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.


  • silliwin01

    Basically, you are trying to propagate maturity through a population of 18-22 year old college students who are under an inordinate amount of stress and therefore act especially immaturely when relaxing (getting irresponsibly drunk, as fun as it is, isn’t a very mature thing to do). Perhaps an admirable goal maybe, but you could probably be spending your free time doing something more fruitful, like playing chess or composing a song.

    • RexMottram08

      Stress? @ Yale? If it’s not reading week, then there’s no stress.

      • River_Tam

        When I heard that my friends at other schools actually *studied*, I laughed.

  • The Anti-Yale

    *the truths about sexuality*

    THE truths? WHOSE truths?

    *the existence of sexuality as a real and wonderful part of life.*

    You must have your eyes closed. Sexuality has brought suffering and anxiety to the world since the divine apple first fell from the taboo tree. (This myth ain’t a myth because it’s IRRELEVANT after all.)

    • Branford73

      I applaud your questions, but perhaps for different reasons. To use a phrase like “the truths about sexuality” suggests there are immutable truths about sexual behavior and attitudes which do not change over time. A more open and free sexuality has become more acceptable to portions of American society but not to others and there has been some backlash over the past 10-20 years. One could argue that self-recriminations after casual sex is a measure of how ingrained American prudery is in the psyche of the person who feels lousy or guilty the morning (or weeks) after.

      > “Sexuality has brought suffering and
      > anxiety to the world . . .”

      You could say the same thing about money. Both, however, have brought pleasure and comfort to many people, also. I’m not sure what you’re trying to say with that sentence. Are we *supposed* to feel bad after any non-marital sexual congress? Is guilt a natural consequence or a conditioned one?

  • silliwin01

    Moreover, if you are genuinely interested in making a better Yale College, there are more pressing concerns than Yale’s sexual culture, which adversely affects the lives of Yale undergraduates in a much less direct, much less frequent, and much more volitional way than issues like the absurd prices we pay for cleaning our clothes or a YUDS system inexcusably bereft of late night eating options. If you want to live up to the mission statement of your title, perhaps you ought to be working with YCC to explore solutions to these clear and persistent problems, as opposed to trying to effect widespread cultural change predicated on a relatively narrow view of morality.

  • SY

    We mostly don’t have any moral philosophy vocabulary now. Even for the Greek virtues. If Plato spoke at Sex Week under another name, few would attend, and then accuse him of promoting a violent culture. It’s going to take time to get back to the idea that public acts have private consequences, and much more to private acts have public consequences. What’s useful, wise or not useful, foolish? You started a discussion. Be patient. Classes of ’14, ’15 and ’16, I think, will be back to deciding civic virtues, without fear or rejection reflex.

  • ignatz

    I hope SY’s words are prophetic. Universities were created, after all, for the very purpose of teaching young adults how to live, with civic virtues featured prominently on the agenda. How tragic that Yale today worships at the altar of non-judgmentalism.