Family and Culture: Contrasts Between North & South America

During an internship this summer in South America, I took the opportunity to speak with many college students about university life. The most interesting contrast between our experience and theirs lies in the response to the question, “Where are you living?” For them, the answer was nearly always: “At home.” In South America, when you begin college you simply continue living with your family. Most people live in their nation’s capital where the country’s most important corporations and best universities are located, so it makes sense for students to stick around if they’re going to become integral parts of their country’s rising professional network. The fact that most students live at home, however, points less to a pragmatic and professionally oriented mindset than to the fact that a radically different, family-oriented culture exists in Latin American countries.

The central idea behind this culture can be summarized by Pope John Paul II’s assertion that “The family is the first and fundamental school of social living.”[i] Education begins in the family environment. Key aspects of your character, like who you are, how you think and how you interact with others are first formed within the family, and later develop throughout life by formal education, experiences and interactions with other people. Rather than stifling individual development, continuing to live at home complements it. In Venezuela, Chile and Argentina, I lived with families with college-age students. Rather than witnessing tension or confrontation, I observed how many virtues, such as respect, patience, generosity and charity, developed while sons and daughters who were living at home still studied, went out, partied and did everything fitting for a regular young man or woman. It was completely natural and healthy. The fact that “living with your parents” is looked down upon in the U.S. is ridiculous.

It is important to note that our situation as college students in the U.S., often living quite far from home, is equally conducive to the development of a different set of virtues. When I explained that most students in the U.S. live away from their families, everyone I spoke with usually made a comment to the effect of, “Wow, that’s tough, you guys must mature really fast.” This is absolutely correct. We become independent more quickly and if we use our freedom responsibly, we will also mature more quickly. We ought to take joy in the fact that although there is no one stopping us from doing whatever we want, we have the discipline to restrain ourselves in order to remain faithful to our moral principles.

Living away from home comes with its own set of serious challenges, and I discussed this topic with a class of Chilean high school students. Towards the end of a talk I gave about preparing for college, one of the questions that came up was, “There are clear qualitative advantages of being educated at a university in the U.S. But what about the moral environment? Is it really worth going if you’re going to expose yourself to so many bad things we hear about and see in movies?” I told him that the moral depravity to which he was referring–premarital sex, heavy drinking and drugs–can be found among college students anywhere in the world. The difference in the U.S. is that since we live in dorms far from adult regulation, it’s much easier to engage in those behaviors without fear of being caught and reprimanded. That doesn’t mean that well-formed, upstanding young men and women should avoid attending great universities on account of moral laxity. Quite the opposite: it is essential that such people attend to face the challenge and show others how to improve our culture by ceaseless personal example. We can transform our culture as long as we are dedicated to the continual development of our own character and are interested to the utmost in the improvement of those around us.



[i] Apostolic Exhortation: Familiaris Consortio. Pope John Paul II. Point 37.

Virginity Added to List of Sexual Disorders in DSM-5

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No, I’m kidding. Don’t believe everything you read online. The 5th edition of the APA’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” due out in 2013, will include no such entry. But riding back from NY on the train recently, I had a glimpse of what such a future might look like: on the walls of many of the train platforms, there were ads in plain black and red print blaring, “Still a Virgin? For Help Call 888-743-4335.” Some Googling revealed that it was a promo for an upcoming movie called “The Virginity Hit,” co-produced by Will Ferrell. According to the movie’s site, the R-rated movie is “a comedy about three pals documenting the progress of their socially-awkward friend, who tries desperately to lose his virginity.”

It may be true that the “Virginity Hotline” (see here for details about what happens when you call it) and the movie are just for laughs. But they are laughs that require the audience to buy into the idea that there is something pitiable and almost shameful about being a virgin, especially a male virgin. When I first saw the ads, I was relatively sure they were a joke, but what made me pause was the chord of familiarity they struck in me – I had heard this message many times before, especially on campus. The message generally takes the following form: “The only reasons you could have for being a virgin are 1) outdated religious hangups or 2) your incompetence – you tried but no one would take you.” It’s by no means a universal sentiment at Princeton, but I’ve encountered it often enough, especially through my involvement with the Anscombe Society, to be thoroughly tired of it and amazed at how stubbornly people hew to this belief. To see this message reinforced by these movie ads brought the alternate reality of this entry’s title another disturbing step closer.

It’s too soon to come to a final verdict about the intentions behind “Virginity Hit” and the effects it will have on social perceptions of sexuality, since the movie hasn’t been released yet. Perhaps the movie’s directors and actors will have found something different or even insightful to say about virginity by the end of the movie. However, you’ll forgive me for not being terribly optimistic.

Lady Gaga and the Hook-up Culture

by Shivani Radhakrishnan


Despite being somewhat skeptical about the relevance of this post to “philosophy”, I found this observation from the NY Times philosophy blog, The Stone, pretty interesting:

“If there’s anything that feminism has bequeathed to young women of means, it’s that power is their birthright.  Visit an American college campus on a Monday morning and you’ll find any number of amazingly ambitious and talented young women wielding their brain power, determined not to let anything — including a relationship with some needy, dependent man — get in their way.  Come back on a party night, and you’ll find many of these same girls (they stopped calling themselves “women” years ago) wielding their sexual power, dressed as provocatively as they dare, matching the guys drink for drink — and then hook-up for hook-up.”

Read the full article here.

Polyamory and the Fallacy of “Consent”

During the "Debate over Marriage" held at Princeton University last December, an event sponsored by the Anscombe Society, the most important point to which opponents of the traditional definition of marriage could not respond was the following: redefining marriage as a purely emotional union necessitates the acceptance of any number of varying types of relationships as "marriages," including, most notably, polyamorous ones.

The response offered was neither moral nor philosophical in nature, but rather purely practical: polyamory is not a significant enough force in the United States to merit political recognition as marriage. This argument, already intellectually insignificant, has now been proven factually inaccurate by a recent feature in Newsweek. Indeed the author practically taunts traditionally-minded Americans with the complex structure of the particular polyamorous quartet profiled in the piece:

It’s enough to make any monogamist’s head spin. But the traditionalists had better get used to it.

The article goes on:

Researchers are just beginning to study the phenomenon, but the few who do estimate that openly polyamorous families in the United States number more than half a million, with thriving contingents in nearly every major city. Over the past year, books like Open, by journalist Jenny Block; Opening Up, by sex columnist Tristan Taormino [who will be speaking at Princeton this upcoming semester]; and an updated version of The Ethical Slut–widely considered the modern "poly" Bible–have helped publicize the concept. Today there are poly blogs and podcasts, local get-togethers, and an online polyamory magazine called Loving More with 15,000 regular readers.

Polyamory, then, is not a blip on the American cultural radar, but a social and sexual phenomenon. It is the fullest expression of the ideology of sexual libertinism that has taken root in this country, marked by radical autonomy in moral deliberation and decision-making. Polyamory throws into sharp relief one important aspect of this ideology: consent as the only moral touchstone in issues of sex and relationships. More on this after the jump:

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