A National Sex Holiday (and Other Campaigns for Procreation)

In Singapore, National Night is a night for baby-making. What happens when governments sponsor procreation?

In 2012, National Night was launched in Singapore, on the eve of the nation’s independence day. While the name sounds benign, the impetus is anything but: This evening was dedicated to baby-making. Concocted by the Perfetti Van Melle, the makers of Mentos — seriously — the initiative even came with a soundtrack: a ridiculous English-language hip-hop song featuring lyrics like:

Man: You see this August 9th; it’s time to do our civic duty, and I’m not talking about speeches, fireworks, or parades.

Woman: But I like those things.

Man: I’m talking about the stuff after that stuff. I’m talking about making a baby, baby.

Leaving aside the misogynistic tone of the song (submissive woman, dominant male), this sort of propaganda is popping up in a number of countries. As CNN’s Fareed Zakaria recently reported, a Danish travel agency recently kicked off a similar campaign. Turns out that Danes have 46 percent more sex while on vacation; 10 percent of all Danish children are conceived while on holiday. The government would like to take advantage of that.

Selling sex is nothing new. Selling sex specifically for the purpose of procreation is also not new — religions have depended on such pro-tribal techniques for millennia. The catchphrase, "Do It For Denmark," is more revealing: The Danish government is concerned about population rates, which, like many other countries around the world, are dropping.

According to Zakaria, the average woman needs to birth 2.1 babies to maintain the current population of a developed nation. At the moment, every single European nation is below that level. That means by 2050, Greece will be down 10.9 percent, Germany 14.7 percent, Portugal a whopping 18.6 percent.

Japan is in even more dire shape. Thirty-five years from now the nation’s population is expected to be reduced by one-fifth. Factor in senior citizens requiring more federal assistance and health care with a lightened work force and the future is not rosy. That is one reason the Japanese government is funding matchmaking events.

Yet the ways these countries are going about inspiring procreation are odd. In Russia, for example, citizens in one region are being incentivized to "Bear a Patriot" with free refrigerators and cars. The South Korean government is directly asking religious institutions to lower the costs of weddings. In 2012, a single wedding cost $200,000, nearly four times the national pay average.

As Zakaria points out, such blatant measures are not inspiring hordes of young citizens to get it on. France’s birthrate has held steady, which many attribute to programs like state-paid nannies, extended leaves of absence from work, and free preschool. Japan, to its credit, is also offering better benefits for mothers.

While the birth rate in the US reached a record low in 2013, our nation is poised to grow by 27 percent by 2050. Ironically, this is mostly due to our immigration policies, one of the most heated topics in current GOP politics. While government officials and presidential hopefuls are saying "leave," the best thing for our workforce and economic growth is for immigrants to stay: they tend to have more children than native-born citizens, a major factor in our expected growth.

Still, contradictory messaging from political and religious establishments makes procreation confusing. The church is first to invoke the sanctity of marriage and sacredness of childbirth, which is why groups like Mormons and Evangelical Protestants birth the most children: They see it as a duty to their god. While Evangelicals are the winners when it comes to conversions, America has slowly been transforming into a more secular nation, which statistically means less children.

While the debate hinges on whether or not immigration takes away jobs from American-born citizens, the bigger picture shows that we will be reliant on a birthing boom in the decades to come. From a cultural perspective, this is more relevant than who is getting those jobs. Problem is, America is a nation born and raised on individualism, something foreign in countries like Japan. Point being, in America you can’t take away women’s health care access and severely restrict immigration and expect the population to increase.

Which leads to the biggest of these big pictures: climate change. We already inhabit an overpopulated planet. Instead of addressing environmental concerns, nations like Russia, Denmark, and Japan are dreaming up ways of raising their own population (tribal) while ignoring the continued footprint 10-plus billion people will leave behind (global).

Few people are going to be inspired to "bear a patriot." The religion angle has proven more successful, although that too has a narrow focus. This whole story is reminiscent of Barack Obama’s recent visit to the Arctic: His selfie videos showing the effects of climate change in real time while his administration just allowed offshore drilling is a contradiction he has yet to seriously address. The reality is the environment doesn't really care about the economic needs of the working class, or those who pay the working class.

Nations are going to have to learn to provide more with less: This is not a tribal argument, but an environmental and economic reality. Truth is, many of us in developed nations are going to have to live with less. It’s a difficult reality to face in a culture insistent that more is always the way forward, but then again capitalism and its theory of constant growth is just that: a theory. And like many theories, it exists only until it can exist no more.

Image: Sam Yeh / Getty

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.

Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.