Posted on | September 16, 2010 | 80 Comments
Yesterday, I took notice of Rachel Maddow’s snide attack on Christine O’Donnell for having had the temerity to say, in 1996, that masturbation violates biblical injunctions against lust. It goes without saying that Maddow is heedless of biblical injunctions (e.g., Romans 1:18-32), as is her right in a free society, yet what struck me was the MSNBC hostess’s easy assumption that every viewer shared her disdain.
Maddow offered no argument of her own about the propriety of masturbation; she merely played video of O’Donnell’s comments and smirked. Salon’s Justin Elliott takes a similar approach toward O’Donnell’s statements (quoted in a 2003 article by Cheryl Wetzstein of The Washington Times) about coed dormitories at colleges and universities:
Dorm life has evolved into a blending of the sexes, from coed buildings to coed floors, coed bathrooms and now even coed rooms.
“What’s next? Orgy rooms? Menage a trois rooms?” asked Christine O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Wilmington, Del., which publishes a college guide.
All this coedness is outside normal life, said Miss O’Donnell. “Most average American adults don’t use coed bathrooms – if they had the option of a coed bathroom at a public restaurant, they wouldn’t choose it.” Coedness “is like a radical agenda forced on college students,” she said.
Like Maddow, Elliott presents O’Donnell’s opinions as self-evidently laughable. The reader is assumed to believe that only someone “nutty” could hold such views.
Is this so? Are coed facilities at universities — including coed bathrooms and coed dorm suites — so non-controversial that no intelligent person could plausibly criticize this policy?
Young people may be forgiven for not knowing that, until the 1960s, many of the nation’s most prestigious universities — including Harvard, Yale and Columbia — were all-male institutions. When Hillary Clinton graduated from Wellesley, it was a women’s college.
Historically speaking, then, coed campuses as a ubiquitous phenomenon in higher education are a fairly recent development. Coed dormitories are an even more recent innovation and, it must be noted, are by no means ubiquitous in 2010. The last time I checked, my alma mater (Jacksonville State University in Alabama) still had separate men’s and women’s dorms. Even on campuses that have coed dorms, these are merely one housing option, and many students choose to live in single-sex dorms. (If indeed they stay in campus housing at all, off-campus apartments being now preferred by many students.)
When I was entered Jax State in 1977, the visitation policy in dorms was still enforced rather rigorously. Women could visit in men’s rooms (and vice-versa) only during certain hours. Having a female guest in your room after-hours — “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” — could result in disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion.
At issue in all such discussions is the question: What is the purpose of a university?
Do universities exist primarily to facilitate the sex lives of students, including teenaged freshmen and sophomores? Or is it possible that parents who pay up to $40,000 a year to send their children to college hope that administrators will provide an environment where students may focus their attention on getting an education? Insofar as parents generally wish to see their own values upheld by their children, do parents who disapprove of promiscuous sex have no interest in whether university housing policies facilitate such promiscuity?
Don’t students themselves also have an interest in avoiding unwanted intrusions on their privacy that might occur in a coed environment? Indeed, does student-housing policy involve questions of personal safety, or was the alleged gang-rape of Megan Wright merely an isolated incident?
Noting the decline in academic standards in public education, Newt Gingrich once described modern high schools as “subsidized dating.” Have we now reached the point where universities may be described as “subsidized fornication”?
These are serious questions, deserving of serious discussion, and addressing such questions was certainly within the purview of Christine O’Donnell’s position as a spokeswoman for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. (The controversy surrounding her employment at, and departure from, ISI being a subject we may explore later.)
Elliott’s sneering atttitude toward O’Donnell’s criticisms of coed dorms implies that — like her advocacy of premarital chastity — no reader could (or should) take such matters seriously. She’s just a kook.
Well, say hello to another kook: Wendy Shalit, whose 1995 Commentary article criticizing the coed policies at Williams College led to her 1998 book, A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue, which I heartily recommend.
I’d wager that O’Donnell’s views on coed facilities were influenced by Shalit’s arguments, and if Justin Elliott has never acquainted himself with those argument, this is his fault and not O’Donnell’s. I would similarly bet that O’Donnell’s advocacy of chastity (including the avoidance of masturbation) was influenced by Josh Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye, another book I heartily recommend.
Of course, Wendy Shalit and Josh Harris are not candidates for the U.S. Senate, and O’Donnell’s opinions about coed dorms and masturbation are irrelevant to the campaign in Delaware. It is politically convenient for Justin Elliott and others to pretend that Christine O’Donnell is some sort of fanatical freak — a right-wing Christian theocrat! — but their dismissive attitudes ought not deceive intelligent and skeptical people.
Sneering contempt for old-fashioned virtue is a very dangerous thing. It is remarkable how far gone our popular culture is in this regard. All sophisticated people are now supposed to scoff at the notion that young people can refrain from premarital intercourse, much less be “masters of their domain,” as the Seinfeld show once phrased it.
So casual is our cultural assumption that “everybody’s doing it” that we are shocked when anyone dares suggest we shouldn’t do it. The only acceptable morality is now amorality — an agnostic indifference to virtue — and our society has become strikingly intolerant toward those who publicly dissent from the New Sexual Orthodoxy.
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil . . .
— Isaiah 5:20 (KJV)
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
— II Timothy 4:3-4 (KJV)
In warfare, it is generally an error to cede the high ground to one’s enemy, and soi-dissant “conservatives” who refuse to defend the Judeo-Christian moral tradition are committing a strategic error. It goes without saying that O’Donnell is scorned by God-hating wankers like Charles Johnson:
As I have elsewhere argued, “Thou shalt not steal” is the most persuasive argument against the Welfare State. Biblical injunctions against adultery and covetousness are part of the same moral fabric that condemns government-abetted expropriation of wealth. Advocates of economic liberty therefore should not lightly disregard this common ground of morality they share with social conservatives.
Conservatives should not unnecessarily intrude discussion of sexual morality into the political discourse. It ill behooves us to adopt the self-righteous posture of pharisaical crusaders seeking to use government as a scourge for the chastisement of sinners. Neverthless, in situations where traditional morality is under assault — as when liberals sneer at O’Donnell’s advocacy of virtue — conservatives ought to rally to its defense, however unfashionable such morality may be in our decadent era.
In fact, I would argue that an occasion like this is a teachable moment, permitting conservatives an opportunity to remark on the increasing decadence of our culture. O’Donnell is now being ridiculed, you see, because she once dared to question the modern liberal idolatry of Progress.
“We know that we have made no discoveries, and we think that no discoveries are to be made, in morality; nor many in the great principles of government, nor in the ideas of liberty, which were understood long before we were born, altogether as well as they will be after the grave has heaped its mould upon our presumption, and the silent tomb shall have imposed its law on our pert loquacity.”
— Edmund Burke, 1790
“My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.”
— G.K. Chesterton, 1923
The Cult of Progress involves the assumption that everything new and modern is better than anything traditional and old-fashioned. It is the credulous acceptance of this unexamined premise that provides an ideological foundation upon which liberals have erected their syllogisms of Hope and Change.
Christine O’Donnell’s willingness to speak out in defense of moral virtue ought to be applauded by conservatives, and deserves respect from all decent citizens of humane goodwill.