The Bitter, Seedless Fruits of the Sexual Revolution

Reflecting on the public discussion of sexual mores that has followed the disclosures of Harvey Weinstein’s depredations, Ross Douthat finds reason to hope that new restraints on personal behavior are beginning to replace those that collapsed in the social upheavals of the mid-20th century. He fears, however, that more than new restrictions will be needed to salvage what has been lost:

When the sexual revolution started, its conservative critics warned it would replace marriage with a divorce-go-’round, leave children without fathers, and expose women to more predation than before. Versions of these things happened, but over time various correctives, feminist and conservative, helped mitigate their worst effects. Divorce rates fell, sexual violence diminished, teen sex and pregnancy were reduced. In the last few years, even the out-of-wedlock birthrate has finally stopped climbing.

The cascade of revelations about powerful men is a continuation of this mitigation-and-correction process. But so far the process has not substituted successful marriages for failing ones, healthy relationships for exploitative ones, new courtship scripts for the ones torn up 50 years ago. Instead, as Weinsteinian or Polanskian excesses have been corrected, we’ve increased singlehood, sterility, and loneliness. We’ve achieved the goal of fewer divorces by having many fewer marriages. We’ve reduced promiscuity by substituting smartphones and pornography. We’ve leveled off out-of-wedlock births by entering into a major baby bust.

Part of the problem is economic: everything from student debt to wage stagnation to child-rearing costs has eroded the substructure of the family, and policymakers have been pathetically slow to respond. Last week’s struggle to get the allegedly pro-family Republican party to include help for parents in its tax reform is a frustrating illustration of the larger problem.

But there is also strong resistance to seeing a failure to unite the sexes and continue the species as a problem. If women are having fewer children, it must be because they want fewer children. (In fact most women want more children than they have.) If there are fewer marriages, they must at least be happier ones. (In fact they aren’t.) If the young are delaying parenthood, it must be that they are pursuing new opportunities and pleasures. (In fact the young seem increasingly medicated and miserable.) If men prefer video games and pornography to relationships, de gustibus non est disputandum. . . . [A]ny moral progress will be limited, any sexual and romantic future darkened, until we can figure out what might be rebuilt in the ashes.

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More about: Children, History & Ideas, Marriage, Sexual ethics, Sexual revolution

When It Comes to Syria, Vladimir Putin’s Word Can’t Be Trusted

July 13 2018

In the upcoming summit between the Russian and American presidents in Helsinki, the future of Syria is likely to rank high on the agenda. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has already made clear that Moscow won’t demand a complete Iranian withdrawal from the country. Donald Trump, by contrast, has expressed his desire for a complete U.S. withdrawal. Examining Moscow’s track record when it comes to maintaining its past commitments regarding Syria, Eli Lake urges caution:

Secretary of State John Kerry spent his last year in office following Lavrov all over the world in an attempt to create a U.S.-Russian framework for resolving the Syrian civil war. He failed. . . . President Trump [now] wants to get to know Putin better—and gauge his willingness to help isolate Iran. This is a pointless and dangerous gambit. First, by announcing his intention to pull U.S. forces out of the country “very soon,” Trump has already given away much of his leverage within Syria.

Ideally, Trump would want to establish a phased plan with Putin, where the U.S. would make some withdrawals following Iranian withdrawals from Syria. But Trump has already made it clear that prior [stated] U.S. objectives for Syria, such as the removal of the dictator Bashar al-Assad, are no longer U.S. objectives. The U.S. has also declined to make commitments to give money for Syrian reconstruction.

Without any leverage, Trump will have to rely even more on Putin’s word, which is worthless. Putin to this day denies any Russian government role in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. Just last month, Putin went on Austrian television and lied about his government’s role in shooting down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Why would anyone trust Putin to keep his word to help remove Iran and its proxies from Syria?

And this gets to the most dangerous possible outcome of the upcoming summit. The one thing that Kerry never did was to attempt to trade concessions on Syria for concessions on Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. There was a good reason for this: even if one argues that the future of Ukraine is not a high priority for the U.S., it’s a disastrous precedent to allow one nation to change the boundaries of another through force, and particularly of one that signed an agreement with the U.S., UK, and Russia to preserve its territorial integrity in exchange for relinquishing its cold-war-era nuclear weapons.

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More about: Crimea, Donald Trump, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin