The-higher-a-monkey-climbs Dep’t

If Republicans really want to make the next election about whether contraception is OK, I say to them: Bring it on!

Movement conservatives, having had a pretty good November, seem to be less and less sensitive to the fact that the rest of the country does not share many of their obsessions. That is leading them to be less and less reticent in expressing views that swing voters will find weird and scary.

Kathryn Jean Lopez’s rant in defense of de-funding Planned Parenthood provides a good case study. The powers-that-be in the “Right-to-Life” movement have, for years, been somewhat discreet about their deep hostility to all forms of non-procreative sex. But now they’re starting to come out of the closet. Lopez wants the country to move away from what she calls “the contraceptive mentality.”

The more the country hears this message, the better. If Republicans really want to make the next election about whether contraception is OK, I say to them: Bring it on!

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

15 thoughts on “The-higher-a-monkey-climbs Dep’t”

  1. “I want to turn back the clock…” It’s good to see someone on the other side actually say it. Unfortunately, the message discipline of their pols is good enough that nobody from a district where it might matter will say it in public, so it’s not the kind of thing that can be used in an attack ad.

  2. Don K:
    I think you are completely correct, for reasons that reflect very badly on the Democrats. The Republicans have long and consistently sought to identify various leftie crazies with the Democratic Party, with some success. The Democrats have done very little to return the favor, although Obama had a promising (if fitful) start with Rush Limbaugh. Therefore, the Rs are free to explicitly toke their base, as long as they don’t use elected officials to do so.

  3. K-Lo is one whacky person, but on this she’s mouthing a coherent Catholic cultural criticism, not the partisan talking points that come from Norquist’s Wednesday meetings.

    That cultural criticism is this: That the essence of a “contraceptive mentality” is that an unwanted child is an evil to be avoided, the effect is that children become objects rather than people, things to be manipulated rather than persons. It’s part of a larger cultural criticism that also targets objectifying of workers the poor and women.

    The right loves to focus on cultural criticism about sexual mores while ignoring and ridiculing those about economic justice, the left does the opposite. Both fundamentally misstate the nature of the criticism, and thus never actually respond to it.

  4. It isn’t that they’re against contraception; it’s that they’re against sex.

    Ditto to venice’s point. The Catholic Church may support all sorts of high-minded thinking around souls and the assertion that people are not machines or objects. And it may even be sincere high-minded thinking. But pardon me for thinking that the motive force behind this kind of intellectual defense is something else altogether, and something not nearly so pro-human or nice.

  5. venice: The “contraceptive mentality” may have less to do with objectifying children but just the opposite, taking seriously the real responsibility in caring for a child. It’s called planned parenthood. The idea came before the name of the oganization.
    As to the idea of adult abstinence from sex we only have to look at how that has been working out for the Catholic clergy. Despite all good intentions people are not made to live without sex and trying to do so tends to lead to deep emotional instability. If Catholic priests (the poster children for celebacy) can’t manage it it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
    Is life a test to seperate the sinners from the saved for the glorious judgement day and the here after or should we focus on trying to arange things for the most humane outcomes for life in the here and now? I think the men who wrote the US constitution would have laughed at the very question.

  6. Lopez thinks that love and marriage are inconsistent with contraception. She must be unaware that, in most marriages, two incomes are needed, and unlimited childbearing is not feasible, even if it were desirable, which it is for people such as Lopez, because it would keep women in their place, presumably not, as she is, writing newspaper columns.

  7. Yes, great. Because as soon as it is a live issue again, all of the “reasonable liberals” will say how “everyone knows” contraception is a great evil, but some women, like middle class married ones, might have a right to choose anyway, so lets make sure access isn’t too burdensome.

  8. “children become objects rather than people, things to be manipulated rather than persons. It’s part of a larger cultural criticism that also targets objectifying of workers the poor and women.”

    Oh, so to prevent this ‘mentality’ we should preclude any consideration of responsibility of creating more people?

  9. Professor Kahn’s friend, Jonathan Haidt, has interesting things to say about the moral kaleidoscope, and how the culturally dominant viewpoints on morality shift in a never-ending dance.

    It has long been a curious feature of American politics that the Right has been winning the political-economy war, while losing the culture wars — with “progress” on both fronts moving at a rapid pace. I, for one, would never have believed that acceptance of homosexuality would have gained cultural assent so rapidlyp; nor would I have believed that the plutocracy could repeat the Crash of 1929, without losing political and economic power.

    I think it quite likely that we are beginning to cross some kind of intersection. I’m noticing a movement to restrict pornography is gaining momentum. With acceptance of gays (but in the framework of expecting “marriage”), I think we might see a bit of sexual counter-revolution getting underway.

    On the economic front, rebellion is building. It’s hard for me to envision Obama not getting re-elected — he’s been inconceivably good for the plutocrats busily building the fascist state. But, the rebellion is building. I think it quite possible that some kind of right-wing socialism will start to take hold; it is the logical next step on the American road to perdition. And, it will entail a degree of sexual repression.

  10. Larry: The Right (like the Left, btw) understands cultural criticism only within the context of their narrow worldview and only as it applies to their political adversaries, they don’t consider that the bell may be tolling for them.

    Anonymous: There’s a broader biological/cultural problem as well, in that we are biologically best suited for childbearing (and sexually driven as well) in late-teens through early thirties, but culturally we’ve delayed marriage and raising families until early-to-late thirties, thus creating dissonance between our bodies and our lives. Then again, the culture has been dissociating us from our bodies for decades now, and the response has been everything from extreme sports to tattoo culture to cutting as methods to get back in touch with ourselves. The issue is larger than most people are willing to consider because it arises from our core assumptions about the way the world “really is.”

    yoyo: You’ve properly framed how the right uses the issue to put women in their place. I think the issue is larger than how the Right uses it, and that pretending that the Right is correctly applying the concept essentially allows them to define the issue. If the right wants to play the “contraception mentality” game, then the proper way to hold their feet to the fire is to point out that what lies behind their stand on social programs is precisely what they condemn in contraception.

    Bruce: “…the Right has been winning the political-economy war, while losing the culture wars …” Absolutely. It’s a 100% coherent loss for the view that people are more important than things, isn’t it? The right’s political and economic views reduce individuals to labor units and consumers, and the larger culture’s narcissism reduces individuals to objects for personal gratification. The backlash is coming…but if we only change what we think and not how we think things will continue to deteriorate.

  11. Another mindless platitude mouthed by the RCC, devoid of logic and not drawn from any real life experience, and perhaps the most destructive of them all: the notion that contraception “objectifies” children. Basically, the assertion rests on the belief that the only way something can be good is if it is spontaneous — that planning is inimical to “authentic” human happiness (or the even more mind numbing justification that only “natural” family planning respects true marital love). I am all for a social safety net to protect families with young children regardless of whether the parents used contraception, but this corrosive mentality practically begs people to be irresponsible. I would rather be a well-loved and well-cared for commodity than a wasted but “authentic” human being.

    This weekend I went back to the place I grew up and visited a few of my aunts and siblings, and found out that my sister-in-law’s “unplanned and non-objectified” babies, now young adults, are, respectively in prison and “dead or dying” in another state — “don’t want to talk about it” (rather understandably). Whereas my own commodities are happy and well-adjusted, doing well in school and so on. Oh sure, I know, there are examples of teenaged irresponsibility that turned out better — but the probabilities are bad and we all know it.

  12. I’ll start taking the RCC’s moral reasoning seriously once they can come up with a coherent explanation of why they allow infertile people to marry and have sex. As long as they are willing to engage in incomprehensible doctrinal gymnastics to avoid unwanted results, I’ll treat Catholic sex doctrine about the same way I treat fundy creationism. If a simple model of motivation has more predictive power than a complex doctrine of result, I won’t bother wasting my neurons on fine points of doctrine.

    And yes, Catholic doctrine is generally pretty good on things like poverty, often for pretty good reasons. If the hierarchy would only take this branch of doctrine half as seriously as they take their sex doctrine!

  13. I think the unspoken part of the “commodity” argument is that something/someone ordained by G*d is just fine, while something/someone ordained by people is not. Which pretty much limits you to those believers who subscribe to a very particular theology.

    Oh, and the part about being sexually driven toward child-creation in the teen years but only capable of child-rearing in the twenties or thirties, because of icky modern culture, is kinda ahistorical. First, of course, there’s the ongoing reduction in the age of menarche/puberty (cultural only insofar as improved nutrition and reduced disease are icky-cultural). Second, the delay of marriage and procreation because of economic conditions has been around for centuries. Third, even if you grant the idea, pretty much the only times when early childbearing “worked” were times of agrarian and hunter-gatherer extended families and clans. So unless you’re willing to give up a whole lot of what we think of as civilization (and certainly the kinds of surpluses that would support priests and cathedrals), nuh-uh.

  14. Paul: The essence of the “commodity” argument is purely humanistic: People are not things, and people are more important than things. Before the Civil War (only 150 years ago) there was an explicit national disagreement on this very point, and in many ways our nation has not resolved that dispute.

    You write that modern culture is “icky.” You’re welcome to your opinion, but don’t mistake it for anyone else’s. My personal opinion is that modern culture simply is, that it is what it is for many reasons, and that making judgements about modern culture gets in the way of clearly understanding and coping with it.

    I also find it interesting that you claim the biological/cultural trend differentiation I pointed out is “ahistorical” and then pivot and write that it “has been around for centuries.” You’ll have to resolve your mutually exclusive statements if you wish to be understood.

    Finally, the essence of the criticism expressed as “contraception mentality” is not about contraception per se, but about how we think about the children we conceive and bear. It’s one worth considering on its merits, whether one agrees with it or not.

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