A recent statistic appeared that suggested nearly a third of American men under the age of thirty experienced no intimate contact with the opposite sex in the past twelve months. If you find that startling, United States census data, collected in 2021, suggested that 52 per cent of women over eighteen are single or separated, and that for men the number sits around 46 per cent. This means that roughly half of the American population ought to celebrate one of those Orwellian-inspired awareness weeks, “Unmarried and Single Americans Week”, which takes place every September. Established in the 1980s, when bachelors and spinsters enjoyed around the same prevalence as widows and widowers, nobody might have imagined this would one day become a majority concern. If present trends are to be believed, matters are heading in that direction.
As a branch office of the United States, we ought to expect numbers to be similar over here. Arguments as to why this state of affairs has come about tend to be concerned with things like the cost of living and economic concerns, as though people in the past were unwilling to have children if it meant they couldn’t afford holidays. Admittedly, children are no longer an extra pair of hands on the farm, but that didn’t stop the baby boomers. Today, if we control for our ever-fecund waves of migrants, the demographic reproductivity of the historic Australian nation is around the same as that of East Asia, nation-states roundly considered existentially doomed by virtue of their childlessness. That they’d rather go quietly into that dark night than welcome mass migration says something profound about how highly they value the uniqueness of their culture. How novel it must be to be born into a country like that, rather than one that bends all its edifying energy into patricidal denigration.
This essay appears in September’s Quadrant.
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For the first time in post-Enlightenment history, the standard of life, at least when it comes to property acquisition and net wealth, has gone backwards from one generation to the next. That this is almost entirely due to the way we’ve formulated our economic system, rather than courtesy of the Four Horsemen, sets it outside certain historical parameters. But we ought not to think it is entirely unprecedented. Within living memory is the 1930s, a decade buttressed by two other decades that weren’t entirely pleasant themselves. It makes one think of that adage that plays endlessly on YouTube Little Dark Age edits: good times create weak men, weak men create hard times, hard times create good men, good men create good times. Whenever any turn of phrase enters the common parlance a little too forcefully, it’s liable to be mocked, but in this case, it’s difficult to mount good arguments against it in the light of the evidence, especially given this observation has fairly robust historical roots. Plato said essentially the same thing in The Republic.
I don’t think the material story is the full story, because if we must consider things dichotomously, I’m at heart an idealist, and when someone starts talking solely about economic incentives and laws of averages, I tend to go to sleep. Ask that person to measure how much their mother loves them in grams. Not everything that matters is empirical, but I will yield that when we are dealing with large numbers and macro issues, we ought to carefully examine every broad concern. We can do this, I hope, without turning into one of those bespeckled poindexters who thought they could win the Vietnam War based purely on Game Theory.
Doubtless, it is expensive to raise children, and house prices are something like twelve times the average person’s salary, as opposed to three times, as was the case in those halcyon days now long forgotten, the 1990s. For those who wish to provide their children the best possible start, they might be excused for delaying things a little, and we tend to look down our noses at people—viewing them as unambitious—who have children in their early twenties. This is despite the fact that the boomers largely had their lives on track by the same age, and that while we make a lot of Woodstock and 1969, the truth is that most of them were in suits and ties playing house well before they were thirty. The hippies who dropped out were a minority, but their ideas were deeply penetrative, in no small part due to the efforts of the Media-Entertainment Industrial Complex.
Then, of course, there is the fact that women are now expected to do exactly what men are expected to do, alongside all of the old feminine expectations to boot. Why anybody thought this was a good idea is beyond me; something has to give, and it seems, in a society addicted to productivity, the consumer price index, and a few decimal points of GDP expansion, it’s been the next generation, whether in terms of their rearing by strangers or in their conception altogether. The nuclear family has more or less gone nuclear in the West; what remains of it is, ironically, best preserved in large ethnic communities with strong extended families, at least for one generation, until their offspring succumb to the same forces. If no man is an island, no nuclear family ought to be either, and too often these islands have sunk beneath the waves, washed away like Donne’s clod of European soil.
It must be women themselves who decide they no longer wish to participate in this very bad deal, but we might be waiting a while. Thirty or forty years of female empowerment, force-fed through every institution, will take a little bit of undoing. Ask a class of teenage girls who desires family and children, and you’ll be lucky if a quarter have even considered the thought. The sad part is that most of us never even have careers—we have day jobs, and your employer will replace you before you’re cold in the ground.
Courtesy of the Dawkins revolution in this country, the average middle-class aspirant now requires an extra three or four years of education to qualify for entry-level work, which has helped to push child-rearing far into the future for many prospective young couples. Then, there are the pressures exerted on young couples to begin with, pressures that are not merely financial, but include navigating the expectations of an increasingly deranged zeitgeist. There are child-free movements everywhere, that talk about what would once be considered Malthusian population control in terms of individual liberation, and claim that, to appease the vengeful climate gods, you ought to regard every sperm as profane, rather than sacred, contra Monty Python. Never addressed is that for every child you don’t have, a teeming Third Worlder will have three, and the Pacific Garbage Patch will hardly shrink an inch for your efforts. It is difficult not to suspect that this is mere moral window-dressing for people who don’t much like the idea of changing nappies, who want a justification for their own abstinence they can cast across broader society with the usual sense of superciliousness that comes so readily to the postmodern type. On another flank is a legion of yapping fur-babies that bring to mind Augustus’s morality laws, instituted after he grew frustrated with those women who pampered their pets in lieu of having babies in the wake of Rome’s manpower-draining, devastating civil wars. This is no argument against pets, I hope you understand; but pets cannot carry your line or read your eulogy, and your children are unlikely to cannibalise your remains should you have a stroke and die at home. Plato wrote extensively on this, in The Republic again, and it ought to give you a start, in terms of how close the blow falls:
That is what I am doing, I replied; and I must add that no one who does not know would believe, how much greater is the liberty which the animals who are under the dominion of man have in a democracy than in any other State: for truly, the she-dogs, as the proverb says, are as good as their she-mistresses, and the horses and asses have a way of marching along with all the rights and dignities of freemen; and they will run at anybody who comes in their way if he does not leave the road clear for them: and all things are just ready to burst with liberty.
Things are indeed just ready to burst with liberty at any moment; it is the major reason the only sexual value we have left is consent, because a choice freely made is the ultimate liberty and the only binding tie that, for unthinking people, has any validity at all.
Having children is no crime, though encouraging people into thinking it might be is closer to one. The cultivation of certain habits of thought, combined with various material developments, have led us to this impasse, an impasse where love, once considered the prime mover of life, seems likely to escape half the population. We’ve become terribly cynical on the subject, which is rich coming from a truly spoiled society. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot in the press about the rise of loneliness, and our long period of house-arrest during the recent pandemic didn’t help matters. As one might expect from the modern commentariat, they diagnose a symptom but miss its cause, often because its cause is something sacred to them, and the deflection is as much sleight of hand as it is about wearing blinkers. Thus, they shift the blame, towards things that are a little more ideologically neutral, like social media, the handy bogeyman for all things; or they blame the Far Right for radicalising those lonely men online, because you should never waste an opportunity. At any rate, I would expect no firm solutions from those quarters, quarters that have largely served as cheerleaders as the process has ground on over the last few decades, and who have never shown much interest in reaping the harvest they helped sow. What this will look like, as millennials and zoomers age, is unlikely to be pretty, though if you’re a sales representative for a large pharmaceutical company, you might be in for a windfall.
The death of romantic love has come hot on the heels of its ruthless commercialisation, which is another aspect of modern life that has proven thoroughly penetrative. Around the time we decided to allow risqué advertising and pornography was decriminalised came a confluence of medical advancements that permitted contraception to become a matter of course. The use of sexual imagery and innuendo to sell virtually every household good imaginable has coarsened us, to say the very least. Every form of popular culture—that Media-Entertainment Industrial Complex—began a race to the gutter from about 1968 onward, culminating in the likes of Cardi B, that has turned our collective public life into something resembling a bordello. The result has been the widespread adoption of the mating habits—if we can call them that—of homosexual males.
If you think I’m drawing too long a bow, consider a single example to illustrate the point. Sex in the City was originally written for a cast of homosexual male characters, later scrubbed and repackaged in the form of the four women—whose names I mercifully cannot remember—who carried the story forward without, it seems, any meaningful change to the original content. This show was wildly successful, and was held up as the good life for many aspiring women of Generation X and the older millennials. For many of these women, this rejection of the traditional modes of life was not merely a phase, as it had been for the boomers. The boomers talked a big transgressive game but largely enjoyed normal family structures, aside from initiating the mass-divorce epidemic that would go a distance towards rendering marriage a void institution. Enjoying all of the stability produced by the properly-oriented society that preceded them, the boomers were largely shielded from the immediate consequences of this inverted bonfire of the vanities. This protection does not seem to have extended to their progeny.
Even the most ardent advocate might concede that the widespread espousal of homosexual patterns of behaviour probably isn’t the best thing. We might forgive them for rejecting Kant’s categorical imperative, given how incongruous and difficult that sort of life is to begin with, despite all the cheerleading that goes on ad nauseam, aiming to convince you that those leather-bound men dancing on floats have attained some kind of apotheosis. Regardless how many pride parades are thrown, the truth is that homosexuality can only be a parasitic addendum to a functional society, and never the primary substance. It has no generative qualities, not least of which is reproduction. A sad note is the fate of the quiet queen who just wishes to be left alone, given that participation in rainbow activism is one step from mandatory, particularly if you happen to be on the team.
If you wonder why pride movements seem so keen to reach the younger generation, it might be less predatory than you think, at least in direct terms; it’s largely because it’s the only way to inculcate their particular principles into the future. Spend ten minutes on TikTok and see what the purple-haired weirdos are up to, or count the rainbow flags at your local primary school. Lacking families, if one wants to pass the torch along one has to do it through other means, often via captured institutions that cater to the young. Thus, to those who haven’t willingly put out their eyes, the thing is unsettling at best and downright sinister at worst. The wholesale normalisation of pride sits poorly with many people, even if they’d never admit it, in large part because they lack the linguistic tools to do so. They become shipwrecked on notions of equality and rights, which of course are unexamined goods, and decide to abandon the argument before the name-calling begins. It’s easier to go along with the project, and this involves no social costs, only social gains, especially if you’re handy with social media and like the odd repost. If there’s one thing now in vogue in the age of omnipresent political correctness, it’s to be on the side of the angels, even if the seraph in question is merely disguised as an angel of light.
But if you prefer to dig deeper, and if you’re game enough to read Foucault, you can’t help but conclude you’re examining a manifesto fashioned by an embittered anti-society, one formed less by objective oppression and due instead to the simple working pieces of the arrangement. Attempts to massage the homosexual way of life into the mainstream, to integrate such pairings into normal sexual relations and pretend they are equivalent, à la same-sex marriage, are disconcerting less for reasons of prejudice and more because they’re a case of treating unequal things the same. Most people feel this in their bones even as they work hard—at cross-purposes as we so often are—to extirpate their inner bigot. Clear thinking is difficult, and never more so than on subjects such as these, which might involve some pointy bits and pieces we all suspect are true but have no desire to voice.
The homosexual lifestyle can only exist as a tiny minority interest, one that must be buttressed by the majority, who must, among other societal duties, sire the next generation. One can feel sympathy for the unique challenges of the homosexual life, which appear to be baked into the nature of the thing rather than due to any inherent persecution, without wishing for their vanguard movements to have any sort of special claim to public life. With this established, we should be very concerned that the peculiarities of the homosexual world have broken their banks, and flooded the generative parts of society.
We can see evidence of this in the proliferation of dating apps, the main means through which people now meet. The original dating app was Grindr, established for homosexual men to source meetings with one another, a technological appendage to cottaging; and Tinder, the one dating app to rule them all, was adopted from this model and exported out to the population generally. It is difficult to conclude that this has had a good net effect on society; the combination of anonymity, disposability and commerciality has turned the acquisition of love into something resembling online shopping, with all the convenience of swiping left and right on human beings. In its defence, as many who are addicted to this form of romantic pursuit will suggest, this is merely making plain and obvious the rationalisations we make all the time. I hardly consider this a sterling justification, one that might be mounted to disregard all forms of decency and politeness altogether. For starters, we ought not to regard others, or ourselves, as consumer products; the most obvious casualty is the dignity of all involved, which leads to a further hardening and shallowing of the heart, a sort of ruthlessness practised behind a screen and thus void of fellow-feeling and empathy. Behaving as our own PR and marketing departments lends a layer of narcissism and voyeurism to the whole thing that, were we a little cleverer, we might have considered something we ought to guard against rather than embrace. This is to say nothing of the difficulties two atomised individuals, united only by mutual attraction, might experience when placed in a jar together and shaken up. It’s hardly likely to be Romeo and Juliet, and besides, there’s always another product a swipe away, just in case you find something about your present purchase mildly disagreeable.
The commercialisation first of sexual love, and then the loneliness that inevitably follows, demonstrate the inherent grubbiness of the type who claims that all life’s a market, who implies that everything is bought or sold, or at least, is for sale to some extent. I am reminded of Christ driving merchants from the temple, which should remind us that some things ought to be considered above the grimy call of commerce. What starts with Tinder ends in OnlyFans, as they run along the same trajectory, it must be said: the amoral commodification of the self and others, combined with the disintegration of all sexual taboos, aided by the degrees of separation allowed by technology. There is almost nothing that, if packaged as an app on a phone, the postmodern person won’t download and try. We are addicted to the new and the novel, which we tend to consume the same way sugary treats are devoured in an age of obesity.
The milieu that brought about the dating apps existed well in advance of it, mind, on a scale that gradually expanded until it became the general custom. This you might know as the permissive society, if you were around in the 1970s, or hookup culture, if you grew up in the 2000s or 2010s, though this was alive and well in the 1980s and 1990s, too. Its premise considers sexual activity a form of recreation and self-actualisation, rather than anything of any great importance; by the time a whole generation grew up watching American Pie, taking serious lessons from it, this dispensation was well and truly established as our governing sexual ethic.
That sex is in fact simultaneously metaphysical and primal, to do with the potential threshing of a new consciousness as much as an earthy expression of human desire and eros, means that it deserves to be treated with gravity. The best we’ll get from most quarters today is the sort of quasi-scientific gravity you’ll find in a sexual education classroom, reducing the whole thing down to meagre mechanics complete with awkward diagrams. That said, if you can successfully subtract the metaphysical element, sex can be diminished to a purely physical manifestation, no different from picking one’s nose, merely with an extra player; any moral element is relegated to existing entirely in the heads of the participants, with no objective reality, outside, of course, that notion of consent. Putting on a condom or taking the pill might create in the minds of some a sense of equivalence with the San Francisco bathhouse scene. Haven’t you wondered why everybody is so keen to use the term “partner” these days? We are all Freddy Mercury now.
While the mainstreaming of total promiscuity—permissible provided it’s a good vibe—might come from the combination of two accelerators sans a brake pedal, it is difficult to deny that the rottenness of Western elite culture preconfigured the mass adoption of these values. Most trends begin in aristocratic circles, migrate to the bourgeois world, and wind up deep in the proletariat, where they reap untold havoc. Our sexual predilections seem little different. The nineteen-year-old carpentry apprentice on a journey of self-discovery in Bali is channelling Lord Byron, even if he’s never heard of Don Juan. You might be able to have wilfully promiscuous corners of society, provided the centre holds; you can survive a couple of Lord Byrons, here and there, but you can’t have a whole society composed exclusively of would-be Limping Devils. Mainstreamed disordered sexuality is incompatible with, well, civilisation. The idea of telling the emancipated everyman he might have to slow down a little—leave some for the rest of us—is obviously impossible in our day and age, where the one thing you are forbidden from doing is judging someone—that is to say, forming an opinion about their behaviour they don’t like. Never mind that what anybody thinks of you really isn’t any of your business; come between the ego and God-given desires of the postmodern at your own risk.
Underpinning much of this is further false equivalence, which might as well be the byword for all our post-sexual-revolution conversations. There is always talk of double standards when it comes to the standards of behaviour levied on men, against those of women; to which the correct answer is to grab and shake your interlocutor, and remind them of Aristotle’s maxim—that there is no greater inequality than of treating unequal things the same. No amount of brainwashing, drugs, surgical interventions or marches against misogyny can change the fundamental fact that men and women are different, and thus the dynamics between them are different, and the risks they carry different again; to convince young women that this is a mere social construct, something if they wish upon a star they can make disappear, is cruel in the extreme. It is women who shoulder the majority of the risk, in terms of pregnancy, in terms of sexual violence, in whatever terms you like, which is why once upon a time brothers and fathers would rally around their honour. This incongruence is also why we have an indeterminate number of abortions annually, which the uncharitable might consider child sacrifice to Moloch in the name of absolute personal liberty, the ultimate demand of unrestrained liberalism, which is always at the cost of the next generation.
We still innately understand this difference between men and women, which is why we had the #MeToo stuff to begin with, even if that was a very badly camouflaged cynical attempt to have one’s cake and eat it too, wrapped in the usual language of humbug. Much of that particular mess was driven by deliberately engineered feminist revenge fantasies, based on the notion that men and women are natural antagonists, rather than precisely the opposite; go and watch Barbie if you need to see it spelled out for you. As the Cheyenne Indians said, once the hearts of your women are in the ground, your people are finished, and they’re about 20,000 leagues under at last count. It is worth remembering that the bad behaviour of the modern woman was encouraged by the bad behaviour of the modern man, and those high-fiving nitwits celebrating infidelity in the changing room of the squash courts did just as much to undermine the social cohesion of our thing.
If women want to engage in grey-area arguments with the male libido, in a world where the expectation of sexual behaviour of a casual nature is a firm yes rather than a firm no, there will be victims of this false equivalence. Reading the ABC or similarly-oriented publications, you’d assume the modern university campus is as sexually violent as the Congo; they’re one step from recommending chaperones for the young ladies, which is quite the least feminist thing I’ve ever heard. This is no defence of the unrestrained male libido, mind. A man who does not learn how to manage this part of himself is not fit for general society, and even one as shorn from its original principles as ours will see him incarcerated eventually, and young men raised by pornography all the way up are unlikely to have a dignified view of the opposite sex. But it does seem a little inharmonious, encouraging young people to throw themselves into the lion’s den, and then wondering why they come out half-chewed and bearing wounds. We can avoid waxing too puritanical whilst maintaining a reverence for the thing’s power, without pretending it is at the same time both everything and nothing. Today, we pay it too much mind when we shouldn’t—say, using sex to sell washing powder—and none at all when we should, for example, in terms of expounding a sort of sexual schema more exhaustive than a grossly reductive version of Hume’s bundle of sensations.
We needn’t think exclusively of the universities-as-the-Congo of case studies—and the consequent implication that all young men need consent training—to see the damage wrought by this flippancy when it comes to matters of the heart. The cheapening of intimacy will demand its pound of flesh nonetheless, even if only in the devaluing of oneself in the eyes of others, and no matter how much we shout, there is no way to enter the locked room of another person’s mind and tear out their opinions. They may not wish to express them, but there they remain. The promiscuous woman is doomed at once never to be respected by men, whilst being regarded as a threat by the non-promiscuous woman, even as the latter might express sentiments of girl power and double-standard-busting on the outside.
One deceit that characterises the postmodern person is the delusion that we can escape consequences, that we can be the arbiter of all things—that we needn’t negotiate with reality, but dictate it instead. This is why said person finds it so difficult to commit to anything, because a state of pure potentiality is reassuring, as all the doors remain open, and anything is possible. It’s why you find so many people in middle life behaving as though they are teenagers.
But if the centre cannot hold, to quote another poet, you are left with mere anarchy loosed upon the world. And in a world of total sexual anarchy, which many now experience, there is no real sexual freedom, only sexual insecurity, and yet another contradiction—that of those who wish to have total sexual freedom for themselves whilst seeking exclusive sexual security in another. This is why marriage and long-term commitment are largely circling the drain, why words like polyamory entered the lexicon, why men of limited cognition resort to their fists, why nobody seems willing to “put a label on things”, and why half the population, if statistics are to be believed, are avoiding the traps of the flesh. I do not suspect this is out of any sense of virtue or a rejection of our present state of affairs on first-principle grounds; rather, I think it is the instinctive response of wounded creatures. It turns out that engaging in romantic activity with all the solemnity of animals in heat had a cost, after all. Perhaps it is the sheer weight of vulnerability, of taking the risk of placing one’s heart in the hands of another, when you know how the gameboard is oriented. Perhaps you’ve played the game a little yourself; you know what happens to trusting merchantmen in a sea full of piracy. At any rate, people have opted out of a raw deal, have perhaps descended into the simulacra to seek relief and reprieve there, in pornography, or in the endless attention of Instagram that does not require you risk your heart, a kitsch impersonation of genuine intimacy and admiration.
C.S. Lewis said that the only way to keep your heart safe was to never give it away, not even to an animal, but safety in a world of heart-shaped blenders has costs of its own. It is an overwhelmingly sad state of affairs, among the worst casualties of the past few decades of social experimentation, and one that we are only now beginning to take stock of, slowly, like a man seeing through a glass darkly. A romantically traumatised society, bruised by that mere anarchy, has found that the things they thought were weightless had weight after all. It turns out in this, as in so much else, the ancient wisdom was right.
Like so much else that has happened in the past few decades, this all occurred seemingly in a fog of inattention. Many on the Right were frightened to say very much on this front, less they be tarred and feathered as a Fred Nile figure, or be parodied as out-of-touch fogies by a hostile media. We have been concerned about appearances, rather than truth, for far too long. We used to hear a lot from the “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” types who dominated the post-1970s Right; I hope we’ve learned to ignore them entirely in the future, because letting the other side decide what the current meta-ethical landscape ought to resemble has been disastrous. Some speak casually about pendulums. Largely I assume this is to excuse themselves from needing to do any work. Others enjoy their dalliances, or have bought into the cult of endless potentiality, something that is very tempting indeed. In the face of a degenerative and decadent general mood, it requires almost heroic virtue to lead what was once a normal life. The general mood matters, because we are all marinated in the same fat, and one day you may send your own children into that lion’s den. Be careful who is massaging their minds, and to what end.
The simple politeness and trust and decency of a previous era, imperfect though it was, was piled up and burned in a frenzy of chthonic libertinism by those who were, in fact, best protected by it. I read once that the effect of the sexual revolution among women was akin to letting children play in traffic, and I see the sense in that more and more as time passes and we collectively become aware of the dead flies clogging up the ointment. Mankind never knows what is in our best interest, and we postmoderns pull down the social fabric built by our progenitors with the deluded frivolity of opening presents. Young people today are experiencing a long hangover, the product of decades of collective over-indulgence, one that they had no hand in creating, and have been largely cast into, without anybody ever suggesting there might be a different way to do things. They have grown up in broken and disjointed social world, and it is hard to blame them for sheltering their own hearts from the mere anarchy thus unleashed. It is difficult to say what will bring about the end of this hard night’s day.
Christopher Jolliffe is a frequent contributor. He wrote “The Unmaking of Australia and the New Monoculture” in the July-August issue