Challenge and Respect
posted at 1:29 am on February 3, 2010 by Doctor Zero
A recent study, published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, found that a group of sixth- and seventh-graders exposed to abstinence-based sex education was significantly less likely to participate in sexual activity over the following two years, compared to a control group that did not receive such education. This is an intriguing development in the long, bitter war over sex education. It also has implications for the wider debate about the importance of culture, and whether it can be shaped to the benefit, or detriment, of both children and adults.
Conservatives take a lot of heat for expressing concerns about cultural matters. Some prefer to identify themselves clearly as “fiscal conservatives,” advertising their unwillingness to engage on cultural matters. Much of the prejudice against religious conservatives stems from the generally accurate perception that they consider cultural issues important, and address them from the disciplined standpoint of religious faith.
There is a sense that cultural issues are a quagmire for conservatives, a pool of radioactive quicksand that resists all efforts at positive change, and repels vitally-needed independent allies. The Left’s control of popular culture is presumed to be absolute – they spent forty years marching through film, literature, and academia, salting the earth behind them. There’s no way to re-fight the old battles of past decades. Culture only moves forward and down, with today’s Jersey Shore becoming tomorrow’s Brady Bunch. Our grandchildren will laugh about the bygone days of the squaresville Two Thousands, when the worst thing that happened to women on reality shows was a sock in the jaw.
Those who accept this analysis should observe how much effort the Left puts into maintaining its cultural dominance, and controlling the education of children. Why do they pummel kids with so much “green” propaganda, if the tide has forever turned in their direction? The people who assure us we can’t possibly teach kids the logical, sensible virtues of abstinence spend a lot of time programming them to believe in “climate change” without question. They’re also rather desperate to keep our kids penned up in public schools, so they can be thoroughly seasoned by the gestalt and pepper shakers of the teachers’ unions. From the panic over Tim Tebow’s pro-life Super Bowl ad, to the relentless hatred of prominent figures like Sarah Palin, no organ of the Left behaves as if they believe their cultural victories to be eternal.
Culture is a fine clay, to be worked with sensitivity for the weaknesses of human nature… but also appreciation for our soaring aspirations, and our beautiful appetite for nobility and heroism. Even our most pampered and indulged children have an instinctive urge to excel. They find an environment in which nothing is demanded of them to be so enervating that it drives them mad. No young athlete dreams of playing for an outcome-based NFL or Major League Baseball where scores are not kept, and everyone is declared a winner, to avoid damage to their self-esteem. Kids become cynical in response to an adult world that worships their youth, but doesn’t respect them enough to be honest with them.
Small bits of pop culture are harmless amusements, but large doses of it pack an emotional wallop. Pick up a CD from a hard-core rap or death metal group, check out the cover art, and give the disk a spin. No big deal, right? Now imagine yourself listening to nothing but that type of music, day after day, and remodeling your room to resemble the album cover. It would change you. I’m personally fond of horror stories and films, but if I read and watched nothing else, and invited Pinhead over to give my house an Extreme Hellraiser Makeover, it would certainly produce a noticeable drop in my normal levels of sunny optimism. We live in an atmosphere charged with terabytes of sound and graphics… a level of radiation that inevitably produces mutations.
We should also understand how much power the government has to change us. As Mark Steyn puts it, “a determined state can change the character of a people in the space of a generation or two.” One of the unfortunate conceits of the modern age is the belief that we can unleash gigantic social programs on people without reprogramming them. The architects of the modern progressive state, feverishly scribbling cookbooks for the preparation of a new mankind in the early twentieth century, certainly believed a powerful government could reshape its people. The salesmen of the New Deal and Great Society understandably chose not to make that a bullet point in their advertising to the common man.
Conservatives must involve themselves in popular culture, particularly with respect to young people… because otherwise, we’re trying to win a debate with the Left on points, before an audience that is rapidly forgetting how to keep score. It’s tough to persuade a nation when you no longer speak its cultural language. The challenge is not merely to criticize, but to offer something better.
The success of the abstinence program reported in The Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine is an encouraging example. I wonder how many of the kids in that program responded to it because they appreciated being given something to aspire to, instead of one more weary load of training to manage the damage from surrendering to their worst instincts. Our young people have shown a remarkable tenacity in the face of a sedative culture. You can find plenty of evidence – from the graduating classes of universities to the battlefield valor on display in Afghanistan and Iraq – that the transformation of American society is far from complete, or irreversible.
There is a growing appetite for the wisdom and traditions we conservatives are working to conserve. Our children should expect more than a life of standing in line for their ration of a rapidly dwindling economic pie, or tending the dying embers of a civilization that made itself forget how to burn. We can begin by teaching them how love is an act of faith, loyalty is an act of courage, and passion mixes with fidelity to become immortality. We honor ourselves by showing respect to others. The boys and girls in those abstinence classes aren’t being given easy answers to the problems of adolescence, but they’re receiving the respect of honorable men and women. It’s said that asking kids to embrace abstinence is “unrealistic.” The future needs people who view unrealistic expectations as a challenge, rather than a eulogy.
Cross-posted at www.doczero.org.