The 21st century splintering of America into a million little pieces is an ever-present source of despair. Is our homeland akin to Humpty Dumpty, its restoration futile despite all the efforts of the powers that be? The answer will not be forthcoming unless and until we have a firmer grip on what has caused our “great fall.”
In her new book, “Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics,” Mary Eberstadt offers a penetrating insight into our volatile contemporary political divisions.
Eberstadt posits that “today’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. It is a squalling creature unique to our time, born of familial liquidation.”
Her introduction critiques the once-prominent idea of the “lone wolf,” that Canis lupus lives isolated from others of his species except when roaming in random “packs.” This notion, it turns out, was erroneous.
Wolves are “intensely familial animals,” their “packs” consisting essentially of a mother, a father and their pups. Early on, they learn survival skills from their parents and siblings. Citing the work of Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, Eberstadt notes that researchers missed the whole truth in part because most of their studies centered upon animals in captivity. And when animals are captive, they will behave in ways rather different from those remaining in natural settings.
There has been an analogous situation, which Eberstadt terms “the Great Scattering,” which has afflicted the human species, particularly in the Western world, over roughly the past half-century. The dramatic increase and availability of artificial contraception and abortion, and the mainstreaming of divorce and pornography, has encouraged an unnatural social isolation in recent generations.
Unprecedented levels of fatherlessness and frequent lack of siblings in a family have steered young people away from family attachments and toward artificial forms of belonging, finding others with a similar woundedness. Thus they become prey to ready-made ideologies of the multiculturalist left or the “alt-right,” which capitalize on racial, sexual or gender tribalism, attempting to answer the perennial question, “Who am I?”
Our post-1960s reign of sexual consumerism, Eberstadt observes, “has erased the givenness into which generations are born … It is this loss of givenness that drives the frenzied search for identity these days, whether in the secular scholasticism concerning how to speak about ethnicity or in the belligerent fights over ‘cultural appropriation’.”
Thus, when we encounter “snowflake” college students crying out for “safe spaces” and complaining about “cultural appropriation,” Eberstadt invites us to do more than merely assert the obvious insanity of our cultural moment. She suggests that, in their angry cry of “Mine!”, they reveal that they really have been deprived of something, “only something more substratal than the totemic objects now functioning as figurative blankies for lost and angry former children. Maybe the furor over appropriation unveils the true foundation of identity politics, which is pathos.”
Eberstadt explores supporting evidence for her thesis, examining the uses of radical feminism and androgyny as survival strategies and why the #MeToo movement carried so much resonance.
Regarding the latter, she observes, “Only in a world where sex is allegedly free of consequence would anyone dare to proposition women on the spot, over and over, as appears to have happened repeatedly in these scandals.” The sexual revolution has made us socially illiterate and culturally and morally impoverished. Day in and day out, wounded souls walk among us.
The road back to discovering our true identity as image-bearers of God will be long and arduous, but is worth travelling if we are to become whole again. Eberstadt deserves accolades for giving us this thoughtful, compassionate, and ruthlessly honest volume.