As a society we have divided into Red and Blue ghettoes. Liberals and conservatives talk only to each other and look with contempt on those in the opposite camp. The complaints that each side makes about the other offer a curious parallel. Conservatives claim that liberals are too individualistic when it comes to sex. There need to be public standards of sexual behavior, conservatives think. Liberals tend to think that homosexuals should be allowed to marry, that adults should not discourage teenagers from having sex so long as they use condoms, that women can raise children just fine without fathers, that high divorce rates are nothing to worry about and that couples living together for short or long periods of time without marriage is fine and healthy. Conservatives tend to disagree with all of the above. They would usually encapsulate their views on sex as “supporting marriage” and they would describe this collection of liberal attitudes as “attacking marriage.” In short, conservatives think that sex is not a purely private matter and that society as a whole should exercise some measure of control over the sexual behavior of individuals. Hard line conservatives want standards of sexual conduct enforced with legal sanctions. Liberal individualism about sex is seen as promotion of selfishness that is destructive to a healthy social order. Conservatives see a social order breaking down with harmful effects on everyone. Leaving individuals completely “free” to pursue their own sexual happiness leads to the destruction of the familial relations which are the essential to the health of society and ultimately to the happiness of individuals themselves. The search for sexual gratification unrestricted by social sanctions of any kind paradoxically leads to individual misery.
When it comes to money conservatives think that liberals are not individualistic enough. Here the key word is not “marriage” but “socialism.” Liberals want the government to be active in solving some of society’s problems. Government should place restrictions of business to protect the environment from degradation, to protect workers from discrimination based on sex or race, to protect consumers from dangerous and defective products. They want society to support healthcare, education, and public transportation. Liberals recognize that all this costs money and see nothing wrong with taxing the rich to pay for it. When it comes to money, conservatives think, individuals should do whatever they want and the public needs to back off. Taxes should be low and rates should not be higher for the wealthy. People should pay for their own medical care and for the educational needs of their own children. If they feel their employer is discriminating against them, they should quit and find a new job. Consumers should protect themselves by researching products before they buy them. And finally, the threat that unrestricted business activity poses to the environment is wildly exaggerated.
Looking at society from the liberal point of view reverses all this as if looking into a mirror. Conservative resistance to “socialism” is a sign of selfish individualism which blinds itself to public good. Economic activity is too important to be left to unrestricted free markets. Laissez faire capitalism would naturally destroy our natural environment, reduce the middle class to poverty, and ultimately destroy itself by collecting more and more wealth into fewer and fewer hands. Common sense demands a measure of public control of economic activity because completely “free” economic activity leads to moral disaster. On the sexual side of things, conservatives lack respect for individuals and their power to make choices unconstrained by society. The conservative sneer at “socialism” in economic matters is paralleled here by the liberal sneer at the “Puritanism” of conservatives.
The Red/Blue divide thus takes the shape of a disagreement about where to draw the line between public and private. Liberals want sexual relations to be purely private but think there should be a larger measure of public control of economic relations. Conservatives believe that society must support marriage and exert some measure of control over personal sexual behavior but that society should never interfere with “capitalistic acts between consenting adults.” Both sides see themselves as being unbending defenders of freedom where they think such freedom is appropriate and as being sensible opponents of due restraint where they think that such “freedom” is actually selfish irresponsibility.
In 1982 MacIntyre described our modern situation as a desolate one in which people could not reason with each other about what was right and what was wrong and instead could only express their anger and engage in ruthless political maneuvering to achieve their own favored ends. Now that we are in the second decade of the 21st century the modern situation looks even more like this than it did in 1982. Few, very few, liberals will actually make a serious attempt to argue that unrestricted sexual behavior will actually promote the well-being of society. Generally this is simply assumed and those who disagree are sneered at. Few, very few, conservatives will actually make a serious attempt to argue that the invisible hand of the marketplace solves all problems in the long run. Generally the mere use of the label “socialism” is considered enough of an argument.
Pity the poor moderate who seeks compromise and gets sneered at by both sides.