Thursday, October 23, 2008

Abstinence as the Israeli peace process

A certainly flawed analogy occurred to me about the abstinence debate. Adolescent and young adult sexuality is like the Israeli peace process.

In Israel, no one is truly against the peace process. If the hawks believed there existed some action that they could take that would bring enduring and true peace to Israel, they would agree to it in an instant. The disagreement between the right and the left in Israeli politics is not for or against peace: it's for or against the likelihood that any given action by the state of Israel could result in peace. The hawks say that the prospects for peace lie in the hands of others, and Israel has done what it can and possibly more, i.e., many actions that were useless or dangerous.

As in Israeli politics, I don't think the disagreement over sex education is about the desirability of adolescents and young adults abstaining from sex until they have lower risk of STDs and are in a loving lasting relationships. The disagreement is about the likelihood of any action by adults inducing this ideal state. The abstinence camp is idealistic like the peace groups in Israel. The comprehensive sex ed camp say that adults have very limited actions they can take, and the best they can do is containment, and that attempts to induce this ideal state are useless or possibly dangerous.

It's not impossible for either ideal state to emerge. If nothing else, when the Messiah comes there will be lasting peace in Israel and around the world and everyone will make wise sexual decisions all the time. Until then, it's not clear.

(Of course, the optimists on abstinence are usually hawkish on Israeli politics, and vice-versa. Who said people had to be consistent.)

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Hi Janet,

Interesting analogy. I think you could generalize that reasoning to most political (and politicized) disputes. I don't know if you didn't say this: because you don't think it's this straightforward, because you think it's obvious, or because you think it's off-topic for your argument.

But don't most disputes have these properties?
(1) Most people would be happy with the moderate outcome.
(2) They disagree about the relative effects of different actions aimed to achieve that outcome. (How to govern is a tough open question!)
(3) In particular, they worry about the side effects of the opponent's proposed actions -- often, the justice and morality of these side effects.
(4) They're terrible at recognizing the common ground in (1)-(2), and spend time arguing about (3). Usually from gut reactions, rather than incorporating any research.

May we learn to avoid this trap someday!