Making ourselves happy makes us so unhappy!
I saw this linked a few places, but the one that inspired me to write about it was Cogitamus, so hat tip to them. It is this rantalicious piece by Ben Domenech waxing nostalgic about the America That Was, i.e. where non-white people had the boot firmly on their neck, and of course he blames the invention of sex for the downfall of white supremacy. Or contraception, really, though he doesn’t use the word, since he uses code language like “marrying later” and “narcissism” to refer to dramatic impact that contraception has had on our ability to fuck without getting stuck in loveless marriages, the only way to really build up a Great White Society, in his opinion.
But before I address his claims, as incoherent as they are, I’d like to point out an amusing contradiction that’s popping up in right wing rhetoric more and more often. Early in the rant, Ben says:
Easterbrook’s question can be summed up as: “We’re rich – so why are we so unhappy?” His subject may deserve reexamination these days – with the economic collapse of the last year, millions of Americans now have monetary excuses for their unhappiness, even if they can no longer afford the therapists needed to tell them why it’s their parents’ fault. But the inherent truth is still there: despite this downturn, despite rising unemployment, the vast majority of Americans have everything they could need and more.
Indeed, I’d like him to show up at one of the growing tent cities in our society of enough for everyone, and explain this to the residents. But that’s not funny. What is funny is the contradiction he coughs up just a few paragraphs later:
For the most narcissistic among us, the problem is even reaching a point in life where marriage and reproduction are viewed in positive terms.
As usual, the argument for getting pregnant at 17 and getting married ASAP is that you need to put the social demands of keeping the white race (assumed the only audience for this) numerous before your own personal happiness. Or else you’re a “narcissist”, which is a word that social conservatives use to disparage happiness. Hearing right wingers try to argue that their goal is increased happiness for anyone but a small and wealthy percentage of white men is always a hoot. They’re borrowing modern, liberal concepts to argue against them, and yet again, they don’t understand them. Right wingers are probably not as fun when they’re in the more comfortable zone, panicking over the idea that someone will steal a moment of pleasure in this world, but perversely they’re less effective. Indeed, I’m worried that the repackaging of old anti-humanist ideas in pseudo-humanist language might be effective. For instance, it’s effectively lulled some people with lingering doubts about women’s freedom to convince themselves there’s a way to be anti-choice and still progressive. Even though the evidence demonstrates that there’s really not. Sadly, I can see some suckers fall for the idea that in order to be happy, we have to stop being happy, though they probably won’t be convinced by Domenech’s ham-fisted rhetoric.
The argument that more freedom and more wealth and even more distracting entertainments (and certainly more sex) has made us less happy has a certain appeal, but only for the shallow reason that people are drawn to ironies. That the suggestion is ironic doesn’t make it true, though. Sure, people are often unhappy in modern times—especially if they live in one of those tent cities that Domenech’s worldview doesn’t allow for—but are we more unhappy? Conservatives conflate chaos, which there is more of in the lives of middle class white people than the idyllic 50s (though there was more of it then than they’ll allow), but I’m not sure that translates to more unhappiness. And if it does, wouldn’t it be due to the financial shifts that cause economic chaos and living paycheck to paycheck, things that Domenech and other conservatives applaud? Domenech and others want to believe that we’re unhappy despite our toys because someone had the bad taste to invent sex.
Within the next few years, the American male will hit the highest median age for marriage in the history of the country. Perhaps this is a product of the new economy. Or perhaps it is the result of a media-altered vision of womanhood – young men who have an airbrushed vision of the opposite sex in mind can become reluctant to settle for normalcy and the face to face of the real world.
I love how he assumes that men and men only are the reason that American marriage rates are rising, because women will marry the first guy who looks at them, amirite? They just want that ring, and don’t care who wields it or whether it fits into their own life plans. But more of that later—what’s interesting about this essay is how much Domenech assumes that it’s pornography and general imagery about sexual liberation that has caused marriage ages to trend upwards. He does make room to suggest that tabloids are “pornography” that is about how family is a failure, since they track high profile celebrity divorces. Why he thinks this would influence male choices is beyond me, since those magazines are consumed mainly by women. As his argument actually shows, because if Ben opened up a single mainstream women’s magazine, tabloid or otherwise, he’d discover that it’s pro-marriage porn. Weddings are lovingly covered in every lavish detail, but divorcing and breaking up couples are covered in a way that makes it clear that they’re transgressors. The message of the break-up stories is that breaking up is evidence that you are fucked up, so the reader can feel superior.
The rising age of marriage has many causes, including the economic reality that having a steady career in your early-to-mid 20s is beyond most people’s grasp and the growing acceptance of cohabitation. But the primary reason, and one that Domenech only hints at with his concern about “pornography”, is that effective contraception has become so mainstream. Decoupling sex and reproduction means that people can marry when they like for love. What reasonable people consider a boon to human happiness, however, sticks in the craw of wingnuts, who can’t get past the “when they like” part. How dare people exert so much control over their own destinies?
The focus on the rising male age of marriage is interesting. Part of the “compassionate conservative” strategy is to acknowledge that being mouth-breathing misogynists is less than appealing as a sales tactic, and so to shift towards “chivalrous” arguments, in hopes that people think it’s a kind of feminism. I think the hope is by painting men as the villain, they’ll seem like the “real” feminists, as if feminism was based on bashing men instead of lifting women up. And so the rising age of marriage is, like many things in the conservative bogeyman pantheon, blamed on feminism for allowing men to be their natural, horrible selves—addicted to pornography, “narcissistic”, unable to get past the natural male revulsion for female personalities to force themselves to marry. And the only way to tame men’s disturbed minds is for women to be submissive and get pregnant a lot. It’s all nonsense, of course—the smallest association with the real world will demonstrate that men quite often enjoy women’s company and not just their genitalia—but it’s the best they can do when trying to come up with pseudo-non-misogynist arguments for misogyny.
The rest of the essay is just more of the same disturbed wingnut obsessions strung together—nostalgia mixed with a worshipful tone of men who have irrefutable claims to masculinity (as the weenies with keyboards fear they do not), a simplistic hope that reducing women to baby factories will right all supposed wrongs. It’s just interesting that even in an incoherent rant like this, wingnut strategies to dress up their mean-spirited beliefs are clumsily employed.