Tuesday, September 17, 2002

More About Bob Greene's Indiscretions

Eugene Volokh is arguing that because Bob Greene didn't actually break any law by having sex with a 17 year old, that his employer turning this into a moral issue doesn't make much sense.

I strongly disagree. Law provides a very minimum foundation for appropriate behavior. Ideally, law should be something on which there is overwhelming agreement. Murder, rape, fraud, are examples of behaviors that the law prohibits because there is a consensus that these are wrong. There are a lot of other behaviors where there may be a majority in support of prohibition, but it's usually not a huge majority. Criminalizing everything that 50% + one person finds immoral creates enormous contention within a society, and such laws are often difficult to enforce both because of the strong minority disagreement, and because it's hard to lock up 15% of the population. (Examples: bans on private adult consumption of illegal drugs, laws prohibiting private adult homosexual behavior, restrictive gun control laws.)

There are a lot of behaviors that should not be criminalized, but that doesn't make them okay. The Chicago Tribune might be genuinely horrified by Bob Greene's taking advantage of a star-struck 17 year old, or they might be aware that much of their readership is genuinely horrified. Either way, their actions make a lot of sense to me.

Those actions that social pressure and economic forces do not discourage, often turns into something that a majority may decide requires legal sanction. If Bob Greene's actions aren't enough to produce some non-governmental punishment, the temptation becomes strong for democracy to work in its clumsy and sometimes ugly way, and pass laws to deal with this.

UPDATE: instapundit.com is quoting Mickey Kaus that there's no reason why anyone would need to "explain their desire to have sex with attractive women" as millions of years of evolutionary behavior, and instapundit.com argues, "It's sexism, Mickey -- they're afraid of the Sisterhood and its patriarch/rake dichotomy where male sexuality is concerned."

Actually, it's a bit more complex than that. Greene is married. While not very fashionable in some circles, there are some vows of fidelity that usually go along with marriage. Breaking those vows is often a cause of divorce, with all the evils that go along with it. So why would someone break those vows, risking all sorts of emotional pain? Why do you see so many of these incidents involving middle-aged guys and young women?

I know a couple who separated when the husband reached his 50s. One day, he broke the news to his wife of almost 30 years that he was leaving. "You're too old!" He wasn't any younger, and he wasn't any more wonderful to look at in his 50s than she was. But the difference was that everytime he looked at his wife, he saw a reminder of his own mortality. He went chasing women much younger than himself; as long as he was in the sack with women in their late 20s and early 30s, he could delude himself that he was still young. Now he is in his early 70s. His health has collapsed--and those nubile young women aren't interested. His wife (they never formally divorced) is also old, and in declining health--and alone. This isn't the only couple I know like this--just one where the husband had an especially well articulated and transparent reason for leaving.

For those who think that this life is all there is, there must be nothing more terrifying than to confront middle age, see all the dreams and illusions shattered, and look forward to another 20-30 years of declining health. Running from reality must seem like a very alluring prospect. But it's still a delusion.

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