|Ethics and Morality |
The Good Person
Ethics and Reproduction
We are all afraid that an alien group will seize power, disapprove of us and deprive us of happiness, liberty and life. This is human history and discrimination recurs inevitably. Every group has an implicit notion that its members are selected and privileged. Every group wants more of their own children and less children that belong to other groups. However, the last thing the world needs is more humans. There is no easy path to a policy or procedure that limits reproduction and fairly distributes the right to life. While governments may promote birth control and limit the resources available to mothers with more than one child, it is more difficult to take the next step to define and demand an adequate standard of parental responsibility.
You could argue that to achieve an ideal society, the society must insist that every newborn child will have the best nurturing and education available to assure the best outcome. If you are a nurture enthusiast, you believe that better nurturing will lead to healthy, happy and constructive citizens. Good nurturing cannot fix the negative effects of bad genes, bad air or the wrong food, so that more specific parental selection is required. It is more difficult to establish genetic criteria for parents. It may be many centuries before humans understand all the implications of the genetic code. The prospects for genetically engineered, ideal humans are not promising, even if you could decide how an ideal human should look and act. The options currently available are to advise parents with genetic disease to avoid having children, and to abort fetuses with developmental abnormalities.
One side of ethical arguments is dogmatic. For example, the dogmatist claims that all human life is sacred and begins with the fertilized egg. This argument has become the rallying call of the anti-abortion movement who claim moral superiority when none is earned. A rational person will understand that human life acquires increasing value as it develops and that all living things compete for survival. The mother of an embryo has prior rights. The embryo is subordinate to her needs and wishes, but gains more rights as it becomes an independently viable human. Even when a baby survives birth, the mother may be the only person who can assure longer term survival. When population density is high and resources are scarce, the survival of a newborn infant becomes a luxury rather than a necessity. In human and other primate groups, it is the immediate group of female peers and elders who decide if the infant should survive or not. They have practical concerns, not dogmatic preconceptions.
The repression of sexuality and the control of breeding privileges is as much a human tendency as the expression of sexuality. But why is there so much repression, even when sexuality is publically displayed in all its variants? Every primate group has mating rules. Some rules are unspoken and unwritten, but there are always rules.
A reasonable argument can be made that human sexual prudery is an expression of an innate tendency to compete for sexual privileges. Just add some exaggerations, distortions, power struggles, rules and cruelty and you can develop most male behaviors. If you are a social anthropologist touring the planet, you would find a variety of sex rules and divergent notions of what is normal sexual behavior. The only certainly is that in every group sexual behavior is molded and constrained by a combination of innate tendencies and local rules. General rules about sexual behaviors are linked to kinship rules and involve a hierarchical distribution of rights and privileges within the local group.
Since males compete for females, rules regulate competition and minimize the disruptive potential for male to male conflict. The rules must also minimize the damaging effects of female to female competition for male affiliation, which usually determines female status and privilege. Among the rules are limitations on the exposure of body parts. In cold countries, nudity is often considered improper and clothing serves both utilitarian and modesty functions.
In warmer countries, less clothing is acceptable but genitalia are often covered.Since males, in particular, are aroused by seeing female breasts and buttocks, clothing often covers these provocative shapes. A general acceptance of public nudity signals a liberated sexual attitude. Female nudity on display is a form of entertainment that pleases men and turns them into generous patrons. In the later part of the 20th century public nudity in all its forms was increasingly prevalent on the planet except for a few Islamic states.
DNA has rules about who has sex with whom. Because adverse genetic mutations concentrate when close relatives mate, it is not a good idea for brothers and sisters or parents and offspring to make babies. There is, therefore, a natural aversion to close sexual encounters within the family. This natural incest aversion is strengthened by incest taboos, but incest is common in all societies, nevertheless.
DNA's reasons are practical. Gene diversity is good and unrelated individuals should have sex more often than related individuals. Bad gene mutations will tend to concentrate in the babies of related parents, and if these babies survive and reproduce, bad genes will become more common in the group. Brothers and sisters have a spontaneous aversion to having sex together (if they live together as children) and group rules enforce that tendency. There are individuals who fail to regulate sexual behavior in terms of innate and local rules and they do the wrong things. Fathers who have sex with their own daughter's appear in every society and every social class, even though the activity is genetically unwise and generally taboo. Unrelated stepfathers often attempt to have sex with stepdaughters and their genes are unrelated so that this has no negative genetic consequences.
Teenagers often hang out in groups with idle time, little parental supervision and casual sex becomes a popular form of recreation. Young females appear to be attracted to male groups and some will become promiscuous, apparently unaware of their need to barter and trade sexual favors. On closer examination, females are aware of the barter principle, but from a critical observer's point of view, may be too generous with sexual favors, offering their bodies for male attention, group acceptance, liquor, cigarettes and drugs. The idea of "losing my virginity" and "saving myself for marriage" is a functional aspect of prudery, originating from the marketing of sexual privileges.
A young woman has something of value, which she and her family can barter or sell. Attached to her sexuality is her ability to produce children for a single male who selects her, pays for her, and supports her. The value of virginity is the guarantee that the women is not carrying another man’s child or a sexually transmitted disease and is capable of discipline over desire. If the young woman is overly receptive sexually, much of her value is lost. In some societies only virgins can marry. The theme of discipline over desire is expressed in a variety of ways in every culture and is incorporated into all the prevalent religions. Some religious institutions promote the idea of virginity as a commodity and attempt to suppress teenage sexuality by praising “virtue” and threatening dire punishment from a stern God if you do not protect virginal virtue.
Rules that regulate reproductive access also regulate family structure and child care. Strict traditions attempt to match couples and then maintain the marriage contract through the lifetime of the couple. The discipline of family life in traditional societies is thought to be morally superior to any other expressions of life. Despite strict rules and dire punishments, premarital sex and marital infidelity is common in all societies. In free societies, strict reproductive and family discipline is regarded as oppressive and is associated with patriarchy, female submission and unhappy children who rebel against overly strict parental control.
Modern, educated, free humans will not accept unconditional moral authority nor threats of moral punishments as incentives for discipline over desire. The idea that you will go to hell for eternity for having premarital sex is recognized as a ludicrous form of intimidation. Even more “realistic” educational schemes based on inspiring fear of disease in adolescents tend not to work. Sexually transmitted diseases are real threats but adolescents are not adverse to risk and believe that the risk of getting life-threatening HIV infection and dying of AIDS is low. Selfish DNA says: “I just want more babies” so that desire is stronger than hesitation or fear.
Females have always had the greater responsibility to regulate sexual activity since they have more to gain and more to lose by inappropriate liaisons with males. Spontaneous reproductive discipline is linked to intelligence and health. A smart, healthy young women is more likely to be constructively engaged and is more selective of male partners. She can discern what is in her best interest even if her family is lax in applying the rules of sexual restraint. A less attractive or less intelligent female will be more reliant on sexual favors to get what she wants; hence the association between the "dumb female" and sexual availability
An odd quirk shows up in some males who become self-righteous bigots and act out the fantasy of being impeccable humans who never have casual sex and never break rules such as life-long monogamy. We are used to the revelations that priests diddle little girls, boys and sometimes their mothers in the rectory. Strident Christian males chastise others for fornication and then engage local prostitutes in sexual play after delivering hell-raising sermons. There are interesting discrepancies between stated prudery and what is really going on. You could argue that overt and aggressive prudery is always a false persona that attempts to disguise sexual desires and fantasies that are not acceptable under the rules of prudery.