Here in the United States over the past few weeks we have been enduring the appalling spectacle of the worst scandal in the history of our college athletics which, given what moral cesspit big-time men’s college football and basketball are generally, is something truly remarkable. Presumption of innocence etc etc but it would appear that an assistant football coach at Penn State named Jerry Sandusky, a one-time heir apparent to one-time coaching legend Joe Paterno got caught raping little boys in the gymnasium locker room, and all of his superiors from Paterno up through the university athletic director to the president of the either decided that they didn’t know about it or that they shouldn’t call the police and instead just quietly hushed matters up. After all, football is important. If one wants a really burning anecdote to illustrate the position associated with Gil Harman and John Doris that there is no such thing as moral character, you could do a lot worse than point at this.
I prefer to engage in a different bit of philosophical reflection, however.
Straight off, a disclaimer. Unlike many who burn with outrage at Jerry Sandusky and his apparent enablers, I’m not much of a sexual moralist. Sluts, polys, perverts and kinksters all have my love and admiration and indeed in many ways I think I’m one of them, or enough like them that I’m willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in trying to make a social world more welcoming of them. There’s clearly a lot of room for more accommodation than we have now and if we actually make that room we’ll have a much happier world for everyone.
That said, there nonetheless remain people whose desires I cannot see reasonably accommodating, such as
- People who desire sex with little kids, as Jerry Sandusky apparently did.
- People who desire genuinely nonconsensual sex.
- People who desire to genuinely hurt or dominate others — not as some sort acting out of some sort of joint fantasy, which is just fine, but to coercively impose that harm on nonconsenting others.
Unhappily there are people who find themselves in all of these categories (which probably overalp to a considerable extent). There just isn’t any remotely tolerable social order that does not prevent some members of society from inflicting gross harms on others, so there’s not much accommodation to be had for such people. They cannot but be outsiders, so let us call them Moral Exiles.
So here’s where it gets ugly. What if you are a Moral Exile? I’m pretty sure you didn’t ask for your aberrant desires. What comes next?
Let’s take a bit of wisdom from Staci Haines, herself an incest survivor. who reminded us (in an interview with Susie Bright, as I recall) of something most people like to forget, which is that even abusers — a subset of Moral Exiles who act on their aberrant desires — are still human beings, not monsters or demons or robots. And like all human beings, they suffer. One way in which a Moral Exile suffers is that he or she has desires which must be thwarted if they are to be integrated into society. And thwarted desires are a form of suffering, indeed often a very serious form of suffering. It is no answer to the suffering that the desires which are to be thwarted are for bad things. Nature cares not for good or bad. Thwarted desire is thwarted desire and will produce suffering no matter whether the desired things are good or bad.
If you are a Moral Exile, your prospects are really bleak. Your life is a struggle against yourself which you might lose. If you lose, you inflict suffering, perhaps terrible suffering, on some innocent third party. And if you win, you still lose, because your life will be a torment to you.
A more human society might at least see that Moral Exiles are suffering people and at least try to treat them sympathetically, but I suspect that even this might be too much to hope for. Far too many people clearly believe that there are people who are somehow “evil” and deserving of suffering because of the way nature made them. More bleakness for the Moral Exile.
Perhaps therapy could rid the Moral Exile of his or her aberrant desires? Yeah, sure. Good luck with that, therapists.
Given how bleak the Moral Exile’s prospects are, it really does look like suicide is a more human option. But that is forbidden, of course. Result: blasted, miserable lives both for the Moral Exiles and those whom they hurt.