by Kirk Durston
One winter afternoon I was relaxing with a half-dozen fellow graduate philosophy students discussing theories of law and punishment. About an hour into the discussion, it occurred to me that some moral laws are necessary because, although they might limit pleasure and enjoyment in the short term, they actually minimize suffering and maximize human fulfillment in the long term.
A few days ago I finished studying Sex and Culture for the second time. It is a remarkable book summarizing a lifetime of research by Oxford social anthropologist J.D. Unwin. The 600+ page book is, in Unwin’s words, only a “summary” of his research—seven volumes would be required to lay it all out. His writings suggest he was a rationalist, believing that science is our ultimate tool of inquiry (it appears he was not a religious man). As I went through what he found, I was repeatedly reminded of the thought I had as a philosophy student: some moral laws may be designed to minimize human suffering and maximize human flourishing long term.
Unwin examines the data from 86 societies and civilizations to see if there is a relationship between sexual freedom and the flourishing of cultures. What makes the book especially interesting is that we in the West underwent a sexual revolution in the late 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s and are now in a position to test the conclusions he arrived at more than 40 years earlier.
Unwin described four “great patterns of human culture” and degrees of flourishing measured in terms of architecture, art, engineering, literature, agriculture, and so forth. The primary criterion for classification was how they related to the natural world and the forces it contains.
zoistic: Entirely self-focussed on day-to day-life, wants, and needs, with no interest in understanding nature. Described as a “dead culture” or “inert”.
monistic: Acquire superstitious beliefs and/or special treatment of the dead to cope with the natural world.
deistic: Attribute the powers of nature to a god or gods
rationalistic: Use rational thinking to understand nature and to make day-to-day decisions.
Unwin’s degrees of sexual restraintwere divided into two major categores—prenuptial and postnuptial. Prenuptial categories were:
Complete sexual freedom—no prenuptial restraints at all
Irregular or occasional restraint— cultural regulations require an occasional period of abstinence
Strict Chastity —remain a virgin until married
Postnuptial categories were:
Modified monogamy: one spouse at a time, but association can be terminated by either party.
Modified polygamy: men can have more than one wife, but a wife is free to leave her husband.
Absolute monogamy: only one spouse permitted for life (or until death in some cultures)
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.”
So what did he find?
I have prepared a 26-page collection of quotes from his book that summarize his findings; but even that would leave you with a significant under-appreciation of the rigour and fascinating details revealed in data from 86 cultures. Here are a few of his most significant findings:
Effect of sexual constraints: Increased sexual constraints, either pre or post-nuptial, always led to increased flourishing of a culture. Conversely, increased sexual freedom always led 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 studied ever attained this level.
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 “dea; d 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 that change is not realized until the third generation. (Note: I’ve added a clarifying footnote at the end of this article. See footnote #13)
continue for more; https://frjohnpeck.com/why-sexual-morality-may-be-far-more-important-than-you-ever-thought/