There is a link between sexual morality and societal flourishing and it is not casual but a lot more important than people realize.
In a world of rampant individualism unchecked by the ideal of the common good, the conclusions of an extensive study will jar, but it is timely as our culture undergoes a great levelling.
Sex and Culture
Oxford social anthropologist J D Unwin wrote a book titled Sex and Culture in 1936, detailing a lifetime of research.
However, this 600- page book is just a summary according to its author who insisted seven volumes were required to lay it all out.
His writings suggest he was a rationalist, believing science to be the ultimate tool of inquiry, so maybe not a religious man, at least as far as we know.
Unwin examined the data from 86 societies and civilizations to see if there was a relationship between sexual freedom and the flourishing of cultures.
What’s interesting, having undergone a sexual revolution in the 60’s and beyond we in a unique position to test his findings, published only some twenty-four years earlier.
Unwin described four cultural categories as follows:
1) Zoistic: Entirely self-focused on day-to day-life, wants, and needs, with no interest in understanding nature. He described as a “dead culture” or “inert”.
2) Monistic: Acquire superstitious beliefs and/or special treatment of the dead to cope with the natural world.
3) Deistic: Attribute the powers of nature to a god or gods
4) Rationalistic: Use rational thinking to understand nature and to make day-to-day decisions.
Unwin’s degrees of sexual restraint
Degrees of sexual restraint were divided into two major categories — prenuptial and postnuptial.
Prenuptial categories were:
1) Complete sexual freedom — no prenuptial restraints at all
2) Irregular or occasional restraint — cultural regulations require an occasional period of abstinence
3) Strict Chastity — remain a virgin until married
Postnuptial categories were:
1) Modified monogamy; one spouse at a time allowing termination by either party.
2) Modified polygamy: men can have more than one wife, but a wife is free to leave her husband.
3) Absolute monogamy: only one spouse permitted for life (or until death in some cultures)
4) Absolute polygamy: men can have more than one wife, but wives must “confine their sexual qualities (i.e., activity) to their husband for the whole of their lives.”
Effect of Sexual constraints; increased sexual constraints, either pre or post nuptial, lead to increased flourishing of a culture.
The converse; increased sexual freedom lead to the collapse of a culture three generations later.
Single most influential factor: Surprisingly, the data revealed that the single most important correlation with the flourishing of a culture was whether pre-nuptial chastity was required or not. It had a very significant effect either way.
Highest flourishing of culture: The most powerful combination was pre-nuptial chastity coupled with “absolute monogamy”.
Rationalist cultures that retained this combination for at least three generations exceeded all other cultures in every area, including literature, art, science, furniture, architecture, engineering, and agriculture.
Only three out of the eighty-six cultures he studied ever attained this level.
Now here is something to chew on;
Effect of abandoning prenuptial chastity: When strict prenuptial chastity was no longer the norm, absolute monogamy, deism, and rational thinking also disappeared within three generations.
Total sexual freedom: If total sexual freedom was embraced by a culture, that culture collapsed within three generations to the lowest state of flourishing — which Unwin describes as “inert” and at a “dead level of conception” and is characterized by people who have little interest in much else other than their own wants and needs. At this level, the culture is usually conquered or taken over by another culture with greater social energy.
Time lag: If there is a change in sexual constraints, either increased or decreased restraints, the full effect of the change will only come to fruition in the third generation.
Where we are now
Unwin defines a generation as approximately thirty-three years which means it will take a century, based on three generations, to see the full effects of the sexual revolution but certainly we are far enough along in the process to see its predicted effects.
While people in the sixties and upward enjoyed their freedoms without side effects due to the ‘having your cake and eating it’ syndrome, this lasted up until early 2000, based on Unwin’s timeline.
We are now at a stage where we should begin to observe the verification or falsification of Unwin’s predictions.
. Absolute monogamy has given way to modified monogamy with the former almost obsolete while the latter is the new normal.
. Deism is already rapidly declining, exactly as predicted, prior to the 1960’s, a combination of rationalism and a belief in God was the norm for mainstream culture, now there’s societal pressure if a deist to keep it private, double ditto for Christianity et al.
. The swiftness with which rational thinking declined after the 1970’s is astounding but it gets worse as post-modernism gives way to post truth.
In direct contrast to rational thinking, a post-truth culture abandons shared objective standards for truth in favor of cultural and moral relativism.
While Unwin didn’t profess to know why sexual freedom led to decline he suggests that when sexual energy is restrained it is diverted into more productive pursuits or energies.
Some think Unwin’s prediction of collapse later this century is a cautious unrealistic estimate, given that when combined with other pressing socio-political issues the west’s decline is snowballing.
Just add the ingredients of third wave feminism, identity politics and social justice activism to the cultural stew, and stir.
Most of all, the fact the sexual revolution ties in with our current decline and Unwin’s predictions to conclusively prove causation rather than correlation.