Conduct that is harmful to society needs to be rejected and condemned by society, and society has limited options for accomplishing that. It can make destructive and harmful conduct illegal, but some kinds of conduct can’t be illegalized. Uncivil speech, for example, is ugly and causes discord, and the only way to make it less common is to let those who engage in it know that neither they nor their communication habits are appreciated. The Supreme Court has decided that we can’t make lying illegal, but we certainly have the power to make habitual liars feel unpopular.
When society sends mixed messages about destructive conduct, or worse, tell those who engage in it that they are still wonderful people and that their conduct might be just fine for them, it poisons itself. There is a solid, practical reason for Kant’s Rule of Universality, which holds that conduct that would be lead to societal catastrophe if everybody engaged in it is wrong should be discouraged. If everybody doing it would be bad, it’s a good bet that the fewer doing it, the better.
No toxic social conduct illustrates the folly of hesitating to condemn it more vividly than unwed pregnancy, particularly teen pregnancy. While shunning and shaming pregnant teens was undoubtedly cruel, sending the message that unwed motherhood is socially acceptable is arguably crueler. This kinder, gentler response, combined with the warping influence of wealthy celebrities proudly parading their “baby bumps” courtesy of equally rich celebrity boyfriends, has led to an explosion of births without wedlock, especially in the black community. The children of these non-marriages are handicapped from birth, more likely to fall into poverty,substance abuse, illiteracy and crime; the mothers involved less are likely to succeed in careers or life; government programs, funded by taxpayers, are too often required to mitigate the damage.
In light of all this, is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s new initiative to discourage teens from having children before they are married harsh, mean, and unfair, as a hoard of critics are claiming?
No. Of course not. Having a child as an unmarried teen, besides being stupid beyond imagining, is irresponsible, and yes, wrong, as in a bad thing to do, like driving while drunk, gambling away the rent money, or letting the kids you are babysitting play with matches and rabid wolverines. It’s even more irresponsible, and almost as stupid, as the criticism of Bloomberg’s latest by State Senator Liz Krueger (D), who said, “This campaign seems laser-focused on shaming already struggling teen parents or, ludicrously, convincing teens not to get pregnant because really bad things will happen.”
Really bad things do happen to single teen mothers and their children, and to the rest of society because there are so many of them, and their numbers are increasing every day. Fact: society can’t teach children that conduct is irresponsible and self-destructive—unethical and wrong, in other words—if those who engage in that conduct are praised for their courage, never criticized, and showered with sympathy and support. Nor can society send a coherent message while the rich and famous, who are, unavoidably, role models for the poor and never-to-be famous, are celebrated and glamorized in the media for the exact same conduct that is so ruinous for normal folk. The 16-year old unmarried mother who dooms herself and her child to a lifetime of public assistance is wrong to do so because her life situation will not support her choice. The 28-year-old athletes, television stars and models who get proudly pregnant (or impregnate others) without bothering the get marriage licenses first are also wrong to do so because they can support the choice, and don’t care that they are validating and promoting conduct that will cause massive, long-lasting societal harm.
Predictably harmful conduct is unethical conduct. It doesn’t mean we should stone those who engage in it, but calling them wrong and irresponsible is imperative. Those who criticize Bloomberg on this issue are following the lead of the misguided, gentle souls who brought black America to the point where over 70% of all children are born to unmarried mothers.
Calling unmarried teen pregnancy wrong is fair, accurate and necessary.
Pointer and Source: Ruth Marcus (Washington Post)