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Fast '12: Sodom, Gomorrah and individual liberty

Tomorrow, the Queer Alliance will host the famous night of debauchery known as Sex Power God. Though the event has reportedly become much less chaotic since Bill O'Reilly aired his moralistic critique of it on Fox News in 2005, the fact of the matter is that a free and open society demands that such scenes of "pure debauchery" be allowed to exist. If figures in the public sphere that appeal to some subjective moral standard prove capable of curtailing acts of free expression, can we safely say that other demonstrations that violate social norms — debaucherous or not — will be adequately protected in the future?

To be fair, O'Reilly states that "We don't care … what these kids do in their personal lives." But his failure to extend this principle to other private actors — namely the University itself and the students who choose not to attend Sex Power God — signals that he is being at least a bit disingenuous.

O'Reilly argues that it is unfair to non-participating students that the student activity fee was used to finance Sex Power God, given that many students surely disapprove of the bacchanalia associated with the party. Note that O'Reilly is not actually telling the truth here, since the Queer Alliance actually provided the funds itself ("Fox News airs footage of Sex Power God," Nov. 15, 2005).

But even if this objection were based in reality, it ignores the fact that every student reserves the right to cast a vote of referendum on the University's administration with his or her wallet. If I found that I could not sleep at night knowing that a vanishingly small part of my tuition fees was going to fund Sex Power God, I would have gone to University of Illinois. But even though I am an introvert who would never take part in such a spectacle, I believe that my best interests are served by attending Brown regardless. Therein lies the logic of the free market.

What, then, of the administration's role in allowing such acts of delinquency to take place in one of its buildings? O'Reilly asserts that drug and alcohol use before and during Sex Power God become the administration's responsibility because the resultant inebriation takes place in a University building. But how does this differ from routine drinking and drug use in dormitories? Given that the University has the power to curtail both — indeed, DPS conducted routine patrols of dormitories until 2004 — what distinguishes a drunkard in Sayles Hall or Alumnae Hall from one in the Graduate Center or one in Josiah's from one roaming the campus of Illinois State University in my hometown?

Rather, our University rightly places a great deal of faith in the ability of Brown students to make informed and responsible decisions regarding their substance use. As can be expected, a few people use this freedom irresponsibly and end up requiring emergency services. But this is demonstrably true at Spring Weekend and many other events Brown facilitates. Moreover, it eclipses the silent evidence: the many inebriated revelers who were well aware of the limitations on their ability to partake.

So what makes Sex Power God special? Why do conservative pundits not wet their pants when college students anywhere get more wasted than is probably wise? Is it that the idea of free sexual expression makes O'Reilly and his viewers uncomfortable? If so, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and various court interpretations thereof say that they just have to deal with it.

Indeed, one of the predominant global cultural conflicts today is between open societies that afford their citizens the freedom and responsibility to live by their own ethics and societies that enforce adherence to arbitrary religious and/or political dogmas through fear and violence. What better way to demonstrate which side of that divide we stand on, both as individuals and as an institution, than to support a demonstration of contempt for the strictures that define the oppression of many?

Salman Rushdie, a British author whose controversial works earned him a death sentence from the Iranian theocratic dictatorship, has referred to pornography as a "standard bearer for freedom, even civilization" because of the power of such speech to test the limitations of the right to free expression.

Admittedly, this defense of Sex Power God seems to have come six years too late. But there is no question that O'Reilly's misguided expose has cast a long shadow over the event. I say, for the sake of testing and strengthening the right to individual self-determination that we all enjoy, do not allow grandstanding conservative pundits to have an effect on the celebration of Sex Power God unless their arguments are based on fact and a demonstration of concrete harm done to non-participants. O'Reilly's critique satisfies neither requirement.



Hunter Fast '12 does not really drink or do orgies, but notes that Minecraft is "one hell of a drug."


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