Don’t have sex with the students

Professor Marcy has been a naughty boy.  Not too bright either.  He made a come-on to an undergraduate after she organized a “sexual violence” rally?  Dude, think about that for a second!  Maybe astronomers aren’t as smart as people believe.  I’m worried what will happen if there’s a string of cases like this–it wouldn’t take many to create a moral panic and irresistible calls to reform astronomy’s “culture”.  As soon as the emphasis shifts from discipline to culture, the emphasis will shift from people like him to people like me.

To me, the rules against sex with students is one of the charming things about life as a university professor.  For one thing, I get tired of always being the uptight one in a university system forever boasting about how transgressive it is.  So nice to know that there’s a sex act I could do that would scandalize them!  I suspect sexual restrictions play a bigger part than we realize in a local culture’s charm.  It gives me a slight sense of living in a fairy tale–an idyllic life offered to me just so long as I leave one particular box unopened, one forbidden fruit untried.  Of course, we know how stories like that usually end, but in real life people offered such a sweet deal tend to be prudent.  Plus, for me, there’s the combination of abhorrence of adultery and shyness to keep me on the straight and narrow.

The ostensible reason professors can’t sleep with students is the difference in power between us.  There’s an apparent irony here, in that historically access to women was one of the main (unstated) reasons for a man to pursue power.  The irony is only apparent, though.  Traditionally, a man attained power over other men, and this high status won him access to and interest from desirable women.  My direct “power” over a bunch of single twenty-year old girls is historically anomalous.  The university is probably also right in thinking that it’s not something that one can choose to set aside.  A professor can’t say “Hey, want to go out on a date?  If you say ‘no’, it won’t affect your grade or letter of recommendation.”  The context will always be there; it’s not something you get to choose.  I suppose it’s also against the rules for a student to proposition a professor, perhaps hoping to improve her grade or get a research position, but I never hear about that, so maybe it just doesn’t happen.  Given how few of my students will spend an hour on homework a week, the desperation needed to drive something like that just doesn’t seem to be there.

I enjoy sexual harassment workshops.  It’s nice to be reminded that I’m surrounded by beautiful but forbidden young women.  It’s also nice to hear about what an awesome figure of authority and power I am.  Frankly, this is something I would never have suspected from my actual interactions with students.  Sexual harassment workshops make university life feel so much more dramatic.

Sexist monkeys

My favorite BBC news article:

They estimate there are close to 300 monkeys invading the farms at dawn. They eat the village’s maize, potatoes, beans and other crops.

And because women are primarily responsible for the farms, they have borne the brunt of the problem, as they try to guard their crops.

They say the monkeys are more afraid of young men than women and children, and the bolder ones throw stones and chase the women from their farms.

Nachu’s women have tried wearing their husbands’ clothes in an attempt to trick the monkeys into thinking they are men – but this has failed, they say.

“When we come to chase the monkeys away, we are dressed in trousers and hats, so that we look like men,” resident Lucy Njeri told the BBC News website

“But the monkeys can tell the difference and they don’t run away from us and point at our breasts. They just ignore us and continue to steal the crops.”

In addition to stealing their crops, the monkeys also make sexually explicit gestures at the women, they claim.

“The monkeys grab their breasts, and gesture at us while pointing at their private parts. We are afraid that they will sexually harass us,” said Mrs Njeri.

If only the Patriarchy would stop telling monkeys to pay attention to social constructs like gender…

The rest of the article quotes a wildlife expert saying that this is normal behavior for chimps but surprising for monkeys.

I’m sure.

At Catholic World Report yesterday:

Father Orsi does see potential for abuse in the new annulment procedure. “Judicial vicars and bishops in their attempts to be merciful could apply loose standards,” said Orsi. “I received a call just the other day from a priest in a diocese who told me the judicial vicar there believes that, [according to] the motu proprio, as long as two people agree there is an annulment, then there should be. I’m sure someone has talked to him by now, and I’m sure that is rare.”

Who deserves to be in hell?

Apologists nowadays usually avoid the question and just say that unrepentant sinners simply can’t enjoy beatitude.  It’s logically impossible.  The impression left is that God would like to send everyone to heaven but those who refuse to repent just make it impossible for Him.  He doesn’t want to punish, but His hands are tied.  He’s off the hook.  I think the main point here is true:  embracing sin makes it impossible to enjoy the vision of God, not just as a matter of divine decree, but by logical necessity.  It’s not clear how well this works as a defense for God, though, since the will to repent is itself a divine gift, and we very quickly find ourselves in deep waters, with either Pelagius or Calvin waiting for us at every turn.

I would not like to speak exclusively like this, though, for this sort of talk is not that of Our Lord, or Saint Paul, or the Fathers of the Church.  They were all quite comfortable saying that God, at least by his consequent will, wills the punishment of sinners.  He does so because He is just, and they deserve it–no other argument needed.  We also should be comfortable in this, because to reduce sin to a sort of disease or misfortune is to rob moral life of its seriousness; it fails to do justice to the reality of our freedom.  We have not only interests, but also duties.  God is not solely interested in our happiness.  He responds to us as free agents, with approval and disapproval, reward and punishment.

Who would I send to hell if I were God?  Would I really throw someone in hell just for missing Sunday Mass?  Imagining oneself in the place of the almighty is never a useful exercise, but since everyone is implicitly doing it when they talk about God seeming “cruel”, let’s do it anyway.  I myself respond very differently to sins of weakness as opposed to sins of outright defiance.  I have nothing but pity for cowards, and I feel no anger but great sympathy for people who engage in sexual sins in a proverbial moment of weakness.  That faggot in the CDF who’s demanding the Church alter her teaching to accommodate his vice is obviously a different case–a man satanically defiant against God and His law.  On the other hand, torturing him for eternity does feel extreme.  So does torturing for eternity the fellow who skipped Church, or even the adulterers.  Then again, I wouldn’t even torture for eternity with fire child molesters or serial killers, or for that matter even any of history’s great perpetrators of genocide.  Punish them severely, sure, but hell just seems in excess of what anyone could deserve for a mere one lifetime of wickedness.

Do I feel this way because I am more merciful than God?

No, I feel that way because I lack His justice, His understanding of the severity of sin.  My inclination for an empty hell is a defect of my imagination, not something to be proud of.  Certainly not something to boast of before the Almighty.

The case for zero annulments

Zippy makes similar points for strictness in the annulment process here and here (although he would not agree with all of my points below).  In the interest of pushing the Overton window, I’m going to throw out the most extreme position–abolish annulments entirely–which is still more sensible than the current direction.  The zero-annulment policy, I claim, should be, if not our actual policy, the default policy, any deviation from which must be strenuously argued.  Anyone proposing a law to allow annulment under such-and-such circumstance must demonstrate convincingly that it cannot be abused by an ecclesiastic legal system with strong incentives to laxity, that it will not give false impressions to a laity with strong inclinations to form such impressions, and so forth.

With a very stringent annulment policy, some marriages that are genuinely not valid will not be recognized as such by the Church, leading the Church to place unnecessary burdens on some people–namely that they cannot marry anyone other than their current putative spouses.  With a very liberal annulment policy, some marriages that were validly contracted will be falsely declared null by the Church, so that the spouses will feel authorized to enter into what are in fact adulterous unions, bringing spiritual harm to them, confusion to the faithful, and ill-use to the sacraments.  Which way to err?  It is clear to me that we must error strongly to the side of presumptive validity.  In fact, a good case can be made that the Church should never grant annulments, even though there presumably are some invalid marriages out there.

  1. Some have suggested that many marriages are invalid because Catholics don’t understand what they’re getting into when they marry in the Church.  A lax annulment policy fosters such confusion.  The certain consequence of the pope’s recent annulment streamlining is to convince most Catholics that the Church does not in fact regard marriage as indissoluble, that annulment is just a legal fiction to dissolve unwanted unions.  As this belief spreads, there will be many more invalid unions (assuming, for the moment, that this sort of misunderstanding does invalidate a marriage), many more couples stuck in unknowing fornication.  If the Church simply refused to grant annulments, in a generation everyone would know that getting married in the Church is an irrevocable thing, and so anyone who chose to do so would do so validly (or, at least, the marriage wouldn’t be invalid for ignorance of Church teaching).  To summarize this point, we must consider the message a given policy sends.  I, for one, do not think it a fault of the previous system that even valid annulments should take a great deal of time and effort to process.  It should be clear to everyone that something extraordinary is being asked of the Church.  In any case, a pious Catholic who learns that he has abused a sacrament, even inadvertently, should see the appropriateness of a multi-year purification process before jumping in again.
  2. The American experience proves that ecclesiastic courts can’t withstand the pressure to grant annulments liberally.  In most annulment cases, there are two parties, their friends, and prospective new “spouses” who want a declaration of nullity, and no one pushing for the other outcome.  Any rules in place, no matter how strictly orthodox, will be bent into unrestricted laxity.  The Church simply cannot trust herself with any wiggle room.
  3. Even in the individual case, it is less damaging to incorrectly refuse an annulment than to incorrectly grant one.  An unnecessary burden is less spiritually hazardous than a license to sin.
  4. Common sense rebels against the idea that many people who’ve gone through a wedding ceremony and years thinking they are married may one day discover that they are in fact not married.  Is getting married really so hard?  If so, shouldn’t we all abstain from sleeping with those whom we believe to be our wives, because there’s a fifty-fifty chance that we would actually be fornicating?  Wouldn’t such scrupulosity be madness?  But why do we all recognize it as madness?  Because we all recognize that the ecclesiastic regime of mass annulment is BS.  Possibly very few unnecessary burdens would exist in a no-annulment regime.

“near-universal sociopathy”

DrBill writes

Generalized, near-universal sociopathy is the background condition of modernity. You can’t fuck 10 different people without breaking your ability to pair-bond. You can’t move from one neighborhood to another 10 times without breaking your ability to community-bond. The freakishness of modernity can’t be overstated. Everyone is a sociopath.

I myself am not making any effort to really integrate into my town while I don’t have tenure, which is rational, just like not getting attached to one’s one-night flings.  I’d say that I don’t enjoy community-hopping, that I’m just doing it for the money, but this would not make the analogy more flattering.

People talk a lot about the morality of receiving immigrants (that is, the duties of the hosts) but very little about the morality of immigration itself (the duties of would-be immigrants).  Is it ever immoral to break ties and go from one place to another–immoral, that is, simply because of the breaking of communal ties and not because of some accidental consequence?  It’s funny that patriotism is a duty, and yet there’s nothing wrong with switching one’s nationality.  National loyalty is a lot like modern marriage, which frowns on adultery but not divorce.  What about the city that raised us?  What duties do we have to it?

Death and transcendence

My latest post at the Orthosphere quotes my favorite chapter in Spaemann’s Persons:  the difference between “someone” and “something”.  The connection between death and self-transcendence is a bigger subject than the topic of that post, so I’m giving this its own post.

“Significance” is meaning “toughened” by he consciousness of finitude–by which is understood that it asserts itself in the face of death, and is thus emancipated from time.  To enjoy the company of a friend oer an evening meal with a glass of wine in the midst of beautiful scenery satisfies a number of elementary needs; entertainment for the eyes and palate, the presence of a trusted companion, the free flow of thought.  The meaning of what satisfies needs is, the first instance, relative to those needs and therefore radically contingent.  Now let us assume that this is a farewell meal in the expectation of death.  Life has come to an end, and with it all that makes such an occasion meaningful.  Soon everything will be as though it never was, and no memory will endure.  One could say that the whole thing hardly repays the effort…

But an alternative response is possible.  A different feeling might surface in the course of that last encounter, a sense of preciousness that lifts the occasion out of its contingency:  “It is good so!”  Such a feeling would not be threatened by the imminent end of life and the the meanings that derive from life, but would actually be awakened by it.  “It is good so!” does not mean “It is good for me now, but the good will disappear when I do.”  It means, “It is, and will remain, good that this fleeting moment occurred and that its significance is unveiled.”  Meaning, together with the feeling it engenders, is pulled out of the contingent and relocated in the timelessness of significance…

From the point of view of vital meaning, it is absurd if someone loses his own life in a fruitless attempt to save someone else’s.  The failure of the action robs it of the positive value it might have had as serving someone’s good.  In the event nobody’s interest was serve.  If we celebrate this deed all the same and honour its memory, that is because there is significance in the very fact that it occurred.  It was a fine deed, once such as serves to justify the world.  It will always be good that it occurred.  The leap from vital meaning to significance corresponds to the leap from present tense to future perfect…

With the anticipation of death the whole of life is shifted into the timeless dimension of the future perfect tense…Persons exist by having their lives as a significant, and therefore precious, possession.  Anticipation of the end penetrates life to its innermost core.  It confers on us an experience of the significance of things which the “bad infinite” of temporal immortality would shatter, since if nothing were precious, nothing could be significant.  If anything done once could be repeated endlessly, indefinite anticipation would suffocate every human relation from the word go, for our relations are those of finite beings.  There could be no promising “forever”; there could be no promising at all, in fact, to engage our whole existence and bring our freedom to its height, if “forever” did not mean “till death”.  Anticipating death puts us in the position to relate to our lives as a whole, the position in which we have our life.  And that is how persons exist.