The Politics of the Natural

The Politics of the Natural June 16, 2012

I was recently talking with a friend (a nondenominational Protestant) who is planning her wedding.  When the conversation turned to her thoughts about having children, she identified herself, despite her very understandable worries about such a responsibility, as being “anti-birth-control”: she doesn’t want to put foreign chemicals into her body that might mess with her emotions and who knows what else, as we’ve both heard about from other friends.  Whatever the reasoning, this self-identification would classify her as politically “conservative” in many people’s minds.  On a different tack, the food for my friend’s wedding reception is all being locally sourced from people known to use organic farming methods, for reasons including environmental responsibility, health benefits, support of local economies and small-scale farmers, and concerns about the inhumane treatment of animals on factory farms.  Thus many would classify my friend as politically “liberal” based on her preference for local and organic food.

Such categorization of the above concerns, however, is oversimplified.  As manifestations of a desire to live as naturally as possible, they fit together – naturally.  And that is what my friend is trying to do in her daily living and her major life decisions, without too much self-consciousness about how her conscientiousness will be labeled politically.  In this way she is a living illustration of how the ways in which certain “issues” are politicized just don’t make sense.

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  • Carl Diederichs

    Our Parish Council chairperson is very “progressive” and practices natural family planning. Because the concept has been high-jacked by the right-wing, he is very quiet about his practice.

    • Thales

      Because the concept has been high-jacked by the right-wing, he is very quiet about his practice.

      Or is he very quiet about his practice because the concept is a source of ridicule and scorn by the left-wing?

      • Julia Smucker

        Without presuming to know this man’s personal motivations for reticence, I’m quite sure there is more than a little truth to both of these “wing” assessments.

  • This is the very argument that launched Rod Dreher’s career; have you read his book Crunchy Cons?

    • Julia Smucker

      I’ve never heard of Rod Dreher, but I am just lately becoming familiar with that use of the word “crunchy” to refer to all-natural organic types.

      • He wrote an article for the National Review on this topic, which he later turned into a book a that got a lot of attention on the right, of which he identifies himself as a member, because it was heterodox on these issues. He used to write a widely-read blog for The book is worth reading.

      • His current blog is over here. I’ve been following him for years on various iterations of his blog, and I think Pentimento is correct.

  • Kurt

    I don’t think, nor do most liberal I know think, that avoiding contraception for those reason is anyway illiberal or a mark of a political conservative.

    I, and most liberals I know as well, don’t think that in each and every circumstance it is morally impossible to responsibly plan the spacing of children by using contraceptives. I think that is the difference.

    • Julia Smucker

      I can all too easily picture knee-jerk judgment calls on the avoidance of either birth control or factory-farmed food, but the interesting thing is that once you get away from the hyper-politicization, they sort of converge. That is, you’re right that it’s not necessarily “illiberal” to dislike birth control because of not wanting to put unnatural things into one’s body, and it’s also not intrinsically unconservative (in a Wendell Berry kind of way, or an Amish kind of way) to prefer natural food.

  • Kate

    Oh wow I had no idea that not wanting to use birth control and wanting to use organic and local food was a part of politics! But I would feel the same way that she feels about it all…..thank you for posting this Julia!

    Ps. Does recycling go into that too?

  • Thales

    Like you, I’ve known some people motivated to not use birth control because of health and environmental concerns too. But it seems to me that, as a general rule, the health-conscious and environmentally-conscious side of society tends to be large proponents of contraception and loud critics of NFP, and this always surprises me.

    • Julia Smucker

      My point exactly: it should be surprising.

  • You can hitch your Hummer up to team of horses on Sabbath day but that don’t make you an Amish (or an environmentalist, still, it don’t hurt nothing either, except maybe for the horses). Good post obliged.

  • Tim Muldoon

    I’ve got a series going up on Patheos in which I’m exploring “organic sex” as an antidote to “McDonaldized sex.” It prescinds from the basic observation that our patterns of expressing sexual desire are fundamentally mimetic–we copy what others are doing– and in a contraceptive world that means sex has become to relationships what fast food has become to nutrition. Politics is often, in my mind, the lazy person’s version of thinking.

    Part 2 of 5:

  • My use of NFP turned me into an environmentalist. Prior I was disconnected from environmental concerns. NFP made me understand how linked we all are.

    • Julia Smucker

      Sofia, you’ve just made this consistent-lifer and systematician’s day.

      Come to think of it, Pope Benedict has made this kind of connection eloquently a good many times, especially in Caritas in Veritate. One might say his major contribution to Catholic Social Teaching has been to expand it into environmental concerns.

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