The Celibacy Sydrome (Reflections on Japan and Our Posthuman Future)
Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. He serves as executive editor of the journal Perspectives on Political Science, and has been chair of the politics and literature section of the American Political Science Association. He also served on the editorial board of the new bilingual critical edition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals. He has written or edited fifteen books and over 200 articles and chapters in a wide variety of venues. He was the 2007 winner of the Weaver Prize in Scholarly Letters.\r\n\r\nLawler served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics from 2004 – 09. His most recent book, Modern and American Dignity, is available from ISI Books.\r\n\r\nFollow him on Twitter @peteralawler.
Most of the highly industrious, post-industrial, and prosperous parts of the world have a "birth dearth," a birth rate significantly below the rate of replacement. Japan, of course, has one of the lowest rates. Its population has been decreasing for a decade, and everyone believes that trend will continue or even accelerate. Japan, some say, faces extinction.
The Japanese government has tried to scare people into thinking about the various political and economic implications—those catastrophic effects for national security in the broad sense—of this shrinkage.
But there are more positive ways of viewing it: The population of the world is ecologically unsustainable. The fewer the number of human footprints, the lighter the carbon footprint. Nature cheers as we take up less space and consume fewer resources.
Not only that: One of the great free techno-achievements of our time has been the separation of sexual enjoyment from reproductive necessity. We no longer think of women as reproductive machines for the state or the species. They are free to determine their own destiny, to be moms or not as they please. By thinking of sexual enjoyment as good for its own sake, we have liberated human eros in all its manifold possibilities. Freed from the repression of nature and religious dogma, the techno-progressive narrative goes, we revel in more sexual fulfillment that ever.
Those who celebrate that narrative of erotic progress should pause for a moment and consider what's going on in Japan today.
According to this report, the Japanese young are plagued by a "celibacy syndrome," "a flight from human intimacy," which includes "increasing numbers" who "can't be bothered with sex." Almost half of the young women just have no interest—if they don't despise—having sex with another person. And all that despite the fact that the Japanese, basically not a religious people, have separated sex from reproduction for a long time. Having even a merely sexual relationship with another person, for many, has become just too much trouble.
Now the article goes on to explore reasons specific to Japanese culture and public policy for the nation's extreme case of the celibacy syndrome. It's much harder there than in our country for a woman to have both a career and a family. And it's harder for Japanese women than ours to have casual sex without being judged. It would be easy to say that the Japanese would be more oriented toward sexual enjoyment and intimate relationships if they loosened up in characteristically Western or egalitarian ways.
Still, we can't help but notice that Japanese, like us, spend more time than ever in the virtual worlds displayed on screens. That's the direction in which a lot of erotic longing and even sexual activity seems to have gone to. It's easier than ever to get by, it seems, without the touch of another being with real skin.
The Japanese, as I've noticed before, lead the world in developing robots to care for the elderly. With a growing number of old people and hardly any babies, that Japanese market for caring machines is bound to continue to explode.
Someone could also say, maybe a Darwinian, that if the natural function of sex—generating replacements to improve the species—withered away as a result of free human behavior, then sex itself would too soon enough. The Christians say there would be no sex in heaven because there would be no more need for replacements (although we'd still have the relevant parts).
There's no transhumanist consensus on what happens to sex when we are freed from all the limits of our embodiment. There would certainly be no need for it, and it's unclear exactly how we would do it.
I'm not saying that we're incapable of experiencing sex as enjoyable and relational while having no intention at all to reproduce right now. But techno-progressive trends really are both ambivalent and negative from an erotic point of view.
The Japanese seem to have become the least erotic people ever. Maybe we're going down that road too. Or maybe not. Human nature seems to be more plastic that the evolutionary psychologists believe.
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
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- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
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- Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
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.
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