Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
They Said It:
And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears – that’s what soma is.
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, 1932.
GAY MARRIAGE AND THE REBIRTH OF THE FAMILY.
As you well know – and as every pundit this side of the Hindu Kush has noted this week – the United States Supreme Court is currently considering two same-sex marriage cases. The likely outcome of the cases, and the outcome for which conservatives appear to be hoping, is that the Court will decide to allow the states to determine for themselves whether or not gay couples can marry within their respective jurisdictions. And that, in turn, means that gay marriage will become an undeniable reality in large portions of the country.
At the same time, a plurality of all voters and a significant majority of young voters now support same-sex unions. Indeed, something of a preference cascade has developed, and those who stand athwart the wave appear likely to be drowned by it. Even Jeff Flake, Arizona’s junior Senator and a conservative favorite, conceded over the weekend that the party’s support for the issue is “inevitable.”
All of this, we think, makes our own concession equally inevitable. It is time, gentle readers, for us to declare that it is over. There is no longer any point denying it. The facts are obvious. We should all acknowledge reality and move on.
What’s that? You’d like to know what, exactly, it is that is over? Well . . . the American Left’s half-century-long appeal to sexual politics and its overt sexualization of the entire populace, of course.
Why? What did you think we meant?
Longtime readers may well recognize that we believe that the greatest threats to liberty in this country are likely to come not from the top of society downward, but from the bottom up. We, like the Founders, fear the masses and worry what they will do when encouraged by their “betters” to indulge their baser instincts.
By way of analogy, we have always considered George Orwell’s totalitarian dystopia, 1984, to be a pure work of fiction, while we have thought of Aldous Huxley’s take on the subject, Brave New World, as something more like a blueprint for the politically perverted and power hungry. In short, it has always seemed far more likely to us that tyranny could be imposed on a free people by means of exploiting their desires than by playing upon their fears; more by granting them pleasure than by inflicting pain upon them.
In Brave New World, fear, pain, and anxiety are almost entirely removed from the average individual’s life. There is no competition for sex, either for pleasure or for breeding. There are no families with whom to form emotional bonds. There is no contest for jobs or status or position. The World State has taken care of all of these things, and almost everything else as well. Most notably the State encourages the use of the drug “Soma,” which it also makes ubiquitously available. Soma is the ultimate distraction from the tedium of everyday life and provides men and women with pleasurable “holidays” from reality (i.e. dreams) in which they enjoy themselves immensely and from which they return gratified and relieved of any stress or worry.
In the real world, of course, the Left, has tried desperately and persistently to foster its own distraction from the tedium of everyday life by encouraging the ubiquity of sex and sexuality, particularly over the last half century. The contemporary Left’s appeal to sex is as comprehensive as it is purposeful. Sex, sex, sex. What’s wrong with this country? Not enough sex. What’ll make this country better? More sex, and less “repression” by stuffy old men.
Throughout Western history, of course, sex has been one of the most enduring touchstones of social dissent, which only makes sense, given that it is also one of the most enduring taboos of the Western religious establishment. From time immemorial, it seems, anyone who wished to oppose the “powers that be” in the West also encouraged a free, open, and non-procreative approach to human sexuality, knowing full well that breaking the bond between the pleasure and the responsibility of sexual intimacy would also break the social bond of the masses to the establishment. In a 2009 piece on the Left’s affinity for the twisted little pervert Roman Polanski, we broached this subject and put it as follows:
One of the most important yet least known and least analyzed of the medieval Millenarian movements was the Brethren of the Free Spirit, practitioners of a heresy that troubled Christendom for the better part of the second millennium A.D. The essential doctrinal teaching of the Free Spirit was that God was present and tangibly incarnate in all of creation and that man could therefore experience God directly and achieve spiritual and physical union with Him, making sin no longer possible. The practical expression of that doctrine was, almost always and everywhere, sexual license. Or as [Norman] Cohn put it [in The Pursuit of the Millennium]:
The adepts of the Free Spirit . . . were intensely subjective, acknowledging no authority at all, save their own experiences . . .
The core heresy of the Free Spirit lay in the adept’s attitude toward himself: he believed that he had attained a perfect so absolute that he was incapable of sin. Although the practical consequences of this belief could vary, one possible consequence was antinomianism or the repudiation of moral norms . . . In Christian civilization, which attached particular value to chastity and regarded sexual intercourse outside marriage as particularly sinful, such antinomianism took the form of promiscuity on principle.
Now, we should note that despite the fact that “the literature on the heresy of the Free Spirit . . . is scanty indeed,” we know from Cohn that the movement was vastly widespread and existed in some form or another for more than ﬁve centuries. Moreover, it had identiﬁable precursors and successors, both of which extend its inﬂuence. Cohn writes:
In the social – as distinct from the purely political – history of western Europe the heresy of the Free Spirit played a more important role than Catharism. The area over which it extended was, by medieval standards, a vast one. . . And this movement had an extraordinary capacity for survival; for constantly harassed by persecution, it persisted as a recognizable tradition for some ﬁve centuries . . .
Within the area of Western Christendom, the heresy of the Free Spirit cannot be identiﬁed with any certainty before the beginning of the thirteenth century. On the other hand, analogous cults did ﬂourish before that time both in the area of Eastern Christendom and in Moslem Spain. Almost from its beginnings, the Armenian Church had to cope with the mystical sect known as the Euchites or Messalians, which ﬂourished in the area around Edessa as early as the fourth century. The Euchites were wandering “holy men” who lived by begging; and they cultivated a self-exaltation that often amounted to self-deiﬁcation, and an antinomianism that often expressed itself in anarchic eroticism.
The point of all of this is that this idea that “liberation” can and should be achieved exclusively through sexual expression is hardly new. Indeed, it is nearly as old as Christianity itself. The pseudointellectuals and cultural elites who today advocate greater and greater sexual liberty and libertinism think of themselves as pioneers of sorts, as valiant harbingers of a better, less repressive world. But the fact of the matter is that they are anything but. They are derivative. They are the successors to the antinomian, sexual conmen that have plagued Western civilization for centuries.
The idea that sex and greater and greater expressions of sexual promiscuity and depravity alone can bring liberation is an old and tired one. As Cohn notes, the particulars of Christian theology and respect for sexuality have made sex the natural target for would-be liberators from time immemorial. There is nothing new or particularly inspired in this. It is the same old rot that has always been advocated by the “revolutionary” aesthetes and artists.
Today’s post-modern intellectuals fashion themselves as progressive, secular, and distinctive. Their philosophy is derived from Foucault, Derrida, and Rority, and was forged in the great social upheaval of the 1960s. But even this is just tiresome twaddle based on intellectual fraudulence and an ignorance of history. The delineation of this same set of ideas about sex and liberty is easily traced from the Swabian heretics to the Brethren of the Free Spirit, to the Ranters, to the Romantics, to the nihilists, and right on down to our own post-modernists.
Of course, “our own post-modernists” were also too clever by half. Sex was not only the means by which to stick it to the man (pardon the visual image), but a means of mollification; liberation on the cheap, if you will. Whatever the contemporary Left’s intention when it turned to sexual “liberation” to challenge the status quo, it quickly learned that this liberation could also be used as a distraction and, more to the point, as a pretense. And what it learned, it put into practice.
The Left had an agenda. But that agenda was plagued by one little shortcoming: it was unpopular. And even those aspects of it that were tolerable were still consistently blocked by “reactionaries.” Whatever they proposed, the Lefties were thwarted by sanctimonious little jerks – which is to say the people of the United States – who never quite bought into the Progressive notion that the positive rights are more important in a “modern society” than the Founders and their wildly outdated negative rights. These jerks were never quite smart enough to grasp that their silly “inalienable” guarantees made it difficult for the really smart and cultured people to create the “good society” and to promote the “common good.” And that just screwed everything up.
But sex . . . sex unscrewed everything . . . or re-screwed everything . . . or diverted people’s attention by encouraging them to screw everything . . . or . . . well . . . something.
Whatever the case, the Left soon alighted upon the notion that it could consolidate power by infringing on the rights of the people, as long it didn’t appear to be infringing on those rights. And it could fashion such an appearance by obsessing over sex, by insisting that it was working to protect and expand “sexual rights,” even as it was destroying and diminishing other, more traditional and substantial rights. We put it this way nearly two years ago:
To today’s liberals, it is always 1932. The country is always on the verge of collapse and always threatened by nefarious forces: nasty corporations; evil Wall Street bankers; racist Bull Connor type Southern politicians looking to deny black men and women their civil rights. Additionally, the people are always and everywhere ignorant, dim-witted, and desperately in need of government agents who can and will speak to them very slowly, with very short words, and in very short sentences, so as to make otherwise complex subjects easily understood by the cretin masses. And government is always and everywhere the solution to rather than part of the problem.
Ask Barack Obama, for example, why his policies – any of his policies – have failed, and he’ll tell you without hesitation that it is because people are too stupid to understand them and have therefore fought against them instead of admitting that their “betters” know what is best for them. He doesn’t put it that way, of course. He says that the policies “weren’t explained properly” or some such drivel. But it’s clear what he means.
Take all of this and couple it with Acton’s dictum, you wind up with a governmental elite that was once necessarily paternal in its dealings with the masses, as it directed them toward greater liberty, but now is superﬂuous, arrogant, corrupt, ignorant of its own gratuitousness, and yet unwilling to part with even the slightest shred of power; a self-satisﬁed and sanctimonious mob that is constantly striving to achieve greater and greater power – all in the name of what it has convinced itself is the “common good.” . . .
These “liberals” are also, unfortunately, radically illiberal and freedom abhorring. Indeed, if one looks at the liberal agenda now and over the last three decades at least, the most striking feature is its overwhelming hostility to liberty and individual rights. In all phases of human endeavor, from business to transportation; from family life to education and beyond, liberalism has sought to exert greater and greater state control and to allow less and less individual choice and personal freedom. With one notable exception.
As we have noted before, the only aspect of human life that today’s political liberals believe necessitates greater personal freedom and less political and social control is sexuality. That’s it. Period. Nothing else. Look at the great liberal quests for “freedom” over the last several decades: Women’s rights, equality, and freedom are boiled down exclusively to the issue of “choice” with regard to birth control and abortion. Freedom of speech and expression is, by and large, represented as the right to do or say anything one wants with regard to the depiction of sex; “pornography,” as it was once called. The great civil rights battle of the times, of course, is the right the sleep with and to marry whomever you want whenever or wherever you want. It’s all about sex and the commission, depiction, or legitimation of it. And nothing more. As the inimitable Mark Steyn recently put it, “in a world ever more micro-regulated . . . sexual license is one of the few things you don’t need a license for.”
Unfortunately for the denizens of the Left, their own brave new world hasn’t turned out to be as wonderfully care-free or as fruitful as they had imagined it would. They misjudged human nature. Or, perhaps more accurately, they didn’t think about the long term consequences of their actions because . . . well . . . just because. Do they ever?
One of the Left’s most severe miscalculations involves the human capacity to be distracted by and satisfied with “mere” sex. What was once wild, depraved, and uninhibited, exciting and liberating is today banal, sad, and depressing. The Leftist Baby Boomers, as is their wont, indulged their passions – political and physical – to excess, never once considering that they might not know better than the collective generations of humanity or that their indulgence could precipitate a backlash. But that appears to be precisely what they’ve done.
On the surface, of course, it would seem that the Left’s sexual revolution has played out precisely as planned. Shame has, for the most part, been relegated to the dustbin of history. Homosexuality is now not only accepted, but, in some ways, fetishized. College campuses are bastions of the “hook-up” culture, in which casual sex is considered the norm and the emotional attachment of dating and romance are considered aberrant and excessive (a near-perfect echo of emotional relationships in Huxley’s Brave New World, where such attachments are considered “obscene.”) Women are sexual aggressors as much as are men. Birth control is pervasive. Abortion is an accepted “health care” practice. Couples marry later, and have fewer kids, discounting the procreative foundation of sex. About the only sexual taboo that remains is the prohibition against sex with children. And even that is debatable. If you’re a Catholic priest or a pasty insurance salesman/youth soccer coach/Boy Scout troop leader, then the prohibition stands. If, however, you happen to be a world famous Polish film visionary whose wife was murdered by the Manson Family . . . then perhaps even this rule doesn’t need to be enforced too terribly strictly. All things considered, then, this is Nirvana, yes?
Well . . . no. The Left may not know it yet, and even if it did, it wouldn’t admit it, but the omnipresence of sex in the lives of the average American has made sex common, in all senses of the word. The Left is convinced that it won the sexual revolution, but what it won seems trite and tacky at best. And it is unlikely to provide a distraction much longer. Consider, for example, the following, written by Donna Freitas and published just this past weekend in the Washington Post, of all places, under the title “Time to Stop Hooking Up. (You Know You Want To.)”:
I’ve spent the past eight years investigating hookup culture and talking with students, faculty members and college administrators about it. I thought I would find that the vast majority of students revel in it, but instead I encountered a large percentage who feel confined by it or ambivalent about it (the “whateverists,” as I call them). Nervous to be alone in challenging hookup culture, most students go along with it, even if they privately long for alternatives. They think that if they try to be less casual about sex, it’ll ruin their social lives. Conformity abounds . . .
When students are expected to hook up with lots of people, doing so becomes dutiful, not daring. Older ideas of sexual exploration — be it same-sex encounters or one-night stands — have become a basic expectation.
Of the 1,230 students who answered an optional survey question in a study I conducted asking what their peers thought about sex in 2006, 45 percent of participants at Catholic schools and 36 percent at nonreligious private and public schools said their peers were too casual about sex, and they said privately that they wished this weren’t the case. An additional 35 percent at Catholic and 42 percent at nonreligious schools reported that their peers were simply “casual,” without opining one way or the other.
Of students who reported hooking up, 41 percent used words such as “regretful,” “empty,” “miserable,” “disgusted,” “ashamed,” “duped” and even “abused” to describe the experience. An additional 23 percent expressed ambivalence, and the remaining 36 percent said they were more or less “fine” with hookups — “fine” being the most common description . . .
[B]eing casual about sex (even if only by gossiping about who’s sleeping with whom) has become the norm. Traditions such as dates and get-to-know-you conversations before physical intimacy are deemed unnecessary or even forbidden.
In theory, this detachment could allow both parties to walk away unscathed, but in reality it seems to leave students emotionally dulled or depressed about sexual intimacy and romance.
Regular readers know that we have a great deal of respect for Walter Russell Mead, the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College and one of the most insightful academic political commentators working today. We don’t often disagree with him. But we do this week. In a piece this weekend, Mead wrote:
Overall it seems to us that the weakening of the family and the acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage both reflect the growing individualism of our culture. Americans are becoming more libertarian and are less patient with social pressure to conform and with legal restraints on their freedom of action.
If you ask us, in this case, Mead has things precisely backward. Perhaps he is right, and Americans are, indeed, becoming more “libertarian.” But as best we can tell, that has nothing whatsoever to do with their acceptance of homosexuality and the weakening of the family. These two developments, along with just about everything else related to sex, are, in truth, the fruits of social pressure and stigmatization, not of a rebellion against them. Ever since the 1960s (and earlier, in fact) all of the social pressure, not to mention the cultural pressure, has encouraged the embrace not just of sexual promiscuity but of sexual diversity as well. The notion that either could possibly be the result of increasing “individualism” strikes us as absurd.
In her essay (and her book as well), the aforementioned Donna Freitas notes, “The pro-hookup notion that dating is a sexist castoff of the 1950s dismisses the fairly innocent wish for an alternative means of getting to know someone before getting physical. When one attitude about sex dominates, be it restrictive or permissive, it becomes difficult to defy it.” And it is next to impossible to defy the dominant culture’s dogmas about sex.
Mead’s discussion does, however, raise another relevant point. The Left’s sexual revolution has not only prompted boredom and an incipient backlash, it has also been a disaster for the traditional family. And that, in turn, means that it has been a disaster for society at large.
Now, we have neither the time nor the space to do this sub-subject justice here. This is a topic about which we have written entire articles. Actual scholars of the subject have written entire books about it and have dedicated entire careers to it. This is not something that we can cover comprehensively – or adequately – in a couple of paragraphs. Still, it’s an issue that must be broached. We did so in these pages just over a year ago in 2012 domestic politics forecast:
When the culture broadly moved away from monogamy and away from the idea that marriage was and should be a lifetime commitment, it damaged not only the middle-class mores and values but also the economic well-being of the middle class. It apparently never occurs to the Occupiers of Wall Street and their intellectual progenitors that the “end of the middle class” as they put it, began about the same time that the sexual revolution and the coarsening of relationships had taken hold in the broader culture and especially among the middle class.
Today, marriage as a permanent institution is largely an upper-class phenomenon, with the poor and the middle classes eschewing the tradition either entirely or through divorce. And the economic damage wreaked upon poor minority communities by government-induced family-breakdown a generation earlier has likewise been wreaked upon the middle-class by culture-induced family-breakdown. The single greatest predictor of childhood poverty is the marital status of the child’s parents. And yet Robert Reich and the like prattle on endlessly about how the destruction of the middle class and its slow slide into poverty is the result of a loss of manufacturing jobs and a decline of unionization and about how the solution is to tax the “rich” more. That’s just nuts.
More recently, W. Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia wrote the following:
But one major and more dystopian feature of actual contemporary twentysomething life is conspicuously absent from small-screen depictions: parenthood . . . most American women without college degrees have their first child in their 20s. These young women and their partners—who make up about two-thirds of twentysomething adults in the United States—are logging more time at the diaper aisle of the local supermarket than at the local bar.
This would not be such a big deal except for the fact that many of these twentysomethings are drifting into parenthood, becoming moms and dads with partners they don’t think are fit to marry or at least ready to marry. For instance, almost 1 in 2 babies—47 percent, to be precise—born to twentysomething women are now born to unmarried parents. In fact, twentysomething women now have the majority of children outside of marriage, which—given that 30 is the new 20—makes them the new teen moms.
The reality is that children born to unmarried twentysomething parents are three times more likely to grow up with a disorienting carousel of adults coming and going in the home, compared to children born to married parents. This kind of carousel, as sociologist Andrew Cherlin notes in his book The Marriage-Go-Round, is associated with higher rates of teen pregnancy, behavioral problems in school, and substance abuse. By contrast, “stable, low-conflict families with two biological or adoptive parents provide better environments for children, on average, than do other living arrangements.” . . .
58 percent of women who have a high-school degree or some college—women we call “middle Americans” and who make up a majority of young adult women—are now having their first child outside of marriage—a rapid and quite recent development. (Among women without a high-school degree, 83 percent do.)
What we have left then is a culture in which sex has become omnipresent and, as a result, sex has become both an emotional burden and a societal burden. So where do we go from here?
Back to the future, of course.
In many ways, the push for gay marriage is the zenith of the sexual revolution. But as any schoolboy knows, once the zenith is reached, the only way to go is down.
Think, just for a minute, about what the revolutionaries are seeking when they demand that gay couples be allowed to marry. They no longer want to destroy the status quo and to disrupt civil society. Indeed, they want their erstwhile wild and transgressive supporters to become the status quo, to move quietly, peacefully, and responsibly into civil society. Or as Mark Steyn put it over the weekend:
Gays will now be as drearily suburban as the rest of us. A couple of years back, I saw a picture in the paper of two chubby old queens tying the knot at City Hall in Vancouver, and the thought occurred that Western liberalism had finally succeeded in boring all the fun out of homosexuality.
The brilliant Megan McCardle expanded on this same theme and added a little bit of historical context in her weekend column. To wit:
Once gays can marry, they’ll be expected to marry. And to buy sensible, boring cars that are good for car seats. I believe we’re witnessing the high water mark for “People should be able to do whatever they want, and it’s none of my business.” You thought the fifties were conformist? Wait until all those fabulous “confirmed bachelors” and maiden schoolteachers are expected to ditch their cute little one-bedrooms and join the rest of America in whining about crab grass, HOA restrictions, and the outrageous fees that schools want to charge for overnight soccer trips.
I know, it feels like we’re riding an exciting wave away from the moral dark ages and into the bright, judgement free future. But moral history is not a long road down which we’re all marching; it’s more like a track. Maybe you change lanes a bit, but you generally end up back where you started. Sometimes you’re on the licentious, “anything goes” portion near the bleachers, and sometimes you’re on the straight-and-narrow prudish bit in front of the press box. Most of the time you’re in between. But you’re still going in circles. Victorian morality was an overreaction to the rather freewheeling period which proceeded it, which was itself an overreaction to Oliver Cromwell’s puritanism. (Cromwell actually did declare a War on Christmas, which he deemed to be sensuous paganism.)
We’ve been moving away from the Victorian view of marriage for a long time, which means that we’re probably due to circle back around the prudish front that drove Charles Dickens to lie when he left his wife for another woman . . .
The sexual revolution has been a disaster, for men, women, children, society at large, and most especially sex. And whether the Leftist revolutionaries know it or not, the push for gay marriage is an explicit acknowledgement of this. Sure, perhaps some of the impetus behind the gay marriage campaign is the desire to destroy what is left of the traditionalist conception of family and union. But at least another part of the push – and we’d guess a significant part – is the desire to tell this country’s social and sexual revolutionaries to settle down already.
We imagine that this latter desire is going to grow even stronger over the next several years, as the impact of sexual licentiousness grows more and more obvious. As the country begins to weigh the costs, the benefits – whatever they might have been – are going to be dwarfed by comparison. Last month, the CDC released two new reports on sexually transmitted diseases. And the numbers were shocking. Not only does the number of incidents continue to rise dramatically, but so does the cost of treating them and the risk that they will become untreatable.
Right now, in this country of 300 million people, the CDC contends that there more 110 million cases (new and ongoing) of STDs. Moreover, at some point in the not-too-distant future, at least a percentage of those cases will be untreatable, in that they will be antibiotic-resistant strains of formerly “curable” infections. Already, the country spends some $16 billion a year on care of STDs. And that number is all but certain to rise, even as the national budget for health care is squeezed.
Ten years ago, when the gay marriage issue seemed light years away, some proponents argued that the unions were necessary, not just because they would promote equality, but because they would promote monogamy, particularly among gay men, who have historically been among the most promiscuous populations and, therefore, among the most affected by STDs. This was and is a fair argument. And it is one that applies to straight men and women as well. Promiscuity is dangerous. Monogamy is considerably less so.
We have written before in these pages that when it comes to gay marriage, we are generally ambivalent but also somewhat sympathetic. We have also written that we think that the state should not really be in the business of blessing private or religious ceremonies in the first place. A great many conservative commentators agree with us on both counts. And if you look around, you’ll see a great many pontificating on these and other matters surrounding the gay marriage question as they wait with baited breath for the Supreme Court to issue its rulings on the matter.
That’s all well and good, we suppose. But it’s also kind of beside the point. The point here isn’t that the fight for the family is done or that traditional families are about to be destroyed. Quite the opposite, in fact. If the gay marriage debate tells us anything, we think, it is that the sexual revolution is over and that those who believe that “family” is important have won. The next several years will, we believe, offer an opportunity to rebuild the family, to rebuild the moral and common sense disapprobation of sexual promiscuity, and thereby to rebuild the strength and the aptitude of private institutions like the family to stand on their own and to do more with less government intervention.
We have always argued that the distinction between social and economic issues is largely imaginary. Liberality on one leads to liberality on the other, as sure as day leads to night. The disaster that was the sexual revolution proves this point as almost no other issue can.
This revolution is coming to an end. And the good guys are winning.