Yes, things change:
There was once a little animal,
No bigger than a fox,
And on five toes he scampered
Over Tertiary rocks.
They called him Eohippus,
And they called him very small,
And they thought him of no value –
When they thought of him at all;
For the lumpish old Dinoceras
And Coryphodon so slow
Were the heavy aristocracy
In days of long ago.
Said the little Eohippus,
“I am going to be a horse!
And on my middle finger-nails
To run my earthly course!
I’m going to have a flowing tail!
I’m going to have a mane!
I’m going to stand fourteen hands high
On the psychozoic plain!”
The Coryphodon was horrified,
The Dinoceras was shocked;
And they chased young Eohippus,
But he skipped away and mocked.
And they laughed enormous laughter,
And they groaned enormous groans,
And they bade young Eohippus
Go view his father’s bones.
Said they, “You always were as small
And mean as now we see,
And that’s conclusive evidence
That you’re always going to be.
What! Be a great, tall, handsome beast,
With hoofs to gallop on?
Why! You’d have to change your nature!”
Said the Loxolophodon.
They considered him disposed of,
And retired with gait serene;
That was the way they argued
In “the early Eocene.”
There was once an Anthropoidal Ape,
Far smarter than the rest,
And everything that they could do
He always did the best;
So they naturally disliked him,
And they gave him shoulders cool,
And when they had to mention him
They said he was a fool.
Cried this pretentious Ape one day,
“I’m going to be a Man!
And stand upright, and hunt, and fight,
And conquer all I can!
I’m going to cut down forest trees,
To make my houses higher!
I’m going to kill the Mastodon!
I’m going to make a fire!”
Loud screamed the Anthropoidal Apes
With laughter wild and gay;
They tried to catch that boastful one,
But he always got away.
So they yelled at him in chorus,
Which he minded not a whit;
And they pelted him with cocoanuts,
Which didn’t seem to hit.
And then they gave him reasons
Which they thought of much avail,
To prove how his preposterous
Attempt was sure to fail.
Said the sages, “In the first place,
The thing cannot be done!
And, second, if it could be,
It would not be any fun!
And, third, and most conclusive,
And admitting no reply,
You would have to change your nature!
We should like to see you try!”
They chuckled then triumphantly,
These lean and hairy shapes,
For these things passed as arguments
With the Anthropoidal Apes.
There was once a Neolithic Man,
An enterprising wight,
Who made his chopping implements
Unusually clever he,
And he drew delightful Mammoths
On the borders of his cave.
To his Neolithic neighbors,
Who were startled and surprised,
Said he, “My friends, in course of time,
We shall be civilized!
We are going to live in cities!
We are going to fight in wars!
We are going to eat three times a day
Without the natural cause!
We are going to turn life upside down
About a thing called gold!
We are going to want the earth, and take
As much as we can hold!
We are going to wear great piles of stuff
Outside our proper skins!
We are going to have diseases!
And Accomplishments!! And Sins!!!”
Then they all rose up in fury
Against their boastful friend,
For prehistoric patience
Cometh quickly to an end.
Said one, “This is chimerical!
Said another, “What a stupid life!
Too dull, upon my word!”
Cried all, “Before such things can come,
You idiotic child,
You must alter Human Nature!”
And they all sat back and smiled.
Thought they, “An answer to that last
It will be hard to find!”
It was a clinching argument
To the Neolithic Mind!
[Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman]
…yet, of the creatures spoken of in the above, which contenders were closer to correct?
- Did the little Eohippus become a Horse;
- Did the Anthropoidal Ape become a Man?
- Did the bright Neolithic become a Modern Man?
…or did each of those transitions require many generations of mutation and natural selection?
Think about that for a moment while I make a fresh pot of coffee.
Commentators with substantial followings — more substantial than mine, at any rate — have recently declaimed on the steady decline in American future-mindedness and what it portends for the nation’s future. I have no particular beef with these persons, nor with their prognostications, which seem to me to be the most probable path into the near and intermediate future. But they’ve proved curiously resistant to the notion that the past is the best possible guide, not merely to the future, but to how we might change its course.
Consider first these thoughts from Paul Rahe:
Lest I bore you and fail to provoke sound and fury, let me preface my remarks by saying two things: that libertarians should be social conservatives and vice-versa….
The deepest source of our present discontents is the sexual revolution. Our abandonment of chastity as a norm has had dire political consequences….
The heart of the matter is this. As a people — thanks in part to our astonishing prosperity, thanks in part to technological change, and thanks in part to the ordinary human propensity for self-indulgence — we have abandoned the notion that impulse-control is a thing both good and necessary, and we have abandoned it in a sphere that is fundamental. We are creatures of habit. In the absence of sexual self-control, there is apt to be very little self-control of any kind. The young lady who is sexually self-indulgent is not apt to be disciplined enough to take a little white pill every day or to present herself at a clinic once a month. That there are a great many exceptions to this rule we all know. But the statistical pattern is nonetheless clear.
All of this began in the 1960s, and it has grown and grown and grown. We now live in a society educated by televisions series like Sex and the City and its successors, and it is in no way surprising that single mothers are almost as common as married mothers — and they now feel entitled to our respect and support. The most astonishing aspect of the November, 2012 election was that the Democratic Party took as one of its slogans: “Sluts vote!” And, by golly, they did.
Why, then, you may ask — if you even remember the question I posed some paragraphs back — should libertarians be social conservatives? The answer is simple. Single mothers and their offspring are bound for the most part to become wards of the state. For a man and a woman who are married to rear offspring is a chore. It may be fulfilling, but it is demanding and hard. It requires sacrifice and discipline. For a single person to do so and to do it well requires a species of heroism. For a single person to do so at all requires help — and that is where we are. For we now take it for granted that we are to pay for the mistakes that the single mother (and her sexual partner) made. We now, in fact, presume that she is entitled to our help — and we now have a political party in power built on that premise. We are to pay for her groceries through WIC (Women, Infants, Children), for her medical care through Medicaid, for the contraceptives that she does not have the discipline to use properly and for the morning-after pill should she slip up and need an abortion. Her right to be promiscuous trumps our right to the fruits of our own labor.
What I would say to libertarians is this: Liberty requires a responsible citizenry, and the sexual revolution (very much like the drug culture, which was and is its Doppelgänger) promotes irresponsibility of every kind. It promotes dependence, and it fosters an ethos in which those who exercise the virtues fostered by the market are punished for doing so and in which those who live for present pleasure are rewarded.
Against which I will pose a simple question: Does Rahe have the cart pulling the horse?
Following a line of thought not far from Rahe’s essay cited above, we have this piece by Jonathan Last. In analyzing the demographics that produced the 2012 election results, in which single adults provided Obama’s margin of victory and more, he notes:
[W]hat was made clear in the 2012 election was that the cohorts of unmarried women and men are now at historic highs—and are still increasing. This marriage gap—and its implications for our political, economic, and cultural future—is only dimly understood.
Americans have been wedded to marriage for a very long time. Between 1910 and 1970, the “ever-married rate”—that is, the percentage of people who marry at some point in their lives—went as high as 98.3 percent and never dipped below 92.8 percent. Beginning in 1970, the ever-married number began a gradual decline so that by 2000 it stood at 88.6 percent….
Where is this trend line headed? In a word, higher. There are no indicators to suggest when and where it will level off. Divorce rates have stabilized, but rates of cohabitation have continued to rise, leading many demographers to suspect that living together may be crowding out matrimony as a mode of family formation. And increasing levels of education continue to push the average age at first marriage higher….
And as for politics, the Democratic party clearly believes that single Americans will support policies that grow the government leviathan while rolling back the institutions that have long shaped civil society. The Obama campaign targeted these voters by offering them Planned Parenthood and Julia.
That the Republican party hasn’t figured out how to court singles may partly be a function of failing to notice their rapid growth. But before the GOP starts working on schemes to pander to singletons, it’s worth considering an alternative path.
Rather than entering a bidding war with the Democratic party for the votes of Julias, perhaps the GOP should try to convince them to get married, instead. At the individual level, there’s nothing wrong with forgoing marriage. But at scale, it is a dangerous proposition for a society. That’s because marriage, as an institution, is helpful to all involved. Survey after survey has shown that married people are happier, wealthier, and healthier than their single counterparts. All of the research suggests that having married parents dramatically improves the well-being of children, both in their youth and later as adults.
As Robert George put it after the election, limited government “cannot be maintained where the marriage culture collapses and families fail to form or easily dissolve. Where these things happen, the health, education, and welfare functions of the family will have to be undertaken by someone, or some institution, and that will sooner or later be the government.” Marriage is what makes the entire Western project—liberalism, the dignity of the human person, the free market, and the limited, democratic state—possible. George continues, “The two greatest institutions ever devised for lifting people out of poverty and enabling them to live in dignity are the market economy and the institution of marriage. These institutions will, in the end, stand or fall together.”
I have no quarrel with any of Last’s factual representations, nor do I disagree with his contention that the family is the basic building block of a free and prosperous society. As to his conclusions about conservatives’ political strategy, I repeat the question I posed after the citation of Paul Rahe’s article above.
One of the ironies of the above-cited articles is that each succeeds in ignoring the way in which its factual citations undercut its conclusions.
Paul Rahe’s review of bastardy statistics is indeed compelling…but as he notes, the technology of contraception has been available far longer than the rise of illegitimacy might suggest. The massive surge in out-of-wedlock births began in the mid-1970s, fifteen years after the Pill and six decades after the condom. So technological advances are thoroughly disconnected from American social decline.
Jonathan Last’s review of marital and fertility statistics suffers a similar flaw. Divorce, though rarer before 1970 than after, was nevertheless easily available to any couple that wanted to dissolve its marriage. Likewise, convenient contraception has been with us since at least the early 1900s. The time gap between those things and the great upsurge of “never-married” and child-averse Americans suggests that they didn’t function as triggers for the demographic change.
However, there have been other changes, which neither writer addresses.
About five years ago, I wrote:
If there’s a more painful non-political subject in our discourse than American men’s loss of the grounds for trusting American women, I’m unable to say what it might be. The problem has too many facets even to enumerate them all. Many are tied up with legal enactments and judicial tendencies that seem unalterable by any mechanism short of revolution. Others stem from the relentless propagandization of American women about how men are inherently their enemies, who’ll take every opportunity to oppress them. Still others are the consequence of a hyper-sexualized, hyper-glamorized culture that encourages women to leap from “you can have it all” to “you will have it all, and you’re allowed to do anything you can think of to get it all, and if you don’t get it all, you’ve somehow been cheated.”
The worst of the risks to men arise from the prevailing legal and judicial attitudes toward the institution of marriage.
There is mounting evidence that as men discover the terms of marriage and divorce today, they are engaging in a marriage boycott or marriage “strike”: refusing to marry or start families, knowing they can be criminalized if their wife walks out and how attractive the divorce industry has made it easy for her to do so. ….Sonja Hastings of Fathers-4-Equality says that “no matter how decent, hardworking, and caring you may be as a father, that in the event of separation, you will more than likely not get custody of your child, you will lose up to 80% of all of your assets, you will have to pay up to five times the cost of raising a child, and most importantly you could never see your child again.” In Britain a fathers’ rights group tours university campuses warning young men not to start families. Even one attorney writes a book concluding that the only effective protection for men to avoid losing their children is not to start a family in the first place.
Dr. Helen, one of the true ornaments of the Blogosphere and herself a devoted wife, also mentions some comments made at her blog, by men who were frightened by the legal risks from marriage, or whose marital experiences had soured them on it:
I’m a single, never married guy. Professional, good job, etc. Have been dating a great lady for almost a year. I thought I was ready to ask her to marry me (she has been hinting for months that she wants to marry). Problem is, at least 7 out of 10 guys I talk to tell me that it is one of the worst mistakes that they ever made. Some tell me not to marry American women, that they are all feminist at heart. One married guy told me that I could get the same effect by selling my house, giving all my money away and having someone castrate me. This is really starting to un-nerve me and the more I learn about the legal bias against men, I’m beginning to back off of marriage. I love my girlfriend, but all of these guys say their girlfriends changed once they married and begin to dominant and control. I am starting to think marriage in America can not be saved.
I met a woman that I was sure was my soul mate. I was deeply in love and so, I thought, was she. All this changed when I lost my high paying job through downsizing. To my credit, I went to work immediately and had two jobs, but still only made about 80% of my old income. My wife gave me a year and then began sleeping with a man who hadn’t lost his job in my bed while I was at work. She left with him, taking almost all of my savings and anything else she could carry. Her explanation was that she was “an expensive bitch” and she was unhappy because I worked so much. The adultery doesn’t seem to matter to the court and she got essentially everything. Besides the financial losses, I was so devastated by the betrayal that I could barely function for months. She treated me like garbage and I never worked harder at any endeavor in my life.
Dr. Helen admits that she was shaken by the comments above and others like them, and began to wonder if men should marry at all, given the legal and social conditions that currently obtain in America.
Let’s not blind ourselves to the realities. At this time, the legal obligations of the marital state fall de facto on the husband. If the wife becomes dissatisfied, she can simply declare “irreconcilable differences” and haul stakes, taking any children and much of her husband’s income and savings along with her. The “social service” agencies — why yes, those are “sneer quotes” — are well known for encouraging prospective divorcees to file fraudulent abuse charges against their husbands, for the legal advantages such accusations confer. Courts routinely accept anything the wife says against her husband without requiring substantiation, while even absolute proof that the wife committed adultery, neglected the children, or was malfeasant with the family’s money is regarded as legally irrelevant.
Socially, things are at least as bad. There’s absolutely no stigma attached to divorce any more. Indeed, it’s become fashionable to have a divorce in one’s past. A wife who’s not getting what she wants out of her marriage is encouraged in numerous ways to pull the ripcord; it might even open new social and commercial circles to her. Seldom will the odium, if any, for the failure of her marriage attach to her; it’s nearly always allocated preemptively to her ex-husband, who’s presumed to be a neglectful, abusive, adulterous cad unless he can prove otherwise.
The situation poses the marriage-minded man more risks than he’s ever faced before. Given all the above and its implications, should men marry? has become a question many find it quite reasonable to ask.
The radical alteration of marital and divorce law was a powerful attack on American families. While it did not (and cannot) undo the desire of decent men to marry their beloveds and raise families, it posed a menacing disincentive to do so. Simultaneously, it created an incentive to female self-indulgence and a legal weapon for the gender-war feminists to use against “the enemy.”
With regard to Jonathan Last’s exhortation to the GOP that it “should try to convince them [singles] to get married,” the most important question of all is a single word:
Given the current balance of incentives and disincentives, just how could the Republican Party frame such a campaign?
Time was, marriage was bolstered by an influence that’s been thoroughly anathematized today:
“You know, when I was a young man, hypocrisy was deemed the worst of vices,” Finkle-McGraw said. “It was all because of moral relativism. You see, in that sort of climate, you are not allowed to criticise others — after all, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then what grounds is there for criticism?…
“Now, this led to a good deal of general frustration, for people are naturally censorious and love nothing better than to criticise others’ shortcomings. And so it was that they seized on hypocrisy and elevated it from a ubiquitous peccadillo into the monarch of all the vices. For, you see, if there is no right and wrong, you can find grounds to criticise another person by contrasting what he has espoused with what he has actually done. In this case, you are not making any judgment whatsoever as to the correctness of his views or the morality of his behaviour — you are merely pointing out that he has said one thing and done another. Virtually all the political discourse in the days of my youth was devoted to the ferreting out of hypocrisy.
“You wouldn’t believe the things they said about the original Victorians. Calling someone a Victorian in those days was almost like calling them a fascist or a Nazi….
“Because they were hypocrites… the Victorians were despised in the late Twentieth Century. Many of the persons who held such opinions were, of course, guilty of the most nefarious conduct themselves, and yet saw no paradox in holding such views because they were not hypocrites themselves — they took no moral stances and lived by none.”
“So they were morally superior to the Victorians — ” Major Napier said, still a bit snowed under.
“– even though — in fact, because — they had no morals at all.”
“We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy,” Finkle-McGraw continued. “In the late Twentieth Century Weltanschaaung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception — he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course. most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it’s a spirit-is willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing.”
“That we occasionally violate our own moral code,” Major Napier said, working it through, “does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code.”
“Of course not,” Finkle-McGraw said. “It’s perfectly obvious, really. No one ever said it was easy to hew to a strict code of conduct. Really, the difficulties involved — the missteps we make along the way — are what make it interesting. The internal, and eternal, struggle between our base impulses and the rigorous demands of our own moral system is quintessentially human. It is how we conduct ourselves in that struggle that determines how we may in time be judged by a higher power.”
[Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age]
With the law now in favor of present-moment self-indulgence and firmly against family-formation, censoriousness — the willingness to criticize others’ moral failures — is all we have left. But by elevating “hypocrisy” to the throne of the vices, the champions of self-indulgence have secured an absolute bastion against that last inducement to self-restraint.
In writing such things, I often feel that I’ve been repeating myself, or worse, haranguing my Gentle Readers with what they already know. I hope that’s not the case, especially when I produce a monstrosity such as this one, 80% of which consists of others’ words. All the same, I have one more set of observations to make, to which the poem at the beginning of this tirade is most apposite.
Human beings have a nature: a set of shared physical, mental, and emotional characteristics that are near-to-uniform among us, and which change, if at all, only over long stretches of time.
Eohippus did not become a Horse.
Anthropoidal Ape did not become a Man.
The Bright Neolithic did not become “civilized.”
All those developments required thousands of years. The individuals who foretold them were not among the beneficiaries.
Human nature tends toward marriage and procreation. In the absence of potent disincentives, nearly all of us will do those things; they’re “in our blood,” cemented there by tens of thousands of years of evolutionary development. Thus, it is misguided in the extreme to look to “technology” for the reason Americans are trending toward lifelong singlehood. It is misguided in the extreme to imagine, in the face of the trend toward ever lower birth rates, that any campaign could “convince” Americans to marry at higher rates. The one and only countermeasure that has the slightest chance of success is to undo the disincentives that are pushing us to act against our natures.
That is an entirely legal and political problem. It’s not about turning libertarians into “social conservatives,” a term whose meaning has become rather fluid. Decent persons are naturally inclined to speak and act in defense of marriage, family, and child-rearing. Nor can we make progress merely by arguing in favor of marriage and children while ignoring the perverse disincentives. The disincentives themselves must be our targets — and to take them down, we must learn to be censorious once again.
The cart cannot pull the horse. Not even if “the horse” is little Eohippus.