About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Are We Going To Fight All the Old Battles?

Why now?

For the last two weeks, as the contraception debate has consumed the media, I have been wondering why.  I thought contraception was a settled issue in America.

I guess I was wrong.

At this point, there is not a single Republican candidate for president who supports the use of contraceptives.  In fact in the entire primary cycle, with the possible exception of Jon Huntsman, all of the candidates have opposed it, as in, make it illegal, or at least almost impossible to obtain.

In addition to this, Virginia is on track to be the first state to pass Personhood, which defines life as beginning at the moment of conception.  This has the effect of outlawing all contraception that acts on a fertilized egg, which would include both the morning after pill and the regular birth control pill, both of which prevent a fertilized egg from implanting on the uterine wall.  This measure is also slated to be on the ballot in a number of states this fall.

Contraception was made basically legal in 1936 when the US Supreme Court ruled that federal law could not prevent a doctor from prescribing contraception.  It continued in 1965 when the Court struck down the last Comstock Law for married couples, allowing them access to contraception.  The process of legalization was completed in 1972 when that ruling was extended to unmarried couples.  Contraception has been legal for my entire life; we were even taught how to use it in fifth grade (Yes, they trusted 10 year olds with that information.)

And now, contraception is under the most sustained assault since 1915 when the architect William Sanger and his wife Margaret were charged under the Comstock Law for spreading information about contraception.  (They won under appeal)

I don't understand this.

Contraception has been pretty much universally accepted for decades.  With the exception of church hierarchies, no one has said much about contraception being morally or ethically wrong.  (There is a difference between the two terms)  In fact, as much as 80% of Catholic women have used contraception at some point in their lives.  The Pill is probably the most prescribed medication in America.  It is also considered the safest.  (And according to medical statistics, far safer than any pregnancy.)

It isn't like abortion, which does have ethical grayness.  I fully support choice, without question, but I also do acknowledge the other side's point.  They do have one, I just feel that the ethics, and honestly, the morals, are on the side of choice.  But, abortion has never been universally settled; it has always been contentious.

But contraception?  How have we come to this.  It is almost like they are attacking abortion from the other side; if contraception is illegal, then abortion must certainly be so.  I cannot imagine a world where abortion would again become the new contraceptive method, as it was before about 1950.

So why now?  Why is this fight at the front and center of American politics?

I know the answer that is out for public consumption is that Obama's ruling on contraception is a frontal assault on religious liberty; that it violates the first amendment.  But this is not a satisfactory explanation.  In actuality, it is a cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy on the part of the media. (confusing correlation with causation)  They have enframed the entire discussion of the last two weeks as a result of the Obama initiative, when in actuality, the issue has been brewing for the last couple of years.  The Birth Control Ruling simply correlates with a larger narrative, it did not cause the discussion.  At best it brought it into public awareness.

The assault on reproductive freedom has been going on for the last few years.  You can see it in the Quiverfull movement and in the Personhood Amendments that have joined gay marriage as a staple of right wing ballot initiatives.  But why has this happened?

There are two possible answers, both of which, if true, are absolutely horrifying.  I do not know if what I am proposing is actual fact, so please do not assume that what follows is actually what is going on.  These are just two theories that fit the available data.  Based on my background in anthropology and sociocultural studies, these explanations fit the phenomena very well.  They are also not mutually exclusive, both could be operating concurrently in this movement.

The first draws from the Quiverfull Movement, which promotes large families (a full quiver) and traditional family structures.  This means a father that is the lord of the household, and obedient and subservient wife, and well disciplined, well mannered children.  It preaches homeschooling, devoutness, and Biblical Patriarchy.

In this model, the woman is essentially locked into a homemaker role.  With a dozen children, all homeschooled, how could she be anything but?  Her life, by necessity, must revolve around home and hearth.  In today's disintegrating traditional family, this idea has strong appeal to the traditionalist.  It harkens back to a nostalgic view of the world shown in Father Knows Best, and other sitcoms of the 1950's.  It is a nostalgia for what adherents view as a better America, before mothers works outside of the home, where the dinner was always on the table, there was almost no divorce and there were few problems with out of control children.

But it is an ideology that is never going to have a large number of adherents.  Women today want their careers, they find fulfillment in new roles, and men, more and more, find fulfillment by being an equal in the parenting and homemaking.  I know many men, for example, who do the bulk of the cooking in their house.  In 1952, that would never have happened.

You will never bring back the world of "Father Knows Best" under normal circumstances; culture has moved on.  This is a new world, with new social structures.  So how do you reinstitute the world of the 1950's?  Remove family planning.  If women have to have babies, because there is no way to prevent pregnancy, they will effectively be taken out of the workforce. 

You could never pass a law that would block women from employment, but you could achieve the same end by turning them into forced baby factories.  If they had ten kids, a career would no longer be possible.  With ten kids, I'm not sure that sanity would even be on the table anymore.

I do want to point out, if this is the impetus behind the assault on birth control, it has the possibility of backfiring dramatically.  I predict that if babies again become the punishment for sex, like they were a number of decades ago, you will find women just giving up on marriage and possibly even men.  You might find a dramatic rise in lesbianism, as women who want a career and someone to hold at night, turn to other women to fill those needs, since that would be the only safe sex.  And then, in response to a massive deficit in women, men would have to become "prison gay" out of desperation.  Always remember the law of unintended consequences.

The other possibility of this move to eliminate birth control is far more vile.  I think this may be one of the most offensive things I have ever written, so be warned.

Racism may be at the root of this.  America is poised to become a minority majority country in the next few decades.  The white majority is an endangered species because educated, affluent whites have a far lower birth rate than minorities and immigrants.

I personally think this is a good thing.  I think having a superpower that looks more like the rest of the world means that we might have more in common with them.  I think it is a recipe for peace and an antidote to racism.

But that said, the future does not look good for white people, especially Republican white people, who have built an entire political party on subtle and coded racism.  The demographic shift in America, almost guarantees years of Democratic majorities, unless the Republican party can retool their image to appeal to non-whites.  At this point that seems unlikely as they double down on the "Southern Strategy."

This motive to end birth control is not as wild of speculation as it might seem.   Many times in Savannah, I heard people talking about how the white race was breeding itself out of existence, with low birth rates and interracial marriage.  And this was not coming out of the mouths of people who regularly wear white robes and burn crosses.  They probably do not even think of themselves as actually racist, they just want this country run by people who look like them.

Think of the woman who cried on CNN, "I want my country back."  I would ask, back from who?  The implication is, I want my country to have a white president.  Obama is not an outlier, he is the vanguard of a ethnically diverse, multi-racial society.  In the coming future, we will see the government cease to be the plaything of rich white men.  The same holds true for the stock exchange, the country club, the Ivy League.  We will see a demographic shift where all of these look more like a diverse, multi-cultural America.

And, from what I heard while living in the South, this scares white people.

The only way to stop the demographic shift, short of importing mass quantities of European immigrants, is to dramatically raise the birth rate among white people.  (And that wouldn't necessarily work, because Europe is having the same demographic shift America is.)  Eliminating contraception would have the possible effect of maintaining a white majority, especially when coupled with draconian immigration laws, and could preserve the demographic status quo.

As vile as this is, remember, throughout history, mandated birth rates have been a tool of the majority to maintain their majorities.  The upshot is, eliminating family planning is a tool of abject control.  And as such, we must stand firm for reproductive freedom.  Losing this right is not just the loss of one right, it is be beginning of a cascade that ends in oppression, and totalitarianism.

There is no more important liberty to fight for than the right to control one's own body.

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