Friday, November 14, 2008

Why I Am Not a Liberal Anymore

I was one of those people throwing yellow round condoms at you in the street, when men wore flowered tights and everyone called everyone "Girlfriend" and snapping was an art.

I was standing red-eyed in coffeehouses shouting at shorn young Republicans about "economic justice" and assuming such justice would mean full redistribution of all goods every year or every generation at least.

I was reading about gender as a continuum with fascination, wondering why I couldn't be more sure where on the continuum I fit.

I was arguing with classmates about life, claiming it "obviously begins at birth, because that's when you breathe."

I was arguing in coffeehouses about why ages of consent are necessary to prevent child abuse while my acquaintances argued that sexual freedom meant no laws pertaining to private behavior at all -- and that "our concept of childhood" was a "social construct".

I was envisioning a world where the government owned every major industry and the family was whatever its members signed a contract to make it. Poverty would vanish and everyone would spend hours each day playing multilingual Scrabble and buzzing along on latte and white chocolate brownies. No more countries, religion, or possessions -- just a party, folk music and smug laughs at the tales of conservatives' anger and shock as we paraded chaotically into power -- a peaceful revolution.

What happened?

I was sitting in a coffeehouse (it's an expression of the fear of being away from The Crowd; we spent our last pennies on coffee we didn't want and ate the sugar packets because we were out of food), overhearing some of my casual "friends" at another table and a few Christian college students near them. The students, women, were talking about how glad they were that they had chosen to be chaste during college. They were enjoying their choice, a private decision, and I was happy for them. My so-called friends began hooting and jeering. They shouted the women down. I thought they believed in every individual's right to choose how to live his or her private life. But they didn't. They thought they supported such choices, but really they supported every individual's sexual availability to the rest of the world -- a system that would obviously favor the more pansexual and oppress the monogamous, the selective and the asexuals totally.

There's a science of growth and development?
I was reading about fetal development. It seems that babies develop neurologically and chemically a lot faster than we ever thought. The closer we look at them, the more is going on with the little people in their hiding places.
We had thought in the '70's that babies at two to three months after full-term birth can't see anything but blurs of light, don't move on purpose, and might not feel pain.
In the early '80's we found out even premies -- some as young as five months post-conception -- recognize faces, reach for things, react to sharp stimuli just the way older babies do, suggesting strongly that they feel pain, and know their mothers' voices from birth.
In the '90's fetal surgery gave us an accidental look at babies not capable of surviving birth, handled with extra care to allow surgeons to operate on them and put them back into their mothers' bodies. These infants reach for fingers -- not tubes, not clamps, fingers -- respond to voices differently from other sounds, cry, flinch and move away from things it stands to reason might hurt them. They seem to feel pain and interact with people in very mature ways for such tiny folk, and that's not all.
In the past few years a lot of miscarried and aborted babies have come out still alive and been observed, EEG and EKG monitoring has become more sensitive and fetal and embryonic heart, nerve and brain activity have shown up earlier than we had ever guessed, and we now attribute to children at five weeks the kind of awareness we used to reserve for mid-term kids.
They're beautiful, too. No child is ever a mass or clump or blob of cells. From fertilization onward, we form elaborate predictable patterns, translucently shining pink in our living cocoons, in our living mothers. Each cell division brings a new stage of complexity right up to the final trimester, when we just get bigger and stronger; from around five-and-a-half months on out, we are as elaborately formed as we ever will be, just little. Immunities, metabolism, fat, muscle, bone, nerve covering and lung air sacs get bigger and tougher and more adaptable, but stay basically the same in form and activity from then on. At roughly 550 to 600 weeks after conception, our reproductive systems go through a change and with that our entire bodies spend about 400 to 500 weeks growing, roughening, hairing over and turning grown-up-ish. After that we're physically mature.
The major changes in our lives happen in the first three days after fertilization, a gradual change from a human zygote to a human embryo, with distinct, working parts we'll have all our lives; five weeks to six weeks, a gradual change from embryo to fetus, when we begin using every organ we have except the reproductive system and mammary system; somewhere between four and ten months we undergo a days-long gradual change from fetus to newborn, and for six months after our third week after that, a gradual shift from newborn to older infant; a gradual change from infant to toddler at eleven to thirteen months after birth (87-95 weeks after conception) when we begin using our muscles and inner ears to balance ourselves, causing increased spatial skills and muscle and bone development; five to eight years after birth, six to nine years after our lives began, when we slow our growth dramatically, begin reasoning, change teeth and gradually change from small child to bigger child; eleven to eighteen years after conception, when we grow faster again, become the near-size and near-shape of full adults, and begin seeking independence; parenthood, which begins when our first child is conceived, whenever that may be; grandparenthood; and the final stage, dying, when our bodies lose their functions one by one and then we leave them.

There are infinite gradations of change between these stages, with social significance. When our mothers learn they are pregnant, when they show, when we are born, when we eat solid foods, say "Mama", start school, graduate, leave home, get jobs, get married, go through menopause, retire and write our wills we commemorate these times of change, and many others: moving, opening a business, even adopting a dog. There are many milestones in our lives. It makes no more sense to define "life" as something that starts at birth than to define "life" as something that ends at moving out of town, or that begins when we get a Yellow Pages listing for our home business. Some cultures count age from approximate conception. To take the life of a child is a heinous act and remains one regardless of the child's location at the time of the attack. To redefine "human life" to deny its sacredness to those in more powerful people's way is the starting point of every atrocity, ever, everywhere - the groundwork of all evil.

And there are known facts about sex, sexuality and gender?

No psychobiologist, I still noticed that regardless of our friends' claims to be perfectly pansexual or totally bi at any rate, and in some middle space on a gender continuum where there were no absolutes, I knew who was which and which who preferred.

A sex study emerged that we all dismissed loudly (and angrily). We all called it a right-wing, biased survey of nothing but a bunch of married people who didn't have anything to do with the real world. We considered marriage strange and rare. We thought one person in ten was out to the public as mostly gay, around the same number to possibly just under half were genuinely mostly straight, a majority or half-ish were thoroughly bi, a few asexual but most who thought they were acey were really closet gays or autos or something.... it was a continuum anyway. We figured marriage, mistake that it was, should be put off until a person's life was essentially not going to be interesting anymore anyway. We assumed that girls and boys ought to be raised cross-sex-type, not reinforced-sex-type, to help them see past unimaginative anatomy and especially to overcome bland tradition's dull shackles. We felt pretty sure our gender-bending scene would be the human race very soon if only the masses would awaken to our sage goodtimeyness and brilliance and join us. In addition, sexual activity was obviously (to us) the unavoidable, irresistible, constant in everyone's life except the most repressed, whom we pitied. Every topic had to bring up a sly double entendre. We walked into public places and spoke to the room at large about deeply private matters with no self-consciousness. Except the real secret. How uncomfortable we often felt, how we craved something we knew we had lost, how we wished it made sense, how we wanted to calm down, wrap our dignity around our bellies again, go to some unknown location that would be home, we could not announce these thoughts.

But that survey had been right enough, jibing well with most quiet studies on what almost everyone really wanted, did and benefited from in private. Having one or two partners, marrying them first, of the opposite sex, and around the same age more often than not, was what most people with all the choices chose after all. Was there a reason? Were these people aware of something we had forgotten or not been informed of?

Possibly. Of the people who have experienced same-sex attraction, most settle down willingly with an opposite-sex spouse in time, and are content to be faithful for life. Indeed, it seems same-sex attraction really is usually a phase. When it is not, it continues in two-and-a-half percent of men and one-and-a-half percent of women. Of that number, a majority also experience opposite-sex attraction. Around one to two percent of men and fewer than one percent of women are actually gay. About one percent of each are bisexual. About one percent are lifelong asexuals. Around one percent are oriented toward themselves, objects or something other than people. The heterosexual population is 19 adults in every 20.

Of these, nearly all not only opt for but also demonstrably benefit from a certain way of arranging their sexual and social lives: Marriage in their late teens, 20's or 30's to someone they know a lot about, a child or two or several, mutual faithfulness, helpfulness, kindness, support, living together, someone to stay home with the kids until they're at least one-and-a-half, breastfeeding, high academic standards, chores and religious activity for the kids. This correlates with longer, healthier lives for all, higher reported happiness and less crime.

Is such a lifestyle also beneficial to gays? Presumably so. But, what do we know about child development in daycare and communes? Well, they fare best emotionally when they have a close relationship to at least one man and at least one woman who have a good harmonious relationship to each other.

Even infants of six months post-birth know the difference between being held in a man's arms and a woman's -- and they tend to prefer a woman to hold them most of the time, a man a little of the time.

Perhaps that's one of the reasons almost every society that has ever existed as far as we know has had an institution of marriage and presumed that it includes at least one of each sex. It benefits the next generation, which tends to benefit us all.

Being against unnecessary force, I would never presume to ask homosexual households not to continue living together, especially considering how many people have no place to call home at all. Indeed, I see no reason the government should even ask what people's social relationship is or what private ceremonies they have held before letting them put each other on their insurance and hospital visiting lists. For all the government's business it is, they're a group of friends who have agreed to help each other through life. But, is this the same exact thing as marriage? Is marriage really nothing but a civil union? Or is it society's way of bringing families together through the life-giving union of opposites?

We actually have some amount of control over whether we have sex or not at any given time. Maybe we could tell that to kids in school, and that it's safer and more self-respecting to wait. That we want the best for them and that's chastity until marriage.Then, the kids who are being pressured for sex could report it knowing what they're being asked for is wrong and someone will protect them. The ones putting the pressure on would know someone objects. It might reduce the epidemic of STDs and of abuse in school. Remember, sexual health is more than viral-bacterial protection. It's also respectful attitudes toward the human body. If we tell them at the start that they will do everything we can think of in the following few years anyway, and that there is no way around it, they will take that as an order. I remember being that age. It hurt me deeply to realize what was expected of me. I wanted high expectations. It would have sent a message of value and respect instead of degradation and emptiness.

You mean there's a science about jobs too?
Moreover, I studied economics. It took a good five years to absorb the revolutionary premises of it: People make rational market choices. Not always right, not always acceptable, sometimes criminal, as when people buy other people as slaves. But they make market choices in their own interests. The only safeguards people require in the market are those that forbid force and fraud. Slavery and abortion are force. Yes, it is an act of first-strike force to stick scissors in someone's head and pry the brain out. A system that prevents force would prevent slavery and abortion, if it were consistent. Apple juice that is really sugar syrup is fraud. A system that bans fraud would prevent this. Pesticides in boxes with playing kids on the front and contents that actually poison children are fraud. A system that prevents fraud would prevent this. Get rid of force and fraud and people will basically do what is good for them without mostly hurting anyone. When they do hurt anyone, the rules against hurting anyone ought to take effect, so they won't do it again.
A system of government that punishes only acts that unfairly (as in a first-strike act) harm and/or trick people, and leaves everyone else alone, might increase the amount of good stuff in the world, like privacy and food and family life. Or it might not, but it's very unlikely to decrease privacy and food and family life, as socialism tends to do all over the world where it occurs. People would still help one another. We all need help sometimes. It would be mostly voluntary, except in emergencies when volunteer efforts would be overwhelmed. Then the government could step in. It would never get to a point where millions of people would spend their whole lives feeling they were best off staying home and not trying too hard, living year after year penalized if they tried to help themselves, never knowing ownership or stewardship of anything. Everyone has a right to the dignity of some level of independence and some opportunity to own something significant someday. Aid would be designed to raise folk to their feet and help them steady themselves, not order them to lie still. Productivity would be rewarded enough to ensure it would happen, so when we give people money it will be worth some value and be able to buy things, instead of runaway inflation or constant shortages. Then the aid they get would actually help them.
You could call the system that works something short and snappy, like, say, rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Oh, that's too wordy yet. Let's just call it real hope.

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