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.

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.

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.