The costs of controversy

240,000 children in Massachusetts live in poverty (Project Bread). At a given moment, nearly 15 percent of the American population lacks health insurance of any kind (Centers for Disease Control). Our jails are overcrowded and our public education system is on the brink of failure.

These facts should not be surprising to anyone, as they hardly represent new developments in the United States. However, by looking at the policy agenda in both our nation and on our campus, one would assume that we live in a Shangri-La. For instead of focusing on dire problems that threaten the very life of American citizens, the policy agenda has centered on “non-issues”: ideological, petty ‘controversies’ that take attention away from the problems in society that, objectively, are more pressing.

What are these non-issues: the fact that some people may be uncomfortable with sexuality in general and that they may be uncomfortable with the fact that I may want to spend the rest of my life with another man. In the face of the problems in the world today, complaining about the Sex Fair, the Vagina Monologues, and gay marriages is just a waste of time and resources.

Last semester, I wrote a column emphasizing the need for activism on this campus. So I guess I could be happy with the uprising against comfort with our bodies and how we choose to use them, but I’m not, because everything in life comes with opportunity costs. That is, in doing one thing we make it impossible to do another. By choosing to spend time on the issue of whether or not c**t is offensive, we choose not to spend time on helping the poor. Even assuming both are noble discussions, we simply cannot have both. In the same way, sometimes it is impossible to protect someone’s ‘rights’ without infringing upon another’s. So how do we decide what to do? Well, we measure the comparative harm done and the comparative good done.

While I don’t personally think that discussion about sex, graphic cartoon drawings of genitalia, or even the word ‘c**t have any real negative effects on the adults in the Tufts community, for argument’s sake, I will accept the contention that some people feel ‘uncomfortable’. However, that’s too bad, so sad.

Discomfort is not a reason to stifle free speech, something this University has a duty to support and tends to do. (See the Tufts Right to Arms; the idea of students shooting guns with my student activities fee makes me very uncomfortable.) The University also has a responsibility to encourage healthy behaviors amongst its students, including sexual ones. Partners that feel comfortable discussing sex and sexuality will be more likely to discuss sex before engaging in it, and more likely be proactive in using forms of protection. Open discussion of sex and sexual activity isn’t what makes students uncomfortable. They are already uncomfortable and ashamed of the fact that we are sexual beings, and even if we never speak of sex, that won’t change.

The Vagina Monologues have a valid purpose, just as the Sex Fair does. Violence against women is a real problem in America and throughout the world, and I applaud anyone who is attempting to solve it. But what problems do its detractors attempt to solve? The fact that college students aren’t engaged in meaningful relationships? I question that this is a problem at all, certainly not comparable to violence against women. Besides, the fact that I am not engaged in a serious relationship has nothing to do with the way sex is portrayed in society, and most of my single friends would express the same view.

This failure to connect cause and problem is apparent on the national arena, where our President and esteemed Presidential contender John Kerry have voiced their opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples. The problem that gay marriage causes is still unclear to me, except that it has something to do with weakening the institution of marriage. Straight couples have done enough to weaken that institution on their own, and I don’t think gay couples could possibly do any more damage. There is no legal or moral right to not see same-sex couples marry, and there is no compelling interest that anyone has in stopping gay couples from marrying. The procreation argument is empty, because gay people won’t have anymore children if they are single than they would in a marriage.

But as the influential political pundit Jon Stewart commented, “Gay marriage…so shiny!” (The Daily Show, Feb 26) Sexual politics are distracting, and making a fuss about people’s expressions about sexuality keeps the important issues off the table. Neither the left nor the right has a monopoly on defining a policy agenda that actually addresses the human condition and the important issues of our time.

And there is certainly room for disagreement on how these problems should be solved. But why do conservatives on this campus merely take reactionary responses against attempts to end violence against women instead of taking proactive stances? How come abstinence education is still proffered as the solution to sexually transmitted infections, although it clearly has not been working? If the weakness of marriage is such a big problem, why haven’t people been discussing solutions for it?

Right now, the right and left on our campus are not even looking at the same issues. Activism is great, but don’t become an activist simply for the sake of causing trouble, personal vendettas, and pissing people off. Instead of complaining about Janet’s nipple, Adam and Steve, c**ts galore, and prophylactic parties, take a walk in Dorchester. The deteriorating social fabric of America is shown in our failure to care about the children there, not in my sexuality.

Adam Pulver is a junior majoring in Political Science and Community Health. He can be reached at [email protected]