Class Cancellation Today, 3/15

Apologies for the late notice, but I’ve suddenly had to cancel class: I happen to be on campus (you might see me), but I’ve suddenly and unexpectedly taken ill, so I’ll be leaving soon, probably before class starts. By lucky coincidence, we’re one class ahead, so ironically this puts us back on schedule. For 3/20, read the next article on the syllabus, on marijuana, and be
prepared for another in-class quiz on Tuesday. Meanwhile, I’ll put up a few more blog posts, on drug-related issues, and post the Power Points I had wanted to cover today.


FYI: Incest Revisited

While marrying both your son and your daughter isn’t literally incest with your closest relative, it’s very close.

This is almost as bad as masturbation!

You don’t need to comment on this one. I just thought you’d be interested.

Reminder: Quiz #1 Today

Just a reminder: there’s an in-class, 10 point quiz on Merle Spriggs’s “Autonomy and Addiction” today in class. It’s open book, but you have to bring your own reading. YOU CANNOT SHARE YOUR COPY OF THE READING WITH ANYONE ELSE.

Also, remember that there are no make-ups for in-class quizzes. If you miss one, you take the next one. I take the best seven of however many I give (probably around 10). In other words, you only lose points if you miss four or more.

Masturbation Is Incest with Your Closest Relative

The argument is pretty straightforward (inspired by a similar argument in Roger Scruton’s Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation).

(1) If you masturbate, you are engaged in sexual relations with yourself.

(2) If you are engaged in sexual relations with yourself, you are engaged in sexual relations with a close blood relative.

(3) If you are engaged in sexual relations with a close blood relative, you are engaged in incest.


(4) If you masturbate, you are engaged in incest. (from 1-3 by hypothetical syllogism)

Obviously, line (2) understates the case. If you are engaged in sexual relations with yourself, you’re not just engaged in sexual relations with a close relative, but with your closest blood relative. In other words, if the wrongness of incest is a function of the closeness of the blood relation it involves, masturbation seems worse than having sex with your parents or your siblings. Not even your identical twin (much less your other siblings, parents, or cousins) is as closely related to you as you are to yourself.

Further implications:

  1. If incest is absolutely wrong, masturbation is absolutely wrong.
  2. But if masturbation is sometimes legitimate, incest is sometimes legitimate.

Perhaps this is why, traditionally, masturbation has been so reviled and prohibited. It is prohibited by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. St. Thomas Aquinas gave it fourth place in his listing of sexual sins (after bestiality, sodomy, and the use of contraception–but worse than rape).

Face it. Masturbation is incest with your closest relative. So does this mean that masturbation is worse than you thought, or that incest is better than you did?

The Aziz Ansari Case

We had a brief discussion of the three readings on the Aziz Ansari case–Way, Flanagan, and North. Most of you were extremely unsympathetic to Grace, the woman making the complaint against Ansari. The consensus view was that Grace was describing a hook-up gone wrong, but wrongly describing it as though its going wrong was Ansari’s fault–when it wasn’t.

Comment in a general way on this case. I’m interested, in particular, in whether you think anyone is to blame for anything in this episode.

Added later (March 15): Two related cases, just for the sake of comparison and contrast: the recent Yale rape acquittal; Katy Perry kisses a boy, and he doesn’t like it.

Hookups: Pros and Cons

Yesterday, we spent most of the class discussing the pros and cons of hookups apart from the problems we encountered in Bunnage’s and Vrangalova’s arguments. We started by trying to enumerate the pros and cons of hookups. The pros were something like: fun, lack of commitment, diversity of sexual partners. The cons divided into the practical and the psychological. The practical problems: the risks of pregnancy, STDs, and plain old physical danger. The psychological problems began with the “problem of catching feelings.” Intermediate between a practical and a psychological problem is the problem of miscommunication. But the psychologically-oriented problems opened up a series of different by related problems.

One problem we ran into was a problem of definition: what exactly counts as a “hookup”? In a generic sense, a hookup is a mutually-consenting but casual sexual encounter involving no hope or promise of commitment on either side. But one thing left unclear about this definition is whether the parties to a hookup know one another to some extent, or are complete strangers. To simplify matters, I treated hookups, in effect, as Tinder hookups: encounters between complete strangers. But this is an oversimplification. Not everybody defines hookups so narrowly. Continue reading

Hookups: Bunnage and Vrangalova

By common consensus (including mine), the videos we watched on hookups were somewhat ridiculous: poorly-argued and emotionally tone deaf. I found it telling that most of the material out there on hooks-ups is of this variety. If you can find me something better, I’ll use it and acknowledge you forever after. (My wife recommended Nikki Glaser’s “Not Safe” show on Comedy Central, but though amusing, I haven’t found anything on the show that’s serious enough to work for this class.)

We spent more time on Bunnage’s video than on Vrangalova’s. I don’t think there’s much more to say about Bunnage’s talk. Among the criticisms we covered in class:

  • The talk addresses hook-ups among kids, but says nothing about hook-ups among adults.
  • Despite claiming to address hook-ups, the talk really ends up being a complaint about the fact that kids don’t talk to their parents about sex, and get their sex ed from pornography.
  • Despite recommending that kids ought to talk to their parents about sex, Bunnage ends up recommending that parents not┬áspeak candidly to their children about sex.
  • The history lesson she gives fails to distinguish between fact and fiction.
  • In condemning hook-ups and modern parenting, she ends up defending corporal punishment, which seems like a cure worse than the disease.

Like a lot of commentators on this subject on the anti-hookup side, Bunnage fails to clarify whether she’s against underage sex, non-marital sex, or sex between uncommitted partners. She also doesn’t distinguish sex between strangers, and sex between friends. Partly, this is because she’s dealing with younger teens where these distinctions would be irrelevant. But that suggests that ultimately, her talk is irrelevant to the adult context.

What about Vrangalova? A lot of you found Vrangalova’s talk unintentionally funny, and found her argument patently ridiculous. What’s wrong with it? Here’s your chance to take on the “archangel of sex positivity.

P.S., The book she recommended in her talk is Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy’s The Ethical Slut. I own it, in case anyone wants to borrow it. No questions asked. No judgments. Derisive laughter will be kept to a bare minimum.

Pornography: Knox, Dines, and Jones

In covering pornography, I had us watch one video with (or about) Belle Knox, and one featuring a short lecture by Gail Dines. I also asked you to watch Rashida Jones’s interview with Vice News on her documentary film, “Hot Girls Wanted.” We had a long and wide-ranging discussion of the Knox and Dines videos, but didn’t have time to discuss Jones (whose view is somewhere in-between Knox’s defense of porn and Dines’s critique of it).

I’ve got a three-part question for you.

  1. Look at pornography from the perspective of the actress. Given what you’ve seen, and what you know, does pornography, on the whole, harm porn stars or benefit them?
  2. Now look at pornography from the perspective of the consumer. Is pornography harmful or beneficial to the viewer?
  3. Finally: is there any way to judge pornography as such, rather than pornography-from-the-perspective-of-the-actress and pornography-from-the-perspective-of-the-consumer?

This is a difficult question, so make your answers longer than usual. It’ll be worth 20 points instead of 10.

Sex: Facts and Figures

This is a mostly informational post. No need to comment, unless you have a question to pose.

We spent today’s class watching the videos on Belle Knox and of Gail Dines, so we didn’t have all that much time to discuss, and the discussion we did have was mostly about facts and figures.

We only got to discuss the narrowly job related part of the Belle Knox video. Three points:

  • It’s not clear that Belle made enough money from porn to pay her tuition. The overhead costs seem to have exceeded profits.
  • The job was highly unpredictable, and the satisfaction involved was at least questionable.
  • The job involved significant physical and health hazards.

In the context of the last point, we talked a bit about the hazards of STDs. It turns out that I misstated the incidence of HSV1 and HSV2. I had said that the incidence of HSV1 was 80%. It turns out that the worldwide rate of incidence is closer to 66%, and the North American rate is around 50%. What I had misremembered was that 80% of people with herpes are undiagnosed. But epidemiologists argue that you should assume that, one way or another, essentially everyone has herpes: for instance, between 50 and 70% of American women between the ages of 45-50 have HSV2. Continue reading

Affordable Housing: Two Questions

I didn’t quite get to present all the material I had yesterday in my lecture on affordable housing, and didn’t get to stop very much for discussion. To keep on schedule, I’m going to have to move on, but if you look through the material in the preceding post, you’ll get some sense of the material I didn’t get to cover, in particular the material on the Mt. Laurel decisions on inclusionary zoning as a remedy for past exclusionary zoning.

In any case, here are two questions I’d like to pose on affordable housing. Answer one or the other, but not both. Make sure that you indicate clearly which question you’re answering. Continue reading