“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”— O. Wilde

Saturday, July 27, 2019

“I Am Important,” She Said Sadly: The Unexpectedly Depressing State of Being Liberated

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects"
--Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
The modern era has been marked by specialization. Workers have been drained from the broadness of the countryside to the narrowness of the cities, where they found factories offering long hours doing highly specific tasks. In the process, the rest of human life, too, became more specific. No one accustomed to agrarian life would have suggested that women -- sharing many of the duties on the family farms -- were dependent upon men any more than the reverse was likewise true. 

But the specialization of urban life took its toll. Economic viability now depends on one’s ability to devote nearly every waking hour to a specific skill. As early as the 18th century Adam Smith noticed that city workers were being deprived of “subject(s) for thought and speculation," and in the process were losing the “power of judgment, even as regards ordinary matters.” If there is not an app to attend to each of life's particular labors, in time perhaps there will be a government bureau. 

On the other side of the equation, the value of the generalist -- almost universally, the woman -- decreased. As G.K. Chesterton noted, “Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad. The world outside the home was one mass of narrowness, a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs.” 

Even human sexuality has been specialized, with the gratification and procreative functions becoming separated in the public mind even by the early 20th century (and probably much sooner than that). In the first part of that century, every Christian denomination still officially taught against contraception. By the 1930s, however, the Anglicans first started to allow it, and even the Washington Post expressed concern that this would lead to the collapse of traditional sexual morality. 

Marriage, too, became specialized -- so specialized, in fact, that not just each couple but the couple’s individual constituents could determine its significance. And, if that determination should change, either spouse was empowered to end the marriage unilaterally, regardless of the impact to the community or the children of the marriage. There were 639,000 divorces in California in 1969, the year of the first No-Fault law; there were 1,036,000 by 1975. 

According to developmental psychologist Hilary Towers, the upshot of this policy, now near-universal in the Western world, is that “[a]n unfaithful spouse can single-handedly—and with the court’s stamp of approval and aid—end a marriage and swiftly “move on” with the adultery partner and half or more of all the family income and assets—pulling the children along with him or her (at least part-time).” 

This liberation was assisted by the 1972 Supreme Court decision in Baird v. Eisenstadt, expanding the right to legalized birth control, first announced in the watershed case of Griswold v. Connecticut applicable to married citizens, to all citizens irrespective of marital status. 

Eminent sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, in a book called The American Sex Revolution, had predicted in 1956 that “sex freedom” and “sex anarchy” would lead to critical social ills, including rising rates of divorce and illegitimacy, abandoned and neglected children, a coarsening of the arts high and low, and much more. “Sex obsession”, argued Sorokin, now “bombards us continuously, from cradle to grave, from all points of our living space, at almost every step of our activity, feeling, and thinking.”

As Pope Pius XII would put it two years later, "History is not mistaken when it indicates the alteration of the laws of marriage and procreation as the primary cause of the decadence of peoples.” 

Another Harvard sociologist, Carle Zimmerman, would likewise write around the time in Family and Civilization that modern contraception would lead to “the atomistic family type,” including rising divorce rates, increasing promiscuity, juvenile delinquency, and neglect of children and other family responsibilities. “The United States”, Zimmerman concluded, “will reach the final phases of a great family crisis between now [1947] and the last of this century”—one “identical in nature to the two previous crises in Greece and Rome.” 

The cranks have been proven right. Liberation has been depressing. 

In recent decades, “women’s happiness has fallen both absolutely and relative to men’s in a pervasive way among groups, such that women no longer report being happier than men and, in many instances, now report happiness that is below that of men.” Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 1, no. 2 (2009): 190. Moreover, “this shift has occurred through much of the industrialized world.” Id. 

An interesting paradox surfaced in a 2009 "narcissism index." Psychologist Jean Twenge published her findings from a personality test based on research collected from 16,000 college students. Twenge reported a sharp rise of young women's self-affirmations. Jean W. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (New York: Free Press, 2009). 

The index indicates that only 12% of students in the 1950s agreed with the statement “I am an important person”; that percentage exploded to 80% by the late 1980s. 

Yet around the same time in 2006, Psychiatrist Miriam Grossman reported that psychiatric-consultation hours among 2,000 UCLA students had doubled within a few years, coupled with a 90% increase in serious psychiatric problems. Her own cases reflected many students afflicted with excessive drinking, drugging, one-night sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and other accoutrements of hookup-culture. Miriam Grossman, Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student (New York: Sentinel Trade, 2007).
The kids are not alright. 

Married, monogamous people are more likely to be happy. Divorced men, in particular, face health risks—including heightened drug use and alcoholism—that married men do not. The Rand Corporation reported that, based on about 140 years of demographic evidence: 

“The health benefits obtained by men who stay married or remarry stem from a variety of related factors, including care in times of illness, improved nutrition, and a home atmosphere that reduces stress and stress-related illnesses, encourages healthy behaviors, and discourages unhealthy ones such as smoking and excessive drinking. Influences of this type tend to enhance a man’s immediate health status and may often improve his chances for a longer life.” 
Lee A. Lillard and Constantijn (Stan) Panis, "Health, Marriage,, and Longer Life for Men," Research Brief 5018, Rand Corporation, 1998.

Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox also agrees traditional marital norms confer benefits: “[C]hildren who grow up in intact, married families are significantly more likely to graduate from high school, finish college, become gainfully employed, and enjoy a stable family life themselves, compared to their peers who grow up in nonintact families.” W. Bradford Wilcox, ed., Whene Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America (Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia, National Marriage Project; New York: Institute for American Values, 2010).

Nobel Prize-winning economist George Akerlof explained in 1996 in the Quarterly Journal of Economics that the sexual revolution -- contrary to common prediction -- had led to an increase in both illegitimacy and abortion. Akerlof wrote again in 1998 that decrease in marriage and married fatherhood for men led to a simultaneous increase in substance abuse, incarceration, and arrests, among others.

Raquel Fernandez and Joyce Cheng Wong, writing in Free to Leave? A Welfare Analysis of Divorce Regimes, NBER Working Paper (June 2014), posit that unilateral divorce, rather than liberating women, actually disproportionately benefits men: “Conditioning solely on gender, our ex ante welfare analysis finds that women would fare better under mutual consent whereas men would prefer a unilateral system.” 

To the contrary, women would be happier under traditional norms: "How many unhappy couples turn their marriages around?" ask Dr. Waite and Maggie Gallagher in their book, The Case for Marriage. "The truth is stunning: 86 percent of unhappily married people who stick it out find that, five years later, their marriages are happier, according to an analysis of the National Survey of Families and Households by Linda Waite. . . ."

Can we, or can we not, "have it all"? Certain of mankind's ancient burdens we should like to wear more lightly, but throwing them off entirely has proved harmful. Sexual and family norms are among the demolished walls that we are now beginning to understand were load-bearing. “A society in which conjugal infidelity is tolerated must always be in the long run a society adverse to women,” predicted C.S. Lewis in “Have We No Right to Happiness,” published shortly following his death in 1963. Women tend to value domestic happiness more than men, and men tend to value their mate’s looks more than do women. “Thus,” concluded Lewis, “in the ruthless war of promiscuity women are at a double disadvantage. They play for higher stakes and are also more likely to lose. I have no sympathy with moralists who frown at the increasing crudity of female provocativeness. These signs of desperate competition fill me with pity.”

And yet still in these dark hues do we paint the visions of women’s new roles in modern society. When the progressive liberal genius Bertrand Russell agitated for women’s suffrage, no points did he award to marriage, no credit to raising families, for producing happy and meaningful lives. Russell earned a considerable fortune as a public intellectual, turning in prolific comments on human affairs and civic order. But if ever it did occur to Lord Russell that the family was the basic unit of civil society, the addled 20th century version of it proved unequal to his sexual appetites: Bertie left his devout wife, Alys, for a tryst with a married woman, before taking up with yet another mistress. Gaunt and bookish as he was, Lord Russell more than made up for his homeliness with high self-regard. "I am important," he might have thought to himself while stepping out on Alys. 

To paraphrase Sir Compton Mackenzie, women will find it no more difficult than Sir Russell to behave like men, but they will find it extremely difficult to behave like gentlemen.

One cannot expect any better treatment from elites like Russell who advocate for the individual’s political rights to more college degrees, more employment, and more divorce, and more birth control. In their purely political world, an individual is not protected by a society of families, communities, husbands and fathers, wives and mothers; rather they are pursued by CEOs and Bertrand Russells. 

To the modern elite, the individual is reduced to constituent parts. The individual is specialized. The individual is an insect.



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