Magazine | October 28, 2013, Issue


A Taboo Worth Keeping

I am the author of one of the pieces Jonah Goldberg addresses in his article “The Taboo Cliché” (September 30). While I don’t speak for the other authors he discusses, I know that in the case of my Washington Post op-ed (“The Unintended Consequences of Laws Addressing Sex between Teachers and Students,” August 30), his extremely reductive approach utterly misses my point and trivializes the topic. I did not write this piece out of any desire to gain Internet infamy as the poster child for sexual relations between students and teachers, but rather out of concern for whether the societal reaction to certain types of sexual activity does more damage to the victim than the experience itself. There is ample authority for this position, which is quoted in some of my longer responses to my critics. 

By reducing the topic to flippant sobriquets and puerile puns, Mr. Goldberg sidesteps the more interesting and subtle points about taboos. Taboos create an impermeable wall around certain activities that extends even to rhetoric and dialogue. It is not unreasonable to suggest that in some cases this distorts the societal responses to these topics in ways that are not uniformly healthy and beneficial. Not so long ago in this country, interracial marriage was one of these taboo topics. The media response to my piece by both the Right and the Left was noteworthy for the extremes to which most commentators went to misrepresent my logic, perfectly illustrating the type of journalistic opportunism and hysteria that ensues when someone challenges an accepted narrative about a taboo.

And thanks to Mr. Goldberg, once again the concept of examining taboos has been relegated to a circus freak show and escapes serious critical consideration.

Betsy Karasik

Washington, D.C.

Jonah Goldberg Replies: I want to apologize to Ms. Karasik if I insinuated anything or made any other kind of representation about her motives. First, motives are a distraction and questioning them is often poor form. Second, and more important, I truly have no idea what Ms. Karasik could have been thinking. This is especially the case if controversy and scorn weren’t her objectives.

Ms. Karasik suggests I am trivializing the issues, but she is the one who wrote the following: “As protesters decry the leniency of [Stacy Dean] Rambold’s sentence — he will spend 30 days in prison after pleading guilty to raping 14-year-old Cherice Morales, who committed suicide at age 16 — I find myself troubled for the opposite reason.” She then proceeded with a flimsy pastiche of an argument held together with gauzy nostalgia for the days when she and her teenage girlfriends had consensual sex with their teachers. In her letter, Ms. Karasik makes reference to “ample authority” that supports her position. Maybe some does. But in her op-ed, the only authority she cites is a barely relevant comedy routine by Louis C.K. about pedophiles. Not only will I maintain my healthy skepticism about the burning need to lift the taboo on teacher–student sexual relations, but I will do so in the full knowledge that the list of comedians Ms. Karasik can cite is long.

No doubt there are — and certainly there have been — some taboos worth overturning. But the rule that teachers shouldn’t bed their underage students isn’t one of them, Ms. Karasik’s nostalgia notwithstanding.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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