A Response to Symptoms of a Social Revolution

I went to Mere Comments, a blog affiliated with Touchstone Magazine, and wrote a response to a post about the aftermath of the Sexual Revolution. I was particularly responding to a couple of commenters who accused the author of building an argument based upon historical ignorance. Specifically, one commenter accused the author of believing that the television of yesteryear was an accurate reflection of the society from which it emerged, and another commenter took the author to task for not identify a causal relationship between the events or ideals of the Sexual Revolution and the current problems the author identified in society. When I finished writing my response, I found that I could not post it, as during the time I wrote the response the author or moderator closed the comments section. Since I spent all that time writing the response, I figured I would post it on my own blog, and provide some context to make sense of it. So, here it is, my response.


When it comes to the television of yesteryear, I don’t imagine that most moderately sophisticated viewers think that such shows are an accurate expression of the actual practices of the cultures portrayed. Instead, it is understood that such shows express the ideals of that culture, not the reality of what actually happened in that culture. This being the case, it is instructive that one can readily see a shift of ideals in the shows we currently have. There is no longer a disparity between the sexual ideals and the actual sexual practices of a culture. There is instead a shift in ideals so as to match the practices, which is functionally to have no ideals, because an ideal is a vision to strive for. If an ideal is changed to reflect what actually is, there is no striving, there is just an affirmation of the status quo.

It seems to me that the Sexual Revolution wanted to deconstruct traditional sexual norms so as to alleviate the tension that existed between those norms and the impulses of sexual desire. By deconstructing such norms there was no longer any standard above, nothing to call us beyond our desires as is. This, of course, legitimizes the unfettered expression of desire, with the only restraint being consensuality.

All the arguments I’ve read demanding specific causal relationships between the Sexual Revolution and the various symptoms we are experiencing in our culture are frustrating, and perhaps naive. Reality is very complex, particularly social reality, where various systems function so as to create a whole that is more than just the sum of its parts. So, it is not easy, and perhaps not possible, to identify such strict cause and effect relationships when it comes to the aftermath of social revolutions. All you can do is point at the whole, where there clearly has been a shift in geist, and with it new social realities that seem to be symptomatic of some kind of illness. Of course, I say this as one who believes there is a standard of genuine humanity and related to that, an ideal for sexual conduct.


The following will take you to the post and comments I was responding to:

The Right to Solipsism

The blog as a whole…

Mere Comments

The magazine it is affiliated with

Touchstone Magazine

8 Responses to “A Response to Symptoms of a Social Revolution”

  1. K.L.B.  

    Tony, while I can, and on occasion do exercise, and have command of the “King’s English,” and prudence toward viewership, there arise certain occasions wherein “blunt speak” is entirely more apropos.

    In my opinion, this is one such time.

    My summary response to those who you were responding to is “f*ck ’em all, I want to f*ck ’em all, and you and your stupid ideas too.”

    The reader should note, that I neither espouse nor endorse this perspective, yet am mentioning it expressly to identify an exercise, which you had earlier so eloquently mentioned.

    And yet, pure orgasmic release – a mere casual sexual encounter with either sex – neither satisfies the deeply inherent desire and need of the human psyche for the bonding that occurs naturally as a result of the married, monogamously heterosexual coital union.

    Or else, if it were so, simple masturbation would solve all the world’s problems.

    As we all know, that exercise has not.

    Knowing such, we must look to the First Cause, and the reason and purpose for sexuality.

  2. Anthony Velez  

    I have to say I like the part where you say “Or else, if it were so, simple masturbation would solve all the world’s problems.” Of course, many do think that such is the case, as well as all forms of unfettered sexual expression. It’s funny, as I say this, I realize that to those who have no interest in unmasking the false gods of sexual ecstasy all this sounds like the height of repressed prudery and puritanical insanity. Oh well, so be it.

  3. Roger Green  

    Anthony- my problem, not with your post, but with the original post, is that I’m having a difficult time believing that he made a convincing argument finding the casual link between the specific breakdown in society – I’ll take that as a provable given – and the fact that the TV Mom is no longer wearing pearls and waiting with dinner.

    The sexual revolution (and the inventionof the pill cannot be underestimated for its impact) came at a time when a lot of people just thought the status quo was wrong on everything: its music, civil rights, the VietNam war, women’s rights. I always have a bad viseral reaction to the idealization of 1950s TV, whose black people, if present at all, were buffoons.

    My point, and I know I haven’t made it very clear, is that I could make a case for the breakdown in society on suburbanization, dependence on the car, urban sprawl, not knowing one’s neighbors, lengthier commutes to and from work, gridlock, dependence on oil for that sense of alienation that leads to the behaviors described.

    I’m not saying the sexual revolution did not play a part, I’m saying I don’t think the writer made a compelling enough argument.

  4. Anthony Velez  

    Roger – If I had the power and the choice, I certainly wouldn’t undo all that unfolded during the 60s, as there was a lot of good that our culture reaped, particularly regarding race relations. But, this reinforces what I was saying in my response. Social revolutions are complex realities and are not prone to an easy cause and effect analysis, nor easy evaluations regarding whether the aftermath was good or bad overall. The social upheavals of that era can be seen as a kind of culture quake that resulted along several faultlines: civil rights, sexual revolution, women’s rights, a general questioning of traditional authority on all fronts, religious experimentation, political experimentation, experimentation with drugs, etc. My guess is that all of this was expressive of the brewing frustrations and anger that arose as a result of the oppression that resulted from the socio-political structures of traditional American culture as iconically expressed in the 1950s.

    My frustration with some of the commenters was that I thought they were making unreasonable demands regarding how the author of the post should support his argument. Of course, I am more sympathetic with the author than they were, which perhaps makes me more lenient in my evaluation of the author’s argument. In short, it seems quite obvious to me that we are seeing the symptoms of some kind of social decay in our society, and given the values of my faith, I connect a part of this decay to the lionization of sex. I am at risk of abusing this quote in my life, but, once again, “the greater the angel, the worse a demon when it falls.” Sex is awesome, but when it becomes the be-all-end-all of human existence, it is one big bastard of a demon.

    As I have been writing this response to your response, it struck me that a part of the problem of America prior to the 1960s was how Christianity, on some level, provided legitimate vision and moral resources for American culture, but on another level it provided a thin veneer to justify the status quo, which was based upon WASPish elitism, competition of the market place, and cultural imperialism derived from Eurocentrism. Shooting from the hip, I think what has happened is that a lot of good was thrown out with the bad, which may have been unavoidable, because Christianity, in American culture, became confused (“con,” as in “with”, and “fused,” as in “welded together”) with other elements that are not native to Christian faith.

    In saying this, I am reminded of Chesterton’s words, “The modern world is full of old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they are isolated from each other and are wandering alone.” Our culture still subscribes to many of these virtues, but apart from the organic framework in which they took shape, these virtues subtly function to undermine genuine humanity. For example, tolerance used to be about the freedom one person gave another they fundamentally disagreed with even as they criticized the other. Now tolerance means uncritical acceptance of other people you might disagree with, because to criticize is to foist one’s personal standards and beliefs upon them, which in our society is always viewed as some kind of imperialism.

    In summation, we don’t discern. Just because there are some similarities between one idea and another does not mean that both ideas are fundamentally the same. A small difference can have profound consequences. Moreover, in the cauldron of culture, various ideas and values can be aligned that don’t innately belong together. So, the issues that the revolutions of the 60′s were responding to needed to be addressed. Many of the criticisms of that era were, and continue to be, legitimate. On the other hand, I think we are seeing the destructive consequences of the wholesale deconstruction of traditional American values, particularly as they were funded by Christianity.

  5. Roger Green  

    Anthony- Yes, I definitely agree w your 3rd paragraph in particular.

    Since I last wrote, I watched How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin. The Soviet bureaucracy was so rigid that bootleg “Western” music, smuggled on flexidisc made of used X-rays were exchanged.
    I also read the excerpt of a recent bio of Mickey Mantle, and under the veneer of “boys will be boys”, I read about how the married slugger slept with pretty much any woman he wanted. Maybe the ideal of the 1950s is what the author of the original piece wants to capture.

    Off topic, I suppose, but the 1950s and even the 1960s was not a period of public piety. George Romney was a Mormon, ran for President in 1968, and nobody cared. In 2008, his son Mitt’s Mormonism is topic for dissection not unlike JFK’s Catholicism in 1960. So, JFK notwithstanding, maybe those WERE the good old days.

  6. Anthony Velez  

    Your Mickey Mantle example provides a good example of what I am getting at. Though many looking Mantle’s relationship with women would have said, “boys will be boys,” only a few of them would have said that Mantle’s relationships are in anyway ideal. By and large the ideal was still monogamous marriage. Currently, however, few would see any reason to criticize Mantle’s relationships. So long as it was all consensual, it was all basically good. Again, regarding sexual expression there seems to be no boundaries accept the ones agreed upon by those involved. I think that somehow, in a way that I cannot map through direct cause and effect relationships, this attitude is one of the major contributing factors to the decay of traditional family structures. Undergirding this, of course, is the universal suspicion of universals, a suspicion of which I am both sympathetic and suspicious. I realize how the idea of universal standards, and values have been used as tools of marginalization and oppression, but I am not sure that because they have been put to such ends means that they must necessarily be put to such ends. Moreover, without such universal, transcendent standards, I have a hard time seeing how we can call people to be more than they what they already are, to discern amidst all their passions and desires, what they should shape, sublimate or express.

  7. K.L.B.  

    I’d like to share a though on Roger’s 2d comment. It is directed toward this colloquial and popularly understood euphemism, that Mantle “…slept with pretty much any woman he wanted.”

    Why do we couch such language? Why not write that he whored around? Why not write that he ‘had numerous adulterous sexual liaisons with various women’? Why not write that he was a libertine?

    My questions aren’t a criticism of Roger’s use of language, as much as it is a point of irritation that we somehow sense, or feel the need to be “polite” about wickedness.

    And yet, I am not holding myself out as a candle, or bastion of self-righteousness, but rather acknowledging that my sins are, have been and will be forgiven by a loving and gracious heavenly Father.

    In as sense, as well, I acknowledge the isolation that brings out the worst in our natures. That’s why our testimony is important.

  8. Roger Green  

    Well, in at least one case, Mantle could NOT sleep with a woman he undoubtedly wanted to sleep with, an, interestingly had a great deal of respect for because she didn’t.

    I suppose I didn’t use your first example because “whoring” suggests payment, which was not an issue. The second was too long, and the 3rd because “libertine” isn’t the 1st word I think of. I used the words I wrote because they were, in an LOC when I had a limited amount of time, the first words I thought of.