An end to the agony

The Saline Courier - - OPINION - ••• Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, ed­i­torat-large of Na­tional Re­view On­line and found­ing di­rec­tor of Catholic Voices USA. She can be con­tacted at [email protected] na­tion­al­re­

Air­ports are places of joy, some­one said to me a num­ber of months ago -- which ac­tu­ally star­tled me. I was ask­ing him about joy in the world, and “air­ports” was about the last thing I ex­pected him to come back with. Some­times when I’m in an air­port, I’m over­whelmed by how tran­si­tory so many of us seem. And how ca­sual we are about it.

But if you walk through city streets, some­times noth­ing looks like it could be a se­cure rest­ing place. Peo­ple seem to be zoned out to the re­al­ity around them, per­ma­nently at­tached to their ear buds or screens. And then there’s the whole topic of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. Even say­ing his name can re­sult in ei­ther wild rage or ra­bid adu­la­tion -- both of which seem like thinly veiled cries for help from a be­lea­guered cit­i­zenry over­whelmed by con­flict and noise.

Mary Eber­stadt is lis­ten­ing to th­ese cries. She calls them primal screams. And she sees iden­tity as the core cause of the an­guish. We don’t know who we are, who we be­long to or where we are go­ing. If you look up from your com­mute or while in traf­fic, you may no­tice that the per­son right across from you may be in agony. Agony is what we hear all around us. You prob­a­bly don’t need to know about ris­ing rates of sui­cide or opi­oid addiction to re­al­ize it. You’ve prob­a­bly en­coun­tered it, if not strug­gled with it yourself.

But more and more, pol­i­tics has be­come a place where peo­ple go to find their iden­tity or cre­ate one or join one.

And so here we are, a peo­ple adrift, mak­ing de­mands on pol­i­tics to help us with this crav­ing to know and be known.

Eber­stadt’s new book is called “Primal Screams: How the Sex­ual Revo­lu­tion Cre­ated Iden­tity Pol­i­tics.” It’s not just an­other con­ser­va­tive di­ag­no­sis of bad morals. It’s a plea

-- a plea to come to­gether and en­gage. You don’t have to be re­li­gious or right-of-cen­ter to con­sider Eber­stadt’s ar­gu­ment. If you’ve ever had a nag­ging feel­ing that our coun­try could be suf­fer­ing an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis, you’ll want to take a look at this book. We can’t help to heal the individual and civ­i­liza­tional agony around us with­out hav­ing some agree­ment about what we’re deal­ing with.

“(T)oday’s clamor over iden­tity -- the au­then­tic scream by so many for an­swers to questions about where they be­long in the world -- did not spring from nowhere,” Eber­stadt writes. “It is a squalling crea­ture unique to our time, born of fa­mil­ial liq­ui­da­tion.” Eber­stadt claims that the sex­ual revo­lu­tion led to “ris­ing and sky­rock­et­ing rates of abortion, father­less homes, fam­ily shrink­age, fam­ily breakup and other phe­nom­ena that have be­come com­mon­place in the world since the 1960s.”

“Many peo­ple, back then and now, have be­lieved in good faith that th­ese fa­mil­ial mu­ta­tions amount to a net plus for hu­man­ity, and that their own lives have been im­mea­sur­ably en­hanced by the freedoms that only the revo­lu­tion could have brought,” she writes. But an hon­est look shows “that th­ese same changes have si­mul­ta­ne­ously rained down de­struc­tion on the nat­u­ral habi­tat of the hu­man an­i­mal, with rad­i­cal results that we are only be­gin­ning to un­der­stand.” She writes: “A great many hu­man be­ings now live as if we are not the in­tensely com­mu­nal crea­tures that we al­ways have been; and sys­tem­atic con­se­quences of that pro­found shift are now emerg­ing. Th­ese in­clude our in­creas­ingly sur­real pol­i­tics.”

The so­lu­tion doesn’t only in­volve sum­mits or pol­icy pro­pos­als, though such things have their place. But a real fix can be found only by ac­knowl­edg­ing and re­spond­ing to the cries around us. The heal­ing balm of mercy and hu­mil­ity may help us serve each other bet­ter.


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