July 29, 2005

STATE OF THE NATION:

Shameless and loveless: The condition in which we now find ourselves is novel in many ways. Perhaps the most interesting is the enormous effort that is now devoted to overcoming or abolishing shame. (ROGER SCRUTON, 4/16/05, The Spectator)

Sexual intercourse began, according to Philip Larkin's famous poem, in 1963. Four decades have elapsed since then, and these decades have seen a growing recognition that sexual liberation is not the answer to the problems of sex but a new addition to them. Traditional sexual morality reinforced the society-wide commitment to marriage as the sole legitimate avenue to sexual release. It is easy to understand such a morality. It has a clear social function — ensuring stable families and guaranteeing the transfer of social capital from one generation to the next. And it has an intrinsic rational appeal in making sense of love, commitment, jealousy, courtship and the drama of the sexes. The problem is that, by impeding our pleasures, it creates a strong motive to escape from it. And escape from it we did, with a great burst of jubilation that very quickly dwindled to an apprehensive gulp.

The condition in which we now find ourselves is novel in many ways. Perhaps the most interesting is the enormous effort that is now devoted to overcoming or abolishing shame. The Book of Genesis tells the story of man's fall, caused by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Until eating the forbidden fruit, the Bible tells us, 'they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed'. No sooner had they eaten, however, than 'the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons'.

When you do something wrong and are discovered you feel ashamed of yourself. This kind of shame is a moral emotion, founded on the thought that someone else is judging you. But it is not what is referred to in the verses quoted, which are about sexual shame. Sexual shame differs from moral shame in two ways. First, it is not a confession of wrongdoing: on the contrary, it testifies to the reluctance to do or suffer wrong. Secondly, it is not troubled, as moral shame is troubled, by the thought that you are being judged as a self, a free being, a moral subject. On the contrary, it arises from the thought that you are being judged as a body, a mechanism, an object. Hence the German philosopher Max Scheler described sexual shame as a Schutzgefühl — a shield-emotion that protects you from abuse, whether by another or yourself. If we lose the capacity for shame we do not regain the innocence of the animals; we become shameless, and that means that we are no longer protected from the sexual predator.

Shame still existed in 1963. Couples hid their desire from the world, and sometimes from each other — at least until the moment when it could be clearly expressed. Obscenity was frowned upon, and by nobody more than the prophets of liberation, such as Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown. Sex, for them, was something beautiful, sacred even, which must not be sullied by dirty language, lavatorial humour or exhibitionist displays. Shame has since been banished from the culture. This we witness in Reality TV — which ought to be called Fantasy TV since that is its function. All fig leaves, whether of language, thought or behaviour, have now been removed, and the feral children are right there before our eyes, playing their dirty games on the screen. It is not a pretty sight, but nor is it meant to be.

This shamelessness is encouraged by sex education in our schools, which tries both to discount the differences between us and the other animals, and to remove every hint of the forbidden, the dangerous or the sacred. Shame, according to the standard literature now endorsed by the DES, is a lingering disability. Sexual initiation means learning to overcome such 'negative' emotions, to put aside our hesitations, and to enjoy 'good sex'. Questions as to 'who', 'whom' or 'which gender' are matters of personal choice — sex education is not there to make the choice, merely to facilitate it. In this way we encourage children to a premature and depersonalised interest in their own sexuality, and at the same time we become hysterical at the thought of all those paedophiles out there, who are really the paedophiles in here. I see in this the clear proof that shame is not a luxury, still less an inhibition to be discarded, but an integral part of the human condition. It is the emotion without which true sexual desire cannot develop, and if there is such a thing as genuine sex education, it consists in teaching children not to discard shame but to acquire it.

Equally novel is the loss of the concept of normal sexual desire. In 1963 we still saw homosexuality as a perversion, even if an enviably glamorous one. We still believed that sexual desire had a normal course, in which man and woman come together by mutual consent and to their mutual pleasure. We regarded sex with children as abhorrent and sex with animals as unthinkable, except for literary purposes. Thanks in part to massive propaganda from the gay lobby, in part to the mendacious pseudo-science put out by the Kinsey Institute (whose charlatan founder has now been admitted to the ranks of saints and heroes), we have abandoned the concept of perversion, and accepted the official view of 'sexual orientation' as a natural and inescapable fact.

Indeed, things have gone further. Around 1963 the philosopher Michael Polanyi presented his theory of 'moral inversion', according to which disapproval once directed at an activity may become directed instead at the people who still disapprove of it. By moral inversion we protect ourselves from our previous beliefs and from the guilt of discarding them. Moral inversion has infected the debate about sexual inversion to the point of silencing it. To suggest that it would be better if children were not exposed to homosexuality or encouraged to think of it as normal, that the gay scene is not the innocent thing that it claims to be but a form of sexual predation — to make those suggestions now, however hesitantly, is to lay yourself open to the charge of 'homophobia'. And this will spell the end of your career in any place, such as a university, which has freedom of opinion as its guiding purpose. In this area, as in so many others, the ruling principle of liberalism applies; namely, all opinions are permitted, so long as they are liberal.

Novel too is the way in which sex and the sexual act are now described. In 1963 it was possible — just — to believe that the language of Lady Chatterley's Lover safeguarded the moral core of sexual emotion, and showed it to be the beautiful and personal thing that it is. Sex, for Lawrence and his liberated followers, was still something holy, which could therefore be defiled. Forty years on we have acquired a habit of describing sex in demeaning and depersonalised terms. Having lost all sense of the human being as 'made in God's image', we take revenge on the body by describing it in what the Lawrentians would regard as sacrilegious language.


What’s Wrong with Twinkling Buttocks? (Theodore Dalrymple, Summer 2003, City Journal)
A crude culture makes a coarse people, and private refinement cannot long survive public excess. There is a Gresham’s law of culture as well as of money: the bad drives out the good, unless the good is defended.

In no country has the process of vulgarization gone further than in Britain: in this, at least, we lead the world. A nation famed not so long ago for the restraint of its manners is now notorious for the coarseness of its appetites and its unbridled and antisocial attempts to satisfy them. The mass drunkenness seen on weekends in the center of every British town and city, rendering them unendurable to even minimally civilized people, goes hand in hand with the appallingly crude, violent, and shallow relations between the sexes. Britain’s mass bastardy is not a sign of an increase in the authenticity of our human relations but a natural consequence of the unbridled hedonism that leads in short order to chaos and misery, especially among the poor. Take restraint away, and violent discord follows.

Curiously enough, the revolution in British manners did not come about through any volcanic eruption from below: on the contrary, it was the intellectual wing of the elite that kicked against the traces. It is still doing so, though there are very few traces left to kick against.

For example, the boundless prurience of the British press concerning the private lives of public figures, especially politicians, has an ideological aim: to subvert the very concept and deny the possibility of virtue, and therefore of the necessity for restraint. If every person who tries to defend virtue is revealed to have feet of clay (as which of us does not?) or to have indulged at some time in his life in the vice that is the opposite of the virtue he calls for, then virtue itself is exposed as nothing but hypocrisy: and we may therefore all behave exactly as we choose. The loss of the religious understanding of the human condition—that Man is a fallen creature for whom virtue is necessary but never fully attainable—is a loss, not a gain, in true sophistication. The secular substitute—the belief in the perfection of life on earth by the endless extension of a choice of pleasures—is not merely callow by comparison but much less realistic in its understanding of human nature.

It is in the arts and literary pages of our newspapers that the elite’s continuing demand for the erosion of restraint, and its unreflective antinomianism, is most clearly on view. Take for example the June 8 arts section of the Observer, Britain’s most prestigious liberal Sunday paper. The section’s two most important and eye-catching articles celebrated pop singer Marilyn Manson and writer Glen Duncan.

Of the pop singer, the Observer’s critic wrote: “Marilyn Manson’s ability to shock has swung like a pendulum in a high wind. . . . He was really scary at first, when [he] burst out of [his] native Florida and declared war on all Middle America holds dear. Manson spun convincing tales of smoking exhumed bones for kicks. . . . But . . . Manson’s autobiography revealed a smart, funny man—even if he did enjoy covering hearing-impaired groupies in raw meat for sexual sport. He turned into an artist, rather than the incarnation of evil. Church groups still picketed his gigs, which often echoed Nazi rallies (they still do). But any fool could see that Manson was making a valid point about rock ‘n’ roll gigs and mass behavior, as well as flirting with fascist style.”

The author of this review—who fastidiously balks at using the word “deaf” for the hearing-impaired but appears not to mind too much if they are exploited for perverted sexual gratification—takes pains to let the reader know that she is not so unsophisticated, naive, and, well, Middle American, as to find the whole spectacle disgusting: for example, by objecting to the adoption of the name of a sadistic multiple killer for trivial publicity purposes. To have responded in such a way would have been to lose caste, to side with the gawky, earnest Christians, rather than with the secular devil worshipers—though the determination to be shocked by nothing, to object to nothing, is itself, of course, a convention. It seems beyond the critic’s range of imagination or sympathy that people who actually fought against fascism and risked their lives and lost their compatriots in doing so, or who suffered under fascism’s yoke, might find the concept of flirtation with fascist style not only offensive but a cause of real despair in the last years of their lives. Fascism is not fashion.

The “any fool” of the last sentence is a subtle form of intellectual snobbery and flattery, intended to suck the reader into the charmed circle of the sophisticated, disabused intellectual elite, the knowing and the cognoscenti who have moved beyond moral judgment and principles, who are not deceived by mere appearances, do not condemn according to outmoded ways of thought, and are therefore unmoved by such trifling (and oppressive) considerations as public decency. It does not occur to the writer—nor would it matter to her if it did—that in the audience in which fascism was flirted with there might not have been any fools but many fools, those who failed to see the ironically playful “valid” point behind the flirtation and would embrace fascism without irony. [...]

When exactly did this downward cultural spiral begin, this loss of tact and refinement and understanding that some things should not be said or directly represented? When did we no longer appreciate that to dignify certain modes of behavior, manners, and ways of being with artistic representation was implicitly to glorify and promote them? There is, as Adam Smith said, a deal of ruin in a nation: and this truth applies as much to a nation’s culture as to its economy. The work of cultural destruction, while often swifter, easier, and more self-conscious than that of construction, is not the work of a moment. Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day.

In 1914, for example, Bernard Shaw caused a sensation by giving Eliza Doolittle the words “Not bloody likely!” to utter on the London stage. Of course, the sensation that this now-innocuous, even innocent exclamation created depended wholly for its effect upon the convention that it flouted: but those who were outraged by it (and who have generally been regarded as ridiculous in subsequent accounts of the incident) instinctively understood that sensation doesn’t strike in the same place twice, and that anyone wanting to create an equivalent in the future would have to go far beyond “Not bloody likely.” A logic and a convention of convention-breaking was established, so that within a few decades it was difficult to produce any sensation at all except by the most extreme means.

If there was a single event in our recent cultural history that established literal-minded crudity as the ideal of artistic endeavor, however, it was the celebrated 1960 trial of Penguin Books for the publication of an obscene book, the unexpurgated version of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The trial posed the question of whether cultural tact and restraint would crumble in the absence of legal sanctions. For, as the much derided prosecutor in the case, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, understood only too well, and specifically advised the government of the day, if the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover went legally unchallenged, or if the case were lost, it would in effect be the end of the law of obscenity. To adapt slightly Dostoyevsky’s famous dictum about the moral consequences of the nonexistence of God, if Lady Chatterley’s Lover were published, everything could be published.


What We Have to Lose (Theodore Dalrymple, Autumn 2001, City Journal)
rutality is now a mass phenomenon rather than a sign of individual psychopathology. Recently, I went to a soccer game in my city on behalf of a newspaper; the fans of the opposing teams had to be separated by hundreds of policemen, disposed in military fashion. The police allowed no contact whatever between the opposing factions, shepherding or corraling the visiting fans into their own area of the stadium with more security precautions than the most dangerous of criminals ever faces.

In the stadium, I sat next to a man, who appeared perfectly normal and decent, and his 11-year-old son, who seemed a well-behaved little boy. Suddenly, in the middle of the match, the father leaped up and, in unison with thousands of others, began to chant: "Who the f—k do you think you are? Who the f—k do you think you are?" while making, also in common with thousands of others, a threatening gesture in the direction of the opposing supporters that looked uncommonly like a fascist salute. Was this the example he wanted to set for his son? Apparently so. The frustrations of poverty could hardly explain his conduct: the cost of the tickets to the game could have fed a family more than adequately for a week.

After the game was over, I saw more clearly than ever that the thin blue line is no metaphor. Had it not been for the presence of the police (whose failures I have never hesitated to criticize), there would have been real violence and bloodshed, perhaps even death. The difference between an event that passed off peacefully and one that would end in mayhem, destruction, injury, and death was the presence of a relative handful of resolute men prepared to do their duty.

Despite the evidence of rising barbarism all around us, no betrayal is too trivial for the Quislings of civilization to consider worthwhile. Recently, at the airport, I noticed an advertisement for a firm of elegant and costly shirt- and tie-makers, headquartered in London's most expensive area. The model they chose to advertise their products was a shaven-headed, tattooed monster, with scars on his scalp from bar brawls—the human type that beats women, carries a knife, and throws punches at soccer games. The advertisement is not ironical, as academic cultural critics would pretend, but an abject capitulation to and flattery of the utmost coarseness and brutality. Savagery is all the rage.


It took an enormous nationwide effort to create the conditions that brought 7/07.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 29, 2005 10:04 AM
Comments

Shame, according to the standard literature now endorsed by the DES, is a lingering disability. Sexual initiation means learning to overcome such 'negative' emotions, to put aside our hesitations, and to enjoy 'good sex'.

Unprovoked, or overwhelming, shame is indeed a disability. Just as with social anxiety disorder, it puts unnecessary limits on the behavior and enjoyment of those who suffer from it, and robs them of happiness for no commensurate gain to society.
For these folks, there is no "good sex", just situations where sex is allowed.

Is there a sustainable middle ground between licentiousness and prudishness, or does it always have to be a pendulum ?

Current culture suggests that freeing ourselves from the "sex is bad, period" era came at a great cost, but going back to making people feel bad about simply being sexual beings doesn't strike me as particularly appealing either.

An MTV culture, and allowing public drunkenness and sports hooliganism, aren't very linked.

A society can have topless adverts on television without letting drunks brawl in the gutter.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 30, 2005 10:27 AM

"...sensation doesnt strike in the same place twice, and that anyone wanting to create an equivalent in the future would have to go far beyond Not bloody likely. A logic and a convention of convention-breaking was established, so that within a few decades it was difficult to produce any sensation at all except by the most extreme means."

Exactly.

Posted by: at July 30, 2005 11:06 AM

Michael:

No, it can't.

Posted by: oj at July 30, 2005 12:48 PM

I disagree that it took an enormous nationwide effort. I view degradation as more like the action of gravity. It takes enormous and constant effort to resist, but no effort to give into. When Dalrymple asks "how did we get here" the answer is that we were born "here", and if we don't make an effort every day to go "there", we will end up here.

Michael, I don't think that you can avoid the pendulum. The 1960s happened because that generation of adults who tried to defend the Victorian conventions did not understand why they should, other than it was the conventional way. Victorianism was built by a mighty effort of reformers out of the social cesspool that preceded it. They were the Dalrymples of their day, who saw the terrible cost of wanton licentiousness among the poor. Future generations took it for granted. The parents of the 60's generation didn't really understand the consequences of breaking the taboos, because they had always lived in a world where the taboos were obeyed as a matter of course.

It seems logical that we should be able to achieve some sort of ideal balance, but people are not logical creatures.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 30, 2005 1:04 PM

i agree with oj on this one.

england used to be so nice. hopefully it will be again, one day.

Posted by: cjm at July 30, 2005 1:04 PM

One indication of the problem is that the English authorities tolerate this behavior. If it takes 100 policemen to keep order at a aingle football game, and the local municipality foots the bill for that force, then they are subsidizing attempted rioting. They should do 1 of 2 things:

1. Say that such an expenditure is a waste of taxpayers money and close the football stadiums.

2. Have the police actively police the crowds, kicking out or arresting people who shout threats or incite violence.

It would also be helpful if they got a handle on public drunkenness.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 30, 2005 1:12 PM

Robert:

The council doesn't pay for policing at football grounds. The clubs do.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at July 30, 2005 3:14 PM

Ali,

I would say that those attending the match are the ones who are paying for the policing. If the crowds behaved better so that the extreme policing were not necessary, then the price of tickets could probably be cut in half.

I think that the problem with the 1960's (right after I got out of college) is that the participants never thought they would have to pay for what they were causing. The protestors at the G-8 and other meetings now also do not think that they are going to have to pay for the mess they are causing. The problem now is that we do have to pay forthis total lack of responsibility and the cost is going to be very high and very brutal. We will have to go through a whole lot of the LLL and ACLU and Planned Parenthood and Progressives and Mother Jones and PFAW brouhaha before we get down to the actual cost of what will have to change but change it will. The cost will be astronomical and the other cost in family strife and generational problems and political savaging and judicial actions won't be pretty to see.

Posted by: dick at July 30, 2005 4:59 PM

It would only take about 5 bullets to stop hooliganism for good. Of course, firing those first 5 is quite a decision. But that is all it would take. Having snipers posted on the balustrades (with empty magazines) at every game thereafter would be enough to keep order.

Posted by: ratbert at July 30, 2005 5:22 PM

dumping socialism for freedom would cure the root cause, but that isn't going to happen because british people have never wanted to be free. best thing would be for those who desire it to move here, or to india.

Posted by: cjm at July 30, 2005 7:40 PM

freedom is an effect, not a cause

Posted by: oj at July 30, 2005 7:48 PM

what is the cause that produces freedom as an effect ?

Posted by: cjm at July 30, 2005 9:44 PM

You know.

Posted by: oj at July 30, 2005 10:42 PM

the muggeridge reference (url) was a big help :)

Posted by: cjm at July 30, 2005 11:39 PM

We're here to serve....

Posted by: oj at July 30, 2005 11:44 PM

This post is the stupidest thing I've ever read.

Britain is the target of Al-Qaeda because it is so much like America, not because it is different.

Posted by: Brit at August 1, 2005 12:06 PM

where is Al-Qaeda mentioned in this post ?

Posted by: cjm at August 1, 2005 1:23 PM

"prophets of liberation, such as Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown. Sex, for them, was something beautiful, sacred even, which must not be sullied by dirty language, lavatorial humour or exhibitionist displays."

I knew Norman Brown's daughter. She had clearly not been raised according to the theories in his books. She was about as straight as she could possibly have been.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 2, 2005 12:40 AM

Britain was attacked because it is not Muslim. No other reason.

Islam is the enemy of all mankind.

British prudery was a novelty, entirely unlike the attitudes of the English, Scottish and Irish back in the medieval times, when, according to Orrin, they were happier and more serene than ever.

I don't think he's right about that, but one thing for certain -- the prudery that the Brits dumped in the 1960s was not a natural or traditional set of attitudes.

I was recently introduced to J. Kent Clark and his 'Goodwin Wharton," a hilarious account of what English morals were really about before they were changed by secularism, Methodism and Victorianism.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 2, 2005 2:28 AM

cjm: In Orrin's original comment.

Posted by: Brit at August 2, 2005 4:03 AM

Harry:

Britain is Muslim. Britain is everything. That'as why there is no Britain anymore.

Posted by: oj at August 2, 2005 7:49 AM
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