompany these surrounding sexual-ish acts, as a matter of biological fact, they are not the same. To confuse the feelings or sensations with the reality is the core the issue: an emotion can be false-to-facts in the same way a statement can be. The thing the emotion represents does not exist; the emotion is false.

I do not consider his evidence to have established his point. Human sexuality is, to take a phrase from the Catholic church, unitive and procreative; I would add a third, that it is pleasurable. That is, human sexuality leads to the production of children, it leads to warm feelings between the people who are having sex with each other, and it leads to feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. Unlike other species, we have concealed ovulation. We do not have sex only when it is possible to conceive a child. Instead, we have sex as an expression of caring, affection, and often love, and we have sex because it feels nice and we like it.

(A caveat: as a card-carrying libertine, I do not consider it my business to meddle in the everyday lives of others. I personally happen to consider unitive and pleasurable sex to be the best form of sex, and I attempt to convince others of the same. However, if someone insists that for them non-unitive or non-pleasurable sex best serves their overall eudaimonia, I do not consider it my place to question them; I recognize that mental diversity exists, and anyway the costs of imposing my viewpoints on others are much higher than the benefits gained. Given that my argument is “non-unitive/non-pleasurable sex makes you less happy”, I trust that people can observe their own levels of happiness themselves.)

Mr. Wright has belabored the obvious point that sex other than PIV cannot produce a child, and that institutions primarily intended to regulate procreation (such as marriage in the 1100s) naturally show a great deal of interest in PIV. But he has failed to establish that they cannot serve the unitive and pleasurable purpose of sex, nor would it be possible for him to do so, as it is obviously the case that all the wide variations of human sexuality– from married PIV for the purposes of procreation to the people who fuck cars– can sometimes be used to express people’s feelings of fondness for one another and are sometimes enjoyable. He could perhaps argue, as the Catholic Church does, that it is not permitted to separate the procreative purpose (at least in formal cause, if not in material cause), the unitive purpose, and the pleasurable purpose from each other. But he does not do this. Instead, he makes bad, fallacious arguments to attempt to show, in defiance of all human experience, that the unitive purpose cannot be served by blowjobs.

5.2 Passions Related To The Sex Act 

John C Wright argues that the passions associated with the sex act are lust, infatuation, devotion, and love, and gives reasonable definitions of each. I do not actually necessarily disagree with Mr. Wright here, except for his characterization of lust:

Lust is the physical attraction. This lust can either be friendly (as when it is accompanied by infatuation, devotion, or love) or unfriendly (as when it is without anything more.)

Lust without anything more is how we describe the attraction felt toward whores, or, for that matter, airbrushed pictures of Playboy bunnies. Neither respect, nor any tender emotion is necessarily provoked by lust without anything more. Indeed, to judge from locker room conversations, hostility and contempt seem to be the frequent, if not inevitable, by-products of lust without more.

Now, I’m inclined to agree that lust accompanied by hostility and contempt is all too common in this fallen world. I am even inclined to be against having sex out of pure lust; it rapidly loses its interest compared to masturbation. And there is an obvious reason for Mr. Wright’s observations: people who like casual sex a lot are awful people. But I utterly disagree with the idea that the only emotions lust can be accompanied by are infatuation, devotion, and romantic love.

I think people fall into two categories here. First, there are those for whom lust for someone they like naturally produces feelings of infatuation, which later naturally ripen into devotion if all goes well. Second, there are those for whom lust may be accompanied by other friendly feelings: affection, friendship, admiration, sympathy, even pity. I do not mean to say that the former are monogamous and the latter are polyamorous; indeed, I know many a monogamous person who does not experience infatuation at all, and whose romantic relationships are purely motivated by the combination of lust with friendship and affection. But I do think that the former group is likely to have a quite miserable experience of sex outside of romantic relationships– either unrequited love or dark contempt– and for them it is wise to reserve sex for romance. For the latter group, however, sex because you think someone is nifty, even without romantic feelings, often leads to joyous outcomes for everyone involved.

(To be clear, this is not a stance that is against sex with strangers, assuming one is capable of having positive feelings about strangers and associating them with sex. As Samuel Delaney writes, “Because feelings, emotional and physical, are so foregrounded in sexual encounters, the orgy is soon the most social of human interchanges, where awareness and communication, whether verbal or no, hold all together or sunder it”…)

Psychological studies tend to suggest that people who like casual sex a lot are awful people, and that my observations suggest that people who like casual sex a lot are kind, agreeable individuals with a good word to say about everyone. I think the difference is that in the sex-positive communities I’ve been in, sex is an accepted way of expressing positive feelings for people. Naturally, those who have more positive feelings for people have more casual sex. Conversely, in communities where that is not a norm, those who have lots of casual sex are mostly those who want to get sexual pleasure out of others without having any sort of emotional connection to them whatsoever no matter how brief, i.e., mostly assholes.

Part three tomorrow!

Against John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man, Part The First

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John C Wright is an absolutely delightful person whose blog posts have given me endless hours of enjoyment and who has recommended many excellent short stories (admittedly, by talking about how they are the Morlockian death of science fiction, but a good recommender is a good recommender, even if it’s wired backwards). I have recently discovered an old blog post of his which purported to lay out natural and worldly reasons why a rational atheist should follow Christian sexual morality. As an atheist libertine, I find this a tremendously interesting proposal and wish to argue with it.

Part 1 and 1.1 are merely explaining Stoicism, so I do not have a response to him. I take up the argument on

1.2, On The Subjectivity of Morals

We can dismiss the claim that moral judgments are all subjective merely by inquiring whether or not we ought to inquire into the claim.

Ought we to inquire whether or not all moral judgments are subjective?

If the answer is no, the question is closed.

If the answer is yes, then ought we to make this inquiry honestly, or dishonestly?

If the answer is that we ought to make this inquiry dishonestly, then (a fortiori) we are not bound the results. For a dishonest thinker is under no moral obligation to accept a conclusion to which his logic drives him; even if he loses the argument, a dishonest thinker is not under a duty to change his mind or mend his ways. For what will impose the moral duty upon the dishonest thinker to conform his thoughts to the conclusions dictated by reason? Why must he be truthful even to himself? Why listen to his conscience?

If the answer is that we ought to make this inquiry honestly, we necessarily thereby acknowledge at least one universal moral duty: the duty to think honestly. This duty is universal because the only other possibility, that we have no duty to think honestly, is not something we honestly can think.

My moral system, I-do-what-I-want-ism, has perfectly satisfying answers to those questions. Whether one ought to inquire whether moral judgments are subjective depends on one’s goals. If one is curious about questions of metaethics, afraid that one might be violating objective morality, or a moral philosophy grad student looking to get tenure, then naturally one should inquire about whether moral judgments are subjective. If, however, one is curious about differential calculus, extremely sleepy, or trying to build their software consulting business, inquiring about whether moral judgments are subjective will not help one reach those goals.

As to whether the question should be pursued honestly: well, if one’s goal is to find out the truth, pursuing questions honestly is generally an effective way of finding out truth. If, however, one’s goal is to prepare a case for a debate with the premise “Resolved: Moral Judgments Are Subjective” or write an essay that will please a philosophy professor known to give A’s only to people he agrees with, it behooves you to approach the task in as dishonest a fashion as necessary. (Naturally, this creates some interesting epistemic problems about whether you should change your mind based on the arguments of debaters, but those are resolvable.)

And why should the moral subjectivist be truthful even to herself or conform her thoughts to the conclusions dictated by reason? Well, why should she lie to herself or fail to conform her thoughts to the conclusions dictated by reason? Because she wants to. There is no point going around doing things you don’t want. And a moral subjectivist with a solid, consistent desire to find the truth is as trustworthy as anyone with a moral duty to do so.

1.3 defines the four cardinal virtues– justice, moderation, prudence, and courage– and defines chastity as the four cardinal virtues applied to sex, thus perhaps creating the only definition of ‘chaste’ in which the word can be fairly applied to me. 1.4 explains the importance of social stigma in enforcing laws and customs, and I agree with it. Section 2 explains the libertine position on sexuality well enough (although I myself would include the necessity of discerning for oneself what sex life contributes most to one’s eudaimonia) and correctly explains that libertines need self-control as well (for instance, to prevent STI transmission and control oneself around desirable people too drunk to consent). Section 3 explains the matrimonial position, in which the only permitted sexual acts are those within the boundary of marriage.

4.1 Is Marriage A Contract?

Mr. Wright holds that marriage is more than just a legal contract.

The first doubt concerning the Libertine position surfaced when these conclusions intruded itself onto my reluctant awareness.  In theory, the adultery of Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden should have worked out to the satisfaction of all parties involved. Instead the opposite happened: Rand and Branden became bitter enemies to the end of her life.

It did not work out in that particular case, nor in any similar case that can be brought to mind. Why not?

Well, polyamory is working out quite well for me and my friends so far. Admittedly, there are bad relationships– as was Rand and Branden’s– but it is not like there are no monogamous relationships that end with people becoming bitter enemies for the rest of their lives. The existence of one bad poly relationship does not mean that all poly relationships are bad, any more than the existence of one bad monogamous relationship means that all monogamous relationships are bad.

One example should suffice to show the difference [between marriages and contracts]. Suppose Mr. A makes a deal with Mr. B that, starting noon on Monday, Mr. A will buy lumber from and only from the lumberyard of Mr. B, forsaking all others. Mr. A buys a load of lumber from yard C that same Monday, but at eleven o’clock. Is he in violation of any provision of the contract, or by the word or the spirit? Has he betrayed or wounded Mr. B in any way? Can Mr. B make any claim for which relief at law can be granted? The answer is no.

By coincidence, this same Mr. A was planning to marry Miss D that same day, also at noon. Five minutes before the wedding is scheduled to take place, Miss D walks in on her promised bridegroom. He is standing with his trousers around his ankles vigorously coupling with one of the bridesmaids, Miss E, whose skirts are about her ears and her ankles about his ears. If the marriage were a contract, Miss D would have no more right to criticize or condemn his behavior than does Mr. B the lumberman. And yet no one of ordinary prudence would suggest she continue with the wedding at this point: we might even think her emotions insincere or unrelated to reality if her reaction were calm and understated.

But this is absurd! While they have yet to engage in the legal contract of marriage, Mr. A and Miss D presumably have made an agreement to be exclusive, even if implicit. (If Mr. A and Miss D have not made an agreement to be exclusive, one would expect her reaction to be more along the lines of “What are you doing? The wedding is about to start! You can fuck Miss E at the reception!”) Not even the most fervent libertine says that it is only unwise to break a legal contract, and one may go about breaking promises with impunity without anyone being angry at you or not trusting you. Now, of course, Mr. A has not violated the legal contract of marriage; if Miss D’s prenup says that she will receive $100,000 in the event of a divorce caused by Mr. A’s adultery, she will not receive $100,000. But he has still broken his word to Miss D, and she is likely to be quite angry at him.

The real question is whether Mr. A has done something wrong if he sleeps with Mx. F before he and Miss D agreed to only see each other. Of course, this is not the case; only a very unreasonable person would say that having a date from OKCupid on Friday night means it is unethical for you to schedule one on Saturday.

In fact, far from proving his point, Mr. Wright’s example proves the opposite of his point! Miss D, though unmarried, is likely to be angry if Mr. A has sex with someone else, because as part of their relationship they are exclusive. The relationship exists before and after they’re married. The only thing that necessarily changes for Mr. A and Miss D because of marriage is their contractual obligations (for instance, Mr. A’s duty to give Miss D $100,000)– which is exactly what you would expect if marriage is a legal contract!

4.2 How Pliant Is Human Nature?

I am somewhat confused by Mr. Wright’s argument in this section. As best as I can figure, he’s arguing that there is such a thing as universal human nature and libertines believe that it is changeable by dint of negotiating a different contract; libertines believe that if you are upset about your partner committing adultery and negotiate an open marriage, you will magically no longer become upset by it.

But that’s not my libertine position at all! Mine is that, when it comes to deciding what things are and are not harmful to me, I have the most motivation to get the answer right and access to special knowledge (my feelings) that other people do not except through my self-report. For that reason, in most (although admittedly not all) situations, the individual is best at working out what is best for them. Which is not to say that they’re infallible, simply that broad social consensus is worse.

I think the crux of our difference here is that I think human nature is much more diverse than he thinks it is. Naturally, there are generalizations: most people are hypocritical and heterosexual. But when a person is making her own life choices, she’s not making them for everyone; she’s making them for herself. Most people being heterosexual is not actually useful information if you yourself know your heart beats only for women.

He concludes that it is possible for someone to have an obligation to someone they have not met (e.g. to be a virgin on your wedding night). While I don’t believe in obligations, I do quite agree that if one’s goal is to be a virgin on one’s wedding night then one must refrain from sex even before one has met one’s future spouse. (And this is an example of how eliminating the obligation framework makes confusing questions much simpler.)

4.3 Is Sex Entertainment?

My Christian friend’s comment about the nature of the sex act, that it was merely passing entertainment, was not merely false, it was the closest thing my atheist heart could call a blasphemy. He was saying, in effect, that him jacking his juice into some half-drunk frail whose name he might not remember the next day was the same as my selfless adoration to my better half, my mistress of mistresses and mother of my children.

His argument was that the value placed on sex was a matter to be decided by the will of the parties involved. I was free to treat sex as a paramount and significant part of a long-term relationship if I so willed, but he was also free to treat sex as an entertainment only loosely related, or even unrelated altogether, to any tender emotion, friendship, romance, or devotion.

Well… yes?

Consider the musical Rent. (Art is surely one of the highest purposes of the human soul, so I assume Mr. Wright will not find my analogy blasphemous.) Rent is an extremely important musical to me. I have spent an amount of money I prefer not to think about seeing it live; I can sing large parts of it from memory. It has grown with me, my opinions on its themes and characters shifting as I age, and I look forward to see what new layers upon layers of meaning it will have as I age. I have sung it to myself in times of great trouble, and it provides me comfort and succor.

For other people, Rent is a fun, forgettable night out.

Are people who consider Rent to be a fun night out taking something away from my experience of Rent? Are they somehow saying their experience of it is the same as my own? Would it be reasonable for me to say that no one should watch Rent unless their lives are changed by it?

Obviously not. Clearly, different people can have different experiences of the musical Rent, and your forgettable night out takes nothing away from my source of comfort and joy. Similarly, someone else’s sex as entertainment takes nothing away from your sex as devotion.

It was not clear whether he meant (1) this was a mutual decision between him and his lovers, or whether (2) he could decide without consulting her that sex had no meaning, whereupon if she ascribed a deeper meaning to it when he did not, this was merely her tough luck.

He did not say, but I have my suspicions. My suspicion is that the lovers sought by such men are being deceived fundamentally, even if no word is ever spoken. She assumes the sex is meaningful: that she is sharing her inmost soul, and expressing her absolute devotion, and he takes advantage of her tender emotions, which he may or may not share, merely to release some organic pressures.

I suppose my question here is whether the women in question are, for instance, hooking up with men on Tinder, or getting drunk and taking them home from bars, or propositioning them with “so, what kind of bondage do you like?” at the Citadel. I certainly disapprove of people leading others on and saying that they love them when really they do not. But if you are going around sharing your inmost soul and expressing your absolute devotion to some guy you met thirty minutes ago at the bar, then I kind of think this is your own fault, and perhaps you should recognize that casual sex is not for you.

I have listened to locker-room talk from those of my friends who were lady’s men in their youth. One of my best friends—a fellow atheist—joked that not only did he not want to see a girl with whom he had copulated in the morning, he did not want to see her the moment after ejaculation, but would have, if he could have gotten away with it, merely pushed her out of bed and onto the floor the moment his lusts were sated…

If the Libertine position is correct, however, both my casual friend and my contemptuous friend were entirely right, and entirely within their rights, to treat their paramours casually or contemptuously, and the young ladies had neither recourse nor right to complain.

I do not think this is true! After all, most libertines include “informed” as part of “informed consent.” Did he inform the women in question of his desire to push them out of bed immediately after the sex finished, or behave in a manner consistent with this desire? If you seem to appreciate and like someone’s company before you have sex with them, they have a reasonable expectation that you would continue to appreciate and like their company afterward, and if you knowingly don’t inform them of how differently you are wired you are doing something quite wrong. If you want to not interact with someone ever again after the sex is over, that is a perfectly fine and legitimate desire, but you must find someone who shares this desire and not mislead people into thinking more is on offer than it is. (I admit that being on the wrong side of this is one of my failings, and I’ve had to work hard on communicating openly with people about it.)

Intellectual Turing Test: Social Justice And Anti Social Justice

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The Ideological Turing Test, invented by Bryan Caplan, is a test of how well people understand other people’s viewpoints. The regular Turing test is a test for programmers: can you write a computer program which a human being cannot tell apart from another human being? The Intellectual Turing Test is a test for people who believe things: can you explain your opponent’s viewpoints in such a way that your opponent cannot tell it apart from someone who legitimately believes the opinion? If you can, it shows you understand your opponent’s positions on a deep level.

I have a good balance of social-justice and anti-social-justice readers, so I am going to do it about social-justice and anti-social-justice topics. How it’s going to work: I’m going to leave the ITT open for a week. Contrary to the normal policy of this blog, submissions are open to neoreactionaries. If I get a good number of participants from both sides, I will give everyone (social justice and anti-social-justice) two weeks to write answers to the questions from both the social justice side and the anti-social-justice side. I will run first the social justice submissions and then the anti-social-justice submissions, and the audience will vote on whether they think it’s real or a fake. At the end, I’ll reveal who wrote what and give special recognition to the social justice person and the anti-social-justice person who did the best job of impersonating the other side.

The questions are as follows:

  1. What discourse norms do you tend to follow? Why? Do you think everyone else should follow them, and why?
  2. What is the true reason, deep down, that you believe what you believe? What piece of evidence, test, or line of reasoning would convince you that you’re wrong about your ideology?
  3. Explain Gamergate.

If you would like to participate, please email me at ozyfrantz@gmail.com. (I am not guaranteed to see offers to participate made elsewhere.) Please identify whether you’re a social justice person or an anti-social-justice person.

Concerning Haidtism

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I.

I recently read Sarah’s excellent post about why she has come to be more sympathetic to the ideology of Jonathan Haidt, which she calls Haidtism. Interestingly, her post crystallized my understanding of exactly why I disagree with Haidtism.

I broadly agree with the point that, all things considered, it is better to be able to endure things than not to be able to endure them, and generally better not to be an oversensitive weenie. (Although Ben Hoffman’s point in the comments is well-taken that proper Greek virtue is not stoic or Stoic; the ideal Greek hero might be courageous and strong, but he is also moved by beauty and emotional to a degree that Haidt might find quite repulsive.) However, the precise problem with Haidtism is that it doesn’t work to make students strong.

Sarah gives the example of exercise as something that strengthens people, despite being painful in the moment. This is true! But not everything that’s painful strengthens. Sometimes your leg is broken. Walking on your broken leg will not make you any stronger; it will just make your leg more broken. And saying “I’m taking away this crutch so you can get stronger!” will not actually help. Sometimes you just have to sit on the couch and rest until your leg heals.

Haidtism, as a philosophy, seems to me to fundamentally not realize that some people have broken legs.

Consider a veteran who wants to become a physicist, but who has flashbacks when she hears loud noises. (I would like to thank veterans for having such a common and such an apolitical trigger; it is truly an aid to thought.) I think it is perfectly reasonable for her to email her professors and say “excuse me, if there’s going to be a demonstration in which a loud noise is made, can you film it so I can watch it at home with the sound off?” Meanwhile, she works with her therapist to learn to cope with loud noises.

To me, this seems obviously superior to the alternatives. She could perhaps delay college until she no longer gets flashbacks, but that means that instead of developing two strengths– her ability to cope and her knowledge of physics– she only develops one. She could perhaps go to the demonstrations and have a flashback, but then she’s not learning whatever physics the demonstration was meant to teach, as people who are currently having flashbacks do not generally do a great job at learning physics. Therefore, if your value is people being strong, there are instances where you should accommodate people and– yes– even use trigger warnings.

Haidt’s confusion about this point is shown through him deciding to target his “virtue involves being able to do things that make you afraid and miserable!” message at mentally ill students.

Like, as a group, mentally ill people don’t actually have to be told that we need to do things that make us afraid and miserable. Doing things that make you afraid and miserable is the one virtue mental illness successfully inculcates. Personally, I am made afraid and miserable by leaving the house, going grocery shopping, the fact that my husband has to go to work, and going to therapy, and the thing about being made afraid and miserable by routine activities everyone has to do as part of their everyday life is that you get good at forcing yourself to do things that make you afraid and miserable. In fact, I feel I’ve somewhat reached the point of diminishing returns on the virtue of Make Yourself Do Things That Make You Afraid and Miserable, and would like some accommodations so that I only have to practice it, say, two or three hours a day.

Hell, you could probably make the argument that that’s true of all marginalized groups of people. You can make the case that I, Ozy, should be more tolerant of people who misgender me, and that it is important to my development of strength and resilience that I work on this. On the other hand, it appears to me that very very few cis people get daily practice in strength and resilience through putting up with being misgendered. This seems to be a very unfair gap in their education! I am now imagining a special class for members of privileged groups in which people with rich parents go hungry, native English speakers are asked to constantly repeat what they’re saying because no one can understand their accent, and abled people have to try to enter inaccessible buildings while people constantly tell them how brave they are.

II.

Much like Treebeard, in the college trigger warnings/safe spaces wars, I am on nobody’s side because nobody is on my side. My primary interest is in neurodivergent students having access to an education, which neither side seems particularly interested in.

There are lots of things one could campaign for if one wanted to improve the positions of neurodivergent people in colleges. For instance, one could campaign for teachers to follow universal design for learning best practices, or for improved transition planning for high school students in special education so that every student who should be in college is there, or for better college-provided mental health care, or for better training about neurodivergence for staff, or for not kicking students out of school for suicidality, or for peer-run support groups for neurodivergent people, or for disability services to be less goddamn incompetent. (True story: I once had disability services try to deny me an accommodation the professor had suggested because it would interfere with the educational purpose of the school.) It does not seem accidental to me that the one issue people seem to have picked up on isn’t actually that good at improving the positions of mentally ill people in the classroom, but is good for neurotypicals who would like to show off how upset they are about racism and– in some cases– to not have to put up with emotionally harrowing books.

Part of the problem with the concept of trigger warnings is that they mix up “how do we help people with mental illnesses that lead them to experience extraordinarily strong negative effects from things most people don’t?” with “how do we teach emotionally harrowing material in the classroom?” These are two different issues. If you were trying to warn for things that commonly cause people to have extraordinarily strong negative effects due to mental illness, you’d warn for common phobia triggers (snakes, spiders, heights, enclosed spaces, public speaking), common eating disorder triggers (moralizing eating, diet talk, calorie and weight numbers), and common anxiety triggers (health stuff). Depictions of racism would not show up on the list, because depictions of racism are not actually a common trigger for any mental health issue.

Racism is, however, a very emotionally harrowing issue. Students– particularly black students– may feel a lot of pain when they see pictures of a lynching, which vividly shows how a century ago they would have been hated to the point of their murders being socially acceptable and approved of. Clearly, some emotionally harrowing material does belong in the college classroom; equally clearly, it’s bad pedagogy to suddenly spring emotionally harrowing material on your students as if you were a monster in a haunted house doing a jump scare. As part of good teaching, a professor will contextualize what they show their class, allowing the students to emotionally prepare themselves, which is essentially what the “trigger warning” students are advocating for.

I guess the argument is about whether or not they should be put on the syllabus? Even so, in my experience as a student, it wasn’t exactly difficult to figure out that Jewish History 1000 AD-1945 would talk about anti-Semitism a lot or that the class in which we were assigned the Bell Jar would talk about suicidality.

Conversely, actual triggers are very diverse, are often hard to figure out from the syllabus, and often can be easily removed from the curriculum with no harm to the educational purpose of the course (“a student who is triggered by teddy bears is taking my differential calculus class? yes, of course I’ll remove the teddy bear image I used to decorate one of the PowerPoints”). There are a variety of reasonable ways to accommodate actual triggers– which is something schools can and should do– but standardized disclaimers on syllabi seem to be a uniquely terrible way of doing so.

Why Everyone Is Irrational About Victim-Blaming and Rape

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The nice thing about helpful advice, in general, is that you can refuse to take it.

Consider the case of the helpful person who says to me “Ozy, if you ride in a car, you’re significantly increasing your chance of dying in a car accident. You should only take buses.” I would respond with “thank you, but I don’t want to spend hours of my life waiting for the perennially late bus to arrive; I will take a car.” No one finds this a strange conversation.

Or consider the person who observes me leaving my bike unlocked. “If you leave your bike unlocked, it might get stolen!” they say. “Yeah, I know,” I say, “but the bike lock hasn’t come from Amazon yet, and I need to get dinner.” Again, this is not considered a strange conversation.

Now, imagine the case of the person who helpfully informs me that walking around alone late at night in the sort of semi-gentrified neighborhood I tend to live in increases my risk of getting raped. I reply, “Yes, I know, but I enjoy the peaceful feeling I get when I walk alone late at night when the stars are shining and the world is quiet. So even though it increases my risk of getting raped, I am going to continue to take my long walks.”

Or imagine someone who isn’t me having a conversation with a friend about the risks of getting wasted in public. The friend says, “you know, if you get wasted, you might get raped.” Imagine if that person replies “I’ve thought about it, and actually I’ve decided I care more about being able to get wasted sometimes than I do about getting raped.”

If you are like most people I’ve talked to, the latter two conversations sound really weird. Those people sound careless, like they’re taking pointless risks with their safety, like they fail to understand how horrible rape is, and it is quite unlikely that their friend will go “yeah, that makes sense” instead of “but you might get raped when you walk around late at night!” Rape risk is just not the sort of thing you make tradeoffs about.

Note that this has absolutely nothing to do with how objectively bad the consequences are. Most people agree that being a rape survivor is less bad that being dead (otherwise, rape survivor euthanasia would be a much more popular program than it actually is); nevertheless, the risk assessment is done much more sensibly for car accidents than it is for being raped.

What this means is that saying “this thing increases a woman’s risk of getting raped” essentially means “no woman should ever do this thing ever again, no matter how good a reason they have for doing it.”

Furthermore, for things that are not rape, how much you get condemned for doing something tracks pretty well with how important it is to the average person to do that thing. For most people, leaving their bikes or houses unlocked is not particularly important, and so you get criticized pretty hard for leaving your bike unlocked; however, for most people, riding in a car is a pretty important part of their lifestyle, and so you don’t really get criticized for riding in a car if you have a car accident.

This is, incidentally, why “I don’t walk around in bad neighborhoods late at night waving my wallet stuffed full of cash around!” is a terrible analogy. Most people have no reason to walk around in bad neighborhoods late at night waving around a wallet stuffed full of cash, while many people do have perfectly good reasons for going on late-night walks.

For rape, how much you get criticized for doing something does not necessarily track with how much it interferes with your life. In a study of which rape prevention tips are the most common, several were things that wouldn’t interfere too much in the life of an ordinary person (“communicate sexual limits”, “leave unsafe or uncomfortable situations”, “lock your doors”). However, many would limit the lives of the average person: “be aware of surroundings” (whoops, so much for playing Pokemon Go or listening to podcasts while you walk home), “avoid secluded areas”, “walk in well-traveled areas”, and “avoid being alone.”

(There is also the separate issue that, due to the undercounting of male victims, this advice is provided almost solely to women, and therefore circumscribes women’s lives while leaving men’s untouched. Men may very well be as likely to be raped as women, and are certainly as likely to experience violence at the hands of men, so there is no reason to direct this advice solely to women. Everyone must avoid secluded areas!)

So let’s assume that you’re an average introvert for whom “avoid being alone” is advice about as good as “consider doing surgery without anesthetic on your own foot.” In what way can you respond to this advice?

Well, for rape, you can’t say “I value being alone and thus am willing to take the increased risk of getting raped.” Indeed, the thought might very well be unthinkable. Rape is something you’re not used to thinking of in terms of acceptable risk and reasonable tradeoffs; that’s utterly taboo. Deciding to increase your risk of being raped is just not a thing people do. But, naturally, you also have no desire to be around two or more people every day for the rest of your life. You can’t say “I want to make this particular tradeoff,” and you certainly can’t say “I am part of a culture in which it is unacceptable to say I want to make this particular tradeoff”; like a lot of reasoning, avoiding cultural taboos happens on a subdeliberate level and you don’t have access to exactly what your brain is doing.

So what do you say? “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.”

Which is usually cunningly disguised as the phrases “don’t blame victims” and “teach men not to rape.”

Which seems super-offputting to people who just want to give useful safety advice. Of course you agree that people of all genders shouldn’t rape, and of course you agree that it is insanely douchey to tell a rape survivor that they should have stayed sober, and so you don’t see how those topics have any relevance to the thing you’re saying. And some people seem to imply that no one should ever talk about reducing one’s risk of rape– which is an attitude we don’t have about any other issue.

Well, here’s the problem: You functionally cannot have a discussion of sensible risk management if other people can’t respond with “having thought about it, I am totally comfy running this particular risk”, and particularly if the subject is so taboo that they can’t respond with “fuck you, I get to make risk tradeoffs that make sense to me.” If hopping on one foot reducing your risk of rape means that all women everywhere are going to be hopping on one foot next week, then women are going to do some hella fallacious reasoning about why they shouldn’t have to hop on one foot.

If you want to be able to have sensible conversations on avoiding rape, start by making rape risk something it’s acceptable to make tradeoffs about. Doing it the other way around won’t work.