One of the difficulties in a debate is that people can throw out all manner of outright wrong and nonsensical assertions and analogies. The difficulty then is really deconstructing the entire assertion and demonstrating why the entire premise, logic and argument is wrong. Try doing that within 7 minutes when there are many many more of them.
So it was with some trepidation that I checked out the ST's feature on the whole pro-abstinence and "pro-contraceptive" (I prefer to called it pro-realism, logic and science side) "debate". On the whole, it was very well written with the standard 'objectivity' stance taken by the paper.
But one of the quotes caught my eye and I think I might have very nearly strained my eye muscles with all the eye-rolling I did. Mr Andrew Kong, Senior Executive of Family Life Society said, "Promoting abstinence is promoting a virtue, whereas promoting condoms is promoting a lifestyle. Say you tell a teenager, 'You should try to abstain, but if you can't control yourself, use a condom.' That's like saying 'Don't cheat, don't steal, but if you can't help help yourself, don't get caught." (Beat) I hope that was not representative of the sort of logic we should be expecting from such groups. Sure, you can go ahead and make your point but this is simply a failure of analogy.
1. "Promoting abstinence is promoting a virtue, whereas promoting condoms is promoting a lifestyle." What the hell does this mean? I mean all forms of lifestyle choices are not virtuous? That's like saying, eating vegetables is a virtue, whereas eating burgers is a lifestyle. It's hollow argumentation.
But also, how is abstinence a virtue? In a sexually permissive society where sexual relations are not seen as taboo but a healthy expression of sexuality and social contact, abstinence would no longer be a virtue because something MUST be WRONG with you if you cannot get a sexual partner. If you think I'm kidding, think about all the flack certain kids get because they don't have friends or don't go out with others. I don't necessarily have to subscribe to this theory to know that what constitutes virtue is very much a societal construct. So the entire statement is rather misleading. Abstinence is not a virtue if it is premised on prudishness or an unhealthy attitute towards sex or simply because someone said it was bad and you didn't question the assumptions that lay behind it.
The question thus becomes, how is promiscuity or casual sex bad if one removes the health issues? You end up falling back on quoting whatever religious book you believe in or simply parotting what society says. The problem with the first is that, if I don't accept your faith, then any virtue that is premised directly on your faith I will disregard. This is not to say that I disregard all that is 'good' in your faith but that simply saying "X said so" is not going to be sufficient unless there is another basis for it. This holds even stronger for what society says because we know all too often that society can be wrong and can promulgate very bad laws and we don't even need to talk about Hitler's Germany for examples.
2. "Say you tell a teenager, 'You should try to abstain, but if you can't control yourself, use a condom.' That's like saying 'Don't cheat, don't steal, but if you can't help help yourself, don't get caught." *Wince* very very bad analogy use here.
Firstly, having pre-marital sex is not a crime, so all comparisons to criminal activity is just wrong.
Secondly, there used to be a joke in the army that don't get caught has the 8th core value. And the reason we accepted it was because some of the rules were just impossible to obey or enforce.
Linked to this notion is that sometimes society can be better off if its citizens broke the law. There was a town that banned contraceptives in a rage against adultary. But in an age of AIDS and other STDS, would not society be better served if people flagantly broke the law to prevent unwanted and unloved babies and get sick? It costs $9,000 in a needle exchange programme to prevent aids in drug addicts. It costs $200,000 to treat it. It's about harm reduction, it's about making society better off.
Thirdly, let's talk principle here. What is the basis of criminal law or in particular whether an act should be criminalised? It's about prevent harm first and foremost (trying to use criminal sanctions for the sake of 'morality' tends to end in tears). So the question then becomes, where is the 3rd party or even 1st party harm that occurs when two consenting adults or minors engage in sexual intercourse (and not just penetrative sex)? Where there is no coersion or undue influence, and where there is no 3rd party harm the state does not have the mandate to punish these people. This is why there are no laws against pre-marital sex below a certain age.
For more thoughts, arguments, statistics and views, click here, here and here.
Labels: civil liberties