Culture: August 2010 Archives

If you're a conservative, one of your core beliefs is that human nature has no history. Human nature is not some malleable thing that the government can, with sufficient incentives or punishments, reshape into its ideological ideal. The Soviets tried to create a "New Soviet Man," willing to give his all for the sake of the state with no hope of reward for himself, and they failed miserably. Any society that refuses to acknowledge basic, undeniable truths about human nature will meet the same fate. It's like trying to build a bridge over a canyon without acknowledging gravity.

One of the undeniable truths about life is that life reproduces. Whether you believe that life is the result of evolutionary blind chance or an intelligent designer, there's no doubt that life perpetuates itself through reproduction. There are differences of opinion on the list of the essential characteristics of life, but reproduction is on everyone's list.

Humans reproduce sexually. That's obvious to most of my intelligent readers, but sometimes you have to state the obvious. There are two sexes, male and female, and one representative of each sex is needed to make reproduction happen. Round about the age of 13 certain hormones kick in making us not only capable of sexual reproduction but also driving us to seek out someone with whom we can reproduce.

If that sexual drive fixes itself to some person, animal, or object with whom reproduction is impossible, it means there's been a malfunction. Something has gone haywire. Whether that mis-direction is the result of an act of the will, some physical or psychological trauma, or both doesn't change the reality that one's sex drive isn't working to further the survival of one's own genetic traits.

A conservative approach to issues involving homosexuality begins with the reality that it is a malfunction, a disability of one of the core characteristics of all living beings.

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I'm amazed and disappointed by the willingness of many self-described conservatives to wave the white flag on cultural issues. Perhaps some of them believe that asserting traditional -- and increasingly counter-cultural -- understandings of marriage and sexuality are hurting conservatism's political success. Perhaps some have abandoned traditional sexual mores in their own lives and don't wish to be called out as hypocrites. Perhaps they just don't want to be thought of as judgmental.

But being a conservative means being willing to deal with human nature as it is. It means respecting and defending the institutions that have evolved over millenia to cope with human nature, particularly the institution that provides a stable context for the reproductive drive and the children that result from it.

RELATED and a must-read: Theodore Dalrymple's City Journal essay on the roots and fruits of the Sexual Revolution. It's from 10 years ago but seems right up to date. Dalrymple notes the clash between the realities of human nature and the misguided utopianism of those who laid the foundation for what emerged in the 1960s: Margaret Mead, Havelock Ellis, Alfred Kinsey, to name a few:

The revolution had its intellectual pro-genitors, as shallow, personally twisted, and dishonest a parade of people as one could ever wish to encounter. They were all utopians, lacking understanding of the realities of human nature; they all thought that sexual relations could be brought to the pitch of perfection either by divesting them of moral significance altogether or by reversing the moral judgment that traditionally attached to them; all believed that human unhappiness was solely the product of laws, customs, and taboos. They were not the kind of people to take seriously Edmund Burke's lapidary warning that "it is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free": on the contrary, just as appetites often grow with the feeding, so the demands of the revolutionaries escalated whenever the last demand was met. When the expected happiness failed to emerge, the analysis of the problem and the proposed solution were always the same: more license, less self-control....

There is virtually no aspect of modern society's disastrous sexual predicament that does not find its apologist and perhaps its "onlie" begetter in the work of the sexual revolutionaries 50 or 100 years earlier. It is impossible to overlook the connection between what they said should happen and what has actually happened. Ideas have their consequences, if only many years later....

Of course [Margaret Mead's] depiction of Samoa was in error: she was taken in by her ironical informants. Sexual morality in Samoa was puritanical rather than liberal, and owed much to the efforts of the London Missionary Society, no advocate of free love during adolescence or at any other time.

But few people are averse to the message that one can indulge appetites freely without bad consequences to oneself or others, and so Mead's book passed as authoritative. And if youthful sexual libertinism was possible in Samoa with only beneficial social and psychological effects, why not in Sheffield and Schenectady? Even had her depiction of Samoa, per impossibile, been accurate, no one paused to wonder whether Samoa was a plausible model for Europe or America or whether the mere existence of a sexual custom--the celibacy of religious communities down the ages, say--should warrant its universal adoption.

So generations of educated people accepted Mead's ideas about adolescent sexuality as substantially correct and reasonable. They took the Samoan way of ordering these matters as natural, enjoyable, healthy, and psychologically beneficial. No doubt Mead's ideas were somewhat distorted as they filtered down into the class of people who had not read her (or any other) book: but it does not altogether surprise me now to meet people who started living in sexual union with a boyfriend or girlfriend from the age of 11 or 12, under the complaisant eyes of their parents. Only someone completely lacking in knowledge of the human heart--someone, in fact, a little like Margaret Mead--would have failed to predict the consequences: gross precocity followed by permanent adolescence and a premature world-weariness.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Culture category from August 2010.

Culture: June 2010 is the previous archive.

Culture: September 2010 is the next archive.

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