Facebook very recently introduced a drop-down menu with 56 gender identity choices to embellish the classic Male and Female. It includes arcane categories such as “neutrois” amd “two-spirit” and takes one over the 6-colored rainbow Gay Pride flag. Facebook now takes us somewhere very far over the rainbow.
This columnist fully shares Alex Schultz’s, Facebook’s director of growth, aspiration to contribute to “a more understanding and tolerant world.”
Still, this caused a brief splash of national incredulity. Brilliant cultural critic Steven Colbert, for instance, reportedly skewered it. Understandably so.
Cultural forces determine political forces. Facebook’s quiet cultural support for deconstructing gender contains an important clue as to something big that is happening. Something with profound political implications.
Advocates of traditional values (such as this columnist) are resurgent inside the GOP. This most notably has emerged with extensive elite political media attention to a counter-autopsy of the RNC’s autopsy of its 2012 loss performed by the American Principles Project (with whose sister organization this columnist has a professional association).
The argument for traditional values, too often unfairly equated with quaint atavism or bigotry, deeply resonates within the Republicans’ conservative base. It does so also with that sector of the electorate known as the Reagan Democrats, and even the social-democratic leaning Hispanics and Blacks. There is a stronger case for traditional values to make than the traditionalists yet have made: a strong social fabric is the recipe for happiness. The GOP credibly can offer such a recipe.
Public intellectual Rod Drehrer wrote a defining column — an intellectual tour de force — Sex After Christianity before, yet on matters relevant to, Facebook’s presentation for The American Conservative,
Our post-Christian culture, then, is an “anti-culture.” We are compelled by the logic of modernity and the myth of individual freedom to continue tearing away the last vestiges of the old order, convinced that true happiness and harmony will be ours once all limits have been nullified.
Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology. In classical Christian teaching, the divinely sanctioned union of male and female is an icon of the relationship of Christ to His church and ultimately of God to His creation. This is why gay marriage negates Christian cosmology, from which we derive our modern concept of human rights and other fundamental goods of modernity. Whether we can keep them in the post-Christian epoch remains to be seen.
The prevailing argument of traditionalists, such as Drehrer, was anticipated by poet Matthew Arnold in Dover Beach, in 1867:
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Such an elegiac tone is moving. Yet it presents as a counsel of despair more than inspiration.
“Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for” is a thought frequently (although not correctly) attributed to Clarence Darrow. And the case for traditional values is not, quite, a lost one. It can be won if the traditionalist proponents claim the high ground … of happiness. Happiness derives from a close-knit social fabric.
We have seen, over the past century, the dissolution of the tight-knit village structure. My great-grandparents grew up in close-knit villages (in Poland, Germany, and Croatia) in which all were closely connected from birth with the entire village. This was followed by the dissolution of the tight-knit clan structure. My Old World born grandparents, in New York City, lived within a clan in which they socialized, almost exclusively, among matriarchs and patriarchs, parents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings.
This in turn was followed by the dissolution of the tight-knit extended family structure. My parents closely socialized with their family members and spent every Thanksgiving with my mother’s sisters, their husbands, and their children. Both of my grandmothers died in the home of one of their children. That was followed by the dissolution of the tight-knit nuclear family structure. I grew up in a nuclear family: father, mother, brother. My own children, of divorce, grew up in what used to be called a “broken home,” beloved yet shuttling between their father’s and mother’s homes.
Now, as Facebook so vividly demonstrates, we confront the next step. The deconstruction of gender implies nothing less than a splitting of the personal atom: social nuclear fission, where the cohesive gender identity of the individual is broken down.
It is easy to romanticize the social bonds of village, clan, extended and nuclear family. Of course, anyone who dutifully sits through an annual extended-family Thanksgiving dinner may be forgiven for harboring doubts. And the small horrors of nuclear family life were nicely displayed on The Wonder Years (the perfect antidote to the sentimental Leave It To Beaver).
Yet social nuclear fission, at critical mass (which we have not yet reached and may never), leads to a chain reaction which could lead to the unleashing of catastrophic energies. Could widespread gender deconstruction lead to a social Hiroshima? The proposed deconstruction of gender is not to be undertaken cavalierly, as, currently, it is.
The gesture of presenting 56 gender options by Facebook by no means stands alone. A recent Newsweek (virtual) cover story, “What’s Next? (For the Gay Rights Movement)” of September 27, 2013, by E.J. Graff, a Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center resident scholar, portentously notes
there’s a much larger cultural question that deeply deserves our country’s attention. It has to do with gender: the way our culture, our politics, and our legal system treats femininity, masculinity, and everything in between.
Social conservative crusader Phyllis Schlafly, it turns out, was right when in the 1970s she warned that if the Equal Rights Amendment were ratified, we’d have homosexual marriage, women in combat, and unisex bathrooms. The ERA was never ratified, but the country took many of its lessons to heart. Here’s what Schlafly got wrong: those weren’t things to warn against but to embrace.
We wish to embrace that which makes us happier. One wishes, even, perhaps, to embrace the simply inevitable. Yet there is another way of looking at this process: a secular unraveling of the classical social fabric. That this unraveling is, on the whole, happiness inducing or inevitable (rather than, to date, inexorable) is a proposition that bears a burden of proof not yet met.
That the long, slow, unraveling of the social fabric has been so little addressed politically helps explain why so many of our political arguments have become, apparently, intractable. In this columnist’s view our arguments over important values issues —the right to life and gay marriage as most prominent — are more about effects than causes. Arguments about effects, rather than causes, inherently are futile. Time to consider the bigger picture.
This columnist is persuaded that the proponents both of the traditionalist and cosmopolitan values are nobly intended. He, also, is persuaded that the formula for achieving happiness can be found in reweaving, rather than abetting, the unraveling of, the social fabric.
What if a tight, traditional, social fabric — notwithstanding its real “Wonder Years” flaws — actually proves to be the optimal prescription for personal and social happiness? Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling Outliers opens with a chapter describing the small, Old World style, Pennsylvania village of Roseto. Page 7:
For men over sixty-five, the death rate from heart disease in Roseto was roughly half that of the United States as a whole. The death rate of all causes in Roseto, in fact, was 30 to 35 percent lower than expected. … ‘There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addition, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were dying of old age. That’s it.’
This was discovered, upon close investigation, to be due not to diet, healthy lifestyle, or genetics. It was solely due to a close-knit village social structure.
This is not merely anecdotal. As reported in Berkeley’s GreaterGood,
The upshot of 50 years of happiness research is that the quantity and quality of a person’s social connections—friendships, relationships with family members, closeness to neighbors, etc.—is so closely related to well-being and personal happiness the two can practically be equated.
So much research supporting this proposition has been conducted as to make this observation irrefutable. Its implications are too little politically discussed.
Social traditionalists can, then, make their case politically by taking seriously America’s mission statement — as set forth in the Declaration of Independence — of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness and making the argument that the pursuit of happiness best can be achieved — personally and socially — by a gentle yet purposeful suite of policies dedicated to the reweaving of the social fabric.
Sorry, Facebook. Sorry, Newsweek. Happiness is not to be found by a further atomization of society and not, however well meant, by the fission implied by the deconstruction of gender. Proposing to secure our happiness by policies well calculated to reweave the social fabric is the platform that would give social conservatives possession of the commanding political heights.
Where, then, shall our political future lie?
Somewhere over the rainbow?
Or … There’s no place like home.