The muse of philosophy must have visited my otherwise undistinguished classmate Dolores back in the fifth grade. The topic was dirty jokes and that we should not tell them or listen to them. "But sister," Dolores piped up, "what if you laugh not because the joke is dirty but because it is funny?"
It was a good distinction then and a good distinction now.
Editorial commentary at the Gray Lady nowadays resembles micturition more than intelligent cogitation, but there are a couple of notable counter-instances, one being the writings of Ross Douthat. Herewith, three quotations from his recent Prisoners of Sex:
The culture’s attitude is Hefnerism, basically, if less baldly chauvinistic than the original Playboy philosophy. Sexual fulfillment is treated as the source and summit of a life well lived, the thing without which nobody (from a carefree college student to a Cialis-taking senior) can be truly happy, enviable or free.
In his second sentence above, Douthat puts his finger on another indicator of our junk culture's having gone off the rails. Must I explain why?
Meanwhile, social alternatives to sexual partnerships are disfavored or in decline: Virginity is for weirdos and losers, celibate life is either a form of unhealthy repression or a smoke screen for deviancy, the kind of intense friendships celebrated by past civilizations are associated with closeted homosexuality, and the steady shrinking of extended families has reduced many people’s access to the familial forms of platonic intimacy.
Contemporary feminism is very good — better than my fellow conservatives often acknowledge — at critiquing these pathologies. But feminism, too, is often a prisoner of Hefnerism, in the sense that it tends to prescribe more and more “sex positivity,” insisting that the only problem with contemporary sexual culture is that it’s imperfectly egalitarian, insufficiently celebratory of female agency and desire.
Fr. Robert Barron here fruitfully compares the Catholic Church's rigoristic teaching on matters sexual, with its prohibitions of masturbation, artificial contraception, and extramarital sex, with the rigorism of the Church's teaching with respect to just war. An excellent article.
Although Fr. Barron doesn't say it explicitly, he implies that the two topics are on a par. Given that "the Catholic Church's job is to call people to sanctity and to equip them for living saintly lives," one who accepts just war rigorism ought also to accept sexual rigorism. Or at least that is what I read him as saying.
I have no in-principle objection to the sexual teaching, but I waffle when it comes to the rigorous demands of just war theory. I confess to being 'at sea' on this topic.
On the one hand, I am quite sensitive to the moral force of 'The killing of noncombatants is intrinsically evil and cannot be justified under any circumstances' which is one of the entailments of Catholic just war doctrine. Having pored over many a page of Kant, I am strongly inclined to say that certain actions are intrinsically wrong, wrong by their very nature, wrong regardless of consequences and circumstances. But what would have been the likely upshot had the Allies not used unspeakably brutal methods against the Germans and the Japanese in WWII? Leery as one ought to be of counterfactual history, I think the Axis Powers would have acquired nukes first and used them against us. But we don't have to speculate about might-have-beens. The Catholic doctrine implies that if Truman had a crystal ball and knew the future with certainty and saw that the Allies would have lost had they not used the methods they used, and that the whole world would have been been plunged into a Dark Age for two centuries -- he still would not have been justified in ordering the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Indeed, if the killing of noncombatants is intrinsically evil and unjustifiable under any circumstances and regardless of any consequences, then it is better that the earth be blown to pieces than that evil be done. This, I suppose, is one reading of fiat iustitia pereat mundus, "Let justice be done though the world perish."
This extreme anti-consequentialism would make sense if the metaphysics of the Catholic Church or even the metaphysics of Kant were true. If God is real then this world is relatively unreal and relatively unimportant. If the soul is real, then its salvation is our paramount concern, and every worldly concern is relatively insignificant.
But then a moral doctrine that is supposed to govern our behavior in this world rests on an other-worldly metaphysics. No problem with that -- if the metaphysics is true. For then one's flourishing in this world cannot amount to much as compared to one's flourishing in the next. But how do we know it is true? Classical theistic metaphysics is reasonably believed, but then so are certain versions of naturalism. (Not every naturalist is an eliminativist loon.)
If the buck stops with you and the fate of civilization itself depends on your decision, will you act according to a moral doctrine that rests on a questionable metaphysics or will you act in accordance with worldly wisdom, a wisdom that dictates that one absolutely must resist the evildoer, and absolutely must not turn the other cheek to a Hitler?
An isolated individual, responsible for no one but himself, is free to allow himself to be slaughtered. But a leader of a nation is in a much different position. Anscombe's case against Truman does not convince me. Let the philosophy professor change places with the head of state and then see if her rigorism remains tenable.
To sum up these ruminations in a nice, neat antilogism:
1. Some acts, such as the intentional killing of noncombatants, are intrinsically wrong. 2. If an act is intrinsically wrong, then no possible circumstance in which it occurs or consequence of its being performed can substract one iota from its moral wrongness. 3. No act is such that its moral evaluation can be conducted without any consideration of any possible circumstance in which it occurs or possible consequence of its being performed.
The limbs of the antilogism are collectively inconsistent but individually extremely plausible.
For many years now I have been an occasional reader of your blog, and I greatly appreciate your insight on many subjects, particularly your criticism of the Left. I am, I hate to admit, an aspiring academic who is taking on enormous debt to finish a Ph.D. in sociology of religion, and am immersed in the poisonous Higher Ed world of the SIXHIRB musical litany, but that is another story for another time.
My question concerns choosing a wife: Can the marriage between a non-religious person and a religious person be successful and a happy state of affairs?
I am an incorrigible INFP, and I thought your logical precision and holistic perception as an INTP would aid my thinking process, which is mostly intuition/feeling. You have been married quite awhile, and I respect that greatly. You say that your wife is religious, a practicing Catholic, and that you believe that to be a good thing. I agree, and thus I am in this dilemma.
My Romance Story:
I come from a devout Mexican Catholic family from Texas, with a very religiously devout mother who is never found without a rosary, and I consider myself 'religious' and Catholic, i.e. I go to Mass every Sunday, I pray, I believe, I read the Bible, and so forth. Now, I am certainly not a saint, as the rest of my story will show.
I met, during a study abroad this year, a stunning young woman who works for the United Nations. One night, our date over red wine at a cafe quickly escalated into dozens of nights of passionate, indulgent sex, and then into several trips throughout Europe in which we brought our negligent sexual passion into the creaky beds of many hotels. Sex crazed, we were.
Now that I am back in the States for the holidays, free from the physical presence and temptations of the Woman, the big question of our future is at hand. Should we continue or not?
We have been dating now for five months, and she is wonderful in all things, successful, an excellent conversationalist, and best of all, not a feminist! But, she has no faith, does not go to church, and largely thinks religion is oppressive, and most painfully for me, she does not believe in Christianity. I would also add she is more of an agnostic than a militant atheist, since she believes in some vague afterlife, and respects my religious beliefs.
'Listen to your heart' is what they say, but my heart is confused at the moment, and the damned sex monkey does not help. The Woman is wonderful, but long term speaking, once the infatuation is over through the sobering, cold water of marriage, will religion be the stone upon which we stumble? Will I be happier instead with a practicing Catholic woman? What will my Mexican-Catholic mom say when I bring home a non-believer? She won't like it, that's for sure.
In my opinion, I am skeptical that it will work long term, but she thinks there is no problem. What do you say?
Your question is: Can the marriage between a non-religious person and a religious person be successful and a happy state of affairs? My answer is: Yes it can, but it is not likely. And in a matter as important to one's happiness as marriage, and in a social climate as conducive to marital break-up as ours is, it is foolish to take unnecessary risks. I would say that career and marriage, in that order, are the two most important factors in a person's happiness. You are on track for happiness if you can find some occupation that is personally satisfying and modestly remunerative and a partner with whom you can enjoy an ever-deepening long-term relationship. Religion lies deep in the religious person; for such a person to have a deep relationship with an irrreligious person is unlikely. A wise man gambles only with what he can afford to lose; he does not gamble with matters pertaining to his long-term happiness.
So careful thought is needed. Now the organ of thought is the head, not the heart. And you have heard me say that every man has two heads, a big one and a little one, one for thinking and one for linking. The wise man thinks with his big head. Of course, it would be folly to marry a woman to whom one was not strongly sexually attracted, or a woman for whom one did not feel deep affection. But a worse folly would be allow sex organs and heart to suborn intellect. By all means listen to your heart, but listen to your (big) head first. Given how difficult successful marriage is, one ought to put as much as possible on one's side. Here are some guidelines that you violate at your own risk:
Don't marry outside your race
Don't marry outside your religion
Don't marry outside your social class
Don't marry outside your generational cohort
Don't marry outside your educational level
Don't marry someone whose basic attitudes and values are different about, e.g., money
Don't marry someone with no prospects
Don't marry a needy person or if you are needy. A good marriage is an alliance of strengths
Don't marry to escape your parents
Don't marry young
Don't imagine that you will be able to change your partner in any significant way.
The last point is very important. What you see now in your partner is what you will get from here on out. People don't change. They are what they are. The few exceptions prove the rule. The wise live by rules, not exceptions, by probabilities, not possibilities. "Probability is the very guide to life." (Bishop Butler quoting Cicero, De Natura, 5, 12) As I said, it is foolish to gamble with your happiness. We gamble with what is inconsequential, what we can afford to lose. So if there is anything about your potential spouse that is unacceptable, don't foolishly suppose that you will change her. You won't. You must take her as she is, warts and all, as she must take you.
There is also the business about right and wrong order. Right Order: Finish your schooling; find a job that promises to be satisfying over the long haul and stick with it; eliminate debts and save money; get married after due consultation with both heads, especially the big one; have children.
Wrong Order: Have children; get married; take any job to stay alive; get some schooling to avoid working in a car wash for the rest of your life.
I think it is also important to realize that romantic love, as blissful and intoxicating as it is, is mostly illusory. I wouldn't want to marry a woman I wasn't madly (just the right word) in love with, but I also wouldn't want to marry a woman that I couldn't treasure and admire and value after the romantic transports had worn off, as they most assuredly will. Since you are a Catholic you may be open to the Platonic-Augustinian-Weilian thought that what we really want no woman or man can provide. Our hearts cannot be satisfied by any of our our earthly loves which are but sorry substitutes for the love of the Good.
A few days ago I was blissfully unaware of Duck Diversity Dynasty, the reality show on the Arts and Entertainment channel. I still haven't watched even one episode, nor am I particularly inclined to; the antics of rednecks are not my thing. I have gathered, however, that the series falls more on the entertainment end of the Arts and Entertainment spectrum. One of the characters whose reality is depicted, Phil Robertson, shown on the left, has made comments on homosexuality that have drawn attention, to put it mildly. I won't rehearse the details of a brouhaha about which my astute readers can be expected to be familiar. I will simply make a few comments bearing upon the contretemps that strike me as important.
1. To have the homosexual disposition or inclination or proclivity is one thing; to exercise it in homosexual sex acts such as anal intercourse is quite another. You may be born with the proclivity, and stuck with it, but you are free to exercise it or not. The proclivity may be part of 'who you are,' ingredient in your very identity, but the practices are freely engaged in. Acts done or left undone are contingent and thus no part of anyone's identity. Moral criticism of homosexual practices is not criticism of anyone for who he is.
2. It follows that rejection of homosexual sex acts as immoral is consistent with acceptance of homosexuals as people. In a trite phrase, one can hate the sin but love the sinner. The sinful and the immoral, however, are not quite the same, though I cannot expatiate on the distinction at the moment.
It is therefore very bad journalism to describe Robertson's comments as 'anti-gay' for that elides the distinction I just drew. Opposition to homosexual practices is not opposition to homosexuals.
And of course there is nothing 'homophobic' about Robertson's comments. I don't reckon that the good old boy pictured above has any irrational fear of homosexuals. 'Homophobic' is a coinage of leftists to prevent one of those famous 'conversations' that they otherwise call for. It is a question-begging epithet and semantic bludgeon meant to close down debate by the branding of their opponents as suffering from a mental defect. This is why only a foolish conservative acquiesces in the use of this made-up word. Language matters. One of the first rules for successful prosecution of the Kulturkampf is to never let the enemy distort the terms of the debate. Insist on standard English, and always slap them down when they engage in their notorious 'framing.' As for 'gay,' that too is a word we ought not surrender. Use the neutral 'homosexual.' Same with 'queer.' 'Queer' is a good old word. Nominalists think abstracta are queer entities. There is no implication that the analysis of such is in any way proctological.
3. Whether or not Phil Robertson and people like him can cogently defend their opposition to homosexual practices, they have a right to hold and express their opinions in public fora, and a right to be tolerated by those who oppose their views. To tolerate is not approve of, let alone endorse; it is to put up with, to allow, to refrain from interfering with the promulgation of distasteful ideas. Without widespread toleration it is hard to see how a nation as diverse and pluralistic as the USA can remain even minimally united.
4. There are solid arguments based in theology and philosophy for rejecting as immoral homosexual practices. And they are available to Robertson and Co. should they decide to lay down their shotguns long enough to swot them up. These arguments won't convince those on the the other side, but then no argument, no matter how well-articulated and reasonable, no matter how consistent with known empirical fact and free of logical error, convinces those on the other side of any 'hot button' issue.
5. As a corollary to (4), note that arguments against homosexuality needn't presupose the truth of any religion. They can be purely philosophical. The same goes for abortion. If I argue against late-term abortion on the the ground that it is sufficiently like infanticide to inherit the moral wrongness of infanticide, then I argue in a way that makes no use of any religious premise.
6. The A & E Network has every right to fire Robertson and Co. By the same token, a baker or a florist has every right to refuse service to a same-sex couple planning a same -sex 'marriage' and it is simply wrong for government at any level to force the baker or the florist to violate his conscience.
7. In the interests of comity, homosexuals and their practices ought to be tolerated. Whether or not the practices are immoral, they ought to be legally permissible as long as they are between consenting adults. But this right to be tolerated does not translate into a right to be approved or applauded or celebrated or a right to impose their views on others, or a right to change the culture to their liking. In particular, it does not translate into a right to have their 'marriages' legally recognized.
8. Given the obvious distinction made in (1) above, the following sort of argument is invalid. "Tom didn't choose to be homosexual; he was born that way, so his practice of homosexuality via anal intercourse is morally acceptable." That sort of argument obviously proves too much. Pedophiles, sadomasochists, necrophiliacs, and so on down the list of sexual perversions are most of them born with their proclivity, but that fact does not justify their engaging in the corresponding practices.
It is also a test whether the infatuation was something more. If the marriage lasts and deepens, then it was; if not, then it wasn't.
To be infatuated is to be rendered fatuous, silly. Not that infatuation is all bad. A love that doesn't begin with it is not much of a love. The silly love song That's Amore well captures the delights of love's incipience. But fools rush in where wise men never go/But wise men never fall in love/so how are they to know?
The role of concupiscence in dimming our spiritual sight has long been recognized by many, among them, Plato, Augustine, and Pascal: "There are some who see clearly that man has no other enemy but concupiscence, which turns him away from God." (Pensées, Krailsheimer #269, p. 110) One wonders how much of the atheism of a Russell or a Sartre or an A. J. Ayer is the theoretical reflex of an inordinate love of this world and its flesh pots.
Frequent the flesh pots and it may turn out the best you can do by way of a conception of God is that of a celestial teapot.
I just heard Dennis Prager say that feminism is misnamed and ought to have been called 'masculinism.' He continued, "There is no celebration of the feminine in feminism." I remember having a similar thought back in 1973 when Playgirl Magazine first appeared. My thought was that there is nothing liberating in women imitating the worst features of men.
One ought to distinguish, however, between equity and gender feminism. See The Absurdity of Gender Feminism. There are undoubtedly good aspects of the former, pace certain conservative extremists.
Another thing from that era [the '60s], now surfacing in England, is the rampant promiscuity disguised as 'alternative' and 'liberation'. Jimmy Savile (I assume you have been following this case) was one of them. But I remember John Peel, who was an icon of English counterculture, boasting of sleeping with girls as young as 13, and there is a splendid passage in Playpower, by Richard Neville (editor of IT and OZ) about bedding a 'cherubic' fourteen year old, after smoking pot with her. It was meant to be liberated then, but in retrospect ... ?
At every step of his life, though, the sexual revolution wrought its harm. It perversely rewarded the irresponsible behavior of his parents and his stepparents. It had, even by then, made sexual activity among young people something to be expected, so that a lonely kid like Danny would constantly have to wonder about himself. It had corrupted the popular culture, so that well-chaperoned and innocent CYO dances were a distant memory. It set him up for a short-circuited sexual relationship with a mother-substitute, depriving him of the children that might have sweetened his advancing years. It swept away all the institutions that used to bring boys together, as boys, to train them to be decent and well-adjusted men. It raised him up in an anti-culture of faithlessness, as he would witness one sexual “relationship” after another dissolve by ill-will or boredom.
It has brought us a world wherein people sweat themselves to death in the pursuit of unhappiness. Some of those people, by the grace of God, miss their aim.
Old age is a good time for the continence whose practice was too difficult in younger days. But wait too long, and your vices will abandon you before you abandon them. Scant is the merit of continence born of incapacity.
Today, August 5th, is the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death. What follows is a post from 13 June 2009.
Thomas Merton, Journal (IV, 240), writing about Marilyn Monroe around the time of her death in 1962:
. . .the death was as much a symbol as the bomb – symbol of uselessness and of tragedy, of misused humanity.
He’s right of course: Monroe’s was a life wasted on glamour, sexiness, and frivolity. She serves as a lovely warning: Make good use of your human incarnation! Be in the flesh, but not of the flesh.
The fascination with empty celebrity, a fascination as inane as its object, says something about what we have become in the West. We in some measure merit the revulsion of the Islamic world. We value liberty, and rightly, but we fail to make good use of it as Marilyn and Anna Nicole Smith failed to make good use of their time in the body. Curiously enough, a failure to make good use of one's time in the body often leads to its early destruction, and with it, perhaps, the possibility of spiritual improvement.
Curiously, Merton and Carradine both died in Bangkok, the first of accidental electrocution on 10 December 1968, the second a few days ago apparently of autoerotic asphyxiation. The extremity and perversity of the latter practice is a clear proof of the tremendous power of the sex drive to corrupt and derange the human spirit if it is allowed unfettered expression. One with any spiritual sensitivity and depth ought to shudder at the thought of ending his life in the manner of Carradine, in the heteronomy and diremption of the flesh, utterly enslaved to one's lusts, one's soul emptied out into the dust. To risk one's very life in pursuit of intensity of orgasm shows a mind unhinged. Thinking of Carradine's frightful example, one ought to pray, as Merton did thousands of times: Ora pro nobis peccatoribus. Nunc et in hora mortis.
It is a decidedly unpopular thing to say these days, but I'll say it anyway, echoing a conviction of William James: Much profit comes from avoiding sensory indulgence.
A much more difficult practice is to enter into it with cool detachment. Coitus reservatus, for example. But it is no more difficult than playing blindfold chess, which is not that difficult. One experiences the sensations attendant upon sexual intercourse while remaining indifferent to them: one regards them as mere sensations. (In my lexicon, coitus reservatus requires non-ejaculation, whereas coitus interruptus allows it, but outside the partner.)
Could one take it one step further and ejaculate with detachment? This is hard to imagine, but conceivable. After all, Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita was enjoined by Lord Krishna to kill with detachment. Try to imagine looking a man in the eyes and then running him through with a sword, all the while preserving one's equanimity. If it is possible to kill with detachment, then it is possible to ejaculate with detachment.
What could it mean to ejaculate with detachment? One would experience the sensations attendant upon the outflow of seminal fluid while viewing them as mere sensations. One would not lose oneself in them as is normally the case, but hold them at mental arm's length, or, to change metaphor, peer at them from within the fastness of the inner citadel. One would remain unattached. Like the chess master who keeps the draw in hand, one would keep one's ataraxia in hand.
I had a lucid dream the other night in which I lost my cool to an extent I would consider morally reprehensible in waking life. But was there any moral failure in the dream? And then there are the dreams in which I am having sexual intercourse with a woman not my wife. I'm aware I am dreaming and I think to myself: "Well, this is just a dream; I may as well enjoy it." So on occasion I grant nocturnal permission to a nocturnal emission.
Was there real, not merely dreamt, moral failure in the dream? (Augustine discusses this or a cognate question somewhere in his pelagic pennings, but I have forgotten where.)
Lucid dreaming while asleep is not the same as fantasizing while awake. But they are similar. Suppose I am entertaining (with hospitality) thoughts about having sex with my neighbor's wife. That sort of thing, I have argued, is morally objectionable. I mean the thinking, whether or not it results in any doing. Jesus just says it (MT 5:28). I argue it here and here. (Of course if he is God, he doesn't need to argue it, and because I am not God, I do.) Does the similarity support the claim that the nocturnal permission is as morally impermissible as the diurnal permission?
As delightfully different as my wife is from my mother, they are both religious. I wouldn't want a woman who wasn't. Descent into the carnal I can manage on my own. Das Ewig-Weibliche zieht uns hinan. ("The Eternal Feminine leads us upwards." Goethe, Faust)
A paucity of common sense, a lack of wisdom, a tendency among those in authority to abdicate . . . these are among the characteristics of contemporary liberals. Common sense would suggest that in a sex-saturated society putting young men and women together in the same dormitory would be an unwise idea, one rather unconducive to the traditional purposes of a university. Among the traditional purposes were the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge and the inculcation of critical habits of mind. (Take a gander at Newman's Idea of A University.) The facilitation of 'hook-ups' and the consumption of prodigious quantities of alcohol was never on the list as far as I know. 'Hook-ups' there will be. But only a liberal would adopt a policy that facilitates them. University officials abdicated their authority starting in the 'Sixties. The abdication of authority is a fit topic for a separate post.
That a Catholic university would sponsor coed dorms is even more absurd. In Catholic moral theology sins against the sixth and ninth Commandments are all mortal. It would be interesting to explore the reasoning behind this. But part of the motivation, I think, is a conservative appreciation of the awesome power of the sex drive and its perhaps unique role in distorting human perceptions. Of the Mighty Tetrad (sex, money, power, fame/recognition) sex arguably ranks first in delusive power. In the grip of sexual obsessions we simply cannot think straight or live right. The news is replete with examples, Anthony Weiner being the latest example. 'Weenie-texting' he threw away his career. In the grip of his obsession, a naked old man, Strauss-Kahn, pounced on a hotel maid. And so on.
Epicurus (circa 341-271 B.C.) wrote the following to a disciple:
I understand from you that your natural disposition is too much inclined toward sexual passion. Follow your inclinations as you will provided only that you neither violate the laws, disturb well-established customs, harm any one of your neighbors, injure your own body, nor waste your possessions. That you be not checked by some one of these provisos is impossible; for a man never gets any good from sexual passion, and he is fortunate if he does not receive harm. (Italics added, Letters, Principal Doctrines, Vatican Sayings, trans. R. M. Geer, Macmillan, 1987, pp. 69-70)
Had Bill Clinton heeded this advice, kept his penis in harness, and his paws off the overweight intern, he might have left office with an impressive legacy indeed. But instead he will schlep down the centuries tied to Monica like Abelard to Heloise -- except for the fact that he got off a lot easier than poor Abelard.
Closer to home is the case of Robert Blake whose lust led him into a tender trap that turned deadly. He was very lucky to be acquitted of the murder of Bonnie Lee Bakeley. Then there was the case of the dentist whose extramural activities provoked his dentist wife to run him down with the family Mercedes. The Bard had it right: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."
Most recently, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has secured himself a place in the annals of libertinage while wrecking his career. Ah, those sophisticated Frenchmen.
This litany of woe can be lengthened ad libitum. My motive is not Schadenfreude, but a humble desire to learn from the mistakes of others. Better that they rather than I should pay my tuition in the school of Hard Knocks. Heed me, muchachos, there is no more delusive power on the face of the earth than sex. Or as a Turkish proverb has it, Erkegin sheytani kadindir, "Man's devil is woman." And conversely.
I was one of those who saw "Last Tango in Paris" when it was first released, in 1972. I haven't seen it since and I don't remember anything specific about it except one scene, the scene you remember too, the 'butter scene,' in which the Marlon Brando character sodomizes the Maria Schneider character. Maria Schneider died last week at 58 and indications are that her exploitation by Brando and Bertolucci scarred her for life.
Islamic culture is in many ways benighted and backward, fanatical and anti-Enlightenment, but our trash culture is not much better. Suppose you are a Muslim and you look to the West. What do you see? Decadence. And an opportunity to bury the West.
If Muslims think that our decadent culture is what Western values are all about, and something we are trying to impose on them, then we are in trouble. They do and we are.
Militant Islam's deadly hatred of us should not be discounted as the ravings of lunatics or psychologized away as a reflex of envy at our fabulous success. For there is a kernel of insight in it that we do well to heed. Sayyid Qutb , theoretician of the Muslim Brotherhood, who visited the USA at the end of the '40s, writes in Milestones (1965):
Humanity today is living in a large brothel! One has only to glance at its press, films, fashion shows, beauty contests, ballrooms, wine bars and broadcasting stations! Or observe its mad lust for naked flesh, provocative pictures, and sick, suggestive statements in literature, the arts, and mass media! And add to all this the system of usury which fuels man's voracity for money and engenders vile methods for its accumulation and investment, in addition to fraud, trickery, and blackmail dressed up in the garb of law.
A wild exaggeration in 1965, the above statement is much less of an exaggeration today. But setting aside the hyperbole, we are in several ways a sick and decadent society getting worse day by day. On this score, if on no other, we can learn something from our Islamist critics. The fact that a man wants to chop your head off does not mean that he has nothing to teach you. We often learn more from our enemies than from our friends. Our friends often will spare us hard truths.
Dennis Prager and Michael Medved are my favorite AM band talk jocks. Both intelligent and wise, they raise the level of the general culture unlike toxin-merchants such as Howard Stern who lower it. He's no star in my firmament. Prager and Medved know that they have a moral obligation not to add to the cultural pollution. And they have the intellect and good sense to make a positive contribution. Intellect is important, but wisdom and good judgment are even more important. Rare commodities these, not to be found on the Left with its adolescent querulousness, snarkiness, and the mindless incantation of the SIXHIRB litany: sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, racist, bigoted. (That particular list from Prager.)
But my topic is marriage.
Prager a while back cited respect and liking as two of the factors most important for a successful marriage. He placed love much lower on the list. Prager's remark struck me as astute. Do you like this person? Can you put up with her morning and night through good times and bad? Do you respect this person? These are important questions to ask before doing something rash. The nature of her endowments fore and aft will no doubt come into consideration, and ought to. But leave that for later in the logical, if not the temporal, order of considerations. A wise man knows which of his heads is for thinking, and which for linking. He thinks with the big one.
Brain, heart, penis/vagina, in that (logical) order. I trust my meaning is clear.
It helps if one can admire one's partner for attributes and skills one does not possess oneself. Marriage is a quest for completion, for the other half with which to make a whole, to cop a riff from Plato's Symposium. In a good marriage, the partners do not compete with one another, they complete one another. One does well to consider whether it is wise to marry someone in the same line of work. Would I want to be married to a female equivalent of myself? I need completion, not duplication. One of me is enough.
Nietzsche somewhere says that marriage is a long conversation. But how would he know? Marriage is better described as a long wordless understanding. It's deeper than words. In any case you will be talked out soon enough. So there had better be something deeper for the relation to rest upon.
There must be both sameness and difference. Sameness for compatibility, difference for complementarity. But here is the hard part: the ways in which the partners are similar must be conducive to their getting along, and the ways in which they are different must also be conducive to their getting along.
Example. Don't marry someone with different views about money. If you are frugal, you would be insane to marry a person who thinks of Nirvana as a charge card with an unlimited line of credit. But if you are sharp about money, you may want to think twice about marrying someone who is also sharp about it, for you may come into conflict on how best to save and invest, spend and lend. The sameness and the difference must be balanced. The partners need to have the same general view about money, but one of the partners should keep the books, leaving the other to perform tasks more suitable for him or her. There will of course be exceptions to this rule of thumb.
Her real name was Linda Boreman. The daughter of a New York City cop, she was raised in Yonkers and attended Catholic school where she was known as "Miss Holy Holy" because of her noli me tangere attitude. She died in April of 2002. Read her sad story here.
Her case and that of others, Kerouac for one, point us to what I will call the problem of the inefficacy of religion for moral improvement. Linda Boreman attended Catholic school and ended up a porno star. Kerouac, for all his Catholicism and Buddhism, two ascetic religions, ended up most unascetically destroying his body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, with sex and drugs and booze.
Of course, the counter-question can and must be asked: How much worse would we be if not for the moral teachings we have received from religion? And even if you yourself got no such instruction in your impressionable years, you were buoyed up by a society in which those teachings were partially, if inadequately and often hypocritically, embodied. (The hypocrite at least pays lip service to high standards, lip service being better than no service at all.) The boneheads of the New Atheism cannot of course understand this. They would sweep religion aside without considering what good it has done, and how the genuine problems it addresses will be solved without it.
George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying (Harvest 1956), p. 102:
This woman business! What a bore it is! What a pity we can't cut it right out, or at least be like the animals -- minutes of ferocious lust and months of icy chastity. Take a cock pheasant, for example. He jumps up on the hens' backs without so much as a with your leave or by your leave. And no sooner is it over than the whole subject is out of his mind. He hardly even notices his hens any longer; he ignores them, or simply pecks them if they come near his food. He is not called upon to support his offpsring, either. Lucky pheasant! How different from the lord of creation, always on the hop between his memory and his conscience!
Being like the animals is of course no solution, even if it were possible. A strange fix we're in: it is our spiritual nature that enables both our sinking below, and our rising above, the level of the animal.
If there is divine light, sexual indulgence prevents it from streaming in. Herein lies the best argument for continence. The sex monkey may not be as destructive of the body as the booze monkey, but he may be even more destructive of the spirit. You may dismiss what I am saying here either by denying that there is any divine light or by denying that sexual indulgence impedes its influx, or both. But if you are in the grip of either monkey I will dismiss your dismissal. Why should I listen to a man with a monkey on his back? How do I know it is the man speaking and not the monkey?
Poor Kerouac got the holy hell beaten out of him by the simian tag-team. The Ellis Amburn biography goes into the greatest detail regarding Kerouac's homo- and hetero-erotic sexual excesses. His fatal fondness for the sauce, for the devil in liquid form, is documented in all the biographies.
It is not that the lovable dharma lush did not struggle mightily in his jihad against his lower self. He did, in his Buddhist phase in the mid-fifties, before the 1957 success of On the Road and the blandishments of fame did him in. (Worldly $ucce$$/Suckcess is an ambiguous good.) I've already pulled some quotations from Some of the Dharma which offers the best documentation of Jack's attempt to tread the straight path to the narrow gate.
One lesson, perhaps, is that we cannot be lamps unto ourselves even if the Tathagata succeeded in pulling himself up into Nirvana by his samsaric sandalstraps. To the vast run of us ordinary "poor suffering fucks" a religion of self-help is no help at all. The help we need, if help there be, must come from Elsewhere.
A friend of mine (a philosophy professor) and I were discussing issues of immortality, meaning, and love on Facebook. I explained to him that the love I feel for others in some sense 'seeks' immortality, as the depth of the feeling is such that without that belief, love would be almost too painful for me to bear. He expressed a diametrically opposed view, wherein love REQUIRES that we acknowledge the mortality of both the other and ourselves. This is, he said, because time is only a limited commodity and the time we spend with someone else is only valuable because there is a limited amount of it, and so spending time with someone is only really an act of love for the one for whom time is extremely limited.
Your friend seems to be maintaining that only a mortalist (one who maintains that bodily death spells the end of a person) can truly be said to love another person. Your friend's argument seems to be this:
1. The time spent with the beloved is valuable only because it is limited; therefore,
2. One cannot love without acknowledging the mortality of both lover and beloved.
First of all, I would say that this is a non sequitur. For even if we suppose that (1) is true, (2) is obviously false. Gabriel Marcel did not acknowledge the mortality of himself or his wife, and yet he loved his wife. (On this topic, Marcel is one of the people to read.) Whether or not love is genuine cannot hinge on whether one is right or wrong about the mortalism/immortalism question. It would be both churlish and absurd to say to Geach and Anscombe, "You two don't really love each other because you are immortalists!"
Your friend might respond by saying that the intensity of a love believed to be undying must be less than the intensity of a love believed to be as mortal as the lovers. To this I have two responses. First, the question of intensity is not the same as the question of whether the love is genuine. The genuineness of love varies independently of its intensity. Second, it is not obvious that a love believed to end with the lovers must be less intense. One could easily argue the opposite: if I believe that my love cannot survive bodily death, then I am more likely to practice something like Buddhist nonattachment with respect to the beloved and with respect to my loving of the beloved in accordance with the 'truth' that all is impermanent and therefore nothing is worthy of a full measure of commitment. In other words, you could argue against your friend that it is precisely because love can conquer death that you value it as highly as you do, and that because he does not believe this, he ought to value it less. You could say to him, "Look, if you believe that you and your love will soon pass away, then it is irrational of you to ascribe much value to yourself or your love. Impermanence does not intensify value; it argues lack of value!"
Saying this to your friend, you will not convince him ( I am quite sure of that!) but you will neutralize his argument and show that it is not compelling. And that is about all one can accomplish in a philosophical discussion. But it is also all you need to accomplish to be able to show that your intuitions are rationally acceptable.
As for (1), it is arguably false, and for some of the same reasons I have just given. If contact with the beloved ends utterly with death, then this could be taken to show that the contact was not so valuable in the first place on the Platonic-Augustinian ground that impermanence argues (relative) unreality and unimportance. I grant that this is not absolutely compelling, but it is as compelling as the opposite, namely, that impermanence increases value and importance.
I'm with you: love is a harbinger of Transcendence; it intimates of Elsewhere. You won't be able to convince your friend of this, but don't let that bother you. Any argument he can throw up, I can neutralize.
If you haven't read Augustine, you should. I also recommend P. T. Geach, Truth. Love, and Immortality: An Introduction to McTaggart's Philosophy (University of California, 1979), esp. the last chapter.
This sometimes happens: You dream you are amorously entangled with a woman not your wife. But you know you are dreaming, and you begin philosophizing within the dream about the moral propriety of enjoying the sexual intercourse in the dream. You ask yourself: Should I give my nocturnal permission to this nocturnal emission?
If I am not mistaken, St Augustine discusses this question somewhere in his vast corpus. But I forgot where.
Interesting to note that the permission and the emission occur, if they occur, in reality, not in the dream.
George Reeves (1914-1959) was the original 'Superman.' You know the character: "Faster than a speeding bullet . . . ." Reeves was murdered (or was it suicide?) in June of 1959. I remember a comment of my Uncle Ray at the time of Reeves' death: "He could stop other people's bullets, but not his own."
I hope Reeves won't mind it too much if I take moral instruction from the mistakes that killed him. It has long been my policy to let others pay my tuition at the School of Hard Knocks.
Reeves succumbed to sex, booze, and career-identification. It is hard enough to get the sex monkey off your back, but if you allow him to form a tag-team with the booze monkey you have double trouble. But of course I would never say that he was 'addicted' to these two 'monkeys': I believe in free will, self-discipline, self-reliance, and in strengthening one's will by exercising it. With respect to temptations, a good maxim is this: Resistance strengthens; indulgence weakens. And if you are a conservative, don't talk like a liberal.
After his first wife left him, he became involved with two women, sequentially, both of whom had it in them to kill him because of jealousy vis-à-vis the other. The Bard hath said it well, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Reeves left the first for the second, but near the end was about to return to the first. Both were loose-living, hard-drinking, party animals, especially the second to whom he was drawn like a moth to the flame.
Alcohol fueled the fires of his delusion. Near the end he had become a full-time boozer. Hopelessly type-cast, his career was at an end.
The moral of the story: sex, booze, and worldly ambition are of the devil. But how attractive they are! And how seemingly flat, stale, and boring the life of 'moral virtue.' And as every leftist 'knows,' morality is but bourgeois ideology and all moral striving but hypocritical posturing.
Evil appears warm and inviting; good, cold and forbidding. Evil seems fascinating and lively; good, boring and dead. Such is the world — in which reality is illusion and illusion reality.
I just heard it on the Dennis Prager show. "A man looks in the mirror and sees Hercules no matter how he looks. A woman looks in the mirror and sees a wreck no matter how she looks." Those aren't Prager's exact words but that's the gist of it. The first sentence, at least, is verbatim. Exactly right. Yet another aperçu from the wise and fertile mind of the best of the conservative talk jocks.
1. Chastity 2. Good disposition 3. Beauty ("See a woman before marrying her.") 4. The sum paid by the husband should be moderate 5. She should not be barren 6. Of good stock 7. Not previously married 8. Not too nearly related to her husband.
The importance of #3 is contested, however, by Jimmy Soulinter alia.
We begin by provisionally distinguishing among thoughts, words, and deeds. I will assume that most deeds and some words are justifiably morally evaluable, justifiably evaluable as either morally right or morally wrong. The question I want to raise is whether merethoughts (thoughts that do not actually spill over into words or actions, though they possess the potential to do so) are justifiably morally evaluable. In a comment, I wrote:
With respect to MT 5.27-28, a married man who has a sexual outlet, but who yet entertains (with hospitality) the thought of having sex with another woman is lustful in a morally objectionable way even though he does not act on his desire and is no lecher.
Before we can ask whether there is anything morally wrong with lust we have to know what we are talking about. What is lust? Here is a start:
The inordinate craving for, or indulgence in, the carnal pleasure which is experienced in the human organs of generation.
But this won't do as it stands since it mixes desire and satisfaction in the same definition. It also fails to distinguish between lust as an occurrent state and lust as a disposition or propensity. Suppose we distinguish: