Friday, December 20, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Sexual Morality and Civilization

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

A friend recently sent me a link to this Kirk Dunston blog post on the importance of sexual morality to civilization. Dunston was struck by the relevance of Joseph Unwin’s research to our particular moment in time, as summarized in his 1934 book Sex and Culture.

Tom: Being a philosophy bug, I thought you might find this interesting, IC. I had certainly never come across Unwin’s research before. It sounds fascinating. Basically, as Dunston puts it, he “examines the data from 86 societies and civilizations to see if there is a relationship between sexual freedom and the flourishing of cultures.”

Few would attempt to argue our culture is currently flourishing.

Flourishing, or Not Flourishing?

Immanuel Can: Oh, I don’t know … there seems no end of unthinking optimism about that. People will quickly point out that in technology, medicine, communications, and the amount of available knowledge, we seem to be progressing at a stellar pace. In view of such things, what justification do we have for gloom?

Tom: Sure, but in the same breath we’re being told that climate change is going to destroy the planet within a decade; that it is no longer possible to send men to the moon; that colonialism ruined the entire Third World; that it’s appropriate to kill babies in the name of personal freedom; that schoolchildren are getting stupider; that women are still being systemically oppressed; that racism is pervasive in America; that gays, lesbians and trans people lead lives of quiet desperation; that AIDS is killing millions; that the police arbitrarily execute visible minorities just for fun; that the global economy is one tiny downturn away from a full-on Great Depression; that unfunded liabilities threaten everything from Medicare to welfare and government pensions; that terrorism is a normal state of affairs in a post-national state that we’re going to just have to adjust to; and that, globally, we’re running out of gas, coal, water and probably food.

So ... er ... maybe the mass media needs to get their story straight?

IC: True. They seem to “cry wolf” when it suits them, and claim all is sunshine and roses when it doesn’t.

A Particular Kind of Decline

But I’m thinking you’re thinking of a particular kind of decline — moral or social, perhaps?

Tom: Yes, and a bunch of those very common complaints about Western societies are directly related to moral and sexual decline: AIDS, abortion, gay and trans issues, for starters. And once we understand Unwin’s thesis, I think we’ll also grasp how other issues — racial tensions, children getting stupider, all the economic problems, and even the global warming fear-craze — are very probably indirectly connected.

In brief, Unwin’s thesis is that sexual constraints — specifically pre-marital chastity and absolute monogamy — are statistically associated with the highest societal achievements in areas like literature, art, science, architecture, engineering and agriculture. Further, once a society completely abandons restrictions on pre-marital sex — and we are definitely there now — monogamy, religious belief and rational thinking disappear within three generations. Worst, when a society embraces total sexual freedom — and we are getting awfully close to that — the culture collapses or is taken over by another within three generations.

Dunston points out that while Unwin lived before the sexual revolution in the sixties and seventies, we do not, and are now in a position to test his thesis as we watch the third post-sexual-revolution generation begin to put its mark on our Western societies.

Prophecies and Confirmation

IC: Well, that’s quite a prophecy. Like all prophecies, it needs confirmation. How exactly does sexual promiscuity translate into general social decline?

Tom: It’s not a prophecy so much as an exhaustive scientific study of the past. As a social anthropologist, Unwin compiled data from 86 different societies and civilizations to observe the “great patterns of human culture”. As a non-Christian, he had no particular axe to grind, and no agenda to put forward. And since he wrote in 1934 (and the mere summary of his data is something like 600 pages long), he had no knowledge of our sexual revolution or what the situation would be in the U.S. and Canada today, so he obviously didn’t speculate about the outcome for our civilization. So yes, correlation is not causation, and Unwin did not claim to understand why sexual freedom correlates with the decline and collapse of cultures. He simply observed that it does. The best he could offer by way of guesswork is that, per Dunston, “when sexual energy is restrained through celibacy or monogamy, it is diverted into more productive social energy.”

IC: That makes me think of the many, many creative things that have been produced by people who either were denied something they desired, or denied themselves it in order to be creative. All love poetry comes from a state of non-having. Great pictures have been painted, and sculptures shaped, out of the angst of people who, by compulsion or choice, were at the fringes of society. Great feats of discovery and of athleticism have come at the end of periods of intense self-denial and even self-deprivation. Great philosophy has come from perplexity and a lack of answers; and even theology is often powered forward by the yet-to-be-fulfilled longing for God. And the Son of Man knew both hunger and thirst, and had no place to lay his head.

We don’t understand that much, in our society, though. We think that the having of one’s desires immediately is the highest and most unqualified good.

A Society without Sacrifice

Tom: There’s another aspect to it that Unwin doesn’t touch, but which makes a tremendous amount of sense to me. And that is this: in a society where commitment is expected, self-indulgence is shamed, and need is great, people — particularly husbands and fathers, but wives and mothers as well — are willing to do whatever is necessary for their loved ones, including dying on the battlefield if required. And necessity is the mother of invention. But when the Nanny State provides for the needs of all and sundry through taxation, no such sacrifice is necessary or even possible. As general morality declines, there are fewer people left worth dying for, and nobody really needs you to either to live or die for them even if you were willing to. They have the social safety net to take care of them. A woman who depends on the State doesn’t really need a man for anything. In such a climate, genuine manliness tends to atrophy.

IC: We see that for sure. I think the men of our society, particularly the young and middle aged ones, don’t really have any idea what a man is for, or how to be a good one. And we’re paying a terrible price for that, especially with our children.

Tom: Further, when a sexual revolution has broken down family relationships across a society to such an extent that available men simply move from one woman to another, leaving endless children behind for the State to care for, when the State finally fails, these people have no protection left. And the men who would normally be expected to care for them are wandering around like useless sheep, looking to get their next shot of cheap pleasure.

What the State Can Do, and What It Can’t

IC: That’s the problem. The State is taking over all the functions to protect us from challenges. Yet it is these challenges that make a normal, selfish, shallow immature human being into a grounded, moral, focused, committed adult. So we’re not growing up well. And it’s not like having our burdens all handled by the State is making us happy. We’re a pretty sad lot, for the most part.

Tom: And the State is not infallible. Its power is economic, and it’s based on the number of contributing citizens in the tax base, which is constantly falling. The moment that number drops much below 50% — which it has already done, by the way — the State ceases to do the job it pretends to do. It cannot replace fathers. It cannot indefinitely subsidize mothers who are either forced to “do it alone” or determined to make their own way in the world. It cannot resolve the trust issues in the hearts of children of divorce and children raised in single-parent homes and make them into contributing citizens against their will and against their nature.

Both the U.S. and Canada are operating with unfunded liabilities that are pretty much unprecedented. When the State eventually fails to deliver on its obligations, which is not a possibility but a certainty, then society drops off a cliff. Joseph Unwin’s historical observations are inevitable for the U.S. and Canada unless one or both take a radical turn for a much more traditional approach ... one that involves a lot less “freedom” and a great deal more responsibility.

Societal Disintegration

IC: I get it. You’re saying that when the normal patterns of domestic behavior become so dysfunctional that children are not being properly socialized, society starts to fall apart. Makes sense.

Tom: This is it. So when we complain that children in our schools are not achieving what they once achieved, the answer is not that they are stupid. That’s way too simple. In fact, there are two realities reflected in the latest numbers. One reality is that legacy American children who might have registered IQs of 110-120 in 1970, when they could have been expected to grow up in two-parent homes, are currently struggling with domestic situations so horrendous that they will never achieve their potentials. The second reality is that we are now trying to measure IQs and learning capabilities of children from the Third World who have been plunged into an environment nobody has equipped them to deal with. Of course they look deficient. Perhaps they are. The language challenges alone are mind-boggling.

IC: Yeah, I’ve seen that first hand. Any honest language teacher today will tell you that we are in deep, deep trouble with the next generation in regard to their grasp of language, logic, argumentation, truth, quality, morality and a bunch of other such fundamental stuff. But our politicians have a stake in pretending standards are not slipping but rising, and parents have a stake in believing that their choices are not harming their children, so there’s no public appetite for the truth on that point. That being said, it’s obvious to anyone who’s involved with kids that it’s inevitably all going to “come home to roost” within a few years, and it’s going to be bad.

Time Will Tell

Tom: Of course if we compare children today against children from two or three decades ago in any category related to school success, ours will absolutely look deficient. And probably the changes to the education system are to blame for some fraction of that deficiency. But the rest is very much down our society’s view of sexual morality. Raise all these kids in two-parent homes, and the numbers look very different.

IC: Beyond question. The chief source of childhood adjustment has always been the home environment. Schools can supplement that, and they can provide technical knowledge or job skills: but socialization is something they can’t really do. Parents and families are the key … and they’re in tatters today.

Tom: So maybe Unwin wasn’t completely nuts. In any case, time will certainly tell. If his statistics really do represent the inevitable outcome when fallen humanity acts without restraint, then there won’t be a U.S. to speak of within twenty years. If he was wrong, well, he’s probably not wrong by more than a generation or two.

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