Friday, August 01, 2008

Hunting down an anti-gay (mis-?)quote - J D Unwin

One of my hobbies is hunting down misuse of statistics and academic writings by anti-gay activists. An "academic quote" I picked up on recently was an alleged quote by a person named J D Unwin. The quote in question shows up a lot, such as in this flyer from the Traditional Values Coalition. Gotta love that title: "The Destruction of Marriage Precedes the Death of a Culture". Alarmist, much?

Anyway, the quote is "In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist upon prenuptial and postnuptial continence". It's allegedly from a book by Unwin called "Sex and Culture". Anti-gay activists have latched onto it because they believe that it proves that gay marriage will destroy all our society's "cultural energy" once legalising gay marriage destroys the entire institution of marriage in society...somehow. They're always a bit vague on how we get from one to other.

The book is, unfortunately, long out of print (it was first published in 1934). So I count myself lucky that I found myself a copy. A searchable electronic copy too, no less. A group of sites claiming affiliation with something called the Men's Right movement apparently think it's very important too, and they, er, made it available for a time.

It's easy to see why the Men's Right's people like it once you have a look at it: contrary to claims of anti-gay activists, it's not sexual regulation in general that Unwin describes as a supposed gauge of "cultural energy", it's the sexual regulation of the female that is the gauge (and it's ONLY the sexual regulation of the female - men can do whatever the hell they like when it comes to "sexual continence", apparently. Is that REALLY the message to men that you want to send, "pro-family" activists?).

At 648 pages, it's a large book, and I'm a busy person, so I won't be reading the whole thing anytime soon. But as it's searchable, I searched for the quote listed above and found....nothing. A possible mis-scan in the text rendering the search unsuccessful? I tried several searches for various partial text of the quote and...several near misses on phrases that seemed characteristic of Unwin's language (such as "instance of a society") but not the actual quote itself. It's not in there.

The one and only semi-original source I can find online for the supposed Unwin quote is an article in Christianity Today. Phillip Yancy claims to have personally read Unwin's work, and his phrasing seems to confirm that he believes the quote was in the book Sex and Culture. But he did say that Unwin had written other stuff...

I tried plugging a part of the quote along with Unwin's name into Google Scholar and finally got something: Google Scholar thinks it might be in a book, also by J D Unwin, called Hopousia. No text from Google at all unfortunately, not even a preview, and the book is also long out of print. Yancy mentions it in his Christianity Today article, so I suspect that Yanny has read both works and got confused about which one the quote in question could actually be found.

And that's as far as I can get. I have zero access to this "Hopousia" and no idea where I can get it. I sacrifice this post now to the Great Google in the hopes that someone else who wants to track it might be able to continue the search. All I'll say in conclusion is that this is a good demonstration of how claims by anti-gay activists about what "statistics prove" and "academic research has shown" is generally attributed to material that they've never actually laid eyes on. After all, if even one of the people citing this "quote from Unwin's 1934 book" had actually READ Sex and Culture, they would have known that the quote isn't there.

Or perhaps they did, and just don't care.


Zhasper said... suggests it doesn't come from this book either.

Z said...

Another link that comes up on that search has actual page numbers associated with the quote: Good News magazine says it is indeed from Hopousia and the quote spans two pages: pages 84 and 85. Perhaps "human records" and "instance of a society" don't appear on the same page, which means your search would miss it?'s a search that succeeds:

That's the quote alright.

The said...

Hi there - sitting here with a copy of the book right here on my lap! No kidding, 1940, NYC printing - what do you need from it?

3:50pm - Eastern Standard Time - USA

Z said...

What do I need?

Well, a bit of context for the quote on pages 84-85 "In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist upon prenuptial and postnuptial continence" would be nice. Getting a sense of the book's overall argument - and whether or not anti-gay activists can justifiably point to Unwin's work as reason to believe that same-sex marriage threatens our civilisation - would be even better. A full-scale review backed up with quotes from the book itself would be absolutely heavenly.

I'll throw up anything you put up in a new post if you like.