Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ben Shapiro, the author of the new book Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism is Corrupting our Future.
FP: Mr. Shapiro, welcome back to Frontpage Interview.
Shapiro: As always, it’s an honor and a pleasure!
FP: What inspired you to write this book?
Shapiro: There were a few things that really pushed me to write "Porn Generation." The first was the fact that I have three younger sisters, and I got sick and tired of having to drive them past pornographic Joe’s Jeans ads on Sunset Blvd – the billboards depict naked rear ends with only the Joe’s Jeans logo in the corner. My sisters can’t watch TV anymore because of all the raunchy broadcasting. They can’t watch most movies because of the oversexualization. They can’t listen to today’s popular music – even once-safe pop tarts like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera now compete to see who can become the bigger cultural disgrace. They can’t surf the Internet, for fear that a pop-up porn ad might attack. But that’s not the big deal – the big deal is that my sisters live in a society where they can’t avoid having to see things they shouldn’t have to see. Because no matter how scrupulous they are, as long as their friends view this stuff, they have to hear about it. As long as Jenna Jameson can post billboards for her lesbian sex videos out in the open, they have to hear about it.
It’s not just about my sisters of course; I went to college at UCLA, and I’m currently studying at Harvard Law School, so I’ve seen a fair bit of the "live and let live" cultural ideal in action. The "live and let live" cultural ideal can’t be summed up better than one of my classmates did: "People do what they want to do. It doesn’t bother me." On an individual level, my classmate wasn’t necessarily wrong. The problem is that there’s a difference between personal sanctioning of immoral behavior and demanding that society sanction immoral behavior. If society sanctions immoral behavior, it’s simply defining deviancy down, as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it – ignoring the fact that immorality is taking place. And that affects everyone in the society. The goal of the social left is to make pornography public and traditional morality private, and that’s exactly what has happened.
FP: Sorry, I would just like to ascertain something. I grew up in quite a liberal environment, so I am a bit confused here. When you say your sisters "can’t" watch TV or movies or listen to music, what do you mean? Why "can’t" they? I’ll be honest, I personally don’t see the harm in a lot of this stuff you refer to, even for young people, and I am also happy how my parents raised me and my siblings, for while they were traditional in some ways, they also believed it to be harmful to insulate a young person too much from the world, even from what puritans in our society regard as the "dirty" elements. In my family, the sound of a bad word or the sight of a breast didn’t mean the whole world was going to collapse. All extremes are dangerous. What do you mean that they "can’t"? Are they not allowed? Or they themselves don’t want to or what?
Shapiro: My sisters are 18, 15, and 11. Of course, they "can" watch television in that they have the ability to. But if they want to avoid raunch and social libertinism, they shouldn't partake of the pop culture, and they don't. Watching enough of this stuff does change kids' views and affect their lifestyles. For example, a September 2004 survey published by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that "adolescents [12-17 years old] who viewed more sexual content at baseline were more likely to initiate intercourse and progress to more advanced noncoital sexual activities during the subsequent year, controlling for respondent characteristics that might otherwise explain these relationships."
Viewing sex on television was also likely to change children's worldviews about sex and morality: "This high-dose exposure to portrayals of sex may affect adolescents' developing beliefs about cultural norms . . . . Social learning theory predicts that teens who see characters having casual sex without experiencing negative consequences will be more likely to adopt the behaviors portrayed. Although televised sexual portrayals can theoretically inhibit sexual activity when they include depictions of sexual risks (such as the possibility of contracting an STD or becoming pregnant), abstinence, or the need for sexual safety, this type of depiction occurs in only 15% of shows with sexual content. In other words, only one of every seven TV shows that include sexual content includes any safe sex messages, and nearly two-thirds of these instances (63%) are minor or inconsequential in their degree of emphasis within the scene. As a result, sexual content on TVC is far more likely to promote sexual activity among US adolescents than it is to discourage it."
I do agree that complete insulation is unhealthy to an extent, simply because at some point or another, teens will have to enter the "real world," where they're surrounded by this stuff day in and day out. And if they enter that world without knowing about its dangers, they can easily be sucked in. However, there's a difference between inoculating kids to the harmful effects of oversexualized pop culture and infecting them with the disease.
FP: Why, in particular, do you target the "porn generation" for criticism?
Shapiro: I think that the "porn generation" – people 10-30, I’d say – has had more opportunity than any generation in world history. We’re the wealthiest; we’ve had the benefits of convenience; we’ve never truly had to face difficult foreign policy issues (until 9/11). We’ve had it pretty easy. And yet, for some reason, we’re largely aimless, apathetic, and narcissistic. I think a lot of that is due to lack of a moral system – in a world with no right and wrong, no good and evil, fighting for a cause is certainly a lot less romantic. While the 1960s flower-power generation was just as morally relativistic as today’s generation, they still believed in a misguided secular utopianism. When that idea caved away, new generations were left with no hope for a better world; they couldn’t fight for a non-existent ultimate truth, and man-made solutions were just as bad.
It’s a lot easier for people of the "porn generation" to tolerate everything. It means making no enemies, caring less (which looks cool), and enjoying the benefits liberal society has to offer without feeling hypocritical. It’s a comfortable way to live, but it sucks dry the values upon which America has been built – values of faith, family, traditional morality. These are the values that guide us. Can we survive without those values? Perhaps. But we’ll be more French than American if moral relativism prevails. I don’t see how we can erode the traditional bases of morality without the entire structure crumbling upon us.
As for those of us predisposed toward traditional morality, we’ve been told that our views have no place in the public square. We’ve been told we’re "intolerant" fascists who want to throw our weight around. A girl from my Harvard Law class personifies the resulting mindset: "There are plenty of things about pornography that make me uncomfortable, but I would be much more uncomfortable with those things being prohibited." Of course, if we’re barred from the public square, it is the immoral who win the day. Someone always loses when you’re defining a culture: in our case, it can either be the moral or the immoral.
FP: You blame radical feminists in particular for the rapid decline of our culture. Why?
Shapiro: Radical feminists were correct about one thing: throughout history, men acted badly – and throughout history, women were held to a higher standard. But instead of telling men to act with more virtue, feminists told women to debase themselves. And so you have disgusting human beings like Madonna being upheld as feminist icons, because she’s aggressive about sex and refuses to be held to moral standards. It’s ironic that the women who are most willing to cater to the basest of male desires are considered the pinnacle of feminine achievement by radical feminists.
The most recent manifestation of the radical feminist ideal can be seen by watching "Sex and the City." The show is insanely popular (now in syndication with TBS), and revolves around the promiscuous sex lives of four single women in New York. A female classmate from Harvard Law told me that the "Sex and the City" idea of femininity has now taken over among "porn generation" women. The biggest problem with this phenomenon is that sex is not the same for women as it is for men; it is unquestionably more emotional for women than for men. As she stated, "Definitely at Harvard, and I think at other colleges as well, there’s this idea that feminism is about women being allowed to do whatever they want and being able to act like men. Talk about sex like it’s not a big deal, talk about how to enjoy it, have one-night stands. It becomes a chatty thing to talk about. I was a part of a female social club at Harvard, and that was the topic du jour – sex. It made people feel empowered, cool. I was not used to that at all, coming from a small town, and coming from a family that didn’t talk like that at all. I always thought that it was a little hollow. That in the end, women don’t think about sex the way that men do, and that people get hurt a lot. But you were supposed to act like you don’t care. I think that women biologically do care. And that women can’t maintain these no-commitment relationships without getting hurt."
Men in general are quite willing to go along with the radical feminist interpretation of the female ideal – how many men are going to complain about promiscuous women who are aggressive about sex? The radical feminists cater to the lowest common denominator for both genders.
FP: Sorry, I don’t quite get the reference to Madonna. I myself am not a great fan of her as a person, nor am I a great fan of her music – although I did like the earlier Madonna. In any case, it cannot be denied that she is a great artist in her own way and that she appealed to millions. And no matter what we think personally, we can’t enter that realm of the magic in art when an artist touches his/her listeners, viewers etc. But sorry, I am a bit befuddled by the "disgusting" reference. Why do you call Madonna a disgusting human being?
Shapiro: No one is arguing with Madonna’s talent or star appeal – she’s popular for a reason, though I dislike her music. I call Madonna a "disgusting human being" because I’m really not sure how else to put it. She has exploited her body and her sexuality for money – just view her pornography book, the creatively titled "Sex"; she has taught millions of young girls that true femininity is about being sexually aggressive and promiscuous; she despises traditional morality and all that it stands for.
I think her Britney Spears/Christina Aguilera lesbian threesome on the MTV Music Awards a couple years ago really tells you everything you need to know about her. Even Madonna won’t let her kid near Madonna: she had little Lourdes removed from the amphitheater during her performance. The ratings that show received – it garnered 10.7 million viewers and the highest ratings from the 12-to-34 crowd of any cable show that year to date – tell you all you need to know about Madonna’s cultural impact. The Washington Post, hardly a right-wing newspaper, noted the trend among schoolgirls to imitate Madonna and Britney, exclaiming: ""Try this on, Mr. and Mrs. America: These girls say they don’t know what they are and don’t need to know. Adolescence and young adulthood is a time for exploration and they should feel free to love a same-sex partner without assuming that is how they’ll spend the rest of their lives." This is disturbing stuff, and Madonna is both the cause and the beneficiary of the culture she has helped to shape.
FP: Ok, well, you and I might have some different sensibilities. I don't quite fit in, I guess you could say, with people who arrogate the moral high ground to themselves on these aspects of life. In any case, I don't think either of us is really gung-ho about getting into a long heated debate about Madonna in this interview. I’ll tell you this though: it always struck me that Madonna was/is a very dark person. Why would you constantly want to have crucifixes and rosaries in your videos and be using them in combination with images of blood, sexual vulgarity, etc.?
So let me take this into a certain direction: what interests me is that Madonna can denigrate the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ in her videos by doing all kinds of obscene things while portraying their images. And the whole world just shrugs. If Christians protest, they are told to get a life, to be more tolerant, etc. But imagine if tomorrow some new female pop star started copying Madonna’s behavior with Islamic images. Let’s say instead of Jesus and Mary, she utilized images that clearly meant she was referring to the Prophet Mohammad, to Allah, etc. while doing some vulgar sexually-charged dance.
Why do I have a feeling that there would be a huge double standard? First, she would get all kinds of death threats. But the people who would defend Madonna and tell Christian critics to be "tolerant" would not defend this new star, nor condemn the threats against her. Actually, they would condemn her for being so insensitive and rude and for insulting other religions and cultures, etc. I don’t think one leftist would step forward and say: "Good for Christians for being so tolerant and for not threatening the life of a performer like Muslims do."
I know a lot of leftists and when I discuss this topic with them, a very strange dynamic always ensues. For instance, when they start priding themselves on how they are for gay rights, which I also support on various realms, I tell them what the Old and New Testaments say about homosexuality and ask them what they think. They get all incensed and indignant. And then I ask them: are you willing to condemn these religions for this view? And they say yes and then they say the most insulting things about Christianity and Judaism. Then I bring up the Koran and start telling them what it says about homosexuality. Suddenly their moral indignation dissipates. They get this blank look on their faces and then they say nothing. Then I tell them what the Palestinian Authority does to homosexuals. I tell them what happens to homosexuals throughout the Islamic world. Suddenly all their gay-rights bravado goes out the window and they want to talk about other things. You can’t get one critical statement out of them. If anything, they start saying how we can’t condemn other cultures and religions etc. It’s simply mind-boggling.
Can you talk about this phenomenon a bit?
Shapiro: It is a strange phenomenon. Social liberals say that all points of view must be tolerated, except for those that condemn immorality. This is an inherent conflict in social liberalism - you can't be tolerant of every viewpoint while maintaining that your own is better or more valid than that of a religious person. So social liberals do the best they can to rectify this internal conflict by acting diligently myopic: they criticize the religion closest at hand while "tolerating" those that don't influence policy in this country. They can't let Judeo-Christian morality get away with "intolerance," but they can let Islam off the hook. That's because Judeo-Christian morality provides their main opposition in the United States. But Islam is "just another philosophy" at large out there, so they won't say anything bad about it.
I think race comes into play here as well. Social liberals hold another value dear to their heart: the deep and abiding belief that those of Non-European descent deserve more tolerance than others. If Islam were the dominant religion in England, per se, I think social liberals would have less tolerance for it. There's a subtle racism here.
FP: You are quite critical of college campuses. How come?
Shapiro: When I was writing my first book, Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth, I quickly realized that the unifying theme would have to be the rise of moral relativism. The rampant promiscuity and the absolute embodiment of the sexual "live and let live" ideal on campus are perfect manifestations of moral relativism. There’s no such thing as right and wrong – everything is "exploration of self."
Of course, college administrators design campuses to promote that kind of thinking. Take a bunch of 18-year-old boys and girls, put them in co-ed dorms, tell them to share bathrooms, give them no supervision, and hand out free condoms – what do you think is going to happen? It’s astonishing what college kids are told about sex when they get to campus. Orientation seminars are geared toward teaching entering college students to lose their inhibitions about little things like values. Professors take the place of parents, and supply a framework of moral relativism to students. Most of these kids – barely out of high school – aren’t ready to stand up to that kind of moral assault. (It’s the same kind of assault, by the way, that they’ll get with regard to capitalism, race, and patriotism, among other topics.) Tom Wolfe’s Charlotte Simmons is a fictional character, but just barely.
FP: Ok Mr. Shapiro, you are obviously quite upset about what you see as the disintegration of moral values in our society, about the normalization of pornography etc. I must say that I am quite liberal on many social issues so I get a bit mystified in terms of not only some of the things you are upset about, but also what it is exactly that you propose to do about it. Do you want the government to get involved? Do you want to ban certain kinds of programming? Do you want to illegalize pornography? Rap music? What happened to free choice and the free market?
What if I like a certain show that you don’t? I grew up in Hip Hop culture for instance and I enjoy rap music. Are you planning to create a society where I will be unable to buy, listen, watch and dance to Jay Z, Fifty Cent and Snoop Dog? And what if I like watching J. Lo and Mariah Carey dancing in their videos on television and showing their beautiful bodies the way they do? Are you working for a society that will illegalize them doing that and me watching it? What if they are caught videotaping a video in a manner you deem "immoral" and what if I am caught with one of these music videos? Will I be punished?
Have you thought through the implication that something has to be done about your moral indignation? Who are going to be the self-appointed arbiters of morality in your proposed solutions? Who will make the rules about punishments?
Mr. Shapiro, I am not saying that I support moral relativism. I agree that there are many unfortunate things happening in our culture. Yes, it is tragic, for instance, that so many young people today have only one theme and value on their minds – which is usually sex. And it's not that I think that sex is necessarily the problem, but that it exists in a vacuum and is not accompanied, let us say, by the love of and yearning for knowledge, or by the aspiration towards something noble, or by the respect for history and literature, or by the indulgence in the spirit of generosity, etc. Of course there have to be some rules and laws, but they have to be established very very carefully, since there are always great costs (sometimes frightening ones) to the effort to legislate moral behavior and values.
Freedom is freedom my friend. It is up to individuals and families to make their decisions. And you can complain, but I get very skeptical (and worried) when someone starts making criticisms on these social and moral issues on the assumption that they have solutions. Sorry, that’s when frightening images of the Taliban and Ayatollah Khomeini start floating though my mind.
Shapiro: I certainly understand your concerns, and I share many of them. However, I believe the government should be involved in many of these areas, particularly the regulation of pornography. The people of each state have the right to place restrictions on obscene or indecent material - surely the founders never sought to protect such material on the federal level, and they never meant to do so on the state level (since the First Amendment did not apply to states). In fact, for the vast majority of our history, such restrictions were in place, and only activism by the Supreme Court stopped such restrictions. And the restrictions that were in place were far heavier than those I propose myself.
I do not believe there is a natural or blanket right for people to view or distribute whatever they please without consequence. The bottom line for me is that the people must be the final arbiters of morality; that is the purpose of representative democracy. Almost all legislation is to some extent shaped by moral concerns; just view statutory rape laws, or euthanasia laws. Even amoralism is state action - it took action by legislatures to wipe many of the old laws off the books, and it takes legislative willpower to keep them off the books. Everyone wants to legislate their morality; the only difference between the libertarian position and the right-wing position is that the libertarian position requires concerted inactivity by the government. I think Rick Perry was logically correct when he recently stated, "One of the great myths of our time is that you can't legislate morality . If you can't legislate morality, then you can neither lock criminals up nor let them go free. If you can't legislate morality, you can neither recognize gay marriage nor prohibit it. If you can't legislate morality, you can neither allow for prayer in school nor prevent it. It is a ridiculous notion to say you can't legislate morality. I say you can't NOT legislate morality."
I agree that regulations must be created very carefully and crafted very specifically to prevent encroachment upon types of activity and speech most of us would endorse - engagement in poetry, art, science, education, etc. But in a republic, we must trust the people to defend their own liberties and their own morality; imposition from above by the Supreme Court, for example, seems to me far more of a threat to the republic than allowing the people to shape their own society. Iran and the Taliban's Afghanistan were both oligarchic, tyrannical regimes, and it is because of their oligarchic nature that they oppressed their own people. Were they republics, it would be very difficult to argue that the people themselves were victims.
In fact, allowing people to vote on these sorts of issues is the very purpose of federalism. Certainly Massachusetts and New York will never pass statutes restricting access to pornography, and in all likelihood, Georgia and Alabama will. That is their right. I merely advocate legislative solutions which some people may support. Certainly the libertarian position on legislation and morality has just as solid a right to be heard in the public debate. And I'm glad there are people out there advocating the libertarian position, because the debate is fascinating and vital. My problem is that those who champion morality have been shut out of the debate in the name of PC "tolerance."
FP: Ok. Yes the "moral" have been shut up in the debate. I’d be more comfortable with the term "religious conservative" or something of that nature, as it is a bit dubious when people break the world into the "moral" and "immoral" camps and then somehow put their position under the former category.
But yes, it is true that the socially conservative position has been censored on many realms of our culture. And the other extreme we are now headed to is that no one will even have the right to say what constitutes an ideal family unit any more, or what any kind of right and wrong is. It is excruciating to find a balance in a society that holds individual freedom up to an ideal, which our society does and should do.
In any case, let me turn to you as a person for a moment Mr. Shapiro. You are a young man with quite a few impressive achievements already under your belt - to say the least. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Tell us about your youth, your intellectual journey, why you became a conservative, who influenced you, why you are such a successful person at your age, etc. And tell us what your primary concerns are today and also what your future plans are.
Shapiro: I think that unless those who champion morality are allowed back into the debate, we can expect to become France within the next few decades. And I mean France, in all senses of the word: morally, economically, foreign policy-wise. It's clear that if we continue to allow "live and let live" to erode our traditional morality, we'll end up with the "tolerance" of immorality they have in France.
Economically, I truly believe that vibrant capitalism cannot survive in an amoral, atheistic society. The causal link between loss of traditional morality and decline of capitalism is unclear, but the correlative evidence throughout world history is very strong. Perhaps with loss of belief in traditional morality comes a tendency for people to fall into social utopianism, what Thomas Sowell has called "the quest for cosmic justice"; that ideology desires equal results instead of equal opportunity, since opportunity can never be distributed equally due to natural difference in ability levels. For those who believe that cosmically we are all equal, and that it is up to us what to make of our abilities, I think capitalism can flourish more naturally.
In terms of foreign policy, I fear that loss of traditional morality will turn us into appeasers. The left consistently values mercy over justice, fervently believes in "cycles of violence," and wishes that American power were less predominant. That's because in the view of the social left, our values are no better than anyone else's. The left loves the United Nations because there is no overarching morality; everyone has an equal say. Social conservatives are proud that America's morality is superior, and we believe in American power to promote that morality globally.
As for me, thank God, I've had a lot of opportunities. I grew up in a very middle-class household in Burbank, California - my family (dad and mom, four kids) lived in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house for most of my childhood. I'm very close with my parents, who are truly great people. Both of them were Reagan Republicans.
But it wasn't until I went to college that I became really politically active. I attended UCLA at age 16, and I first encountered the campus oppression of the left. I decided to fight that oppression by counter-protesting leftist rallies (sometimes by myself, as with a 1,600 person affirmative action rally), reading up on politics and economics (I'm a huge fan of Henry Hazlitt, Thomas Sowell, Robert Bork, and of course David Horowitz and Ann Coulter, among many others) and becoming an opinion columnist for the UCLA Daily Bruin. I was fired from the Daily Bruin after about a year and a half, after I ripped them on the radio for failing to expose the terrorist connections of the Muslim Student Association. Meanwhile, I had sent some of my columns to Creators Syndicate in the hopes that perhaps they'd decide to syndicate me. Lo and behold, to my wonder, they called me up and asked it I'd write a weekly column for them. I've been writing the syndicated column for three years now.
When I first got the column, I began emailing some of my favorite conservative columnists, one of whom was David Limbaugh, author of Absolute Power and Persecution. He emailed me back, and we quickly became friends. He also told me that if I decided to write a book, he'd act as my agent. And so my first book, Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth, was born. It was published last year, and jumped to the top of the Amazon.com sales charts (with the help of FrontPageMag.com, of course).
I'm currently working my way through Harvard Law School, where I just finished my first year. It's a fun place, but it's very clear that they're teaching judicial activism. It's the basic problem Justice Scalia points out in his book, A Matter of Interpretation: they teach us common law, which requires judges to make law rather than interpret it. In a statutory system, that simply isn't good enough. Faith to text is seen as old-fashioned at Harvard Law, which I find somewhat disturbing, and faith in legislatures is seen as naïve, which I find even more disturbing in a republic.
As far as success goes, I can't take credit for it beyond working my tail off. I've been very lucky, and I know a lot of very kind people.
My primary concerns for the future of this country can be boiled down to one major concern: loss of American values. Those values (in short) are free enterprise, equality of opportunity, virtue, protection of innocence, and recognition of good and evil. Each of those values is under assault from the left in this country. Porn Generation is about the assault on the last three values in particular. I fear that the moral in this country are retreating from the field of cultural battle, instead focusing on their own families. Unfortunately, even islands of morality will be swamped in a rising tide of immorality.
Personally, I know I'm going to continue pushing. There are so many young people out there pushing for the same things, too: members of the College Republicans, Students for Academic Freedom, young people with values and morals. And thank God, we have the support of a strong and growing conservative base. If we're motivated, we can restore America's innocence and replenish American vitality.
FP: I must be honest with you, I cringe when I hear people talking about "bringing back innocence" to anything or anyone. In any case, restoring some kind of supposed "innocence" to a society almost always entails some pretty dark methods. And to be honest, I am not really sure that there was ever any kind of "innocence" anywhere at anytime. There was once "innocence" in American society? When was this exactly? When shows like Sex and the City were not on television? That’s when there was a lot of innocence? The human condition is what it is. But perhaps we are on different pages. I get your overall argument and I do agree that the "moral," as you call them, have been unfairly and despotically shut out of the debate.
Shapiro: I certainly see the risks of attempting to restore America’s innocence; I feel that the risks of inaction or apathy are greater. I do believe that there was a more innocent time in our history, at least with regard to sexual matters; "Leave It To Beaver" didn’t target traditional morality the way "Sex and the City" does.
On the other hand, it is possible that you’re right, that America was never an innocent place, that private perversion always lurked beneath the surface. But at least public perversion used to be off limits. If public perversion were once again off limits – and I think the only way to keep public perversion off limits is to limit private perversion by recreating societal stigmas or standards – that would return power to the hands of the people and the parents.
FP: Mr. Shapiro, I am not completely sure who "the people" or "the parents" are that you refer to, whether they are really some kind of homogenous and monolithic group, and whether they all necessarily somehow fall into the "moral" camp that certain individuals appoint themselves as being part of.
Yearning to bring back "societal stigmas" is a prescription that comes accompanied with its own heavy costs -- as does social liberalism. While social stigmas might solve some of the problems you point to, they will engender all kinds of other problems. And you should know this if you are a conservative, since you are aware that the human condition is what it is, and that the balance of good and evil, and the tragedy inherent in it, is always with us, and that with every tipping of the scale, one side goes up while something on the other goes down.
So just to ask a few rhetorical questions: when you yearn for a time of social stigma when "morality" ruled and "perversion" was frowned on, does this include when puritanical societal "norms" ostracized and demonized gay people and made them live their lives in secret shame and agonizing guilt? Does it include when many human beings were confined to a lifetime of loveless, miserable and abusive marriages -- in which they were never able to reach their own human potential and personal happiness because society stigmatized divorce? Was that a better and more "innocent" time? Was it a better time when a woman could be abused by her husband, or vice-versa, and have to stay in hellish circumstances because society's social stigmas made leaving a marriage impossible?
You are surely aware, of course, that the supposed golden era of social stigmas went hand in hand with the monstrous sexual abuse of young innocents who could never speak about their victimization, since labeling sexual abuse for what it is, and who was perpetrating it, was simply unthinkable at that "innocent" time. Look at what many Catholic priests perpetrated in the Church (although obviously not most Catholic priests, and obviously not just Catholic priests). Thank God we now live in a time when many social and moral stigmas have been erased and that sexually deviant authority figures who at one time could hide behind their venerated positions and societal "taboos" can no longer be invincible and exempt from criticism.
Thank God we live in a time when back-alley abortions are not common place, or when newborns are not buried or hidden in walls because social stigmas no longer demonize young unwed mothers and give them no choices. Thank God we live in a time when women have various options and are allowed their own personal, as well as sexual, self-determination, and do not have to live their lives having the definitions of their own tastes and desires and needs imposed on them by some kind of "moral" social order.
Do these great freedoms and rights come with their own negative consequences? Of course. And Mr. Shapiro you have rightly given an account of them. My only point is let’s not idealize any return to some kind of perfect innocent age. Tragedy and the capacity for evil arise in all human situations. Yes, I think, for instance, that it is crucial to have optimum ideals in our society and for us to see a child having a father and a mother in his life as one of them. And I recognize that the social liberalism I support will, with a slippery slope, lead to the negation of this reality, and already has in so many cases. The bottom line I am stressing is that there are no easy or simple solutions for all of this. All the equations come with costs. And yes, some roads are better than others, but we have to keep an eye on who is getting hurt -- something that leftists and liberals never do.
Mr. Shapiro, when you say that "private perversion always lurked beneath the surface" in America, I am almost afraid to ask you what you deem to be "perversion." Suffice it to say that human beings have flesh and we are all quite familiar with the dark consequences of the ugly tradition of demonizing it. Again, I am not promoting moral relativism; there are, of course, boundaries beyond which there is something we can legitimately call perversion. I am just putting up a cautious stop sign before there is an assumption that asceticism is some kind of ideal and that there is something shameful about sex and physical love – yes, sorry, even outside what the moral guardians say it should be. Alongside the camouflage of purity and goodness, a rigid adherence to any kind of Victorian Puritanism, as history and empirical reality have demonstrated, comes with a dark perversion of its own kind, accompanied with great violence and abuse.
Shapiro: You make a number of excellent and important points here; let me try to respond to them one at a time. First off, when I say that removing perversion from the public sphere returns power to the hands of the people, I mean that power is returned to the hands of what you term "the ‘moral’ camp"; I believe that the "moral camp" constitutes the vast majority of the people. If my assessment is incorrect, of course, the people may vote to leave things as they are, and to pursue the "live and let live" ideal. The culture may also vary widely from state to state. That is the principle of federalism. I’m quite willing to trust "the people" – all of the people – to decide what the prevailing morality should be.
Here’s the bottom line: no matter what type of public culture we create, someone is at a disadvantage. If we create a culture of standards based on traditional morality, those who fight traditional morality will be disadvantaged in bringing up their children. If we leave our culture as it stands, those who advocate traditional morality will be disadvantaged. The choice is as simple as that. And I firmly believe that as things stand, those who advocate traditional morality are being assaulted by a culture driven by an elite minority.
Your critique of the social stigmas era is well taken. Yes, things were not perfect. In particular, your statements about child and spousal abuse are on the mark – indeed, thank God that those stigmas are no longer prevalent; I should say that in my own opinion, religious tradition never should have allowed such activity to have gone unpunished. However, I believe that acceptance of homosexuality as normal, of divorce as normal, of single motherhood as normal, of premarital sex as normal, of promiscuity as normal – all of these have corrupted our society. Society does not exist to make everyone feel good all of the time – it exists to ensure the happiness of as many people as possible. And I highly doubt that the majority of people are happier in their private lives today than they were 50 years ago.
I cannot agree with your comments on abortion; normalizing abortion has certainly made it far more common, and it remains just as horrific morally as it was when it was attempted in back alleys. As far as sexual self-determination goes, I wonder how far that idea really extends. Are we willing to sanction consensual incest? Consensual bigamy? Consensual pedophilia (which is becoming increasingly possible considering the earlier and earlier sexualization of children)? Every society must draw lines at some point. The only question is where to draw them. Sexual self-determination cannot be an absolute value.
Once again, I agree that no solution is simple here – and I am really quite happy that you point out some flaws with a return to a more traditional moral climate. People will not all agree on what must be done, or what should be done, and you make an eloquent defense of the other side of the issue. I simply hope that Porn Generation will help begin a vital national debate.
FP: As I said earlier, I do see the danger in normalizing many behaviors. For instance, as I mentioned, I think it is important for society to see the heterosexual family unit as an ideal optimum. Everything is not equal. At the same time, I find repulsive the notion of a moral police that stigmatizes people whose behaviors do not pass the "moral" litmus test. I recognize that there is no easy answer here and that it is excruciating for a society that values individual freedom and virtue to find a balance.
Let me clarify on abortion: in my previous comments I wasn’t promoting abortion; I was saying that it is a good thing that young women in our modern society who get pregnant are not terrified to be single mothers because of social stigmas and therefore have several decisions available to them, that’s all. While I do see abortion as a personal tragedy and as an unfortunate wrong, I have no easy answers to this extremely complex issue -- but it is difficult to envision how you can have a just and democratic society without giving women the right to choose.
In any case, Mr. Shapiro, it was a pleasure to have you with us. Aside from our disagreements here today, you have obviously done an excellent job in your book and it is admirable that you are fighting for some of the things you are fighting for. Someone has to say these things, especially when they have been shut out of the national debate. You have been very effective in showing the destructiveness of many portions of the liberal agenda. And this is nothing new for you of course. Your last book, Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth, was also a crucial and vital piece of work. So thank you. We wish you the best and we hope to see you again soon.
Shapiro: It has certainly been thought-provoking -- thank you very much!
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