I had one of those rare ‘worthwhile discussions’ on social media this morning. One of those where you feel better about the world and its people afterwards. You know? If you don’t, it is totally understandable, they happen rarely and I contemplate leaving all forms of social media (apart from instagram) at least once a week because of that fact. This morning’s discussion was on ‘progressivism’; what makes someone a progressive and does being a progressive necessarily mean one departed from orthodoxy. As all worthwhile discussions do, it involved mention of sex. Well, sort of. It was about whether a prominent Christian figure’s alleged departure from orthodoxy on human sexuality was indeed an ‘evil’ progressivist act, or the more benign ‘progression from orthodoxy’. That is not the question I was hoping to pose to you, however, but rather wanted to draw your attention to these fascinating articles which I read minutes thereafter:
“Human conception was still basically a total mystery until as recently as 1875.”
“Nearly a third of Japanese people are entering their 30s without any sexual experience, leaving the country facing a steep population decline”
The first article shares the bizarre views (to man in the 21st century at least) people until 1875 held on how exactly sexual reproduction works. The second article is on the problem of population decline in Japan, which involves a seeming decline in desire for intimacy with other, embodied people. This is accompanied by a turn towards disembodied sexual activity. Some suggest this might be a growing phenomenon in other countries as well.
Of course scientific insight and technological advances have the potential to be greatly beneficial. The fact that we now know ‘ground-breaking’ facts such as that eggs and sperm cells do exist and that if they meet under certain conditions human beings are formed, is most certainly a sort of progress. I refer to such knowledge as ‘a sort of progress’ as it might simply increase the potential for progress. But when is something beneficial and when is it simply new? Or when do we refer to something as progress and not just change?
When we talk about things being ‘better’, we are necessarily assuming something about the true, the good, and the beautiful. We ascribe meaning to life, probably possess a definition of ‘freedom’ and have certain ends or a purpose in mind. We picture ourselves within a story or attempt to write a good one of our own, casting ourselves as main character.
In reading the above two articles the following questions came to mind: Do we know more about human sex than the people of the 1800s? We understand conception quite well and have ideas about sexual attraction but do we have a better idea about what sex is? While we are better at preventing STDs and undesired children, are we actually better at sex? I guess we have to know what it is before we can say whether we are better at it or not.
Earlier this week I saw someone mockingly accuse the Church of England as being obsessed with sex, as they appear more concerned about questions of sexuality than other ‘more important’ matters. Our answer to what human sex is, actually has a lot to do with how we will answer many other questions of importance. We will draw from the same story to answer sex related questions than we would for the other big ones. Wrong views about sex can literally destroy nations it appears from the article above and some argue it played a major role in the fall of many an ancient empire. This is because our opinions on sex are very much tied in with our opinions on personhood and the meaning of life in general. Also, when I ask whether we are doing better I do so because regardless of how you might be doing we are all rather dependent on the we, and you do often derive what you do from what we believe.
And finally, a quote I read in Brooks and Nicholas’ book, Virtually Human: flourishing in the digital world, which deals with the question of how we place technology within the right story in order to use it wisely and for flourishing:
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?