Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More on Humanae Vitae

I posted about Mary Eberstadt's article on Pope Paul IV's birth control encyclical, Humane Vitae (Of Human Life) earlier. I have been thinking about Paul's prediction that artificial birth control would sour relations between the sexes. Now, I have to say, in advance, that my training is in economics. One of the first things you learn in economics is that the best test of a theory is its predictive power. Sounding reasonable at the outset isn't enough. Having "realistic" assumptions isn't enough. The real test of a theory is whether the predictions of the theory are falsified or verified by events.

By that standard, Paul VI should get a Nobel Prize. The enthusiasts who predicted that birth control would usher in an era of "every child a wanted child," look pretty silly in retrospect. Paul VI had a superior theory of the human condition.

In any case, here is what Mary Eberstadt has to say about his prediction that contraception would damage relationships between men and women.

Perhaps the most mocked of Humanae Vitae's predictions was its claim that separating sex from procreation would deform relations between the sexes and "open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards." Today, when advertisements for sex scream from every billboard and webpage, and every teen idol is sooner or later revealed topless or worse online, some might wonder what further proof could possibly be offered.

But to leave matters there would be to miss something important. The critical point is, one might say, not so much the proof as the pudding it's in. And it would be hard to get more ironic than having these particular predictions of Humanae Vitae vindicated by perhaps the most unlikely—to say nothing of unwilling—witness of all: modern feminism….

Consider just what we have been told by the endless books on the topic over the years. If feminists married and had children, they lamented it. If they failed to marry or have children, they lamented that, too. If they worked outside the home and also tended their children, they complained about how hard that was. If they worked outside the home and didn't tend their children, they excoriated anyone who thought they should. And running through all this literature is a more or less constant invective about the unreliability and disrespect of men. …

Beneath all the pathos, the subtext remains the same: Woman's chief adversary is Unreliable Man, who does not understand her sexual and romantic needs and who walks off time and again at the first sashay of a younger thing. What are all these but the generic cries of a woman who thinks that men are "disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium" and "no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection"?...

That there is no auxiliary literature of grievance for men—who, for the most part, just don't seem to feel they have as much to grieve about in this new world order—is something else that Humanae Vitae and a few other retrograde types saw coming in the wake of the revolution. As the saying goes, and as many people did not stop to ask at the time, cui bono? Forty years later, the evidence is in. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver observed on Humanae Vitae's thirtieth anniversary in 1998, "Contraception has released males—to a historically unprecedented degree—from responsibility for their sexual aggression." Will any feminist who by 2008 disagrees with that statement please stand up?

I'm not exactly a feminist. And I don't exactly disagree with Archbishop Chaput. But I do think that there is a grievance literature for men: the dispossessed fathers that I and Steven Baskerville have written about. Ironically, these are the men who are doing what they ought to be doing. They are trying to be good husbands and fathers, but have been kicked out of their family's lives. These men, are, for all practical purposes, invisible in our society. (My website has a page called The Reluctantly Divorced. I call them the Unknown Soldiers of the Culture Wars.) They are dismissed by some, even in the Fatherhood Movement, who call them "Mad Dads."

There is something seriously wrong when the most aggrieved people in society are those who are trying to be responsible parents and spouses.

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