Monday, October 17, 2005

Katherine Kersten: The truth about the Vikings' party

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:51 PM |  

In today’s Star Tribune, Katherine Kersten (to mix a metaphor) gets to third base, but hesitates to go all the way on the Viking Scandal.

First base --

Minnesotans are expressing shock at the alleged sex party on Lake Minnetonka. Fans are disgusted. Politicians are outraged. The Vikings can kiss a new stadium goodbye. But I've noticed something. Everyone sputters with outrage, but no one really articulates why. When pressed, people generally mutter something about the Vikings being poor role models for our kids.
Second base --

We sense something is disastrously wrong with such lascivious conduct. But in America in 2005, we've lost the language to say exactly what. The players and women involved were apparently consenting adults. And consenting adults can pretty much engage in whatever sexual activities they want, right? For decades, enlightened free thinkers have worked to drill this into our heads.
Third base --

It's time to speak the truth. Nothing happened on those boats that many of our teenage boys haven't already seen repeatedly on the Internet, where the raunchiest porn is a mouse-click away. Our 14-year-old girls have heard jokes about oral sex and masturbation on "Sex and the City," maybe watching with Mom. On cable TV shows such HBO's "Real Sex," explicit sex acts are regular fare. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that "virtual" pornography that portrays life-like children in the most degraded acts is protected "free speech."

In many taxpayer-financed sex education classes, our kids learn that sex is a matter of lifestyle choice. You decide when you're ready, and then have sex whenever and with whomever you want. Just make sure it's safe sex.
So far so good. Kersten’s right. Most people start out commenting on the Vikings’ cruise with something like “I’m not a prude,” to affirm their “hipness” credentials, but then quickly move on to “but I find what the Vikings did disgusting.” Kersten hits that one solidly, but stumbles a little rounding second. She gets it right -- “The players and women involved were apparently consenting adults. And consenting adults can pretty much engage in whatever sexual activities they want, right?” -- but between the lines she really means “wrong.” She makes that clear as she slides into third with a run down of the evils of society. It’s almost a liberal argument -- The Vikings are not to blame; it’s society’s fault.

“What were the Vikings thinking?” she asks. “Unfortunately,” she says, “ perhaps merely what our society has taught them to think.” She concludes ambiguously.
Minnesotans' reaction to the Vikings' sex-capades may be muddled, but it's heartening. At some level, we still revere the dignity - the sanctity - of sexual love. Occasionally, our residual sense of decency can still rise to the surface and shout its outrage.
Shouting outrage is like arguing with an umpire. It's not going to get us home. Nor is faith in “residual decency.“ Kersten never refutes the straw man question she sets up at the very beginning of the piece -- “consenting adults can pretty much engage in whatever sexual activities they want, right?”

In a free society that is exactly right. The Vikings did do nothing wrong -- except (as does Kersten) ask the wrong question.

Morality discussions about what the other guy is doing are pretty fruitless unless they provide some guidance for our own individual behavior. And as disgusted as we might be with the Vikings off-field antics, the basis of their morality is pretty much the standard operating principle of most people’s actions. “What’s wrong with it?” has pretty much become the moral guideline of our time.

“What’s right about it?” is a question the demands a lot more of us. There’s nothing wrong with watching “Sex and the City,” but then, what’s right about it? Given all the other ways one might spend a half-an-hour, is “Sex and the City” the best choice? The most self-affirming choice? Take any half-hour period of one’s day, and the question might be asked, “Is this the right way to spend my time?”

A professional football player is under no obligation to be a role model. There is nothing wrong with not being a role model. But isn’t there something right about using one’s God-given talents and striving to provide a image for young people? As noted in my Pionner Press column last week -- there’s nothing wrong with accepting government aid to help with heating bills. Is that the most self-affirming choice one can make?

For the philosophically inclined, the question is what constitutes a good life -- is it simply avoidance of doing evil, or does a good life require positive action? Does a good life require doing what is right rather than simply doing what is not wrong?

Getting that right is a tough pitch to hit. Kersten lets it go by without taking a swing. I like Kersten’s columns as a whole, but in this one she stays within the comfort zone of the conservative status quo. A conservative column ought not only uphold conservative values in the face of the liberal challenge, it ought challenge conservatives to live up to the principles they espouse.

There’s nothing wrong with simple outrage at the Vikings’ behavior, but more to the point, what’s right about it? Applying the answer to that question to our own behavior gets us all the way home.