Saturday, April 30, 2011

I don't mean to be difficult but ...

C/O Father Z, the following excerpt from an interview with Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster in the Catholic Herald:
Q: There has been criticism of his legacy, especially on questions of abuse and quite a few people have said that we should wait with the beatification. Do you think he did enough to combat abuse in the Church?
Nichols: I think beatification about a person’s holiness. It’s not a reward for being a good Pope. It’s not a prize for good management. It’s an acclamation that this person was close to God and in his life and work showed us some of the attributes of God, God’s creativeness and his abundant mercy and I think that is the only context to really reflect profoundly on the moment of beatification.
There is a giant question mark here. For if—and it is "if"—Pope  John Paul 2 failed to do enough to respond to the abuse crisis, then we might see that hypothetical failure in two ways:
  1. As an administrative failure; that is he failed to grasp the full response required by the gravity of the situation or grasped it but wasn't a strong or efficient enough administrator to make it happen.
  2. As a moral failure: that is if he, like so many of the priests and bishops involved, decided that protecting the church from being shamed justified not doing more to bring those responsible to justice.
I emphasize again, I have no idea if either of these assessments are valid. But if there is any evidence at all of the second, then beatification should definitely be put on hold.

Friday, April 29, 2011


Here are the author's credentials:
Jennifer A. Marshall is director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation ( and author of Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the Twenty-First Century.
So this woman is meant to be a defender of marriage. She believes in the dignity of the institution.

In discussing today's big event, she flashes back to the wedding of Charles and Diana:
Marriage is a promise. Not just between one man and one woman, but to the community at large, to generations past and to those yet to be born. Wedding vows set apart this lifelong, life-giving relationship from all others.
That’s why we cheered in 1981, even though, to quote ABC’s Green, “marriage and the family have fallen on hard times.”
How much more so in the 30 years since: The bitter, postmodern ending to Princess Diana’s own fairy tale is an apt metaphor for the troubled state of marriage today.
Marshall is quite right that marraige is a promise to the community and by making such an appalling hash of theirs, Charles and Diana debased marriage and betrayed their family and friends. There is nothing here to celebrate. Ideally such things would be passed over in silence but ...

Marshall is quite restrained compared to Mona Charen who had this to say after Elizabeth Taylor died:
... though she endured a great deal of ridicule for her — was it eight marriages — she explained that she just couldn’t bring herself to have “affairs.” If she was romantically involved with someone, it had “to lead to the altar.” Seems quaint today.
Quaint? No. Immature. Stupid. Foolish. Trite. All those words come to mind.

Look. Marriage is a serous thing. It's always better to not make the vow than to enter into the thing without the seriousness it requires. If you have an affair, you can repent and go to confession. If you marry foolishly and split, you debase yourself, you debase your spouse and you debase the institution.

The dress, the big church, the pomp and excitement. It's all wonderful but, as the Serpentine One always says when we lead marriage prep classes, the only thing that really matters is the vows. Learn, understand them and say them and mean them.

And if you can't, just have the affair. I'm serious. That will be a sin but it is a much lesser sin than entering into marriage the way Charles, Diana and Elizabeth and her various husbands did.

No one is to blame

There is a piece over at Salon by a woman named Lorraine Berry talking about how her sex life has been revived by her divorce. Here is the second paragraph:
I met my husband when I was 24 and he was 26. We married two years later, and except for nights we spent apart, I can't remember a time in the first nine years when we weren't physical. We lived in the Pacific Northwest, and we hiked often, finding it impossible not to stop and fool around in the many meadows and forest beds we created. 
But things go wrong:

But things changed.

No one is to blame for where that piece of me went for the five or six years when sex felt like an obligation, instead of what it had been in my 20s: fun, an expression of pleasure and love, and did I mention fun?
Isn't it odd that a couple's sex life can go completely to pot and it isn't anyone's fault? "It just happened. I don't know why."

Except she does:

Certainly, I played a part. Just before giving birth to our second child, I had blown a disc in my neck. Chronic pain, pregnancy and prescription painkillers are not a recipe for erotic bliss. Instead, I found the closeness I'd always craved holding my children, nursing, carrying an infant. My husband's job sent him out of town once or twice a month for days at a time, and I was in a high-pressure graduate program when I wasn't caring for our children.

By 30, I had turned into an invisible woman. I grocery shopped in sweatpants and hoodies. I glided through public space not making eye contact with men, sure that, as an older woman in a college town, I was past my prime.
And then her child makes an unkind comment about her appearance and her husband agrees. Major stupid on his part to be sure. But what about all those years in between. Do those not matter?

It's fine to say, 'I've been distracted and depressed by other things and sort of ignored our sex life for a while.' But if we do the arithmetic here, she lost interest in marital sex for several years!!!!

And then she turns around and is hurt because her husband gave up on her too.

And now she has a new partner and things are going great. Does she really think it's going to be different this time?

Mummy, what's a wedding?

The women on the bus this morning were all sitting quietly talking to no one as they do every Friday morning. Then two of them, sitting several benches apart, noticed that they knew one another and they said a few words to one another.

This is a typical scene and it happens on buses everywhere in cities everywhere every single day. What made this morning a little unusual is that one of the women mentioned that she been watching the Royal Wedding. And the other acknowledged that she had as well. And so they started talking a bit about that. And then another woman sheepishly joined in. And then another and another ....

Every woman on that bus—including the girl with the purple hair, the tattoos and the deliberately torn fishnet stockings worn in boots had gotten up at some ungodly hour this morning and watched the Royal Wedding.

And some spoke of how their daughters had gotten up too.  Which got the other women with girls to talk about their responses.

The daughters, to a girl, were fascinated. They loved the wedding and everything about it. Their mothers talked about the funny things the girls had said about their future weddings. Meaning the wedding they all hope to have some day.  There was much laughter at some of the unrealistic hopes that were cherished in these girlish hearts. The daughters apparently all hoped to marry a prince.

What didn't strike anyone as odd—mostly because it isn't odd—was that all these girls cared. Their mothers had just sent them off to daycare or preschool after all. But it doesn't strike us as odd that four-to-six-year-old girls will sit around and talk about "my wedding" planning the details.

There are, of course, people who will deny such a thing. I've seen and heard them. And it's telling that the discussion started with sheepish admissions. By some strange coincidence, an astounding percentage of the women in this upper-middle-class neighbourhood were struck with insomnia this morning and they all got up and just happened to turn the TV on and they all just happened to stop surfing when they hit the wedding coverage.

What they all found odd was the little boy traveling with his mother who interrupted her discussion with the others to ask, "Mummy, what's a wedding?' They all laughed very hard at him. His mother added to the laughter by saying that he'd been sitting right in the room with her while she watched. He'd registered all sorts of stuff. He noticed the carriages and the soldiers and had apparently been particularly curious about the choirboys. But the fact that this was a some sort of ceremony related to that young woman in a white dress with a long, long train? That hadn't registered at all.

There are huge, huge differences between men and women.

I don't mean to suggest that there is anything foolish or trivial about this. There are entire television networks devoted to professional sports after all.

But there are huge, huge differences between men and women.

We need to stop pretending there aren't or that these differences will all disappear once women all get university educations and white collar jobs.

Womanly virtues Friday

Unpacking Lucia
Okay, we've covered nine of Lucia's twelve reasons rationalizations why (some) women are attracted to bad boys creeps. What's left?

Well, wouldn't it be weird if some of the reasons some women do stupid things were to turn out to be their supposed moral superiority? Well guess what? Here are reasons #4 and $5:
Mother Nature: Women are designed to nurture. However, instead of doing this with children, they often end up doing it with bad boys. They think their love will save them. Nice guys rarely need to be saved.
Fixer-Upper: Nice guys don’t usually need to be fixed. Bad boys usually do, so they become a project. Women think if they can “create” the perfect man, he will never leave them. Also, if they’re busy fixing someone else, they don’t have to look at what needs to be fixed in their own lives.
This is actually the same reason stated twice only in slightly in different language the second time. Ah, those poor nurturing women always wasting their time fixing up creeps.

And wouldn't it be funny if it turned out that men are actually to blame for all of this? Well, have a gander at reason #12:
Protection: Historically, men have protected women—physically and otherwise. Bad boys give the illusion of being able to protect women, while with nice guys, women aren’t so sure. Life is about balance. Most men fall into either the bad boy or the nice guy category. The ideal man is neither, but walks that fine line between the two. Until men learn how to do this, more often than not, women will choose the bad boy, until they realize that his bad qualities outweigh his good ones.
This one cracks me up. Until men learn to walk the fine line between the bad boy and nice boy category, women will date creeps.

But seriously, it's our fault that women can't figure out that a guy who doesn't behave because he doesn't care if he loses the woman (reason #6) isn't going to be a good bet to stand by her when she really needs it?

Here's an alternative approach, stop blaming everything on the guy and try being better at being a woman.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Manly Thor's Day Special

Unpacking Lucia part three
Okay, let's say Lucia has convinced us that we don't want to be a nice guy. What do you NOT want her to be then? Well let's look at some more of those reasons Lucia gives us for why women prefer bad boys.

Reason #3
Predictable: Most people lead boring, predictable lives, so they’re attracted to people who are exciting and a bit unpredictable. Bad boys are always a challenge. Nice guys are never a challenge. Predictable + No excitement + No challenge = I prefer a bad boy.
Hmmm, are bad guys really unpredictable? Well, consider a couple of situations.
  1. Here's our young woman out with a nice boy wondering if he'll try anything sexual on her. Answer: he might and he might not. Whether he does is going to depend on the the clarity of the signals she sends him and his skill interpreting them.
  2. Okay, next situation. Here she is out with a bad boy, "Gee, I wonder if he'll try anything?" What, is she stupid? Of course he will.
Contrary to what is claimed here, the whole appeal of the bad boy is his absolute predictability. The preference for bad boys is a byproduct of insecurity. She wants sex but she doesn't want to be responsible for it.

You want to test this one out? Well, the most unpredictable guy there is would be erratic. One day he'd be all over her and the next day he'd be utterly uninterested. Do you think women want that in their "unpredictable bad boys'. 

Reason #6
Sperm wars: Women are designed to procreate with the strongest possible genes. Bad boys are sending an unconscious message that they have great genes, so they’re not afraid of losing the woman by misbehaving. Nice guys are sending a message that they don’t think their genes are good enough, so they won’t misbehave.
Here's the thing: who are the women who are really, really interested in reproducing? Well, one big hint is that they tend to have be married and have children. Well, think about women like that that you know. If the reason #6 is true the women with the strongest desire to reproduce should be the most likely to be susceptible to bad boy syndrome. Does that match your experience of married women with children? Exactly. So let's stop blaming genes.

Okay, a brief digression because some dweeb is going to argue that there is empirical evidence of this because, for example, female animals will often mate with high status males, and then fool some low status male into thinking he is the father to help her raise the offspring. Yes, that happens and there is some evidence of similar behaviour in humans. But two points:
  1. The female animal's first choice is always actually pairing up with the high status male.
  2. The high status male still has a powerful urge to pair up successfully with the high status female because his offspring have a better chance of surviving if he helps raise them. If this does apply to human behaviour it would explain bad girl behaviour better than bad boy behaviour.
Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Reason #7
Fear of intimacy: If a woman is afraid of intimacy, she subconsciously knows she can avoid it with a bad boy, since she can never get close enough to him to have to go there. A nice guy will eventually want a commitment, and that’s scary.
This seems like a shockingly honest answer. It's actually a lie. Look, a woman who keeps having sex with bad boys is not afraid of intimacy. And a woman who keeps getting into relationships with bad boys is not afraid of commitment. The problem is quite the opposite; she could use a little more fear on both fronts.

Reason #8
Low self-esteem: We don’t feel comfortable with people who treat us better than we treat ourselves. If you don’t think much of yourself, the bad boy is simply reinforcing your negative belief. A nice guy is treating you in a way you’re not familiar with.
This is also a lie: the low self esteem canard. Every one experiences self doubt when someone falls in love with them. It's a normal response. That someone we really love would fall in love with us is such an amazing thing. It would be more of a concern if someone didn't have this response.

The problem is not with the feelings. Feelings she will have: she will sometimes get angry, impatient, jealous, and consumed with self doubt. What matters is what she does in response to those feelings. Everyone is insecure but only some people behave like jerks: ergo, insecurity and low self esteem explain nothing at all.

A few days ago I was writing about what a teacher once told me about students who perennially fail:
'These kids often act as if they want to get thrown out,' he told me. 'They don't really want to get thrown out but getting thrown out is one thing they actually do know how to do. They start off wanting to succeed but also very insecure because they haven't got a clue how to play their part in a successful classroom experience. When things start to go wrong it's almost a comfort to them because now they at least know how to play their part.'
And you can see it here too. Women who keep getting into relationships with bad boys simply don't know how to play a successful part. (Quite likely because most of the women she has known, starting with her own mother, didn't know how either.) And we can see this quite clearly if we look at reasons #9 and #10 and #11.
Sex: Women feel a nice guy won’t be good in bed. They sometimes like to be manhandled and think a nice guy won’t be able to take control and get the job done. A bad boy comes across as being able to deliver, even though that may not always be the case. 
Hot: Have you ever seen a bad boy who wasn’t hot? I’m sure there are a few, but they wouldn’t be able to get away with half the stuff they did if they didn’t look so good. Meanwhile, when a woman describes someone as a nice guy, she means, “He’s not hot”.
Charm: Nice guys don’t always know what to say, and are sometimes at a loss for words. Bad boys can be very charming and know exactly what women want to hear. However, they eventually switch over to being selfish. By the time they reveal their true colors, the woman has fallen for them and has a hard time letting go.
Hey, bad boys are charming. Just like psychopaths! What all these things have in common is that they shift all the responsibility for making the sex good onto the guy. Women don't think nice guys will be able to deliver? Or is it that they don't think they will be able to come?

The hotness issue is circular. Bad boys are hot. And how can you tell he's a bad boy? Because he's hot. In other words, this isn't about the the guy at all. It's about what she projects onto him.

Are bad boys charming? Actually, no. They tend to be weak, creepy and weak on personal hygiene. But we're looking for excuses here.

Look, the guy described in the above three examples is not a real human being but a fantasy lover. The woman with reasonable behaviour will fantasize about such a guy but never look for him in real life.

What's the lesson here for men? Ignore attitude and focus on behaviour. There is a simple word for any woman who life habits show a strong commitment to reasons #9, #10 and #11 and the word is loser. Don't date losers.

The last post on Lucia is here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Unpacking Lucia

Let's get right into this, here is reason #2 why girls don't like nice guys:
Respect: No one respects a doormat. Nice guys don’t set boundaries or make any real demands. A bad boy doesn’t let a woman walk all over him or control him. Women can’t respect a man they can control.
You know what? I don't believe her. I suspect the exact opposite is the case. The point with bad boys is precisely that you can control them. They are like hungry fish, show them the bait and up they come. Their predatory attitude is what makes it possible for a woman to predict their responses.

This isn't necessarily a good thing and it isn't hard to see where a woman who follows Lucia's advice ends up constantly having to present herself as sexual bait. Just go look at Lucia's slideshow and you'll get the point. My favourite is photo #4 of 35 entitled, "On the set of Rush Hour 3 with Chris Tucker". Check it out. No really, pretend you are one of the Fug girls and nip on over and critique her outfit.

No, I'm serious, don't pretend you're above this because we both know you aren't. Here, let me show you how:
She's wearing an aquamarine, stretch-cotton mini dress. It's not exactly classy all by itself but what makes this particular outfit so irredeemably trashy are the rather odd bumps some undergarment is making through the dress. Don't just read about it go see for yourself. What is she wearing? My guess, is that she is wearing a pair of panties that probably look quite sexy all by themselves but, as you can see, look quite ridiculous when you pull a tight dress over them. The temptation is to cattily say that she probably won't age gracefully.
Anyway, back to the analysis and the rude question:

But what if these women aren't completely crazy?
Love is a sexual bond after all and sex is about having power and others having power over us. And here you can see the appeal. The "bad boy" (you may remember, he was the one who "keeps it real") doesn't conceal his sexual interest in a woman. He wants to take her clothes off and do things to her. That gives her power. Of a sort. It also gives her vulnerability because she doesn't really know where this ride ends. Everyone plays games to win but no one plays a game at which they know they will always win.

Lucia has been very careful not to define what she means by "bad boy". I went to a high school in a really tough, working class neighbourhood in a mill town. I knew a lot of bad boys and I knew a lot of girls who found them attractive. Some of them are in jail now. The line between "bad boy" and "antisocial loser" is a rather hard one to define.

I think the take away point here is that if you want erotic love, you should behave as if that is what you want. The flip side, and where I've seen a lot of guys go wrong, is in failing to evaluate her correctly. If she isn't interested you should give up.

A lot of guys I've known haven't been able to do that. They meet a really nice girl and they can see all sorts of positives: she is attractive, intelligent, has the right values and so forth. Why she is everything I want so it seems like a minor obstacle that she obviously doesn't feel anything for me. Except she sort of disappears in that scenario doesn't she? She becomes a series of qualities that I want and stops being an independent being.

The instinct here is to chicken out. What if she rejects me. Because that is the risk. If you allow her to see that you want her sexually as well as sharing the same values and so forth, she may tell you she doesn't want you. Or she may get increasingly impatient while you don't pick the hint that she isn't interested. And boy is that humiliating.

What advice do I have here? None. You're on your own here guys. Good luck.

I will say this: A funny thing about the seduction guys. The guys who talk about "having game" is how bitter they all are. Go read them. And again, I mean that, go read them. Amongst other things, they, like Lucia, aren't completely crazy. But the thing that will strike you is how bitter they are. They don't hide it either. Every single one of them is a former "nice guy" and they'll tell you right up front.

Part 3 is coming later.

This can't be a surprise

Except maybe to the people who invested the most in it:
SETI Institute to shut down alien-seeking radio dishes

If E.T. phones Earth, he'll get a "disconnect" signal.

Lacking the money to pay its operating expenses, Mountain View's SETI Institute has pulled the plug on the renowned Allen Telescope Array, a field of radio dishes that scan the skies for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations.
Jules' second law*: the more determinedly rationalistic a human being is, the more likely they are to throw away huge amounts of money and effort on projects that amount to little more than blind faith on close inspection.

*Jules' first law, for those of you not keeping score, is the harder a fact is, the less real work it can be made to do.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I love corrections like this

From the New York Times:
A series of pictures last Sunday of covers of the magazine Tiger Beat, with an article about how the original teen-girl tabloid has remained virtually unchanged since its inception in 1965, erroneously included a parody cover, produced by the satiric newspaper The Onion, that featured a picture of President Obama.
For those of you who have never worked at a newspaper, let me explain what actually happened here. This wasn't an error. Someone at the New York Times pulled this joke off and no one else noticed it until it was too late.

And any time you see a mistake that just looks too good, that is what happened. No I can't prove it but trust me, this sort of stunt is a classic. A reporter I used to work with once wrote a story about how "five had perished in a fire at a local farm" but never mentioning once in the story that the perished were all chickens. The editor missed it and the story made it to print causing widespread concern in the community. My friend probably still brags about it. It's the sort of joke newsroom guys love.

Unpacking Lucia

Coasting a bit
Lent is always long but this year felt especially so. I'm in the mood to coast a bit. So let's have a look at Lucia. Lucia is a dating expert and she gives her credentials in the video that autoplays on her website. Something about dating a whole bunch of men in four different continents. Yeah, I can't help but think of someone showing up to teach a course on business and saying that their qualification is that they have been involved with eight start ups because you think, "That's interesting but were any of these start ups, you know, like successful?" Because "dated a lot of different people in a lot of different places" doesn't spell success to me. To me that sounds like a loser.

Or rather, it spells a rather narrow kind of success. A useful trick in a case like this is to reverse the gender. 'Hi, I Julio and I've dated dozens of women, let me give you my mighty dating hints.' Well, we know what sort of advice Julio is going to give and what sort of goals he has. You get the distinct impression Julio ain't into love and mutual respect so much as he is into getting laid.

Interestingly, Lucia has also been on Dr. Phil. That's interesting because I can't picture her male equivalent getting a gig on Dr. Phil.  I can't picture it because ... well let's just cut to the chase and see what reasons Lucia gives to explain why "Women Can't Stand Nice Guys".

Reason #1
Not real: Nice guys are too nice. No one can always be that nice unless they’re a saint. They are busy being nice instead of being real and women instinctually don’t trust that. Bad boys “keep it real”. Nice guys don’t want to upset the apple cart.
Let's unpack this one. Nice guys can't really be as nice as they present themselves? Hmmm. In other words, nice guys aren't really nice, they're just pretending to be. And how exactly could anyone win at that game?

Okay, I know some of you are tempted to tune out that this point. Here's why you should care: Lucia's advice may be, well, insane, but it is the sort of advice ordinary people give and take all the time. The problem here is, I hope, pretty obvious. If you really believe that all guys are bad, you'll never find anyone to prove you wrong.

The flip side of this is even weirder: 'Bad boys "keep it real".' Do they now? Well, rapists keep it real too. You always know where you stand with a rapist, especially while he's raping you.

The funny thing here is that manipulative SOBs, the sort of men no woman wants to date, they know exactly how to exploit this sort of "knowingness". The Internet is plastered with guys who talk about "having game" and promoting "seduction techniques" that will allow men to manipulate women into sex and they all emphasize exactly the point our buddy Lucia is pushing here. (Oddly, they never get invited onto Dr. Phil except maybe so he can mock them.)

But what if these women aren't completely crazy?
Lucia is equivocating all over the place here. On the one hand she is telling nice guys why no one wants them. At the same time, she is trying to explain why women make bad choices. Except she doesn't really want to blame women. When we get to reason #12 on Friday, we'll discover that it's really all men's fault that (some) women make the same stupid mistakes over and over again.

But let's stop a second and consider the unthinkable: could it be that these women who keep getting stuck with losers aren't completely crazy.

Here's a question: Are you a nice guy? The root of nice is from a middle English word meaning "stupid", "coy", and "ignorant". Lucia may be peddling advice that isn't going to lead to a successful relationship but she is peddling something that has very deep roots.

Here's the thing, are you running a round pushing yourself as a nice guy while thinking otherwise? Are you opening doors for women because they have good bodies? Because that kind of justifies her response doesn't it? If I'm being nice to Sylvie because I think it would be great to see her t--, I mean breasts, well that isn't really the point of being a good person is it? And it doesn't clear me that there is actually zero chance of my seeing them; but just having that in the back of my head changes things.

To see how stupid this really is, try imagining the flip side. Hey, I'll be a really nice guy. The next time I go to a party, I'll pick out an unattractive woman standing by herself and I'll go talk to her even though I don't want her. This is Dorian Gray territory. If I do this I am more concerned with the image I am creating that in what I really am and what I really want.

And is it fair to her? What if this unattractive woman takes this "interest in her" as a, well, interest in her? What are you going to do then? Are you going to let her down easy or are you maybe going to be so nice that you'll keep moving on into sex. And then she falls in love and she wants to keep going. All the time, you are being "nice".

Well, that's enough of that. On to #2 tomorrow.

Caitlin Flanagan's awful article

There was a piece from Caitlin Flanagan last weekend that attracted all sorts of well-deserved abuse. Flanagan argues that fraternities need to be shut down to protect young women. She does this on the basis of two facts. One is an appalling sexual assault that took place more than 25 years ago at a fraternity. The second is, I'm not making this up, that when Flanagan visited a fraternity herself at university when she was just starting she found the atmosphere so sinister she temporarily withdrew from the school. Nothing actually happened you understand, she just felt uncomfortable.

If that is all it takes to shut something down, it's hard to think what might be safe from condemnation. And if five decades of second generation feminism have produced women so timid and fearful that they have to shut down sinister frats to get an education, we may as well give up on women forever.

I've defended Flanagan here before. I think her piece on teenage girls and oral sex has some brilliant insights. As I noted at the time, it is qualified praise but I think she gets a lot right. Anyway, let's talk about the qualifications that need to be made.

Anytime anyone sets out to write about the politics of sex, they're going to tell you a lot more about themselves than they realize (that includes me). Not to put too fine a point on it, Caitlin Flanagan has some hang ups about oral sex. You can see it right in her piece about teenage girls and oral sex.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sort of political Monday

Can't even be wrong!
Sometimes an issue is so badly framed so as to be absolutely useless. In such a case we say that the conclusions reached couldn't even be wrong. The information provided is about useless as it can be. A massive waste of time for everyone including the person who put it together.

Case in point, Joseph Stiglitz's recent piece on inequality in Vanity Fair. Here are the two opening sentences:
It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year.
Notice how Stiglitz has framed the subject.
... nearly a quarter of the nation's income ...
The nation makes income? Well, yes, if you mean by that the combined totals of the incomes of all the individuals living in the nation. But that changes things a bit doesn't it. Because just maybe some of that upper 1 percent have special abilities to create wealth that others do not. Otherwise it sounds sort of like their is a certain amount of wealth that naturally flows out of the nation and some people get a lot more than their share.

And no doubt some people do get more than what others might consider fair. But we don't really know that. It's also possible that if we took these people out of the mix that the nation's overall income might go down. It might even go down considerably. Again, no one knows if that is the case but  Stiglitz has framed it so that option is closed from the outset.

I don't think that is an accident.

On the other hand, anyone who seriously reads a celebrity gossip rag like Vanity Fair to learn about political economy doesn't deserve any more respect than Stiglitz gives them here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lex orandi Catholicism

Note: This was written on Tuesday in order that it could appear on Good Friday. John L Allen had a piece recently where he wrote that what Catholicism needs is "a grass-roots movement to rebuild zones of friendship in the church". Allen seems like a good guy but a general rule of thumb is that ugly language tends to reflect bad thinking and the English language does not get any uglier than the phrase "zones of friendship". The following is what I think Catholics really need.

Today is Good Friday. This is a day when we think about what it would be like to live without God. We feast while the bridegroom is with us but today we think about what it would be like if he were not. So we fast. And that makes us think about what it is that we are doing without. What it will mean to feast in God's presence again on Sunday.

The old line is lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. This is sometimes rendered along the lines of, 'As as we pray, so shall we believe and so shall we live'. That's a pretty translation but it pays to be literal about these things sometimes. A more literal translation would be the law of prayer is the basis of the law of belief which is the basis of the laws of living. (Lex = law, statute, rule, principle, contract, condition; it means all these things.)

That literal sense is important because otherwise you might make the mistake that Deacon Keith Fournier makes at Catholic Online:
The Church has long understood that part of her role as mother and teacher is to watch over worship, for the sake of the faithful and in obedience to the God whom she serves. How we worship not only reveals and guards what we believe but guides us in how we live our Christian faith and fulfill our Christian mission in the world. 
I've added that emphasis. No, it's not part of her role. It is the church's role to watch over worship. That is the thing that makes the church the church. She can fail in every other way and still be the church. Her priests can gamble, drive drunk and have secret marriages and, while that would all be horrible, she would still be the church for all her horrible sins. But the second the church stops watching over worship, she stops being the church.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Male bashing

I'll be signing off until after the Triduum. In the mean time, here are my usual Thursday and Friday post subjects mashed into one.

Here is something truly appalling:

Notice that men are portrayed as jerks in these ads. That is true for the entire series.

It's the same crap we got back in the 1980s with "What part of no don't you understand?" There is an assumption here that maleness is a problem and that men aren't good for anything unless they train themselves to be not male. The unspoken message is, "You lazy, sloppy slobs are the reason there is under-age girl prostitution. Grow up and learn to cook and do laundry and generally be more like women and the world will be a better place."

Alternatively, you might say we should train ourselves to be the best men we are capable of being but that would require us to acknowledge that masculinity is a good thing.

These ads have nothing to do with any purported attempt to stop sexually exploitation of girls by pimps. If you wanted to do that you'd talk about law enforcement. No, this is making the case that men should be what some women say they should be. Or, more accurately, what some women sometimes want us to be.

And there is nothing nice to be said about the sort of men who go along with this crap. It made me think of something Ann Althouse said about those incredibly weenie "Dear Woman" videos where men "apologize" for violence against women. She said:
But even if you extract the crap music and the new-age quasi-religion, you've got men apologizing for manliness. But they are not apologizing for their own manliness. They are purporting to apologize for other men, whom they are demonizing. Really what you've got are the insufficiently manly men, who think that by insulting other men, they will get the women.
I don't see anything different in the above. It's not about sex slavery but about self promotion by a small group of interested males.

Again, this goes right back to the nonsense from Jennifer Fulwiler I flagged last week

And let me remind you yet again what she wrote:
As a gender, men want sex more than women do, and they are willing to go to great lengths to get it. They’ll change their behavior. They’ll reconsider their ideas. Granted, men aren’t mindless animals who will do anything for sex (well, not most of them, anyway), but the fewer opportunities there are in the culture for intimacy with women, the more willing men are to meet women’s conditions for it. 
Look, I'll be blunt, not only is this not what men should do it isn't what most women want. The funny thing is that I think there is a case that men should pay attention to what women want of them. Most of us do. That's why we ignore crap like the above.

Final thought for now. We hear a lot about what real men are like? What about real women? Are there any standards about things a woman ought to do to count as a real woman? I have a list. Do you?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Greek manners and Gothic morals

A politically incorrect follow up
The Last Psychiatrist is a guy who never fails to bash males. If you read through his archives you will find that he connects masculinity with narcissism with a regularity that would suggest that the two words are really synonyms for him.

So watching him squirm and twist and do everything he can to avoid reaching "incorrect" conclusions about women is quite funny. For example, he has a post in which he deals with the rather touchy issue that some women who have encountered male psychopaths sometimes report that they found these men charming. Well, we can see why he wouldn't want to go there.
I can see the easy explanation: these women are more easily manipulated, especially because the charm carries a sexual connotation.  There's a power differential—some of the fear is processed sexually, etc. Summary: the women don't see what's really in the psychopath.
Anytime someone tells you that an explanation is the easy one ....

Greek manners and Gothic morals

The conjuring power of the script
Here is a woman's story from an article about a book that purports to tell us what women really want in sex:
A 25-year-old woman has a friend who is a virgin. She's not physically attracted to him, nor does she want to be romantically involved. But she feels sorry for him, pities his inexperience. So she decides she will go home with her friend—to show him how it's done. As she undresses, she feels powerful and sexy—and that feeling (not the presence of her soon-to-be deflowered friend) turns her on. "It boosted my confidence to be the teacher in the situation and made me feel more desirable," the woman says.
We could say a lot about that. One obvious, and very interesting connection could be made with courtly love. She is not unlike the cruel lady in that even in granting sex she denies him. She quite literally denies him: "and that feeling (not the presence of her soon-to-be-deflowered friend) turns her on". I mention this now because I'm not going to get to it until the end. But we can see here a raw desire for sexual power and we can see how you could erect the apparatus of courtly love on such, if you'll pardon the expression, base desires.

(And if you don't think this is about base desires, try imagining an equivalent male story in which the actual woman present for the sex act counts for nothing. Pretty bloody offensive don't you agree? Odd that we pretend it isn't offensive coming from a woman isn't it?)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Is addiction a good model for sin?

Simcha Fisher has an interesting piece up at the National Catholic Register called "All Sin is Disgusting". Here is the opening paragraph:
In my post about St. Anthony wet house, the homeless shelter which allows clients to drink, several commenters reminded us that alcoholism is an especially disgusting, shameful sin—a selfish one, one which destroys lives and displays in the sinner a brutish, willful resistance against grace.
Now Fisher does not agree and that is important to grasp.
When I think about an alcoholic, I am astonished that someone would choose so much sin and ugliness over everything that is good in the world.  But I do this every single day.  Every single hour of every single day.  I’ve been going to confession for thirty years, and I confess the same damn things every single time.  If that’s not an addiction, I don’t know what is.
That is she doesn't agree that there is anything unusually disgusting about alcoholism.

But what stops me is the line about her own sins where she writes:
... I confess the same damn things every single time.  If that’s not an addiction, I don’t know what is.
Well, me too. I commit the same sins over and over again but I'm not sure that can reasonably be called addiction. If anything, it seems to me that true addiction is less of a sin precisely because it is addiction.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sort of political Monday

The Catholic need to control the culture
One of the funny things about Catholicism is that it still struggles with liberalism even now. That is a good thing and a bad thing.

I don't mean liberalism in whatever sense people who call themselves "liberals" mean. That sort of liberalism has made being liberal into a matter of acceptance into a belief group. As my Oxford dictionary puts it that sort of liberal seeks to be "respectful and accepting of behaviour or opinions different from one's own." Except that they don't. They are, for example, neither respectful nor accepting of Sarah Palin's behaviour and opinions. Modern liberals are defined by the way they very strongly favour some kinds of behaviour and opinions and very strongly oppose others (and oppose to a point that can sometimes reach incandescent hate).

This isn't a matter of partisan hypocrisy but a fundamental flaw in that definition. There is no reason to respect or accept behaviours or opinions different from ours. You want to respect and accept female circumcision?

But there was an older definition of liberalism and it derived from from a sense of "liberal" more closely related to generosity. A liberal host will refill your glass and plate but she won't hand you a box and tell you to take home anything you want from the wine cellar or pantry. Real liberalism always comes from a firm belief in the soundness ofour own views and from that derives a generosity towards different views.

Ultimately, it seems to me, real liberalism comes from a sense that God is outside of us. He is a separate being over and against us and not defined by our dogma. But that is a separate issue and too big to go into now.

The proximate cause of liberalism was the medieval city. "City air makes us free," said the serfs. The Catholic church in the English-speaking world has never accomodated itself to the city. It is more of a village religion and it became a neighbourhood religion in the cities. If you really want to see what has driven the big chnages in Catholic culture in America over the last hundred years, you need look no further than the church parking lot. When mass is over Catholics walk out the door, get in their cars and drive away. They don't stay in a particular neighbourhood where they can see the steeple of the church where they just prayed and where the people who were in the pews can see them.

Churches, and not just Catholic churches, just don't seem to be able to get this. I visit a very liberal non-Catholic church now and then and everything that church does is about community. And you get a some of that in the Catholic church as well. But what Catholics have started to do to a greater degree than any other church is obsess about the culture. Catholics have pushed more and more to try and control the culture.

The Serpentine One and I saw a fascinating example of this a few years ago at a discussion group with some non-Catholic christains. The discussion was about culture and teh Sepentine had the bad luck to be leading. Bad luck because none of the young Christians in the group new or cared much about culture. They'd solved the problem of modern culture by creating a ghetto for themselves. They lived in a world where they walled off popular music, books and movies. You couldn't even interest them in what was going on.

Catholics aren't like that. They are like modern liberals, and unlike real liberalism, in that they feel the need to encourage a certain kind of culture and to discourage other kinds. Traditionalist Catholics and feminists, as I have been noting recently, have a lot in common whether they like to admit this or not.

That's a funny reversal by the way. Tolerance of cultural and sexual deviance was historically higher in Catholic cultures than elsewhere. No matter how rigid the piety of Italian Catholics, for example, the variety of practices in Italian cities was always more tolerated than in a city like London or Boston, a fact noted by English and American tourists of the 19th century. The recent intolerance seems to come from the Irish church in America.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


That post of Jenifer Fulwiler's I was on about Thursday produced an incoherent argument that is worth noting. It comes from a commenter who calls herself Melissa. Here is an example of what I mean:
Labeling sexual modesty amongst women as merely “Victorian” in nature historicizes the idea and reduces its import to just a single time period. This is not only historically incorrect, but it is a tactic that proponents of the so-called “sexual revolution” used to convince women to lower their morals and indulge their baser impulses. The fact remains that current modes of female behavior (which could largely be labeled as “promiscuous”) are far more historically isolated than the traditional modes of female behavior (which could be labeled as “modest and chaste”) are.
What is going on here is a combination of historical ignorance combined with conflation of terms and both the ignorance and conflation are done somewhat willfully by Melissa to produce the results she wants. (A side note: you can always tell someone is peaking or typing faster than he or she is thinking when they trot of "so-called".)

Let's take then one at a time.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Frigg's Day

The duties of pleasure
Could I be so bold as to suggest that there are some things men are more likely to grasp than women? I know, I know but it is commonplace to suggest that there are things that women grasp more readily than men so why not? I'm not suggesting that women or men are inherently weaker or all incapable in some areas, just that there are some things that members of one sex are more likely to grasp than the other.

And one of these is that life's pleasures and joys come with duties attached. Or, to be more precise, you can't really enjoy your pleasure unless you understand that it is a duty.

This, of course, runs against what all the self-help books say. They say, "Don't make your new hobby, your diet or your musical skill an obligation or else you'll never do it." Do this and you will come to resent whatever the thing is and drop it. So only do it as pleasure they say.

Or, there is this observation from Laura Kipnis about love and marriage:
Yes, we all know that Good Marriages Take Work: we've been well-tutored in the catechism of labor-intensive intimacy. Work, work, work: given all the heavy lifting required, what's the difference between work and "after work" again? Work/home, office/bedroom: are you ever not on the clock? Good relationships may take work, but unfortunately, when it comes to love, trying is always trying too hard: work doesn't work.
I don't want to claim that Kipnis represents all women but you don't have to read a lot of women's magazines to find claims a lot like that. 

Plain common sense ought to be enough to tell us that the exact opposite is true. Because your life is full of obligations and if your pleasures aren't on that list then they will get displaced. Play is the thing you do when work is done. You find yourself at the end of the day too tired to make love, do your scrapbook or sing your scales. As you decide not to do them just this once; you tell yourself that today is an exception. But it won't be. Every single day you'll make your to do list—whether on paper or in just your head—and your pleasures will not be on it.

And one day you'll find that your entire life has gone by without your doing the things you really wanted to do.

Or you'll convince yourself that the grapes were sour. "If I'd really wanted to finish that quilt, I would have. The fact that I left it half-finished for a decade only proves that I never wanted to do it in the first place." This is first class nonsense but is perhaps comforting as you put the half-finished quilt into a box you know it will never come out of.

Look at anyone who is really good at anything and you'll see someone who has made a duty of their desires. No matter how many times the "easy" piano book promises you that you can learn without boring scales and exercises, the truth is that Martha Argerich practiced her scales and exercises every single day. She practiced so hard that she was left drained.

The more important thing to get is this: you yourself shape and create your pleasures and desires. It may seem to us that we just love some kinds of things and not others but the truth is that it took years to train ourselves to want what we want. If I could make a crude male observation, when I look at women I do make a series of judgments and one of them is always "does she know how to want?". For a lot of women don't.

I've hit the point in life where I've seen a few marriages fail. One of the most dependable signs that one of your friends' marriages is in trouble is when the wife values her children more than her husband. It happens all the time. It happens, of course, because loving children is an obligation. The child is your child and you show love even when you damn well don't feel like it. That, of course, is absolutely right. It is what we should do and I'm not suggesting otherwise.

The problem is on the other side and I've watched more than a few women (and some men) I know do this. For the things and people you love out of your desires, on the other hand, are not obligations and you can easily convince yourself that it is better to give yourself to these things only when you feel like it.

But, you know, Martha Argerich didn't get to be the genius she is despite the boring scales and exercises she had to do every day. She came to love the piano more and more precisely because she played those scales and exercises every day. It was the huge investment of time and work that made the love. The same thing happens with children. Parents come to love their children more and more because of the effort they put into them. Meanwhile the thing that is supposed to be fun slowly dwindles precisely because no investment is put into it.

Anything really worth loving will be something that takes effort, work and sacrifice to love.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Manly Thor's Day Special

Part 2: Jennifer Fulwiler's other slip
Let's revisit that first quote.
And thus she reveals her understanding of something that everyone knows but nobody wants to admit: Women hold all the cards when it comes to sex. As a gender, men want sex more than women do, and they are willing to go to great lengths to get it. They’ll change their behavior. They’ll reconsider their ideas.
And note the bit I have added emphasis to because I'd like to call your attention to something else that everyone really does know but that neither Catholics nor feminists seem to be keen to admit. My guess is that you don't have to step very far outside your door to see this thing. Walk around town, or the office, or (especially) a high school or college campus, and you'll be bombarded with it.

Manly Thor's Day Special

Part 1: Jennifer Fulwiler's slip is showing
We are big fans of Jennifer Fulwiler around here. That said, I think she slipped up in a big way recently.

In case you missed it (and lucky you if you did) some not terribly deep or intelligent person over at Slate suggested that efforts to defund Planned Parenthood could be countered by denying Republican men sex.  Yes, things like that make me feel very good about my decision to not discuss partisan politics here. It's not even original, the folks over at MoveOn were pushing the same nonsense two years ago.

To even respond to such nonsense is to enter into the argument at it's own creepy level. And there is Fulwiler's first mistake.
And thus she [the Slate writer] reveals her understanding of something that everyone knows but nobody wants to admit: Women hold all the cards when it comes to sex. As a gender, men want sex more than women do, and they are willing to go to great lengths to get it. They’ll change their behavior. They’ll reconsider their ideas.
Here's the problem that any manly man will struggle with: Who will teach the teachers?

Jennifer Fulwiler hands me a gift

Every once in a while, life will hand us a gift. Yesterday I got one. The Serpentine One spotted it first and called my attention to it. Here its is. Yesterday, Jennifer Fulwiler posted this:
Women hold all the cards when it comes to sex. As a gender, men want sex more than women do, and they are willing to go to great lengths to get it. They’ll change their behavior. They’ll reconsider their ideas.
Recognize that? 

Yes? No? Maybe? Doesn't it look an awful lot like our current subject courtly love? I mean, that is either describing courtly love or a very close relative of it. And how odd that that a Catholic writer would crank this thought out.

There is a second quote to go with it. This one is cited by Fulwiler but it ultimately comes from Bishop Fulton Sheen.
To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.
That sure sounds like it doesn't it? And here we can take our hat off to CS Lewis for he saw some big aspects of this that both Fulwiler and Sheen didn't. Lewis notes, for example, that the above ties directly to adultery. And I'll get to why that is in part two of today's posting.

I'll get to it in Part 2 because I will be putting up three posts on the subject today. UPDATE: Only two parts. On rereading them I find my silly romantic notions are too silly even for me.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Without Internet all day!

Wednesday was more penitential than planned. Something went wrong with one of the local switching station and our ASDL connection crapped out early this morning. Thirty minutes later the basic phone service went.

It's amazing how helpless that can leave you feeling. You can't check to see what is causing the problem. You get paranoid thoughts about whether you paid the bill. Or is the whole woprld coming apart.

And then this—I'm not making this up—when I went looking for help, our phone service provider tells us that when there is no dial tone we should dial 611!

Anyway, I've been thinking about Psalm 36 all day. The Serpentine One and I were saying Lauds this morning and today's liturgy includes Psalm 36 and it features this rather chilling stanza:
He so flatters himself in his mind
that he knows not his guilt.
In his mouth are mischief and deceit.
All wisdom is gone.
Here is the thing: How do I know that isn't me that stanza is describing? We always imagine these things to be describing someone else but the Psalm says the sinner doesn't know he is a sinner! It could be me. I might be so depraved by my sin that I have no idea how depraved I am.

Greek manners and Gothic morals

We'll always have Paris
What Lewis doesn't consider, it seems to me, is the subtext.

In the Iliad there is beautiful book set up by having Hector return to the city. It is an odd fact about the Iliad that the two most powerful and beautiful bits in it take place not on the battlefield but when Hector returns behind the walls of Troy and when Priam visits Achilles in his tent. That ought to give us pause.

But for now we'll note that Homer needs an excuse to send Hector inside. Hector is a hero and his whole purpose is to be a warrior so we need a MacGuffin to justify the trip. And the MacGuffin is that Priam orders Hector to go in and sacrifice his mother's best robe to Athena in the hopes that this will lead the goddess to look favourably on Troy. It's a MacGuffin because Athena isn't going to change her mind. Its sole purpose is to give Hector a purpose to be going somewhere.

But we might note what Hector is asked to burn on Athena's altar. A robe is a thing of domestic life and the epic tells us here what must be sacrificed to what.

On his trip in two seemingly random encounters enter into the story. The first is that Hector meets his wife and son. The child is scared of his father until Hector takes his helmet off. Meanwhile his wife Andromache pleads with Hector not to return to battle to die. Hector gives a very eloquent non-answer to this the gist of which is that he is a hero and heroes must be heroes and that means to die heroically.

The next encounter is with Paris who is dawdling in bed with Helen, loving her, rather than fighting. Paris is quite literally making love not war. The whole point of this scene is to make it clear to us what a shameful person Paris is. Helen too, of course, but that seems to have been taken as normal for a woman by Homer.

So what's the subtext? Well, no one would go to all the trouble to create these scenes if domestic life and erotic love hadn't been challenges to the heroic ideal. Homer and his readers may have wanted to be very clear that Paris's life was shameful but that kind of life had to really exist in order for it to be argued against in the first place. Stesichorus, unlike Homer, does not take it for granted that love of a beautiful woman is a shameful thing compared to war and praises Helen after being struck blind for insulting her. This heroic domesticity and erotic love had its appeals and had to be constantly fought against by the ancient poets of warfare and by the medieval theologians of monasticism.

A similar subtext exists in the middle ages. The texts passed along to us—the texts Lewis relies on so heavily—were written by churchmen and courtiers. These people had pretenses to hold up and they did so against other ways of life. These ways of life are in the subtext.

By focusing on the great theologians Lewis assumes a unity of life and vision that simply did not exist in the middle ages. If we read those medieval authors themselves we will see plenty of subtext that tells us that they well knew that their world was barely holding together. The unity of vision Lewis takes for granted was, in fact, merely a fond hope for the theologians who wrote about love. They wrote knowing that most people would not be even remotely interested in what they had to say about love or anything else for that matter.

When courtly love springs up in poetry in Provence we should make two reasonable assumptions. The first is that this passion had long existed and was well known to everyone even if it did not appear in any writing before this time. The second is that the Provençal troubadours, like the medieval theologians, were desperately trying to impose a unity on the world. The courtly love they wrote about was certainly much more varied in real life than what appears on the page. It came complete with conventions and assumptions that distorted reality.

We need go no further back than the 1950s to see this. To read the literature of the time, you would think that 99 percent of brides were virgins. This was not the case. And the bridegrooms? Well, the literature is odd there. It tends to avoid the subject while at the same time assuming that guy will somehow know what to do on his wedding night. The reality was considerably more varied.

In our own era, the reverse is the case. teenagers tend to have less sex experience than anyone following the media might guess.

There was something different about the middle ages, however. And that, as I say, above, was the complete lack of cultural and political unity. There was all sorts of stuff going on underground. When considering courtly or romantic love, we shouldn't concern ourselves with the origins so much as with the weakness of its opponents. Remember that the medieval theologians had been fighting against Eros for centuries. The odd thing about medieval Provence is not that opposition sprung up but that the high culture of the theologians and kings was unable to resist it. These people could not create a unified culture but they could at least control what happened in the very small world of the court and the learned clerics. All of sudden, something shook the bottle underneath this little cap of order and the effervescence threatened to blow the lid off.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Greek manners and Gothic morals

Why is it called "Adultery" since it makes us act like children
As I have said before, the claim by CS Lewis that courtly love represents a new kind of sentiment is ludicrous. In its place I'd make the more humble claim that the Provençal troubadours emphasized love as an heroic pursuit to a decree and with a consistency that was previously unknown.

A brief digression, in discussing and dismissing possible precedents, Lewis does not mention the Islamic culture of the Moors. It too was a culture in which there was a fairly large class of men with sufficient culture to sit around and produce music and poetry but who would have had little chance for love because other, more powerful, men and polygamy would have closed that door to them.

I do not have the time and, in any case, no one has the evidence necessary to prove or refute such a claim. But for my purpose now it is enough to consider the thing that Lewis does not and that is that any domestic male culture wherein actual love is difficult to achieve will have a tendency to romanticize and glorify love. And it seems to me that is all courtly love was, a way of talking about something people did not have.

What makes Lewis interesting here is an argument he makes about the form this "new" love took. For although he insists that there is a new emotion without precedent, he does think that the social norms that grew up around it have precedents. These norms are,
  • Humility
  • Courtesy
  • Adultery
  • The Religion of Love.
Okay, let's play Sesame Street, which of these things just doesn't seem to belong with the others? You got it, adultery. How did it get into the mix?

Lewis doesn't really explain that. What he sets out to explain is why love wasn't associated with marriage. And he gives two answers. The first is that the conventions of feudal marriage had nothing to do with love.  That's true enough. The second is that medieval sexology (his word) has a weird catch 22 built into it that, while allowing that sex was a good, made any actual sex act evil.

He's right about the second point. The churchmen of the middle ages—and the only people writing about love and sex were churchmen—had three good reasons for disdaining sex. The first was that the early church writers had an apocalyptic worldview. Jesus was coming any day so don't waste your time on sex and marriage. Second, they had the classic literature that treated the pursuit of sexual love as a trivial and base thing separate from real heroism which lay elsewhere. To this they had added their own twist, which was the belief that the best way to honour God was to live a life that was entirely devoted to devotion. And this is what they lived in monasteries.

The challenge sex presented to this was not unique. I've mentioned  The Pearl before. In this poem a man mourning his dead daughter comes to fear that he has come to love her image more than God and thereby has sinned. Sex presented the same sort of challenge. It too was a passion and it threatened to distract people from God.

It's important to note that the monastics did dishes like everyone else. They did lots of things that might have distracted them from God. They solved that problem by making these activities into prayers. Scrubbing the burnt pot or weeding the garden were ways to worship God. They also had pleasures and they saw them the same. A beautiful rose or a delicious piece of bread and even a glass of wine were all gifts from God and it was an act of devotion to enjoy them.

And sex ultimately has to be a good thing. To say otherwise would be to treat God more like a gnostic demiurge who had made a perverse thing. The trick was to somehow distinguish the desire for the pleasure of sex from the actual pleasure. It gets to be a little like the old rule about administering opiates to patients in pain. The opiate is good; it is, in fact, the best pain reliever available. But it is also addictive so when a patient starts asking for it that might be a sign of nascent addiction.

And we should pause to note that this move requires the moralist to debase sexual passion. Here the moralist must see eye-to-eye with the pornographer. Sexual passion must all be the same and it must all be an empty animal lust. The fact that your desire was for someone you were married to didn't make it any different from love for a prostitute or a picture.

For the medieval moralist it was not only possible, odd as this may seem, for a man to commit adultery with his wife it was almost inevitable that he would. For no matter how he tried, he couldn't separate his desire for sex (which was a sin) from the actual pleasure (which was a gift from God). And I should add that the Internet is full of traditionalist Catholics who still think this.

Okay, that might give us some hint of why this culture of love didn't attach love to marriage. Might! But why would it attach to adultery. Here Lewis pulls a fast one. He assumes that having shown why it is not M, the answer must be A. But that doesn't follow at all. Something for next time.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Another thought about that Newsweek article

When I read quotes like this:
... the myriad of female motivations could come from the flood of mixed messages we hear about how women are supposed to behave: enjoy sex but don't enjoy it too much, withhold it but don't be a prude, save it, flaunt it, be sexy but not a slut. No wonder things get complicated.
I begin to wonder about all those articles about those poor little men who are apparently being reduced to immature fratboys because they are surrounded by all these assertive confident women. If women were really so confident and assertive, the journalists at Newsweek wouldn't feel the need to protect them from criticism.

The Althouse rule

The Althouse rule comes from Ann Althouse: "If you do scientific research into the differences between men and women, you must portray whatever you find to be true of women as superior." (I should note that Althouse is calling our attention that this rule applies de facto in our culture and not that she thinks it is a good thing.)

There is an interesting example of it in Newsweek. The piece in question talks about the reasons women have sex and here is a telling line:
The mystery of why women have sex, and what they want out of it, has long been an elusive study—something even Sigmund Freud called "the great question." Researchers have historically theorized that women's motives lie in love and commitment, while newer studies have shown they do it for pleasure, just like men. But women are complicated creatures: their sexual health is determined as much by their emotions as by their physical state, which might help explain why as many as 50 percent of women have trouble getting aroused.
Note that: right from the get-go, it's a mystery. And then notice the odd next move that this mystery can apparently have only two possible (apparently exclusive) explanations:
  1. women have sex for reasons of love and commitment, or
  2. women have sex for pleasure.
Nothing else is allowed. That doesn't sound very mysterious to me so why treat it as such? And this is where the Althouse rule comes in for, "women are complicated creatures". Got that you men?!

Because we. of course, are so simple and transparent by comparison. Why the only reason we have sex is for pleasure. And probably selfish pleasure at that.

And then there is this shocker:
... their [women's] sexual health is determined as much by their emotions as by their physical state ...
Because my sexual health as a man is not determined by emotions as well as by my physical state? Apparently we men don't really care who we stick it into so long as we can stick it into someone. All those men who form monogamous relationships with women apparently do so for reasons that have nothing to do with emotion.

Of course, the real reason for all this "complexity" is protect women from moral criticism:
Many of those complexities, say the authors, can be explained by human evolution: stealing a friend's lover (something 53 percent have done) can be viewed as an effort to win a partner with the most desirable genes ....
As you can see, "complexities" is a nice way to say "backstabbing betrayers". And hey, 53 percent of women have stolen a partner from a friend! That's a rather staggering amount don't you think? How do the good folks at Newsweek respond? Why it's easy, they blame society:
... the myriad of female motivations could come from the flood of mixed messages we hear about how women are supposed to behave: enjoy sex but don't enjoy it too much, withhold it but don't be a prude, save it, flaunt it, be sexy but not a slut. No wonder things get complicated.
Those poor women, having to deal with mixed messages about sex. Of course, no man could possibly understand, us guys having never had to deal with mixed messages about sex.

And it has to be the mixed messages that society sends women that are the problem. It couldn't possibly be that we continue to send women the message that they are morally superior creatures with complex needs, rather than treating them like moral adults who need to figure out their own desires? And not "needs" but "desires". A need is a given and something you can't be held to account for.

Sort of political Monday

How in the world did that come up?
Let me preface this by saying I think the whole men are acting like frat boys because women are too threatening or something thesis is a crock. I suspect a lot of men are behaving like frat boys for the simple reason they can. It doesn't seem to be making them happy—a point I'll came back to next Monday—but it's not hard to see why they might try it just as it isn't hard to see why some women decide to be real-life Samantha Joneses.

That said, the author of the latest book pushing the men are being pussy-whipped into permanent frathood drew a really strange response the other day. The response is below the fold because I want readers to see the quote that caused the response naked first. Here it is:
Before [today], the fact is that primarily, a 20-year-old woman would have been a wife and a mother,” author Kay Hymowitz told the crowd of about 100 for the Manhattan Institute in New York City. Men would have been mowing lawns and changing the oil in their family sedans instead of playing video games and watching television. In previous decades, adults in their 20s and 30s were too busy with real life for such empty entertainment, Hymowitz says. “They didn’t live with roommates in Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Dupont Circle in D.C.
Read it a couple of times and try to imagine different things you might see to criticize in that quote (and I can see several myself). Then click the link and lean what Amanda Marcotte saw.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A quote to ponder

Nothing has so filled me with shame and regret as what I have not done.

Lionel Trilling wrote that. I know the feeling. I don't know if it is a good way to understand life but I think just about everyone thinks that at least once in their lives.

I found it cited in this piece at City Journal.

Manly Thor's Day Special

Do women like courtly lovers?
Perhaps the question seems too stupid. "Of course they do," you say. "Why there is nothing more that women want in this brutal modern age than a return to courtesy and humility from men." Really? Because if that is what women really wanted, you'd think that more men would be cultivating it wouldn't you? I mean, even if only for very cynical reasons you'd think they would pretend long enough to get laid wouldn't you?

And there do seem hints of it. As Lewis says in The Allegory of Love:
To leap up on errands, to go through heat or cold, at the bidding of one's lady or even of any lady, would seem but honourable and natural to a gentleman of the thirteenth or even of the seventeenth century; and most of us have gone shopping in the twentieth with ladies who showed no sign of regarding the tradition as a dead letter.
I'm not so sure it was all that natural even in the thirteenth century. I'll tell you one thing that CS Lewis is far too genteel to say but I'm not: if you behave this way towards a woman, she may well let you and she may even take you shopping with her so you can carry her bags, drive her around in your nice car and buy her lunch but she sure isn't going to put out for you.

And we've all known guys who've tried this approach because we've all had to sit around drinking beers with the guy afterward while he bitterly criticized the woman in question and complained that "it's true, nice guys really do finish last."

Okay, this isn't a "game" or "seduction tips" site, so why go on about this. Well, because it is true: if you want erotic love from a woman courtly love is one of the worst ways to set about getting it. But you also ask, related to the above, if it is such a dumb way to get erotic love, why was so much literature ever devoted to it?

The answer to that is because it is a male fantasy. It's not the sort of fantasy men have while masturbating but rather the kind they have when they are without a woman to love. It's a sort of fantasy they have about what women fantasize about. I mention masturbation fantasies because, of course, the same guy who has the courtly love fantasy has those too and one of the things that drives the courtly love fantasy in the directions he goes is his certainty that real love cannot possibly be anyting like his erotic fantasies.

And there is the primary mistake. Assuming your erotic fantasies are not too weird, one of the big surprises of actually finding real love is that while fantasies are unrealistic, real women actually do crave sex and the actual stuff they respond to is much more like our sexual fantasies than it is like our courtly love fantasies.

We might miss this because there is a whole school of feminist and moral conservative paranoia that focus on the fear that men will become so addicted to fantasies or porn that real women will disappoint. If you want to see this paranoid argument about porn being better than reality thoroughly dispatched, go here. No really, go to that link and read it. Especially if you are a woman who has ever worried about whether your man masturbates too much. I mean it. If you have ever worried that some guy might lose his interest in his real partner because of porn or masturbation, go to this link right now and read the whole thing

Meanwhile, us guys who here in the guy room can ask ourselves a simple question. Think of a woman you like. Not some super hot babe you see but don't really know but an attractive woman you really like to talk to but who has some obvious flaws. In other words an ordinary woman you know and like. Okay, imagine that you have just learned that she thinks your attractive too and she is intrigued by you. No guarantee, no sure thing here—she is perhaps interested and that is all you know. Okay, here is your choice: you can go out with her for a drink alone together right now or you can jerk off to some really great porn. Which one do you want?

And that tells us something really important about courtly love: It was dreamed up by guys who didn't have such a choice. In much the same way that a bird in a cage can only imagine freedom as the opposite of being in a cage, a guy without a woman can only imagine "real" love to be the complete opposite of his masturbation fantasies.

I don't want to over play this hand: masturbation fantasies are not realistic either but the thing is we know they are fantasies. But reality is not and never will be the mirror image of a fantasy. What men forget when all they have is masturbation fantasies is that women do want to really get it. A lonesome guy I knew when we were both in our late teens once told me that he wished he could live in a world where women really did "all want to get it". What he couldn't see is that most of the women around him really did.

So he spent his life in pursuit of impossible dreams who let him grovel before them and serve him and then gave it to "some jerk" who didn't care. Meanwhile the girls he actually seemed to end up with angered him. There is a Charles Bukowski poem called "quiet clean girls in gingham dresses ..." that embodies the mindset perfectly:
all I've ever known are whores, ex-prostitutes,
madwomen. I see men with quiet,
gentle women ­ I see them in the supermarkets,
I see them walking down the streets together,
I see them in their apartments: people at
peace, living together. I know that their
peace is only partial, but there is
peace, often hours and days of peace.
What the guy in the poem never sees is that the whole thing is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because if you see that clean, quiet girl in her gingham dress well, she's kind of hot isn't she.  She may be subtle, restrained, elegant, classy in public but you can imagine her all flushed, her pupils dilated, her eyes with that rather vacant look of total abandonment, her breasts heaving as she breathes harder as she gets more and more out of control. You've already imagined that haven't you. And you really are counting on her really wanting to get it? Am I right?

If not, let me assure you she wants you to take her shopping.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Some search terms that brought people here yesterday

1. "mad men 666" also "666 in mad men" and about twenty other variations on that. Several hundred people have come in on that every week for the last three weeks. I can always tell which shows are being rerun and even which countries they have been rerun in because there has been a sharp uptick in views on the relevant post lately.

2. "how to talk with your enlightened self" This is the one that cracked me up. I had to Google it myself just to find out where it was from. It comes from a book called Answers From Silence by Jeffrey Chappell. Here is a quote from the author:
At each time in your life, there was a part of you that was always there and that was always the same. Stay with that silent sense of self.
At each time in your life, there was a con artist in the wings willing to sell you a simple and ridiculously false approach to achieving happiness. If you were stupid enough to believe the others, you're probably stupid enough to believe Jeffrey Chappell too.  You're coming to this blog was a mistake: Stay with that silent sense of self.

3. "the silent generation" This is a steady draw. I get a few of these almost every day. It takes you to a post I'm often tempted to rewrite because it doesn't quite come together but hundreds of people are good enough to read it even now months after I wrote it so I'll just leave it as it is.

4. "anti princess movement" A hot topic of the moment that I happened to shoot my mouth of about a while ago. Because, you know, little girls never wanted to dress like princesses or ballerinas at any other time in history and it would be a cultural disaster to have feminine role models that were actually, you know, feminine.

5. "if personality is a series of unbroken gestures" Another steady draw. I suspect because people want to know who said it and where. My fond hope is that a few people who land here will come to consider the possibility that Fitzgerald intended to be ironic when he put those words in Nick Carraway's mouth. If you've just Googled here looking for it, it's from the Great Gatsby and Nick says it describing Jay Gatsby. And I'd humbly suggest the single most important word in the sentence is "if".

6. "sexuality nihilism" Well it's obvious why these two go together. Right? Actually, the more I think about it the less I want to know about the person who Googled that.

7. "we're flawed because we want". The most popular post I have ever written. Thousands of people have come here to read it. I suspect because they have all seen the Mad Men episode "The Summer Man" and they want to find this cool quote they only half heard while watching the show. And because I'm such a nice guy, here it is:
When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere. Just ask him. If you listen, he'll tell you how he got there. How he forgot where he was going. And then he woke up. If you listen he'll tell you about the time he thought he was an angel and dreamt of being perfect. and then he'll smile with wisdom, content that he realized the world isn't perfect. We're flawed because we want so much more.
And it wraps up with this, I think, rather shallow conclusion:
We're ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.
That last bit ruins it in my opinion. It has a sort of English-major-who-just-smoked-a-joint feeling about it.

Authentic is another word for bogus

I know, that is not a stunning surprise to anyone who reads this blog. I had no idea, when I started writing this blog, what themes would emerge. I figured, was sincerely hoping, that some would. If I were to look back now and find no recurring themes, that would be a rather worrying thing. (Of course, if I was that inconsistent, I probably wouldn't notice.)

Anyway, one of the themes is authenticity; or, rather, one of the themes is that authenticity is a fraud.

I thought about that reading in the New York Times about John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley.

I should preface this by saying that Steinbeck is largely a forgotten guy nowadays and deservedly so. Like Sinclair Lewis, Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, and Joyce Carol Oates, he was writer whose fame was mostly a factor of his ability to reflect trendy intellectual ideas of his era back on the trendy intellectuals who produced those ideas in the first place.

But he was much beloved of liberal intellectuals of my parents age and, in fact, much beloved of both my parents. Worried that I had, as the old politically incorrect expression has, "gone off the reservation" a few years ago they gave me a copy of Travels With Charley a few years ago in the hopes that would bring me back. It didn't. I hated the book.

Here is what happens. Steinbeck and his dog Charley get in a camper van in the early 1960s and head out to find America. And before we sneer too much, it wasn't quite such a cliché at the time. Here is the thing, though: he didn't actually do it. Steinbeck may have thought about actually doing it but in the end he was too set in his ways and just made it up to get an America that conformed to what he wanted to find.

The only odd thing about it is that it took so long for the fraud to come to light. As the writer who figured it out, Bill Steigerwald of Reason, points out, uncovering the fraud was really grunt level research. The only credible reason for it not coming out long ago is that no one wanted to know.

And this is confirmed by the defences of Steinbeck from the academic world.For example, Jay Parini, who wrote a biography of Steinbeck said:
“I have always assumed that to some degree it’s a work of fiction. Steinbeck was a fiction writer, and here he’s shaping events, massaging them. He probably wasn’t using a tape recorder. But I still feel there’s an authenticity there.” 
"I still feel there's an authenticity there." In other words, he really wants to believe and that is all the confirmation he needs.

Oh well, that's okay then. Really, why even bother with truth, let's just ask intellectuals what they "sense" is "true" and go with that? Except of course, that intellectuals say the same thing without irony.  So long as the "truth" reinforces the right moral outlook, they don't much care.

One thing you can be sure of is this: if you are inclined to believe things that feel authentic to you, you will never be surprised. You'll be disappointed but never surprised because you'll be so used to being disappointed.

Greek manners and Gothic morals

So what does CS Lewis claim about courtly love. Well, he claims this:
Whatever we have been, in some sort we are still. Neither the form nor the sentiment of this old poetry has passed away without leaving indelible traces on our minds. We shall understand our present, and perhaps even our future, the better if we can succeed, by an effort of the historical imagination, in reconstructing that long-lost state of mind for which the allegorical love poem was a natural mode of expression.
Lewis thinks what all academics think; he thinks the period he is studying is a crucial one in the development of modern thought and culture and that studying it will enable us to understand not just this period but the periods that come after. And that, rather than logic or reason, is the principal reason he is so gung ho to claim that an emotion that never existed before was invented in the 11th century in Provence.
Many of the features of this sentiment, as it was known to the Troubadours, have indeed disappeared; but this must not blind us to the fact that the most momentous and the most revolutionary elements in it have made the background of European literature for eight hundred years. French poets, in the eleventh century, discovered or invented, or were the first to express, that romantic species of passion which English poets were still writing about in the nineteenth. They effected a change which has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination, or our daily life untouched, and they erected impassable barriers between us and the classical past or the Oriental present. Compared with this revolution the Renaissance is a mere ripple on the surface of literature.
Well, no. But let's humour him a while. Let's forget the most ludicrous part of his claim—that an actual new emotion was created—and let's consider the possibility that there were a new series of cultural trappings for relationships between men and women created during this period and that these cultural trappings remain very important for some people in our society.

For Lewis is well aware that most people aren't much influenced by it.
As for the matter, what have we to do with these medieval lovers - 'servants' or 'prisoners' they called themselves - who seem to be always weeping and always on their knees before ladies of inflexible cruelty? The popular erotic literature of our own day tends rather to sheikhs and 'Savage Men' and marriage by capture, while that which is in favour with our intellectuals recommends either frank animalism or the free companionship of the sexes. In every way, if we have not outgrown, we have at least grown away from, the Romance of the Rose.
Okay, so most popular and intellectual literature of Lewis's day seems to have dumped this stuff. So who still cares? Lewis thinks someone does, or ought to care. I think a lot of people did and do care and here are some reasons they might.
  1. Anyone who does certain kinds of literary criticism will care a whole lot for starters. The Troubadours were a huge influence on Dante and Petrarch and, consequently, on the entire subsequent history of love poetry—most notably, on the love poetry of Shakespeare. In The Allegory of Love Lewis makes just this point but he mentions only Petrarch. Why not Dante?
  2. Well, that leads us to the second reason to still care, the understanding of erotic love we find in the Provençal troubadours has an enormous influence on Catholic piety. Lewis talks his way all around this point without ever quite seeing it. And that weird mix of sex and religion has had a huge influence in English literature (Something I have called the English Romantic Catholic Tradition).
  3. Finally, the love lyrics of Provence have had an enormous influence on the field of fantasy fiction. It was a  field that began with the Gothic romances of the late 18th century but was undergoing a significant revival in Lewis's day and one of the key figures was a guy named CS Lewis.
And thus it is perhaps not surprising to find two contradictory drives in Lewis. One is a push to prove there was something new and distinctive and deeply influential about this "new" vision of love  that sprung in the 11th century and had never existed before. The second was deep need to differentiate himself and his own deeply romanticized account of love and Christianity from what went before.

Tomorrow, a bit of a  side trip into the peculiarly male aspects of courtly love

This series begins here.
The next post will be here when there is a next post.