Monday, January 25, 2010

The Common Good

Sojourner's Jim Wallis was a guest on MSNBC's Morning Joe program the other day and made the comment that in America "we've lost the notion of the common good - a sense of community."

This set me to wondering: What is it that binds a people together and infuses them with a sense of community? Is it not shared values, shared language, and shared aspirations? Is it not the case that we've lost the notion of the common good precisely because we no longer share the values and mores that this country "grew up" with? Today we are all autonomous individuals each pursuing our own fulfillment and each insisting upon our right to do so.

There was a time when most Americans shared a love of country, a respect for traditions, a common reverence for God, and a belief that if we worked hard, got married before having children, stayed married through thick and thin, that we'd generally be successful. There was a time when immigrants insisted that their children learn English and succeed in school because they saw assimilation as the pathway to success. None of that seems to be the case today.

Wallis is nostalgic for the lost sense of the common good, but the modern flight from the old verities almost guarantees that we'll never get it back. The irony is that Wallis is a progressive and it has been progressives who over the last generation have been busily at work gnawing away at the very foundations of the community that Wallis holds dear. You'd think that that would at least give him pause.


Distorted Vision

This is one of those reports that makes you shake your head and say well "no kidding," but it's important that it be publicized nonetheless because there are a lot of folks on the left who have for a long time now denied everything that it says:

Boys exposed to porn are more likely to indulge in casual sex and less likely to form successful relationships when they grow older, according to research carried out in a dozen countries.

The report, Harms of Pornography Exposure Among Children and Young People, also found that young boys who see pornography are more inclined to believe there is nothing wrong with pinning down or sexually harassing a girl.

Michael Flood, who carried out the study at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, said: "There is compelling evidence from around the world that pornography has negative effects on individuals and communities.

"We know it is shaping sexual knowledge. Some people may think that is good. But porn is a very poor sex educator because it shows sex in unrealistic ways and fails to address intimacy, love, connection or romance. Often it is quite callous and hostile in its depictions of women.

"It doesn't mean that every young person is going out to rape somebody but it does increase the likelihood that will happen."

Research in the UK suggests that 60% of boys under 16 have been exposed to pornography, accidentally or deliberately. The average age at which they first saw porn has dropped from 15 to 11 in less than a decade. The average amount of time they watch porn on the internet is 90 minutes a week.

There's more at the link. It's an interesting report, but I found myself feeling a bit skeptical of the last paragraph:

Petra Boynton, a psychologist, said: "Children are not necessarily looking at porn for gratification. They are doing so because they are bored and not supervised. Often when children look at more extreme porn it is done for bravado so they can laugh and say how disgusting it is."

This strikes me as far-fetched. If children thought it was disgusting they wouldn't look at it, any more than they go out of their way to taste a food they thought "disgusting." I suspect it's more likely that children look at pornography because they find it fascinating and exciting. They keep coming back to it because they get a frisson of pleasure from it, and continuous exposure to it eventually distorts their entire vision of what the relationship between a man and a woman should be. This is the almost universal testimony of pornography addicts I've heard speak on the subject.

We convinced ourselves over the last fifty years that we can saturate our culture with sex to no harmful consequence. Indeed, we were often told that it's actually healthy to cast our inhibitions aside, as soon as our sexual selves awaken, and bask in the pleasure. Those who demurred were scoffed at and dismissed as prudes and prigs. When anyone who had reservations about the wisdom of sexualizing our culture was himself caught in an episode of human weakness he was generally pilloried for his "hypocrisy" as though it were hypocritical to believe that one's own conduct was wrong and harmful but find that one is too weak to refrain from it.

Incredibly, those who thought sexual self-indulgence was perfectly acceptable placed themselves on the moral high ground over all those repressed and pinched Dimsdales who knew it was not a good thing to indulge ones appetites but who succumbed to the temptations of life regardless. Better to be an unabashed libertine, we were told, than wrestle with one's hormones and one's conscience.

Studies like the one featured in the Times Online, however, suggest that, in the words of a famous preacher, "the chickens are coming home to roost."