2009-06-12

Traditional morality and sex health research

Traditional religion-based morality would not have survived if it didn't offer some evolutionary advantage to people who espouse it. More radically, a gene or meme that compels you to "kill everyone who doesn't have this gene or meme" may cause itself to become more prevalent. Less radically, a gene or meme that instructs you to behave in ways that help survival will also cause itself to become more prevalent, even if the reasons the meme uses to convince you make no sense.

The reasons for traditional morality, indeed, do not make any sense. For the most part, we aren't even given any reasons. We're told to abstain from promiscuity because that's moral. The reason it is moral is because it's moral. We don't question the Book. The Book says so.

Now it's one thing to want one heterosexual partner for your entire life; that's a legitimate preference that there's nothing wrong with. But it's a whole other thing to judge people and try to prevent them from making different choices, as many voters around the world seem keen to do.

Traditional morality puts the cart ahead of the horse. There are valid reasons why heterosexual monogamy is better for your genes' inclusive fitness than promiscuity. The reasons, however, are technical. They have their limits. They can be defeated, and if they were defeated, there would remain no reason why people should not be promiscuous, unless they simply don't want it.

If we had full control over disease, and could stop it in its tracks; if we had full control over fertility, with no ill side effects; then promiscuity would not be an issue. That would be a good thing. Your opinion might differ, but the way I see it, monogamy is not very interesting, nor very rewarding. Promiscuity is both more interesting, more rewarding, and more challenging. It's just that... it is slightly worse for your reproductive fitness, for reasons that are unfortunate but quite avoidable. If only people would stop objecting to it on grounds that make no sense.

At this point, you might think I'm going to start talking about HIV. Or syphilis. Or chlamydia.

I'm not.

Those are all solved issues. As long as it's detected, bacterial disease such as syphilis, gonorrhea or chlamydia can be cured with a pill. If it's detected, it is less of a health issue than the flu.

HIV is still a burden, but it spreads much less readily than other disease. If we wanted to, we could defeat it with testing. Even if not using condoms, HIV can take more than a year's worth of vaginal intercourse to spread to another person (though it might also spread fast). For the purpose of stopping it as an epidemic, it would be sufficient to test the entire population a few years in a row, at least once per year. The tests would be cheaper per person than a year's supply of birth control. We wouldn't even have to draw blood, an oral swab would be enough. It would eliminate the risk largely completely.

The Human Papilloma Virus, HPV, is an unsolved problem.

HPV comes in multiple strains, many of which are very common. Some are innocuous. Some cause genital warts, but no other problems. Some can lead to cancer.

Recent research has shown that certain strains of HPV are responsible for an increased incidence of various types of cancer in people who have had more than a few sexual partners. Before widespread PAP testing was introduced, cervical cancer is said to have been a leading cause of death in women. Virtually all cervical cancer has been shown to be caused by HPV.

Not only that, but a history of more than a few oral sex partners increases your chance of oral cancer multiple-fold. This is caused by HPV. Having had receptive anal sex increases your chance of anal cancer by a factor of seven. That is caused by HPV as well.

You don't have to be especially promiscuous to expose yourself to this. You don't have to have had hundreds of sexual partners. It is enough to have engaged in serial monogamy. It is enough to have had one partner who had others before you. It is enough to have had departed from traditional monogamous morality in the most minor way.

What we should be doing about this is supporting research and taking steps to eliminate disease. Imagine that there were no STDs, or that they would not pose a problem. Imagine that all birth control is reliable and has no side effects. It would be safe to have sex with anyone, anyhow, anywhere. That would be a good thing. There would be no support for jealousy. If your partner had sex with someone else, she wouldn't be exposing you to anything. So why should you be complaining?

Since people are being promiscuous already, and aren't going to stop being so due to health risks, solving these health risks would be a good thing.

But then we have all these people who put the cart in front of the horse. People who read it in a Book that we were created to serve morality, instead of moral guidance having been invented to serve us. People who think that monogamy is a value in and of itself, regardless of circumstance. People who think that others should be punished for their promiscuity, whether or not it causes ill. People who want to actively impede progress in solving of sexual health risks, for fear that lifting barriers to promiscuity will... cause more promiscuity! People who don't want girls vaccinated against HPV because that might lead to them having more sex. (It doesn't - and if it did, it isn't even a bad thing.) People who don't want others to use condoms to protect from HIV, because they feel that's giving people an excuse to be promiscuous. People who think that the promiscuous deserve to die, because monogamy is all-important.

These people are nutcases. They are insane. They don't mean to be evil, but due to what they say and do, they are.

We need research. We need action. People were, are, and will remain promiscuous. That's not bad, in and of itself. What's bad is that it has ill side effects. We need to solve them.

17 comments:

Echo said...

Beside the problem with diseases, I believe that there is another evolutionary advantage in traditional morality. It is the inherent level of asceticism that is neccessary in large families, which boost-up the productivity. It is evidental, that large percent of human population is not productive unless forced into it. Traditional morality serves as constraint which drives people to work hard (for some higher cause).
I think it is rather exaggerated to say that traditional morality is insane, since we have no example of comparable prosperous civilisation completely lacking traditional people.

denis bider said...

Morality does not think, and thus is not insane. Insane are people who think that people are supposed to serve monogamy, rather than the other way around.

Juhani said...

People in the last days are lovers of themselves, conceited and full of them own ego. As result of those features in the last days people is lacking to face needs of other people, because they are slaves of their own lusts and needs. For this reason they try desperate fill theirs lusts and needs only concentrating themselves. Naturally, this means that they can't face needs of their partners and spouses, because they see their own needs more important as their spouses and partners. They are incompetent to give love to their spouses in a way that his/her spouse or partner could undergo enjoyable sexual experience. Of course not in all relationships in the last days is not sex problems, but according to the Bible it is however very big and large problem in the last days. The Bible says that in the last days many people are incompetence to health, enjoyable and loving sex life.

http://koti.phnet.fi/petripaavola/sexresearch.html

denis bider said...

Just in case it's not obvious, that last comment is by one of the insane people I was talking about.

Echo said...

Well, what does it mean "to serve monogamy"? This sound like some clever phrase but does it have any meaning? What is the difference between serving monogamy and being served by it?

Monogamy obviously is the way our present day civilisation was brought up. It is the fact. We haven't seen no successfull "brave new worlds" yet.

denis bider said...

Echo, I think all you need to do is to re-read the post.

It is one thing to choose monogamy because it suits you, without judging others who do not.

It is another thing altogether to vote for oppressive policies which promote monogamy and make it a standard for everyone, discriminating against people who choose otherwise. In some countries, that means jail time, hanging and stoning. In the United States, it can mean your career being impeded, or your children being taken away.

BTW, you stated an argument earlier, about traditional morality serving as a constraint which causes people to work harder for some higher cause. This is true to the extent that morality steers people toward honest work and away from theft and cheating.

However, I don't see that this has anything to do with traditional sexual morality. This has nothing to do with whether people work hard or not.

Echo said...

Morality has something to do with one's purpose (or feeling of purpose) of living, which drives someone to work hard and prosper. Unfortunatelly the great majority of population find this purpose mostly in reproduction (which is on the other hand easy to understand) and it has been proven that for it, monogamic sexual behavior is somehow benefitial to other behaviors.

I misinterpreted your statement about insanity indeed, it somehow occured to me you are talking about traditionals because of their traditionality itself and not because of their behaviour to others.

From there on, this is a classical conflict between a traditionalist and a libertarian. It is the question of different perspectives to the influence one's life have on another's and is a never-solved question.

denis bider said...

What is it that is unsolvable? The way it seems to me, tradition obviously loses if it cannot substantiate its guidelines with arguments. We cannot go on forcing people to do things just because that's how they were done in the past. That, it seems to me, is patently obviously.

If what you refer to as unsolvable is that there are bound to be some people who think X, as well as some people who think Not-X, then yes, but if you and I find X obviously right, while finding Not-X harmful, then it makes sense to try to spread that insight to others, eventually hoping that it will dominate. Those who believe the contrary will try to do the same.

Echo said...

Well, that only means you are a libertarian.

Arguments, however, can be found for traditionalism.
Historic argument is no doubtly a good argument, since no one can understand the whole picture with all details just in theory. Historicly proven patterns do not have this issue.

Another argument is the question, wheither human beings are really able to live with no general constraints. (Any proofs?) Not that one wants to limit someone else, but one needs to be truly limited by some authority (and not by itself). It has been proven that mental picture of people experiencing superior authority above them is better (in average). How can you explain the fact that the lowest suicidal rates are in the most non-democratic countries?

denis bider said...

Echo: Historic argument is no doubtly a good argument,

I suggest avoiding the use of "no doubt" as it generally means that there is doubt, you just wish it would go away if you use confident enough words.

I'm often guilty of the same, but nonetheless. It is worthwhile to try to do this less, rather than more, often.


Echo: since no one can understand the whole picture with all details just in theory. Historicly proven patterns do not have this issue.

Historically proven patterns include slavery, flesh eating, female genital mutilation, stoning of raped women for adultery, burning widows alive with their husbands bodies, the Indian caste system, etc.

This is all bullshit!

Just because a practice has continued for centuries in the culture you come from, as opposed to another culture somewhere else, doesn't mean it's a good thing. The fact that it persists is not evidence that it is beneficial. All sorts of things persist. And you would have us think that just because it persists, it must be good? Disease persists too, and stupidity!


Echo: Another argument is the question, wheither human beings are really able to live with no general constraints. (Any proofs?) Not that one wants to limit someone else, but one needs to be truly limited by some authority (and not by itself). It has been proven that mental picture of people experiencing superior authority above them is better (in average).

I am not aware of the proof you refer to. Still, I could accept the premise that most people are sheep-like, and in need of a shepherd. This does not mean that someone gets to force their will on everyone.

You see, even if it were indeed found that most people function better if they think there's an authority over them, the fact remains that there is no such natural authority, except other people. So you're claiming that, people need authority, so therefore naturally, your particular preferred authority source should be that authority? Why not my preferred authority source?

Hey, if you think everyone needs an authority, why not me be everyone's authority? If you think that's for everyone's benefit, I'll be happy to play that role for you.


Echo: How can you explain the fact that the lowest suicidal rates are in the most non-democratic countries?

Are you still beating your wife?

Your question is misframed. First, show evidence that suicidal rates are lowest in non-democratic countries. Show how this evidence was produced without tampering by the non-democratic regime in charge.

Second, suicide rates don't necessarily correlate to lower happiness. They might inversely correlate even. I would say, for example, that a country that permits euthanasia is a happier, less conflicted place than a country than does not.

As far as I know, happiness is not higher in non-free countries; rather, it is the other way around.

Echo said...

Historic argument is the illustration of the fact, that some specific idea or pattern needs to be tested in its whole complexity before proven to be good or not. Therefore, of course it is not a sufficient argument. It doesn't speak in favour of traditional sexuality against other patterns in theory, but only sums the benefitial observations minus negative observations agains more negative or no observations (possibly very negative) on the other side. Typical simmilar historic argument is proving the statement: "Democracy is good".

Can't find the article I was reading last time about this experiments. List of countries by suicide rate can be found on the WHO webpage

Hey, if you think everyone needs an authority, why not me be everyone's authority? If you think that's for everyone's benefit, I'll be happy to play that role for you.

Well, who is stopping you from playing this role? You only need to convince people like Jesus (or Buda, Muhamed, etc.) did.

Not to be mistaken, I am libertarian as well... I only believe that as long as you don't respect your roots (including tradition, faith, monogamy, etc.) you are not truly free.

denis bider said...

I think we can agree to some extent. Certainly observation is necessary before jumping to conclusions about things. However, I do think that:

(1) The kind of observation that really counts is scientific research. It can be based on whatever past period you want, but scientific methods have to be employed. We can't know anything unless we use good methods of observation. Specifically, having heard from your grandmother that something works is not an admissible method.

(2) There is a law of diminishing returns at work. What can be learned in two years of observation is less than double the amount of what can be learned in a year. What can be learned in a hundred years is much less than a hundred times what can be learned in a year.

These are reasons to disrespect tradition because:

(A) Tradition continues without anyone taking a critical look at it.

(B) Just because practice A has been done for the past 1,000 years, does not mean that we can't gather in 10 years enough data to say that practice B is also worthwhile.

(C) Without experimentation, there is no new knowledge.

Like I said at the beginning of the article - memes can persist because they are useful, even if the way they convince people to spread them makes no sense. The problem with tradition is not necessarily what it makes people do, it is the method of transmission. Instead of "This works because X and Y", what we get is: "Trust me, it's been done like this for ages." That's not acceptable.

Maybe in many cases the traditional way to do things is a good way to do things, but this has to be shown based on research, not based on grandmother's sayings.

Echo said...

Instead of "This works because X and Y", what we get is: "Trust me, it's been done like this for ages." That's not acceptable.

But if there was no sufficient research and there are no means for it (which is many times the case), this is acceptable, why not. It often happens that due to lack of other than historic arguments someone in pursue of doing something "right" only does it "different". This can only be benefitial if he is a leading expert on the area, or if he has an incredible luck.

denis bider said...

I'm not saying people who want to stick to tradition, shouldn't. I'm saying that people shouldn't coerce others to stick to tradition, and shouldn't discourage research which can enable different approaches. But that is what people are doing, and that is evil.

Zar said...

This post is old and I have no idea if I will ever find it again, and being one of those insane people because I don hold to your enlightened beliefs, which of course aren’t a Religion, perish the thought, I know I’ll be ignored either ay but, it strikes me that you seem to think that Traditional Morality derived from Religion is somehow blind. “Its moral, the book says so, we don’t question the book.”

But, that’s really a shallow and ultimately inaccurate way to view Traditional Morality and Religious belief.

For one thing, an yes I know I’m an idiot and I don’t know he definition of Religion and Atheism is not a Religion and if it is then not collecting stamps is a hobby- that out of the way, I’d like to point out t hat everyone is actually Religious, and this includes Atheists, such as yourself.

Religion is simply beliefs we hold about the world we live in, its nature, the origins of it, the meaning of life, ect. Any sort of Philosophical belief system that covers the same ground as Religion is really not distinguishable from Religion, and is in reality an Alternate Religion. Even things that members insist aren’t’ Religious but Nonreligious Philosophies that serve as Alternatives to Religion, such as Secular Humanism, are in reality just a rival Religion with pretentious followers.

Which brings me to my criticism of your comments above. Traditional Morality was never adhered to as blindly as you think, and Religious belief isn’t all about “The book said so and we don’t question the book”.

For one thing, when the book, say the Bible, was written, no one knew the various component books (Its really more than one) would go on to be scripture. They wrote of things they saw and personally enounced and had learned about form others. Even if you are an Achiest who simply refused to belie any sort of Divine Revelation could have even remotely happened, your’ still stuck with the reality that the Authors of the Various works that went into the Bible, or the Vedas, or even the Koran, had to base their beliefs on the real world in order for them to rally relate to the people who would follow them and these beliefs had to seem reasonable to said followers.

So when they derived moral codes, they couldn’t have just invented some arbitrary nonsense and expect people to follow it. As you said, it had to produce something that worked else it’d have died out. But that’s my point, it was the product of knowing what worked.

Zar said...

When Paul, who was quoted above, was writing his Epistles to the various Churches, he wrote them largely to settle real conflicts they were having at the local level and needed pragmatic, practical solutions.

I don’t think for a moment these things just happened to win the proverbial lottery and work. N that way, we can see the earliest readers as not really placing these texts on the Unquestionable level they’d later occupy as Scripture.

Of course they did later occupy those places, and surely then, hen they became Scripture, they were simply followed right? Well, no, they weren’t. Not blindly at least.

The reason people followed these moral codes was because they had been explained and they made sense. Your assertion that people were just told to believe and no reason was given usually is wrong.

All one needs to do is read Augustine, or Thomas Aquinas, or even C. S. Lewis, and one realises that the idea that moral comes in Christianity were given and we are told to obey them without being told why they were moral is wrong. In fact, you can just read the letters of Paul.

Paul actually dos give you reasons which make sense for his Teachings.

Its even worse if you look at the Law of Moses in Torah. it’s not like it just a lengthy Law Book that says “DO this, don’t do that, this is moral, this isn’t”, rather, the majority of the Laws are explained. EG, we are told that we shouldn’t take wives of both a Mother and Daughter as this breeds confusion. Its explained why we shouldn’t do this.


Your claim that these Moral Rules are seldom explained is thus wrong, they are usually explained. They are not only explained, but those who wrote the various texts would have had a specific reason in mind for why something is wrong and something else is right. They didn’t just write a bunch of Rules and expect us to obey them for no reason, they told us why we must.

Later writers also didn’t just unquestioningly obey, they went out of their way to elaborate on these explanation and contemplate them.

So, I disagree with your point about people not quietening Traditional Morality and no reason being given.

denis bider said...

Zar, that is insightful.

Still, proponents of traditional ways generally fail to present solid arguments to continue following them in the face of new evidence. I have also not observed them presenting counter-arguments against opponents' arguments in favor of new approaches. The whole argument of traditionalists generally boils down to FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

While ancient rulemakers and their followers may have, at least partially, understood the reasons for those rules, it certainly appears that modern traditionalists do not, and this is, in fact, a characterizing trait of nowadays' traditionalists.