Tuesday, December 07, 2010

How It's Done: Brooks and Douthat

So I've been reading the wingnut boyz of the New York Times, and I learn again how the conservatives affect the culture. David Brooks teaches us about social science. Guess what the first study he mentions is?

Yup. The one about the dad avoidance! He concludes that humans are weird creatures, "deeply influenced by their primordial biases!" Of course his summary is a selected summary and even that is based on some guy's weekly summaries on the net. Thus we create an edifice of scientific understanding.

The alternatives are not unthinkable, you know. There are other ways of summarizing social science research and other ways from picking from those summaries. But Brooks presents his menu as if it was objective, though admittedly weird.

Russ Douthat focuses on a different pillar of those which uphold traditional gender roles: Marriage. Now, marriage is not based on primordial urges so something else must be introduced to prop it up. The traditional argument was that good people had Ozzie-and-Harriet marriages and went to church on Sundays, and that bad people were amoral liberal hippies in colleges.

When this doesn't work out any longer, Douthat turns his hat inside-out:

For a long time, the contours of America's culture war seemed relatively straightforward. On one side was the country's growing educated class, who tended to be secular, permissive and favorably disposed to the sexual revolution. On the other side were the social conservatives of middle America — benighted yahoos or virtuous yeomen, depending on your point of view, but either way a less-educated and more pious demographic, with more traditional attitudes on sexuality and family.


That may no longer be the case. This week, the National Marriage Project is releasing a study charting the decline of the two-parent family among what it calls the "moderately educated middle" — the 58 percent of Americans with high school diplomas and often some college education, but no four-year degree.

This decline is depressing, but it isn't surprising. We've known for a while that America has a marriage gap: college graduates divorce infrequently and bear few children out of wedlock, while in the rest of the country unwed parenthood and family breakdown are becoming a new normal. This gap has been one of the paradoxes of the culture war: highly educated Americans live like Ozzie and Harriet despite being cultural liberals, while middle America hews to traditional values but has trouble living up to them.
Well, highly educated Americans DON'T live like Ozzie and Harriet of the television series, actually. But Douthat wants that to be the case and he also wants his ideas of the patriarchal family to win so that's how he interprets the evidence: The educated people are now Biblical "patriarchalists" and the rest of Americans immoral fornicators. Or something of the sort.

Though he doesn't quite get there:

As a result, the long-running culture war arguments about how to structure family life (Should marriage be reserved for heterosexuals? Is abstinence or "safe sex" the most responsible way to navigate the premarital landscape?) look increasingly irrelevant further down the educational ladder, where sex and child-rearing often take place in the absence of any social structures at all.

This, in turn, may be remembered as the great tragedy of the culture war: While college-educated Americans battle over what marriage should mean, much of the country may be abandoning the institution entirely.
In what sense is that the great tragedy of the culture war? Earlier Douthat argues that the very people who chose his side in the culture wars are the people whose marriages are failing. If that is the case, shouldn't he point out that the other side "won" the culture "war", that liberal social values might indeed lead to happier and longer marriages? After all, the sinful state of Massachusetts has low divorce rates.

I get such an odd feeling reading these columns, as if someone is whispering behind my shoulder and pointing out something concealed, something covered up in both of them. In the Douthat column it's that little dirty word, "money", which is erased. Everything in life is more stressful when jobs are outsourced and when houses and health insurance become too expensive, and stress is bad news for marriages. But because Douthat is a fiscal conservative, he refuses to address that in his discussion of the problems of the American Marriage. And because he is a social conservative he substitutes a discussion of morals and ethics, even when he has to do violence to make it fit.

And Brooks, what does he cover up? The fact that academic research offers us hundreds of possible studies to discuss and to summarize, but he picks the Evo Psycho ones to admire.

So it goes.
Don't miss my post on one of the studies that Brooks "summarized."