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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Of Contraceptives and Colt .45s

It has recently occurred to me that the discussion about gun control parallels the Catholic discussion on contraception. 

Consider: how do liberals and the USCCB (but I repeat myself) deal with the problem of social violence? They all insist that the best way to stop violence is to remove the tool - outlaw guns.

"Oh, if you just stop using guns, if we could outlaw guns, we would stop murder!"

Yes. 
Well. (cough)

But isn't that the exact same argument we make about contraception? 
"Oh, if you just stop using contraception, if we could outlaw contraception, we would stop abortion!"
Both a Colt .45 and a condom are tools, manufactured to answer a perceived need. It is the perceived need which brought about the research that developed the tools. We had the need, then we created the tool.

When Margaret Sanger gave the Catholic physician John Rock the money to research hormonal contraceptives, he took on the task because he perceived a need for contraception. The contraceptive mentality preceded the production of the contraceptive. 

Everyone keeps talking about the contraception problem as if it arose out Minerva's head in the 1950s. It didn't. The demographic transition, the decline in family size in the Western world, began way back around 1800. It began back when contraceptives were universally condemned by all Christians as deadly sin. It began back when the use of contraceptives was absolutely socially unacceptable. 

In short, most modern contraceptives were invented when social stigma was much, much worse than it is today. Even if we got everyone to stigmatize and deride contraception in the same way that it had been in the 1800s, we wouldn't solve the problem.

The Comstock Laws which rendered contraceptive advertising and sale illegal were passed in 1873 by a Protestant Congress. The fact that the laws were passed indicates that America, for the first time, saw itself as losing the battle against contraception. It had to pass laws in order to stop the social evil because social stigma and promise of hellfire was no longer enough to keep people away from contraceptive use. Those laws were overthrown in the 1965 Griswold vs. Connecticut case, but they had already been functionally rendered useless by 1915, when Margaret Sanger got her arrest and conviction overturned on appeal. The Pill isn't a cause, it's a consequence.

We can't get rid of contraception anymore than we can get rid of guns. It isn't because anyone has a constitutional right to contraception. Rather, it's because a large proportion of the population sees an economic need for contraception


Precisely because sexual activity is no longer linked to procreation, it has now become linked to social status. How a person uses their sexuality - who they sleep with, what acts of sexual congress they allow themselves to engage in - defines their status. Tom Wolfe researched and wrote an entire novel explaining this new conceptual meaning and language. 

Because we are soul-body composites, sex is always going to be a language. For the person who associates sex with biology and babies, sex will be the language of love. For the individual seeking sterility, however, sex is no longer the language of love, but of social standing. How else can we explain the insanity of women who happily go on "slut walks" but then denounce anyone who calls a contracepting woman a slut?  They aren't arguing against the word, they're arguing against the cognitive dissonance created by two languages clashing in the night.   

The Church denounced jousting and its cousin duelling for a solid millennium before dueling finally ended in the West. Duelling didn't end because the Church denounced it. Duelling ended because social values changed - money replaced honor as the most important social value. The language of sterile sex has been coalescing for over two centuries. It isn't at all clear how that language can be overthrown, nor is it clear that its replacement, whatever that may be, will be any less morally heinous.

But perhaps we should rethink how we approach the conversation on contraception control. It seems unlikely that we can succeed by using the same approach we already know is failing with gun control.

2 comments:

The Ringmistress said...

I was curious as to the statistical foundation of your assertion that the contraceptive mentality was on the rise in the 19th century. What are your sources?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Look up "Demographic Transition"

Or read this paper. You can also look at this Powerpoint. This article on Conservapedia is probably the most concise.

National declines in fertility were first noted in 1830s France, and soon spread to all industrialized countries. It's a well-recognized and well-documented phenomenon.