A Philosophical Look At Opposite-Sex Roommates

I never really expected to revisit the tragic death of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student that committed suicide off the George Washington bridge after his dormmate videotaped Clementi in an amorous tryst with a fellow male student.  Indeed, I hoped that his death would serve as an awakening toward the importance of sex within the confines of the marital institution rather than a rallying point for the LGBQT community to twist this tragedy to advance its social awareness agenda. 

Beginning this August, Rutgers University will offer opposite-sex living arrangements to its freshman students.  Parents wary of this program may certainly be concerned; the parent cannot override the wishes of the student.  With the goal of creating an “inclusive community”, the ability to select opposite sex dormmates is being heralded as a breakthrough in gender-awareness at the university.  Purportedly, the response is overwhelmingly positive. 

Rutgers’ decision to facilitate co-ed living arrangements likely had its inception long before Clementi’s death.  And with the weight of public support and advocacy groups, it seems unlikely the university will reverse course anytime soon.  Like many social issues, homosexuality and its identity in society is still hotly contested.  Were it as simple as providing studies showing the effect of homosexuality within the college environment and its effect on society, an institution would either ratify or reject the proposal allowing close-quarters opposite-sex living arrangements.  Many political, social, and educational think tanks have conducted such studies – but the results are scattered across the social gambit.  Black is white and white is black.  Consider the entire debate in California regarding same-sex marriages and Proposition 8.  One side presented evidence on the virtues (or lack of detriment) of homosexual marriages, while the other attacked the findings of such “evidence.”  All else being equal, the judge merely considered the argument he judged “more right.”

In that respect, Rutgers has chosen the position it considers “more right.”  Its own studies linked with popular opinion legitimize its decision.

Whether we agree or disagree, a fundamental question underlies the entire debate: is there any one, right answer?   Or does humanity live in a world of gray where black and white are but theories in an otherwise pragmatic world? 

The tendency, I feel, is to ignore the fundamental question and instead look to the practical benefits and consequences.   Rutgers University examined a problem – homosexual exclusion – and fashioned a remedy designed to both fix the problem and serve as a beneficial template for others. 

Most of humanity reasons as such: what is right?  As much as we try to consider the consequences of any one action, we are often left with conflicting studies and opinions such that the end result is either throwing up ones hands in exasperation or recognizing that any true answer is elusive and therefore unknowable.  Likely humanity’s failing lies in its perception that we cannot fully know truth and so, with limited information, we make decisions as rational – and sometimes irrational – human beings.

Were it possible for Rutgers to see the full implications of its decision toward homosexual inclusion in housing, it’s quite possible that it would reject what it currently accepts.

When Parties and Politics Actually Mix

Normally, it’s bad form to discuss politics at a party.  Last time this happened, the topic of conservation nearly caused a brain hemorrhage in liberal woman who naively solicited my opinion.  At this current party, I again was in the minority – not necessarily because of my conservative leanings (although, that may have been true), but because I was the only person there to not speak Farsi.  Thankfully, everyone also knew English too.

I began speaking to one young man, Allie, who – at 22 – is a graduate student in the architecture program at Arizona State University.  He is a United States citizen, but he travels to Iran regularly.  He commented that one the largest differences he has noticed between the United States and Iran is the notion of “career” in the workplace.  Iran, like many other countries, employs a “siesta”-type work system whereby shops close mid-day to allow time for relaxation and eating.  Allie argued that this system provided the advantage of strengthening families by providing more “together time.”  In contrast, America works hard; it encourages its women to work hard; and  it purports to create a proportional relationship of work to “success” .  Unfortunately, according to him, America does this at the expense of family development.

Weakening the family unit, he posited, in turn will lead to a less stable society.  Eventually, this will undermine a nation’s strength.

Core governance begins at an individual level but it ends on a national level.  The more self-discipline one possesses individually, the less need one has for corporate government.  To maintain a strong national government, the lower spheres should be equally considered and strengthened.  Extrapolating Allie’s larger point, weakening the lower levels of government – namely the family – will slowly erode a nation’s strength.

The aim of ExDeserto, obviously, is to encourage reform that supports the pillars underpinning America’s national dominance.  ExDeserto accomplishes this goal by fostering discussion of these conservative ideas through this blog – and apparently by face-to-face communication at Persian parties too.

When Sex Is More Than Physical

I read a fantastic article today from Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute about how sex, even in its rawest, most illicit form, still represents more than a strictly natural, biological function. As anecdotal – but very convincing – evidence, she reminds us of the young man, Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate posted a video of Clementi in a homosexual tryst.

As Ms. Morse argues:

Now, if sex is really “just a normal bodily function,” why on earth would he be so distraught that he would end his life? Maybe he wasn’t embarrassed about the sexual act itself, only about the violation of his privacy. But what if his roommate had caught him in the act of picking his nose or going to the bathroom? It strains the imagination to believe that he would have killed himself over the display of these “normal bodily functions.” If sex is really “just a recreational activity,” would anyone kill himself over a video showing him playing baseball or checkers or video games?

The heart of Ms. Morse’s argument is that the sexual act is more complex – psychologically and spiritually – than the sum of its physical components. As such, sex ought not be commoditized or denigrated by reducing it to a purely commercialized or hedonistic venture.

I’m not inclined to disagree. Tyler Clementi’s death serves more than a rallying point for the LGBT community to de-stigmatize homosexuality; his death demonstrates that sex represents more than a purely pleasurable activity. What we can learn from Clementi’s tragedy is that the sexual act should be protected, respected, and honored.

Throughout history and across cultures, the marital institution has been treasured. Even throughout American history, the importance of marriage cannot be undermined. The Supreme Court weighed in on the matter calling marriage a “fundamental right.” Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). And within the context of marriage lies the blessing of sexual and procreative autonomy.

Though Morse’s article focuses on the anecdote of Tyler Clementi, her larger commentary considers the sad state of society’s perception of sexuality. Tyler Clementi became a casualty in the same promiscuous society that sought to convince him that physical sex comes with no strings attached.

Fa(s)t Food and Healthcare

The Tucson Citizen published a great article critiquing the nutritional content of fast food. It’s right on point. It can be a bit of a shocker when one learns that the double cheeseburger from McDonald’s contains 47% fat – or the “healthy” salad with dressing weighs in at 37% fat (daily recommended is 35%). So what’s the point? Am I just rehashing mindless statistics? There are countless studies that critique the nutritional content of food. Is there anything new?

No. There is nothing new in finding that fast food is unhealthy. Unfortunately though, many Americans sadly cannot seem to truly grasp this concept to the point of actually changing eating habits.

I was talking to a classmate in law school yesterday, and he remarked that businesses reduce its offerings to the lowest denominator that will make a profit. Sad, but true. There is a certain irony to this. The very things we crave can be the very things detrimental to our well being.

So where does this leave us?

I’m certainly no advocate of creating food police. The idea is largely untenable anyway. American’s love choices: Burger King or McDonalds? Wendy’s or Carl’s Jr.? Home cooked meals or going out? Changes in lifestyle come down to personal discipline. And while I don’t think it’s the government’s duty to protect us from ourselves, I am not opposed to modest regulations to channel us in the right direction.

Fever Nation: Taking the Temperature on America’s Cinematic Morality

With all this talk about health care and coverage, I can’t help but write about of America’s moral thermometer as shown on the silver screen. First, I’m not the type to spend gobs of money to see the latest and greatest motion picture masterpieces. When I began contributing to this blog I never imagined writing posts commenting on Hollywood productions. If I happened to only watch the blockbuster “greats” – The Dark Knight or Harry Potter or some other hundred million dollar budget production, little doubt exists that I would post on the topic of “movies.” The purpose of Ex Deserto is to foster discussion about the law, public policy, and issues that affect our culture and society. While it would be a stretch to post that some aspect of conservatism could best be understood by an in depth analysis of Batman, no doubt exists that movies are directly relevant in understanding American culture and morality.

Americans love movies. Last year, nearly ten billion dollars was spent at the domestic box office. Our choice of viewings reflect, at least in part, our views toward ourselves, the world, and our social, cultural and political norms. Though beyond the scope of this post, just think about what Sex and the City, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, or What Happens in Vegas says about our view toward sexuality or monogamy.

Culture is relevant. To change the law one must change the culture; as what happens in culture become ingrained in law. The sexual revolution of the 1960s illustrates this; cases like Griswold, Roe, Casey, Romer, Lawrence are its aftermath. Over the next 40 years, America’s tolerance level regarding acceptable views of morality has increased dramatically. Consequently, for the nation to regain a centered, principled, and moral outlook, culture – and media – must not be ignored.

While I enjoy movies as much as the next person, I am routinely disappointed by licentiousness portrayed as compliance with social mores. Sadly, many people find such films quite humorous. Borat anyone? Films tug at our emotions; they play to hope, fear, love, abandonment, betrayal, and kindness. They often strike a cord with us because we can relate in some way. But while these pictures play at legitimate feelings, they reflect a broken morality.

How many times has Hollywood played some variation of a plot that involves an unmarried lover’s dilemma? Answer: Too often. I scrolled down the movies from the top hits of 2008 and recognized five of the top ten movies than encountered this type of situation to one degree or another (The Dark Knight, Indiana Jones, Hancock, Twilight, Quantum of Solace). Worse yet, I haven’t even seen every top ten movie.

Topics once taboo became fad. Hollywood’s statement: traditional family values do not garner ticket sales, but sexual passion, struggles, and “liberty” do. And Americans buy into it – literally.

One of the problems is the glorification of the broken at the expense of the ideal. Too often movies not only depict divorce, premarital sex, homosexuality, rebelliousness – they portray it as normal. And since the 1960s, a great portion of America does view this as “normal.” No doubt, the depictions and plots certainly promote these ideas as acceptable – not stigmatized.

That being said, not everything that is released on the silver screen ought to be avoided. I’m not so anti-culture as to boycott every film that enters big screen. And like I’ve mentioned before, I do enjoy movies from time to time. However, I recommend caution after visiting the theatre concession stand and before having ones eyes glaze over during the previews. Conservatives, and particularly the evangelical right, must realize that a battle over culture does exist. Every year it seems, the envelope is pushed to the extreme: violence, sex, and “love.”

Still, while yet grassroots, there are counter majoritarian films that do promote social values and refuse to bow to the clamor wanton liberality. Religious-based films did not begin or end with The Passion of the Christ. C.S. Lewis’ series, The Chronicles of Narnia are also in production. But others exist. Most recently, and one that I tentatively recommend (tentatively – because I haven’t seen it) is Tyler Perry’s latest released last month: “I Can Do Bad All By Myself.” Such movies tackle issues of alcoholism, abuse, but they also show faith and redemption. Tyler Perry’s movies, such as the Madea Goes to Jail, like other Hollywood blockbusters, touches on humor, love and the spectrum of human emotions. However, noticeably lacking is the gratuitousness.

Movies are not an end in themselves; they are a form of entertainment and beyond that – they are a mirror into our culture. After taking the temperature of cultural morality, conservatives and Christians must realize not only that hope exists, but a good dose of actionable medicine is needed to bring back down America’s feverish state.

A Perfect Anecdote in Support of Limited Government

Apparently, some “stimulus” money has gone to support the production of underground pornography. In the name of “art,” of course.

According to Foxnews.com, stimulus grants to San Francisco are funding “nude simulated-sex dances, Saturday night ‘pervert’ revues and the airing of pornographic horror films at art houses in San Francisco.”

Among the National Endowment for the Arts’ $80 million in stimulus disbursements are more than a few (beyond) questionable ones, including $50,000 for the Frameline film house, “which recently screened Thundercrack, ‘the world’s only underground kinky art porno horror film, complete with four men, three women and a gorilla,'” according to Fox.

Undoubtedly, there are more than a few other absurd awards in the NEA’s pot. Why? Well, the people in charge of these programs believe that “pervert revues” are worth your tax dollars, and Congress was too busy in February to read the stimulus bill or to place meaningful controls over its execution.

At the time, President Obama said, “We can’t afford to make perfect the enemy of the absolutely necessary.” Of course, many Americans may wonder why spending $80 million on a kinky art porno horror film is “absolutely necessary” to jump-starting the economy.

An employee of the San Francisco arts council told Fox that these expenditures, such as the thousands that went to the The Symmetry Project, a show featuring “the sharing of a central axis, spine, mouth, genitals, face, and anus reveal their interconnectedness and centrality in embodied experience,” will play a critical role in our economic recovery.

These absurdities might be funny, except that they’re true–and paid for with our tax dollars.

Because the Recovery Act spent most of your money in absurd ways such as this, Obama’s popularity is falling. Perhaps if he were actually committed to transperancy or job-creating stimulus, such as an across-the-board corporate tax cut, he wouldn’t have to look at the polls every night and wonder what he could have done differently.

Feeding the White Elephant: Funding Embryonic Stem Cell Research

With the onset of the new president-elect Barack Obama accelerating toward the driver’s seat of democratically controlled Congress, conservatives cannot help but brace themselves for the sweeping reversal of many of Bush’s policies – particularly in regard to stem cell research. Parties on both sides of the aisle expect Obama to issue an executive order ending the government federal funding ban on embryonic stem cell (ESC) research.

With as much progress stem cell research has achieved, applying the brakes to this Bush policy will detrimentally alter forthcoming advancements. Moral issues aside, ESC research has been spinning in a rut since its inception. Fueling its “development” with federal funding will merely exacerbate the problem.

After nearly a decade, human ESC research is much like the wizard in Dorothy’s Oz: facially powerful, substantively empty. With the promise being a virtual panacea, consider the results: there have been zero treatments and zero clinical trials. Total cost: billions. The continuous mantra chanted by its advocates still sounds, “more time.” California committed $3 billion in tax-payer monies over 10 years with the goal of developing a single treatment. Connecticut and Maryland have invested millions as well. They still have virtually nothing to show.

Consider the alternative: adult stem cells have treated over 80 diseases with over 1,300 clinical trials. Advancements in cord blood banking, and induced pluripotent stem cells are leading the way in medical breakthroughs. Recently, European physicians completed the first successful transplant of a human windpipe using (you guessed it) adult stem cells. Plenty more could be said of treatments for leukemia, diabetes, sickle-cell anemia and heart disease.

The government should support what works; it makes common financial sense: invest in known, proven, un-problematic means to advance medicine for a guaranteed rate of return. But channeling that money into decade-long speculation without proven results serves to limit development in medical pioneering. It is essentially pork barrel spending.

ESC research is by no means limited as a “moral” issue. An executive order subsidizing this research merely feeds the white elephant.