I contend that there are very few absolute 'wrong's.
Let me define my terms here:
- "absolute": true in all times and places, universal.
- "wrong": malum in se, "evil in itself".
And let me put a large caveat here, in boldface, italics, and capitalized:
I AM NOT DEFENDING ANY ACTION, LEAST OF ALL CALLING IT RIGHT, BY SAYING IT'S NOT AN ABSOLUTE WRONG.
This is a really hard concept to get for many people. I know; I used to be one of them. If something's not wrong, it's right....right? If something's not right, it's wrong?
There are absolute wrongs in my moral code. Child molestation and rape head the (very short) list. And even those things...are they universally wrong?
Rape. Can you defend rape? I can't, not as I understand the term. But: the definition of rape has changed considerably. Many people now say that 'rape' is any act of sex performed on someone who is less than totally enthusiastic. That makes virtually everyone a rapist at some point in their lives, you know. Most people have had a partner initiate sex when they were not, strictly speaking, "in the mood". Men are taught now that "no means no", AND THAT IS TRUE...but almost all of us (and more than a few women to boot) have taken an initial no as a maybe and pressed on. That...today...is rape.
Is it wrong? I think it is, for me. I need consent...and grudgingly given consent, or consent I must fight to obtain, will deflate me about as fast as a kick to the balls. I believe myself physically incapable of raping anyone, under any circumstances, ever...and yet even with me, there have been instances in the past where my partner--if I'm being honest with myself--wasn't quite as enthusiastic about the endeavour as I was. And vice versa.
Nuances, nuances. There is a trivial and yet huge and extremely thorny difference between people who "might be persuaded" and people who really can't be. Some couples even make a game of it: I'm going to do this and you're going to like it, and lo and behold they end up liking it.
This is really, really fraught territory, because people use this to justify their baser urges all the time. And that, by my lights and by the lights of most, is wrong wrong wrong. But...in all cases? Always?
REMINDER: I AM NOT DEFENDING THIS. AT ALL.
I read something in the late 1990s that made my mind reel like nothing I've read before or since. It was an account, written by an adult who was sexually abused by his uncle when he was thirteen. Eddie, his name was; the uncle's name was Dave. Eddie lived with Uncle Dave because his parents had been killed in a train wreck.
There is simply no way to tell this story without telling the whole story.
Eddie was a typical thirteen year old kid for that time and place (Brooklyn, New York, 1960s). He had a thirteen year old's perpetual boner and no idea what to do with it. He fantasized constantly about girls, and the occasional guy, but he had no clue what he was really fantasizing about. Younger readers, remember: no internet. Porn was pretty hard to access if you were a thirteen year old kid in Brooklyn in 1960. You pretty much had to steal a magazine from a store, or know someone who had, and even most of the magazines weren't anywhere near as explicit as what you'll find today with even a cursory glance at a porn site. You could easily get to adulthood without knowing the mechanics of sex. And 'self-abuse' was very much a thing: it was drilled into the heads of children that if you touched yourself "down there", you'd go blind, hair would grow on your palms, and you'd be cast down into hell to burn forever.
Now, thirteen year old Kenny in 1985 London Ontario could have articulated responses to those things: I could still find it if I was blind; hair on my palms would probably improve the sensation; and I was already burning in hell with this goddamn boner that wouldn't go down. Thirteen year old Eddie in 1960s Brooklyn tried mightily to resist the urge, but...typical thirteen year old boy that he was, he failed. And eventually he came, and thought--no, was certain--that he had broken his dick.
So he went to Uncle Dave, crying. Dave told him it was fine, really, he was 'becoming a man', and suggested Vaseline and a refinement to Eddie's masturbatory technique. Dave went back to his newspaper, Eddie went back to his bedroom, and all was right with the world. For the company that makes Vaseline, things were better than right.
Then one day Eddie was approached by a long-haired hippie type in a dark alley. The stranger offered Eddie a blowjob. Eddie had no idea what that was, and asked the stranger to explain. Having heard the explanation, Eddie ran away...and all that night thought about what he'd been offered. Half glad he ran, half regretting it, seriously conflicted. Most of us guys have been offered the same at some point. Most of us won't admit that even if we declined, we, too, were conflicted.
It tormented Eddie. He had no close friends, nobody to experiment with. And so one night he climbed into his uncle Dave's bed and gave him a blowjob.
Dave woke up in a hell of a hurry, as you can imagine, "Jesus," he kept saying, "how did you know?" Eddie had no idea what Dave was talking about.
"I DIDN'T", he cried. "I don't know shit! That's why I done it. I want to know everything about this stuff, I'm old enough, and somebody said he wanted to do that to me but I didn't like him, and I like you fine, and God damnit you gotta tell me now!"
So Dave gave Eddie The Talk. Much more in depth than most kids in that time and place would have got. How babies happen. What women are like, and what you do with them, and how to make them enjoy it, too (that last is particularly absent from sex ed classes even now). What can happen if you aren't careful. How there's three kinds of men: men that like it just with women, men that like it just with men, and men who like it with anybody nice--and the same for women.
Dave told Eddie that the third kind was called 'bisexual', and that's what he, Dave was. "I haven't had sex with a guy in twenty years and I swear to God I never thought about you that way," he said.
Eddie told his uncle that he was bisexual, too. Dave told him he couldn't know that, not at thirteen. "Oh, I'm sure I'm gonna like girls," said Eddie. "And I know I had fun doing what I just done."
You can guess what happened next.
Afterwards, Dave told Eddie they would never, ever do that again. He warned Eddie to 'stay away from guys who smell funny', and that grownups who like to mess with kids only like it because they know more than the kid does.
Eddie met Janey, and things progressed with them to the point they were playing doctor, only Eddie did something to Janey that none of the other doctors had tried before. Janey was initially aghast, but also intensely curious, and Eddie told he she could do that to him too, and that doing that meant she couldn't get pregnant.
"How do you know all this stuff?" asked Janey.
And Eddie told her.
They came for Dave and Eddie the next day.
Eddie was pulled out of class--by his ear--and dragged to the principal's office. Two cops, a priest, and a social worker. Eddie told them where Dave was working that day; they called Dave and told him to come to the school immediately, there was an emergency, and when Dave got there the cops beat the shit out of him. The priest, said Eddie, kicked Dave in the balls.
Eddie went to reform school, "where I was butt-fucked by that priest until I was too old to interest him. A couple of Brothers gave it to me for another couple of years after that until I was eighteen and they let me out".
And Dave? Went to jail, where he was raped to death for being a short-eyes.
"Nobody ever asked me once, did I consent?" Eddie was going to testify in court to that effect, only there was no court.
"I know what you're thinking...a thirteen year old can't consent, right? At nine (when his parents died) I was old enough to deal with death. How old do I have to be to own my own dick?"
"How come it's only okay if whoever you're doing it with is just as ignorant and incompetent as you are?"
'But adults can take advantage of kids..'
"When's the last time you tried to con a thirteen year old kid? Kids at thirteen are as bright and paranoid as they're ever going to be."
"But kids do get suckered, every day, just like anybody else."
"Okay, sure, absolutely. Now, tell me this: if you keep the kids as ignorant as possible, is that more likely to happen, or less? If there's no circumstances under which they are allowed to have sex, do they make their first mistakes with another kid, who will write it on the sidewalk for everybody they know to laugh about it--or with a grown up who doesn't KNOW anybody they know?
Eddie said, after telling his story, that kids should NOT be allowed to have sex with grownups. "Absolutely not," he said. "Never in this world. What happened to me proves it. Once everybody decides something is horrible, they're right."
That's true. For everything. Human sacrifice was not just accepted in Aztec culture; it was a completely unquestioned fact of life, and something a great many people aspired to. Slavery went unchallenged for thousands of years--and still goes unchallenged in some parts of the world. There are dozens of things we consider deeply, grievously wrong which are considered morally right in other places. We think those places, those people are barbaric. They think the same of us.
I live my life by a moral code. My moral code is not much different from most, I suspect, although it does lack a God to back it up. There is a long, long list of things I consider wrong and reprehensible, and rape and child molestation head that list. Absolutely wrong? It's easy, perhaps too easy, to say yes. When we consider this question, we are influenced strongly by where and when we grew up and our own set of values. It's sometimes hard to overturn them.
Eddie is right though. Whenever society as a whole decides something is wrong...it's wrong. Whether it should be or not.