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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Stimulating Liberty & Autonomy is Not a Republican Value

Stimulating Liberty & Autonomy is Not a Republican Value
Image © Austin Cline
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It's been interesting watching the Republicans come up with excuses to oppose the recent economic stimulus package supported by Democrats. There might be legitimate reasons to doubt the package's likely effectiveness, but Republicans didn't offer any. What this means is that Republicans are betting that the economy won't start improving any time soon and that this will make them look better to voters.

Admitting that this is their plan wouldn't make them look good, though, because most voters would probably want them to try to help make things better even if they had legitimate doubts. So conservatives have had to come up with excuses for their opposition — excuses that sound plausible to conservative voters. The fact that they would use these excuses tells us something about them; the fact that the excuses are accepted as plausible or reasonable by conservatives tells us something about conservatives.

I think that the excuse which was given the most time and attention was the attempt to provide more funding for family planning and STD prevention. Republicans acted like it was the height of impropriety and stupidity to have such measures in a package designed to provide economic stimulus, but even a superficial look at the matter reveals that they are more than appropriate. First, and most basically, they would create jobs — expanding education about family planning and sexually transmitted diseases means more classes, more educators, and so forth.

Second, both (though especially STD prevention) qualify as preventative medicine which reduces health care costs in the long run, never mind the costs in lost worker productivity. It's cheaper to help people avoid getting an STD than to treat one later. It's cheaper to help people have children only when they want a child and are ready for it than to help them raise children they weren't ready for — especially if they weren't financially ready. Given the current economic situation, the last thing we need is for more families dealing with unwanted pregnancies.

So we have some obvious, straightforward, and solid arguments in favor of such programs generally and as part of economic stimulus in particular, but what about arguments against? There aren't any good ones, and when conservative pretend to have an argument they look especially foolish. Chris Matthews hit what was probably the lowest level possible when he argued that increased availability of contraceptives is the same as forced contraception and abortion in China, but other conservatives weren't much better when they offered little more than "abstinence is the best policy."

The rest of the time, conservatives weren't even trying to make a case for why such provisions are a bad idea. Instead, they did things like claim the Democrats are trying to fund poor people having sex, or how Nancy Pelosi's picture would make good birth control. Even when Republicans might have legitimate political or social policy arguments, they often don't hesitate to use such misogynistic and anti-sex rhetoric, but sometimes it's all they have.

It's fair to argue that Republican's opposition here is all about sex, or rather about their fear/hatred of sex. It's also fair to argue that Republican opposition here is really all about their misogyny and their desire to prevent women from establishing fully equal, autonomous positions in society. While I think it is true that fear of sex and misogyny lie behind their opposition to these measures, I think that there is something else that lies behind them as well: a basic authoritarian attitude towards the governance of society.

I know that so much of this ultimately falls on the backs of women, which is what makes it so misogynistic, but to a certain extent these people are driven not so much by hatred of women in particular, but hatred freedom in general. They want people's behavior to be controlled, which means they don't want people to have the ability to act freely and autonomously.

Sex, which occurs behind closed doors, can be the ultimate in autonomous behavior because it's beyond the direct control of authority figures. This means that control must be internalized through religious codes (i.e., making you feel "dirty" or immoral for having the wrong sort of sex in the wrong way). Since internalized controls don't always work, other measures must be brought into play, all of which depend upon the existence of negative consequences to sex. From the perspective of authoritarians, pregnancy and STDs are important consequences of sex because:

1. They are a form of punishment for wrong sex.
2. The reveal to the world that you violated rules about sex.
3. The help prevent you from having more wrong sex.
4. They are a warning to others to not have wrong sex.

Preventing pregnancy and STDs also prevents any of the above from occurring, which means that there is little or no harm from the failure of internalized controls. If they can fail with little or no harm, the power of the authority figures who promote those controls is undermined and this throws the entire structure of authoritarian control into question. There's a reason why every authoritarian state or system also strictly controls sexual activity.

Finally, I have to point out that all of the indignant responses to Republicans' stupidity here tend to concede the Republicans' basic premise — and I have to reluctantly include my own article! That premise is: there's something wrong with sex or encouraging sex in the first place. Look at the progression of ideas:

Conservative Misogynist: You're just funding consequence-free sex!
Sensible Adult: No, no! We're just promoting health and planning!
Conservative Misogynist: So, you agree that consequence-free sex is bad!
Sensible Adult: Uh, what were we talking about again?

So what if Democrats wanted to fund people, especially poor people, having sex? In tough economic times the range of entertainment and leisure options can become severely constrained, but sex with willing partner(s) is free. I'd much rather the government make it easier for people to connect with one another through sex than to fund mass spectacle, bread & circuses, or the like. Which would be better for individuals and society in general: watching another round of American Idol or turning off the TV for a bit of sweaty sex?

Barack Obama caved in to childish Republicans by pulling the above measures from the stimulus package but promised to restore them to another bill later on. I say that they should not only be included, but expanded greatly. In addition to funds for family planning and STD prevention, there should be funds for general sex education as well: not just what people should have learned in school (and maybe didn't because Republicans controlled the local school board) but also how to have better sex, how to communicate with their partners, how to make better use of sex toys, etc.

In fact, maybe we should have a provision for underwriting sex toys for all Americans. If we can have a program providing coupons for people to buy digital TV signal converters, why not a program providing coupons for people to buy vibrators, dildos, edible body paint, and more? That will be a great economic stimulus for the sex toy industry and will surely lead to happier couples at home. I know this will outrage Republicans, but they will be outraged over funds for mere STD prevention.

Then we can "compromise" by instead just providing subsidies for contraception for all Americans. That should have broad public support, but people will still have gotten the idea that maybe buying sex toys is a good idea after all. It's a win-win situation, especially given the entertainment provided by all those Republican heads exploding. C'mon, who wouldn't want to see if Rush Limbaugh has an aneurism on-air while sputtering about this? Can you imagine how they would even begin to talk about it while trying to avoid all the words and ideas which make them feel icky?

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