February 12, 2017

HAGOPIAN | Democracy, Morality and Hookup Culture

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Last year I participated in an activity as part of my training to become a peer counselor. All the trainees stood up and answered questions by moving to either the “yes’” side of the room or the “no” side. One of the questions was, “is it okay to have sex with people you don’t care about?” I was one of the few who went to the “no” side.

As a follow-up exercise, one person from each side was asked to share the reasoning that led to their answer. The “yes” representative spoke primarily about consequence. She more or less said that if two people can be mature and effectively communicate their expectations, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t engage in a mutually pleasurable act. The following is a paraphrased version of my rebuttal as delegate of the “no” side.

“I think we have to hold sexual acts to the same standard to which we hold everything else. If I make a joke at your expense — a joke, say, about race or a similarly touchy subject — you might find it funny. We might just end up as two mature adults enjoying the mutually pleasurable experience of laughter. And yet society generally discourages jokes at the expense of others, especially when they deal with delicate issues such as race. Sexuality is a delicate issue, and it should be held to the same standard.”

Fornication is much more analogous to off-color humor than one might think. I’m sure I don’t have to convince anyone that casual sex — even casual sex with clearly defined expectations and parameters — can lead to hurt feelings, disappointment and animosity. Should we not try to minimize the risk of our own actions causing another person these negative emotions? Would that not be the right thing to do?

It is important to recognize that I have been speaking of a moral ideal. And moral ideals are things to be kept for reference, not achieved or even striven for. Nobody, including myself, is in any rush to become abstinent. Sex is simply too desirable. But if that’s the case, why bother moralizing at all? I bother because I think that the morality of hook-ups has a great deal to teach us about the nature of morality as a whole.

The modern moral consciousness is characterized by faith in the power of humanity and, it follows, faith in the power of the individual. This reality is at least somewhat attributable to the work of Isaac Newton. This was a man who invented calculus, ushered in modern science, and revolutionized the world. Isaac’s a smart chap, thought his contemporaries. Maybe the human race isn’t so hopeless after all. Maybe WE should be the arbiters of our own destiny. This opinion led to an increased emphasis on scientific inquiry (then known as natural philosophy), but it pervaded all realms of eighteenth and nineteenth century thought. The sexual revolution is a natural byproduct of such thinking. But there are some more significant byproducts. Democracy, for instance.

I suppose the point of this article is that one should never take a moral society for granted. I once had a high school teacher tell me that murder is objectively wrong and that every society had always thought so. I promptly brought up human sacrifice, and in my opinion I did not receive an adequate reply. Objective morality simply does not exist. It is this amateur political scientist’s view that democracy is on something of a decline. Every poll says the same thing — Americans are dissatisfied with government. Don’t think for one second that humanity has come so far as to be immune to another dark ages. It has before and it will again.

Next time you are compelled to say something akin to, “Yes, Grandma, my friend is gay and it shouldn’t matter. It’s 2017,” say something more like “Yes, Grandma, my friend is gay and human beings are endowed with certain universal rights, one of which is the right to love whomever they choose.”  Because even if you disagree with my stance on hookup culture, the fact that the morality of such a culture goes largely unquestioned by so many should prove that morals are very much susceptible to the influence of desire. And if recent events are any indication, there are some truly horrifying desires that seem to be gaining some ground.

Ara Hagopian is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]Whiny Liberal appears alternating Fridays this semester.