We recently received a message from “asaasa1983” in response to an article we had written. The article was about helping children nourish healthy sexuality while avoiding destructive and deceptive outlets like pornography. To me it is a relatively secure platform.
Both statistically and within my own anecdotal experience, pornography can have a negative influence on relationships. It’s bad for the viewer and often bad for the people on the other side of the screen—the ones taking the pictures. However, I am not entirely ignorant of arguments against conservative sexual mores. We can come across as uptight, prudish, genophobs. And before I go forward I want to acknowledge that conservative sexual paradigms have at times been restrictive, narrow, and damaging. So there’s certainly some constructive liberal critiques worth listening to.
Still I was surprised by asaasa1983’s response—so surprised in fact that I reproduce it here in its entirety:
As a father… I hope you change your methods when you do have a son!
It reeks of snobism. What you think about life is not necessarily what he should. How he lives his life is none of your business and your closed view on sex and pornography is condescending at best.
Open your mind that some people are aroused and interested in different things. Maybe he will be a porn star and that will be his high. Maybe he will seek an open relationship with his wife. Maybe he will be asexual. But your closed mind about the perfect world and perfect way to live your life really has no place in a parents mind.
A parent is supposed to be someone that encourages his child without forcing him into something. You do exactly the opposite, you force feed him (hypotethical him) into your narrow-minded view of the world and sexuality.
Hopefully you will have matured before he’s of the age of having sex.
The overall argument is familiar: don’t judge; instead tolerate and love. It’s almost cliché. Still it carries some value. But the overall message is not what surprised me. What surprised me are the examples he uses. They are the examples I would have chosen if I was trying to refute his claims, not defend them. A porn star? Seeking an open relationship with his wife? A child in these situations deserves love, yes, but also help. There are better, happier ways to live.
I could hardly believe that asaasa1983 chose these as his go to examples. At what point is tolerance a cheap excuse to give up? At what point does it become a refutation of both science and experience? And when does it negate a father’s responsibility to teach the truth he knows? One of the saddest results of ethics built entirely on tolerance is a complete inability to scrutinize choices or suggest alternatives.
That’s why I will not be following asaasa1983 advice though I want to believe it was well intended. Here’s where I’m coming from. I am newly married. And soon we will try to have children. We’re scared. We’re scared like a lot of people are scared. It’s new, it’s a large commitment, and it’s not glamourous. But we’re also scared because neither of us have been blessed with an overwhelming desire to have miniatures of ourselves running around. There’s no natural prompting for us. Other people describe an innate desire to procreate—like it would be hard for them not to have children. We’re not them. Sure, part of us wants it, but it’s not a visceral compulsion. It would be just as easy to continue our life together just how it is and grow old this way. It would be a lot less stressful to skip that little adventure of childrearing altogether.
So why do it? Why not follow the path of least resistance? Why not do what feels most comfortable? The answer is simple. Because what is best is not always what is natural or easy. This should not be a new insight. My parents have never been shy about offering advice and suggesting direction. And I’m better for it. They did not sit passively on the side ready to cheer about whatever direction I chose. Instead, they insured that we were kind to our siblings and our peers, and if we weren’t, they were disappointed and helped us do better.
My parents likewise taught me that raising my own family will do more good, create more character, and generate more joy than any other endeavor. They taught me that despite feeling attraction for another man’s wife, I should be loyal to my own. That the deepest happiness and satisfaction comes not from seeking happiness or satisfaction but by doing meaningful activities, building lasting relationships, and pursuing what is good.
And here’s the thing I’m realizing, it would be a lot harder to decide to have children if I didn’t have encouragement. And it would be a lot harder to remain loyal to my wife if my family and society didn’t promote it. It’s just too easy to be aroused by something new. My loyalty is greatly aided by the fact that I’ve been taught to be loyal. I’ve been taught to be loyal profoundly by example so that I find myself choosing loyalty even when it’s not natural.
Of course it’s very natural to use pornography. Most people do. And it’s almost impossible to avoid. And that’s okay. We make bad choices all the time. We eat bad food, we lose our temper, we may even cheat on our wife. But just because we do it—just because we felt compelled to do it—doesn’t mean it was good. If we only had to do what came naturally, we’d never have to learn anything. And that would rob life of its most significant moments—moments in which we transcend our natures, when we reach above and beyond our own sight—moments that make us human. But we do need instructions, and we’re better for it.
And that is why my wife and I will raise a family, not because it is natural, but because we’ve been taught that it is good. And we believe it. And we will teach our children to avoid pornography and to seek a committed marital relationship and raise a family just as we have done.
I’m making a very simple point: what is good is often not what we want to do. And that’s why I was so surprised about asaasa1983’s response. Because it seemed to ignore the clear and self-evident value of seeking what is good regardless of what is natural. It wasn’t just an oversight either or a half formed idea. I don’t think I’m being unfair because he chose his own examples: a porn star, an open relationship.
I guess that’s the problem with how courage is constantly displayed in media. It’s always about people being true to themselves even when it moves against the grain of society. Sure, that can be courageous. I’m not knocking that. But a more common and perhaps more superb bravery is doing what is good even when it is not what we desire. Being loyal to your wife even during marital strife. Putting down pornography despite its appeal. That’s courageous.
What’s sad is I don’t feel like I’ve said anything that required much insight and that’s disappointing as a writer. It is just a simple and identifiable truth, that looking after ourselves is not so noble as looking after each other.
11 thoughts on “Advice from asaasa1983 that we should all ignore”
I took a 5 minute break to read this and you nailed it. The hope of becoming a porn star? Does the user realize the amount of illegal drugs, addiction, and abuse that permeates the porn industry? I’ve heard this ‘free-flowing’ advocacy before to just accept everything as it is (usually as a justification strategy). There is value in being respectful towards children and their choices, but the wholly permissive parent has been proven to be ineffective and damning. Likewise an authoritarian parenting style (which I feel asaasa1983 is reviling against) is also flawed. Family science has proven authoritative parenting (which I understand you’re advocating) is the most effective and healthy parenting style. Your first article and follow-up were both on the spot in my opinion.
Thanks Taylor. I like that you distinguish between authoritarian and authoritative. I’ll have to research more into these terms. Also, I worried about using the name asaasa1983, but since it was a pseudonym anyways, I figured it would be pretty safe. I don’t want to single anyone out.
Well-written and thought provoking. I appreciate your honesty about not feeling a compulsion to have kids. I think a lot of things in life bring us joy after we choose them against our natural impulses. ASAASA1983 raises an interesting question: what role should parents play in shaping their children’s lives? Encourage, persuade, coerce, invite, teach, train, manipulate, lead by example? I think that if parents do not actively work to shape their children’s morals, like you highlighted, someone else will. Some people think that by following no prophet at all, they will avoid following false prophets. On the contrary, I believe it is impossible to not follow any prophet, just some prophets call themselves prophets and others pretend they aren’t. A prophet is an authority on what is right and what is wrong, whether he is called Moses or Snoopdog or your child’s 6th grade teacher. We all decide what we believe and do, but someone presents those options to us. I believe that is the proper role of parenting. What I’m trying to say is that if parents don’t try to influence their children’s thinking, someone else will, and most likely it will be someone who does not have the child’s best interest at heart. You don’t do your garden a favor by letting it grow whatever it wants, nor do you do your child a favor by not inviting him to the path of sacrifice: the path of happiness.
Thanks P.Mo for your articulate responce. I like your broadening of the term prophet, it breaks down walls (I find this helpful) between what is and is not religious.
Your conclusion reminded me of this quote from the Peter Pan movie:
Mrs. Darling: There are many different kinds of bravery. There’s the bravery of thinking of others before one’s self. Now, your father has never brandished a sword nor fired a pistol, thank heavens. But he has made many sacrifices for his family, and put away many dreams.
Michael: Where did he put them?
Mrs. Darling: He put them in a drawer. And sometimes, late at night, we take them out and admire them. But it gets harder and harder to close the drawer… He does. And that is why he is brave.
I think that by focusing on the examples used you dismissed the point ASAASA1983 was attempting to make at large–at what point are you willing to set aside your own ethical paradigm for the psychogical well-being of your child? To say that children and adolescents are impressionable is an understatement. That is why many have criticized the fear-mongering of pornograpghy. Not because it tries to promote a different ethic of sexuality but because it unintentionally promotes a culture of shame and self-hatred.
Growing up in a traditional household I know this all too well.
All too often parents focus on “the clear and self-evident value of seeking what is good regardless of what is natural” without realizing that ‘the good’ changes so drastically depending on whether you identify as an Orthodox Jew, Satanist , agnostic, Mormon, Buddhist, nondenominational Christian, or Muslim etc. The same goes for for defining what behaviors are ‘natural’ and so forth as sexual dynamics vary drastically between species–take bonobos and chimpanzees for example.
That’s not to say that I may have shared some of your views on the detrimental quality of pornography but again there are problems with generalizing definitions. I think that there are more dangerous deep-seeded issues with our current impulse dictated consumer culture that need to be addressed at large of which what people refer to as pornography addiction is merely a symptom.
That being said I come from a very similar place as you and Brian being newly married but not yet having children. I agree it is a parents role to teach a child to the best of their ability ensuring that they have the best chance for success and happiness. The catch is at what point are you willing to set aside self-evident absolute truths you may hold dear for the well-being of your child? Like other commentors have mentioned there is an extremely fine line to walk here between lenient and authoritarian.
Maybe a child or teen who identifies on the LGBQTI spectrum would be a better example of this point I’m trying to illustrate. At what point will you be willing to set aside your own beliefs for their psychological health? In the US, 40% of transgender individuals have attempted suicide by 25. My personal attachment to this issue is laid bare as one of my closest friends was a suicide victim. Treating this identification as a sin or an infracture against ‘the good’ only amplifies the issue. I think that this highlights one of the greatest challenges of our day as increasing multiculturalism shifts traditional and nontraditional ethical paradigms. We have much to learn and share with each other as human beings. I have enjoyed in your other articles your willingness to be ethically vulnerable and to make inroads with differing opinions. The issue of developing sexuality takes a step into the realm beyond theory, however.
Please know that this comes from a place of much love and respect for you and your family.
Of course, I have always enjoyed discussing, disagreeing, agreeing, or just listening to you. So please don’t feel any stress over how this is taken. There is a long history of respect that would be awfully hard to undo. What’s more, I think I agree with everything you said. I think there is definitely a fine line to walk. And I did mostly ignore his general argument. In my defense, I did post the entirety of it and said that I find some value in the general idea, but I took issue with his examples. It was the examples that were interesting to me because it showed how far in that direction he was advocating we go. And that’s why I focused on them. I hope I didn’t offend him personally. I wanted to get across that I do respect some of the ideas and think it was at least well intentioned even if I disagree. Our blog is committed to civil dialogue and we want to welcome discussion. My concern is that how I approached this, by using his user name, might alienate some people. If so, I may have failed to uphold our primary goal. We are conservatives with liberal friends. We’re not trying to set up an echo chamber.
So let me say that I agree that tolerance has value. And parents are asked to walk a fine line. Too much perfectionism, too much vicarious living, too much moral absolutism might be as harmful as none at all. And love is by far the most important value. But what does love dictate… that’s a hard question. One billions of parents struggle with. And I’m no expert.
It’s going to be ending of mine day, except before ending I am reading this fantastic paragraph to improve my experience.
Josh, I’ve enjoyed subscribing to your blog after Jonathan Haidt and those at his Heterodox Academy linked me over to it.
I agree with the practical conclusion of this post, that you should teach your children your own ethical framework even if others disagree with it. To refuse to do so, to let them make their own decision, is to teach an ethical framework, if an apophatic one: you’re teaching them that it’s immoral to violate someone else’s authority to define his or her own vision of the good.
I’m afraid that Spencer is right, too, however, that your appeal to “the clear and self-evident value of seeking what is good regardless of what is natural” begs the question of what in fact is good (and, for that matter, what in fact is natural). I like the courteous and civil conversations that can happen here, and I appreciated Spencer’s graciousness despite his disagreement. I’d add only that it’s precisely when the broader culture is questioning and even persecuting a parent’s moral framework that the parent discovers whether he really believes in it or not. I do not accept the APA’s vision of the good; I will self-consciously teach my Christian moral framework to my children even if they discover that they have desires considered immoral in that framework (“Join the club, kids,” I’ll say). If I do “psychological harm” to my children by insisting that they not look at porn or save sex for heterosexual marriage, I will question the psychologists’ definition of harm before I question my framework. (Note that I am not an infallible interpreter of the Christian moral framework, but I seek to be a responsible one.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about this: the culture wars we are going through now are over clashing visions of the good. The orthodox Christian view—and it would appear Mormons agree here—is that sexual desire can only be fulfilled righteously within marriage, and that any sexual act or desire outside marriage will bring harm. ASAASA1983’s definition of “harm” is very likely different from mine, and different from yours. But I believe the effects of the sexual revolution are bringing harms that even ASAASA1983 will recognize, especially countless fatherless children. I read Coming Apart by Charles Murray and saw its truth all over my own neighborhood. The end result of adults doing what they want with their sexual organs is 40+% of children (higher in some communities) being born without any reason for confidence that their dads will be there when they turn 5, much less when their first college bill comes due.
The Christian vision of the good, it’s true, insists that people stay in marriages they vowed to be in even after their sexual desires point them elsewhere. (It even insists they repoint their sexual desires toward their spouses.) This means some unhappy people. But it produces a stability kids thrive in. I did. I’m willing to compete in the battle of visions of the good, because my moral framework tells those with power to use it to care for the little guy: it tells adults to put their desires aside for their children. And though I’m willing at times to make utilitarian arguments in the public square, I must also say that I’m willing for my moral framework to compare results with others because I’m certain the God who created us knows best how to bring us to the good.
A book recommendation: Harvard’s Michael Sandel and his book Justice, in which he makes the argument over and over that “justice is judgmental,” that it requires a vision of the good.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I loved what you said, and I think you’re absolutely right about disagreement over “the good” being at the heart of contemporary culture wars. And I did very little to address the complications of what “the good” might be in this post. I am also grateful that people are able to see some legitimacy in ASAASA1983 claims rather than a wholesale dismissal.
All that I really addressed in my post is the need to consider the good over desire. This does suggest that the good is separate from desire, but I think most people (besides pure hedonists) would agree on this point. Beyond that, I did very little and am glad that you and Spencer have opened up a hole here that can be explored.
“The good” is something that has interested Brian (my brother and author on this blog) for awhile now. I suspect he will be publishing some of his conclusions soon. That’s just to say that I think the issues you raise will be increasingly addressed.