Friday, April 14, 2006

A nation of boobs

OK, it's time for a cultural commentary, courtesy of Jeff Kuhner:

When future scholars seek to understand why Western civilization collapsed, they will point to one of the terminal diseases of our age: the loss of social standards.

The 1960s unleashed destructive, revolutionary forces — sexual liberation, pervasive moral relativism, a new age liberalism with its emphasis on pacifism, hedonism and therapeutic narcissism, and a puerile rebellion against authority leading to an erosion in good manners and high thought.

The result has been a coarsening of American culture. Our society has become obsessed with sex, body image, entertainment, fame and celebrity. We are a nation of tabloid readers, TV watchers, Internet porn junkies, sports
fanatics, and compulsive music and movie consumers
. All of these activities have one thing in common: they reflect our society’s over-riding emphasis on the pursuit of pleasure and entertainment.

In other words, we devote considerable amounts of our precious (and limited) energy and time on matters that are inconsequential, peripheral and ultimately, irrelevant.
We have become a nation of boobsignorant citizens, who spend much of their days doing vacuous and stupid activities, and preoccupied with the often sordid lives of vacuous and stupid celebrities.

This has led to a general dumbing down of American culture. Giants like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald were once venerated as cultural heroes. Today, it is Oprah Winfrey, Mick Jagger, Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Lopez. Over 100 years ago, the average U.S. college student was taught to read the works of Thucydides, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas in the original Greek and Latin. Today, he or she is taught remedial English.

Exactly so. Please go read the whole thing.

What Jeff says about our obsession with the trivial and degrading is exactly right. Consider the huge increase in Internet gambling, the TV fad of "Texas Hold 'Em" and the popularity of Las Vegas as a middle-class family vacation destination. Remember that it was "Indian Jack" Abramoff's casino connections that took down Tom DeLay, that damaged Ralph Reed's prospects, and that led to the death of Gus Boulis. (You knew I'd work a DONKEY CONS angle into this, right?)

The reason our puritan forebears condemned gambling and other vices was not merely that these activities were sinful per se. Rather, time spent in vice and idleness is time not spent in useful, productive ways that benefit society and nourish the soul. This is a CRUNCHY CONS sort of view -- and I've got my own criticisms of Rod Dreher's book -- but it is nonetheless worth considering soberly. In America, we are free to do many things, but just because we can fritter away our lives playing video poker (or reading People or watching ESPN) is not an argument that we should do those things.

So often, liberals (and some of my libertarian friends) will act as if criticism of vice were some sort of totalitarian repression. In other words, if you speak harshly about the gross sluttishness of Britney, Madonna, Paris Hilton, Christina Aguillera, etc., some liberals will accuse you of being a threat to sexual freedom or even accuse you -- incredibly -- of being "anti-sex."

This accusation of being "anti-sex" has bugged me ever since I had my go-round with Judith Levine (see also here, here and here) a few years ago. Levine is author of a book which suggests that Americans are too "uptight" about kids having sex, that we are "ignorant" and fearful, etc. If I'm so "anti-sex," and Judith Levine is so "pro-sex," then how come I'm the father of six children and Levine is childless? Hello?

No, what Judith Levine and others like her are in favor of is vice: sexual activity of the most selfish, unsatisfactory and unhealthy variety. Levine's sources in Harmful to Minors, as I conclusively demonstrated, included notorious defenders of, and advocates for, sex between adults and minors. What these people are in favor of is any kind of sex except the most normal, natural and pleasing kind, namely between a loving husband and wife. Sex as sport, sex as recreation, sex as commerce, sex as spectacle -- oh, that's all fine with Judith Levine & Co. But how about a husband and wife "forsaking all others" and making babies the old-fashioned way? Oh, we're a bunch of repressed puritans.

When her book came out in paperback, Levine included an afterword in which she accused myself and her other critics of "Sexual McCarthyism" and said that we had engaged in "guilt by association" because key points in her arguments for decriminalizing child-molestation (e.g., lowering the age of consent to 12) were sourced to infamous "boy lovers" and a NAMBLA lawyer who also had a business importing European nudist videos featuring minors.

Now, it so happens that I know a thing or two about how liberals use guilt-by-association tactics. Was I guilty of doing the same thing with Levine's book? I report, you decide. But surely Levine knew that several sources she cited in support of her argument about the harmlessness of child sex were, perhaps not coincidentally, less than neutral and objective about having sex with children. Doesn't Levine have access to Google? Hello? Edward Brongersma?
It has occasionally been my job over the years to write about controversial subjects, among them sex. I've written about Kinsey. I've written about Jesse Dirkhising. I've interviewed the lovely and intelligent Wendy Shalit (she's an admirer of the Austrian economists, by the way). I will repeat that Wendy is quite lovely, but she also has the brains to see right through the arguments for sexual "liberation" via sex education:
The argument that sex education helps resolve unhealthy sexual “hang-ups” is flatly wrong, she contends.
“Every single study” shows that “low self-esteem is correlated with early intercourse for girls,” she said.“That’s very interesting, because we associate modesty with making women weak. That’s what we’re told — that modesty oppressed women. Then why is it the case that women ... who wait the longest are indeed the ones who have the most self-esteem?”
Miss Shalit answers her own question: “Well, it’s because they have a sense of self that is beyond how they view themselves as a sex object. And they want to wait for the right person. There’s nothing wrong with that. When you’re insecure, you feel like you have to sleep with ... every guy who asks, because otherwise you have ‘hang-ups.’ You don’t have enough self-confidence to say, ‘I don’t have a hang-up. You’re just a jerk.’ "
Exactly. And notice that Wendy doesn't advocate any government crackdown on guys trying to score by convincing girls that they need to liberate themselves from their sexual "hang-ups." Neither am I. This is not so much about government policy as it is about people having the guts to speak truth to the cultural power of liberalism.

One of the favorite conceits of the Left is that conservatives are all a bunch of uptight, humorless prudes -- that we are "anti-sex" or "anti-fun." This is not just wrong, it's 180-degrees opposite of the truth. Let me explain:

Liberals are always talking about "safe sex." Boring. If you're having sex that's "safe," you're not doing it right. Sex is supposed to be dangerous. It involves exposing one's most profound vulnerabilities, sharing one's most intimate self. Such a deep and meaningful thing cannot be experienced with a prostitute or some drunk bimbo you pick up in a bar. That kind of stuff is degrading and dehumanizing, both a cause and an effect of self-hatred. But sex within the bonds of a loving marriage is uplifting and spiritual -- it actually makes you feel good about yourself.

"Casual sex" is an oxymoron, because sex isn't casual any more than it is safe. Sex inherently involves risk -- risk of rejection, risk of failing to fulfill your partner's desires, risk that you might be just moments away (give or take 9 months and 17 years) from having to figure out how to pay for your child's college education. There's nothing "casual" about that kind of sex. That kind of sex isn't "safe," it's dangerous. And it's great!

The best kind of sex is dangerous sex: The kind that begins with "I do" and ends with "til death do us part."

Oh, no. I just had another Ned Flanders moment, didn't I? That's what you get for raising the subject of sex and culture with me. Once again demonstrating why the rarest sentence in the English language is, "Gee, Stacy, why don't you tell us how you really feel?"

Thanks, Jeff Kuhner, for calling my attention to this. And also, thanks for giving me the chance to use "Angelina Jolie," "boobs" and "sex" in the same blog post. I'll take the Google hits any way I can get them.

-- McCAIN

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