Amateur Hour: Why I’m Leaving Young Voices

Having given the matter much thought, I’ve decided to terminate my participation in the “Young Voices” advocates program for principled reasons regarding this new organization’s management strategy and its emerging character. In particular, the recent on-boarding of a nominally libertarian porn star signals that Young Voices is not the relatively neutral support system for serious young libertarians that I’d assumed it would be. In the hopes that this individual decision can shed a bit of light on larger trends within the liberty movement, I explain my thought process here.

Young Voices is a libertarian media organization established last year (2013) with two main purposes: (1) serving college students and recent graduates who would like to become writers/pundits/public intellectuals by helping them to place pieces like op-eds in various pre-existing media outlets, (2) serving the “liberty movement” by providing a kind of speaker/writer clearinghouse to newspapers looking for op-ed writers, television shows looking for panel participants, etc. Cathy Reisenwitz, an associate at Young Voices and personal acquaintance, dropped me a line in October to ask if I had any interest in becoming a Young Voices advocate. Thinking I had nothing much to lose, I applied and was accepted.

My time with Young Voices has been brief but illuminating. To the organization’s credit, I was quickly placed on a panel of millennials on Fox’s The Kelly File show in November, which was a fun experience. I wrote something on emotional abuse legislation for the Daily Caller which Young Voices placed for me. This summer, the demands on my time lightened and I began thinking of stepping up my writing activities, at least in part through Young Voices. However upon serious and extended reflection, I no longer wish to participate in the advocates program, due to some of Young Voices’ recent strategic choices.

In June, it came to my attention through social media outlets and Young Voices correspondence that Miriam Weeks had been accepted as a Young Voices advocate, meaning that her profile would appear on the Young Voices website, that her writing would be publicized by Young Voices, that Young Voices associates would help Ms. Weeks to place her writing in news outlets, and that her writing would often identify Ms. Weeks as a “Young Voices Advocate.” Miriam Weeks is a now-19 year old student at Duke whose decision to perform in pornography (a.k.a. “Belle Knox”) to fund her education has been widely covered by the American mainstream media. Ms. Weeks has begun publishing writing of her own, and in particular her recent TIME piece on the costs of college publicly established her as politically aligned with Young Voices and its broad libertarianism.

Miriam Weeks

Miriam Weeks, via Facebook

In other words, upon Ms. Week’s addition to Young Voices, I found myself in the curious and unexpected position of being officially associated with a porn star, via a small and fairly ideologically homogenous organization (whose other members are mostly early career no-names, easily overshadowed by Ms. Weeks). At first, I felt the tug of a “tolerant,” progressive impulse not to care. However, the more I thought about e.g. prospective employers who know little about me discovering this association, the more I realized that my reasons for not wanting to be associated with a porn star are actually reasonable, and not merely knee-jerk.

When sexual norms are too restrictive, they produce too much (largely morally unwarranted) shame in the hearts of too many people. But when sexual norms are too permissive, it creates mating market collective action problems and harms the people who are most ill-equipped to handle sexual anomie. I agree with Damon Linker’s excellent piece, “What religious traditionalists can teach us about sex“: though many of the changes ushered in by the “sexual revolution” are right and good, it’s so new that the dust is only beginning to settle on whether we overshot the all-things-considered optimal set of sexual norms, and what implications that will have. Notice in the abstract, though, that when there are (rightfully) fewer laws constraining sex, we need more informally-enforced social norms to guide people in this important domain of life, not fewer.

I will be the first to admit that I have benefited from, and participated in, the sexual revolution in many ways: I’ve been taking the birth control pill since age 18, and have never experienced an unwanted pregnancy. I have a no-fault divorce under my belt. I’ve looked at porn online – who hasn’t? I learned to date as an adult in New York City, via online dating sites (use your imagination here). However, I enjoyed (or at least got through) most of these formative sexual experiences because I approached them from a place of privilege: supportive family, never literally impoverished, well-educated, accustomed to navigating the healthcare system, and so on. As such, my views on sex are a direct product of these experiences, not a hypocritical contrast to them. A free society can allow for things like porn, prostitution, and polyamory without normalizing them. The resulting socio-political situation is essentially just as “free” for those who want to partake, but generates much less of a pernicious sexual mire for those who are meaningfully unable to navigate it successfully.

With respect to Ms. Weeks herself, I wish her nothing but the best. I simply don’t know enough about her choice to do porn to give an informed, nuanced moral read of the situation (and you almost certainly don’t, either). She seems to like both sides of this coin: at times, she speaks of her career as a natural extension of her sexual personality; at others (as in TIME), she speaks of being cornered – with no other options to pay for college, and her entire future on the line. The fact of the matter is that this young woman at 18 (like everyone at 18) was still discovering and constructing a well-developed, stable concept of her “self.” Even assuming she consented meaningfully to perform in pornography, we needn’t therefore commit a fallacy of voluntaristic myopia and also say that the situation is totally morally unproblematic. I can’t help but think that this very public, weighty porn decision will lock Ms. Weeks into a certain narrative for the rest of her life (the victim empowerment, independent-and-quirky woman story, if you will), on pains of huge cognitive dissonance later. But my dissatisfaction with Young Voices doesn’t really have anything to do with her personally.

Principled but moderate libertarians cannot allow themselves to be bullied out of a perniciously insular movement that (at least on the internet) increasingly seems to take maximally extreme positions (on war, education, welfare, immigration, sexual/family issues, etc) as its hallmarks. As a libertarian, I want pornography and even prostitution to be legal, if reasonably regulated. But as a survivor of hookup culture, I can’t even implicitly condone rampant, publicized promiscuity (which even on camera and for money constitutes rampant promiscuity nonetheless). Keeping your experiments in sexual growth small and private helps to limit their potential to damage both yourself and our normative socio-sexual frameworks. I want to live in a community where people understand and respect that we are all sexual creatures, enjoy their sexuality in pro-social or at least benign ways, and limit it otherwise. Such a hypothetical community does not treat the decision to perform in pornography (and then talk about it all over the internet) as just one unimpeachably empowering life choice among many.

When Young Voices brought Ms. Weeks on board as an already-famous porn star with few libertarian bona fides (apart from apparently having been shown some Sheldon Richman writing, which she repeatedly references in TIME), they chose and broadcast a commitment to edginess, sound-bite repeatability, personality appeal, and vapid “sex positivity” over facts, careful rhetoric, and playing a respectable long game intellectually. Although the Young Voices enterprise was promising at its inception and may still do some good for liberty, I do not wish to be associated with an organization of such character. Liberty makes possible the achievement of other values; it does not eviscerate the need for them. Self-restraint, temperance, modesty, and lowered time preference may not be sexy, but in general these traits improve lives and improve societies. Since there is not much to having a value without acting upon it, I bid adieu to Young Voices and will continue speaking with this young voice of mine elsewhere.

28 Comments

  • Bravo! I will not hire an individual to work in my communications department if, looking at their resume, my first thought is, “Oh right, that’s the place where that ridiculous sex blogger uses the Facial Abuse porn star pimp out ideas.” I have zero problem with those two’s personal choices, but it makes me think that people associated with them are more likely to make equally poor long-term decisions affecting public perception of our organization than those who became writers on their own or through more traditional programs.

  • You can’t handle Ms. Weeks being a member of Young Voices but you’re OK with the Faux Libertarian Cathy Reisenwitz?

    You may not agree with Ms. Weeks choices and that’s fine, but those same choices are part of her personal liberty and are something we are supposed to if not respect, at least stand in defense of.

    This entire article at least to me seems as if you are screaming they are bullying you from Young Voices, and yet it is you raising the white flag and retreating.

    Wouldn’t you think it would form a more constructive discourse and view of what modern Libertarianism is if you stay and promote the counter to Ms. Weeks positions. That by staying you could show the many sides and inclusiveness of modern Libertarianism? Something young people will not find in any of the other political ideologies.

  • Tara D. wrote:

    “I can’t help but think that this very pub­lic, weighty porn deci­sion will lock Ms. Weeks into a cer­tain nar­ra­tive for the rest of her life (the vic­tim empow­er­ment, independent-and-quirky woman story, if you will), on pains of huge cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance later.”

    This here is the key thing that annoys me about the celebrity and thrust upon Ms. Weeks. Unfortunately, it’s likely to be countered with accusations that you presume to know what’s best for her. To which I’d respond that, yes, anybody whose frontal cortex has stopped developing (~age 25+) does get to pull a bit of existential rank over a 19-year-old who’s talking all over the Internet/media about her controversial life choices. Weeks can’t know what she’ll want to do in 3-5 years, but her choice to speak publicly, inarticulately, and at great length about doing sex work all but guarantees that she’ll be stuck in this self-crafted identity – or else fighting an uphill battle for credibility in a non-sex-work profession.

    The gamble might pay off for her – she might become a real bona fide porn STAR and articulate (well-compensated) writer/talking head. Then again, it might not. Most college freshman have the privilege of trying out new identities in relative privacy – Weeks has conceded that privilege. It’s that decision that causes me to question her judgment.

  • Mike B–

    I feel you are severely missing the point. My own (perhaps unfair) summary of Pamela’s point is that libertarianism is hurt by taking extreme positions that are consistent with core principles, but unexamined outside of a single dimension. Liberty alone as a lens may *require* the permissibility of Ms. Weeks’ actions, but there are various positions consistent with that requirement that do not celebrate it. Too often, public libertarianism is reduced to a cartoonish state by overcompensating on liberty and leaving unconsidered other important concerns.

    The objection, it seems to me, is that the move signals Young Voices shamelessly seeking flash-in-the-pan, (in)famous characters with some consistency with their views rather than carefully considering which voices should be heard based on more substantive considerations. Additionally, at its current size and state of maturity, associating with Young Voices will largely be seen as an association with Ms. Weeks, to which there are reasonable objections. The former point is more damning, whereas the latter may have been less of a concern if Young Voices was larger and more mature.

  • Rocinante wrote:

    How do we know Miriam Weeks is flash in the pan? Give her a chance. She’s cited libertarian ideas not only in Time but in other forums. They are articulated about as well as one might expect or better for a college freshman. Libertarians have a presence in academia; it needs a much greater presence in pop culture and social media. A porn actress will do this

  • Frank Stroker wrote:

    yeah but the facial abuse series rocks! some of the best porn out there that doesn’t always involve vaginal or anal sex.

  • […] couldn’t help but take interest when I saw a blog post by Pamela J. Stubbart called Why I’m Leaving Young Voices being circulated and debated on social networking. Young Voices is essentially a prime example of […]

  • Disagree….. don’t care what the girl did in her past job. The article is just a modern version of the scarlet letter A

  • “As a survivor of the hookup culture.”

    This is where Pam lost me. I wish I could say I have no idea what this means, since I do think it’s such a rubbish position as to border on being unintelligible, but unfortunately I do know what she means and thus have to respond.

    Professors of mine (I graduated in 2005) were decrying the ‘hookup culture’ when I was in school. I’d heard the term coming of age in the 90s, and even if it was called something different, I have no doubt that the same phenomenon has existed at every stage in human history among young people just learning about the kind of fun they can have with one another sans clothing. Yes, even in the ‘good old’ 1950s. Maybe it wasn’t as acceptable to talk about in public, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening.

    Believe it or not, casual dating is not actually a recent trend and certainly isn’t a tragedy that one ‘survives.’ If you want to go on a date with a gentleman caller who shows up promptly at 7, opens the door for you, gets you home by curfew, is only thinking about you as he considers his romantic future, and wouldn’t think of proposing without talking to your father first, there are plenty of men out there just like that for you. And you have every right to exclusively pursue them. But to say you ‘survived’ something that many if not most people would recognize as the normal state of affairs among people in their teens and 20s is absurd. Such hyperbole calls into question the merit of any other observations you have on human relations & sexuality.

    To put a finer point on it, I think you’re so far out of touch with contemporary society that Young Voices is likely much better off without you. I hope you find somewhere else where you can implore the casual daters out there to get off your lawn and turn down that music.

  • Weeks does porn, that doesn’t make her a polygamist. The fraction of the female population with nymphomanic symptoms isn’t big enough to cause the mating market to jam just like that. I sympathize with Darwinian social-cons but sometimes I feel like they are just counter-signalling against naive libertarians. The division of labour is limited by the extent of the market. In our rich and populous world there is not one culture to be eroded. There are hundreds of fragmented microcosmic cultures, some monogamous and some not. Historically the most serious source of mate market disequilibrium is an imbalance in male and female birth or death rates. So in short I respect your decision to quit but find your reasons to be trendy but pretty weak camolflague for your own value judgements.

  • I find the most striking and strange thing about this story the idea that somehow a relatively small number of women who sell sex would have a greater affect on the mating market than things like taking birth control or getting a no-fault divorce. I’m a little bit at a loss as to how you are not a bigger illustration of the “problem” you describe, if it is one.

  • […] Pamela J. Stubbart needs her swooning couch, she is so shocked by our sexualized culture. But seriously, I think she […]

  • Brian Cantin wrote:

    From what little I have heard from Miriam Weeks, she seems to be a reasonably articulate libertarian. Since sex workers are victims of legal persecution, the libertarian movement needs to defend those who are persecuted for pursuing their chosen profession. Such a defense is not some frivolous choice, it is the heart libertarianism. Ms. Weeks can provide invaluable theoretical and practical insights into the subject. So, even though Pamela Stubbart is going, I am glad that Mariam Weeks is staying.

  • […] lady by the name of Pamela Stubbard decided to leave the organization Young Voices. She wrote a blog post explaining her reasons for resigning.  The reasons involved morals and personal convictions. […]

  • L. Ulzworth wrote:

    Tara D. nailed it from every direction.

  • […] case you missed it: tl;dr I quit a libertarian media organization last week because they made a not-especially-well-qualified porn star their most prominent […]

  • […] Stubbart authored a piece this past week explaining her decision to leave the Students For Liberty-affiliated media relations […]

  • […] The Young Voices Resignation Letter […]

  • […] pundits. Pamela Stubbart, a young libertarian, who blogs at “This Field is Required” recently resigned from Young Voices because it admitted to its program college student and porn star Miriam Weeks aka […]

  • […] prompted a long online debate between Damon and various libertarian interlocutors, revolving around the frustration one libertarian writer felt at being put into a position of not only not judging, but in fact embracing as a positive act of […]

  • […] internet has exploded for the past couple of weeks since libertarian writer Pamela Stubbart quit the Students For Liberty backed media placement organization Young Voices Advocates. Stubbart […]

  • […] writer and member of the Libertarian media organisation Young Voices left the organisation because they accepted ‘Belle Knox’, the Duke University student, sex worker and […]

  • I agree

  • […] which asserts that "if millennials want liberty, they need virtue too." I would also point you to this post by Pamela Stubbart, who left the libertarian group Young Voices over its promotion of porn star Belle Knox's writing, […]

  • […] Yet sometimes you encounter a libertarian who is also willing to say, you know, maybe X isn’t a good idea. It turns out that expressing “X isn’t a good idea” is itself not a very good idea, at least […]

  • […] writer and member of the Libertarian media organisation Young Voices left the organisation because they accepted‘Belle Knox’, the Duke University student, sex worker and […]

  • […] Stubbart is a libertarian who resigned from an organization called Young Voices because it allowed Belle Knox, who is also a libertarian, to join.  While I totally support the […]

  • […] pundits. Pamela Stubbart, a young libertarian, who blogs at “This Field is Required” recently resigned from Young Voices because it admitted to its program college student and porn star Miriam Weeks aka […]

Leave a Reply