. . . The More They Stay the Same

Am I still welcome around here? It’s been … oh about a year or so since the last time I blogged at The Point. Yes, by all means, shun me, mumble bad things about me, glare at me angrily through your monitor … I deserve all of it.

What? You didn’t realize I was gone? Because you never realized I was here in the first place? Ah … okay … I see. Well, there’s an unanticipated reality check. It’s okay; I’ll heal.

Now to Roberto’s post.

“Intriguing and frustrating”? My reactions are pretty far gone on the “frustrating” side of that balance, with very little on the “interesting” side (other than, say, “the possibilities for using such high-larious nonsense for comedic purposes are truly intriguing!”). I do agree wholeheartedly with this:

“…we told ourselves that people "back then" were somehow better/more moral than us. Bwahaha! NO THEY WEREN'T!”

Now, first, let me admit a certain impulse to agree with anything that uses both “bwahaha!” and ALL CAPS while making a point. But I’ve tried to “give it time” and calm down and make sure that I really do agree with the statement, stylistic awesomeness aside. And I do. While I admit to some romantic notions of “how people were” -- and I suspect that certain social modes from past eras were more appealing to me on the whole -- human nature has clearly remained a constant. And not just “in the mind,” per se, but I think in action as well.

Now, I think data can pretty well establish that (to pick one example) teenage pregnancy rates have not been a constant. Sure, we can say, “Oh well, those things were underreported.” Well, yeah, sure they were. But not to such a degree that we could in any way expect that a teenager in the 1940s was as sexually active as a teenager today. But human nature is human nature -- as a whole, I don’t doubt that society was as sexually immoral as it is now. In the 1940s, in the Victorian Era, in the Colonial Era, and on and on…

Perhaps what amuses me most is how seriously Konner takes himself. Por ejemplo:

“As a result, they’re not very socially or emotionally appealing or competent when they're first born, and parents often get disappointed taking their baby home from the hospital.”

I mean, we all -- right now -- should stand up at our desks and laugh uproariously at this. Until tears run down our faces. And when colleagues come over to see what is happening, the same should happen to them. Until there is such a ruckus that people from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation next door hear us and come over to see what is going on, and the chain continues until it has spread across the country and reached the unintentionally hilarious cities of the West Coast, at which point the spreading will stop (“What? I don’t get it.” “Me neither,” etc.).

What parent is disappointed because their newborn is not very socially or emotionally appealing? Perhaps this Melvin Konner guy, but precisely no one else. He just authoritatively declares things out of thin air all over this interview. It’s embarrassing.

But such embarrassments pass for truth these days, don’t they? Yes … as they always have. Even “back then.”


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Who says he gave money because he "learned" it was a good thing to do? Perhaps he did it because he enjoyed helping people, or he wanted to be remembered when he was gone, or because he has a passion for business education. Or maybe all three.

I know my anecdotal evidence is just anecdotal.. but for me, I'm surrounded by it - healthy, happy single people who are passionate about coming up with clean solutions to our energy problem or helping third-world Africans farm more sustainably or inspiring the students of the next generation to make an impact in their own ways. So I hope you'll give my thoughts some credit, as they do make sense from where I'm standing. Besides, all these kids don't join the Peace Corps just to help out their own children.

You're putting two questions together: whether men (or people?) have to have families to be inspired to work toward the common good, and whether sexual immorality hinders that same motivation. These are a little different, and I've got the notion that I can convince you that the first one is incorrect - at least as it regards anyone with any empathy or altruism, which is most people.
A child brought up in a family that does not respect itself is at an inherent disadvantage with regards to becoming a useful contribution to society. Sexual immorality contributes to dysfunction. Pointing out opposite examples is like pointing out that in fact it is possible for a handicapped person to climb Mount Everest.
What an individual will do is different from what a society will do, Ben. And how did these people learn that giving away one million dollars was a good thing to do?
Counterexamples abound..
I can't agree, Jason, that if you "take away a man's family you take away his motive to work for the common good." Off the top of my head, I can think of several friends and relatives that are single, non-family-oriented, have no spouse/children and/or live far from their families, but they love what they do and love helping people.

One of them, although he didn't get married until his 40s or have his first child until his 50s, has donated $1 million to the University of Florida's business program, recently gave UF's commencement speech, and some years ago donated several million dollars worth of apartments to UF. What was his motivation for "working for the common good", as you put it, if he had no family until recently?
Except using only low crime as a rubric doesn't get anywhere. Survivability and political stability are also important. When you take away a man's family you take away his motive to work for the common good.

The mere fact that Europeans are able to live pleasantly because they have wealth produced by others(including their ancestors) and they are protected by others, proves no more then that inertia works in human affairs. That is like claiming that a courtier at Versailes is a proof that immorality has no consequences simply because the consequences are for the moment being washed away by the king's largesse.
That's pretty much my point, Jason. There doesn't seem to be any correlation between "social cohesion" (using low crime as a rubric) and sexual morality. In some places, both are lacking (the US), but in other places, you have low crime but high sexual immorality (parts of Europe).
Too true, I'm afraid. Look for the articles I'll be posting later on D.C.'s latest youth crime wave.
A fair point Ben-except that in the United States it is exactly those places that have high sexual immorality that also have high crime rates.

Well, I have no good way of figuring out how much social cohesion a group has (and a group that has poor national cohesion might have good local cohesion, or vice versa).

Anyways, quality of life and crime rates were the closest stab I could take, and the closest you'd find statistics for (there are numerous surveys showing that Western/Northern Europe tends to have lower crime and abortion rates, even in countries with considerably lower religiosity than the US. Not sure how those correlate to sexual morality, though).

/shrug. Who knows?
"I ask because there are European states with lower crime rates and happier populations than the US, but looser sexual mores (lower abortion rates, too)."

Isn't this in any case trying to argue that less sinful populations are less happy by pointing out two sins that are committed less often?
I guessed that too. Happiness is an intangible concept though and cannot be measured in surveys.
In other words
. . . to be as umble as Uriah Heep? :-)
Holger Danske vaekker!
Jason, I'm guessing that Ben may be referring to a recent survey showing that Danish people are the happiest on Earth. Since he's not a particularly rabid fan of Mark Steyn, Ben may be unaware that Danes are distinctly *un*-happy about Muslims seeking to change their society, or that of all the Scandinavian countries, Danes have arguably the greatest remaining investment in their churches. (A colleague told me that most Danes still go to church on major holidays, and have weddings, baptisms and funerals performed there, such that culture and religious tradition are still fully integrated.) BICBW. My experience of Europe has not led me to encounter notably happy people. (I left Athens just before the riots in October of 2008. I've been in Italy, France, Spain and Germany as well, and none of them had a citizenry as upbeat and positive as anyplace I've visited in the USA. They were certainly more *relaxed* due to an insignificant workweek leading to an excess of leisure, but further elaboration on that issue will need to wait for Allen to post something more on economics.)

Oh, and Allen, one of the most effective ways to sneer back, particularly in a heavily egalitarian culture like the USA's, is to appear to grovel unnecessarily. It's tricky to do that while still recognizing the great value of someone's contributions, but it's emotionally rather satisfying, I must say.
Furthermore Ben, are you really claiming that the European countries you speak of, have absolutely no sexual morality? Or are you simply claiming that it is reduced?

It is possible for me to picture a reasonably cohesive or "happy" for that matter society in which live-ins are more common then formal marriage. It is really not possible to picture such where all men have a night of fun and leave the women holding the bag. That is appropriate for cats not humans.
Let us grant that middle-class Swedes are happy being pigs, and that such happiness is worth the bother. Does that mean that poor inner-city areas are? Would they be better off if men stayed with one woman their whole lives or if they continued to sing songs about how many "madam butterflies" they left behind them while the women did all the work of raising children and the men were allowed to be barbarians because they had no families to keep them civilized. Just because something seems not to hurt people with advantages doesn't mean it will not hurt those without said advantages.
Ben, by social cohesion I mean a group sticks together, has a consciousness of itself and looks after it's own. Would Amish or Hasidim leave tens of thousands of old people to die merely because they wished to go to the beach? For the matter of that, would Finland today manage to survive having Stalin as a neighbor? Being overrun by rapacious Russian soldiers and sinister commisars does not make for "happiness".

As for "happiness"(which I did not mention), that is by definition based on what the surveyor rates happiness by. And in any case I never said sexual morality was the only thing that makes for "happiness" or that it is impossible to be happy without it. Nor was I comparing US to "some parts of Europe" which is a bad comparison because those parts are often the size of a single state or even a few counties. In any case what we see in Europe is the result of thousands of years of habit. Maybe Sweden is "happier" then LA. Is that because they are piggish or because they had ancestors who were not so? How many years have they given civilization a chance to collapse from sloth?
Really, Jason? How are you measuring "social cohesion"?

I ask because there are European states with lower crime rates and happier populations than the US, but looser sexual mores (lower abortion rates, too). I don't really see many good examples of sexual morality and social cohesion going together.
It is a valid point. Sexual morality and social cohesion go together. Places where social cohesion deteriorates(like Dickensian London), are places where sexual morality does. Adventurous occupations often have a high degree of social cohesion(as with soldiers and sailors)but that is the peculiarly masculine form that is related strictly to the mission.

Which goes with what I have said before. One of the best arguments for sexual rules is that it provides a Euripedes like cartel to pressure people to behave in the public interest. To "argue" for any kind of morality is of course a futile gesture as it can only be done by appealing to other aspects; in this case charity referred to as "the public interest". Nonetheless justice and charity to other men are often esteemed to the exclusion of other aspects of morality these days.
LeeQ, Jason, Gina ... good times!

Now, Lee, I simply must object to this:

"...we Pointificators have had to perform the task of razzing both Roberto (a formidable razzee who only suffers fools because if he didn't, well, there'd be no one left to suffer)..."

Oh, come now. Look, all you do is encourage Roberto to sneer at you when you grovel like that. You can't let him intimidate you. He tried that with me the other day, so I stomped over to him and said "Now look here Roberto! We all put our pants on the same wa- ... WHERE ARE YOUR PANTS???!!!"

Trust me, this happened.

Jason, I seem to have created confusion. The teenage pregnancy comment was mine, not Konner's. And it was in response to Roberto's point about sexual immorality as a constant of sorts over time.

As to your second comment - which I understand to be asking, in not so many words, "well, surely there are differences in sexual behavior by environment, yes?" - I'm not sure I have any insight. It sounds right enough.
First dogs, now birds, next... fish?
Gina, I'm relieved you chose that particular species, and not one of the other "always returns to the same place" choices available: http://cleveland.about.com/od/clevelandareaparks/p/buzzards.htm
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