Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Liberal guilt?

Everybody's favorite Pennsylvania Senator is at it again! Remember those Catholic priests who got into trouble a couple of years ago for raping children for decades? Like any reasonable person, I've spent the last few years trying to figure out who's fault it was that those clergymen used their positions of respect and authority to violate young children. Well, Rick Santorum has cleared it up for me. Who's fault is it? Mine! That is to say, it's the fault us New England liberals who support "sexual freedom" and "academic, political, and cultural liberalism".
Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, refused yesterday to back off on his earlier statements connecting Boston's ''liberalism" with the Roman Catholic Church pedophile scandal, saying that the city's ''sexual license" and ''sexual freedom" nurtured an environment where sexual abuse would occur. ''The basic liberal attitude in that area . . . has an impact on people's behavior," Santorum said in an interview yesterday at the Capitol.


  1. I have nothing coherently raging to say about Rick Santorum right now, so I'll just remark that I find it amusing that you consider yourself a New England liberal now. :-)

  2. That's one of the advantages of being in my awkward position -- I can be a New Englander, a Texan, or a Californian, as each label suits my needs. In the right context I can even claim Michigan if I want to.

  3. I am thoroughly impressed. Since when does liberalism accept pedophilia? Hmm ..

  4. Whew! Us California liberals dodged a bullet there.

  5. I remember when some people were criticizing mainstream American values in a similar way, saying they provided the environment that brought about 9-11. I remember simplistic conservatives getting all upset and calling those critics all sorts of things. More reasonable people pointed out that we need to distinguish between the fault of the terrorists in their immoral actions and the fault of those who perpetuate a culture that the terrorists despise (insofar as any of the values they despise are wrong, and I'm the first to admit that some of them are and some of them aren't).

    Now I'm trying to figure out how what you're saying here is any different from the role the simplistic conservatives played in the first conversation. Someone makes a claim about an enviroment that might have made some evil actions more likely, and your first response is to treat it as if the claim is something else, a blaming of those who fostered that environment in lieu of blaming the people who did it.

  6. That's a good point, Jeremy.

    To really give a full response, I'd have to look at the things the 'simplistic conservatives' actually said. But think I'm willing to stand behind at least most of what I've put in this post.

    Santorum doesn't appear to have used 'blame' language. I might be guilty of at least slight exaggeration when I describe Santorum as directly attributing the FAULT to Boston liberals. But if I am guilty of that, I'm only glossing over a very small step.

    Here's what Santorum gives us:

    (1) Y occurred, and we all agree it was terrible.
    (2) X causally contributed to Y.

    This, along with the background knowledge that Santorum is generally unfriendly to X makes quite reasonable an inference to:

    (3) X is partially to blame for Y.

    I also think it's relevant just how absurd the alleged causal connection is. What's the mechanism according to which a liberal culture will make it more likely for priests to rape children?

  7. Might I also point out that the most salient changes in our attitudes is our increased tolerance of homosexuals and sexual relations outside of attempted procreative relations. Anyone who tries to link these things to the rape and molestation of children is a rotten bastard. I cannot help but think (though I might be a tad bit uncharitable here) that Santorum is trying to link or does not himself fully grasp the distinction between homosexual relationships (which are normatively speaking on par with heterosexual relationships--I'll just say that to ruffle some feathers and because it is true) and pedophilia. I don't see why we tolerate people like him in polite society.

  8. I think Santorum would accept that these priests know what they're doing is wrong, so it's kind of uncharitable to interpret to him a view that entails otherwise. An extremely simplistic interpretation of his statements is to think he means that acceptance of homosexuality has led to acceptance of priests raping male children. These will be priests who think both actions are wrong (or they wouldn't be Catholic priests) and are doing this despite their view that it's wrong. It's highly unlikely that anyone, even someone very stupid (and I'm not saying Santorum is) would think that acceptance of homosexuality would lead to acceptance of rape by those who don't accept homosexuality!

    I think the mechanism is supposed to be something more like this. More liberal attitudes to sex have made sex a more frequent subject of discussion and have led to more exposure of priests to things they hadn't been exposed to in the past, both things that are ok but still sex (which for celibate people is worth avoiding) and things that are related to sex that are bad (like rape). I don't think the connection is all that implausible. It's not very plausible that it caused it, but it wouldn't surprise me to find out it played some role in increasing the rate of pedophilia among Catholic priests.

  9. I should clarify. It's not just exposure to things. It's a greater saturation of things related to sex.

  10. Santorum actually describes the mechanism beginning with Boston's liberal culture and terminating with priestly pedophilia as follows:
    ''If you have a world view that I'm describing [about Boston] . . . that affirms alternative views of sexuality, that can lead to a lot of people taking it the wrong way."
    What he is saying is quite clear, and doesn't have anything to do with more discussion of sex in society, as Jeremy suggests on Santorum's behalf. He is saying that when liberals take a permissive attitude towards homosexual relationships, some priests mistakenly conclude that it's okay to rape boys.
    By the way, I'm pretty sure that priests have historically had plenty of exposure to discussions of sex in the confessional.
    Leo Iacono

  11. What a back-slapping leftie self-congratulation fest! 'Hey, what a dumbass that Santorum! Aren't we luckey we're all enlightened and smart and all that good stuff? If only everybody thought like us, and we could eliminate all the people who think like Santorum, we'd have a utopia!'

    Can it really be that all the full-of-themselves highly educated lefties haven't even considered, as good social scientists would, that the effects the sexual liberalism of the '60s and '70s have had on American society are complicated, sometimes leading to things the hippies screwing in the mud might not have intended or liked? It is generally accepted that higher STD rates post-60s are correlated with sexual attitudes liberalizing, that higher divorce rates (with the negative impact on children) are directly so correlated, and that the emergence of various sexual identity groups once considered beyond the pale has been bolstered by these attitudinal changes.

    Professor Kinsey presented pedophilia as a potentially positive sexual activity, and indeed, although the Claytons of the world would like to deny it, groups like NAMBLA have had a place at the left fringe of the gay liberation movement for some time now, along with the bestiality people and a few other interesting groups. The little problem with attempting to normalize deviance is trying afterwards to justify new boundaries for the 'abnormal.'

    Santorum is simply indicating that the acceptance of various forms of deviant sexual identity within the priesthood likely had a connection to the broader sexual climate change in the country. This is uncontroversial to anyone who knows how culture works--research is required to show precisely how this connection might work, but to imagine that the claim is somehow so absurd as to be unworthy of any consideration a priori is an indication of someone locked in a particularly airtight ideological prison.

  12. to imagine that the claim is somehow so absurd as to be unworthy of any consideration a priori is an indication of someone locked in a particularly airtight ideological prison.

    I'm not trying to convince anyone of my side of this debate here. I'm drawing attention to what seems to me and many of my friends and readers to be an offensively extremist view. I'm not trying to establish that it's such a view, which is why I don't argue for that conclusion.

    Obviously, the question of whether liberal attitudes toward sex is likely to increase abuse of children is an empirical one, and of course I can't argue against it a priori. I'm not trying to. Likewise, the question of whether there was ever a holocaust is an empirical question, or whether black people have a 'criminal gene'. If I'm talking to someone who's going to take one of these offensive empirical claims seriously, then I'll have to argue with him using data if I want to bring him to my point of view. But if I'm just talking to people who already see things the way I do, "look at this terrible view being espoused" is a perfectly good response.

    Again, I recognize this as an empirical question, and I'm open to being swayed by evidence. But Santorum presents none (so far as I know, anyway -- I could be wrong about that, as I admittedly haven't spent lots of time researching this one). It's not something to be thrown around lightly -- imagine if one of us ivory tower types said that the rise of evangelical Christianity is a cause of, say, increased worldwide terrorism. If I say that without evidence, I act both offensively and irresponsibly. When Santorum blames liberalism, he does the same.

    What's more, the mechanism suggested seems very implausible:

    The little problem with attempting to normalize deviance is trying afterwards to justify new boundaries for the 'abnormal.'

    I don't care about what's normal or abnormal, I care about what's ok and what's not ok. And the line is perfectly clear and not at all ad hoc: sexual relations are ok when and only when all parties are mature and informed and consentual. That, I take it, is a statement of a liberal attitude toward sex. I would find it surprising if it turned out that this attitude were more likely to lead to child rape than, say, all sex outside marriage is sinful.

  13. How much have you thought about any of the things you write about on your blog? Your ideas on this seem unbelievably naive and uncritical.

    Do you REALLY not know that one of the central things that came under criticism by the sexual radicalism initiated in the 1960s was the idea that it was transparently obvious what was "ok" and "not ok" in the sexual realm? It's "perfectly clear" what is a "mature," "informed," "consensual" sexual encounter?? If this is the case, why is there so much debate and disagreement about date rape, statutory rape, etc.?

    Your naive definition of determination of "ok" and "not ok" in this realm sounds, oddly enough, at least in its dogmatic certainty, just like what the sexual culture in the US was more broadly like PRE-1960s. The 1960s changed that, for better and/or worse. Santorum is simply noting that one of the elements in the 'worse' category, at least for him, has to do with making it more possible to argue that e.g., sex with people under the age of 18 could be "ok."

    You seem to be assuming, in setting up your distinction between gay sex and pedophilia, that the latter consists always and everywhere of violent use of force. It does not. Young children willingly participate sometimes in sexual acts with adults, especially when those adults are in positions of power or influence over them. The same is true of women who acquiesce to sex with men who have influence over them.

    Santorum is noting that the moral loosening of the matter of defining such situations, part and parcel of '60s sexual liberation, is probably connected to the priest scandal in the Church. I find it hard to believe that a graduate student can't see the reasoning there, whether you agree with his intuition or not.

    Forget your politics. You just don't seem to have thought very hard about some of the things you write about here.

  14. Sure, there are borderline cases which are more difficult. So I'll concede that it was a bit of an overstatement to suggest that the line between ok sex and bad sex is always "perfectly clear". But it's often perfectly clear, and it's definitely perfectly clear which side of the line child rape falls on.

    It seems to me that Santorum's view only makes sense if the liberal view on sex is that there's no real right and wrong, and that it's ok for everyone to selfishly pursue whatever carnal desires he finds himself with. That would be a recklessly irresponsible view, and it is right to condemn that view.

    I don't know anyone who holds that view.

  15. You say: "It seems to me that Santorum's view only makes sense if the liberal view on sex is that there's no real right and wrong, and that it's ok for everyone to selfishly pursue whatever carnal desires he finds himself with. That would be a recklessly irresponsible view, and it is right to condemn that view.

    I don't know anyone who holds that view. "

    No. That is NOT the only way Santorum makes sense, and you haven't been paying very close attention to anything I've said on this. The "liberal view on sex" doesn't have to be "do what thou wilt" in order for it to become morally murky enough to make affirmative cases for e.g., pedophilia.

    Have you ever seen any of the NAMBLA stuff? They don't believe they are raping anyone; they believe young children are, per Freud, sexual beings just like adults and that restricting sexual access to them is just another totalitarian way in which reactionaries and Christians want to repress us all.

    It is THE SAME LANGUAGE that the gays used, that the people who want to be total whores and screw everyone in sight with no responsibility use, etc. THE SAME LANGUAGE. That same language came from the 1960s and the sexual liberation movement. And there are MANY, MANY people in this society who hold that view on sexuality--'if I like it, and in my view I'm not hurting anyone, it is OK.' For Christsakes, this is what Kinsey argued too. Have you had a look at him? Have you read anything on this subject beyond the newspaper articles you comment on?

    If you don't know these things, you have no business having an opinion on the matter. You're uninformed. Go read something about the sexual politics of the '60s and the cultural implications afterwards before you write any more on this.

    This is a waste of my time. I'm done.

  16. There's almost an interesting dialectic here. I guess the relevant question is, what are the liberal attitudes toward sex that are at issue? Of course you can point to liberal groups who have atrocious views about sex. They may form these bad views maliciously, or they may just have false beliefs about, say, child psychology, as Sgt. Emall suggests. None of that is relevant. (Likewise, I could point to conservative groups who have atrocious views about sex.)

    Senator Santorum says that "the basic liberal attitude" in Boston played some relevant causal role in this child abuse. Unless Sgt. Emall is prepared to argue that the basic liberal attitude in Boston is one that permits pedophilia, his reference to fringe groups that do countenance that practice is off-topic.

    I'm a defender of sexual liberalism, but not of the type that permits pedophilia. I think I'm a pretty mainstream sexual liberal in that respect. So what's the 'basic liberal attitude'? Sgt. Emall characterizes it thus: 'if I like it, and in my view I'm not hurting anyone, it is OK.'

    That is: a sex act is ok for me to perform if (1) I like it, and (2) I don't think it hurts anyone.

    I think that some sexual liberals might describe their views in this way, but only if they're careless about the way they use their words. I do not think that this represents a view anywhere near the sexual liberal mainstream, and I do not think that this is the basic liberal attitude in Boston or anywhere else in the country.

    An important distinction needs to be drawn in (2). The version that Sgt. Emall gives us is a statement about the subject's own beliefs. That's the mistake. (2) should read: "it doesn't hurt anyone (whether I believe so or not)". The difference may look small, but it's not.

    Suppose I'm a good sexual liberal, and I'm contemplating sex act Y. So I consult my checklist. Do I like Y? I introspect and answer Yes. Do I think that Y hurts anyone? I introspect and answer No. Do you see the problem? The second requirement isn't supposed to be one that we can get to via introspection; it's outward-directed. It's not about my beliefs, it's about other people. That's why, as a good sexual liberal, it's incumbent upon me to actually come to an informed belief about whether my sex acts will harm other people, and when it's not clear, to err on the side of caution. To do that, I look at other people and the evidence around me; I do not merely introspect.

    For Sen. Santorum and Sgt. Emall to make the case, then, they must establish one of two things. Either: (a) I am wrong about the way mainstream sexual liberals in Boston think of sex, and actually, they prohibit only those actions which the actors BELIEVE to be harmful; or (b) Although mainstream sexual liberals in Boston prohibit actions which harm others, regardless of beliefs, this requirement is still sufficiently weak that it is likely to have contributed to the rape of children by Catholic priests.

    This is a waste of my time. I'm done.

    I often wish I had more diverse opinions on my blog. One of my favorite occasional visitors is a conservative evangelical Christian philosopher who keeps me honest and whose perspective I welcome very much. Our disagreements, which are many, are uniformly characterized by civility and mutual respect, and often involve increased mutual understanding and appreciation for alternative points of view.

    It is obvious that these things are unimportant to you, Sgt. Emall; worse, it seems that you take extra care to be as insulting and demeaning as possible. All the more pity, because it is clear that you are not an idiot and are at least reasonably well-informed. You think there's a problem with political attitudes in academia? Then show some guts and some respect and have an intelligent, rational conversation, man to man. Grown-ups know how to disagree with one another with throwing in insults every other sentence.

    I'm glad to hear you're done. I hope you mean it. A friend suggested that I ban you from commenting on my blog. I don't want to do that, and if you respond again, I will reply again if I have something to say.

    But I don't want you to respond. I hope I never hear from you again.


  18. come on nice and continue the banter.