I was reading this post by Joanne Jacobs about how the culture at Harvard has changed over the last century, as seen through two novels involving characters at school there. The difference JJ highlights is that of sexual mores. The old time character, a male, is advised to avoid fooling around with women while at college as being unseemly. The modern character, a female, is a columnist for the school paper who writes about sex and apparently does quite a bit of field research (how unjournalistic of her! of course, it’s just a novel, but still…).
What I wonder is whether some of the problems related to gender on college campuses aren’t related to this. While one can make too much of modesty, it does provide a very useful and powerful signalling mechanism between the genders. In contrast, in a culture where even nudity isn’t particularly outré how does a woman signal that she has more than platonic interest in a particular man? The result of course is things like the Antioch sexual relations code that requires legalistic verbal exchanges between potential partners in intimacy
It struck me that this represents a pattern of the upper middle class college educated New Class that constitutes the core of the Progressive political faction in this country. The essence of solutions from this ideology is procedural — if there is something going wrong, better (and generally far more detailed) procedures can be used to solve the problem. For the New Class, filling out additional forms is easy and natural, even if it is viewed as a burden by everyone else. The standard example is the endlessly multiplying forms for welfare and other government programs. On the one hand these are supported by Progressives to help the poor, but on the other hand the procedures are often so tedious, complicated and unforgiving that many of the putative targets can’t get through the process (not that this is viewed as a problem by the Progressives, because the true purpose is to provide jobs, social status and psychological comfort to the Progressives which doesn’t require helping very many of the poor). The issue with modesty noted above can fit in to this pattern as well, taking something which has been done informally for all of human history (charity, dating) and turning it in to a banal bureauocratic exercise.
P.S. I shouldn’t forget to note that “Campaign Finance Reform” fits this pattern as well. Is it really the Puritans who can’t abide others having fun?