Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Santa Claus Structure of the South

I don't actually mean to pick on the South, it just happens to be where I grew up, and it happens to be a conservative, religious part of the country.

But anyway, here is my point. If you are raised the way many southerners are, your life is a series of coming-of-age moments when you cast aside myths that you were previously encouraged to take seriously. Santa Claus is of course the archetype, and a very strange model for Christians to teach to children. Children are encouraged to believe in a supernatural person who receives their communications, monitors their behavior, and rewards them accordingly. Then that belief is dashed—revealed to have been an elaborate fiction, accompanied by all kinds of pageantry but nonetheless a complete fabrication. Simultaneously, children are encouraged to believe in another supernatural person who receives their communications, monitors their behavior, and rewards them accordingly. Skepticism is perhaps to be expected in these circumstances. (In fact, if atheists were clever, they might mount a "war for Christmas" campaign, joining the Fox News assholes in promoting Christmas, with a particular focus on Santa Claus. What better model could there be for abandoning religious myths?)

But anyway, what I am thinking about is sex (it is safe to assume that this is true at all times). Southerners are taught that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Then they grow up and find enthusiastic sex partners who aren't interested in marriage but who still manage to have a good time. Obviously this doesn't disprove the marriage norm, but the point is that southern society does not practice what it preaches. Teenagers are encouraged to adopt an essentially unworkable life plan, one that they are bound to abandon in droves.

And how do those teenagers feel when they finally do have pre-marital sex? Well, if they're like me, they feel mildly disgusted by the female body. But most of them presumably get a Santa Claus feeling: they have been lied to, and they have taken yet another step toward adulthood by exploding the myth. It turns out that not only is pre-marital sex fun, it is something that almost everyone does.

And being southerners, they know exactly what to do: separate their behavior from their stated ideals. And they know what marital norms are: a story that is told to teenagers to get them to behave. So society's unwillingness to be honest from the outset ends up leading to a situation in which you risk being seen as childish, naïve, credulous, etc. if you associate sex with commitment. It is like believing in Santa Claus.

This may not be an entirely bad thing - I am open to the idea that sex would be a lot less fun if it weren't prohibited, if it were discussed clinically and given official sanction. "Go out there and have fun! Be safe!" Ugghh.

But it seems to me an odd way to organize society, constantly dissembling and overstating, setting up an inevitable cascade of exploded myths and abandoned beliefs. Teaching people to associate transgression with maturity and sophistication. Encouraging a mismatch between stated ideals and actual behavior. Inviting shame and hypocrisy and the associated pathologies. There are also bound to be cruel cases of mismatched expectations: not everyone abandons the myth at the same time. Hopes are dashed, feelings are hurt.

Anyway, sex is not such an important part of life. But my worry is that people will come to believe that the rule of law is a myth, that everyone cheats on taxes, etc. They are told otherwise, but they can be forgiven for not believing it. And then we will be Greece.


Anonymous Supremacy Claus said...

Southern hemisphere you dumbsh*t.

I kid, I kid. Seriously, though:

"Southerners are taught that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Then they grow up and find enthusiastic sex partners who aren't interested in marriage but who still manage to have a good time."

But I thought you said you're a southerner?

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