Thursday, July 10, 2014

It's about sex

I think this picture may illuminate a fundamental divide between religious conservatives and the rest of the country on several issues, some of which may seem unrelated: it comes down to sex.

My religion trumps your “right” to employer subsidized consequence free sex.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) June 30, 2014

Painting with a *very* broad brush, conservatives view sex as a luxury – or in some cases, even a vice – while liberals view it as a normal, healthy part of a life fully lived, and celibacy as unhealthy and weird.

The conservative solution to numerous questions about public policy is “Just quit having sex, except within specific limits (ie, in a financially secure marriage) and the whole problem goes away.”
The liberal view is that sex is going to happen, as surely as eating and breathing, and social policy should reflect awareness of that fact.

The problem with the liberal view is that it considers abstinence a completely unrealistic expectation – which it is for most humans, but (here’s the key point) NOT for everyone, especially many conservatives. 

Often when a liberal is talking to a conservative, they’re talking to a member of a trained-from-birth and/or self-selected group of people who feel differently about sex in a fundamental way. I’m not saying they’re anti-sex, or don’t enjoy it; I’m saying that if you’re inculcated with a specific set of values (or if you gravitate to that place because of natural inclinations), then a strict sexual continence IS realistic – and it IS practiced, by a great many people. 

Those folks are proving in their everyday lives that this can be done, and human beings are famously intolerant of other people getting benefits or having fun that they are not.

We’ve all seen examples of certain types of jealousy: if I have paid a great price for something, I will become frustrated to see you get it for free. It’s not logical or laudable, but it’s true.

Similarly, if I exercise restraint in something (especially in a thing I happen to know is God’s will for all human beings), it’ll be a cold day in hell before I’ll contribute in ANY way to your enjoying the thing I have denied myself. 

It doesn’t even matter if conservatives don’t always succeed in their commitment to sexual continence – in the Christian tradition at least, those mistakes are forgiven and erased – so strict sexual limits remains the standard. Liberals need to understand this, or people will be talking past each other all day long.

The problems with the conservative view as I’ve painted it above are that:

It doesn’t take into account typical human behavior when it comes to sex – or rather, it usually accounts for it by pathologizing and punishing it. 

Humans are relentlessly self-referential; we project ourselves onto everyone/everything. So if *I* can do it, you should, too. 
Never mind that I had the advantage of abstinence (or even just the appearance thereof) being modeled for me, and that frame was reinforced regularly for years, that I had parent(s) and a tightly-knit social group drilling the code of sexual restriction into me from childhood. 
Never mind that for me, sex – and pleasure in general – was often painted as something to be cautious and restrained about – to the point of suspicion -- and eye-droppered into our lives lest we fall into wild bacchanalian revels and become rudderless slaves to sensuality and desire.
Never mind that I didn’t really say no to sex, I just said no to sex with a partner, channeling those instincts into private me-time.
Never mind that even in a context of tight sexual control, there’s always significant amounts of hypocrisy going on.
Never mind that the way I was brought up (ie, in relative austerity, sexually speaking) is more likely to lead me toward judgment than toward empathy.
Never mind that what was modeled for *you* -- and what you experienced as a young person – was entirely different. 
Never mind that you may have already had significant sexual experience, and that humans rarely move backwards on that line. 
Never mind that sex is a fundamental instinct that is actually quite difficult to tame.

In spite of all those things, I expect you to see things the way I do, and live like I do, simply because my way is right and your way is wrong. This is not realistic.

Conservatives can’t get over the sex part, from the beginning all the way to the end of the line.
Contraception? You shouldn’t have sex.
Pregnant? You shouldn’t have had sex. 
Can’t get a well-paying job because you want to stay with your kids? You shouldn’t have had sex.
Can’t get an education because you’re raising kids? You shouldn’t have had sex.
Can’t support your kids? You shouldn’t have had sex.
Everything comes back to that, to the point that they balk at simple, compassionate, no-brainer ways to help people and improve our society, because in their mind that would be rewarding “wrong sex”, and sex should have consequences, dammit. (As if kids aren’t consequence enough...) 
And it’s SO important that those consequences be applied, that rather than help people (and thereby risk someone "getting away with it"), we will punish not just them, but their kids, and their kids’ kids, on down the line. 

So, what’s my point? Here it is: vote for things that will make everyone’s lives better, without worrying whether you’re somehow supporting other people having sex you think they shouldn’t have. 
It’s illogical and controlling to let that be ANY part of your evaluation process. Those people didn’t have sex because of you, and they won’t stop having sex because of you. They don’t know you, or care about you, and neither you nor government policy* enter into their decision-making process when they’re deciding whether or not to have sex. So promote access to contraception, to child care, to job training and education, to stable housing for kids, to medical and psychological treatment for all citizens, to equality before the law. Trust me, everyone wins when those things happen.

*This is usually where someone brings up poor girls (or couples) making babies because they want more government benefits. I don’t know anyone personally who has done this, but I’m betting it happens -- there is every type of dubious choice you can imagine happening out there in the world. 
But the question is whether that is a *significant* numbers of people – and I’m betting it’s not. Most young women I know really want to succeed on their own. In general it would take a lot of benefits to make baby+benefits = a better life than single without benefits.
And the second question is about cost/benefit: if we could increase the average education level and earning power of our citizens across the board, then it wouldn’t *matter* -- there would be fewer girls who felt the need to do that, and economic benefits would far outpace the cost of the girls who still did.


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