G-d and Man and Sex (!) on Campus: Moral Relativism Goes to College, An Historical Perspective, Part I

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Michelle Togut

Michelle Togut resides in North Carolina with her husband and pets. She has worked as an adjunct professor of history, contributor and writer, and small-firm attorney, among other things. These days, she's trying to sell real estate. For fun, she reads political blogs of all persuasions, practices yoga, drinks wine, hikes, reads, and volunteers for a local animal rescue.

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  1. Avatar Barry
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    says:

    “(as if college students needed special programming to reinforce their interest in sex).”

    Well, fifth-generation Yalies might be a tad bit inbred.Report

  2. Avatar Just Me
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    I’ve been wondering, why do some spell God G-d? Is there a special meaning to it?Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer
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    1. A plus for a great essay.

    2. A plus plus for the word Jeremiad.

    3. We noted this last week or two weeks ago on other essay’s on the League but conservatives tend to want to send their children to the same elite acadmies as liberals. The one’s that they make a lot of lucre deploring. Haden might not come from an elite family (and I think he was home-schooled) but notice how he did not even attempt to say no to Yale. There are some people who attend the open right-wing institutions like Oral Roberts or Patrick Henry but they rarely get higher than being a staffer or maybe a member of Congress (Bachmann went to Oral Roberts for law school). I raise an eye brow at Haden not saying no to Yale.

    4. Of course people should go to whatever school they want and they get (assuming affordability but that is another issue). However, I do find it curious that people would choose to attend an institution where they know their viewpoints are in the minority.

    5. Books like Haden’s are the worst form of pornography. They allow someone to get hot bothered by the descriptions of all the kinky stuff that happens during sex week (or not) but also be smugly morally superior because they don’t participate. Punters!Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to NewDealer
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      By worst, I mean among legal forms of pornography and I do essentially consider his book to be pornography for a conservative and pearl-clutching audience.Report

      • Avatar Michelle in reply to NewDealer
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        Yeah, my brief perusal of his stuff on the Internet came up with a lot of writing on sex. He seems obsessed with defending the purity of modern women or something like that. Whatever, it allows him to publish some borderline kinky pictures.

        Harden was indeed home schooled. He’s kind of an interesting character as he bounced around a lot and has done numerous things for a living. He started his college education at Clairmont McKenna (I believe). It took him three tries to get into Yale. Third time was the charm.Report

    • Avatar Just Me in reply to NewDealer
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      So should liberal colleges actively seek out students with conservative values? I believe I have been told that part of the greatness of attending a university is that you meet people of differing backgrounds and ideals. I would think that part of university life is interacting with others, whether they have our same ideals or not. Why would you be surprised that someone would attend an institution that affords them the best shot at attaining their future goals? You state yourself that if you go to a right-wing institution you are not going to succeed in your chosen profession.Report

      • Avatar Brooke Taylor in reply to Just Me
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        Ideological diversity is as important as ethnic diversity, particularly as the conservative wing of our culture continues to rail against what it perceives as a liberal education system. I’ve always believed that part of receiving a university education is learning how to discuss ideas with people who disagree, to the common education of everyone.

        Self-segregation does play a large role in school selection. It’s hard to pull people away from institutions that are attractive for ideological reasons, particularly if that person is primed to be uncomfortable in an environment where his/her point of view is a minority position.Report

        • Avatar Barry in reply to Brooke Taylor
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          “Ideological diversity is as important as ethnic diversity, particularly as the conservative wing of our culture continues to rail against what it perceives as a liberal education system. ”

          OTOH, the whole point of academia is to enforce boundaries in some ways. Creationists need not apply to biology programs, Bartonian historians will flunk history, etc.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to NewDealer
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      “However, I do find it curious that people would choose to attend an institution where they know their viewpoints are in the minority.”

      Why? What fun or intellectual stimulation is there in that?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Pinky
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        Or being an anatagonist, liking a maytry’s complex, and possibly being very lonely.

        I’m Jewish and liberal. If I attended Oral Roberts or Patrick Henry, I would have just been a lonely lonely soul.Report

        • Avatar Pinky in reply to NewDealer
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          Lonely? Don’t you talk to Christians or conservatives?Report

          • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Pinky
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            Christians as in right-wing Evagelicals or Christians as in the more broad use that would encompass mainline protestants from Episcopalians to Quakers, Roman Catholics, and members of the various Orthodox churches?

            The answer to both is yes. I find that the constant use of Jesus everything by the first group and the attempts of conversion/missionary work are not for me.

            And yes I have talked to conversatives.

            Essentially those schools exist to foister a worldview that I disagree with on a fundamental level and I see no reason why someone is required to spend time in an that kind of situation.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Pinky
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            Patrick Henry requires students to ask permission from their parents to date! That is completely insane. Why would I be good for subjecting myself to that?Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer
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              That’s nothing. Ever heard of Pensacola Christian College? (Start at Comment #6.)

              It’s a HyperChristian school that sounds to me like Hell on Earth. Gorgeous campus, though. Absolutely gorgeous.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Will Truman
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                I think I read about that school before. It sounds like a Stalinist Russia during the Show Trial period. Everyone waiting to denounce someone else.

                Why anyone would want to attend that school is beyond meReport

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer
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                It’s really quite alien to me. And disturbing that they are at the forefront (along with Bob Jones) in publishing fundamentalist homeschooling textbooks.

                Someone issued a qualified defense of the school on Hit Coffee here. We discussed the issue for a bit.

                (The guy’s name is a question mark because it’s a special character (a “phi”). Also, we discuss that PCC is not accredited, but it now is accredited.)Report

          • Avatar George Turner in reply to Pinky
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            Um, you’d date someone without your mother’s permission?!!! Does she know?Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer
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          I think it’s generally easier for a liberal to say that they would prefer not go to a college that shares their values than it would be for a conservative to say the same.

          I am not sure of the notion of a Born-and-Raised Mormon capping off their education at BYU. It seems like they’re missing something, to be perfectly honest. The same would apply to a liberal who attends one of the more pointedly liberal schools. But the default is going to be culturally more friendly to liberals than conservatives, so it’s easier for liberals to discriminate among colleges in that fashion.

          Yale is Yale. There is no conservative counterpart to Yale. One needn’t a martyr complex to be a conservative that attends Yale. It’s Yale.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer
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      #3 is true, though there are some important caveats. Even if one disagrees with the system, you don’t ignore the rules of the game. The pathway to success in a lot of ventures is going to be largest through elite schools whether you like it or not. I’m disinclined to support private school for Lain or any future siblings, but I do make an exception for certain schools even as I resent their outsized influence.Report

  4. Avatar Shazbot5
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    “Whatever their political bent, critics of moral relativism on campus tend to share a certain view of the university as more than simply a place to learn the stuff necessary to get a good job (a view that probably unites a substantial number of students). Instead, they see the university as an inculcator of cultural and moral values, hence their desire to see college education organized around some central core of ideas or canon of works believed to express the highest ideals of humankind. Of course, what works should comprise that canon and how any such works should be taught are subjects open to bitter debate.”

    Well said.

    It seems obvious to me that universities have one value that they should indoctrinate students with: the Socratic questioning of all traditional values, common sense, received wisdom, and knowledge. The questioning may prove tradition to be right or wrong, but the questioning itself is intrinsically and pragmatically more valuable than almost anything else. The unexamined life is not… so great. (It is worth living. Socrates was being a tad hyperbolic, there?)

    This should cause all parents and people who have faith that there traditions are correct to be a bit afraid. But that fear should cause them to defend there beliefs. And if there beliefs are indefensible then that is good. Socratic questioning is good, necessarily. It cannot be bad.

    Critics will point out that universities or academia in general sometimes have their own dogma. But even when this happens, the biggest critics of the dogma are in the university too, and if the dogma has no rational defense, the commitment to Socratic questioning uber alles will eventually destroy the dogma. Do note that post-modernism and some wacky forms of relativism became popular in certain subfields of academia, but its biggest and best critics were all in academia. And human society is better for having fought the intellectual battle over relativism. Maybe there was some truth in it which is now layered into more mature views”. Or maybe it was all false, but if so, then we now know one more set of ideas is not good.

    I think, despite the protestations of conservatives, American (or Western more generally, I don’t know about Eastern) universities do a pretty good job of indoctrinating the value of Socratic questioning, which is the foundation of modern Western society, without which we’d be screwed scientifically, politically, technologically, ethically, etc. And as long as you teach this value, it doesn’t matter what other values students pick up at school or outside of school, because in the long run, the Socratic questioning will sort out the values.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Shazbot5
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      I no spell “there” too good.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Shazbot5
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      What’s so great about the examined life again? I get that I like the examined life. It suits my temperement and abilities. But, why should someone who is not as inclined to pick the lint from their navels pursue the examined life? It seems that of course people who are inclined and able to pursue a life of contemplation are going to say that it is objectively superior to other ways of life; but that just seems like self-aggrandisement.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Murali
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        Maybe not everyone needs to live examined lives. Maybe some people are happier in the cave. Maybe that’s too elitist. Maybe not. I can’t figure that out.

        But there is a huge instrumental value to having a reasonably large segment of the population live examined lives. Examining life constantly tests cultural traditions, common sense, perceived wisdom to see what is true, what is pragmatically useful, etc. Examination drives out, over the long term, the false amd the pernicious. That is one reason why you need something like a university to be the Socratic fly constantly biting at the horse, constantly spurring society to not be sluggish and stagnant in its beliefs and practices.

        There is also an intrinsic value to living an examined life. Anyone not examining whether they should believe what their cultural traditions say they should believe, in a way, is a kind of slave. (Maybe that’s hyperbole, but whatever.) They are not choosing their own beliefs after considering amd examining what is good and what is bad to believe. They are just being caused to belief such and such without examination.

        NB: many of the best Christian philosophers (or philosophically minded religious folks without a formal education) live a life where they examine their Christian beliefs and after examination continue to hold them. The examined life is not identical to the hippy life in all cases. However, it is a life where you can’t outsource the task of determining what you should believe to others or tradition. It is a life where you have to determine what you will believe. That is the curse and the intrinsic good of the examined life.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Shazbot5
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          Anyone not examining whether they should believe what their cultural traditions say they should believe, in a way, is a kind of slave

          It is hyperbole and its a kind of unfair hyperbole. There is a sense of autonomy that is to be found in being the kind of person who has chosen one’s own ends. Few people are actually like that. Most of us tend to heavily discount ends which are socially disapproved of. Where we try to break free from society’s mores our ends still end up determined by our inclinations. I’m not sure I’ve met any truly autonomous Kantian agent. I don’tknow if such is even psychologically possible. So, we are all heternonomous. But more importantly, this notion of autonomy is so thick that it is not obviously intrinsically good.

          In fact, to talk about intrinsic goods, I don’t think that I have seen any argument that has satisfactorily established the intrinsic goodness of anything. it is not clear if anything is intrinsically good and even if there is it is not clear which things are intrinsically good.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Murali
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        Otherwise you get hoodwinked and otherwise turn into a schlemiel.

        My version of the examined life is to pierce the illusions people tend
        to wrap themselves in. Laughter is optional, but often warranted.Report

  5. Avatar Rod Engelsman
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    Am I the only one who finds it perhaps more than a bit ironic that the conservative educational ideal seems to involve everyone reading the same books, ascribing to the same religion, and internalizing the same values so that we will all conform to the American ideal of… individualism??

    W. T. F. ??!!Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Rod Engelsman
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      Maybe that is the American ideal of individualism.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Stillwater
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        There has always been a strong conformist strain in American society besides all our talk about individual. Before the upheavals of the 1950s, nearly everybody was expected to conform to Anglo-Protestant ideas of behavior with little or no tolerance for those who deviate from it. For all our talk about Free Speech and freedom of religion, American society hasn’t dealt well with people on the far left or atheists until very recently.

        I think you could also make an argument that American society was more upset at the student radicalism of the 1960s than European society was. In Europe, it was naturally assumed that university students would have a radical and experimental phase before going up. In the United States, since university education was more widespread since the get-go, this was not tolerated. College life was supposed to be about getting polished for working for daddy or getting married or building a career. The student radicalism of the 1960s was an unprecedented event in American life. The Europeans expected it a bit more.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Rod Engelsman
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      Conservatives don’t want everyone reading the same books, but think there’s a canon of works that defined modern civilization and civilized society, the long trail of Dante, Shakespeare, Locke, Twain, etc. From a STEM perspective, it’s not different than insisting that students be familiar with Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Fermat, Pasteur, the Curies, etc. The core curriculum in STEM fields is so universal that once when setting up IBM’s PC production line, the only way I could communicate with a Chinese programmer was through amplifier wiring diagrams, which became our shared language, limited as it was. ^_^

      If we dispense with the shared experience and transformational works that defined us, education becomes kind of flaky, kind of like a teen who learns everything they know by watching MTV and browsing popular sites on the Internet. Even if the facts and viewpoints they discover are cutting edge, there’s no blade behind it, no context.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to George Turner
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        George, this is a great comment.Report

      • Avatar Fnord in reply to George Turner
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        The metaphor seems strained. STEM curriculums don’t, generally, include reading Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis.Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to Fnord
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          That’s because in STEM, what is said is more important than the way it is said. For a brief while scientists thought papers should rhyme because beauty is truth – or something – but that was quickly dropped as stupid. In studying how the universe works, the haphazard circumstances involved in discovering the rules is less important than the rules themselves, and much less important than reviewing the wording used to announce the discovery. If you applied STEM focus to Homer all you’d get is “The sacking of Troy exceeded the initial schedule and cost estimates” and the New Testament would boil down to “Don’t f**k with Italians or they’ll kill you no matter who your daddy is.”

          However, I’d recommend reading some of the actual writings of Galileo, for one, as they are a thing of beauty. His treatise on percussion is a work of genius, figuring out how an impact works with both real and thought experiments involving hitting things with hammers, hitting things with falling water, reasoning from common battlefield knowledge involving pikes and swords, etc. It confers an intuitive understanding of impact (and a wonderful example of reason and experiment) in a way that F*t=m*dV doesn’t. For example, he observed that with a sledgehammer a person could drive a large pole into soil to almost any depth, yet no amount of weight piled on top of the pole can do the same. How can a 10-pound hammer do what thousands of pounds of static weight can’t? However, the amount of fundamental knowledge that a student has to learn in a few short years is so vast that spending a week reading about how hammers work is probably not in the cards.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to George Turner
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        Conservatives don’t want everyone reading the same books…

        Just books from a well defined and limited set of options?Report

        • Avatar Michelle in reply to Stillwater
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          You can read the same books and draw far different conclusions from them. But I do think conservative defenders of the canon assume that reading those books would serve as a major counter to the prevailing left liberalism they see as infesting college campus.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to George Turner
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        Where Twain means “Huckleberry Finn”, not “Letters from the Earth” or “The War Prayer” or “To the Person Sitting in Darkness”.Report

      • Avatar Maribou in reply to George Turner
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        I really wish STEM students were required to read “Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Fermat, Pasteur, the Curies, etc.” They aren’t.

        (Do I have <a href="http://www.stjohns.edu/academics/undergraduate/liberalarts"St. John's envy? YES, YES I DO.)Report

        • Avatar Maribou in reply to Maribou
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          OOH, I broke the link AND I used the wrong one. I’m obviously having a stellar day.

          I was talking about THIS St. Johns.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Maribou
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            I have two friends who went to St John’s, one in Arizona and one in Maryland, and they both loved it. I envy it a bit, I admit. The reading list for seniors in particular.Report

            • Avatar James Vonder Haar in reply to Chris
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              St. John’s was, undoubtedly, the happiest and most fulfilling 4 years of my life. (There isn’t a campus in Arizona, BTW; it’s Santa Fe.)

              It’s funny; I wasn’t even aware that the program was part of a conservative backlash until a few years in. If my experience at the college is any indication, conservatives who hope that teaching the classics will produce a student body less inclined to political radicalism will be sorely disappointed.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Maribou
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          While I’ve never read anything by Galileo, I do like the Indigo Girls song a lot.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to George Turner
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        there’s a canon of works that defined modern civilization and civilized society, the long trail of Dante, Shakespeare, Locke, Twain, etc.

        That’s Europe and the United States, not “civilization”. Why those ones? Why not, say, Romance of the Three Kingdoms? Taoist philosophy? Inca civilization? The empire of Ethiopia? Mary Wollestonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman? Major anti-colonial writers like Kenyatta?

        And how do we define “civilization” anyway? I’ve read Locke’s Two Treatises. He says it’s fine to take the land from the the First Nations because they were just living on it, not cultivating it, which is immoral in addition to being untrue; I don’t see what’s civilized about that.

        I certainly don’t believe the Dead White Males have nothing to offer us, but they also certainly can’t teach us everything, and they’re far from all that’s out there. Learning about Europe as if it was all the world fosters insularity, not intellectual discovery.Report

        • Avatar Michelle in reply to KatherineMW
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          This goes straight to the question of what goes into the canon. Typically, it has been the work of DWMs because they’re the ones who had a voice in Western society. Women, minorities, and everyone else–not so much. There’s also an issue with reading canonical works for “truth” alone and not placing them into any kind of historical context.Report

          • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Michelle
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            The historical context of the works is part of what those works regard as “true”. It was Locke’s view that the Americas were the rightful property of Europe, which could put them to more productive use. Is that true? Is the portrayal of desirable male and female roles in The Taming of the Shrew true?

            Over and above that, I don’t see why Shakespeare and Dante are inherently more important to the world, and to knowledge, than many other people. Someone who’s never read Dante but knows a bit about the culture and civilizations and ideas of China, India, the Islamic world, Ethiopia, Mali, the Incas, the Mayas, etc. is better equipped to understand the world than someone who’s covered the Western traditional canon and thinks that’s the sum of “civilization”.Report

            • Avatar Michelle in reply to KatherineMW
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              I guess I see historical context differently. Yes, Locke thought what he was saying was true, but why. What were the views of his peers on these issues? What was the political, social, and cultural context in which those views were formed? Ideas don’t arise out of thin air; they’re part of some larger cultural context.Report

              • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Michelle
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                Right, I misread your earlier post. I do think historical works should be placed in their context, but that should include looking at people who dissented from the predominant views at the time.

                But the question remains: why these specific texts? Why is the fact that large numbers of people were excluded at the time a reason to continue excluding their viewpoints now? At the least, when works from nontraditional viewpoints do exist, it’s worth including some of them. And it’s worth including works and ideas and philosophies from civilizations that weren’t Western.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Michelle
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                If we gave equal weight to a lot of other cultures, the judgements might be pretty harsh or the results bizarre. Should women be allowed to leave the home without a male relative as escort? Must all homosexuals be executed or just male ones? Is it okay to carve someone’s heart out to appease the sun god? (Of course it is). Why is sneaking up on women and children and killing them a greater act of bravery than facing enemy warriors in open battle? Are we supposed to take Bushido more seriously than the Japanese?

                One of the reasons to study Western culture in particular is that after the Renaissance, it sought out knowledge from all the other cultures it came into contact with. Sometimes it was dismissive, but often it looked at other cultures in their own terms, taking them very seriously indeed. In science, the Royal Society was madly studying Asian medicine back in the 1600’s, testing their cures, treatments, and theories. It sought out the works of Islamic scholars, Indian scholars, and ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian writings. The reason we now commonly point to all these other cultures, from Mayan to Malaysian, is that we’ve been thinking deeply about them for centuries.

                In the 1600’s Shakespeare was writing plays about events that occurred almost two thousand years earlier and on another continent, involving parties that had virtually no connection to his own country. Western intellectual heritage starts with Greek, Roman, Hebrew, Egyptian, Persian, and Arabic scholars. Our study of other cultures even starts with studying the great Islamic thinker Ibn Kuldun (who was hacked to death with swords for thinking out of the box). Many Muslim scholars say that even today, if they seriously want to learn about Muslim culture and history, they have to do it in a Western university.

                We compile all this knowledge gleaned from other cultures into a great corpus of work that is our common inheritance, so studying other cultures is just a continuation of the Western dominance in the field. We take it very seriously, too. One of the key differences between Islamic scholarship and Western scholarship was that although the Muslim’s preserved ancient writings, they regarded them as collected examples of man’s horribly imperfect knowledge before Muhammed revealed the truth. In contrast, once re-exposed, Western scholars took Aristotle and Plato seriously.

                So even if you try to focus on other cultures, you’re still a traditional part of the Western machine.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to George Turner
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                This is an excellent – and snark-free? really? – comment George.Report

              • Avatar Michelle in reply to Stillwater
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                I know. This is one of those rare cases where I find myself mostly in agreement with George.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to George Turner
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                “One of the reasons to study Western culture in particular is that after the Renaissance, it sought out knowledge from all the other cultures it came into contact with. ”
                …sounds more like Japan than the West, actually.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to George Turner
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        So conservatives don’t want everyone reading the same books; they just don’t want everyone not reading the same books (which are by European or white American men).Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Rod Engelsman
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      You’ve got to think for yourselves, you’re all individuals!

      Yes, we’re all individuals!Report

    • Avatar Barry in reply to Rod Engelsman
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      “Am I the only one who finds it perhaps more than a bit ironic that the conservative educational ideal seems to involve everyone reading the same books, ascribing to the same religion, and internalizing the same values so that we will all conform to the American ideal of… individualism??”

      No, because (a) conservatism has frequently emphasized conformity, and (b) we’re really talking about the right, not conservatism. These are the same people who want to radically remake the country.Report

      • Avatar Rod Engelsman in reply to Barry
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        To be clear, I don’t find the emphasis on a classical canon ironic, nor do I find a conformist streak surprising. (Actually, I think if we’re honest we’re all a bit more conformist than we would like to admit.) What I think is interesting is listing “individualism” as a value that we’re all supposed to conform to.

        Some more self-aware libertarians recognize this inherent contradiction and will advocate for some flavor of small-group federalism where everyone can just self-sort into the type of society they prefer. But that structure itself is something that all or most in society would need accept. Turtles all the way down.Report

  6. Avatar Brooke Taylor
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    It seems that to a certain degree, every generation holds the belief that it is presiding over the degradation of morals in public life and in education. Such complaints date back at least to the Classical period of Greek history and probably go back even further. With that in mind, the complaints examined in this post are neither original nor worthy of panic.

    Complete cultural relativism isn’t particularly helpful, but neither is clinging to tradition simply because of its status as tradition. There’s little that ticks me off more than seeing someone argue that a tradition must be continued because it is traditional, without stopping to examine whether that tradition has merit any longer or if it hurts anyone. I find a certain amount of relativism helpful within a frame where cultures can be evaluated on their merits.

    With regard to Sex Week, I don’t see anything particularly awful or harmful about it. Students who don’t want to participate don’t have to and those who want information or products may obtain them. On balance, I’m for having more information available, rather than less, especially given the kind of suffering that comes with enforced secrecy.Report

    • Avatar Michelle in reply to Brooke Taylor
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      I guess my issue with Sex Week is the whole corporate sponsorship thing, which seems like one more aspect of universities selling out to the dominant consumerism of our culture. Not that universities necessarily have to resist it, but it doesn’t seem like they need to purposely play into it. To be fair, Harden critiqued this aspect of sex week in his book.

      Also, inviting porn stars to talk about their profession and give sex toy demonstrations seems to be more about titillation than information. Maybe I’m just getting to be an old prude, but I find it way over the top.Report

      • Avatar Brooke Taylor in reply to Michelle
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        Corporate sponsorship can be an issue if not properly monitored. By the time people are of age to attend college, they’re also of age to think critically about how sponsorship impacts or modifies the message of an event.

        I don’t find anything really scandalous about sex toy demonstrations. The culture has moved past seeing sex toys as naughty things that adults are too embarrassed to admit owning. The porn star panel can easily be skipped if it’s not your thing. What I don’t get is why people feel the need to publicly object to this when they can just decline to participate if they don’t think it’s for them.Report

        • Avatar Michelle in reply to Brooke Taylor
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          But is this really something that needs to be done on a college campus? And given Yale’s official stamp of approval? I’d think students could get the same information off the internet.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Michelle
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            It’s one thing to do something online. It’s another to do it in person, and with caring friends, willing to giggle about it.
            When I mentioned Sex Week to a 50+yr old coworker of mine, she grinned and said, “I wonder if I should show up?”Report

  7. Avatar Kolohe
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    So I guess Mr. Harden didn’t?Report

  8. Avatar KatherineMW
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    says:

    I absolutely understand conservatives’ distaste for the licentiousness of the typical university campus. Encouraging young people who have just left home for the first time to disregard everything they’ve been taught in the way of personal moral behaviour lest they be ostracized as a prude is hardly a good environment for anyone from a religious background. Being thrown into a world where you’re the weird one if you don’t drink, or don’t have casual sex, or don’t go to loud parties where both of the above occur, is going to affect students’ behaviour and attitudes – and that’s not a matter of “freedom of choice”, it’s a matter of social pressures.

    I remember when I started university. The student union were handing out condoms. The washrooms had condom dispensers. It was something of a culture shock for a girl coming from a Christian high school who strongly believed in abstinence until marriage. I lived at home during my undergrad rather than on campus, so I wasn’t immersed in it, but I’ve spent enough time with university students to recognize that resisting the social pressures and assumptions at university would have been a challenge if I had been living in residence on a university away from my hometown in my first year. It’s a very reasonable concern, for anyone who believes that young people should be supported in viewing sex as a serious commitment rather than simply a recreational activity.Report

    • Avatar trumwill mobile in reply to KatherineMW
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      says:

      This is an important comment.Report

    • Avatar Brooke Taylor in reply to KatherineMW
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      says:

      I was not raised in a particularly religious household, but your portrayal of a “typical university campus” doesn’t resonate with my experience at a public university at all. Some of my dorm-mates lived this way, but just as many of them had their noses in books most of the time, went to non-drinking social events, and found other ways to spend their free time without being pressured into having sex.

      The thing that conservatives don’t realize is that having birth control available is not the same thing as encouraging people to have sex just because they can. Maybe if you come from a repressive atmosphere where you’re taught that several things in the range of normal human behavior are sinful and shameful, then your experience will differ. But that is the fault of the people who raised you, not the society you’re entering as a young adult.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Brooke Taylor
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        says:

        It wasn’t my experience either, though there do seem to be some places that are like that. So I can understand why there would be some pushback. And the general social atmosphere at college is such that someone with more conservative sexual values is going to be disoriented.Report

        • Avatar Brooke Taylor in reply to Will Truman
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          says:

          So how do we get young adults to a point where they’re able to make good decisions for themselves if they come from backgrounds that haven’t prepared them for living in the world?

          The truth is that several facets of “conservative sexual values” just aren’t that realistic or helpful to anyone. Some are downright harmful.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Brooke Taylor
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            says:

            Some of them will make the “right” (according to their value system) decisions. Others won’t. Doesn’t change the fact that, whether we agree with their value system or not, the college culture often is hostile to that values.

            My own value system is moderately conservative, I guess. I don’t believe in waiting until marriage. I did and do believe that it’s best to have sex in the context of a committed relationship. At my college (which was not especially liberal, as far as colleges go) this put me way off in right field.

            So I can be at least somewhat sympathetic, even while shuddering in horror at places like BYU.Report

            • Avatar Brooke Taylor in reply to Will Truman
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              says:

              My college experience included people who had wild sex lives, but the norm seemed to be people looking for stable relationships.

              As a society, we can respect people’s individual decisions about whether or not to have sex and with which partners without validating those elements of “values” that seek to limit the rights or control the behavior of others. Those are the problematic elements associated with “conservative sexual values.” It is a set of values that equips people poorly for life in the adult world.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Brooke Taylor
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                says:

                Lots of people I knew were looking for relationships, but comparatively few were actually saving themselves for it. Or, to the extent they were, they were actually dang quiet about it. Which I consider telling, in its own way. I certainly wasn’t vocal about my view. Those of a more promiscuous bent were. That they felt more welcome to air their viewpoint than I was to view mine strikes me as significant.

                Whether social conservatives seek to limit the rights or control the behavior of others is going to vary. But by and large, they are culturally outpowered anyway. Which is sort of the point. Their viewpoint is not valued except in their little niche. You might say “Well, it shouldn’t be because it’s bad.” That’s a matter of perspective, though. It’s not any more fun or comfortable for them than the punk rock kid at the country music high school.Report

              • Avatar Brooke Taylor in reply to Will Truman
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                says:

                It’s definitely in our best interest to make sure that colleges are seen as safe places for people with a wide variety of views and who make different kinds of personal choices.

                For people with all kinds of beliefs college is an important experience because it should be teaching them to question the utility of those beliefs.

                There is a real problem with beliefs associated with religious and conservative worldviews being inconsistent with modern morality. When you hold a sex-negative worldview and come from a background where it is acceptable to stigmatize women for things like making responsible reproductive decisions, your discomfort is a sign that you may need to reexamine your views.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Brooke Taylor
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                says:

                sex negativity is not necessarily associated with antifeminist viewpoints. Just saying…Report

              • Avatar Brooke Taylor in reply to Murali
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                says:

                Not exclusively, no. But there is a strong link between the two, at least in the American culture wars.Report

              • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Brooke Taylor
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                says:

                How is thinking that sex is a deep and meaningful thing and should be reserved for lifelong relationships a ‘negative’ view of it?Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to KatherineMW
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                says:

                you view sex outside of those terms negatively. so you thinnk that people should have less of it than they are having as a lot of the sex people have is outside the context of lifelong relationships. Therefore a lot of the sex people have is illicit ergo negative.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to KatherineMW
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                says:

                It’s a grand, fairytale view of life.
                You’ll forgive me if I laugh at you, won’t you?
                Pretend ain’t real, even if we wish it were so.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Will Truman
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                says:

                But conservative sexual views were largely women’s views about sex, that it should be part of a committed relationship, ideally marriage, that men shouldn’t cheat on their wives, and that a girl shouldn’t be a [insert long list of terms women applied to homewreckers, tramps, jezebels, and others who make the walk of shame]. Women settled on most of these values through long bitter experience, but the values were also by happenstance associated with being a housewife and a second-class citizen, which is what they were trying to get away from.

                Men, on the other hand, have never really had a problem with wild co-ed orgies and anonymous sex, especially the free kind. The difficulty was convincing the women to go along with it and not be judgmental.

                As George W. Bush said, “Mission Accomplished.”Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                Men, on the other hand, have never really had a problem with wild co-ed orgies and anonymous sex, especially the free kind

                Actually, men do. If your girlfriend/wife sleeps around, you might end up taking care of someone else’s kids. Insofar as you want to pass on your genes, devoting your resources to someone else’s offspring is suboptimal. Men may want to spend as few resources as they can while maximising their offspring and that goes with the whole wild orgies thing, but they do not want to spend precious resources on other’s offspring which means making sure that their woman doesn’t go for orgies.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Murali
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                says:

                eh. depends on the guy, probably. It’s in some guys’ nature to find that really hot (and expect/want sex afterwards).Report

              • Avatar Brooke Taylor in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                I don’t believe that conservative sexual views were derived by women looking out for their sexual futures. If women held these views, it was because they were socialized with them because they would be rejected as wives and mothers if they did not adhere to them. Society compelled conformity by threatening to exclude women from those few roles they were permitted.

                Throughout history, women have been punished for promiscuity much more severely than men. The expectations placed upon women in marriage were not applied to men with the same zeal because of the power gap between men and women. We’re not yet at the point where we can separate these views from their history as tools of repression toward women.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                ^ Both of those apply to men who’ve reached maturity (mid-20’s or later for most men). For the last eight or so years I’ve been sharing a house with college students of both sexes, and the men are making out like bandits. In one case the time between coitus, dumping the girl, and popping open a beer to make fun of her in front of the guys on the patio was about five minutes.

                At one party I asked the guys why they always pack the house with hot high school girls and then segregate themselves to the living room to play Fifa soccer on Xbox while the girls stay in the kitchen. They said, “We don’t know. We just like having dames over.”

                Actually getting in a relationship was the furthest thing from their minds, a fate more akin to catching herpes than something related to starting a family. I amusingly watched one trying to squirm around a very smart, beautiful girlfriend (a high-school holdover) who was trying to massage him and stick her tongue in his ear while he was, yes, playing Fifa soccer. He would just bob and weave his head so he could see around her. She might as well have been a Labrador retriever.

                They get better as they get older, but for at least most of college they really, really need domesticating, or civilizing, or some kind of “grow the f**k up” shot. Heck, two of the usual partiers had driven their cars inside occupied living rooms before they were juniors, blowing a .20 or some such, and one talked his way out of spending a single day in jail even after he backed his truck out of the house, tore across the yard, and drove a mile away before his radiator overheated. No lessons were learned.

                Fortunately both my current housemates, not long out of college, are in very committed relationships and might as well be married. It’s far less entertaining for me, but also far less stressful. One is a girl living with an electrical engineer from New York who is about to go off to Marine Corps officer training in Quantico, and both are so level headed and mature that grandparents probably hang their heads in shame. The other is a geologist who has been inseparable from his girlfriend (who graduated in business and marketing) for two or three years now.

                It’s not really a question of male versus female behavior, it’s a question of mature behavior versus indulgent teen behavior whose main focus is throwing out all the common-sense rules that adults made them live under before they got to college. Young children sometimes ask “Why can’t every day be like Christmas?” Freed of restraints, our college culture is answer the question “Why can’t every day be like spring break?”

                As an aside, my neighbor won his fraternity’s “pledge of the year” award on spring break by bonking a girl he’d never met on top of a fire ant mound, which sent them both screaming and running naked into the hotel swimming pool, and then following that up a short while later by doing another random girl on top of a pool table in the middle of a crowd of people. I guess that’ll teach a lesson to the male patriarchy!

                A few years after that he straightened out to become a very serious engineering student who will make a very nice husband for somebody, and though not overtly ashamed of his freshman and sophomore escapes, he expresses no wish to relive them, filing them under “drunk, stupid, immature things I have done.”

                I college isn’t to impart wisdom, even the hard-won wisdom of juniors and seniors who’ve been drunk and naked on a hotel’s pool table, what good is it? There are a hundred generations of people who’ve been there, done that, and wrote about the aftermath from almost every possible perspective. Incoming students are going to hear “You’ve got to do the naked pool table thing!” from their drunk frat brothers. They don’t need a university to give them three credit hours and a pat on the back for it.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                Eh. bullshit. These were things derived from hard experience in terms of Societies Dying Out.
                Removing the “having sex makes babies” is a good way to relax a lot of rules…Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Will Truman
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              says:

              “Some of them will make the “right” (according to their value system) decisions. ”

              … and some of them will have their agency removed, their decisions made for them.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Brooke Taylor
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        says:

        This experience matches my experience at a mid-sized private university, total of 10,000 combined undergrad and grad students. Some had wild sex lives, others were in relationships of various stability, and others no relationships at all. There wasn’t any particular pressure to get involved in a wild sex life. My campus was a dry one, it was technically a Methodist school, and fraternities were not allowed on campus so that might have contributed to the relatively calm social life.

        If you go to a big university, the sheer number of students is going to give a lot of anonmity and release from pressure. The smaller schools are the ones with more pressure to conform, especially at the ideological Evangelical colleges and universities. A liberal college never kicked somebody out for not having a sex life. At least to my knowledge.Report

  9. Avatar GordonHide
    Ignored
    says:

    “Under the dictates of moral relativism, no view is any more valid than any other view”

    I note that there is a general view that moral relativism has been written off. I think what has been written off is largely a straw man. Very few moral relativists contend that no moral code of conduct is better than any other and that thy are all equally valid.

    The more modern view of moral relativists is that when it comes to moral codes of conduct it’s a matter of horses for courses. Like all human traits morality evolves according to what appears to have the most suitability for the group operating the particular code. Although moral relativists think there is no standard manner to compare different codes of conduct they accept that tradition, religion and culture will cause some societies to persist with moral ideas which have become defunct for the circumstances that that society now finds itself or which are not helping that society compete with others which have more suitable codes.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to GordonHide
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      says:

      But that’s not real moral relativism because there is one universal principle underlying the whole thing. The norms at any place and time are just a sparticular application of the more general rule.Report

      • Avatar GordonHide in reply to Murali
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        says:

        And what do you think that universal principal or general rule might be?Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to GordonHide
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          says:

          Very roughly, it would be something like:

          An action is morally right iff it conforms to a rule or principle, the general acceptance of which contributes to human flourishing.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Murali
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            says:

            So does that mean that the weak grouping together to outlaw the strong using force against them individually is good or not?

            I’m quite certain this might actually take you in some pretty dark directions. We don’t live in a fairytale world, after all.Report

          • Avatar GordonHide in reply to Murali
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            says:

            @Murali
            “An action is morally right if it conforms to a rule or principle, the general acceptance of which contributes to human flourishing.”

            All varieties of moral relativist conform to a code of conduct which has rules or principles. It’s just that some of them believe there is no objective or other measure which can mark the system they conform to as any better or worse than other systems. Like everybody else they would find life rather difficult if they did not conform to the moral code of conduct of the society they live in.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
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        says:

        Murali, I think you’re highlighting a distinction between philosophical and anthropological/sociological moral relativism. An empirically motivated moral relativism will begin with an appeal to evidence and descriptions as justifying the lack or absence of any universally shared cultural norms. The philosophical conception of it is much more stringent though, and more stringent that an anthropological moral relativst intends: that necessarily there are no general or universal (or objective…) moral truths.

        The anthropological moral relativist could at that point respond in the following way: even if there are some shared moral beliefs, they don’t hold necessarily but only contingently. Of course, I don’t think they would answer that way since the empirically-based moral relativist isn’t concerned with those philosophical concepts to begin with. He or she would just point back to descriptions of certain practices and norms that are accepted by one culture but rejected by another.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          Isn’t Anthropological moral relativism merely methodological? As in isn’t it merely the dictum that anthropoloogists should describe and not judge. And that therefore, they should operate as if no system of morality was better than any other.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
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            says:

            I think so. Anthropologists are in the business of observing states of affairs and then arriving at descriptive theories that explain them. (General theories, so to speak.) So value judgement like “this society is normatively better than that society” are excluded. But certain normative judgments sorta follow from comparing good descriptions based on the conditionals that precede them: if you want a society to look this this as opposed to that, then *these* cultural norms do a better job of realizing it than *those* cultural norms. The norms themselves are valued instrumentally, but the ends may be promoting or maximizing certain values. (The anthropologist strictly speaking isn’t gonna be advocating for various ends, tho. That’s not his domain.)Report

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