Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Wings of the Dove

(To make this a blog exclusively about the Wings of the Dove click here.)

My edition is 522 pages long and at page 261-262 Kate tells Merton Densher of Milly's illness and her plans.

That is the exact centre of the book.

That is not a coincidence.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Curmudgeonly musing

Everywhere I have gone this holiday season I have seen young people smoking. This ought to strike us as odd for the last four or five decades have been characterized by successive crusades to eliminate smoking, especially in the young.

Could I be so base as to suggest that the anti-smoking campaigns have been set up so as to favour the elite. For if there is one thing that you notice about the many people who still smoke it is that they are not among the educated elite. And this is not surprising if we consider that the primary weapon to discourage smoking has been education. Given that what divides the elite from the underclass in our society is the ability to get the most from the education system, it would seem to follow that any and all efforts to educate the public will favour the elite.
And not just in the sense that the elite are more successful at being educated but also because they know what parts of education to ignore. Much of what the school system teaches kids is nonsense as are many public health crusades. It takes a particular class of person to know enough to actually not start smoking whole ignoring campaigns against salt.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Manly Thor's Day special

A couple of days ago I put up a post criticizing the New York Times for having a double standard that praised "aggressive lesbians" who behaved in ways that the paper would find blameworthy in men.

I'd like to return a bit to the concept of "aggressive lesbians". I've been researching around a bit and find that here are lots of attempts to explain aggressive lesbians. That isn't so surprising as the issue clearly makes people uncomfortable and has done so for a long time. When the feminist crusade against pornography began back in the 1970s, for example, there was immediate and strong opposition from the lesbian feminist community. It's funny to go back and read how anti-porn feminists responded for they were clearly left squirming by this opposition from lesbians.

The basic problem here is a pretty simple one: "If problems such as violence in relationships, wage disparity and pornography are supposed to be exclusively the result of male oppression then how can it be that something that mirrors male-female relationships tends to spring up in a world that is exclusively female?" Getting men out of the picture should make all this stuff go away if men are, indeed, the cause.

The willful blindness this produces rapidly becomes evident as you read the explanations of why some women become "aggressive lesbians" for those explanations are always individualistic. The argument is that, deep down inside, some women really want or need to be this way to become self-realized. That formation is tautological and that should give us pause. Not because it is tautological but because the circle is so tight: Why does Frances want to be that way? Answer: Because she wants to be that way.

A more interesting question would be to look at the social development of the phenomenon. Here the question would be how do some lesbians develop this way. What is the interaction that produces it? You can almost create a Hegelian dialectic here. Two girls have a same sex encounter. One is more aggressive than the other. They both carry away memories and trained reflexes from the experience. Lather, rinse, repeat and eventually you have roles.

It would be more surprising if it weren't that way.

Imagine what it would be like to be an aggressive lesbian in a world where no women at all responded to aggressive sexuality. Her entire sexual experience would be based on fantasy. Could such a thing even happen?

The flip side of the issue, the effeminate gay man, is also worth considering. As I've mentioned before, no one, not even other effeminate gay men consider effeminate gay men particularly appealing. The personal ads always make the appeal for straight-looking and straight-acting men. So why would any man wanting to attract partners be anything but manly?

Well, consider the plight of the straight-looking, straight acting gay man in a world where every gay man was straight-looking and straight-acting. How does anyone know he's gay? That puts a bit of a crimp into your chances of finding partners doesn't it? Being visibly gay, whatever its downsides, lets every other gay man you meet know that you are a potential partner.

Most of our sexual behaviours develop based on success. Aggressive lesbians and effeminate gay men both exist because both  types get partners. The existence of the two types carries lessons for men and women respectively. When we look for role models, men need a role model who not only succeeded as a human being but one who succeeded as a man. When women look for role models, men need a role model who not only succeeded as a human being but one who succeeded as a woman.

Living up to the roles expected of you increases your chance of success in life.

What she said

Ann Althouse is brilliant this morning in her analysis of this New York Times story. The article is about people dropping out of the workforce and how most of these people are women. The whole thing is so good it's better your just going there than my saying anything further.
Althouse: "Workers are dropping out of the labor force in dr...: "In fact, many are young women. But they are not dropping out forever; instead, these young women seem to be postponing their working lives ...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Wings of the Dove

(To make this a blog exclusively about the Wings of the Dove click here.)

It's getting harder to write about this book because I'm reaching more and more stuff that I really shouldn't talk about so as not to spoil the pleasure of anyone who has not read the book yet.

As others have pointed out, one of the fascinating things about The Wings of The Dove, is that a lot of the action takes place off stage. We read the novel not knowing about these events and unaware that some people know things that we an other characters do not. And then we find out what was known and who knew it and that changes everything. Without saying who, one of the really electrifying moments as we reach the middle of the novel and the top of the narrative arc is the discovery that one of our characters has been aware of far more than we suspected him or her of being aware.

It's damn good stuff. It adds, a subject for future discussion, a real film noir feel to the story.

Chapter 17 is sine qua non for readers of our era hoping to get the book for it gives us something or Merton's attitude to Kate that we might have a hard time grasping. Any of our contemporaries might reasonably wonder why Merton and Kate don't simply have an illicit affair. When a movie version was made in 1997, the screenwriter simply inserted such an affair. But such a thing was unthinkable when the book was written. Not because secret affairs didn't happen but because a woman in Kate's position couldn't be part of one without risking social disaster.

In chapter 17, Merton contemplates not an affair but the possibilities for simply being with Kate. He imagines the cab pulling up in front of his place and his inviting her in. This is impossible. For Kate, not only is the invitation impossible, the simple fact of it being possible is and she directs the cab so that no such possibility could arise. This is the water our two principals must navigate.

And in the midst of this we get a fascinating Biblical allusion:
She would have to stop there, wouldn't come in with him, couldn't possibly; and he shouldn't be able to ask her, would feel he couldn't without betraying a deficiency of what would be called, even at their advanced stage, respect for her: that again was all that was clear except the further fact that it was maddening. Compressed and concentrated, confined to a single sharp pang or two, but none the less in wait for him there on the Euston platform and lifting its head as that of a snake in the garden, was the disconcerting sense that "respect," in their game, seemed somehow--he scarce knew what to call it--a fifth wheel to the coach. It was properly an inside thing, not an outside, a thing to make love greater, not to make happiness less.
The source, the serpent in the Garden of Eden, is obvious. But what does it do to bring it up here? Why is respect for Kate that makes the serpent raise its head? Well, because it is respect for Kate that gives Merton the knowledge of good and evil. To understand what it is to respect her necessarily entails the knowledge of what it would be to do the opposite. But it is puzzling knowledge for the things he wants to do with and to Kate out of love are precisely the things that respect forbids him. (A plight any man will grasp immediately.)

For now, Kate can only offer future promise and she makes that promise in plainly religious terms. When Merton challenges her by asking her if she would take him as he is:
She turned a little pale for the tone of truth in it--which qualified to his sense delightfully the strength of her will; and the pleasure he found in this was not the less for her breaking out after an instant into a strain that stirred him more than any she had ever used with him. "Ah do let me try myself! I assure you I see my way--so don't spoil it: wait for me and give me time. Dear man," Kate said, "only believe in me, and it will be beautiful."

Womanly Virtues Wednesday

There is a piece up at The Atlantic about the disappearance of pubic hair in our lives. It's an interesting question. When I was an undergrad, girls without pubic hair were only available in the weirdest porn and it was tacitly assumed that men who bought the stuff were pedophiles looking for something just this side of illegal. Things have changed. A few years ago the Serpentine One and I overheard a conversation in which two sixteen year old girls were questioned by a group of younger girls about waxing and all of them clearly assumed this painful ordeal was a necessary rite of passage in their lives. It was pretty obvious from the rest of the conversation that all the girls involved were virgins.

As with so many things sexual, what were weird forbidden things that even porn stars refused to do a generation ago are now done by upper-middle class college and college-bound girls without anyone even asking them to do it. The Atlantic piece underlines this:
Less than two decades ago, the idea of "taking it all off" seemed painful, unnecessary, and even vaguely fetishistic; As recently as 1996, one harrowing, particularly memorable vignette from Eve Ensler's groundbreaking play The Vagina Monologues effectively turned the idea of removing pubic hair at the request of a sexual partner into something cringe-worthy and perverted. Trimming away a few strays during swimsuit season was one thing, but removing all the hair from one's genitals, effectively turning back the clock on puberty? Traumatizing. Selfish. Inhumane, even.
The irrelevance of feminists chapter 5674. And note the way that an older generation of women were trained to blame everything on men.

So what is driving this? That's the really interesting thing for the author of The Atlantic piece, Ashley Fetters (which would make a great porn-star name by the way) can't quite bring herself to simply blame men. And she cannot for there is simply too much evidence that suggests that girls themselves are a major source of the trend. Although not much research s available, Ms. Fetters informs us that,
What surveys have been conducted, however, tend to support what most of America already suspects: that Brazilian waxing is largely practiced among the young, white, heterosexual Sex And The City and Gossip Girl demographics.
So why is it happening? Well, like most social phenomena, it is probably over-determined. That's a highfalutin way of saying there is a lot of stuff going on at the same time. I have three possibilities to add to the mix.

A) Competition with other girls is driving this. I'd vote this the most likely cause. Fetters almost blunders into the truth when she writes about college girls:
Herbenick and Fitzpatrick both believe one demographic group has embraced the hairless-cat look more fervently than others: college students.

In theory, this should come as no surprise; The average U.S. state university actually has all the right features to act as a veritable incubator for anti-pube sentiments. Where else do youth, skimpy clothing, rampantly available pornography, and non-monogamous sexual habits all converge so gloriously?
That's all good but Fetters leaves a key data point out here and that is that there are now more women than men in undergrad programs. The more competitive the environment, the further women are willing to push to outdo other women.

Fetters may not know this, but in the 1970s and early 1980s, college girls generally dressed much more conservatively than high school girls did. In an environment where there were more men than women, there was less pressure to compete with other women.

B) Young women are more susceptible to peer pressure than  any other group in our culture. In other words, this is a well-established phenomenon. Get in a time machine and go back to the 1990s when women were wearing low-cut pants that were designed to make their thongs show and wave around the skin-tight leggings women wear today and most of those thong-wearing 1990s girls would refuse on grounds of modesty. But let a few super-competitive high status girls start wearing them and the rest of young womanhood will follow like so many sheep.

C) I have suggested before that the princess phenomenon is driven by girls reacting to a feminist-driven push to eliminate what feminists consider gender stereotypes and the rest of us consider normal girlish behaviour traits. Removing their pubic hair is a way of drawing a solid line between themselves and the group of older women who, in the opinion of younger women, are unfeminine, uninspiring role models.

"It's different when we do it"

Here is the opening of a New York Times movie review:
EARLY in Dee Rees’s film “Pariah” it journeys into a Brooklyn strip club where scantily clad young black women gyrate to a sexy, foul-mouthed rap song. Lascivious customers leer, toss money and revel in their own unbridled lust.
Okay, so where do you think this is going? Do you think the New York Times is going to treat this as a good thing? You can sort of see how a liberal publication like the NYT could get behind "unbridled lust" but it's hard to see the paper treating the exploitation of young black women for the benefit of others' unbridled lust as a good thing. And yet the paper does just that.

What makes it okay for the NYT is who is doing the lusting:
But in “Pariah” the gaze of desire doesn’t emanate from predatory males but A.G.’s, that is aggressive lesbians, who, in a safe space where they enjoy the fellowship of peers, can be true to themselves.
You can tell they are full of crap by the linguistic trick the writer pulls here:
lesbian = aggressive
male = predatory
I suppose only males can be predatory in the same way that only white people can be racist. That's crap. One of the big unreported stories of our times is black-on-black racism. I think you could almost justify not reporting it on the grounds that reporting black-on-black racism might make whites feel that racism is okay. I think that's also crap but I mention it here to note that the NYT's attitude in the case of this movie is the exact opposite. Any male seeing this could reasonably conclude that because New-York-Times-approved black lesbians are doing it then it must be okay for me too.

The other big hint that this is a huge steaming heap of it, is the authenticity card played with the phrase "be true to themselves".  With those two tricks, the paper makes what would be deplorable in any other context seem like a good thing.

An ordinary strip club, after all, is also a "safe place" where men can go to enjoy the fellowship of their peers and be true to themselves. I can go to one and be a disgusting pig towards women in ways I would never dare to in public. Why is that suddenly okay because it's black lesbians doing it?

Except when applied to artifacts, "authenticity" is always just an excuse for questionable if not outright vile behaviour.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Wings of the Dove

(To make this a blog exclusively about the Wings of the Dove click here.)

Yes, it has been forever. I've been reading but not blogging.

One thing that jumped out at me is that when Milly is with Aunt Maud there is no religious or Biblical language That I could detect. At the same time, Milly seems to realize that she does not really belong in these circumstances. When, for example, she tries to play Aunt Maud on the subject of Merton and Kate, she finds she gives away more than she learns. This is not a social environment for Milly.

As soon as Milly is back with Kate, however, we get talk of "consecrating" their friendship (p. 204) and then the significance of the title is raised again. There is a little tension between the two and Milly is coming close to fulfilling Aunt Maud's wishes that she keep tabs on Kate when she challenges Kate and the following happens (P. 210):
This unexpectedly had acted, by a sudden turn of Kate's attitude, as a happy speech. She had risen as she spoke, and Kate had stopped before her, shining at her instantly with a softer brightness. Poor Milly hereby enjoyed one of her views of how people, wincing oddly, were often touched by her. "Because you're a dove." With which she felt herself ever so delicately, so considerately, embraced; not with familiarity or as a liberty taken, but almost ceremonially and in the manner of an accolade; partly as if, though a dove who could perch on a finger, one were also a princess with whom forms were to be observed. It even came to her, through the touch of her companion's lips, that this form, this cool pressure, fairly sealed the sense of what Kate had just said. It was moreover, for the girl, like an inspiration: she found herself accepting as the right one, while she caught her breath with relief, the name so given her. She met it on the instant as she would have met revealed truth; it lighted up the strange dusk in which she lately had walked. THAT was what was the matter with her. She was a dove. Oh WASN'T she?--it echoed within her as she became aware of the sound, outside, of the return of their friends. 
Because you're a dove. Well, what are we to make of this?

Reason for despair

H/T Ann Althouse, I learn that Amazon keeps track of the sentences most often highlighted by Kindle users. You can see the list here. It's a pretty sad list with the masters of trite self-improvement advice such as Suzanne Collins, David Platt and Malcolm Gladwell dominating. Sadly, both Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde make the list too and the quotes selected suggest that for the most part they too are treated as dispensers of wisdom rather than s the masters of irony they actually were. Apparently there is something of an appetite for empty platitudes and painfully obvious moral advice.

But the real heartbreaker is seeing Jane Austen at number three. Why is that a cause for despair? Because this is the third most highlighted sentence by Kindle users:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Yup. I mean it's not just that it is the most famous sentence in the book and everyone already knows it,  it's also the first %^&*ing sentence in the book!  Why would anyone highlight the first sentence of a book? Are they worried they won't be able to find it again?

The real reason it gets highlighted, I suspect, is precisely that everyone does know it and lots of people highlight it just to pat themselves on the back for spotting it, the same way they applaud a song when they recognize it at a concert.

Austen makes the list againat number five with this:
Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.
Again, I suspect the reason is recognition. "Hey, the book is called Pride and Prejudice and here as sentence talking about pride, so this may be what it's all about." The problem is that that line is spoken by Mary who is given to spouting obvious platitudes. Austen is making fun of contemporary moralists here and not making any deep observation about pride. This is the sort of remark that might have been made by the Suzanne Colinnses of Austen's day. 

The stupidest quote of the lot, and this is quite an honour in this field, belongs to Abraham Verghese in a book I won't be reading called Cutting for Stone and it reads:
As she bent over the child she realized that the tragedy of death had to do entirely with what was left unfulfilled.
Words fail me ... something I have in common with Abraham Verghese.

I had to read all the way to number ninety before I found a genuinely profound observation highlighted. It's one of several fro The Picture of Dorian Gray:
There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.
That's really good. As I was saying in the comments someone else's blog recently, it's very easy to list the things necessary for contrition but something else altogether to determine what would be sufficient for contrition.

UPDATE: There is a real treasure at number 121. This is from Jane Eyre:
Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.
What's remarkable about that? It was written by a Brontë! Having a Brontë telling us not to spend our life nursing animosity or registering wrongs is like having Hitler tell us not to be anti-Semitic.

What madness is this?

Towards the top of today's Bleat, James Lileks writes:
I had my coat and sunglasses and car keys and was all set to head off to the Mall to return things, until I realized: okay, I’m not sane anymore. Why would I want to stand in a long line today when I could stand in a short line tomorrow? What madness is this?
Good question. But there is more that is crazy here than willingly standing in long lines. Put it this way, two days ago, on Christmas, we celebrated the coming of our saviour with gifts and fellowship and today we are talking about returning those gifts so we can spend the money on what we really want!

I don't mean to pick on Lileks in particular, he writes this about this stuff in a public forum but lots of people do this. An ex-girlfriend of mine once told me that she usually returns most of the the things she is given.

Think about that for a while. These are gifts. This is stuff we didn't have up until two days ago, stuff that other people put money and effort and, perhaps, even a great deal of thought into and now I'm rushing off to exchange them for something else.

I mean, we could all just keep our money and buy ourselves presents that way. We could sit around the tree and show off what we'd bought ourselves and everyone could congratulate me on my good taste in picking such a darling sweater for myself. That would be meaningful.

Yes, lots of gifts are badly chosen. Many gifts even come with an agenda,
  • when we think someone should be dressing better we give them the sort of clothes we think they should be wearing;
  • when we think someone should be losing weight, we give them athletic gear;
  • when we think someone should be reading more and playing video games less, we give them a book;
  • when we think someone reads trashy books, we give them the kind of book we think they should be reading;
  • when our brothers and sisters grow up and change, we give them gifts that remind them of the person they used to be and that we wish they would return to being;
and there are countless other examples. Much of what is wrong with Christmas begins with the way we give gifts; we spend far too much money and think far too little about this and we give too often out of a sense of obligation rather than any real love and devotion. But, for all that, this remains a gift from another human being and it comes from them with all their faults and failings. To refuse the gift is to refuse them and it being a bad gift poorly chosen does not change that.

Above and beyond that there is what I call the virtue lesson. These gifts, perhaps even especially the badly chosen ones, can tell us a lot about what other people see in us. They tell us what other people think we are good at and what other people think we are better at. This really is the way others see us! We don't have accept that judgment as final, but we should be thankful for this opportunity to consider it awhile.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The virtues of gentle misogyny

But there'll be times (your bartender should have told you) when you must steel yourself up to mix up one of those fluffy, multi-colored abominations  which, for some mysterious reason related to iron insides and paralyzed palates, the "ladies" insist upon downing.
That's from the 1949 Hand Book for Hosts from Esquire. It, along with four vintage fly reels, was a gift from the Serpentine One this Christmas. I don't post this merely so others will feel like they have been cheated by life.

Here we can see the decline in our culture. It's inconceivable that anyone writing in today's Esquire could construct such an elegant compound sentence as that.

That didn't surprise me.

What surprised me was how easy to swallow the gentle misogyny that permeates the classic Esquire period is. I started to think that maybe this misogyny wasn't just tolerable but that there might be, unpalatable as this might seem to our time, something right about it. I know, I konw, but bear with me.

Let me start with an example of intolerable gentle misogyny (any non-gentle misogyny is intolerable). When I was a kid, adult males used to make jokes about women's driving skills.  This was probably a left-over from their youth when women driving was a rare thing. What makes this intolerable? It's not just that it is factually nonsensical—statistics establish beyond any reasonable doubt that, as a group, women are better drivers than men. No, the real problem is that this attitude was meant to exclude women from driving or, at the very least, make them feel like intruders when they did.

The good kind is the kind that encourages rivalry. For rivalry between the sexes is an indispensable thing.

It also reminds men that they are supposed to be men, that we have specific set of roles to play. That remains as true today as it was in 1949.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Uncool quote of the day

No other fact, no other influence in human experience has compared with the birth and life of Christ.

Calvin Coolidge

Friday, December 23, 2011

This (apparently) is not a joke

John Dos Passos looking back on his early life as a socialist concluded that socialists blew it by ignoring situations they really ought to have responded to and needlessly pushing their noses into things best left alone.

Feminism is following in the same path. The following is the best unintentionally funny thing I have seen this entire season.

It's hard to imagine how you could pack more clueless, self-righteous tripe into less than ten minutes. The worst thing about it—and there are sooo many things wrong here—is the way it trivializes date rape. Anyone who seriously believes that "Baby It's Cold Outside" suggests date rape would have to believe that just about anything is date rape. That is an appalling insult to the women who really are victims of this awful crime.

There is really only one appropriate response. Call someone you know and suggest a date followed by a night cap back home where you will role play with the man flirting insistently and the woman playing coy and hard to get. Enjoy it while you can, 'cause it may be a crime next year.

Note: I should add that I think one of her picks really is creepy and that is "I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus". But in that painfully literal, irony-impaired approach that is apparently required to be a feminist, our analyst misses the real problem. That Mommy is kissing "Santa Claus" is not a problem because it's pretty clear to us that Santa is really Dad dressed up in a Santa Suit. Yes, I know, but our feminist analyst didn't get it and it is entirely possible that someone else somewhere out there is as clueless as she is. But the real problem is that the whole song is sung by a child who doesn't get it—this being dramatic irony—and the child thinks that this is cute and funny that Mommy is cheating on Dad. 

No doubt that will get me sent to re-education for having such quaint patriarchal notions that it is wrong for Mommy to cheat on Daddy.

By the way, it's much more fun to kiss under the mistletoe if the woman is dressed up in the Santa suit, although I have to admit that my preferred Santa suit for women is for indoor use only.

A final thought: if you do try this role playing game this Christmas, I suspect that most men and most women will discover the respective roles suggested above come remarkably easily to them. I'd suggest reasons why this might be but I have a sneaking suspicion most readers can figure it out without my help.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Manly Thor's Day special

I read trash when traveling and that is why I bought the December issue of Men's Health. This issue features Ashton Kutcher on the cover so you know it has got to be trash.And boy does it deliver.

Page 33 features a photo of a woman wearing just a bra and with her jeans pushed down to her thighs. Her hand is just outside the frame but she is reaching down and it's hard not to think maybe she has her fingers in the cake.

A regular feature of the magazine is photographs of women in lingerie on their hands and knees as if crawling towards you. I wonder what we are supposed to think? I know what I think.

And then there are all the various studies they quote. This one on particular from page 46 jumped out at me:
Penn State scientists found that arrogant men may give women less satisfying orgasms. Women in the study were less likely to climax first—a sign of intense pleasure—if their partners rated themselves as highly masculine or dominant. Self-satisfied men may be less attentive lovers says study author David Puts.
As I've written before, here they go looking for the cloud in the silver lining again. I can already see how a certain type of whining boy would get all heated up about the unfairness of it all reading this. All you need to do is to couple this with other studies showing that men who rate themselves as highly masculine or dominant get more partners and the familiar "nice guys finish last" refrain comes raining out.

In any case, I suspect there is a lot less to this than meets the eye. First, "there is a study that says", well, practically anything you want. Second, David Puts is an anthropologist and while I respect the work anthropologists do, calling him a "scientist" as opposed to "social scientist" gives a false impression because social science is considerably less scientific than real science.

And think for a second about a woman's motives in having sex with a highly masculine or dominant man. Is she thinking of only her pleasure when she does this? Or does she maybe want the satisfaction that comes from having her desirability validated by having him pursue her? And the further satisfaction that comes from seeing the effects her sexual power has on him?

And what about the man's motives in this situation. Are guys who always want a woman to come first really as giving and generous as is being claimed here? And we might ask ourselves whether the claim by the authors that her coming first is always a sign of intense pleasure. Sometimes it must be but there are plenty of times when a woman's pleasure delayed is her pleasure intensified.  I'm too much of a gentleman to say more but the stories I could tell ... .

To get back to the man's motives, and without getting to detailed about it, it's a major source of male pleasure and satisfaction to watch a woman as she has an orgasm and it's more exciting to watch that if you haven't yet come yourself.

 And the reverse holds for her too. She will sometimes want to watch you while reach orgasm and she is still very aroused. She will also do what is necessary to get you there with more enthusiasm when highly aroused which can be better for both of you.

Most important of all, she wants you to be masculine and strong and, let's not kid ourselves, she probably would warm to a little dominance too. I'm not saying all women like to be at least a little submissive in bed at least some of the time but women who do are about as rare as men who like sports.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Female infidelity as Hollywood sees it

One of the many things I am grateful for is that my occasional commenter Gaius put me onto The Last Psychiatrist. Like me, TLP is inconsistent: sometimes you moan, sometimes he hits something really good. Unlike me, sometimes he has insights that really shake us out. Case in point, his polemic against The Descendants.
I'm not knocking these movies for existing or for casting these hairless nymphomaniacs, I'm simply posing the general question: since the audience has learned nothing from their own parents, and they don't read 19th century Russian literature, what is their model for love in the 2nd decade of marriage?  They don't have one.  Which is why when this demo finds themselves in the 2nd decade of marriage they feel unfulfilled, anxious, depressed, is this all there is? They have nothing to guide them except The Discovery Channel and mommy blogs, and they lack the courage to analyze their ennui, so these movies serve the important function of pretending that it's normal.  "Oh, yeah, that's exactly what I'm feeling."  Fine, but don't you also want to know why you feel that way?
And, of the two, the mommy blogs are the bigger problem. Read the whole thing, it's well worth your time. That said, there is a weakness here that you need to grasp to really get it. TLP handles men and women unevenly and that is a flaw he shares with the movie he is discussing.

The set up paragraph from TLP  is below. I'm going to chop it into two. Here is part one:
Here's a bit of human nature for you and you are most certainly not going to like it.  Fat George Clooney discovers his wife has been cheating on him-- and he never suspected.  That's a profound insult, a narcissistic injury, and no, people who complain I talk about it too much but haven't actually learned the lessons, you don't have to be a narcissist to experience a narcissistic injury, it's built into the way we relate to other people.  It's jealousy AND an existential beat down: look at the limits of your power, look at the limits of your reach, she is able to have a whole other existence that had so little to do with you you didn't even notice, nor did she feel any need to tell you.  
Clooney's character discovers all this, by the way, while his wife is dying and in a coma. That's important because it completely closes any possible response from her and, therefore, any moral assessment we might make of her. So how is a guy to respond?

Before we get to that, let me emphasize the formula here: jealousy + an existential beat down = narcissistic injury. Jealousy by itself is a perfectly natural and, more importantly, an absolutely unavoidable emotion. No love is ever so secure that you won't feel twinges of jealousy sometimes. Jealousy can tear your love down or it can build it up depending on how you respond. But there is one sort of situation where you always lose and that is when jealousy is combined with a threat to your sense of who you are. Finding out you have been cheated on will almost always be an existential beat down.

Okay, now for part two:
At least if she had done it to hurt you you'd still suffer the jealousy but your place as main character in your own movie would be secure.  Maybe you're only supporting cast in hers?   "Screw that. I'm changing the script."
This is one of my own favourite points: she didn't cheat to hurt you because she planned to get away with it. Her guilt here is analogous to the person who decides to drive themselves home anyway after a  few drinks. She never thought about the pain she might cause by running you down because she focused on getting away with it. You weren't even on the radar screen when she did this. That hurts much more than even than the thought that another guy got to ... .

So what do you do? Well, assuming you don't go on a destructive rampage or kill yourself, the irresistible temptation is to make it about yourself.
Increase your pain to save your ego.  That's the path the movie chooses: she cheated not because she fell in love, or lust, but because he neglected her, he was a bad husband, he didn't take her on shopping sprees.    "As long as you don't ask me to change, I'm accepting some blame for her cheating on me."  You'll feel right as rain. 
But here TLP, in my opinion, goes astray because he isn't willing to confront the crucial question directly enough. Notice how he seems to contradict himself in the very next paragraph for he immediately turns around and tells us that the audience don't understand Clooney's character's motives:
They are (thanks, VO)  starting from a false premise: that he actually really loved his wife in the first place.  He didn't.  That's why she was cheating.
Uhhhh whattt??? But isn't that the narcissistic defense mechanism? You know, making it about myself by saying that she cheated because I didn't love her well enough? Well, it actually all makes a sort of sense because the movie itself embraces the narcissistic impulse along with its lead character and that is what TLP wants to highlight: if this movie really speaks to you, then there is something wrong with you. But even if we allow that, I think TLP is missing a key detail here.

To understand what is really wrong here you have to turn this scenario around and imagine it the other way. Imagine the husband is in the bed in a coma about to die and the wife dutifully sitting at the bedside holding his hand discovers that he has been having an affair and had planned to divorce her before he got sick. Okay, got that picture? Okay, it's easy to picture part of this playing out the same. You can imagine the wife suffering the narcissistic injury and coping by blaming herself for being a poor wife, boring lover, letting herself go or whatever but any Hollywood movie would ultimately assure us that she was mistakenly blaming herself. It wouldn't be her fault.

When a man is the cheater, our culture blames him.

It would be easy, perhaps too easy, to show us that the husband was, in fact, a selfish jerk in such a movie. That is the real hollow moral core in our culture: it is unwilling to acknowledge that women are just as capable of being selfish jerks as men are. That is the missing step that George Clooney's character needs to make here. He needs to see that his wife behaved like a selfish jerk and now that evil will outlive her.

And that is what women need to see if they are going to be really liberated. Moral freedom comes from confronting the truth that you yourself are a sinner. And that will never happen so long as our culture keeps honouring movies like this. For in this movie, as TLP nicely draws out, the narcissistic response is made to look like moral maturity and love. What he misses is that the reason it does this is because it cannot bring itself to treat women as moral adults.

Note: I used to write about women and womanly virtues on Friday but I'm moving that to Wednesday with this post.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pity poor Stanley Crouch

He so wants to believe.
One of the best reasons for happiness during this holiday season is that the nation is making a slow comeback from a terrible state. I mean the spiritual, cultural and moral recession driven by decadent extremes.
Well, I wouldn't mind seeing that myself. But Crouch doesn't really mean the whole nation. He means the black nation and its culture:
Just a few years ago, the black women of Spelman College of Atlanta raised audible resentment against hip hop figure Nelly about his lewd “Tip Drill” and scared him from appearing on campus.

Little happened after that. There were a few books written about “blackness,” but they did not create real questions about the material that supposedly defined a new level of black “authenticity.” That authenticity expressed itself in low-grade terms and inspired a disturbing number of young people to look like minstrels, especially those men who walk the streets with their underwear showing as they shout ethnic slurs at each other just about anywhere that they can.
And you can see why he suffers, the new "authenticity" is quite a come down from, to pick only one sublime example, Thelonius Monk.

 "Blackness" has become an excuse for all manner of degradation and the impetus for this comes from whites. Eager to ditch their own culture, whites and particularly young whites, have embraced the most appalling stereotypes. Young black men like Nelly, eager to get rich, have played the part expected of them. But the problem starts with white criticism of white culture. Post-imperialism, anti-capitalism, post-modernism and some forms of feminism have fed this beast by telling young blacks and other ethnics that white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture is worthless. And that is a lie. It's a long way from perfect but it is one of if not the greatest culture in the history of humanity.

Those of us who come from outside it and find ourselves sometimes demeaned by this culture do ourselves no favours by trying to pretend otherwise.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Unicorn Sweat Part 3

Is Bob Rae cynical or naive? What else can explain his going to Attawapiskat and demanding that the feds immediately pour more money into the place and forget about figuring out what has happened to the huge amount of money that has already been poured into the place.
The government’s attempt to “turn the political tables” by trying to put the spotlight on how the band has managed its funds is “disgraceful,” Mr. Rae said.
Bob Rae isn't stupid, he knows the band council has mismanaged the funds.  The only outstanding question is whether this mismanagement is due to incompetence or corruption. He doesn't think it would be any use to find out. He says this even though he knows that any additional money sent will have to be funneled through the same flawed and unaccountable local government.

And consider the long term. Even if some successful band aid is applied, the community will then go back to normal and "normal" is a rolling disaster.

This should sound familiar. It's the politics of magical unicorn sweat again. The thing is to care. But what possible difference could caring make here? Attawapiskat is in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing to base an economy on. The band council is clearly incompetent if not corrupt. The standard joke is to say "What could go wrong?" but the deeper question is "What could possibly go right?" And the answer to that is nothing could or will ever go right in Attawapiskat. That's the thing that it would take real political courage to say.

And it's not just Attawapiskat. There are hundreds of Aboriginal bands across Canada that are potential Attawapiskats waiting to spin out of control. And there are a whole line of cynical politicians and journalists waiting to exploit the situation by making other politicians prove they care. That "caring" in this case means condemning another generation of Aboriginal youth to poverty and suffering doesn't matter.

And note that the media, who brag about their ability to hold governments accountable, are doing everything they can to keep the band council here and at other reserves from being held accountable.

Isolated communities built on failed cultures cannot succeed, It doesn't matter how much magical unicorn sweat is poured over them. And there is the problem. We're not allowed to say anymore that some cultures are better than others. Well, you can go die in a sweatlodge ceremony run by some fraud because aboriginal cultures are supposedly better but you can't point out that the most successful form of liberal democracy was produced by WASP culture.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, my Irish ancestors from Saint John and my Quebecois ancestors didn't like the WASPs who lorded it over them one tiny bit but they were smart enough to recognize that the moral and political culture the WASPs had was better than their own. They climbed from poverty to success by doing WASP culture better than the WASPs did.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bogus emotion and mass credulity

If Marxism is the opiate of the intellectuals, then Christopher Hitchens has become their Princess Diana. Dial it back people—this is way over the top. It's sad that he is dead but he just wasn't that important.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Strength is a virtue

Two years ago, this blog began like this:
I was rereading Alasdair MacIntyre the other day and something that had never seemed terribly significant or controversial jumped out at me. This:

At least some of the items in a homeric list of the aretai would clearly not be counted by most of us as virtues at all, physical strength being the most obvious example. (After Virtue p181)
I should preface this by saying that MacIntyre is surpassed by only Jane Austen in my personal pantheon of moral thinkers.

That said, I still think he is wrong. Physical strength isn't the most significant virtue but I think it is a virtue and I think we all know it is. 
And that still seems right to me.

I'd go so far to say that if strength isn't a virtue then nothing is. Physical strength is the paradigm virtue.  It isn't impossible to be virtuous if you are physically weak but it is much, much harder.

I've been especially aware of this this last two weeks as I have a lingering virus that has physically weakened me and made me less of a man in the process. To be a man we have to be physically strong. It's that simple.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What best-selling romance novels tell us about women

1. That women are not in control of their lives

Here is the opening of the trashy novel I got to read on the train:
Maddie drove the narrow, curvy highway with her past still nipping at her heels after fourteen hundred miles. Not even her dependable Honda had been able to out run her demons.

Or her failings.

Good thing, then, that she was done with failing. Please be done with failing, she thought.
That's from Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis. Shalvis cranks them out and her offerings sell well. She knows her audience.

And you get a picture of her readership from that opening. And every female character is a loser like this. Even, if not especially, the ones who seem to really have it together from the outside. At some point the hollow sham that is their outer life is pulled away to reveal turmoil. Women who read these things really, really want to believe this is true of other women.

2. That women cannot control their impulses to eat and have sex. Yeah, I know, it sure doesn't feel that way from the outside but none of Shalvis's characters are capable of making intelligent choices in this area. They always want sex and a hot fudge sundae. Now!!!

They sometimes say no to sex but they always, and I mean always, want it. A typical character will tell some guy she can't have sex because she is "not ready for it" but be unable to stand up and leave for fear this will reveal that there is a puddle on her chair. 

BTW: If a frat boy at any university were overhead portraying women the way a lot of women's fiction does, he and his frat would be banned from campus and sent to re-education camps in Siberia.

3. That women want to be loved for who they are but want men who are perfect physically and emotionally. They also want contradictions: the ideal man is apparently emotionally solid as Gibraltar but has a deep emotional troubles that, while they don't effect his ability to function successfully in the world even a tiny bit, including rescuing the heroine from her countless screw ups, do give the heroine an opportunity to get angry at him for not being open with her. Not open so that she can help mind you—she is a helpless feeb and can't help herself—just 'cause.

Meanwhile, women are utterly incapable of doing the simplest task without screwing up because of their emotional pasts.

4. That women want a father figure who give them great orgasms.

The father figure is the key part of it. In Simply Irresistible our heroine and her sisters are ostensibly brought together by their deceased mother who leaves them a dilapidated hotel. This gets stated over and over again even though all the evidence is that said mother was a drugged out hippie incapable of boiling water. The male hero actually solves all the problems and acts as a father figure picking up our heroine after he repeated failures and sitting her on a couch with a blanket and feeding her hot chocolate while listening sympathetically, always taking her side and then giving terribly good advice that the heroine never follows.

And then he give them great sex that they can't resist but they still get angry at him because, well, because they have contradictory needs that are somehow his fault.

5. That the heroine's only real problem is that she doesn't have the courage to allow herself to take the things that she really wants. She realizes with a jolt that all her failings have been because she hasn't been selfish enough. Of course, it's not called selfishness in the novel: there it is described as not having the courage to grasp at the things she really wants. This "problem" gets solved on the last page.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Poetic justice

H/T Ann Althouse. The horrid Anton Chekov visited an ailing Tolstoy who asked him to bend his hear close and said:

"You know, I hate your plays. Shakespeare was a bad writer, and I consider your plays even worse than his."

If only someone had done the same for Ibsen.
I know what you're thinking: But Shakespeare was great? Sure, but consider the power of the insult. Suppose you wanted to really tear someone down but offer them nothing they could use to better themselves? That would be the way to put it.

Travel Day

I'm staying at the Captain's Inn in Alma, New Brunswick. I recommend it.

I was going to post a  bunch of photos but it took fifteen minutes to upload one so just the one teaser shot below. More when I get home.

Alma is one of the last perfect fishing villages left on the east coast. It also has some of the most beautiful fogs and, including the adjoining Fundy National Park, some of the best scenery you'll see anywhere.

It's so perfect that there isn't any mobile phone service here. It's so perfect that, in the off season, the restaurant in town closes at five so staff can go home and be with their families. All the hotels but one are closed up for the season. This is the only place I know of where you can still be like Mrs. Muir and fall in love with the ghost of a Sea Captain. (That novel, a minor masterpiece, isn't in print anymore, which is tragic.)

Here is the view from the top of the hill as you come down into town.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More on Lana Del Rey

Just 'cause I want to, here is some more on "Video Games".

I'll start by taking you way back to a song that I think has a lot in common with Video Games (this association may make people who already hate Lana Del Rey hate her more).

That is not a song about Billy Joe. He and all the Southern Gothic stuff that goes with him is just decoration around the real theme of the song. Billy Joe and his fate are a projection by a girl coming to terms with her sexuality just like the creature in The Creature from the Black Lagoon is really about a boy coming to terms with his. What really makes Billy Joe so haunting is not what might or might not have happened to him but that this girl is coming apart at the dinner table and no one is noticing.

If we pay close attention while we listen to and watch Video Games we will see that it too features a lot of Gothic enhancement but underneath it all is really the story of a girl coming apart and nobody's noticing, least of all her boyfriend playing video games.

In this song and video the symbolism comes in the form of a whole lot of David Lynch style neo-noir touches. But, at base, the song is about exactly what its lyrics tell you its about: a girl has invested everything in the idea of love and getting a boy and now he's ignoring her to play video games. Like the Ode to Billy Joe, there is an experience here that speaks to millions of teenage girls. And that is what makes it pop music: if it doesn't speak to girls from 15 to 19 years old, it isn't pop music.

Notice the bit in the footage where the security guy tells the drunken "Lana", "I can't let you in". In where? It doesn't matter because it's just window dressing. The fantasy noir stuff merely adds an overtone to the real life stuff:
  • in real life the girl's boyfriend shuts her out by playing video games
  • in the fantasy video, security guy shuts her glamorous alter-ego out of the guy's life.

Get past the exotic imagery and we have a pretty ordinary predicament.

But ordinary doesn't mean it isn't horrible for the girls it happens to. Let's look at some of the lyrics:
It's you, it's you, it's all for you
Everything I do
"Love" is her goal. And there she is all depiliated,  trussed up in her push-up bra and scanty panties and dressed in his favourite dress and perfume. All of this was supposed to be empowering. It was supposed to make her confident in her sexuality. Unless, of course, the real reason she did it all was just to get a guy to love her. Because if that is what is really driving girls, then they are just making themselves vulnerable to boys.

Continue on with the lyrics and you can see why some people hate Lana Del Rey so, she's blowing the cover on the whole "girl power" mythology here:
 I tell you all the time
Heaven is a place on earth with you
Tell me all the things you want to do
I heard that you like the bad girls
Honey, is that true?
Yup, the whole girl power thing of "I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want" has gone from that to girls telling boys, "tell me what you want, what you really, really want". Well, actually, it always was that. Was the success of the Spice Girls really about girl power or was it about things such as Scary Spice bouncing her braless breasts for our entertainment in their first video? (By the way, notice the lyrics intentionally mock this Belinda Carlyle song.)

Actual girls trying to live the girl-power fantasy ended up saying to boys, "Hey honey, want me to be a bad girl? Anything that turns you on." You know this girl, she lives on your street, maybe she's your daughter ... or your girlfriend. There are a lot just like her. Go read the articles and the comments over at The Frisky and you can see hundreds of examples. And that is why this song caught on like wildfire. Millions of girls and young women heard it and recognized their predicament in it. This is hell in little boxes where they live.
It's better than I ever even knew
They say that the world was built for two
Only worth living if somebody is loving you 
There's the mythology thanks to the supposedly liberated Belinda Carlyles, Madonnas and Lady Gagas of the world. That's the thing that never changes. Girls who watched Gidget movies fifty years ago believed that and now girls who listen to hip, indie music believe it. It's hard wired into girls to think this way.

And now the most important line in the song:
Baby now you do 
That comes after the line about life only being worth living "if someone is loving you" and it seems to say he does except the entire context of the song says he's busy pulling a power trip on her by playing video games to shut her out. She's put on this whole sexual persona just for him and he's ignoring her. And because he is ignoring her, she will try even harder to impress him.

And yes, that is the way it works in real life. That's how assholes play girls. And it works. It really does. It always has and it always will.

So let's go a step deeper and ask about her motives. He's cutting her down with these tactics but what about hers? Is she honest with herself? Well, there is nothing in the song to tell us so we have to supply that part up for ourselves. Irony shouldn't have to tell us it's irony after all.

And this song is dripping with irony. "I heard you like bad girls". There is nothing terribly wrong with that but if you tell yourself that all you want is the power of self realization that comes from making someone want you while secretly craving to be Cinderella in love, well that's a problem.

But it's a problem all girls have now because the whole culture tells them it's all about empowerment. "Be sex positive and you'll feel better about yourself." But girls haven't changed: they still go for all the romance of true love. All this sex positive stuff has done is to make them more vulnerable to manipulative bastards who know that if they ignore her she'll try harder and harder to win their attention by putting out in new and creative ways she's read about somewhere.
I'm in his favorite sun dress
Watching me get undressed
Take that body downtown

In The Guardian reviewer Sam Leith notices all his and says it disturbs him. He asks:
I find myself wanting to shout: "Hel-LO! Any feminists in the house?" As it is, you watch the video for this bruised and beautiful song – and it's almost as if the Spice Girls never existed.
But what could a feminist say? Feminism is all about how women are oppressed by men. That women might be living out silly girl-power fantasies that only lead to dead ends isn't something feminists can attack because that would make it, you know, kinda women's fault. And that is the really disturbing thing about Lana Del Rey; she dares to say that maybe there is something going wrong with girls themselves.

And you have to wonder how obtuse a critic can be when you read Leith saying this:
The lyrics are somewhat impressionistic, but if you had to guess who's playing the titular videogames, you wouldn't be putting your money on our Lana.
Sam baby, here's a hint, you're watching the creation of a persona for a character named "Lana Del Rey" who doesn't really exist any more than "Ziggy Stardust" did and that character is being created by splicing together a whole lot of video found on the internet. Can you see the "video games" yet? If you can't, you need to resign your position at the paper and get a job you're more qualified for like brick laying.

UPDATE: This long and rambling post has attracted a significant amount of traffic. In order to lessen the pain of readers a mite, I have tightened it a bit here and there on December 28, 2011. It remains a long and rambling post only maybe just a little bit less so.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The girls are not alright: the politics of Lana Del Rey

Leah McLaren thinks Lana Del Ray lacks substance.

Normally, I'd say someone was lucky if they told me they'd never read McLaren. In this case, however, it is a little sad if you haven't because you cannot begin to grasp how funny it is that she would accuse someone else of lacking in substance. Fluffiness just doesn't get any more fluffy than Leah.

But back to Lana Del Rey the new indie pop sensation whom a whole lot of people seem to hate because she may be "inauthentic". I know, as opposed to all those completely real popstars. And what, pray tell, does "authenticity" mean in an era where girls have their pubic hair ripped out by the roots in order to impress boys.

So what upsets people so much about Lana Del Ray? It's hard to tell, really, as the arguments are not exactly clear. They mostly involve imposing narratives onto her video and then shooting holes in the imagined narrative. Rather than dwell on what has been said, could I suggest that the real problem is that she has inadvertently blurted out the truth: the kids are not alright that things aren't going well for girls in this brave new world.

I'm going to post her break out video below and I'd recommend watching it full screen. Watch it several times over. It has a nice neo-noir feel about it but, and this is important, there is no narrative to the video. It does not, contrary to what a lot of people want to believe tell a story. Instead it's an impressionistic portrait of unhappiness: this is what hell in little boxes is like in 2011. This is a video that dares tell us that girls are unhappy. That, far from taking over the world, they are confused and lost.

Do you believe me? Well, watch the video then walk around looking at girls. Do they look they happy or do they look more like the girl in the video? If Lana is right, there is a big problem that no one wants to talk about out there.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Why is everyone trying so hard to get girls laid?

Womanly virtues Friday
Update: An important qualification. I think it is perfectly understandable that any individual might really want to have sex with a particular girl, provided the girl is old enough and the boy is not too much older than her. What's different now is that we have a powerful wave within our culture pushing girls to have sex with someone who isn't us. It's as if a huge segment of our culture have turned into prurient voyeurs encouraging girls to be more and more sexual.

Ann Althouse spots something fascinating about a New York Times story about the morning-after pill. The story quotes President Obama:
“And as I understand it, the reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old going into a drugstore should be able — alongside bubble gum or batteries — be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect. And I think most parents would probably feel the same way.”
As Althouse points out, that is a reasonable enough concern but what about the legal issues. What the hell is a ten or eleven year old doing having sex? And who is doing this too her? Yes, I write "doing this too her" for sex is something that happens to women and all the moral posturing in the world isn't going to change this. Even if we allow for a little hyperbole here and the girls in question are actually thirteen to sixteen years old, the question still remains.

And note this quote from the NYT piece:
“Where is an 11-year-old going to get the $50 to buy this product?” asked James Trussell, director of the Office of Population Research at Princeton University. “Why would they want to? It’s all nonsense.” 
Well, one possibility is that she might get the $50 from an older man who has had sex with her and is hoping to avoid the jail time that would follow if she got pregnant and revealed his involvement. If she is a little older, a man might give her the money simply so that he doesn't have to deal with the shame and other consequences of it coming out that he has been having sex with a girl who is so much younger than him.

The term "unwanted pregnancy" has long been used to provide cover for a larger notion that sex should be without consequences. That it should be "just sex" the way, I suppose, cutting the lawn is just cutting the lawn. Except, of course, it isn't. Activists and governments intrude on cutting the lawn all the time. Cut it too often or with a gas-powered mower and issues of environmental responsibility will be raised.

Only sex with girls and young women is different. Greater and greater lengths are being gone to to make it easier and easier for sex with girls and young to happen and to be without consequences. A similar sort of thrust applies to sex with young gay men.

It's not hard to wonder if the real beneficiaries of this aren't men who want to have sex with young women or young men. Not just any man, you understand. No, the real beneficiaries seem to be men of a certain political class. Men who know certain rules and who fully understand how to navigate the thicket of laws about date rape and so forth. Even as government invades more and more of our lives such that very little remains that can be said to be really personal, it is loading the dice in favour of a certain subset of men sexually.

But what do girls and young women want? Some, no doubt, convince themselves that consequence free sex is exactly what they want. And most sexual fantasies involve consequence free sex for the simple reason that they are, after all, fantasies. But most young women go exactly the opposite direction when they imagine someone having actually sex with them. They picture something momentous and important. They picture the person doing it as having great care for them precisley because it is something of tremendous consequence for them.

Why are we trying so hard to undo this?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Intimacy fail

Manly Thor's Day Special
Adam Cohen has a tune out called "What Other Guy".  It's kind of an embarrassment, especially for a guy who is nearly 40.

Let's look at some of those lyrics:
I know what you look like in the morning
Your kisses are soft and warm
I can draw you with my eyes closed
See you with nothing on but the radio

I know how many years of French you took
Your favorite movies, your favorite books
I know what really gets you going… glowing
He's singing this to someone he calls "Anne". And then, at the end of all this bragging comes the big question:
What other guy knows you like that?
Adam? Please step into my study a moment, There are few things we need to discuss. Here, have a Bourbon. I think you should.

Here's the thing Adam: You might not like the answer to that question of yours. No, I don't know that but I'd bet it's a pretty safe bet. The stuff you're talking about here is sex and intimacy stuff and unless you're the only guy so far, at least one other guy, and probably more than one, knows all this too.

I don't want to hurt your feelings or anything but this stuff you identify is also pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. This is the sort of stuff some gushy 19-year-old might latch onto when he decides that, wow, he really is in love. And you haven't been 19 for twenty years now so it's kind of, ah, pathetic that you write like this.

You see, what is going on here is called narcissism. No, not narcissism in the sense that you need to see a shrink but narcissism as in a normal tendency in human beings that we all share. It's also something we all need to learn to control so it doesn't hurt us or others just like we all need  to control our tempers.

Let me explain a bit. Let's look at some more lyrics:
I know what your hands do when you're kissing
Your number one and number two favorite positions
I know how your skin glistens, listen
I know where you go with your beautiful friends
I know what you taste like when the night ends
Is that last line your big trump card? I'm sorry to be snide about it but the big question is is this really about what you know about her or about what you want to believe about yourself? Because it sounds a lot more like your point here is really about the sort of guy you believe you are.

Yeah, different women really do taste different and we all feel like a Provençal poet and bon vivant when we realize that for the first time but you don't really think she wants to think about that too much do you? What image do you want her to have here? Maybe you passing a blindfolded taste test? "More than half the Coke drinkers tested preferred Anne or could tell no difference".

Let's be honest kid, the thing that really drives this song is a certain self image: that you're the sort of man who really knows a woman. But any guy who has had Anne knows the sorts of things you list here and maybe they even know a couple more you don't know about yet.

Yes I am rather harping on about this but it's for your own good. Because this narcissism stuff is serious business and it can hurt you. And yes I've been there. I suspect most guys do this, although, as I say, most of us have been through it long before our 39th birthday.

Think about what happens if Anne dumps you, or cheats on you, or you over-hear her tell her best girlfriend that her ex-boyfriend Thomas was crazy and she couldn't stay with him but boy did he know her completely—he knew her so completely it scared her a bit. Maybe the thing she really likes about this relationship with you is that it isn't so intensely intimate and she feels safer that way? Would you hate her for that? Because that wouldn't be right would it? She wanted love before and she hoped that those previous relationships would turn into that so she let her previous guys know what got her going too. And it broke her heart when it didn't work. You can't blame her for that.

But if this whole thing is really about your self image—as I've unkindly suggested above—then you're going to have a hard time. Because then it won't really be the fact of the other guys so much as that she has destroyed your identity. You won't ever be able to see yourself as the sort of guy who really knows a woman again. And if you have a lot invested in that self image (and I'm guessing you have as you are Leonard Cohen's son after all and that is quite the shadow to grow up in) then it's going to tear you apart to lose it.

The good news is that everyone goes through this. There is a moment in every man's life when he thinks of himselfa s the kind of guy who:
  • really knows women
  • doesn't get cheated on
  • is always taken seriously about sex and intimacy.
But you aren't that guy because nobody is.

The special thing here is not that you've noticed these things but that she has surrendered them to you. You sing:
I know what you want by what you're wearing
The kind of night you're preparing
Really? You know that? If you do, it's because she taught you buddy. And you should be damned grateful that she has. And now you need to know two things:
  1. Are you good enough to warrant these gifts?
  2. Is this the sort of shared surrender you should be basing a serious relationship on? (And I know you love your dad but the brutal truth is that he wasn't very good at answering this question as witnessed by a rather long line of failed relationships including, most notably, the one with your mum.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Catching a train

I'm going on a little vacation and doing it, as is my wont, in a very old-fashioned way. In a little while, I'll be in my stateroom. I haven't checked whether there will be a connection so I don't know if I'll be able to post.

In the mean time, here is the great Elizabeth Cotten with the masterpiece that she wrote when still a girl.

It's one of the more endearing things about the song that it is a little girl's song. There is a weird sort of white guilt-driven reverse racism that leads us to see great depth in songs like these but it is, in fact, the  childlike view here that makes this great.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The age of dismissive assessments

Megan McArdle picks up on another depressing cultural trend, the tendency for modern critics have to jump to a dismissive summing up in commenting on just about anything. Her immediate target was a article in Forbes about a recent business debacle. McArdle says that she generally tends to agree that a harsh assessment is due but then wonders about the form it took.
But how do we get from "that was a bad idea" to "Reed Hastings doesn't understand what business he's in?"  When internet commentators see odd behavior that they don't understand, why do they assume that the most parsimonious explanation is that management must be a bunch of drooling morons?
And that is a good question.

Part of the answer is age.  When I was in my twenties I had a tendency to assume that anything that didn't make sense to me didn't make sense at all and I had a tendency to assume that anything that bored me did so because it was actually boring. And, truth be told, I haven't entirely grown out of that. Generally, however, there tended to be adults in the room to do as McArdle did here and say, "If you know so much about big business, why aren't you running one?"

Nowadays, a voice like McArdle's is a rarity. Even writers I love reading do this sort of thing. And I'm pretty sure that someone could easily embarrass me by finding examples of me doing the very thing I'm complaining about here. There are probably quite a few of them. So the point here is not that some bad people do this and that they should have their knuckles wrapped.

What is it then? It's the larger cultural trend. This comes with an era that reveres youth. And youth isn't being helped by our reverence. Quite the contrary.

Disneyfication of the culture

I was standing in line at the express line at the grocery store this morning when a female boomer in her fifties ahead of me said in a raised tone, "How do you know about that song? It's ancient." She was speaking to the 19 year old guy at the cash. And he said, "The Lion King."

And then he added, I'm a Disney kid." To which she laughed and said, "We all are."

I'm no Disney hater and have defended them here before, but I find that very sad. It's not a good thing when the only things that tie us together culturally speaking are Disney, baby boomer hits from the 1960s and Christmas. Yes, I'm exaggerating but we're tending in that direction. It's all the worse when you consider that Disney makes very little original contribution to the culture besides recycling already existing cultural sources and rendering them banal in the process.

Case in point, this old song, whatever it was. I didn't hear the name of the song but I'm guessing it was "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".

Monday, December 5, 2011

It's happened twice now so it must be really important

Sort of political Monday
Last week, Susannah Breslin blogged about her positive diagnosis for breast cancer. Medicine is a place where "positive" is a bad thing and "negative" a good thing.

Today, Pastabagel at Partial Objects writes about a woman who live-blogged her breast exam only to get an unexpected "positive" jolt. Pastabagel is really good on this so you might want to read the whole thing. For my part, I want to zero in on the moral and metaphysical aspects he brings up in two observations.

Here is the first:
At the end of her doctor’s visit, she learned she may have cancer. That is a frightening and sad conclusion to what I can only assume she thought would be a routine examination. But by publicizing her experience this way, she highlights the poignant limit of the connected world, and that limit is this: we all face death alone.
A good point made before by Freud and Wittgenstein but worth repeating to ourselves daily. Death is the limit of, well, quite possibly everything. And maybe you can already see where I'm going with this but are wondering how this is a political issue?

Here is the second of Pastabagel's profound observations:

But more importantly, and unlike photography, social media validates our own mistaken belief that our lives are worth visiting, that our private joys and tragedies somehow play out on a grander scale than is actually the case.

Psychotherapist Otto Rank wrote that the fear of life is the fear of separation and individuation. The fear of becoming an individual. Conversely, the fear of death is the fear of the loss of individuality.
So let's talk about Jesus now. No I'm not asking you to believe (I'm not insisting that you do anyway). But I want to consider some aspects that come with belief and the political impact this has had here in the west.

We argue more about this question on the leading edge of the experience: when exactly does that mass of cells become human? But what about the other end? When does "I" disappear and become organic matter suitable for growing plants out of? And why do I, even after death, deserve special consideration different from, for example, the cow I am eating parts of as I type this? (And yes, I know some people would say I don't.)

If we want to be "humanists" whatever we might make of that term, there are two very different ways into the position.
  1. One is to argue that there is something about "humanity" that is so darn special that every single "human" must be treated according to different standards than those that apply to everything else on earth.
  2. The second is to argue that there is nothing special about me all by myself and whatever special humanity I have is a function of the fact that God so loved me that ....
You can believe whichever one you want, meaning that I can't force you to take my side here. But consider the politics a bit. What consequences in terms of moral culture, which is the soil that politics is planted in, do you think follow from each of the above choices?

"Adam" means soil. From dust thou art and to dust thou shall return. That brute fact is as true for the atheist as it is for anyone else. But if we take it seriously, as seriously as we should, what are the limits of the claim that human beings are so special? Why should anyone else take our belief that "our private joys and tragedies somehow play out on a grander scale" seriously? Other than that we really, really want them to that is?

And how many other religions are there that attribute our specialness to God's loving us? That I would be nothing but another mass of organic matter except that God loves me? How many other cultures are built on that understanding? Yes, I'll cheerfully grant that our culture is full of lies and hypocrisy about this but you have to believe something in order to be a liar and hypocrite about it. So how many cultures are there like this? I'm not saying there aren't any, although I can't think of any off the top of my head. But politically speaking, if we are asking about one group of people accommodating themselves to another, it would matter a whole lot wouldn't it?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Are you serious?

Womanly virtues Friday
Let's take on the weird Time cover controversy. These covers all came out for the same week:

This issue has a lot of people asking, Does Time think Americans are stupider than Europeans? And  The Last Psychiatrist writing at Partial Objects points out something else:
The truth is slightly more complicated and simultaneously a lot scarier.

The problem is that the American audience for Time is 50/50 male/female, but for the European version it’s 66/34 male/female; and the Asian Time is 80/20. In other words, Time doesn’t think Americans are dumber than Europeans, it thinks American women are dumber than European men.
 Except, as he acknowledges, not really. The cover is intended to attract newsstand buyers so what Time really thinks is that potential newsstand buyers are more likely to be somewhat less wealthy and more female in the US than other markets and therefore less likely to be interested in hard news.

Only, lets take the "thinks" out of that analysis. Time magazine knows this to be true. And the issue is not intelligence but seriousness. Time knows that there is a large audience of magazine buyers in North America who are not terribly serious people and it knows that a lot of these people are women.

Note that I am not saying that there are no North American women interested in a serious news magazine. Of course there are. You can spot them because they read The Economist.

But anyone who has bought groceries will know that there is a large market for magazines for silly and frivolous people and will further know that this market is made up mainly of women. At Time Inc. they know this better than anyone because they created this market with People magazine. And People made even more money than Time because nobody ever went broke underestimating etc.

And that is a problem. There is a significant subset of women who read tripe like Time and watch tripe like The View because they aren't serious people and they aren't interested in becoming serious people.

The temptation is to blame the supply side of the equation. So long as magazines and shows aimed at women are shallow and unserious, women won't change. But the problem really flows the other way. So long as a lot women keep buying this stuff, they will remain shallow and unserious.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Taming the beast within

Manly Thor's Day Special
There is a biography of George F Kennan out that has led a few liberals to channel their inner tory. Consider this quote from Louis Menand in his review:
Still, buried within Kennan's realism there is a moral view: that in relations of power, which is what he thought international relations ultimately are, people can't be trusted to do the right thing. They will do what the scorpion does to the frog -- not because they choose to but because it's their nature. They can't help it. This is an easy doctrine to apply to other nations, as it is to apply to other people, since we can always see how professions of benevolence might be masks for self-interest. It's a harder doctrine to apply to ourselves. And that was, all his life, Kennan's great, overriding point. We need to be realists because we cannot trust ourselves to be moralists. 
 This is a familiar point to anyone who has read Lionel Trilling. Liberals tend to get swept up in the notion that human beings are perfectible. But they aren't perfectible. And thus the requirement to be, as Menand puts it, "realists".

Ta-Nehisi Coates, adds that the really interesting aspect of this is not political but personal:
Kennan is talking about how to govern a country. But I read him as also talking about how to govern ourselves.
And the quote from Brennan that leads him to this conclusion is this one:
Kennan himself "stressed the importance of the psychological dimension" in his life. He told Gaddis that "the inner emotional life of any person, as Freud discovered, is a dreadful chaos. We all have vestiges of our animalistic existence in us." Consequently, "good form," whether it involved the ceremonies of diplomacy or the constraints of marriage, "is really the thing to live for." He continued, "'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.' My God, I've coveted ten thousand of them in the course of my life, and will continue to do so into the eighties." "All that has to be fought with. But the main thing is to try to play your role in a decent way."
Think about that for a while: "good form is really the thing to live for". Everyone be a good chap. (That quote, by the way, comes from another review of the Kennan biography in The New York Review of Books.)

Coates picks up, and he is right to do so, on the marriage stuff:
I think if someone had explained marriage to me in this way, as a younger person, I might have walked the aisle sooner. I understood the point of monogamy pretty well, having seen the other options up close. But I've never grasped ritual and ceremony because it's mostly been explained to me in gauzy sentimental vocabulary. ("A moment you'll never forget..." "Happy for the rest of your life..." "A beautiful moment..." etc.) I've always been more susceptible -- in both my personal and my political thinking -- to all our efforts to tame the beast within. 
And that is right. Because you will covet other women after you get married. You'll look over and think, "I'd love to see those ____!" and that is a problem because after you saw them, you'd want to squeeze them and then, and then, and then. And that desire will never go away. (And most men don't want it to go away.)

So, what do we do about it?

And here, I think, Menand and Coates might not like where their logic of the thing goes. For what does it mean to, "Play your role in a  decent way"? And then there are the questions that implies: "What role?" and "What social context does that role exist in?"

That second question is especially  troublesome because the role applies differently to men and women and different cultures handle this in vastly different ways. Infidelity is an issue for women too, of course, but women typically struggle with different problems when it comes to infidelity. Most women don't get on a bus or go into a coffee shop and see at least one person that they just want right now and that happens to me just about every time I get on a bus or go into a coffee shop.

But you can't change the inner behaviour, just the outer behaviour. And that means conforming to a role. It means being a good chap. That means that playing my role in a d decent way even though what is going on inside would shock my female companions.

It's fine to say "play your role in a decent way" but that requires an awful lot of stage setting to be a meaningful. It means something entirely different in western society where men are expected to  respect and even revere women as opposed to Iran where women's bodies are treated as occasions for sin. Like it or not, to talk about governing ourselves in this way requires not just that each individual look tame their inner beast but they do so according to the roles and conventions of a particular society.

An aside for other Christians, I think the key question for us to decide is what Jesus really meant by  "lust in your heart". Is that, as many people have wanted to believe, a psychological statement? Or does he mean you have to go a step beyond your normal psychological reactions?