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16. September 2009

Sexuality in America and the probability of harm

Filed under: philosophy — admin @ 18:15

John Stuart Mill, in his famous book On Liberty, laid the foundation for Western libertarian law when he introduced his harm principle.  In short, he believed that the state should only be able to restrict someone’s liberties when that person is harming someone else, and that paternalistic legislation for the perceived good of that person (based upon another’s moral stances) should be prohibited at all costs in order to defend individual liberty.  According to Mill and modern libertarians, the state should let others alone when dealing with seatbelts or usury or drug usage or consensual sex.  Liberals agree that the last three of these should be allowed under the same reasoning.

Because of Mill’s influence, as far as “modern” ethical allowances go, the individual can observe an interesting pattern in respect to practices forbidden by law.  In short, behaviors that directly and negatively impact an involved person 100% of the time are outlawed. In cases like these, the inflicted harm is commonly and unanimously understood to exist, and also cannot exist independently of the behavior that caused it. As such, rape, theft, murder, fraud, and assault are the types of behaviors that few people argue about legalizing, strictly because a case cannot be made for a lack of harm.  Someone directly suffers every time one of these acts is committed.

But what we find is that although no serious argument for legalizing the previously mentioned behaviors can be made, as soon as the chance of negative impact becomes lower than 100%, the laws in question become more debatable.  We can find that throughout history, attempts have been made to legalize or prohibit alcohol even though alcohol cannot be proven in all cases to negatively impact anyone other than the drinker himself (although this writer wholeheartedly agrees that consumption of alcohol has no truly positive benefits for anyone involved).  And even though the majority of drunk drivers–dare I say it?–arrive home safely, the mere chances of a profoundly negative impact were moving enough to ban drunk driving.  Even in the world of economics, people argue about what kind of lending standards to enforce so as to prevent a possible short-changing of investors, and thus the economy on the whole. All these things happen because there’s a chance–meaning under 100%–that someone will be hurt.

But curiously, Westerners find this debate existent in practically every aspect of life except within the realm of sexuality.  I believe this is due to two reasons: that Westerners are whorishly sexual and hate sexual restrictions, and that sexual interaction–unless in cases of rape or pedophilia–is an unspoken agreement between two consenting adult parties. These are both poor reasons to discard philosophical consistency.  Also worth noting, conservative philosopher Roger Scruton mentions that Mill’s harm principle vaguely defines “harm,” leaving room to classify the effects of sexuality as harmful, and at the very least more harmful than the sexual liberation movement of the 1960’s portrayed it to be. 

For instance, unless a person is willfully ignorant, they understand that the ramifications of virtually unrestricted sexual license cause more visibly chronic harm than pleasure, and can be shown to have a direct impact upon social stability and poverty.  For instance, there are a plethora of sexually transmitted diseases in existence (many with the outcome being no less tragic than a fatal car crash), but no laws to punish the transmitters even though the receiver does generally not agree to be infected.  Children may be abandoned to live in poverty-stricken single-parent neighborhoods with higher crime rates, but there are no laws to make a father stay with his child and keep his son from highly increased likelihood of jail-timeScruton would also add that our lack of concern for the obvious impacts upon children implies that adult license has preference over the harm inflicted upon the youth.  This is a new morality altogether, consistent with our abortion policies, which gives privilege to certain age groups while denying protection to the most vulnerable.

Furthermore, a person cannot commit fraud, but for some reason we are allowed to lie to everyone present at our weddings (as well as the state) when we commit adultery and divorce, even after receiving thousands of dollars in gifts for what is marketed as permanent marriage.  Even in the case of pornography, the consumer’s eventual wife is denied any sort of normal and healthy sexual relationship and left feeling unwanted, as her partner instead opts for unlimited sexual fantasies with everyone except the woman he promised to cherish.  Contrast this last sexual rule with the seat-belt law to see how logically inconsistent we are (who does car-related death personally harm, and how?).

The point here isn’t just to show that virtually unrestricted sexuality causes problems, but that it causes the same kinds of problems that other banned behaviors do, and yet we turn a blind eye to them and pretend that infringing upon sexual rights is a sign of theocratic dominionism. At this point, the question asked should not just be whether or not to further restrict sexuality by creating laws against transmission of disease and child abandonment and divorce, but rather whether Western liberals and libertarians actually create laws according to what John Stuart Mill wrote in the first place.  To not ask this would be to choose our stances with moral and philosophical inconsistency when they  threaten our biological urges, as though the human being with any potential for sexual stimulation is incapable of serious thought.

So what will it be?  Are we dogs, or are we men?

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