Not NSFW, but …

    1. Solzhenitsyn on scapegoating
    2. An era drawing to a close?
    3. Our system’s flaws
    4. Tired, dangerous, increasingly boring
    5. Big asks

 

There has been all kinds of piling on Harvey Weinstein, to the point where I — no fan of his — couldn’t really bear to read most of it. But there are people I trust, and read even when they write on distasteful topics. So I’ve got a few thoughts. Call this my “Sex Issue” (as if I’ve never touched on it before).

1

As I watch men pile on Harvey Weinstein and his ilk, and then notice myself “admiring” young women, I think of this:

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

2

Yes, purge Harvey Weinstein and his ilk. “That the era of the pathologically entitled, institutionally facilitated sexual predator may be drawing to a close is something every American should applaud.” (Damon Linker)

But #1.

3

Ross Douthat wades into the debate on whether consent is the be-all-and-end-all of sexual ethics.

I think it’s important for social conservatives to recognize that the predation of powerful men (and men generally) is hard for any moral system to contain … [A]ll moral systems and social orders have their weak spots, their places where the power of male predation finds a way. Indeed predators are often good at a kind of code-switching, playing on both permissive and hierarchical attitudes at once, relying on the sacred and the profane, on prejudices both liberal and conservative, for justification and protection.

Caveat: that ellipsis is huge, conjoining thoughts that I think belong together, but between which Douthat inserted a great deal of thought-provoking material and examples. But Douthat is congruent with Solzhenitsyn on that. We should be aware that this stable is going to need periodic mucking in saecula saeculorum.

Douthat even gives a one- or two-gun salute to feminism and a pivot to what he considers the best proof that it’s time for cultural reform of some sort:

[W]hile it’s almost certainly true (as I wrote this weekend) that the chaos associated with the first phase of the sexual revolution — call it 1963-1980 — made predation way, way worse, it’s also almost certainly true that the norms of feminism and the code of consent have imposed some effective guardrails since, especially where underage victims are concerned. Which makes it possible (though by no means certain) that these norms will become somewhat more effective every time there’s a big cascade of revelations — that there’s an iterative process where a pig’s downfall becomes a cautionary tale to would-be pigs, and a source of greater confidence for potential victims, and things really do get better.

This means that conservatives arguing for a different, thicker sexual ethic than just the rule of “consent” need to recognize that any revived code of sexual restraint would need to draw on the insights of feminism as well as those of pre-sexual revolution sources, lest it fall back into the sins of patriarchy once again. And it means that the depredations of Weinstein and his ilk may be suggestive evidence of our system’s flaws, but they aren’t necessarily the best evidence that it’s actively failing and should be reformed or overthrown.

What’s the best evidence? In certain ways I think the mess on college campuses — not the clearly-rape cases, not the Hefnerite excesses of frat culture (which a stronger feminism might eventually restrain), but the endless gray-zone drunk-sex cases at the most self-consciously progressive schools — tells us more about the inherent problems with “consent alone” than does the mess in Hollywood, because it’s a case where there’s more social equality, less boss-on-minion pressure, and a generally sex-positive culture of experimentation … and yet young people still clearly desire and need a system of rules stronger than consent alone to protect them from feeling unexpected rage or shame over how a particular encounter happened.

But really the strongest evidence is rather less dramatic than the extremes of rape and assault, predation and harassment. It lies in the fact that our consenting-adults moral system isn’t serving what should be the obvious ends of any moral-sexual ecosystem … 

We are several generations into the post-sexual revolution world, and women are less happy than they were before, people are marrying less and (despite what you would expect from self-selection) the marriages that do happen are less contented than in the past, people are consistently missing their desired fertility, a huge share of children (especially the poorest and most vulnerable children) are growing up without both their biological parents, and some of the wealthiest societies in the world are headed for a demographic cliff. And then there’s the fact that the sexes are politically polarized as never before, that both smug marrieds and singletons are having less sex than in the past, the recrudescent of toxic misogyny (among woke Marxist bros as well as alt-righters, in some cases) now that the internet has removed certain social filters, and more.

(Emphasis added)

4

Matthew Walther doesn’t disagree with Douthat, but is looking from a different perspective, and launches into a splendid Jeremiad.

[I]t is becoming obvious that the progressive dream of a world of casual sex free from both guilt and consequences is in practice a nightmare.

It is simply not possible to produce, much less promulgate and insist upon uniform adherence to, a code of sexual ethics that applies to interactions with persons one barely knows, to whom one has no binding obligations, guided only by the barometer that measures the chance of getting your rocks off. Even the standard of consent, according to which sexual behavior becomes a kind of economic activity governed according to contract law, is not exhaustive enough to account for the infinite variety of situations in which people acting outside ancient constraints might find themselves …

[W]e are approaching a point at which people are … wishing for a broader, more inclusive understanding of what it means to be human than “someone who, with permission or having given it, wants to interact in a variety of ways with other people’s private parts.”

At the end of our lives, how many of us are going to look back and wish that we had devoted additional hours of our limited time to convulsing in front of our keyboards with spittle-faced enthusiasm or walking down the street surreptitiously satisfying base urges? Are we going to cherish those fleeting sweaty occasions when meat rubbed against meat for a few minutes before life went on? Or are we going to think about the little quiet moments of conversation, irruptions of charity and decency into a vicious world, the weather, family, the sea, memories of youth, special pieces of music, the vast range of human experiences that have nothing whatever to do with sex even according to the most exhaustive definition?

Sex is not just a tired concept. It is also very dangerous and, increasingly, boring.

(Matthew Walther)

5

Rod Dreher has already caught flak from commenters for this, but I have no reason to think it’s not true of him and I hereby affirm that it’s true of me:

I’m sure there are conservative Christians who hold to orthodoxy and also despise gays and lesbians.* To the best of my knowledge, every Christian I know who holds to orthodoxy does so with a divided heart, wanting to show love to their gay friends and family, but not at the cost of what they believe to be objective truth, and obedience to God.

In my circles, conservative Christians understand how big the ask is of LGBT people. I don’t get the impression that liberal Christians understand how big the ask is of traditionalists. I could be wrong about that, but I rarely read, see, or hear any acknowledgement that there is any reason for trads to hold firm to orthodoxy, other than irrational hatred.

If you wonder “how big the ask is of traditionalists,” Dreher explains it at some length at the start of his blog entry.

I disagree with Rod on ChurchClarity. He sees it as a “winnowing” which “comes as a relief” because it was inevitable. I see it as a presumptuous demand from self-appointed inquisitors who are up to no good. Why should Churches be obliged to divert time and attention from other things to making up preemptive policies according to the specifications of — well, who? I recognize only one name among the ChurchClarity “team,” and that name comes draped in other controversy. I’m not even giving them the dignity of another hyperlink.

* Any “conservative Christians who hold to orthodoxy and also despise gays and lesbians” presumably are those who know none are unaware that they know any (and suffer a deficit of empathy to boot).

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.