Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Our Disconnected National Life

Back in April, I wrote a series of posts I labeled "Everything's Connected", telling in snapshot and anecdote the roundabout way I have arrived at my view of the way the world is.  The label also summarizes a deeply held belief of mine.  Everything is, indeed, connected.  It may take time, perhaps several lifetimes, to tease out all those connections, but those connections exist among human phenomena as different as a Botticelli painting and the Laplace Transform Equations.

One of the things that frustrates me no end is the artificial division of human action and understanding in to discrete units, thinking we can separate art from science from religious life from the family from politics.  It is a fiction that politics and culture, say, or religion and science, have nothing to say to one another.  Yet, far too many of us, in no small part thanks to the division of labor and understanding bequeathed us by higher education, believe this is both possible and reflective of the way things really are.  Thus, for example, we have one of my favorite bands of all time, The Grateful Dead, declaring themselves "apolitical", yet participating in the political counterculture of the late-1960's; the Be-Ins at which they played in San Francisco, their concert at Columbia University during the student protests led by Mark Rudd were deeply political acts.  They weren't naive about it; they simply understood "politics" as "taking a partisan stance within the frames of conventional public discourse", a convenient if false illusion that allows many people to believe it possible to be "apolitical" all the while being extremely political in their life choices.

Bear this in mind as you click the link to this article at The Atlantic magazine on the so-called "Hook-Up Culture" (I truly and earnestly detest the abuse of the word "culture" when used this way; yet, what else am I to do except refer to it by its given name?).  A snippet, perhaps, should suffice for those unwilling to do the heavy lifting:
To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women—not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.
At the same time there is this pervasive environment of casual sex, we have one political party that is dedicated to removing any and all legal protections women enjoy to explore the fullness of their personhood, including their sexuality.

How is this possible?  How is it possible the direct connection between the empowered women described in the linked article and the anti-woman politics of the Republican Party isn't made more clear?  How is it that these young, privileged women are not front and center protesting the many ways the current iteration of the Republican Party will strip from them the foundations for the freedom to live their lives as full human beings?  If ever there were a case where culture and politics collide, it's right here.

I suppose, for the sake of argument, I could pass some verbal judgment upon this "Hook-Up Culture", but, honestly, what would be the point?  It isn't like anything I say would matter.  Furthermore, it is what it is, existing as it does, and considering both my age and gender, what possible judgment upon it could I render that would be intelligible to those who are likely to live within it?  Do I believe that casual sex is a good thing?   On the whole, no.  I also believe it is as detrimental to young men as young women, although in very different ways (subjects about which I've written previously).

All the same, such judgments come from my own, very different experience as a young adult nearly a generation ago.  I cannot and will not declare moral opprobrium upon the lives of others whose experience and historical moment are vastly different from my own.

I will say the class differences clear from the article are more than a little troubling; I would also say that passing judgment upon the life choices of one's peers, as some young women do to others who make the choice to leave school and start a family, is disturbing.  All the same, any criticism I have would be irrelevant precisely because I'm old and I'm a guy, and I couldn't even begin to understand, even from an article as well-written and thoughtful as this, all the assumptions and motivations of the persons living within this very different reality.

To return to my main point, however: Just as the United States has been growing far more accepting of ethnic and cultural and racial and religious and even sexual difference over the previous thirty years, our political climate is almost rabidly hostile to any expression of difference, let alone the practice of it.  On-going violence rooted in these same differences is as much an expression of fear as a demand by a declining hegemonic class that such changes will not be tolerated.  It would seem to me that here we have an example where the artificial barriers we erect between politics and culture need to be torn down, if for no other reason than the young women who find themselves empowered within this milieu that allows them the freedom to live their lives fully may continue to do so unencumbered by the clucking tongues and invasive legislation of an entire class of (mostly male) politicians who sincerely and honestly believe these same young women have no business doing what they seem to enjoy doing.

Virtual Tin Cup

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