Thursday, April 28, 2011

Maybe You Can Legislate Morality After All ...?

My office is mostly women.  A chatty bunch, they are usually either talking about American Idol,  child-rearing, or the weather.  The other day I heard one of them talking, or preaching, about how heinous it was for so many old men to be looking at a certain 17-year-old female celebrity.  She didn't mentioning about lust or drool, she actually used the phrase "look at".  Something like, "They shouldn't be doing that.  Don't they know how old they are?  She's not 18, she's 17."  She was met with nods and murmurs of agreement.

Never mind the ominous tones of thoughtcrime and sexcrime.  What was weird was the statutory tone of this woman's moral judgement.  To declare that someone's date of birth (to the year) determines who we should be "looking at" (perceiving sexually) seems like an extremely bureaucratic way to make a moral-ethical judgement.  I'm not questioning the statutes; I know that Loki's wager makes it difficult to get across the need to draw a legalistic distinction between child and adult where no bright-line distinction exists, psychologically.  It makes no sense to speak of informed consent when someone is too young to truly be informed. 

The point is, why exactly is an expedient legal provision turning into grounds for actual moral condemnation?  We have grown accustomed to (or given up fighting) the notion that anything an 18-year-old girl consents to is perfectly acceptable, since we don't want to be accused of "censorship" (apparently criticism is censorship when directed at pornography).  So now we have to hit back in a manner patterned on a legislature - pick a numeric dimension (17 versus 18 - not "leering at girls" versus "appreciating beauty", because neither of those concepts could be defined in regulation) and pass a resolution.

Bureaucratic states pass on their patterns to their subjects.  People begin to think like bureaucrats, to set their judgement aside, to confuse concepts of regulation and custom, acceptance and passivity, legal action and moral condemnation.  

(If you're curious, I think they were talking about the magnificent Selena Gomez, who is now actually 18 or 19, but that isn't relevant since the ladies were pretty sure she was under 18.)


Simon Grey said...

A better question is: how did this "expedient legal provision" come about in the first place? Most codified law is a reflection of already existing ethical norms.

Justin said...

Old women getting angry at men for being attracted to younger women... hahah, how cliche!

Simon, in many states, the age of consent has just be raised in the last decade, from 14 or 15 in most cases (in accordance with what Nature decrees, I would add). It is very much part of the larger feminist War Against Men.

Olave d'Estienne said...

I suppose the deal with statutory rape laws is, shotgun weddings are technically a form of vigilante behavior. It's interesting that a big part of Pride and Prejudice is the mother's worry that her husband will fight the rake who threatens to dishonor their daughter. She is worried her husband will die in the duel.

Duels probably killed a lot of the men who would protect their families, as well as killing a lot of rakes. Making a custom into a systematic, bureaucratic, bright-line reg is often life-saving measure. The negative side effects are often pretty subtle. This is a case in point, maybe.

Simon Grey said...

"It is very much part of the larger feminist War Against Men."

@Justin- that has nothing to do with my assertion. My assertion is that the legal code generally reflects social mores, not the other way around. What causes the social mores in the first place is of no concern to me or my argument.

latté island said...

I don't think the women in your office are inspired by the law, in other words, the law is based on social norms, not the other way around.

So, for instance, women also talk disapprovingly of Madonna's friendship with a 20 something male dancer. Obviously, he's legal, but everyone understands that Madonna wouldn't have a chance with someone like him if she weren't in a position to help his career. So in a sense, he and people like him are being exploited, regardless of their gender and even if they're legal.

In the case of some harmless ogling by older fans, there is still some exploitation. Look at how some child stars turn out. Maybe on some level, being the object of everyone's fantasies has some really bad effect on them.

Note to feminist-bashers: I'm a dirty old woman myself and "look at" people I'm way too old for, so don't lump me in with those moralists, okay?

Olave d'Estienne said...

What got to me was the mantra "She's only 17, she's not 18." If social norms forbid even lustful glances at 17-year-olds, you'd think they'd also forbid the gang-banging of 18-year-olds by queues of professional dirty old men. Yet noöne dares to criticize or even question pornography any more, because the media demand mainstream ethics, not workable ethics.

What I mean is, social norms don't operate like regulations. They usually operate on a common-sense basis, e.g. "teenagers need a little room to make questionable decisions without being permanently scarred by the consequences". This obviously won't spring 18-year-olds out of boot camp either, but again, that's a reg, not a more. Mores operate on case-by-case bases, and treat young love differently than, for example, anonymous sex in a car. The law doesn't.

I think I have am tired of people who can't stand TV but won't turn it off. The watchers who condemn it on moral grounds are even more confused than the people who condemn its aesthetics. Do you know what I mean? Institutional schools (public or secular private education), television, and radio are basically pools of thoughtless sexuality. At this point it's hard to maintain your own decency if exposed to that filth.

Too often "If you don't like it, turn it off!" comes from people who like TV and can't stand the criticism. My battle cry is, "If you don't like it, you may have taste and/or ethics. Turn it off for your own sake."