Clive Hamilton’s sexual conservatism

Kieran Salsone has written a piece about Clive Hamilton’s essay “Rethinking Sexual Freedom” at his “Websinthe” blog. He identifies Hamilton’s views on sexuality as conservative, and I agree.

Salsone identifies Hamilton’s intellectual dishonesty:

He [Hamilton] also goes too far straw-manning ‘post-moderns’.

The debate over the sexualisation of girls has outed these post-moderns. They have always argued that children are sexual creatures and should be allowed to explore and express their sexuality without the guilt imposed on them by neurotic adults and conservative clerics. Luckily, they believe, children are much smarter than neurotic adults and slip easily into a savvy, ironic, critical mode whenever there is any danger of falling under the sway of advertisers or media.

He then goes on to describe an unholy alliance between those that think children shouldn’t be punished merely for touching themselves in ‘a naughty place’ and corporate vampires trying to push ‘corporate peadophilia’ as a means of selling their wares.

While I have no problem with attacking commercial interests having anything to do with children’s sexuality, it’s wrong to say that there is a causal relationship between the two without undermining a movement to remove shame and denigration from the lives of children.

I’ve written a long comment there, mostly fisking parts of the article, and finishing:

Hamilton’s final words:

“Today the historic mission is no longer to attack and tear down, but to rebuild a moral code. In affluent, liberal societies, the task is to understand that freedom cannot be found in a moral free-for-all, but only in the careful exercise of restraint.”

Here Hamilton claims that the only choices are a “moral free-for-all” and “the careful exercise of restraint”.

I reject that. The task is to help people to resist all pressure from without and make their own decisions, so they are not guilt-tripped by potential sexual partners OR by busybodying fussbudget ethicists. If we ever get to that stage, we can be almost certain that some people will freely choose to make sexual decisions that Hamilton disapproves of.

6 Responses to “Clive Hamilton’s sexual conservatism”

  1. 1 OkayStill

    Hear, Hear on your point about making our own decisions…and not being “guilt-tripped” or pressured (by anyone) to have sex or to not have sex. My argument? The minute we become self-righteous and moralising about those, such as Hamilton, who hold a mirror (albeit somewhat warped) to society that reflect images of ourselves and our preactices that seem unattractive, we are in danger of becoming the radical (and hypocritical) individualists to which he refers. Strip away the chauvinism and the “better than though” undercurrent of his article and get to the nitty gritty of his argument: “rethinking” our sexual freedom is NOT such a conservative thing to do. In fact, in our current socio-cultural context, it’s rather radical! The fact that this article has created so much discussion is further testament to this. If you are someone who has NEVER woken up with some regret after a night of casual sex, I bow to you. I have. It didn’t make me feel good. I have several friends who also freely admit to waking up with “Oh, no!” as their first thought after such an experience. It didn’t make them feel good either.

    Some might argue that this is a generational thing. After all, I am 50 plus. I know it’s not “generational” because I deal with young people everyday who have that “Oh no!” look plastered all over their faces. They haven’t had the privilege of questioning from that critical friend referred to by Hamilton. They don’t have the advantage of age and the so-called wisdom that goes along with it. They are highly unlikely to read, or even hear about, the alternate viewpoints posed by either Hamilton or Salsone and, if they did, would side with the viewpoint that made them “popular” with their peers.

    At the risk of sounding like Hamilton, they need role-models who can model how to “self talk” and how to show “restraint. With all due respect to the many young people who are proficient in these areas, as a collective, Generation (Give it to Me) NOW is skilled at neither. In addition, the fact that we have ‘Boomers’ and Generation Y adults who act as if Casual Sex is an inalienable right (seriously, is it THAT good, people?) is unlikely to lead to any real questioning of the status quo when it comes to sexual freedom. I’ve been an anti-conservative, lefter-than-left, street-marching, authority-bashing, tree-hugging, union-loving radical all my life and I’d like to think that our society is capable of respecting, valuing and reflecting upon a whole spectrum of sexual morals, including those that may, at first glance, offend us. In doing so, we may actually “rethink” our sexual freedom (and, please note that every freedom is accompanied by a responsibility) into a New Sexual Freedom. Try reading Hamilton’s final words  again, with a few minor changes:

    “Today the historic mission is no longer to attack and tear down, but to rebuild a moral code. In affluent, liberal societies, the task is to understand that freedom cannot be found in a moral vacuum, but only in the careful exercise of choice.”

  2. 2 Arthur

    youngmarxist i can’t see any comment from you at the link you provided.OkayStill, I agree both that a lot of supposedly “rebellious” sexuality is actually quite conformist and that there’s nothing wrong with critiqueing personal lifestyles and attitudes. But that in fact is what happens all the time and is the way cultures and attitudes develop and change. People (of all generations) do it for themselves and reach widely different conclusions on the same issues (also among all generations) – it cannot be done for them by “authorities”. The problem with taking the risk of sounding like Hamilton is that he is NOT just exercsising his right to critique cultures and lifestyles. He is in fact calling for less freedom and more imposition of what he believes in. That is what creates a moral vacuum.PS yes Casual Sex has become an “inalienable right”. Nothing to do with how good it is but with the fact that the previous bases for enforced social restrictions on it are no longer relevant. Its just no longer society’s official business and won’t ever be again.

  3. 3 youngmarxist

    Hi OkayStill, thanks for commenting here.

    I agree that it’s not conservative in itself to be rethinking sexual freedom (or, to be more precise, how sexual freedom is used). However I’d disagree profoundly with Hamilton’s view on what the *result* of that rethinking should be.I certainly agree that people *can* regret casual sex. However Hamilton’s argument goes much further; he appears to say that any argument in favour of casual sex as a good in itself is inherently flawed:

    “Yet there is something missing because we know that feelings of regret often follow casual sexual encounters (not to mention paid ones). It is implausible to propose that it simply falls short of the ideal of loving sex, in the same way as it is implausible to argue that feelings of regret arise because a one-night stand does not fulfil hopes of adventure, liberation and an inherently valuable enterprise.”

    “Often”, used here, is a weasel word. What is “often”? Twenty percent of the time? Fifty percent of the time? Eighty per cent? Hamilton argues that because of this regret, “restraint” is appropriate. That is, he wishes to prescribe what people should do with their sex lives, and it follows from his arguments that he would prefer it if casual sex were to disappear.

    It would be a great improvement in the world if more people were exposed to role models who encouraged them to think these tricky problems through for themselves before having sex, or making any other decision that could be strongly influenced by peer pressure. However I refuse to advocate or condemn any particluar sexual practice between consenting adults. What I object to in Hamilton is the implication that people only indulge in sexual practices he thinks are “meaningless” because of pressure from peers or the media. It is entirely possible that people will decide to have “meaningless” casual sex of their own genuinely free will.

    I disagree that every freedom is accompanied by a responsibility. If it were, this discussion would be unnecessary. Self-evidently, freedom is, in itself, neither responsible nor irresponsible. I would rather argue that freedom without responsbility *can* lead to a weakening of social ties and self-esteem if used in ways that are damaging.

    I’d argue that the change you’ve made to Hamilton’s words – using the word “choice” instead of “restraint” – is not a minor change at all, but a profound one. The whole thrust of Hamilton’s article comes very close to arguments that insist we have no real choice at all in our personal decisions but are the helpless victims of advertising and “consumer culture”. Our only way out is to be “restrained”

    Your use of the word “choice”, on the other hand, implies that choice is possible and that humans can learn to make their own choices rather than submit to the fashions set by others. The difference in the two viewpoints is that someone CAN choose to have casual sex – and *if* their choice genuinely fits in with their own values, then they won’t feel regret afterwards.  Hamilton implies that this is impossible.

  4. 4 youngmarxist

    Arthur, I’ll email Kieran about that. I suspect it may be in his spam bin because I just spent 45 minutes trying to post my above comment here before checking the spam bin here.

  5. 5 derrida derider

    In “Good Morning Vietnam”, Robyn Williams’ character remarks of  a similar character who deals with his personal demons by projecting them onto others – “Boy, I’ve never seen a man more in need of a good blow job”.

  6. 6 Syd Walker

    A fine article.

  1. 1 Interesting links around Ozblogistan at catallaxyfiles

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