Thursday, March 16, 2006

What's The Matter With Kansas?

This question was posed some years ago by political scientist Thomas Frank. I think Campus Progress just answered: sexual frustration.

There are so many things wrong with this law that I don't know where to begin. First, criminalizing any consensual sexual act is incredibly moronic. Second, presuming that all sexual contact between teenagers is "abuse" is a ridiculous premise. I know I wouldn't have considered it "abusive." Third, there's that whole right to privacy thing. Fourth, and most inanely, the dumbass pushing the law says that it's there to "help" sexually active teenagers.

You want to help horny young people? Teach them protection methods. But for the love of God, let young people decide for themselves how to handle their own sexuality. Big Brother shouldn't be in anyone's bedroom, Little Brother (and Sister) included.


Mike said...

If you'll permit me, I have a four-letter acronym that summarizes my response to this law quite well: L.M.A.O.

I'm beginning believe that all this comes in spurts. Here's how it works: we progress forward for a while, and then some people who don't like progress (I like to call them "Congress", to paraphrase Mark Twain) drag us backward a little bit. But fortunately, it's easier to move forward than to move backward (Michael Jackson notwithstanding) and the forward movement begins again before the backward has completely retraced our steps.

Or maybe that's just a fervent hope. Either way, while this would be scary as this would be if it happened, it probably won't, which just makes it hilarious.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Interesting. I'm not a fan of this law at all, particularly in light of it's absolute unenforceability, huge opportunity for abuse, and unequal enforcement/targeting against women (I'd say that's the most damning aspect).

But I want to reply to Mike's comment...

What constitutes "progress"? Do you mean permissiviness? As in, "we [expand the behaviors we tolerate] for a while, and then some people who don't like [those behaviors] drag us [back into prohibitting them] a little bit." Because the salient feature of laws like this is that not everyone sees them as progress/regression. It's really easy to couch things in terms of moving forward (good) or backwards (bad). I mean, just like people use words like "progress" to describe our shift towards a more sexually free society, the Nazis used words like "progress" to describe the Holocaust. The point is, you've gotta be pretty darn careful with phrases like "progress" and "moving backward".

I'd argue that a more accurate scenario is that there is always a tension between the ordered and the chaotic side of people (much like the Appolonian/Dionysian dichotomoy). Some folks cling to order and "proper" behavior more strongly. Others are more free-wheelin' and feel the pull of a less constrained lifestyle.

This then gets reflected in our laws. While some (the Dionysians) want fewer laws and greater freedom, others (The Appollonian) see the threat of chaos in what they percieve to be immoral lawlessness. On the other hand, Appolonians want tightly ordered laws, which conform to a code of morality and proper behavior. Dionysians see the threat of repression in what they percieve to be unbending strictiture.

This tension is always there. Sometimes one side is winning, and sometimes the other side is. It's cyclical. The goal shouldn't be moving forward and not backward, because that whole concept doesn't really make sense. The proper goal is one of balance: how do we both encourage right and fruitful behavior within society while at the same time allowing people autonomy?

Of course, confusing things is the Supreme Court, which will interpret the Constitution to forbid certain types of laws (i.e., against abortion). When a more Dionysian society leads to a Court that embraces deregulation ("prohibitting abortion is not ok", or "that environmental regulation restricts too much") it's a lot more difficult to re-establish regulation. And, likewise, when a more Appolonian Court embraces regulation ("of course you can take whatever property you want" or "go ahead, segregate schools"), it's more difficult to get that overturned.

Complicating things even further is the fact that society is convoluted, leading to parties that are partially dionysian and partly appollonian. Democrats allow more government regulation of economic issues, but less of lifestyle issues. Republicans go the other way. In my mind, both parties are just weak attempts at balancing the tensions that we all feel (or should feel).

Sorry that was so long. My undergraduate studies coming back to surface I guess. I'll stop spouting off now.

Jeff said...

I think Mike is referring to progress in the sense that we are moving towards a set of laws that lives up to our American ideals. Respect for people's choices with regards to their private lives is part of our "shared morality," as it were.

Matt - I don't know how much I agree with your analysis of economic issues - it seems to fall victim to the same fallacy as libertarians, namely the belief that all government regulation restricts everyone's freedom. Restriction of freedoms in one place often leads to the expansion of freedom in another. Take minimum wage laws - the restriction of employers' freedom to pay employees whatever they want leads to the expansion of opportunity (and thus freedom) to the working class. This is another tension worth exploring in society.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Oh, I think that expanding one/shrinking another dichotomy exactly part of the analysis. Maybe I was a little too general in my attribution of these characteristics to the political parties, though I hardly think my analysis falls into "fallacy". Sure, economic regulations can be used to expand freedoms for some, frequently at the expense of others. That means different people will view those laws differntly - those who benefit will say "this is rule creates productive opportunities for society" and those who suffer will say "this is too restrictive and burdensom". Those who see it as burdensome are rejecting the law as too appolonian, and those who embrace it are seeing it as appropriately appolonian because it's being used to regulate and create fruitful human interaction.

I'm not embracing one side or the other here, I'm just trying to make some general assesments.

Does this dichotomy make sense to you? Or is it just totally off the wall?

Jeff said...

OK, I think I see your point now. I was drawing the dichotomy differently, i.e. that laws that are Apollonian to some are Dionysian to others, rather than classifying all laws as absolutely one or the other and then questioning whether or not they're appropriate or not.

I have a feeling that we live in a country with a rather Dionysian mindset and that policies can always look better if they're seen as protecting freedom rather than restricting it. I guess no one wants to be seen as Apollonian, so Apollonian policies get cloaked in Dionysian language a lot...

Jeff said...

also, I generally tend to have problems with dichotomies in general. I'm more of a continuum kind of guy.

Mike said...

I am admittedly a stubborn opinionated bastard, and as such define progress as permissiveness, in a sense. I am usually against laws that restrict freedoms, believing that it is each person's God-given right to basically do whatever the hell they want as long as it doesn't infringe on the rights of others. So you can see where, to my individual mind, there are in fact clearly delineated concepts of forward and backward.

Of course, Matt, your general point about different definitions of progress is definitely valid. Since I'm pretty sure that, as far as this particular aspect of American life is concerned, Jeff and I share similar viewpoints on what constitutes forward and backward movement, I felt no need to clarify in my initial response.

Your allusion to the cyclical nature of who is "winning" the "battle" is more what I was getting at when I said it comes in spurts. But I think the "permissive" side wins a little more often. If you look at societal changes over the past 50 years, that seems to be the case.

Either way, it's a fun little show to watch, isn't it?

Mike said...

And yeah, Jeff, I pretty much agree with you on dichotomies. To paraphrase one of my favorite literature quotes, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who think there are only two kinds of people, and those who know better.

Jeff said...

That's Robbins, right?

Matthew B. Novak said...

I'm actually not much of a fan of dichtomized either. But for some reason this one, I like. Maybe because the ideal person reaches a balance between the two - and the idea is that you need both sides of the dichtomy, and not just embracing one side or the other.