Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Monogamy, change, intentionality

Over at the redhurtmachine we had a lively, three-part discussion catalyzed by a post on my blog about monogamy. (Among the 4 posts there was a total of 87 comments.) There was genuine disagreement between the participants about (1) the cultural paradigms of the 1950s and today, (2) the role that commitment plays in our society, and (3) the reasons for the decline in the number and duration of marriages between the 1950s and today. What we managed to agree on was that (1) the freedom from consequence that technology (specifically, birth control) brought and (2) the subsequent separation of sex from procreation were two major factors in the changing cultural landscape.

So, here's my question for everyone. I want to know how strong people think the social stigmas of the past were. If cases like Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut had been decided in the 1920s, and birth control had been available and widely distributed, would things have changed (toward smaller nuclear families, less commitment, and more divorce) MUCH sooner, or just sooner? Your answers will not lead me to say "Gotcha!" or attempt to re-make any of my cases; I'm simply curious as to how much we can separate the ethereal cultural forces that we reify in order to have discussions about the past from concrete events and developments, and once that's done, what we come up with. Have at it.


At 11:51 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

Well, I think that they were strong enough that these cases wouldn’t have even been considered by the court, let alone decided the way they were in the 1920s. I think that these stigmatizing forces were strong enough to dissuade all but the strongest personalities from even admitting use – or the desire to use – contraception, let alone be subject to the public scrutiny of a trail to determine whether or not that use was legally permissible. I mean, the Comstock Law (1873-1936) – and the public outrage at their revocation - is instructive about how seriously stigmatized contraception was. Again, that is not to say that there was not already a heavy grey-market trade in contraceptive devices or in abortions; it is just to say that those activities were admitted by all parties to be stigmatized.

At 2:38 PM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

So, let me ask you: if for some reason some activist judges had been able to legislate from the bench and legalize contraception in the 1920s, would it have accelerated monogamy's decline?

At 12:23 AM, Blogger RedHurt said...

Sorry for stealing your post topic. I'm glad to see that you've taken it back.

I don't know how to answer the question. I guess it'd speed up the death of monogamy, but it's sort of a tough situation to think through since the culture required to bring about such change was probably lacking in the 20's (else it probably would have happened then, right?) I don't know. I'm tired. Leave me alone.

At 2:56 PM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

Maybe somewhat, but making something legal doesn't automatically mean that it will be socially acceptable. Take gay marriage for example, even if the judges end up writing it into law- a vast majority of Americans still won't support it.

At 3:09 PM, Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

Clearly, though, even the people who think that the vast majority of Americans are opposed to gay marriage (and are opposed themselves) THINK that its legalization will hasten its acceptance.

Can anyone think of a counterexample?


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