Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sexism and Sacredness [Part 2]

[After a long delay I finally found some time]

So, here's what gets me about the whole sacredness angle. Supposedly the loud protestations about gender roles and the importance of family is supposed to somehow lead to stronger, more stable families. Haidt, somewhat obliquely, seems to suggest that these norms achieve this by activating our group impulses which should supposedly help to form the kind of nested groups to make a healthy, functioning Durkheimian society.

The problem is that I see little evidence of this. Even the most basic units, families, seem weaker in the more Conservative areas where these supposedly groupish values are expressed so strongly.

While I can't make a concrete case for this without doing substantial research I can throw out some suggestive data.

The first are these maps of divorce rates and age of first marriage. There is obviously a lot more going on here than just political attitudes, however it is immediately notable that the areas where groupish conservative ideas dominate are not markedly more superior on these measures than states where the opposite attitudes dominate. While it's hardly definitive I'd say this is certainly suggestive that conservative attitudes aren't very successful at increasing the stability of family units.

While probably not the most reliable site, and I'll mention some data that provides nuance to the above,  there are a number of notable statistics that cast doubt on the socially stabilizing force of conservative attitudes.

First of all, increasing age at first marriage shows a strong negative correlation with divorce.

Age Women Men
Under 20 years old 27.6 percent 11.7 percent
20 to 24 years old 36.6 percent 38.8 percent
25 to 29 years old 16.4 percent 22.3 percent
30 to 34 years old 8.5 percent 11.6 percent
35 to 39 years old 5.1 percent 6.5 percent

It is difficult to square this pattern with an insistence on abstinence until marriage and other aspects of traditional family and gender roles. It also supports the notion that blue states generally have lower divorce rates than red. Further it mentions that atheists have lower divorce rates than many other religious groups.*

In the end, I just don't see evidence for the argument that moral intuitions on the sanctity, loyalty, and authority are leading to a conservatism that reinforces group bonds. Families seem weaker in the areas of the country that most strongly identify with these values. Meanwhile in areas where these values are less vocally expressed the disruption of the past 50 years seems to be rapidly healing with new patterns in marriage and family life emerging and proving stable. While I don't disagree with Haidt that people display the moral traits he writes about I don't see the evidence that they continue to play the functional role he claims for them within the United States.

The problem is that the content of these sacred beliefs and the groups from which cues of authority are taken matter very much. Unfortunately, American conservatism has always been highly identified with business elites and the free market has been the most powerfully atomizing force ever encountered by human society. It's impossible for conservatism to promote groupish tendencies and to create the kind of stable, Durkheimian society written about by Haidt when it holds as sacred principles that lead to atomization rather than community and when its authority figures are those that have succeeded within the atomistic competition of the market rather than those whose position is rooted in deep ties to place and community and moral bonds instead. Heated talk about values does nothing but conceal the fact that America's business leadership has no idea how to build social institutions that would reinforce communities rather than tear them apart. The central blindness is that owing their power and position to the market forces they cannot face squarely the fact that it is market institutions that are the root cause of the atomization of our society leading to the failure of these moral beliefs to fulfill their social role. More on this later, I plan one more post on the subject of marriage and family life to tied up loose ends.

* This is contradicted by a later survey by the same group. I mention it just to add complexity to the argument, in both surveys the sample sizes look far too small to break out the sample into sub-groups as they do. The sample size is certainly sufficient to answer some questions but not to pick up divorce rates among small groups like atheists. Also, the later survey has a strong conservative skew that doesn't match with overall population data. Fun stats that reveal a complicated picture but not ones too be taken too seriously.

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