The Rise of Identity Politics, Easy Sex & the Hard Way Back
The annual Day of Absence (DOA), a day on which nonwhite students choose to absent themselves from their classes in order to highlight the contributions of people of color to the campus community, had been a decades-old observance at Washington State's Evergreen State College by 2016. Following that year's presidential election, though, some POC Greeners (Evergreen people of color) said they felt unwelcome. So the format was changed to one in which nonwhites would come to campus while whites stayed away.
When evolutionary biology professor Bret Weinstein, who had never objected to DOA before, opted not to participate under the new structure, student mobs protested so vehemently that campus police advised him to stay home for his own safety. He offered to explain his reasoning and answer any questions the protesters had, but they had no interest in discussing anything with him and were so rabidly hostile that they staged a humiliating, Soviet-style public confession of a nonwhite woman who had spoken with him politely.
How was it that a day set aside for “community building around identity,” as Evergreen’s Multicultural Director Rashida Love described DOA, had turned so viciously mob-ruled and runaway totalitarian that the price of inclusion in the “community” turned out to be coerced compliance under threat of violence?
Identity Panic: Who Am I?
Similar meltdowns have erupted across America, and while there are some legitimate grievances embedded in today’s protests, which should be acknowledged and appropriately addressed, there is a difference between appropriate anger and subliminal panic. What we are witnessing now, as manifested in “trigger warnings,” “appropriation” protests, demands for safe spaces, and pronoun diktats, is something more akin to existential panic.
This new spate of spectacles, where emotionally unstable people desperately seek to shield themselves from psychological harm, are “not your grandmother’s 1960s political protests,” says Mary Eberstadt. The question Who am I? is now one of the most fraught of our time. It has become like a second skin—something that can’t be sloughed off, or even scratched, without excruciating pain to the subject.” What is driving this extreme identity fixation to the extent that it has become emotional and political ground zero for so many? That is the question she takes up in Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics, and (warning) the answer she presents is heavy.
The Great Scattering
Eberstadt begins with a well-known fact about animal life. Ecologists tell us that when the natural habitat of a population of any species is disturbed, there can be immediate and profound effects, not only on the population itself, but on entire ecosystems. This uncontroversial observation provides an analogy for analyzing our own cultural moment.
Consider the ecology of emerging adults just a historical minute ago. Until about 1960, non-marital sex was frowned upon, and the stigma alone provided an effective social barrier to certain behaviors. To the extent that sex was reserved for marriage, then, children were born into familial contexts. They had access to their parents, each of whom had explicitly promised faithfulness to the other for life, thus providing a measure of stability for them through the vicissitudes of childhood. More often than not, children also had siblings, sometimes several of them, which provided opportunities to learn nonsexual relationship skills in a safe setting. Taken together, these provisions created a kind of “natural habitat” for healthy human development through the vulnerable stages of growing up.
Of course, every family had its flaws and challenges, but notwithstanding this inescapable human reality, when the time came to venture out into the rough-and-tumble world on their own, young adults were able to take with them an implicit sense of identity. Few, probably, were consciously aware of it. It had just been forged over time in their natural place of belonging.
Now, consider what the effect might be on a child whose natural habitat had been disrupted. Multiply that across a large human population. What consequences might follow?
Here, we come to Eberstadt’s central thesis. She argues that today’s clamor over identity is an “authentic scream” from masses of young people for answers to questions about “where they belong in the world.” It did not spring from nowhere, she says, but was “born of the familial liquidation that followed the sexual revolution.”
What we are witnessing is the natural result of what she calls the Great Scattering—the large-scale, radical, communal dislocation that has been taking place since the 1960s. This Great Scattering has set vast numbers of humans adrift on a bewildering, impersonal, anonymous sea, and the identity “communities” they sort themselves into serve as inflatable lifeboats—they may lack the comforts of home, but they feel infinitely safer than trying to go it alone.
The Unexpected Key to Societal Health
In the early 1900s, Oxford anthropologist J. D. Unwin set out to test Freud’s thesis that civilizations are built up by the “sublimation of the sex drive.” He studied 86 societies over the panoply of human history, specifically focusing on the relationship between the sexual norms of a culture and its degree of human flourishing.
Unwin had no preconceived expectations at the outset, nor does he appear to have been a Christian, but what his research turned up is wholly consistent with Judeo-Christian sexual morality. Specifically, those societies that adopted what he called “absolute monogamy,” meaning sex confined to natural marriage (one man, one woman, for life), proved to be the most prosperous and productive, economically, artistically, and scientifically. Those that didn’t remained primitive, no exceptions.
Kirk Durston summarized Unwin’s findings in a December blog post titled “Why Sexual Morality May Be Far More Important than You Ever Thought”:
If total sexual freedom was embraced by a culture, that culture collapsed within three generations to the lowest state of flourishing—which Unwin describes as “inert” and at a “dead level of conception” and is characterized by people who have little interest in much else other than their own wants and needs. At this level, the culture is usually conquered or taken over by another culture with greater social energy.
A society can coast on the moral capital of its past for a time, he says, but this having your cake and eating it too phase lasts a maximum of one generation before the decline sets in. He then ties Unwin’s findings to Eberstadt’s thesis:
Her research indicates that increased sexual freedom led to the decimation of the family, which resulted in the loss of family identity, which produces Eberstadt’s ‘primal screams’—a massive increase in mental health issues, mass killings, and the rise of extreme identity groups at war with each other . . . all symptoms of a society rapidly spiraling into collapse.
In other words, exactly what is playing out right before our eyes.
Family: The Natural Community
The identity-fixated rioters may be victims, but not in the way they think. As a human collective, we bought the lie that sex could be like any other recreational sport, engaged in for nothing but the fun of it with no further consequences. But there were consequences, and we are all reaping what has been sown. Sexual chaos begets human chaos.
There is no way to predict if (or where) we are in the spiral of collapse, and despite SJW platitudes, no one can change society or its trajectory, anyway. But anyone can make a personal choice to practice and promote community building around the natural family, which is still the longest enduring unity in diversity community known to man. Follow that evergreen plan for yourself, and you may well stay the collapse of your own area of watch for one more day.Terrell Clemmons
is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.Get Salvo in your inbox! This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #52, Spring 2020 Copyright © 2023 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo52/a-selfless-society