Friday, March 4, 2011

Consequences.

Every time you use the letter "u," I'm going to smack you on the nose. That's the consequence if you use that letter.

"But..."

SMACK

"Ow! Why are you..."

SMACK

"Aagh! Okay, I get it. Only it doesn't make any sense. Why does anyone care if I use..."

SMACK

"Stop it! God dammit, stop doing that! Yes, the enforcement is consistent, and yes, it's possible for me to comply. And no, there's no concept that I can't convey absent that letter, if I make an effort. Still, it's not necessary to enforce this restriction. It does no good and prevents no harm. As far as I can tell, y... the person I'm speaking to merely decided to do this. Why am I--and my nose--held responsible for that?"

"Oh, and I'm really getting sick of this, so... FUCK YOU!"

SMACK

You know what the problem is with kids these days? They just can't handle consequences.

43 comments:

  1. At which point, I am firmly convinced, it is not merely justifiable but actively noble to break somebody's nose.

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  2. When you get a chance, I would enjoy reading a more detailed explanation of this little parable. I understand the sequence, but I don't understand the underlying meaning for why you wrote it out. Sometimes I'm obtuse that way. ^^

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  3. Holly: You forgot to put "If you choose to live in my house" at the beginning of your little story.

    Aaron: Even if you're in someone else's house and you have the option of leaving at any time, and, in fact, if you were told about the "stupid rule" before you ever came inside?

    Andrea: Holly doesn't like that the LDS Church is enforcing the student conduct policy at their private university. Only with "having pre-marital sex" substituting for "using the letter 'u'", and "not being allowed to play basketball" for "getting smacked on the nose".

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  4. It wasn't just that, perlhaqr. It's the general culture of confusing punishment with consequences.

    Plus, I'm just not convinced that "if you live in my house" covers everything. How about no, you don't get to be an unreasonable bastard just because it's your turf? Or at the very minimum, I still get to call you an unreasonable bastard for it.

    Especially when "your house" is actually not so easy to step outside of. I got this shit when I lived at home as a kid, and man, I would've loved to step out, but, you know, KID. And someone going to college on a scholarship is not entirely free to step out any time they want.

    I think this runs into the rights/right argument. Yeah, BYU has the technical right to say everyone should paint their nose purple while they're under their roof. Doesn't mean it's right or makes sense.

    Also, seriously, how hard are you gonna get behind punishing consenting adults for having private monogamous sex? Even if "oh, it's not THAT BAD a punishment." Seriously.

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  5. It's the general culture of confusing punishment with consequences.

    Like the general culture of taking adults for helpless kids and assuming their choices don't really mean anything if they make a choice we don't agree with?

    He had other scholarship offers, including offers to bigger schools with better programs. One might almost assume he went to BYU because... he's a Mormon. Who gives every appearance of being contrite because he genuinely believes he fucked up for the same reasons BYU thinks he does.

    You can and apparently are making the argument that that makes him brainwashed, but that's pretty effin' perilously close to the "she's only a slut because the patriarchy brainwashed her" school of argument.

    Also, seriously, how hard are you gonna get behind punishing consenting adults for having private monogamous sex?

    How hard are you going to get behind "different standards of sexual morality held between only consenting adults are objectively bad if they disagree with mine"?

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  6. Seconding Holly, especially on the difference between consequences and punishment.

    Consequences is when I act careless with an air rifle and end up shooting myself in the face, leaving a bruise that lasts a week. Punishment is when I act careless with an air rifle and you respond by punching me in the face, leaving a bruise that lasts a week. Same result, different cause; if I do it to myself, it's a consequence, but if you do it to me, it's a punishment.

    Or, to frame the distinction a different way: Conceiving a pregnancy as a result of unprotected PIV intercourse is a consequence; being forced to give birth to a child, as a result of legislators and others deliberately denying you access to technological means of terminating a pregnancy, is a punishment. See the difference there?

    Confusing the two seems to me to betray an authoritarian sensibility for which I see no reason to have any particular respect.

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  7. Now, don't misunderstand me: I have no particular sympathy for the BYU student, either, if only because he was in any case damnfool enough to go to a university which arrogates to itself the right to decide what its students, who are legal adults, are allowed to do in their private lives.

    But that's not to say that BYU's response to him getting caught having sex is anything other than a punishment. If they had sex on a balcony railing and he fell off and broke his legs, then sure! That's a consequence. But he had sex, and the administration of BYU has decided that that is a no-no in response to which they will act punitively. That's a punishment. Again, see the difference?

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  8. I love this post!

    And also I like Aaron Em's response to it.

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  9. That's a punishment. Again, see the difference?

    It's almost like you could say my original point was that being punished by an organization that tells you up front that it will punish you for certain actions as a condition of joining them was a completely forseeable consequence of joining them and then taking one of those actions.

    In any case you're right, I now see why thinking private universities are in the right to suspend students from sports teams for violating the honor code is exactly like thinking abortion should be outlawed.

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  10. [Same Aaron Em as before, posting without OpenID because Blogger's a fucking piece of shit and only supports it properly on about one try out of three.]

    LabRat:

    You could say that -- and you'd be right, which is why I am not overflowing with sympathy for the BYU student under discussion.

    On the other hand, nobody forced the BYU administration to sniff underwear and lick windows, either, and "their house, their rules" doesn't strike me as a sufficient excuse for that kind of behavior. There really isn't a "good guy" here, but BYU is by far being the bigger asshole.

    And on the third hand, my comment posted at 2:10pm wasn't an argument in defense of the BYU student's acknowledged decision to act against the honor code in awareness of the potential punishment for getting caught. That was me pointing out the difference between consequence and punishment, something about which it seemed to me perlhaqr could do with a bit of a refresher; the BYU dope's situation features nowhere in it, and is addressed separately in the second comment posted at 2:15pm.

    So, you know, you could go ahead and assume that I don't see any slightest hint of a difference between abortion being outlawed, and a BYU jock getting in trouble for dipping his wick when said wick-dipping is against the rules he agreed to follow (or at least not get caught breaking) when he signed up -- no matter how bullshit they self-evidently are.

    Or you could assume that the abortion example isn't actually at all related to said BYU jock and his self-inflicted situation because, when I was writing that comment, I didn't actually know anything, beyond what perlhaqr said, about what the BYU jock's situation actually was.

    One of those assumptions would be unfounded and vaguely foolish. Care to guess which one?

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  11. Don't like a university's crazy honor code? Don't go to that university. We're not talking about elementary or high school kids with no options here. Nobody needs to go to Brigham Young University.

    If you consent to something and it happens, you're free to walk away afterwards or withdraw consent so that it never happens again but you can't blame the other person for taking your consent at face value.

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  12. [Same Aaron Em as before, posting without OpenID because Blogger is a fucking piece of shit and has eaten three attempted replies so far.]

    The short version:

    LabRat, I have no sympathy for the dope who got caught breaking the rules, but I also have no sympathy or respect for the existence of those rules in the first place, and I don't blame anyone for breaking them. (Or for getting caught, foolish as it is to allow that to happen.)

    My example about abortion was intended to elucidate the difference between punishment and consequences, not to argue that this dipshit BYU jock's situation is in any way equivalent to abortion being outlawed. That's why the 2:10pm comment talks only about the consequence/punishment distinction, and it's not until the 2:15pm comment that I even start to talk about the BYU jock who was careless enough to get caught.

    As far as I'm concerned, you jumping immediately to the most unfavorable conclusion makes you not worth talking to, and you can go straight to hell for all I care; the only reason I'm even answering you at all is to prevent impressionable third parties somehow getting the idea that I equate BYU jocks' privileges and women's right to an abortion.

    Clear?

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  13. As far as I'm concerned, you jumping immediately to the most unfavorable conclusion makes you not worth talking to, and you can go straight to hell for all I care;

    Gosh, you make the notion of further debate just so darned inviting, it's hard to pass up, and I do love the feeling of missed hyperbole sticking to my feet.

    Now don't misunderstand me: I for one have no sympathy or respect for people who parade around under the banner of "If it's between consenting adults, do whatever you like!" up until those consenting adults do something icky, then it's stupid and shameful and Just Shouldn't Be.

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  14. Fair enough, but given both the post and the comments were generated from exactly that issue and not from the I-agree odious "women should just accept the consequences of having sex" school of argument, I don't think jumping to the conclusion that the two comments were linked is so screamingly unreasonable. Nor is offense at the idea of being lumped in with such people.

    See you in the hellfire.

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  15. On the one hand, I agree that pretty much any rule that actually mandates punishment for the private behavior or consenting adults is flat-out stupid.

    On the other hand, if you agree to join an organization with certain rules and then knowingly violate those rules, you should expect to be punished. I think there's a distinction to be made between that and someone living with parents who impose arbitrary and unreasonable rules; in the second case, you really have no option for getting away if you happen to disagree. In the first case, all you have to do is not attend a university with arbitrary and unreasonable rules.

    Also, I don't see a problem with religions imposing their rules on their followers as long as they don't try to impose them on people outside the community (which the LDS have a problem with, absolutely, but that's an issue for another day).

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  16. As a former Mormon, I have to agree with LabRat. Even as a mostly TBM (True Believing Mormon--a typical ex-mormon term used to describe those who are still brainwashed), I used the same critical thinking that eventually got me out of the church to realize that BYU just had too many Mormons for my taste.

    Yes, the church's rules are ridiculous. BUT, it was his choice to go to BYU. He broke the honor code. According to the church's teachings, the way the school is punishing him isn't anywhere comparable to the way he'll be punished in heaven anyway, so he probably thinks he deserves it. Choices have consequences; he chose to go to a school that punishes premarital sex.

    Also, I'm afraid I don't understand/agree with Aaron Em's point. However, that's probably an area where we'll have to agree to disagree.

    -me

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  17. Technically (see B. F. Skinner) a consequence is anything that follows a particular action. A consequence can be something pleasant or unpleasant, and can be a natural outcome like being burned when you touch a hot stove (which are often called 'logical consequences') or something initiated by another party (being given $100 or being slapped when you touch a hot stove).

    Punishment is a type of consequence. A punishment is anything that makes the original activity less likely to occur. If getting burned when you touch a hot stove makes you not touch a hot stove anymore, then it is a punishment.

    Rewards are also a type of consequence. Rewards are consequences that make the original course of action more likely to happen again. If you like being burned, than you might end up touching a hot stove more often.

    Misjudging what is punishing or rewarding for particular individuals happens a lot in education contexts.

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  18. LabRat: I guess that's fair enough, and I maybe could've been a little more clear in the distinction between the two comments; I certainly didn't also have to get shitty over it when you missed the distinction and thought I was lumping you in with forced birthers. Sorry about that.

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  19. Anon: I'm reasonably familiar with Skinner's formulation, but I don't feel bound by it, largely because I think his idea of reward and punishment is overly simplistic for most purposes; behaviorist theory may not pay attention to intent, but I do.

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  20. And now that I think about it, I may not be paying enough attention to the distinction between rules which are imposed without opportunity for consent or dissent, and rules which are agreed upon by all parties equally.

    On the other hand, I don't know that the relationship between BYU and an individual student falls into the latter category, either.

    I think I need to consider this further before I babble about it any more.

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  21. "I think I need to consider this further before I babble about it any more."

    Now there's a sentence I never thought I would read on Teh Interwebz! (Yet another reason to love this blog.)

    :-)

    flightless

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  22. Ugh. I'm going to stop fighting after this (mostly because I'm leaving the house anyway), but I'll admit that my real problem is that I'm just taken aback by the idea of a school thinking it's in any way necessary or okay to regulate the private and consensual sex lives of adults.

    I don't get this idea that seems to be taking over here that a university's internal rules are totally exempt from criticism.

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  23. I think we feel BYU's rules are exempt from criticism because their rules are so unusual and so straight-forward.

    Consider if a (non-BYU) university had rules which were homophobic. That's a bit more worthy of criticism, to me, because SO many organizations have homophobic rules. It's hard to avoid being somewhere where you'll be discriminated against for being gay. And someone may well choose to attend a university that is anti-gay because 1) said university has a lot of other pros going for it and 2) there are few other choices. On the other hand, the vast, vast, VAST majority of universities in the US have no problem with pre-marital sex AND BYU has few advantages that I can see that are independent of its association with Mormonism.

    Ignoring the possibility of brainwashing, most people who attend BYU know what they're in for and want just that.

    If EVERYWHERE you go, people punch you in the nose for using the letter u, that's a problem. If there is just one building in Utah where people punch you in the nose and the building is called The Official House of U Nose-Punching and it is the only building like it in the whole country, if you don't want your nose punched, stay out of it.

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  24. Aaron- we're square. :)

    I don't get this idea that seems to be taking over here that a university's internal rules are totally exempt from criticism.

    Andy said most of what I'd respond to directly to that- it seems like it's by Mormons, for Mormons, and I just don't see why Mormons being Mormons merits criticism if they're keeping their hands to themselves, which in this case they are.

    The thing that I'm hung up on is they're essentially a private group with a relatively (not really, but we'll put it at "relative to most of the rest of the country) unique sexual standard that they practice. To me that gets me thinking about them in the same way I think about other groups with sexual standards and morals that the rest of the country would consider freaky/wrong.

    To put it another way, a group/event/venue in which it was okay for adults to actually punch each other in the face as part of the menu of acceptable behavior, as long as standards of prior consent were upheld, is as protected by the same argument I'm using as a a group that pinky swore to be abstinent with prior mutual consent.

    I agree meddling with adults' sex lives with that is anathema to me, I'm just also acutely aware a lot of the stuff I think is fine and even admirable is anathema to other people. "Your anathema is not my problem" is a more important principle to me than sexual freedom.

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  25. I got this shit when I lived at home as a kid, and man, I would've loved to step out, but, you know, KID.

    Yes, precisely. He's not a kid. He's a consenting adult. And he consented to the rules he's being punished for breaking. Yes, it's punishment. The punishment is a consequence of breaking the rules he agreed to.

    If you got a new job, and your boss says "Everyone has to wear a suit to work" and you decide not to, and you get fired, is that punishment or consequence?

    Also, seriously, how hard are you gonna get behind punishing consenting adults for having private monogamous sex?

    Me? I'm all about the contract. So, pretty goddamn hard, honestly.

    Do you think prostitution should be legal? That would be two consenting adults, with one being paid for sexual services. If that's fine, why isn't someone paying for abstinence acceptable? And what is a scholarship, if not payment?

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  26. Me? I'm all about the contract. So, pretty goddamn hard, honestly.

    I came here to say this.

    Much as I find their rules deplorable, much as I find much of their religion's views on sex unhealthy, much as the smell of freshly washed brains makes me want to vom, you signed a contract, and in my world, when you say you're gonna do something, you do it.

    Especially considering there were a lot of people at BYU before this who felt that the superstar jocks got treated with a lighter hand than everyone else at BYU -- if anything, BYU is just saying they are holding the superstars to a higher standard.

    If this were ANY OTHER UNIVERSITY this argument would be valid. But it's BYU. Being aghast at Mormons being Mormons is like being aghast at the Pope saying birth control is sinful. Sky blue, water wet, BYU has an honor code they'll punish you for breaking.

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  27. If I ask you sign a contract to the effect that you can't eat more than a thousand calories per day if you want this particular commodity (e.g. a place at anorexia camp) that I will only give you if you make the agreement, and then you have some pizza and I find out about it, it's obviously the case that people who view this happening from the outside are going to have an opinion about the situation. They're possibly going make the claim that the original expectation is unreasonable and that enforcing it is inhumane, regardless of what the guilt-ridden pizza-eating anorexic might happen to think.

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  28. They're possibly going make the claim that the original expectation is unreasonable and that enforcing it is inhumane, regardless of what the guilt-ridden pizza-eating anorexic might happen to think.

    Maybe. Alternatively, they might just say pacta sunt servanda. Or, as my Contracts prof has posted on her door, "Contracts can be dangerous to ones well-being. That is why they are kept away from children. Perhaps warning labels should be attached. In any event, contracts should be taken seriously." Posik v. Layton, 695 So. 2d 759,763 (Fla. 5th D.C.A. 1997)

    (Incidentally, Posik is, functionally, a pre-nup between a lesbian couple before any state recognized same-sex marriage; the case concerns the enforcement of that agreement when the relationship deteriorated. The court's opinion is at http://www.danpinello.com/Posik.htm. Interesting reading; I'd be interested to hear what a few of the posters here think about whether the agreement should have been enforceable.)

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  29. I think this is a great discussion, especially in light of the broader implications of contracts and consequences and the wisdom or foolishness of judging one group's sexual standard from the perspective of another (thanks, LabRat...that was a good thinking point).

    I also just really want to recognize the way that Aaron Em and LabRat handled their sticky point in this discussion...rare to see that level of civility, critical thinking, and checking of one's own assumptions and interpretations on the internet (or in real life). Refreshing and inspiring!

    Hope for humanity restored, I shall sally forth into the rest of the day...

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  30. Hershele OstropolerMarch 5, 2011 at 11:02 AM

    Ignoring the possibility of brainwashing, most people who attend BYU know what they're in for and want just that.

    If EVERYWHERE you go, people punch you in the nose for using the letter u, that's a problem. If there is just one building in Utah where people punch you in the nose and the building is called The Official House of U Nose-Punching and it is the only building like it in the whole country, if you don't want your nose punched, stay out of it.


    I agree with that, but I can't help wondering if the kid signed the honor code at a time in his life when he'd never really been tempted. My girlfriend's out of town today. If you want me to agree not to have sex before sundown today, it's a pretty easy sell knowing what I know now. If she comes back earlier than expected I may regret it.

    And yet ... what is the quota for restrictive institutions? By that standard, if there's a craft store that turns black people away at the door, and it's the only craft store in the entire country that turns black people away at the door, is that ok, because there are so many other options available to black scrapbookers or decoupagers? What if there are two that have that policy? What if it's 10%? 50%? All but one of them?

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  31. @Hershele Ostropoler

    A strict quota is an interesting thought experiment, but I don't think it's really applicable in practice. In general, it's pretty easy to say whether a group is a discriminated-against-minority or not. There may be a few fuzzy cases (one that springs to mind quickly is the status of French- and English- speakers in Quebec, where I live; neither group seems to be able to establish which group is the minority and which group is grinding the other into the ground) but, yes, on the whole, we can easily say that right now, black people are already a discriminated-against group and college students who have sex before marriage really aren't.

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  32. For that matter, we've even got examples using "universities" and "black people"; historically black colleges. No one regards them as unfairly exclusive, because they began in the first place to serve an underserved minority- of which highly religious college students who believe premarital sex (and many other aspects of college culture) is dishonorable/sinful arguably are.

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  33. Here's another good contracts question for you, and reasonably parallel. One of the fundamental premises in contracts is that of consideration--that is, no contract exists unless the parties give something of value to each other. No consideration, no contract.

    Now, rather than pre-marital sex--in which the student had every legal right to engage--let's say the subject is consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Both legal, assuming one is of age, just like pre-marital sex. Someone makes you a promise to give you $100,000 if you'll agree not to smoke or drink for six years.

    Should you be allowed to make such a bargain?

    (Bonus points to those who recognize Hamer v. Sidway, 124 N.Y. 538, 27 N.E. 256 (N.Y. 1891).)

    In this case, the forbearance wasn't liquor, it was pre-marital sex; this was given as consideration for acceptance and continued attendance at the school. Are you really offended at the idea that the school bargained for consideration that extended past the classroom, or is it just because this particular consideration is your personal hobby-horse?

    (For the record, I would have chosen a different school, as Mr. Unga could have--in fact, he probably would have had an easier time finding another school than I did. That he had those options, and chose to make the bargain anyway, suggests that he considered the BYU package more valuable than any other, and therefore was willing to offer greater consideration for the deal.)

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  34. Mr. Davies, rather; Harvey Unga was a football player forced to leave the school entirely last year for the same offense. That Mr. Davies is merely facing suspension from the team, rather than complete disenrollment, speaks to the leniency the school is granting him.

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  35. I got this shit when I lived at home as a kid, and man, I would've loved to step out, but, you know, KID.

    If you are accepting money and support from someone else, be it a salary from the government or any other support, you are not a free agent, they do get to say "my house, my rules." If you're a child, you can do whatever you want--after you're an adult. Or you could get emancipated, join the service, or just leave. Particularly as a child, your parents DO have the right to make you do all sorts of things--go to school, meet a curfew, what sort of medical treatment you get. That's part of being a parent--making sure your kids act in their own best interest even if they don't like it at the time.

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  36. I think it is a bit ridiculous to defend the enforcement of a rule by an establishment just because it exists, and a certain group of people tacitly agreed to follow it. "If you don't like the rules, just don't join that organization" isn't really sufficient justification. First, it veers perilously close to the arguments that are used in favor of intrusive airport security screenings -- "well, if you don't like it, you don't have to fly!" The parallel isn't exact, because avoiding going to BYU is easier than avoiding air travel, but in both cases the "you don't have to do it" is technically true.

    Secondly, putting the onus on group members to follow any rules of any organizations they join is a good way to make sure organizations have no incentive to make fair, sane rules. That's an incentive they should have. Not everyone has infinite choice -- what if a student didn't get into any other colleges, or couldn't afford them? What if a student's parents pressured them to attend BYU? That student has little bargaining power, and even less if the institution doesn't hold themselves to a higher standard than "any rule someone agrees to is a good rule."

    Most people in this thread seem to be arguing that if rules exist, everyone should expect to have them enforced. Really? Do you expect to get a speeding ticket when you go 3 mph over the speed limit? If your work's employee manual says "no personal calls," & you make an occasional discreet personal call, do you expect to be fired? Of course not.

    We've all had the experience of looking at a list of rules, and inferring which ones are important (don't steal from your employer) and which are likely to be rarely or weakly enforced (no talking to your co-workers). I don't expect to get a ticket for going 5 mph over the speed limit, even though it's technically illegal. Wal-Mart employees don't expect to be fired for chatting with their co-workers occasionally, even though it's against the employee rules. Those expectations are reasonable.

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  37. This rule is also vulnerable to criticism because it does not actually relate to the primary purpose of the institution, which is classwork and getting an education. I'd certainly agree that if you join a monastic order focused on asceticism, and you break its no-sex rule, you should expect consequences. Enforcing asceticism isn't the primary goal of colleges, and people don't choose a college primarily based on its policies on sex, drinking and smoking.

    My college had an honor code, but it was all about academic honesty: plagiarism, following guidelines for take-home tests, not stealing books from the library. If a college got punished for violating an overly strict plagiarism policy, I wouldn't complain. This is different, because the college is stepping outside its natural realm of authority. If a college's honor code contains rules that have nothing to do with academic honor, it's valid to argue they should cut the rule, or failing that, quietly stop enforcing it.

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  38. Emily, I think you're missing the point: the reason for going to an institution such as BYU, rather than a more traditional school, is for the character-building as well as the academic education. In any event, read the previous post that mentioned contracts and consideration: each side agreed to give a "package" of valuable consideration to the other. One side then breached the agreement. It is entirely appropriate for the other side to be miffed, regardless of whether or not the line item was "natural realm;" it was a part of the consideration, and now it isn't being delivered.

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  39. Hitting another person, hard enough to leave physical evidence of damage, is always a bad act and should always be prosecuted or at least never knowingly allowed, regardless of any contract verbal or otherwise or any thought to what both people thought they should agree to.

    Because it just is, and the majority of sensible people agree, and anyone getting away with it are doing so because of silly artificial notions that what adults do between each other is okay as long as there's honorable consent.

    (As a side note in case it's not obvious, I don't believe all rules are always beyond reproach even if people agree to them- although I'd say a school honor code is way beyond "tacit". But if the logic can be turned around... it will be.)

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  40. This rule is also vulnerable to criticism because it does not actually relate to the primary purpose of the institution, which is classwork and getting an education. I'd certainly agree that if you join a monastic order focused on asceticism, and you break its no-sex rule, you should expect consequences. Enforcing asceticism isn't the primary goal of colleges, and people don't choose a college primarily based on its policies on sex, drinking and smoking.

    This entire paragraph is arguably false in the case of BYU. I realise I'm privy to some internal politics of the LDS church that most people in this discussion aren't, but at least as of 20 years ago, when people were talking about going to BYU, the main crowds considering it were either the molliest of Molly Mormons, or the folks who were... less straight and narrow and wanted to intentionally seek a college where temptation would be lessened.

    So there's some actual measure of "ascetic monastery" going on there, even in the purview of some percentage of the student body.

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  41. I mean, I agree that everybody knows it's a Mormon college, and you're supposed to go there in part because it strengthens your values. Nevertheless, it's called Brigham Young University, not Brigham Young Temptation-Reduction Monastery. It's a research university. They have MA and doctoral programs. Being considered a serious institution of higher education is part of their reason for existing. They wouldn't want to be seen as primarily a place you go to hang out with your own kind and strengthen your values (a sort of four-year church service); that would lessen their prestige in the public eye. They should be judged as such.

    Clicking around, I do see that BYU's honor code is a contract that you sign (different than at most universities). So I will concede the point that it's not really "tacit." Nevertheless, people sign contracts agreeing to ridiculous terms they really ought not to agree to. What is to be done about this? "Just obey contract,since you were dumb enough to sign it" strikes me as a poor answer. Scientologists who join Sea Org as teenagers sign billion-year contracts. The contracts aren't legally enforcible (well, of course they're not -- but they can't be enforced as lifetime contracts either). Is a contract signee morally justified in breaking one of this ridiculous contracts? I would say yes. Is CoS morally justified in penalizing people for breaking them? I would say no.

    If you sign a contract and it contains elements that break the law, it's null and void. If I sign a lease on an apartment that isn't up to code (no running water or electricity), it's not a valid lease. I think a similar ethical rule might apply to agreements that are ethically unjustifiable. If a person has agreed to terms that are ludicrous, intrusive or near-impossible to follow, their ethical obligation to obey those rules is reduced (unless breaking the rule would harm someone). Of course it would be better if they tried to get out of the contract altogether, but that might not always be possible right away -- what if transferring to another school is so expensive that you'd have to give up on your BA?

    Bottom line, the fact that this student agreed to the no-sex rule means BYU is allowed to kick this student off the basketball team. It doesn't mean they're immune to criticism, or that it wouldn't be more reasonable and ethical on their part to stop enforcing the rule.

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  42. Hershele OstropolerMarch 11, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    "If you don't like the rules, just don't join that organization" isn't really sufficient justification. First, it veers perilously close to the arguments that are used in favor of intrusive airport security screenings -- "well, if you don't like it, you don't have to fly!" The parallel isn't exact, because avoiding going to BYU is easier than avoiding air travel, but in both cases the "you don't have to do it" is technically true.

    That's what I was getting at: at what point is it no longer true that "you don't have to do it" is true in a meaningful way? How much choice did he really have (assuming he's a person with emotion-based constraints on his behavior and vulnerable to benign pressure) about going to BYU?

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  43. It seems to be that:
    a) stupid rules shouldn't be made in the first place, and
    b) if stupid rules are made, then they shouldn't be enforced

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