Not long ago, I was in conversation with a group of men about poverty. I realized that one of us had until very recently lived in the poorest and most violent part of the city. In his job, he served the poor. I asked him for his views, given that he lived amid what the rest of us could only speculate about.
He didn’t flinch. He said that he could not see any way out for the young people growing up in his old neighborhood. I’m not going to quote him in detail here, but his basic point was that the family, and the structure that it imposes, had been all but destroyed — by promiscuity, by unwed childbearing, by drugs, by alcoholism, by violence, by prison. He said the grandparents’ generation is the last link most kids have to any kind of sanity and stability, and that is fast disappearing.
I thought about his bleak testimony while reading Mary Eberstadt’s punchy new essay about the Sexual Revolution. She says, in part:
Following are five facts about the revolution’s impact that are by now empirically incontestable—five truths that the record of the past half-century has established beyond reasonable doubt.
First, the destigmatization and mass adoption of artificial contraception, beginning in the 1960s, followed by widespread legalization of abortion, has radically changed the world in which we now find ourselves.
This is an important countercultural point. Over the years, a great many people have claimed that sex is merely a private act between individuals. They’ve been wrong. We know now that private acts have cumulative public effects. Individual choices, such as having children out of wedlock, have ended up expanding the modern welfare state, for example, as the government has stepped in to support children who lack fathers. The explosion of sexual activity thanks to contraception has been accompanied by levels of divorce, cohabitation, and abortion never before seen in history. And as the MeToo movement shows, the same shift has contributed to a world in which on-demand sex is assumed to be the norm, to the detriment of those who resist any advance, for any reason.
Second, the revolution is having deleterious consequences—and not only on the young—in the form of broken families and the attendant disadvantages conferred by fatherless homes, as has been excruciatingly well-documented by social scientists for many decades. Over half a century into the sexual revolution, the human damages at the end of life’s telescope are now also visible. Today, for example, one of the most pressing, and growing, issues for researchers is the plight of the elderly, who face the challenges of aging amid shrunken, broken, and truncated families.
Fourth, we can no longer pretend that the sexual revolution operates in any other way but as the world imagined by Socrates’ interlocutor Thrasymachus: It empowers the already strong and makes the already weak even more vulnerable.
This is true, for example, of the young women recruited for so-called egg harvesting, who put their own fertility and health at risk either to keep their own future childbearing options open or to earn money for selling their eggs. It is true of the women and children exploited, drugged, beaten, and otherwise abused who are now victimized once more by the frightening effort to normalize prostitution as “sex work.” And it is true of the young women damaged by the diseases acquired from buying into the promise of sex without consequences. Although teen pregnancy rates have declined in recent years, rates of sexually transmitted disease continue to rise.
And then there’s this — something celebrated by almost everyone, it seems:
The Olympic diver, 24, shared a heartwarming black-and-white snap of the tot’s tiny feet and described the birth as ‘the most magical moment of my life’.
Filmmaker Dustin, 44, also shared a sweet monochrome photo of the newborn’s head, which was being gently cradled by both Dustin and Tom.
In an interview with The Times, Daley said they both provided sperm to fertilise their surrogate’s eggs, but do not wish to know who the biological father is.
Hinting at another child in the pipeline, he told the newspaper: ‘We found an egg donor and we are the sperm donors, we have fertilised half the eggs each.
‘We put in a boy embryo and a girl embryo and we don’t know whose is whose. The next time we will do it the other way around.’
Says the reader who sent me that story:
So the child will presumably grow up knowing neither his mother nor the woman who birthed him.
But enough about the hired help. The important thing is the two gay men who are ‘happy to be dads’ and show off all the accessories of dad-hood. The baby shower, the first photos with the baby, etc.
The cynical materialist in me can’t help but comment that this familial arrangement is the absolute neoliberal/capitalist ideal. Two very high wage-earning men outsource the baby-making business to the professionals and a low wage-earning surrogate (probably a military wife whose healthcare is fully paid by the American taxpayer). Afterwards, they can also hire a nanny and not miss a day of work if they don’t wish to. The maximum amount of money goes through public (as opposed to household) economy, at a maximum productivity).
Is there a more dystopian phrase than “reproductive technology”???
That’s how we roll in these sexually revolutionary times. Nothing is sacred. Markets in everything!
The truth about the Bolshevik Revolution was to be found in the gulags. The truth about the Sexual Revolution is to be found among the poor in our inner cities and trailer parks.
(Readers, I’m going to be out of commission all Tuesday morning at the doctor’s. I’ll be back online Tuesday afternoon. Please be patient; I’ll get to your comments when I can.)