The Fall of Modern Morality: Virtue Becomes Vice

Vice President Mike Pence made waves a few months ago when word got around that, as a rule, he would not spend time alone with a woman who was not his wife. It was almost immediately coined “The Mike Pence Rule,” though it was actually “the Billy Graham rule” for the preceding few decades, and it has been a fairly common “rule” in the Christian community just as long.

As was pointed out several months ago, many in media and society strained to portray the “Pence rule” as a bad thing. Katelyn Beatynov wrote an OpEd at the NYTimes on “A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule,” essentially saying the rule was an admission that men were uncontrollable “beasts”:

The Pence rule arises from a broken view of the sexes: Men are lustful beasts that must be contained, while women are objects of desire that must be hidden away. Offering the Pence rule as a solution to male predation is like saying, “I can’t meet with you one on one, otherwise I might eventually assault you.”

Awkwardly, Beatynov is unable to square her takedown with her own comments in that same article saying “there’s wisdom” in the rule. David French did a more than adequate rebuttal of Beatynov’s column back in November:

The Pence rule (or its variations) arises from an accurate view of man’s fallen nature. In this context, it means three things.

First, when men and women are alone — especially at night, especially with drinks — there is a far greater chance of mutual or one-sided attraction (not assault) than when they’re in groups or in professional settings…

Second, variations of the Pence rule protect both sides from reputational harm…

Third, surprise, surprise but there are actual predators out there, and women who operate under some version of the Pence rule gain an additional layer of protection…

Beatynov also implies that this “rule” has a negative impact on women, because women will lose opportunities based on not being able to meet alone with men. French replies that’s a favoritism problem, not a gender one. Beatynov also fails to consider that the same opportunities could arise in a meeting with three people, not just two.

In its simplest terms, the existence of a rule is not the tacit admission of an extreme and uncontrollable tendency. Contrary to Beatynov’s portrayal, having a speed limit is not “like saying” everyone would otherwise drive with their gas pedal to the floor.

Unfortunately, despite this rather obvious point, the trend continues, with Harris O’Malley of the Washington Post more recently saying essentially the same thing:

These rules are predicated on the belief that every man is driven by sex. Instituting rules that create a de facto segregation by gender is a tacit admission that men are inherently unable to control themselves around women…

These stereotypes are part of the central tenets of toxic beliefs about the inherent nature of masculinity: Men are all sex-obsessed and can’t resist the opportunity to score when it’s presented…Not only can men not read signals, but they don’t have the emotional intelligence to learn.

While some people making these arguments may have the best of intentions, some are just morons.

As French already pointed out, it’s far less simplistic than O’Malley would try to make it — and it’s not just about the ‘evil’ of men.

In fact, a few years ago the primary reason certain people or organizations had a “Pence rule” was to prevent the possibility of a false claim of sexual harassment — in a society that quickly assumes the innocence of the female “victim” and takes her at her word in a no-witness situation.

Apparently lacking this insight, O’Malley continues to lay the blame solely at the feet of men:

The answer isn’t to self-segregate — it’s to change the culture. And more importantly, it’s for men to be willing to take responsibility and learn, not to slough it off onto biological inevitability. We aren’t boys. We’re men.

Men and women need to “take responsibility and learn,” and includes learning and exercising the wisdom to avoid certain situations. As has famously been said,

A superior pilot uses
His superior judgment
To avoid situations
Requiring his superior skills

O’Malley’s blanket “men just need to behave so we can do anything” trope sounds a bit like those who see no problem with mixed gender US troops bunking together. It’s the same belief that continues to elicit surprise when issues of sexual misconduct arise in basic training desegregated by gender.

As President Trump once said,

At one point in Air Force basic training, no military training instructor was permitted to be alone in a room with a trainee of the opposite gender.

Does anyone really believe that’s a bad idea?

This didn’t mean female troops with a male instructor or male troops with a female instructor were ‘denied opportunities.’ It just meant that meetings were held with either two instructors or a second trainee in the room. It’s not complex. It’s not pejorative. It does not declare one gender or the other a “problem.”

Perhaps the most annoying part of both Beatynov and O’Malley’s pieces is that both confess there’s some legitimate wisdom and validity to the Pence/Billy Graham rule. And yet, because of some twisted view of social justice, they’d abandon the wisdom and accept the unnecessary risk.

They never really explain why they’re willing to do so. On some level, it seems because this “wisdom” is associated with Mike Pence, it is therefore connected to religion, Republicans, conservatism, etc. It almost seems as if people are stretching to make an otherwise laudable act into a despicable one, simply because of their displeasure with where it originates.

In the end, they’re saying that what even they admit could be a good thing is actually bad.

It’s one thing for a virtue to be abandoned. But for a virtue to be declared a vice — and for society to accept such arguments without even a sideways glance — it demonstrates the fallen and backwards ways of the world we live in.