A couple of weeks ago I began wondering whether same sex marriage was about much more than sexual identity. Was it, instead, one of the early moves in a long process that will gradually reconceptualize human society?
What a crazy thought, I thought! But I parked the idea, on yellow sticky notes, thinking I needed to get back to it and unpack it even more. (At this point I interrupted this blog post to tweet: New ideas squirmy little creatures, difficult to pin down. You’re not even sure you like ’em. You need to catch them to get closer look.)
Three tweets were actually involved in my first feeble attempt to capture the idea:
Wondering if same-sex marriage is about more than just sexual preference. Thinking it could be first step in reconstructing society.
How does human society change if sexual drives and acquisitive desires no longer the key motivational constructs for our lives?
Most religions seek to control sexual drives and acquisitive desires for common good. Sex and greed tend to drive violence.
Then a friend and follower commented, re religion:
Largely by treating women as something akin to evil.
Perhaps a bit harsh, but can’t deny the historical record.
The daunting girth of the idea and the need to find other treatments of it, because I imagine these must exist, also delayed any attempt by me to address it. And then I realized this morning (or maybe just reconciled myself to accepting as a convenient excuse) that it was highly unlikely I could ever, through my own research or words, do the topic justice. So what follow are comments I know in fact are incomplete and insufficient.
The Catholic Church, with which I am most familiar, argued last century that agreeing to contraception would eventually lead to a cascading series of social changes that were bad. And they have been proven correct in their causality chain if not their value judgment. Contraception has “led” to abortion, which in turn has led to what Pope John Paul II called the culture of death. People disagree as to whether society today is better or not than it was 100 years ago and more to the point about what “better” is. But the original point the Church was making, that seemingly minor acts of legislation or social change can have major downstream effects, seems unassailable.
The heterosexual family unit has been the building block of most Western societies for some time now. (But interestingly enough not the main building block of many (most?) mammalian social structures, many of which organize themselves into same-sex groups, except during the mating season.) Changes in the composition of that building block unit have already altered society, and same-sex marriage and parental teams seem likely to continue this trend. But what’s most intriguing to me is what a society less organized around concepts of male-female sexual relations would look like. I don’t know and I won’t live to see it, but it intrigues. (It’s not clear to me, by the way, whether same-sex relationships are really that much different from heterosexual ones. Concerning that latter point, this piece three years ago in Time Magazine is thoughtful.)
Are there some early indicators of this shift? The declining birth and marriage rates in most of the West seem to point to something. A few weeks ago the media was amused by the stories of Japanese men’s declining interest in sex, although my Google search shows this story appeared at least seven years ago in USA Today. Finally much is written about the different, more tolerant attitudes of Millenials toward a range of social issues, although I tend to be skeptical about how enduring generational change really is. We “want-to-teach-the-world-to-sing” baby boomers certainly didn’t take a back seat to anyone on acquiring material wealth.
Sex and money–powerful drivers of the modern world. Capitalism is the ultimate expression of a society that organizes itself around money. And yet today, now that a decent interval has passed since the collapse of communism, people are writing seriously again, even in the Harvard Business Review, about whether there is a better set of organizing principles for modern economies. If we can rethink our attitudes around money, can sex be far behind?
No I don’t think it will be cause a permanent change in human society. Rather I think it will simply be just a high water mark in human history’s pendulum swing between libertine and puritanical sexual mores. I first encountered this in Reay Tannahill’s landmark work “Sex in History” (1980). In other words, the situation will not last and to the detriment of some, the pendulum will swing the other way.
Perhaps the masculine version of capitalism – hunter-gatherer, mission focused, tribal, hierarchical etc is the core problem now. A female version of capitalism – collaborative, multi-tasking, globalised, sensitive etc is perhaps best suited for a Gen Y mobilised soc network advocacy globalised emerging markets innovative world. Uncle Sam becomes Aunt Sally? or perhaps Aunt Sanchez the way your demographics are trending?