Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Lack of Judgment

In one of those sweeping gestures for which he's justly famous, William Saletan has formally approved the proposition that "the ideal amount of teen sex is zero."

We're still waiting to learn how much and what kind of teen masturbation is ideal, if any. Perhaps Saletan can prepare some diagrams for us with his free hand.

Putting aside the question of whether it's seemly for a grown man to spend so much time fretting officiously over the sex lives of other people's children, I think the belief that teenagers are "good" to the extent that they're nonsexual says a lot more about us than it does about who they are, or should be. The modern concept of childhood exists more for the benefit of adults than children; innocence is the shadow cast on them by our own guilt.

In too many American families, adolescence recapitulates Eve's temptation by the Serpent: will these little angels remain pure, or will they corrupt themselves by learning things they shouldn't know and thus, in a certain uncomfortable sense, becoming our equals? (Girls, of course, can also be accused of failing to manage a valuable resource preferring use value to exchange value, as it were.)

It's no wonder that as unease about sex increases, the ultimate symbol of "childhood innocence" becomes the fetus, or even the stem cell. According to this school of thought, children shouldn't be seen or heard; they should be imagined.

Real children, meanwhile, get punished for turning out to be human after all...despite all our good-natured attempts to treat their sexuality as something that can vaccinated against like measles, or cured like strep throat. They suffer when they try to live up to our fantasies, and they suffer when they fall short of them.

That's OK, though, because the underlying fear is not so much that children will suffer excessively because of sex, but that they won't (which, among other problematic things, would prove the Knights of Purity wrong on a fairly fundamental point).

Like the people who piously invoke the ideal of "colorblindness" in order to ignore everyday proof of racial inequality, Saletan hopes to lead us to Heaven by settling down comfortably in Hell:

It's absurd to have to say this, but judgment isn't a bad word. You can moralize without losing your soul.
It hadn't occurred to me that judgment is what's been missing from the national discussion about teen sex, but Saletan surely wouldn't say it if it weren't true. Evidently, things will change for the better only if we don't.


leibniz said...

Nabakov's Lolita and "Taxi Driver" honestly explore the variance of teen sexuality. Lord Saletan wants to replace the diversity of the human condition with some essentialist ideal blown out the ass of Plato or Pope Ratzo.

Phila said...


Hey, anything else would be "nonjudgmental."