Monday, May 18, 2015

Common Sense or Calamity

“Studies either confirm common sense or they’re wrong.”—Dennis Prager[i]
Common sense tells us things that eventually social science can confirm, if done correctly.[ii] If you start with correct principles, and follow the correct procedures, then you get the right answers. Same with logic, which is mathematical. If you start with the right premise, and don’t get off track with faulty reasoning, then you get the right answer. But if you don’t start with a true premise, your answers will be faulty. Or if you take a wrong turn along the way.
That’s why it makes sense to look at what has been tried and tested over many years, by many people, in many places, in many cultures. If they come to see the wisdom in the same things, they might be right. Learning from the past, we can identify the principles that lead to civilization.
It’s kind of pointless to say, “Now that we’re more evolved, or progressive, we can ignore the experience of the sum total of human history, and try something new and untried, because we’re so advanced.” That is probably what every decadent society thought: “We don’t need to cling to those old ideas of morality; we want to do things our own way.” And then they sink from civilization into savagery, and misery. Every time.
Detroit after decay
Economist Thomas Sowell wrote a piece earlier this month, comparing life for blacks in America before and after the Civil Rights movement, and then the War on Poverty in the 1960s.
You would be hard-pressed to find as many ghetto riots prior to the 1960s as we have seen just in the past year, much less in the 50 years since a wave of such riots swept across the country in 1965.
We are told that such riots are a result of black poverty and white racism. But in fact—for those who still have some respect for facts—black poverty was far worse, and white racism was far worse, prior to 1960. But violent crime within black ghettos was far less.
Murder rates among black males were going down—repeat, DOWN—during the much lamented 1950s, while it went up after the much celebrated 1960s, reaching levels more than double what they had been before. Most black children were raised in two-parent families prior to the 1960s. But today the great majority of black children are raised in one-parent families.
Sowell gets to talk openly about race by virtue of his color. It’s helpful to get truth from someone who has lived a life worth knowing. But he doesn’t leave it as a racial problem; you do the same things in any culture, and you get the same results. He suggests reading Life at the Bottom, by Theodore Dalrymple, talking about British white slums caused by the welfare state.
Sowell concludes,
You cannot take any people, of any color, and exempt them from the requirements of civilization—including work, behavioral standards, personal responsibility and all the other basic things that the clever intelligentsia disdain—without ruinous consequences to them and to society at large.
He’s an economist, so the requirements of civilization he’s focusing on particularly affect economic prosperity, such as a strong work ethic. But more than that, you don’t get prosperity without the necessary behavioral standards and personal responsibility. And what are those? The principles were laid out in basic form about 3400 years ago, in the Ten Commandments. Every civilization has had something very close to that: you don’t lie, you don’t steal, you don’t have sex outside of marriage, you don’t take innocent life, you honor family, and you recognize God as the giver of life and inalienable rights. If you throw out any of the essential ingredients, you don’t get to have civilization.
image found here
In 1995 the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent out A Proclamation to the World, titled “The Family.”[iii] It’s a short document, and at the time we thought it seemed puzzling, because the points made in it were what we’d believed all along. They were common sense.
But very shortly afterward, ever line in it began to be attacked. Things like:
·        Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
·        We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.
·        We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.
·        Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan.
·        Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.
For someone with common sense, those aren’t weird or outmoded or ridiculous in any way. They’re just the common sense way to happiness.
If you take a look at some older movies, or maybe some Shakespeare, you’ll find that the assumption that sex must only take place within marriage is a given. It was so widely accepted that even villains would expect they needed marriage before they could prey upon the damsel.  It has always been known that not everyone would abide by this societal requirement, but rebels knew they couldn’t expect society to condone their rebellions. Society must reverence marriage and family as sacred, or civilization ceases to be.
I’ve mention Vico and Unwin before. Giambatista Vico came first. Back in 1725 he concluded that marriage between a man and a woman is essential for civilization—it is the “seed plot” of society.[iv] Religious people, statesmen, and pretty much any educated thinking person in Vico’s day recognized that sex outside of marriage was an evil against society. Vico just explained the reasoning (the social science).
Two centuries later, in 1935, along came anthropologist and “progressive” thinker (i.e., progressive movement that Woodrow Wilson foisted on us) Joseph D. Unwin, who set out to prove that the institution of marriage was unnecessary, maybe even harmful. He did an exhaustive study of some 86 cultures, all the world cultures throughout history that he could obtain sufficient data for.[v] He was forced by the evidence to conclude that only marriage with fidelity, what he called absolute monogamy, would lead to the cultural prosperity of a society—civilization. Anything else, such as “domestic partnerships” or living together unmarried, or any other type of promiscuity, would degrade society. He reported:
The evidence was such as to demand a complete revision of my personal philosophy; for the relationship between the factors seemed to be so close, that, if we know what sexual regulations a society has adopted, we can prophesy accurately the pattern of its cultural behavior... (p.5).
Now it is an extraordinary fact that in the past sexual opportunity has only been reduced to a minimum by the fortuitous adoption of an institution I call absolute monogamy. This type of marriage has been adopted by different societies, in different places, and at different times. Thousands of years and thousands of miles separate the events; and there is no apparent connection between them. In human records, there is no case of an absolutely monogamous society failing to display great [cultural] energy. I do not know of a case on which great energy has been displayed by a society that has not been absolutely monogamous…(pp.31-32).
So a society’s sexual behavior can be predictive:
If, during or just after a period of [cultural] expansion, a society modifies its sexual regulations, and a new generation is born into a less rigorous [monogamous] tradition, its energy decreases... If it comes into contact with a more vigorous society, it is deprived of its sovereignty, and possibly conquered in its turn (p.21).
It seems to follow that we can make a society behave in any manner we like if we are permitted to give it such sexual regulations as will produce the behavior we desire. The results should begin to emerge in the third generation ( p.45).
The Family Proclamation ends with a more religious sounding but nearly identical warning:
We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
Some people have to learn by experience; I understand that. But let them experiment in their own limited lives and circles. There’s no need for them to bring on dire consequences to entire civilizations just because they want to try out ways of living that have proved misery-inducing throughout all of human history.
I choose common sense rather than the proven path to calamity.

[i] Donna Carol Voss quotes (without quotation marks, so possibly a paraphrase) Dennis Prager at the beginning of her piece, “Could it Be? Stay-at-Home Moms Are Bad for Children?
[ii] For example, “Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Sciences,” 2002, Institute for American Values, available at, and the updated version “Why Marriage Matters, Third Edition, Thirty Conclusions from theSocial Sciences.” See also Linda J. Waite’s tabulations from the 1987-1988 waves of the National Survey of Families and Households available in Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, 2000. The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better-Off Financially (New York:  Doubleday): 155-156.
[iii] The proclamation was read by President Gordon B. Hinckley as part of his message at the General Relief Society (women’s auxiliary) Meeting held September 23, 1995, in Salt Lake City. In its entirety at
[iv] Vico, Giambattista, The New Science, 3rd Edition, trans. by Max Harold Fisch and Thomas Goddard Bergin, paragraphs 10-11:  “The first of these [human institutions] was marriage…For marriage, as all statesmen agree, is the seed-plot of the family, as the family is the seed-plot of the commonwealth…”
[v] Unwin, also Joseph Daniel, Ph.D., “Sexual Regulations and Cultural Behavior," an address given to the Medical Section of the British Psychological Society.

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