Do liberals suffer more than conservatives?

I finished Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom.

All the relationships in the novel (between lovers, between parents and kids, between siblings, and between friends) were screwed up. People fought, competed, and betrayed each other. People yearned to be free of dysfunctional relationships.

Franzen showed how dysfunction was passed down through generations. He described the struggles and mistakes of the parents and grandparents of the main characters.

People made stupid choices when young (about school, about roommates, and about lovers) and had to live with the consequences for years afterwards.

Everyone was neurotic, selfish and greedy.

Just like real life, I thought.

I mentioned the open-eyed cynicism/realism of the novel to some coworkers. One coworker said, “Yeah, this world is fallen.” Another said, “I’m sick of my husband.” I responded, “Too much information!”

For many people, work is the sanest part of their lives. But some workplaces are war zones too, and many managers make bad decisions.

To some extent, the novel was a glorified soap opera. I cringed at the mistakes the characters made in their lives. But the central characters changed over time, and in the end love and friendship triumphed — sortof. The characters were imperfect but they weren’t sadistic and they did have some tender feelings.

A common theme in the novel is the differences in outlook between conservatives and liberals: how political views affect personal lives. Franzen — like the main characters in the novel — is clearly a liberal, but it seems that the liberals suffer more than the conservatives.

This leads me to suggest a research topic: do liberals suffer more than conservatives?

Perhaps liberals suffer more than conservatives because (1) liberals have a conscience; (2) Liberals live in reality, unlike conservatives who live in a fantasy land, and (3) liberals typically lack religious faith, which can be a solace. Perhaps liberals are more neurotic. Are they more often single?

How much can we tell about a person by how they look?

I tend to think that personality and intelligence manifest in looks. For example, you can see kindness and intelligence and grace in a person’s face.

So I ask:

Can looks alone reveal a lot about a person?

I asked this question on facebook.

Chris Tombrello posted a link to the largely discredited idea of physiognomy and wrote, “You are correct to a degree but many mistakes have been made over the years as researchers have attempted to build a science of recognition. Studies on the physical characteristics of felons, or studies of people who look bovine or dog-like tend towards the humorous or grotesque.”

One gal said that not all intelligent people are physically attractive.  I agree. I didn’t mean to imply that.

So let me revise my question, lest I sound sexist and superficial:

Can you tell a lot about a person by observing them walking and talking for a minute? Or by viewing a few candid photos?

Certainly, there are false judgments. Some people look dumb but are sharp. Others look suave and competent but are shallow or mean or psychopathic.

Still, oftentimes we are right. And isn’t there such a thing as love at first sight?  I  confess that the most significant relationships in my life were launched rather quickly — and worked out OK.

The following R-rated article at Huff Post illustrates how the same person can give a quite different impression based on their posture and facial expression.  It shows the sort of thing that photos can (apparently) reveal about a person:  Stunning Nude Photo Series Challenges What It Means To Be ‘Attractive’ (NSFW).  Attractiveness isn’t just symmetry and clear skin and desirable proportions and musculature. It’s also posture and confidence and vivacity.

I read, by the way, that people who you find attractive are likely to have compatible immune systems.  But presumably that’s not something you can find out from photos and video.

Dustin Hoffman gave a moving and sweet interview in which he regrets the way he used to judge women by their looks.  Unfortunately, it’s something that I think most men do way too much. See this article or this video:

Making Marriage Last – Do Atheists Do It Better?

Conservative Christians think of themselves as the last line of defense for a time honored and holy tradition, marriage. In the conservative Christian view, marriage is a sacred union ordained by God. It binds one man and woman together so that the “two become one flesh” until they are parted by death.Old couple cartoon

This view of marriage is unbiblical, to be sure. See Captive Virgins, Polygamy, Sex Slaves: What Marriage Would Look Like If We Actually Followed The Bible. But hey, who actually reads the Bible? Surely, what God meant to say, is that marriage should take the form that is most familiar and traditional to us: One male plus one female who is given to the male by her father–that part is biblical–for life.

In this worldview, Christian marriage is under assault by an anti-trinity of powerful and dark forces: feminism, homosexuality, and godlessness. Faith, on the other hand, saves both souls and marriages. When I was young, a slogan made its way around my church, The family that prays together stays together. Dr. Tom Ellis, former chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council on the Family boldly claimed that “…born-again Christian couples who marry…in the church after having received premarital counseling…and attend church regularly and pray daily together… experience only 1 divorce out of nearly 39,000 marriages.”

But then came data. According to Barna research over a decade ago, American divorce rates were highest among Baptists and nondenominational “Bible-believing” Christians and lower among more theologically liberal Christians like Methodists, with atheists at the bottom of the divorce pack. When the findings were made public, George Barna took some heat, and Ellis suggested that maybe he had sampled badly. Perhaps some people who called themselves born again had never really devoted their lives to Christ. But Barna held his ground, saying, “We rarely find substantial differences” [in the moral behavior of Christians and non-Christians].

Fancy that.

In 2008, Barna again sampled Americans about divorce rates. The numbers fluctuated a bit, but once again atheists came out painfully good from a prays-together-stays-together perspective. Thirty percent reported being ever divorced, in contrast to thirty-two percent of born-again Christians. Slicing the U.S. by region, the Bible belt has the highest divorce rate, and this has been the case for over a decade, with the institution of marriage faring better in those dens of blue-state iniquity to the north and west.

What is going on? Even some secularists are puzzled. Churches provide strong communities for families. Many offer marital counseling and parenting classes. Love, they say, is a commitment, not a feeling. God hates divorce. They leverage moral emotions in the service of matrimony: a righteous sense of purity rewards premarital abstinence and post-marital monogamy—replaced by guilt and shame when nonmarital sex is unveiled or a marriage dissolves. Couples who split may find themselves removed from leadership positions or even ostracized. On the face of it, even if there were no God, one might expect this combination to produce lower divorce rates.

The reality, however, appears complex. Churches do honor and support marriage. They also may inadvertently promote divorce, especially—ironically—those churches which most bill themselves as shining lights in a dark world.

To prevent that greatest-of-all-evils, abortion, such communities teach even high school students to embrace surprise pregnancies as gifts from God. They encourage members to marry young so they won’t be tempted to fornicate. But women who give birth or marry young tend to end up less educated and less financially secure, both of which are correlated with higher divorce rates.

After marriage, some congregations, like those in the “quiver-full movement” encourage couples to leave family planning in God’s hands. Leaders echo the chauvinistic beliefs of Church fathers like St. Augustine and Martin Luther or the Bible writers: Women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety (1 Timothy 2:15). Such teachings grow congregations, literally, from the nursery up, but the very same attitudes that help to fill church pews can erode marital bliss. Ample research shows that for couples under age 30 marital satisfaction declines with the birth of each child. (Parenting tends to make couples happier only after age 40, when kids become more independent, and only in countries with comparatively weak social supports for aging adults.)

Secular couples increasingly see both marriage and divorce as personal choices. Overall, a lower percent get married, which means that those who do may be particularly committed or well-suited to partnership. They are likely to be older if/when they do formally tie the knot. They have fewer babies, and their babies are more likely to be planned. Parenting, like other household responsibilities, is more likely to be egalitarian rather than based on the traditional model of “male headship.” Each of these factors could play a role in the divorce rate.

But a bigger factor may be economics, pure and simple. In the words of some analysts, marriage is becoming a luxury good, with each partner, consciously or subconsciously looking for someone who will pull their weight financially and declining to support one who won’t. “The doctor used to marry the nurse,” says Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. “Today the doctor marries the doctor.” Sixty percent of college educated women get married, as compared to fifty percent of women who hold only high school degrees or lower. Couples who stay married also tend to be wealthier than those who divorce. In Barna’s 2008 sample, couples with an income of less than $20,000 a year broke up almost twice as often as those earning $75,000 or more (39 percent vs 22 percent). Advocates who want to promote traditional marriage might do well to foster broad prosperity.

Even if they did, though, they might be swimming upstream. In 1960, almost three quarters of American adults were married; by 2008 that number had fallen to a half. The difference came from a combination of two factors—more divorce and more people who had never married. The concept of family isn’t becoming less important, but Americans are more and more flexible in how we define  the term. Over 80 percent say that a single parent living with a child or an unmarried couple with a child is a family. Over 60 percent say that a gay couple with a child is a family. A growing number say that marriage is obsolete.

In one of those peculiar twists of fate, conservative Christian obsessions with abortion and sexual purity may be accelerating this trend. Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, authors of Red State, Blue State, propose that Bible-belt opposition to abortion has increased the non-marital birthrate and acceptance of single parent families:

The working class had long dealt with the inconvenient fact of an accidental pregnancy through the shotgun marriage. As blue-collar jobs paying a family wage have disappeared, however, so has early marriage. Women are then left with two choices: They can delay childbearing (which might entail getting an abortion at some point) until the right man comes along or get more comfortable with the idea of becoming single mothers. College-educated elites have endorsed the first option, but everyone else is drifting toward the second.

Conservative Christians thought they could have it all by promoting abstinence until marriage. But virginity pledges and abstinence only education have failed. If anything, they have once again accelerated the trend, leaving Christian leaders fumbling for answers. Some hope that more flexible, egalitarian roles for Christian wives and husbands may be the answer. Others think that doubling down on traditional gender roles is where it’s at. Either way, gone is the bravado that once proclaimed marital salvation by faith alone. “Marriages and families within faith communities are no healthier than in the rest of society,” concedes Christian author Jonathan Merritt. “Faith communities must provide support systems to salvage damaged marriages.” Whether the institution of marriage itself can or should be salvaged is, perhaps, a question none of us are prepared to answer.

Do atheists do it better? That is unlikely. Divorce rate differences between theists and nontheists tend to depend on how you slice the demographic pie, and for both groups, the shape of marriage itself is changing. As culture evolves, we’re all in uncharted territory together.   ——————–

Losing Your Religion – Keeping Your Spouse  (Youtube)
15 Bible Texts Reveal Why “God’s Own Party” is at War with Women
Captive Virgins, Polygamy, Sex Slaves: What Marriage Would Look Like if We Actually Followed the Bible
What Christianity and Kink Have in Common


Life Skills 102

Schools sometimes offer “home economics” courses. And there’s the book Life Skills 101: A Practical Guide to Leaving Home and Living on Your Own, which concentrates mostly on financial matters.

I suggest a course, for high school seniors, called Life Skills 102. It would cover topics such as:

  • How to deal with stress.
  • How to make love to a woman.
  • Learn to love your body (for women). It would teach about healthy body image and about healthy sexuality (e.g., how to reach orgasm).
  • How to avoid a bad marriage.
  • How to avoid and overcome depression.
  • How to be a good friend.
  • How to deal with coworkers and managers.
  • How to stand up for yourself without offending and hurting others.
  • How to deal with failure and difficulty.
  • How to avoid being a jerk.
  • How to overcome self-deception.
  • How to deal with difficult people.
  • Facing your demons and overcoming shyness and inertia.

Of course, we can all probably benefit from improved skills in many of these areas.

Many people are competent at work but have unsatisfying home and social lives, due to lack of social skills.  And many problems at work are due to bad interpersonal relations. Schools should teach social skills. I suppose anti-bullying programs cover some of that material.

New Contraceptives for Cascadia

The lesson of St. Louis. 
on March 5, 2013 at 11:11 am
This post is 1 in the series: Fifty Times Better than the Pill
Photo Credit: Chris JL via Compfight ccPhoto Credit: Chris JL via Compfight cc

Last fall, researchers in Missouri caught the attention of public health experts and advocates across North America. Some 9,000 St. Louis women had been offered their choice of contraceptives for free in a study that has since been called an “Obamacare simulation.” Two years later, the teen pregnancy rate was at 6 per 1,000 instead of the US average of 34. The abortion rate was less than half the rate of other St. Louis women.

Why did they get such dramatic results? The free birth control triggered a technology shift in a microcosm. When presented with simple, accurate information and a buffet of no-cost options, a majority of the study’s participants, almost 75 percent, switched from old contraceptive technologies like the pill, condoms, and other barrier methods like cervical caps to state-of-the-art “long acting reversible contraceptives” (LARCs).

Unintended pregnancy rates in the US have been frustratingly flat for decades, hovering around half of all conceptions. Now, health advocates and community health agencies are eyeing a potential technology tipping point that could radically change the equation. What would it take to make the St. Louis results the new norm? And what might that mean for Cascadia?

If a set of things go right, Cascadia could become the St. Louis experiment writ large. But there are a number of ifs. If the Northwest states and Washington, DC, implement the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for mandatory free contraception—not exempting a patchwork of procedures or employer health plans. If better information about state-of-the-art contraception flows from experts through primary care “gatekeepers” to youth and women. If conversations about LARC methods become standard practice in adolescent medicine and maternity care. If access points in community and school-based clinics are expanded. And if state and provincial governments protect family planning services when making near-term budget cuts.

If we in Cascadia meet these conditions, and long acting contraceptives become the norm, the region’s unintended pregnancy rates among teens and adult women will plummet, budgetary pressure will ease, and more parents and children will flourish. Oh, and the abortion rate will fall, too.

Currently Washington has an unintended pregnancy rate of 48 percent, close to the national average. Oregon’s rate is almost identical. These pregnancies add to public medical costs. In 2006, Oregon spent $72 million on births from unintended pregnancies. But the public costs don’t begin or end at birth. In Washington, during fiscal 2012, Medicaid paid $700 million for prenatal, delivery, and infant care. When surveyed by the state’s Department of Health, approximately half of the women who received this care said that they would have preferred to get pregnant later or not at all.

Mostly, by the time “go-with-the-flow” babies like these arrive, their families welcome and love them. But some unintended pregnancies stack the odds against both children and parents. Maternal drinking or poor nutrition in the weeks right before and after conception may increase birth defects. Even families of healthy babies may struggle to stretch resources like time and money and space and emotional energy. When parents get too depleted, marriages can strain or break. Poor families may not be able to afford the same level of education for four kids as three or two. In many cases, families find the resources. They adjust and adapt and get help, and kids flourish. But in other cases, they don’t get help, and kids and parents alike flounder. Adding one more Jenga block to a precarious stack crashes the whole thing—and kids get neglected or rejected or abused.

During the teen years in particular, unplanned childbearing can have far reaching consequences for a mother and her children, and for their community. Each year in King County, Washington, alone, 15- to 17-year-old girls give birth to more than 300 babies. That’s enough kids, once a few years have passed, to keep several primary schools full. Those children come into the world with the odds stacked against them. Most will grow up in poverty. Fewer than half of their mothers will finish high school, and only 2 percent will get a college degree by age 30. A disproportionate number will experience learning or mental health problems, or end up as teen mothers themselves. Their struggles will contribute to the complicated web of challenges they and their communities face: strained social services, stretched public resources, crime, and an education system overwhelmed with special needs.

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King County is not unique in this regard. In fact, it has one of the lower teen birth rates in Washington State, around 10 per 1,000 girls aged 15-17. The highest county rate in Washington is 55 per 1,000 girls, and the averages for Washington and Oregon are 27 and 28 respectively. (The national average is 34.)

The sheer impact of these numbers on the state budget is daunting, in large part because of the challenges faced by the children of teen mothers. Between 1991 and 2008 approximately 143,000 teens gave birth in Washington, at a taxpayer cost of $3.3 billion. The public tab includes maternal and child health, childhood welfare support and a higher than average rate of incarceration during adolescence and young adulthood.

All of this makes those numbers from St. Louis look particularly interesting at a time when Northwest families and governments are trying to do more with less. Giving women better tools to fulfill their pregnancy intentions—empowering parents so they can decide when they are ready to bring a child into the world—may offer a partial upstream solution to some of the region’s most pressing concerns: affordable health care, better educational outcomes, strong and stable families, and balanced budgets.

In subsequent parts of this series, I’ll look at the technologies that made such a difference in St. Louis and what it would take to replicate those results in the Northwest.


Valerie Tarico, Ph.D., a trustee of Sightline, is a psychologist and writer in Seattle. She is the author of Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings and the founder of Her articles can be found at

Republished with permission from Sightline Daily

The State is a Condition

“The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another…”

Gustav Landauer

Have to pack and set up the Really Really Free Market in Olympia.  Contracting other relationships, behaving differently toward one another?  Can we really destroy the state by behaving differently?