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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Friday, March 30, 2012

George Weigel on the Pill

Just occasionally, I read an article so idiotic that it leaves me momentarily speechless. Here is an example - a piece by George Weigel (a professor of Catholic Studies, of all things, in the US) about the evils of the contraceptive pill. Borrowing from his "friend", Mary Eberstadt, Weigel lists the alleged evils of the Pill, and the sexual revolution more generally, as follows:
•the "pervasive themes of anger and loss that underlie much of today's writing on romance";
•the "new and problematic phase of prolonged adolescence through which many men now go";
•the social and personal psychological harm caused by the availability of pornography on a historically unprecedented scale;
•the "assault unleashed from the 1960s onward on the taboo against sexual seduction or exploitation of the young"; and
•the "feral rates of date rapes, hookups and binge drinking now documented on many campuses" (the direct result of a sexual revolution that has "empowered and largely exonerated predatory men as never before").
This is all a load of rubbish, but it is especially ironic having a professor of "Catholic Studies" complaining about predatory men and "sexual seduction or exploitation of the young". Given the Catholic Church's abyssmal record in dealing with these problems in its own midst - its utter obtuseness and mismanagement, and its appalling attempts at blame shifting - perhaps Weigel should look a little closer at the organisation he is supposed to be studying.

One commenter, Hudson Godfrey, offers a better list of consequences of the pill (I don't adopt all of this - we could talk about details - but it's a helluva lot better than Weigel's silly list):
1. Women can control their own fertility, something that is both a right that religious as well as secular thought acknowledges.

2. Having planned families is liberating for both genders. We have longer more productive lives as a result.

3. We have more women in the workplace and in public life. Society is better for their contribution to it as a result.

4. Contraception leads to fewer abortions which is always a good thing if only because any medical procedure that is even slightly invasive comes with risks quite apart from the traumatic aspects of what this particular procedure entails.

5. Control over our reproductive cycles leads to fewer late term pregnancies obviating yet another serious health risk.

6. We have fewer unwanted and often sadly unloved children in our society, an advantage of sorts for which at some level we should be realistic about.

7. Following on from the above, population control is a reality we have to face on a humanitarian scale such that we should be fully aware that wherever you go from the first world to the third, wherever there are good health services, education and I would argue effective fertility control then you will find people enjoying a better standard of living. Living longer and fuller more rewarding lives.

Very good! Of course, there is an elephant in the room. Weigel doesn't even consider (and Hudson doesn't explicitly mention) that it is a good thing that we are now far more able to gain sexual pleasures of various kinds, and, more important still, that we have unprecedented opportunities to develop a real, on-ground understanding of sexuality. Most people these days have sexual encounters with a variety of partners when they are still quite young - and that's an advance.

The kind of ignorance about human sexuality that was once so common - if people went through their whole lives only ever having sex with one person, or with none at all, or mainly with prostitutes - is no longer encouraged or typical. Most people we meet, especially those who are not Catholic clergy, know something of what they are talking about when they discuss human sexuality. We can take a degree of experience and sophistication for granted in the majority of our conversations about sex.

That's an enormous social gain,in addition to more obvious ones. There's still a long way to go, and the very fact that this point is so seldom made tells us that our society retains a significant degree of sexual puritanism. But things have improved enormously, thanks to the Pill and the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

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