Skip to comments.Harvard Munch: When Liberty Turns to Bondage (BDSM club on campus)
Posted on 01/11/2013 8:59:43 AM PST by Mrs. Don-o
2013 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of the book Utilitarianism, by the British philosopher John Stuart Mill...This week: what sado-masochists are getting up to at Harvard.
Utilitarianism is a broad church which admits parishioners of varying persuasions and degrees of fervour. But there are two pillars to which all subscribe, one for society and the other for individuals.
The first is the famous maxim, the greatest good for the greatest number. John Stuart Mill modified this primitive calculus of pleasure and pain to take into account the pleasures of the intellect. In his well-known words, "it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. But the broad sweep of the utilitarian doctrine is still the same: good consequences make good actions. It gives ethical cover to pragmatic politicians when they use 50 percent of votes plus one to turn immoral actions into moral ones.
The second pillar is that we should be free to do whatever we want always provided that we do not harm anyone else in the process. Mill expressed it very eloquently in his other classic, On Liberty:
the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.
But after 150 years, the utilitarian notions of liberty and harm are beginning to crack under the strain of their own contradictions. Exhibit A is Harvard College Munch, a club with about 30 members which was given official approval last month.
Harvards peculiar decision
Munch is not about midnight snacks. It is a coy term for kinky sex, principally BDSM, ie, bondage, discipline and sado-masochism. Or, as my crude definition states, its tying people up, telling them to do stuff, and hitting them with things, Michael, the anonymous founder, told The Crimson, Harvards student newspaper.
The less said about the lurid practices of Munch members the better, but it was welcomed by The Crimson as an important movement toward tolerance and a mature approach to and acceptance of alternative sexual interests.
Mill might have struggled to grasp why sado-masochism deserves to be an officially sanctioned undergraduate activity. In his landmark essay The Subjection of Women, he argued that the legal subordination of one sex to the other is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other. But from what Harvard undergrad Jill told The Crimson, she doesnt appear to have read Mill very attentively: I like being told that Im a slut or good for nothing but sex.
How can Americas leading university authorise students to fantasise about harming and degrading women? Why arent feminist professors up in arms? The last president of Harvard lost his job because he suggested that women might be less talented at mathematics. Why do they ignore a club which encourages students to treat women like dirt? The easy response is: why not, if they consent to it?
But even Mill acknowledged that there are limits to informed consent. No one can legitimately sell herself into bondage, he wrote. In this and most other civilised countries, for example, an engagement by which a person should sell himself, or allow himself to be sold, as a slave, would be null and void; neither enforced by law nor by opinion, he declared. The principle of freedom cannot require that he should be free not to be free. This suggests that Mill would take a very dim view of Jills informed consent to sexual violence. Even the greatest of the utilitarians harboured some lingering respect for human dignity.
But 150 years after the publication of his most famous book, Mills intellectual heirs have developed an intricate casuistry which justifies informed consent to the subordination of one sex to the other. They have replaced Mills respect for the individual with nihilism.
Heres how Munch does it. Each undergraduate organisation at Harvard is required to write its own constitution. Most of these are skimpy documents. The constitution of the Romanian Association, for instance, is 230 words long. The Libertarian Forums is 780 words long. Munchs constitution is 4,350 words long, most of it taken up with safety regulations whose detail and complexity are straight out of Kafka.
You would have to have a heart of stone to read this document without giggling. It must have been drafted by the legal department of The Onion, a news satire website. There are colour-codes for outreach and workshops blue for the general public, green for the whole Harvard community, yellow for undergraduates and red for Munch members and their undergrad guests. Grey is for unofficial Munch events. Presumably they natter on about the BDSM best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey, which outsold Harry Potter and Twilight last year.
A Safety Team is supposed to organise an abuse-response training workshop every semester. Abuse is to be taken seriously. When any person informs an officer of [Munch] that they have been subject to an instance of abuse or assault, officers shall respond immediately as per their training.
The wishes of survivors (sic) are tantamount, the constitution declares. This is ominous as the constitution of the Romanian Association mentions nothing about the survivors of its meetings! Presumably those who drafted the document also meant paramount -- but torturing survivors, not the English language, is my concern at the moment.
Then comes a lengthy procedure for expelling members from Munch for abuse of the rules. In a reversal of centuries of American jurisprudence, there is a presumption of guilt, not innocence. It is important to clarify that HCM believes that accusations of abuse/assault/misconduct are overwhelmingly true. Apparently Munch has not contemplated the possibility that members who get their kicks out of humiliating and degrading their friends might get an additional frisson out of telling humiliating and degrading lies about them.
What would John Stuart Mill have made of this attempt to reconcile utilitarian notions of liberty with the utilitarian prohibition of harm by sprinkling it with the pixie dust of occupational health and safety bureaucratese?
If he were honest, he would have to acknowledge that the idea that informed consent is all that is needed to make actions ethical is collapsing. No act, according to utilitarians, is wicked except one which harms other people. But, at Harvard, even harming other people can be rationalised away with safety protocols. In fact, this was precisely the approach which the Bush Administration used to justify torturing detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Bad guys could be waterboarded as long as good guys with cattle prods, handcuffs and dogs ticked the boxes in the torturers rule book. Its a sad end for Mills noble ambition to create a Britain in which people would be liberated of the dead weight of custom, privilege and sex roles.
A post-utilitarian future
What happens next? What direction will public policy take when the bankruptcy of utilitarianism becomes apparent?
Exhibit B comes from Germany, where Angela Merkels government plans to reinstate a ban on bestiality which was lifted in 1969. Again, the less said about the details the better, but the interesting point is that a major Western government is repudiating the utilitarian whatever you like as long as no harm is done argument.
Michael Kiok, of Zoophile Engagement for Tolerance and Information, was incensed by the decision. Mr Kiok, who lives in a relationship with an 8½-year-old Alsatian (no, I am not making this up), estimates that there are 100,000 badly misunderstood zoophiles in Germany. "We don't have anything to do with people who abuse animals," he said. "We only want what's best for the animal.
However, under pressure from animal rights activists, the governments view is that whether or not animals are harmed is irrelevant. A government official says that animals must not be used "for personal sexual activities or made available to third parties for sexual activities thereby forcing them to behave in ways that are inappropriate to their species".
Any discerning utilitarian can read the writing on the wall: natural law has sprung like a phoenix from the ashes. The German government believes that it is not natural for animals to have sex with humans. Some things are so terrible that they are always wrong. Its only a straw in the wind, but it suggests that theres a limit to nihilism. People are longing for the old certainties of good and bad, right and wrong. Consent, no matter how well informed, cannot turn darkness into light.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.
I didn’t read the article because... well its about Harvard and BSDM. However, I would totally volunteer to beat the hell out of a Harvard liberal once a week if it will help.
I foresee special scholarships for the Big Red Football team of Steubenville Ohio.
Well, it is said the law is an ass.........;^)
Author apparently doesn't understand this scene. There are women who enjoy being degraded, but then there are also men who enjoy being degraded.
The BDSM scene is impeccably gender-equal in this regard.
In fact, there is a thriving business model for dominatrixes, women who degrade and inflict pain on men for money. I'm unaware of men being able to make a living doing the same for women.
Somebody really ought to find a link to the famous SNL Pelosi/Palomino skit. One of the funniest things they ever did.
Seek and ye shall find.
When you trade in your Bible and all you get in exchange is John Stuart Mill, you’re bound to end up with baloney like Mr. Cook here.
You’ve heard the expression “to damn with faint praise”? This article sounds like an attempt to approve with faint criticism.
Mrs. Don O you might need a refresher on BDSM.
You state that BDSM subjugates women and perpetrates the beating of women.
I am not an expert on it,but you are only partially correct.
Many men are beaten and subjugated by women. Some men even pay professional Dominatix’s for the privilege of being beaten, some enjoy artificial means of being sodomised by women.
BDSM is not a single gender sport. Sometimes women are flogged or beaten and tied. Sometimes it is men being beaten my women.
Now if these people who are beaten and tied or sodomised or forced into sexual acts ,were kidnapped off the streets and had to suffer these things I would say certainly it should be punished to the greatest extent of the law. But if these people join this club knowing what the club is all about and show up for these meeting knowing what will happen I say that’s none of my business.
What is my business is that this is ghappening among the young at what is supposed to be an institution of Higher learning, Higher learning does not and should not mean learning abhorrent sexual practices.This does not belong in a Campus atmosphere.No more than swap clubs or professional prostitution belongs there.
I agree that this is wrong, but to say it is only women who are abused by BDSM is not correct, It humiliates and degrades people of both sex’s.
I didn't state anything of the kind. Check source.
Cooks calls BDSM and its supporting uitilitarian ethic “bankrupt” “ominous” and “(ethically) collapsing,” and says “Some things are so terrible that they are always wrong.” Doesn’t sound to me like he’s damning with faint praise, or praising with faint damns.
You are correct it was the author.
Sorry about that.