Sometimes it’s embarrassing to be a philosopher and awaking today to read a couple of philosophers making the news in defense of Roy Moore, this is just going to be one of those days. Roy Moore is of course a candidate for the US Senate from Alabama. He has been accused by multiple women of having sexually harassed or assaulted them in the 1970s – at the time of the reported incidents Moore was in his 30s and the women in their teens, one as young as 14. Some philosophers are unconflicted about how this ought impact Moore’s chance at election – they want him to win anyway.
From Tully Borland, we learn that Moore’s “dating” teenagers is “not without some merit if one wants to raise a large family.” He elaborates that “the wife must start having kids when she’s young” while an older husband can of course provide more income to feed all those young mouths (including the wife, of course, since she’s still growing and all). In his case for Moore, Borland appeals to the observations of another philosopher, Keith Burgess-Jackson, who asks:
What’s the big deal about a 32-year-old man courting a 14-year-old girl? My maternal grandmother was 15 years old when she married and 16 years old when she conceived her first child. Her husband was 41 and 42. They had 10 children during the next 20 years. This was normal back then. I’m sure it was normal in Alabama 40 years ago as well…. I’m sick to death of people imposing their own moral standards on people of the past…
I trust that just about anyone reading this blog can see the trouble with all this. Heck, the Dallas Morning News is reporting on it with barely concealed sick fascination. So I won’t shoot all the ducks in this barrel. Still, I do want to note the bizarrely ahistorical premise for it all and since acquaintance with 1970s southern sexual mores seem to be inviting epistemic hijinks of the “I’m sure it was normal in Alabama” variety, I thought I could clarify.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and venture that 1970s small town Alabama was not monumentally more backward than 1970s small town Louisiana where I was reared. Despite how many times you may have watched Deliverance or indeed listened to Roy Moore, these should not be your guide in all things 1970s south. We did have sexual predators and the full spectrum of male creeps, but young women and their parents sanguine about it? No. I say this as one who inhabited an environment not that far from Roy Moore’s. Yes, there were men like him but hey, here’s a thought. In deciding whether or not this was “normal” or “acceptable,” let’s not consult the men who were doing this sort of thing. Or philosophy professors opining from armchairs while referring back to standards of “normal” from the 1880s, as Burgess-Jackson does. Maybe we could instead ask women, women who actually lived in the south in the 1970s? Like the ones who met Moore and found him, cough, not normal. Or like myself who was of an age in the south: Nope, not at all normal. Or maybe, if the credibility of actual women is just too far a stretch, we could ask the men… you know, the ones who managed to make it through the 1970s in the south without hitting on, harassing, and assaulting teenage girls they found while cruising the malls? Turns out, the number of men like this in the south in the 1970s was great – nay, legion! To spare all the suspense, I have now performed an informal poll of all I could round up and they say, as one: “Holy hell! Of course that wasn’t normal!” So, there we have it: 1970s era men of the south say nope, not normal. Glad we could clarify that, for the uninitiated.
And, Keith Burgess-Jackson and any others of his ilk, from all the formerly 14 year old girls of the south, I’d just like to say, “Bless your heart!”