Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sex, Money, Politics

I forget where, but a week or two ago I ran into a link to this piece from The Atlantic, which annoyingly enough you cannot read online unless you pay disgusting amounts of money to become a subscriber. So while the monkeys were causing havoc at the library this weekend, I wanted up to the periodical section and read it the old fashioned way.

Most the of the data you can see in the couple paragraphs available online:

Early in the 1996 election campaign Dick Morris and Mark Penn, two of Bill Clinton's advisers, discovered a polling technique that proved to be one of the best ways of determining whether a voter was more likely to choose Clinton or Bob Dole for President. Respondents were asked five questions, four of which tested attitudes toward sex: Do you believe homosexuality is morally wrong? Do you ever personally look at pornography? Would you look down on someone who had an affair while married? Do you believe sex before marriage is morally wrong? The fifth question was whether religion was very important in the voter's life.

Respondents who took the "liberal" stand on three of the five questions supported Clinton over Dole by a two-to-one ratio; those who took a liberal stand on four or five questions were, not surprisingly, even more likely to support Clinton. The same was true in reverse for those who took a "conservative" stand on three or more of the questions. (Someone taking the liberal position, as pollsters define it, dismisses the idea that homosexuality is morally wrong, admits to looking at pornography, doesn't look down on a married person having an affair, regards sex before marriage as morally acceptable, and views religion as not a very important part of daily life.)

The article goes on to say that these questions proved to a more accurate predictor of party membership and voter preference than any other piece of information they polled, except race. The author also compared maps showing the percentage of porn found in individual's video/DVD collections in different states and discovered that the most 'blue' states were the most porn heavy while the most 'red' states had the lowest porn density. Both of these proved far better indicators than the traditional dividing line between Democrats and Republicans: income and wealth.

All of this sounds like the same 'values voter' story that we've been reading ever since the 2004 election, except this piece was written in 2003 and its thesis is the opposite. The author believes that in latching on to the religious/moral vote, the Republicans have boarded a sinking ship. Given that the number of people who never attend church doubled from 1972 to 2000, the author suggests that sexual and moral permissiveness is the way of the future. Once the specter of terrorism dies down, the author predicts, the conservative movement will begin a slow and inevitable decline, since no one wants to give up their porn, adultery and fornication. (Or as the author cheerfully puts it "sexual independence".)

Now, history looks a lot more like a pendulum than a one way street to me. I don't believe humanity will ever become permanently more or less profligate until the final trumpet sounds. There are period of relative public morality and periods of relative public debauchery, and I very much suspect that the one generates the other. However, cycles and be pretty long, and they can stall and turn back on themselves. (As the 30s saw a retrenchment after the excesses of the 20s and the 50s a calming of wildness that naturally results from several million men being in the army.)

Plus, there is a new factor now that is at least somewhat novel in human history. Never before have we so easily been able to deny what were (historically) the biological consequences of a profligate lifestyle. I think that's why, rather than the 10-20 year vacillations we see during the first half of this century, the second half represents one long, slow descent into moral permissiveness and family breakdown on a scale not seen in the west in (at the very least) a number of centuries.

Nonetheless, reality (assuming that the Catholic Church and those of us who hold her teachings dear does indeed have a lock on the truth) has a way of making itself felt eventually. And although "Gen-X" and "Gen-Y" may not have the answers to life's problems, we are perhaps a generation realizing that the answers being peddled for the last few decades don't really work. I think (as the most optimistic cynic that I know) that we will gradually work back to a more sexually calm society. But it will take a while. And I'm not sure that a contraceptive society will ever return to the levels of sexual social order found sixty to a hundred years ago. Nor is it certain. I think that the fact moral conservatives are living a more 'reality based' lifestyle than moral libertines will allow conservatism to triumph in the long run. But we shouldn't get too confident. It could go the other way for quite a while longer.


Fr Martin Fox said...


Not being a suscriber, I couldn't pursue the whole article, so perhaps you can enlighten me -- how in the world did anyone produce

maps showing the percentage of porn found in individual's video/DVD collections in different states and discovered that the most 'blue' states were the most porn heavy while the most 'red' states had the lowest porn density...?

Other than that, I'd note that one huge political advantage less-libertine folks have, is they reproduce.

Darwin said...

How they got the data I have no idea. (No one ever calls me up to give me the opportunity to tell them that the percentage of porn in my video collection is 0. Ah, what a deprived life I live.) But they claimed that it matched the red/blue map quite exactly. Make of it what one will. (Somehow I'm hesitant to try googling this one, putting 'porn' into google just doesn't seem like a good idea, especially at work.)

I do think that some degree of moral conservatism will prevail eventually since we're by far the ones doing the most reproducing. I'm just concerned about whether that road is short and straight or long and full of setbacks. (And it's easy to take the dim view when you have a headcold. 'There never was philosopher as could endure the toothache' and all...)

Fr Martin Fox said...

I periodically veer from optimism to pessimism, and I never seem to find the time to decide, finally, which is right. Better and better? Or worse and worse?

Either way, the Lord is coming back; put not your hopes in this world, only have his compassion for all whom you meet here, so that if at all possible, you may bring them there.