“Women Have Been Conned”

The title of Louise Perry’s The Case Against the Sexual Revolution (TCAtSR) speaks for itself. In essence, Perry argues that the sexual revolution had significant costs and that these costs are borne primarily by women. TCAtSR calls for a “sexual counter-revolution” that reconstructs some of the social guard rails that have been torn down over the past few decades.

As I’ll discuss below, I find TCAtSR lacking as a code for sexual ethics. But given where contemporary Western culture is right now, I am grateful for any recognition — especially by someone who appears to be quite secular — that something is seriously amiss.

Here are my key takeaways from TCAtSR:

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A Comprehensive Case Against Abortion

Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing, by Ryan Anderson and Alexandra DeSanctis, addresses one of the most difficult and contentious issues of our time.

Whenever I think about controversial topics like abortion, I am reminded of “the paradox of love and law.” Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to “balance the competing demands of love and law” by striving to live in accordance with our beliefs while at the same time loving those who do not share our beliefs.

Tearing Us Apart focuses on the “law” side of the love/law paradox by presenting a comprehensive case against abortion. The most important reason to be pro-life is that abortion is the intentional destruction of another human being, but there’s much more that can be said against abortion. In addition to making a strong case for an unborn child’s right to life, Tearing Us Apart describes many additional ways in which the widespread availability of abortion is harmful for society.

However, before getting into my main takeaways from Tearing Us Apart, I want to make an effort to address the “love” side of the love/law paradox.

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A Classical Liberal Approach to Racial Issues

Black Liberation Through the Marketplace (BLTtM) presents “a classical liberal approach to the history of Black oppression in America.” The term “classical liberal” can be a little confusing because of the way that the term “liberal” is used in American politics. By “classical liberal,” the authors mean “a philosophy that limits government to a defense of individual rights, encourages markets, and values civil society.”

This is just a “conservative” perspective, right? Actually, BLTtM presents the classical liberal approach as “a kind of third way that breaks out of a stultifying two-sided conversation” between progressives and conservatives about racial issues. This framing probably would not have made much sense to me until recently, because American conservatism has always been closely aligned with classical liberalism in my mind. Over the past few years, however, some scholars (like Yoram Hazony) have tried to distinguish American conservatism from classical liberalism.

Debates about the differences between conservatives and classical liberals are interesting, but they are not what BLTtM is primarily about. In essence, the authors — professors Rachel Ferguson and Marcus Witcher — make the case that our greatest hope for healing the racial divisions in our country can be found in a system of law that is based on the principles underlying the United States Constitution. I agree.

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Justice Alito’s Draft Opinion is Legally Sound

The reaction to Justice Alito’s leaked draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is yet another illustration of how divisive abortion is. Many people are utterly outraged, while many others are elated and cautiously hopeful.

I believe that Justice Alito’s draft opinion is correct from a legal perspective, and in this post I will try to explain why. Please note that this post is going to focus exclusively on the legal issues in Dobbs. It is important to say this because people tend to conflate the moral, political, and legal issues related to abortion. By focusing on the legal issues, I am certainly not suggesting that the other issues are unimportant — far from it. I have previously shared some of my thoughts about those other issues, and I will have more to say in the future. But for the sake of precision and clarity, I will focus on the legal issues in the present post.

Framing the Legal Issues in Dobbs

At issue in Dobbs is a Mississippi law — the Gestational Age Act — that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks of gestation, with exceptions for medical emergencies and severe fetal abnormality. When compared to abortion laws in other countries, this is a relatively modest restriction on elective abortion. For example, most European countries have laws that are at least as restrictive as Mississippi’s, and several European countries are more restrictive (see this article for examples). However, Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act has been held to be unconstitutional by lower courts because of the Supreme Court’s precedents in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

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Against “Outsiderism”

Consider two ideas about human beings:

Idea #1: A human being begins life imperfect and unformed, but capable of moral and social development. However, moral and social development takes hard work. It does not just happen on its own. Therefore, it is important to strengthen and reinforce those institutions within society — like families and churches — that provide moral and social formation.

Idea #2: As Jean-Jacques Rousseau famously said, “man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” The “chains” are forged by oppressive social institutions, through whose power the weak are trampled by the strong in our society. To help those in need, we should break those “chains” by weakening the power wielded by such institutions.

I suspect that most people see at least some truth in both of these ideas. Who would deny that human beings require moral and social development? Who would deny that the strong sometimes oppress the weak?

And yet, notwithstanding the fact that both of these ideas are at least somewhat true, there is clearly a significant amount of tension between these ideas. By strengthening society’s institutions, we improve the likelihood of moral and social formation occurring — but we also create additional opportunities for oppression and exploitation.

This leads to the question at the heart of Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build: Which idea is more important for the specific challenges that our society is facing right now? Or, to phrase the question slightly differently: Which is the fundamental or primary problem facing our society today: oppressive institutions or a lack of moral and social formation?

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A Fixed Foot and a Searching Foot

In 10 Great Souls I Want to Meet in Heaven, Michael Wilcox teaches a principle about searching for truth that really resonates with me.

Wilcox uses a compass — not a directional compass, but instead a V-shaped device for drawing circles — to teach this principle. This type of compass consists of a pair of rigid, end-hinged “feet.” One foot is equipped with a pencil (or other marker), and the other foot includes a sharp point providing a pivot about which the drawing foot is turned. By planting the pointed foot firmly and stretching out with the other foot, it is possible to draw a perfect circle.

Wilcox says that we all have a spiritual compass that we can use to search for truth. This spiritual compass is similar in some important ways to the physical compass described above. Our spiritual compass also has two feet. Wilcox calls them “the fixed foot” and “the searching foot,” respectively.

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A Hayekian Defense of Traditional Judaism

Moshe Koppel’s Judaism Straight Up: Why Real Religion Endures is a provocative defense of traditional Judaism — and tradition in general. In essence, Koppel argues that the worldview of traditional Judaism is more viable in the long-term (i.e., more likely to survive and proliferate) than the worldview of secular cosmopolitanism. That’s a mighty contrarian take for the times in which we live.

I am not Jewish, but I am religious, and as I read Judaism Straight Up I thought about how Koppel’s argument applies to traditional faith in general, and my own faith in particular.

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COVID & Economics (Broadly Defined)

Economics in One Virus: An Introduction to Economic Reasoning through COVID-19, by the Cato Institute’s Ryan Bourne, aims to describe basic economic principles through the example of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some people equate economics with money, but Bourne is taking a much broader view. He uses the term “economic welfare” to mean “how well people are doing.” “[E]conomic welfare … is not just about our incomes or even formal activity that occurs in markets with prices.” It is “a broader conception of well-being than just financial well-being at the household level or GDP at the national level.” So Bourne’s analysis of how COVID-19 has affected our “economic welfare” takes into consideration a variety of factors, including health impacts, lost liberties, loss of enjoyment of non-market activities, etc.

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Wisdom From NDEs

I am fascinated by near-death experiences (NDEs), so Bruce Greyson’s After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about Life and Beyond jumped to the top of my reading list as soon as I heard about it.

After is a description of Greyson’s many years of research about NDEs. Greyson is a psychiatrist who became interested in NDEs when he heard about the experiences of his patients. He begins the book with a story about a patient named Holly who, during a conversation with Greyson, referred to a spaghetti stain she had seen on Greyson’s tie the day before. This perplexed Greyson because Holly was unconscious when she supposedly saw this spaghetti stain. This and other similar events raised “nagging questions about the mind and the brain” for Greyson. He says that his “personal need as a skeptic to follow the evidence” kept [him] from closing [his] eyes to events like that.”

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