Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Control, Punish and Shame

As we've often noted here, most of the time, when conservatives say "freedom," they really mean privilege. This trait isn't limited to social and authoritarian conservatives, but it's often more noticeable with them. Theocrats in particular are less likely (at least among their own) to hide their true beliefs about their own superiority and desire to control others.

Fred Clark of slacktivist has written a fair number of characteristically thoughtful pieces on the anti-choice abortion movement. Earlier this month, he received some pushback for a characterization of abortion opponents:

Last week we looked at an incident involving an evangelical college that fired a woman for having sex outside of marriage — offering her former job to the man she slept with. Examining San Diego Christian College’s double-standard, and the affirmation of that double standard in Christianity Today’s reporting on the incident, I wrote this:

Given the chance to choose between “saving babies” and controlling women, both the magazine and the college instinctively opt for controlling women.

Women who have sex must be punished. …

To defend this, Clark quoted a Right Wing Watch piece on a radio segment with Pat Fagan, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council run by Tony Perkins. (FRC's members can be labeled "conservative Christians," although I'd put it more strongly and call them right-wing theocrats.) In the segment, Fagan discussed an article he wrote on Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972), the U.S. Supreme Court case that "established the right of unmarried people to possess contraception on the same basis as married couples and, by implication, the right of unmarried couples to engage in potentially nonprocreative sexual intercourse." Fagan wrote that "Future generations may rank this as the single most destructive decision in the history of the Court." In the radio segment (audio at the link), he said:

The court decided that single people have the right to contraceptives. What’s that got to do with marriage? Everything, because what the Supreme Court essentially said is single people have the right to engage in sexual intercourse. Well, societies have always forbidden that, there were laws against it. Now sure, single people are inclined to push the fences and jump over them, particularly if they are in love with each other and going onto marriage, but they always knew they were doing wrong. In this case the Supreme Court said, take those fences away they can do whatever they like, and they didn’t address at all what status children had, what status the commons had, by commons I mean the rest of the United States, have they got any standing in this case? They just said no, singles have the right to contraceptives we mean singles have the right to have sex outside of marriage. Brushing aside millennia, thousands and thousands of years of wisdom, tradition, culture and setting in motion what we have. …

It’s not the contraception, everybody thinks it’s about contraception, but what this court case said was young people have the right to engage in sex outside of marriage. Society never gave young people that right, functioning societies don’t do that, they stop it, they punish it, they corral people, they shame people, they do whatever. The institution for the expression of sexuality is marriage and all societies always shepherded young people there, what the Supreme Court said was forget that shepherding, you can’t block that, that’s not to be done.

Points for honesty, I guess, but this attitude is pretty astounding. Two major problems present themselves. First, Fagan's depiction of cultural mores on sex is laughably ahistorical. In the United States alone, as the Guttmacher Institute points out:

The vast majority of Americans have sex before marriage, including those who abstained from sex during their teenage years, according to “Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954–2003,” by Lawrence B. Finer, published in the January/February 2007 issue of Public Health Reports. Further, contrary to the public perception that premarital sex is much more common now than in the past, the study shows that even among women who were born in the 1940s, nearly nine in 10 had sex before marriage.

The new study uses data from several rounds of the federal National Survey of Family Growth to examine sexual behavior before marriage, and how it has changed over time. According to the analysis, by age 44, 99% of respondents had had sex, and 95% had done so before marriage. Even among those who abstained from sex until age 20 or older, 81% had had premarital sex by age 44.

“This is reality-check research. Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades,” says study author Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute. “The data clearly show that the majority of older teens and adults have already had sex before marriage, which calls into question the federal government’s funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for 12–29-year-olds. It would be more effective to provide young people with the skills and information they need to be safe once they become sexually active—which nearly everyone eventually will.”

(You can read the full study here. And as the joke goes, it's not "premarital" sex if you never get married.)

Consider Victorian Britain as well. It's was one of the most outwardly prudish societies of the past few millennia, especially regarding sex and female sexuality, and yet prostitution was rampant. The image did not match the reality. Similarly, Utah, the most Republican state in the nation, and outwardly socially conservative, consumes the most porn in the nation, and "those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption." We won't even delve fully into the Greeks and Romans, or the history of marriage, including polygamy or the concept of women as property (which continues somewhat to this day).

Second – Fagan really, truly thinks he should get to control sexual activity, whether it's through "society" or his church or the government. He's outraged by the idea that "single people have the right to engage in sexual intercourse." Furthermore, "society never gave young people that right, functioning societies don’t do that, they stop it, they punish it, they corral people, they shame people, they do whatever." Bluntly, Fagan believes that his fellow citizens – adults – shouldn't be allowed to fuck without his permission.

This is a recurring trait among authoritarians (looked at in most detail previously here) – they truly believe that they should be able to control other people's lives and make decisions that are none of their damn business.

This attitude isn't limited to far-right social conservatives, however. Mitt Romney's campaign remarks about 47% of Americans being 'takers' focused more on economic/fiscal issues (also the idea of a social contract), but weren't that different. Like Fagan, Romney's accusations are grossly counterfactual, and like Fagan, there's a mean streak there – a sense of entitlement, and resentment, and a desire to punish his less-fortunate fellow Americans (certainly if one looked at his budget plan).

We can discuss all this in terms of the stupid-evil-crazy vortex, but the bottom line is that a significant portion of American conservatives are, well, delusional assholes. They believe things that simply aren't true, and they want some of their fellow Americans to suffer. Specifically, they want the Americans who already have less than themselves to suffer. ("Delusional assholes" may sound harsh, and use a more polite term if you like, but "jerks" seems too tame and "bastards," "scumbags" or similar words aren't that much tamer than "asshole." Meanwhile, "delusional" seems hard to contest.) Fagan is more of a theocrat and Romney more of a plutocrat, but both seek to place themselves atop a hierarchy, with most of their fellow citizens below, and they view that as the natural order. Even if one believes that they are nice or well-intentioned, people of this mindset should be prevented from gaining power over others – but I would argue that their desire to domineer others proves that they are not nice or well-intentioned. As we've noted many times before, theocrats aren't seeking freedom, which they already possess –they are seeking privilege, and power over others.

(This post is part of the annual Blog Against Theocracy, even if it's not an organized event this year, but check out Tengrain's posts for the occasion. Here are my archives for Blog Against Theocracy, the Religious Right and Religion, which naturally overlap significantly.)

1 comment:

Paul Wartenberg said...

Thumbs up. Well argued.