Rick Perry and The Moral Question

This has been floating around for a week. I saw it when I lived in Texas. It’s Ricky Perry fumbling for an answer to a question on abstinence-only education (as opposed to the ABC approach taken by most reputable programs: Abstain, Be faithful, use a Condom). The questioner points out the massive failure of the abstinence-only approach: kids are no less likely to have sex but are less likely to use protection. Perry … can’t answer.

I’m tempted to say this means Perry is stupid, but even the smartest of the moral conservatives fumble this question. Why? I think this critique, if you ignore the snide tone, gets close:

Liberals may think that conservatives support abstinence education because they believe it will reduce teen pregnancy, when the truth is that stopping teen pregnancy is at best a minor consideration for conservatives. If there’s going to be any discussion of sex in school at all, they believe it ought to express the categorical moral position that sex is vile and dirty and sinful, until you do it with your spouse, at which point it becomes beautiful and godly (you’ll forgive a bit of caricature). The fact that abstinence-only education is far less effective at reducing teen pregnancy than comprehensive sex-ed isn’t something they’re pleased about, but it doesn’t change their conviction about the moral value that ought to be expressed.

I have frequently found myself at loggerheads on culture issues in which I’m arguing a practical perspective and my opponents are arguing a moral one. Drug warriors, for example, will sometimes concede that there would be less violence and civil liberties violations if the War on Drugs were ended. But they don’t think the government should be permitting drug use; that it should take a stand against vile and self-destructive behavior. Pro-lifers aren’t ignorant of the back alleys; but they can not have the government allowing fetuses to be destroyed. They see the back alleys as a different issue. Even the immigration issue breaks down this way. For all the “jobs Americans won’t take” rhetoric, there are a lot of people who think that lawbreaking should not be encouraged.

Now before liberals get too high up on their “you can’t legislate morality” high horse, let’s remember that liberals do this too. “The rich should pay their fair share” is a moral question, not a practical one, despite numerous attempts to make it so. “Everyone should have health insurance” is a moral judgement as is “everyone should have a quality education” or “the government should make sure everyone has food and shelter”. These may have practical aspects; I may even agree with them on some level. But they are fundamentally moral questions, no matter how much the Left tries to pretend that, for example, national health insurance will spur the economy. We can’t pretend the moral element only exists when sex is involved.

Moral conflicts are, almost by definition, emotional and contentious. It’s difficult to find points of compromise. That is why I tend to favor letting the issues be resolved somewhere other than the national stage. That libertarian viewpoint places me opposite of both the culture conservatives and the economic liberals. But I see it as simply practical.

Comments are closed.

  1. JimK

    I have danced around this same struggle, arguing practical solutions when my “opponent” was arguing from an emotional/moral perspective.

    Not sure how to bridge that gap either. I generally just walk away these days. Not worth the misery I’ll experience banging my head against the brick wall of someone who is completely convinced that the dumb thing they are saying may be impossible or impractical or even illegal, but dammit, it’s moral.

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  2. CM

    Great post Hal (I hope that doesn’t make everyone else dislike it out of spite).

    “The rich should pay their fair share” is a moral question, not a practical one, despite numerous attempts to make it so.

    I agree. I find it difficult discussing economics with many people because ultimately it involves a fair amount of morality. Apparently if my moral values don’t coincide with theirs, that equates to me not understanding economics. When in fact it’s much more the case that I’m just starting from a different place and injecting a different moral or philosophical stance into the equation, Which often makes entering the discussion pointless because people simply won’t accept that this is what’s happening.

    I don’t agree with Perry but I know that he’s coming from a moral perspective that’s way different from mine. So I don’t expect that his arguments will make sense to me. Doesn’t mean they don’t legitimately make sense to him though, and others like him.

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  3. richtaylor365

    if you ignore the snide tone, gets close:

    You’re right, it was snide, but I don’t think you are right when you say ,”gets close”, and I don’t have to travel farther then this particular blog to prove it.

    Would you not agree that the vast majority here would consider themselves conservatives, or libertarians that track right, putting them at least on the periphery of the conservative camp? Now do you honestly believe that there is anyone here that would raise their hand on this ,” If there’s going to be any discussion of sex in school at all, they believe it ought to express the categorical moral position that sex is vile and dirty and sinful, until you do it with your spouse, at which point it becomes beautiful and godly”? Anyone, at all? I doubt any liberals believe that nonsense, really. They might attribute that to a fundamentalist or a religious person, and they would have legitimate grounds for making that leap, but to say that “conservatives” feel this way is just silly.

    Everything said about abstinence only education being a failure is all true, but here is the rub, when abstinence is even mentioned in sex ed., it is from a position married directly with a religious perspective, such as ,”Some religions believe that sex is a sacred bond between a man and a woman within the legal confines of marriage, so they discourage any and all pre marital sex”. That is their one line, their one instance where that word is mentioned, once out of the way, they can get to the juicer stuff like promulgating the notion that ALL kids will have sex and ANY age is just honky dory regardless of emotional maturity. Even from a totally non religious perspective, the simple fact that abstinence is the ONLY way to be 100% safe from teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, in a pro choice environment where all the facts should be taught, this aspect should not be neglected, this and a healthy reverence for your own body where the individual ultimately decides what is and what is not acceptable.

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  4. Seattle Outcast

    I find it difficult discussing economics with many people because ultimately it involves a fair amount of morality.

    You aren’t actually discussing economics at that point.

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  5. Section8

    If CM didn’t like this post, I’d be all for it.

    Seriously though, if the economy were better the GOP would have no choice but to leave the fundies out of this. Enough of them already. The issue is things are so bad now that no one is even going to pay attention to this stuff. It’s all trivial now. The only question that anyone is going to care about for the foreseeable future is what are you going to do to fix the damn economy, and not bankrupt my kids in the process? Unfortunately even the same shitty fundie wing of the GOP looks good by comparison now, which scares the shit out of me.

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  6. CM

    Unless we’re talking about pure dry textbook theory, all discussions about economics inevitably involve other issues because people will inject their overal philosophy/morality into it.

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  7. CM

    If CM didn’t like this post, I’d be all for it.

    ;-)

    Yep, the election is going to all about the economy. They say that every time, but this time it’s gotta be the case more than ever.

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  8. CM

    Ultimately economics is a study of human behaviour. It’s a social science. So morality/philosophy are always going to be inherently there in the background.
    So I don’t think it’s necessarily a ‘guise’ issue (if you’re meaning that in a negative sense).

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  9. hist_ed

    If there’s going to be any discussion of sex in school at all, they believe it ought to express the categorical moral position that sex is vile and dirty and sinful

    Damn liberals trying to ruin sex for another generation. I like my sex vile and dirty and sinful-that’s what makes it fun.

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  10. HARLEY

    Damn liberals trying to ruin sex for another generation. I like my sex vile and dirty and sinful-that’s what makes it fun.

    untill you get caught………..

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  11. Mook

    Hal, is it really “settled science” like you say that Abstinence eduction is a failure? From the 2010 article:

    A new study released today, shows that abstinence education is highly effective in reducing sexual activity among youth. It also showed “safe sex” and “comprehensive” sex ed programs to be ineffective.

    Students participating in an eight-hour abstinence program showed a one-third decrease in rates of sexual activity compared to non-participants. This decrease persisted a full two years after they attended the class.

    By contrast, safe sex (promoting only contraceptive use) and comprehensive sex ed (teaching both abstinence and contraceptive use) programs didn’t affect youth behavior at all. Students in these programs showed no reduction in sexual activity and no increase in contraceptive use, in either the short or long term.

    The study, involving black middle-school students, appears in the February 2010 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, published by the American Medical Association.

    Comprehensive sex eduction teaching young students to “not judge” with instruction on how to put condoms on cucumbers doesn’t seem to me like it would be an effective approach, and this AMA study confirms it. Nothing “moral” about supporting what method is most demonstrably effective. Seems you’re the one making sweeping assertions, just like you’ve done with AGW, on something in which results are not well established.

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  12. AlexInCT

    Now do you honestly believe that there is anyone here that would raise their hand on this ,” If there’s going to be any discussion of sex in school at all, they believe it ought to express the categorical moral position that sex is vile and dirty and sinful, until you do it with your spouse, at which point it becomes beautiful and godly”? Anyone, at all?

    Dirty sex is more fun anyway… Especially when you then can use your offspring to make others pay you a monthky income…..

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  13. AlexInCT

    Ultimately economics is a study of human behaviour. It’s a social science.

    You got that about half right CM. Economics is about human behavior insofar as that when it is based on the reality that sane and good people, and sometimes even otherwise, are engaged in economic transactions they are far likely to do whats best for everyone when they are to engage in behavior that benefits them and their loved ones. This works wonders to lift everyone up, as real free enterpise has priove. When it falls apart is when people want to force a morality that dictateds everyone should cross the finish line as close as possible to the same time, with the as close as posisble of the same success, and then everyone loses most if not all inventive to do the right thing. after all, if the game is rigged, why bother? You are even able to demonize those ahead of you and demand they give more. that morality dictates it!

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  14. Kimpost

    I don’t fucking (pun intended) get it? A proper sex education should teach abstinence and the use of contraceptives, as well as risks and benefits of all available methods, shouldn’t it? There’s only controversy if we allow there to be.

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  15. CM

    Economics is about human behavior insofar as that when it is based on the reality that sane and good people, and sometimes even otherwise, are engaged in economic transactions they are far likely to do whats best for everyone when they are to engage in behavior that benefits them and their loved ones.

    What you’re describing isn’t ‘economics’, it’s one part of some economic theories.
    The ‘rational man’ concept has serious flaws, as does the concept of ‘perfect information’ on which people make their decisions. Ultimately all economics can do is construct models of bounded rationality, which hope to be psychologically plausible without completely abandoning the idea that reason underlies decision-making processes. They don’t do so well in considering the roles of uncertainty, or determination of individual tastes.
    Your school of economics fails miserably when it comes to negative externalities (such as pollution/climate change – it hardly factors in costs at all).

    This works wonders to lift everyone up, as real free enterpise has priove. When it falls apart is when people want to force a morality that dictateds everyone should cross the finish line as close as possible to the same time, with the as close as posisble of the same success, and then everyone loses most if not all inventive to do the right thing. after all, if the game is rigged, why bother? You are even able to demonize those ahead of you and demand they give more. that morality dictates it!

    You’re injecting no less morality by your model. You believe that equity is either irrelevant, or that it will come naturally.
    You’re also acknowledged that your model ‘falls aparts’. I’m sure you’d agree that nobody benefits from that. So clearly it’s far from perfect. Which is why we have many schools of economics, and politicians don’t usually subscribe to one in total. They generally have to deal with non-model reality.

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  16. AlexInCT

    The ‘rational man’ concept has serious flaws, as does the concept of ‘perfect information’ on which people make their decisions

    Both historic data and I will tell you that I am far better equipped to make decisions than any government bureaucrat will ever be, however, the wealth redistribution scammers seem to think government is far better at it despite a century of proof that’s bullshit.

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  17. Mook

    One basic aspect of economics that I hope all sides would agree upon is that on average, people spending and investing their own money, will be much more careful and do a far better job of it than politicians spending other people’s money. Because whenever it’s “other people’s money”, it can be wasted or used to buy votes with no personal negative consequences.

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  18. CM

    Both historic data and I will tell you that I am far better equipped to make decisions than any government bureaucrat will ever be, however, the wealth redistribution scammers seem to think government is far better at it despite a century of proof that’s bullshit.

    I don’t accept the premise that those who advocate higher tax rates than you would like are iherently “wealth redistribution scammers” who undertake a scam on the basis that they are far better equipped to make decisions than you. It’s a gross generalisation. And this is one of the key problems – so much of this is reliant on a series of gross generalisations.

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  19. CM

    One basic aspect of economics that I hope all sides would agree upon is that on average, people spending and investing their own money, will be much more careful and do a far better job of it than politicians spending other people’s money. Because whenever it’s “other people’s money”, it can be wasted or used to buy votes with no personal negative consequences.

    It depends on what you mean by “more careful” and “do a far better job”. Do a far better job of what? Bettering that individual tax-payers life? Helping to create a society that the majority of people want to live in?

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  20. Rann

    Well as has often been pointed out, the position of abstinence-only advocates is that if contraception is taught in schools, including with demonstrations of how to properly apply it, it condones (or to the students gives the appearance of condoning) pre-marital and/or underage sex. And while not necessarily agreeing with them, I can see the point… you don’t generally teach people to do something it’s not a good idea to do. “Okay, kids, terrorists are bad. So here’s how you make a bomb vest…”

    [JokeRuiningChicken] I am not calling terrorism and underage sex equivalent. It is a humorous reference to how if something is generally a bad idea to do, it is understandable that some people would not want their children taught how to do it. [/JokeRuiningChicken]

    Honestly I think the whole debate is largely pointless because it’s one of those things where schools are taking the place of what parents should be doing and choosing. And I know, I know, “Some parents don’t teach them anything”, “Some parents teach them things that are INCORRECT“, etc. etc. This is true. However, I think this is largely balanced out by the amount of students who will not pay attention no matter what you teach them.

    And I’m not just doing some “hurrhurr kids are dumb” thing, I’m just speaking from my own personal experience. In my senior year of high school, I was talking with another student about a movie and saying how stupid and condescending it was that every single movie with something about genetic engineering in it had to explain what DNA was to the audience as if they didn’t know. They looked at me blankly and then said “What’s DNA?” This is someone who I knew had gone to the same junior high and the same high school, often taking the same science classes from the same teachers, sometimes in the same period. And with the repetitive nature of public schools, we covered what DNA was every. Single. Year. And I knew they had a decent grade average so they must have done the homework on DNA. They’d simply listened, filled out the homework worksheet, and promptly sent the information to their mental Recycle Bin as unnecessary. And while this particular person could have just been derp, I’ve encountered the same effect often enough that I no longer roll my eyes at the explanations of DNA in movies… I do still cringe a bit, though.

    Basically, kids will listen to the classes, do the required coursework, and most of them will discard anything that they don’t particularly want to hear. (Again, personal experience: knew a kid who’d been to the same sex ed classes I’d had, but was still convinced that a girl couldn’t get pregnant if she left her panties on during sex.) And frankly even abstinence education is probably pointless since telling students “Don’t have sex unless you’re ready to be a parent or willing to risk a disease” will not make a dent in young male minds that think “Hey, if she gets knocked up it’s her own fault and I can just ditch her, and I’ll just go for the fresher-looking girls”.

    Sex ed is a good idea in theory, but it’s a Sisyphian task figuring out how to make it effective. It’s sort of like the health warnings on packs of cigarettes… a lot of money is spent making sure they’re there, and in theory they’re necessary and good, but most people either ignore them or don’t care, as evidenced by the fact that they still sell a hell of a lot of them.

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  21. AlexInCT

    Bringing this out:

    I don’t accept the premise that those who advocate higher tax rates than you would like are iherently “wealth redistribution scammers” who undertake a scam on the basis that they are far better equipped to make decisions than you.

    They are not wealth redistribution scammers CM because they advocate higher tax rates than I like: they are wealth redistribution scammers because they believe they are correct in advocating wealth redistribution policies and that they have the right to make others pay for those policies. And I am certain/convinced that most of the politicians that push this, do it for the power it gives them, with the more lip service they give it or the more they say that they believe it is their duty to help whatever disenfranchised group they claim they mean to help, the more it actually is about expanding their power.

    It’s a gross generalisation. And this is one of the key problems – so much of this is reliant on a series of gross generalisations.

    I am talking about the political class that has drastically expanded their wealth and power peddling this nonsense, CM. Who are you talking about? If it is the voters that profess believe for this nonsense then let me say that I actually think they fall into categories. The first supports it because they are the beneficiaries, directly or indirectly, of this system. That is more than just the people that suck at the government’s teat. It can also be someone that profits from this system in other ways. While I might not agree with them I understand their motivation. It’s the base stuff, and they are basically the type that has no problem or shame.

    The second, those that do believe this stuff, I actually feel sorry for. I gave up on Santa Clause around the age of 5. My mom didn’t catch on that I no longer believed until I was at least 11, when she caught me telling my 7 year old brother, it was all bogus but to shut up and let the good times roll. I was one of those people in group one above in that case. I did however eventually reach a level of maturity to realize that what I did was wrong though. That was about the same time I stopped being a liberal around the age of 13. Most people advocating this redistribution stuff are doing what I did at first. How serious however would you take adults that told you that they still honestly believe in Santa? Because progressive beliefs are the same stuff. It’s based in all this noble and good thinking, but sooner than later we all have to grow up and find out that’s not reality or how things work. Get my point?

    You can call it generalization if it makes you feel comfortable CM, but there are no logical reasons to otherwise believe you are morally entitled to the earnings of others, and even more importantly, there isn’t any reason anyone should ever feel entitled to take from one by force to give to another, no matter the motive, and then think they are doing good. What you have there is theft. and no, you are nto Robin hood. Robinhood took from an oppressive government and gave the money back to those it belonged to. Wealth redistribution has nothing to do with that.

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  22. Hal_10000 *

    NRO is comparing apples and oranges. The study they cite was of a program that took an approach similar to comprehensive programs. It did not say wait until marriage. It did not omit condom use. It was not a religion-based program that taught kids they could get AIDS from tears. Most other programs have shown no effectiveness.

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  23. CM

    They are not wealth redistribution scammers CM because they advocate higher tax rates than I like: they are wealth redistribution scammers because they believe they are correct in advocating wealth redistribution policies and that they have the right to make others pay for those policies. And I am certain/convinced that most of the politicians that push this, do it for the power it gives them, with the more lip service they give it or the more they say that they believe it is their duty to help whatever disenfranchised group they claim they mean to help, the more it actually is about expanding their power.

    It is also possible that they disagree with your basic philosophies andrigid ideology. Again, you’re coming from the perspective that you cannot be wrong and therefore everyone else is either a retard or a fraudster or just acting selfishly.
    But, again, you don’t pay tax because other people know how to spend it better than you do.

    You can call it generalization if it makes you feel comfortable CM, but there are no logical reasons to otherwise believe you are morally entitled to the earnings of others, and even more importantly, there isn’t any reason anyone should ever feel entitled to take from one by force to give to another, no matter the motive, and then think they are doing good. What you have there is theft. and no, you are nto Robin hood. Robinhood took from an oppressive government and gave the money back to those it belonged to. Wealth redistribution has nothing to do with that.

    You’re just arguing that only your morals are moral. I personally don’t see taxation as immoral or theft. To me it’s an integral part (cost) of living alongside millions of other people in a civilised society. The amount we all contribute is certainty a matter for debate, and that’s why we have democratic systems and institutions and freedoms to discuss and argue and change it.

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  24. Mook

    Hal, you say tha that NRO is comparing “apples and oranges” in that the abstinence program did not, according to you, it did not say “wait until marriage”. Where did you find that particular piece of information? Can you cite your info? Did they instead say instead “don’t wait until you’re older and in a committed relationship?

    Because the answers make a difference, and don’t necessarily constitute a wide difference as you claim.

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