HEINE: Defending ‘right’ and ‘wrong’

Tuesday’s editorial (“News’ View: Talking sex,” Sept. 27) criticized the Undergraduates for a Better Yale College for using “alienating” rhetoric in talking about “right” and “wrong” choices in a recent op-ed (“Right and wrong sexual choices,” Sept. 26). Cast in this light, UBYC looks somewhat like the Puritan townspeople from “The Scarlet Letter,” content to heartlessly consign “those immoral kids” to the ranks of shame, but we believe this depiction terribly unfair.

The News’ View misinterprets Mr. Aboutorabi’s use of the terms “right” and “wrong.” He and the rest of UBYC do not use the terms to primarily mean “moral” or “immoral,” for we recognize the difficulty of justifying ethics without first arguing for some sort of Creator or foundational metaphysics. Rather, we use the terms to mean “wise” and “foolish,” or “prudent” and “imprudent,” merely focusing on Yale’s sexual culture from an amoral and secular standpoint.

That said, if UBYC members recognize the ambiguity of these terms, why do they use the words “right” and “wrong” at all, instead of just sticking with “wise” or “foolish”? A fair question, so for starters: “right” and “wrong” are far stronger than “wise” and “foolish.” The former terms suggest solidified, black and white beliefs about the foolishness of ever using pornography, hooking-up, etc., the sort of beliefs we wish to convey. The latter terms, meanwhile, merely convey the sense of a weakened, situation-dependent belief occasionally permissive of such acts. A refusal to use “right” and “wrong” might lead UBYC into hopeless obscurity, to be ignored like a weak-willed parent who didn’t have the courage to chastise his child.

Further, as suggested above, the terms “right” and “wrong” do in fact prick the conscience, something we see as valuable to our larger cause, if not to this particular public debate. Ideally, such terms will elicit a response from those with private moral codes, driving them to consider the morality of their particular sexual stances, even if we don’t use morality in our discussions of Sex Week.

Nonetheless, it still may seem as if my clarification does not weaken the terms enough, and that UBYC should stop “imposing” our ideas on others, to use Mr. Chituc’s word (“Yalies for minding your own business,” Sept. 20). We, on the other hand, do not see an attempt to argue about the proper role of sex as an “imposition” of values. Through articles, blogging and conversation, UBYC raises fundamental questions about sex, calling on our audience to reexamine its proper role. Sex Week, meanwhile, seems to assume that these questions have already been answered, and promotes mere sensation and entertainment, focusing primarily on pornography, sexual techniques, and fetishes while leaving the other side obscure and relatively unheard. Sex Week masquerades as dialogue, while actually imposing its own hegemonic culture on Yale — a culture which one may strive to ignore, but which nonetheless affects everyone in some way.

For these reasons, I firmly stand behind UBYC’s usage of the words “right” and “wrong.” I believe that they best support our effort to open people’s eyes to the truths about sexuality. Employing such terms does not make our effort Puritan: we do not point hyper-moralistic fingers. Our effort is not Victorian: it does not deny or shy away from the existence of sexuality as a real and wonderful part of life. Our effort is not, of course, “postmodern”: it does not support a belief in human nature, in a set of general basic facts about ourselves with which we must contend. No, our effort is humanistic; we hope to show people the truth about themselves, and the true joys of sex shared by two committed lovers as an outpouring of their special love. We hope you’ll lend an ear.

Travis Heine is a sophomore in Pierson College and a member of UBYC.

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