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How can we laugh at modesty, politeness, continence, temperance and fidelity and then have the effrontery to be shocked or even surprised by today’s shocking sexual behaviour, asks Glenn Hardesty.
The latest hubbub about the sexual misdemeanours of drunken schoolchildren is gross and outrageous in every possible way.
But it is also just one of those things that seem inevitable given the constant barrage of confusing messages that children get and the moral vacuum in which they live - and for which grown-ups are to blame.
Unless they are being brought up by fundamentalists or hippies, most children get most of their practical sexual education from TV and movies and porn on the internet. By the time they are 14 they know about all sorts of arcane matters that previous generations had to guess at, and to discover (if at all) in the context of real relationships. They are confronted with choices unknown to previous generations: not simply whether to be ''active'' or not, but orientation and now gender. The contention has been that getting everything out in the open is healthy.
Since Freud and Kinsey and the 1960s, getting things out in the open has become almost a competitive sport, with some of the phenomena now out in the open leaving one wondering if they are actually (as the kids say) ''a thing'' at all, and not perhaps concocted just for the purpose of shocking the middle classes.
Nothing now is regarded as deviant, or even private. Practices that used to be mentioned only in anatomy and anthropology textbooks and French art-house films now crop up in very public places, such as stand-up comedy, advertising and TV soap operas.
I've got emails from a government-owned TV-on-demand outfit advertising a ''same-sex vampire'' show and ''television's first transgendered assassin'' and an Italian sort-of reality programme in which young couples who are total strangers get into their undies and are encouraged to get intimate in front of the camera.
This stuff is now - at least for people without any moral frame of reference (which is just about everybody) - just normal. If you dare to ask if it should be normal, you get accused of being judgemental, moralistic, or ''in denial''.
No-one has had the nerve yet to say anything about the propriety of teenagers getting drunk to the point of being comatose. These kids are not actually allowed to drink, legally, are they? But that's only because the law hasn't yet ''caught up'' with the overworked and demoralised schools, the confused and lazy parents and the kids, hungry for experience, be it good or bad.
On all these topics, no-one receives (or offers) any teaching - as that would imply moral judgement - just practical assistance: how to do it (drink, have sex) properly and avoid trouble.
The parents of these young pigs should be ashamed, and shamed. But shame is deemed bad and unhealthy - so we should expect more shameful behaviour.
No-one is teaching boys to behave to girls in a chivalrous and honourable manner, to use character and accomplishments and intellect and charm as a means of establishing relationships, rather than intimidation, body image, liquor and sex.
No-one is offering girls the choice of being self-possessed, articulate, or even shy if that's what they're like. But if you dress and behave like a slut, should you be entirely surprised if you get treated like one? (Not, I hasten to add, that there's anything wrong with being a slut! Your body, your choice!)
The only guidance they get is pragmatic. There's no suggestion that politeness and modesty and getting acquainted might offer agreeable patterns of behaviour. The only fashionable alternative to hooking-up culture that is offered young people is the retreat into the increasingly popular pretence of gender ambiguity - which allows girls in particular to be safely off-limits without being thought to be frigid (or worse, religious).
And with boys around like the ''roastbusters'' and these latest Wellington College boys, who can blame them?
How can we laugh at modesty, politeness, continence, temperance, and fidelity and then have the effrontery to be shocked or even surprised by this sort of behaviour?
Glenn Hardesty is a Dunedin writer and retired teacher.