It is really distressing to see that half of the electorate votes conservative (it is even more distressing that half the nation does not even vote - one wonders what, if anything, they think and believe, or are they just following the Hollywood gossip). The conservative's pet-topics: abortion, gay-marriage, abstinence-only education (and related issues like racism and creationism) all have something to do with sex. Why are they so obsessed with sex?
Trying to understand how that half of the country thinks seems like an important project. You cannot win elections, even less re-educate 100.000,000+ people and introduce them to Modernity, if you do not understand their thought processes and the sources of their core beliefs.
From the very beginning of this blog, as soon as I first read Lakoff, I have homed in to the central importance of relationship between sexes, including sex and marriage (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/08/moral-politics-in-context-of-history.html). More I thought about it, more I realized it all boils down to the attitudes towards sex and the relationship between the two sexes (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/09/moral-order.html).
Then I read Stephen Ducat's "The Wimp Factor"(http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/10/femiphobia.html) and Michael Parenti's "Superpatriotism" (http://www.michaelparenti.org/superpatriotism.html) and realized that all three of them have developed their own metaphors that are essentially complementary with each other, and even more, neccessary to be put together for a fuller understanding of the conservative mind (they are all three weaker at finding good metaphors for the liberal mind). What a psychologist (Ducat) calls "anxious masculinity", the cognitive linguist (Lakoff) calls "Strict Father model" and a political scientist (Parenti) calls "superpatriotism". But they are all describing aggressive overt machismo developed to cover up for an intense insecurity about one's sexuality and one's position in the hierarchy of the society.
I have looked around the Internet (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/12/enslaving-women-not-just-fundies.html) and into the psychological literature (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/12/conservatives-are-crazy-and-dangerous.html) and Right-wing's own writing (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/12/conservative-manly-men-what-are-they.html) and the conclusions just got stronger and stronger: it all boils down to femiphobia.
It is extremely important to see what the societal pioneers think and do about it. What are the attitudes of the American youth? You can check out some about middle- and high-schoolers here: http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1043708, http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/2212986/detail.html, http://www.joegrossberg.com/archives/001942.html, http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/chainspix.htm. I have written about college students more: http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2005/02/hooked-on-hooking-up-or-whats-wrong.html. Why are college students, in general, more mature than the adults? How did they figure out that what adults do and what adult say is not the same, and what to do about it? On the other hand, where did that extreme assymetry (in favor of boys) in sexual relationships in high schools come from? Is the society as a whole behaving like a huge middle-school while (some) college students have managed to mature beyond that?
It is not surprising that people all over the place have independently come up with siilar conclusions about the primacy of sex in conservative moral system. For instance, here is one example I found recently:
"The puritans always try to make everyone else live in the
miserable way that they do. As Robin Williams said, "this country was founded by
people who were too uptight to stay in England!" What I resent more about
puritans is the sexualization of everything they lay their eyes on."
Here is another, longer and more thoughtful example:
".....the real difference between liberals and conservatives-------------snip--------------------
in this country is that conservatives think sex is very, very important and
liberals think sex is essentially trivial. Note what I didn't say. I didn't say
that conservatives think sex is dirty and liberals think it's wonderful.
Conservatives think some sex is good and some is bad, and so do liberals. They
even share some of the same ideas of what makes bad sex. Both sides condemn rape
in particular and coercion in general. Both sides condemn adults who force or
seduce children or adolescents. Both think deception and cheating in
relationships is wrong. Both recognize that sex can be deeply corrupting under
at least some circumstances. It's not so much the particulars that are at
issue--although some of those are, inevitably, as well--but the centrality of
sex to morality. Conservatives think that sex and sexual behavior are at the
very heart of what makes us moral or immoral human beings. Liberals think that,
except in those few cases that are "bad" sex, sex and sexuality are minor issues
that have nothing at all to do with whether we are morally good
"....Critics of the
abstinence-only movement tend to concentrate on the misinformation these groups
put out--I don't think I've ever seen a more tendentious use of statistics,
anywhere--or on their relentless attempts to create a climate of terror around
all things sexual. What strikes me about them, though, is how adolescent they
all are. There is a time in everybody's life when he contemplates sex as The
Most Important Issue In the Universe, with Life and Death Implications for
everything from nuclear war to what he had for breakfast. It's between the ages
of twelve and eighteen, when the whole idea of sex is new, and he hasn't had any
yet. That's why Romeo and Juliet makes sense, and
why it often seems overwrought and silly when produced with fully adult
But there's somewhere else where sex is invested with this sort of
feverish hyper-importance: in societies where its expression is heavily
restricted by custom, taboo, and
surprising that the foundations of the abstinence-only movement are religious,
or that so many of the people who truly believed that Clinton should have been
impeached over the Monica Lewinsky scandal grounded that belief in their
religious faith. Throughout history, religion has been one of the means by which
societies restricted and controlled sexual activity among their members. Modern
American religious movements preserve a sense of human sexuality that is at once
highly charged and deeply problematic. They also place a lot of emphasis, and
enormous moral significance, on the ability of individuals to control their
responses to all things sexual. It's no wonder they feel almost continually
under assault from a culture they think is saturated with sex. The drive for sex
is a hard-wired human instinct. Sexual behavior can often be channeled or
restricted. Sexual desire is out of human control under the best of
circumstances. If you believe that your status as a moral person rests on your
ability to remain chaste, and you're surrounded by sexual imagery, you're not
going to be a happy camper.
Then there is the way this sensibility runs into
a wall in the larger culture, because there's a curious thing about attitudes to
sex. People who believe that sex should be carefully restricted and controlled
are more likely to respond to sexual cues in the environment than people who
think that sex is neat but no big deal. The people who thought Clinton should be
impeached and the people who thought he shouldn't be weren't even walking down
the same streets, even when they were side by side on the pavement.
Sex-is-trivial people literally don't see a lot of what the sex-is-important
people see. Billboards of women in tight clothing selling cars and liquor, Christina
Aguilera videos, porn pop-up ads on the Internet, Janet Jackson's nipple--sex-is-trivial people tend perceive them, if at all, as nothing
but white noise in the background. Sex-is-important people find their attention
drawn to each and every one.
Abstinence-only sex education, like the
impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, is a stand in for a
larger issue, an attempt to change the entire culture, to wrench it back to a
time when sex-is-important people think it would have been more comfortable for
them to live in. They're wrong--the Fifties were a lot more sex saturated than
they remember--but the effect of their movement is just what it would have been
if they had been right: to fix our attention on sex as the central issue of
(also check her other writing, which is very good, here: http://www.janehaddam.com/index.html)