Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Columnist Watch: Conservative Case for Public Morality

This past Sunday I argued that there was a consistent thread connecting the conservative themes of distrust of central government intervention, the case for a right to privacy, and the argument for the need for high standards in public morality even if we ourselves fall short occasionally. The common thread is the primacy of culture as a focus of social progress as opposed to politics and bureacracy.

In the Guardian (UK) the commentator and liberal David Aaronovitch argues that conservatives have in fact been right about the linkage decay in moral standards and the liberal agenda of normalizing all behaviors.

Like Moore, Sontag identifies "America's ... increasingly out-of-control culture of violence" in which sex, entertainment and physical brutality are intertwined. And she extrapolates: "This idea of fun is, alas, more and more - contrary to what Mr Bush is telling the world - part of 'the true nature and heart of America'." The evidence, she writes, is everywhere, "starting with the games of killing that are the principal entertainment of young males", and extending to the phenomenon of "hazing", in which initiates to new colleges, schools or barracks are subjected to sexual teasing and - sometimes - violence. These acts, and "what formerly was segregated as pornography" are now being normalised, says Sontag, "by the apostles of the new, bellicose, imperial America, as high-spirited prankishness or venting".

But who - an intelligent conservative might ask - championed sexual freedom if it wasn't us on the liberal left? Who made films full of shocking violence and endless sex? Who wrote the 80s and 90s books on how to bring up your kid? If there has been a decline of the sort that Sontag laments, do the liberal "we" not share any responsibility? Didn't the conservatives warn us that all this would happen? [emphasis added]

Why yes we did. Yes, we did.

Now to be fair I need to state up front that I advocate moral standards in many areas that I myself have transgressed or promoted the transgression of - partially because I understand how perfectly easy it is to step over that line and the self-discipline needed not to do it for petty indulgence or self-gain. Among other things I repeatedly get involved even when trying to avoid doing so in love-triangles. This could be of either persuasion - two men pursuing the same woman, or two women with me. Through long internal struggle I suppose I've come to the conclusion that I'm probably emotionally "typed" or patterned so that I'd be happiest and most stable in a bigamist, polygamist, or similar type situation. In fact, unhappily every time I'd tried to reduce my relationships to a traditional pairing it has collapsed them every time. This is one of the reasons why I'm still single.

Nonetheless I formally and absolutely oppose the legalization of bigamy or polygamy. This is because I realize that greater social harm would be done by the irresponsible advantage taken by such sudden license by the unscrupulous, rather than my own proposed judicious usage of such a legal norm. Could I envision such an America in the future where such behavior was considered normal and legal? I could, but only after a natural and culturally oriented evolution of values. This is despite my own difficult struggle to attempt to fit in as a traditional couple and failing miserably in doing so.

What I would advocate is the decriminalization of legal arrangements that would essentially guarentee similar rights and financial arrangements as granted by spouses. Things such as power of attourney, specific written living and post-death wills, legal arrangements with insurance companies, etc. while possibily unweildly could be standardized into legitimate alternative arrangements. I would note that this is precisely GWB's avowed position on the topic.

So despite the fact that the legal standard has contributed to my personal romantic unhappiness and the social norm would view me as abberant - I was amused to note the defenders of homosexuals retreating to the position in the recent debate that at least it was better than polygamy (which was typically ranked with incest and beastiality often) - I would argue that attempting a legal imposition of a statuatory solution to my personal problem is both bad law and bad special interest politics.

A free society must also be a responsible one, and we cannot simply legislate morality. It just doesn't work. One can rightfully legislate protections against overt or systematic discrimination and assault, but one can never force acceptance. And that is the conservative position.


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