Sunday, January 21, 2007

Mutant Teenage Moral Pigmies

The other night as I walked through the door the Last Amazon rushed me and pronounced that she is not sure that she can ever have sex in her best Amazonian Diva style. I managed a "Right, well then – let me get my coat off and you can tell me how your day went". I suppose I should take comfort in the fact, that unlike her mother, she actually manages to come out with original things to say. For years I tormented my own grandmother with a daily "I'm home. What's for dinner?"

The Last Amazon may have been having a diva moment over her alleged inability to have sex but I wasn't going to let it upset my peace of mind considering that she is not quite old enough to have her first date. I also am old enough to know biology has a way of working these things out. So I nagged her into making me a fresh cappuccino if she wanted to spill the beans over whatever had her tied all up in knots. Besides she's the only one who knows how to use the machine as I just haven't been able to find the enough time for her to demonstrate how the machine works, but I must say the current imbalance in our skill set has been working out great for me.

Apparently, it all started in Canadian Law class when there were discussing the case of Mr. X who was charged with aggravated assault causing grievous bodily harm. Apparently, Mr. X was diagnosed with HIV. After being diagnosed with HIV public health workers went to a great deal of trouble explaining to Mr. X the danger unprotected sex posed to any potential sexual partner. Mr. X was quite cavalier and deliberately withheld not only his HIV status from three sexual partners but deliberately refused to use a condom during sex. The third girlfriend learned inadvertently about Mr. X's status and was horrified at the potential death sentence Mr. X's cavalier approach condemned her to. She took her case to the authorities.

The Crown decided to prosecute the Mr. X with the charge of aggravated assault causing grievous bodily harm. Eventually, for a variety of technical reasons Mr. X. was ultimately acquitted. But what had upset the Last Amazon was the attitude of her classmates towards the actions of Mr. X. She was the only student out of forty 15-17 year olds who thought it was morally reprehensible (if not an act out right act of evil) to not advise any potential sexual partners of your HIV status, and 2) to deliberately refuse to use any form of protection during sexual intercourse knowing you were HIV positive.

The overwhelming consensus of her classmates was Mr. X was lonely and just wanted to experience human warmth untainted by the shadow of his disease before he was too sick to do so, and furthermore, why should it be a crime just wanting to get laid? If Mr. X had acknowledged his HIV status to any of his potential partners he ran the risk of refusal and so be potentially denied the fulfillment of a basic human need. One of her classmates used all his full intellectual and moral weight to argue since Mr. X has received this disease unknowingly he was "justified" in passing it on to the next "vic" with the caveat "that it might not be right, but it’s justified". It was to his point of view her classmates instinctively rallied behind.

For her efforts, she was denounced as judgmental and closed-minded. She was told in no uncertain terms that she not only lacked any pretense of empathy but basic human compassion. It didn’t particularly concern her that her classmates judged her and found her wanting, but she is appalled that she must continue to spend the next few months surrounded by these people in her class. And since these are her peers, she is further repulsed by the fact that her potential dating pool is filled with such moral pigmies. And these students were not the vocational or general level students but the cream of the academic crop. This is the Last Amazon’s first real experience with public education since a brief 4 month stint in junior kindergarten wherein most of her classmates have spent their entire educational lives in the public secular school system.

One of the ways in which having children changed my worldview was it made me question not just my value system but the value systems of my peers. I was a seventies child/teenager. I was the one of the first generations to be raised without an overt reliance of a religious education and it was my generation’s parents who were the first to break with regular attendance at any kind of religious institutions.

My peers and I were raised by the agnostics, atheists, and New Agers. The prevailing value ethos was anything goes, do your own thing, and if we gave it a thought at all some of us added the caveat “as long as no one gets hurt.” Let it all hang out. Your intentions were more important than your acts. It was my generation who came of age after the sexual revolution was in full swing. So very few of us spent any great effort struggling through moral complexities or formally spent time worrying about our own ethical conduct until things went horribly awry in our own lives.

Most of my peers had no clear cut notions of right and wrong or good and evil. A great number chose to do bad, destructive or even evil things and had absolutely no basis in which to judge or even understand the nature of what they had chosen to do.

I escaped most of the excesses of this because my mother was never particularly hip and I was fortunate to have two sets of grandparents who had a great deal of influence on my moral development. I remember on more than one occasion when I sought to avoid a young man’s call by having to leave the condo and stand outside the house door in order for my grandfather to be able to advise the young man I had just left the house as he would not tell a lie. Not even a little one and not even for me. I thought him hopelessly old fashioned and quaint in a good mood, but a right pain in a bad mood. Now I realize what a treasure he was.

After I had the Last Amazon and her brothers it caused me to take a long hard look at my peers and my own values. I had quite an electric group of people surrounding me which eventually I cut all ties with. My sole criterion for friendship in those days was based on two principles; I must find you amusing and you could not pose deliberate harm to moi. My libertines’ did not pose a physical threat to my children but their appearance in our lives undercut the values in which I was trying to instill.

How can one teach a child that stealing is wrong when a master thief comes regularly to dinner? Or how does one explain that fortunate telling is an art wherein one seeks to extort money based one’s ability to exploit another’s capacity for self-delusion? How can I explain to my child that prostitution is not a profession worthy of being my a woman when one of my oldest friends is a prostitute, abet a highly successful one, but one who still needed alcohol and drugs, to get through a work day? Perhaps one can, but I certainly was at a loss to do so.

Ultimately, we made the decision to have the children educated in an environment where religious values and ethnics were part of the core curriculum. It was just not enough for us to govern our own lives by our own personal values and ethnics and not have our children’s outside everyday world made up of elements which undercut rather than reinforced our everyday values. The children needed to be in a world wherein they saw other’s living the same way, and just as the children were subject to the authority of their parents and teachers, they needed to understand that their parents and teachers were also subject to a higher authority whose nature was unchanged by fashion or whim.

Even if the children grew up to reject the teachings of their religious environment they would have a baseline to guide their own values and ethnics. And if they chose to do evil at least they would know what evil they had chosen to do. It has been my experience that ignorance has never been blissful.

I would say most of the parents of these teenagers in my daughter’s class are not bad people but rather careless parents who put their hopes in the hands of the alleged experts without ever fully understanding the area or nature of expertise of the educational experts. They have passed on their parental responsibilities to those others in the hopes of bringing up tolerate compassionate people who will not be narrow minded or judgmental but accepting, inclusive and merciful adults.

Judge not less you be judgment and found unworthy is no longer a call to judging others by the same standards one sets for oneself, but a call to suspend all judgment and seek only mercy. This is why we now have a generation of teenagers whose moral creed is no longer 'do unto others as one would do for oneself' but 'do unto others as others have dealt with you'. And if you do wrong, no worries; claim the perpetual right of mercy under the clause ‘for all the evil done unto you.’

G-d save us all because these teenagers won’t.


Chris Taylor said...

I think you can attribute at least some of the difference in attitude toward a difference in perception of the disease.

People of my generation see HIV transmission as a death sentence. When we first learned about HIV there were no drugs to mitigate its effects. Contracting HIV generally meant developing full-onset AIDS, which generally meant meant death a few years down the road.

These days you can carry the HIV virus for quite some time (taking expensive and powerful drugs to keep it in check) without necessarily developing full-blown, fatal AIDS.

While you and I tend to view HIV infection as equivalent to long boring painful death, the kids probably see it as something closer to herpes -- incurable but manageable.

Kateland, aka TZH said...

I don't know Chris, this school is two blocks from Casey House, not to mention there are a great number of people living in the advanced stages of the disease in the neighborhood for the teenagers to see fairly regularly.

Its not pretty, in fact, its still horrific even with the cocktails. But I think you are spot on - they see the disease as something as managable as herpes per say - which is a mistake. Herpes, make at times make you wish for death, but HIV will eventually develop into full blown Aids but its ten years out, and the very young and very ignorant often think 10 years is all time one needs in any given lifetime. My grandmother use to say only the lucky grow old. I think she has a point.

Steve B said...

Shocking, scary, and infuriating.

Quite a testament to today's moral climate when someone intentionally infecting someone with a life-threatening disease, get's shrugged off as "just needed a hug."

He's a murderer, sure as if he poisoned them with a slow acting poison.

Michael said...

This is a scary post. I never really expect moral superiority from teens, but that's sort of attitude that gets people hurt. Just another sign of societal decay.

You said: This is why we now have a generation of teenagers whose moral creed is no longer 'do unto others as one would do for oneself' but 'do unto others as others have dealt with you'. And if you do wrong, no worries; claim the perpetual right of mercy under the clause ‘for all the evil done unto you.’

I think you are onto something here. These kids have lost (or never developed) their moral compass, and they are falling back on selfishness. Natural, but lamentable, and it will only lead, in the long run, to Hobbes's bella omnium contra omnes.

I believe we need to rethink the Golden Rule, and take it back to it's roots: the old Hebrew dictum, "What is hateful to yourself, do not to others." It looks at the issue from the other end: How would these kids like it if someone game them HIV?

We can't change anyone else's kids, and there will come a point when we can't shelter our own. The only way out of this is for every parent to take personal responsibility for their childrens' growth.

Anonymous said...

In our politically correct society we never want to call a spade a spade. Here is a man with a horrible disease, a true death sentence, that is knowingly and willingly infecting others. Since we have removed all the stigma from this disease, although it spread predominantly by one form of sex and drug use, we remove any moral outrage over actions like this. If the disease isn't horrible then passing along isn't either. pretty sick!!

It also speaks to the absolute selfish nature of modern society. The students are putting personal wants over the responsibility that one has by being in a community. One own gratification is seen as over and above the needs and stability of the not just society but another human being. A human being who's only crime is having compassion for another human being.

Personally I feel that pigs like this should be executed. It also further reinforces my tendency to say that those with HIV need to be rounded up and quarantined. Every other infectious disease carrier can be quarantined until they are no longer infectious. Why not HIV carriers? Wouldn't we wipe out this disease if we started mandatory testing and quarantine? But we can't do that because it is inhumane. Yet pigs like this can go around weaken society and ruin lives.

Your daughter is right to be outraged, and I take heart in her reaction. You should be proud of raising such a smart and prudent daughter!

The Tiger said...

That's a pretty dreadful viewpoint that most of the class had.

Still, the Victorian age succeeded the Regency period -- if we get too horrified with the values one generation has, there will be a re-thinking of it.

(I'm actually taking a closer look at religion precisely because of these bedrock right and wrong issues... C.S. Lewis's argument re moral sense make intuitive sense...)