We need to talk about sex, part 4

This is the fourth part in a series of posts I’m doing about the liberalization of sex laws throughout the West. Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here.

Since World War II, in both the U.S. and other Western countries, there has been an ongoing attempt to completely dismantle the Foundational Consensus on sexuality. Unlike earlier “sexual revolutions,” this hasn’t been in the form of just getting the bluenoses to lay off a little so people can unwind. Instead, there have been multiple attacks on the Consensus designed specifically to discredit it and repeal its requirements.

hayden
Is a cigar just a cigar?
Without many of us realizing it, we have started to converge on a position where the sexual pleasure and fulfillment of adults is presumed to be so absolutely central to the human experience that any legal abridgment of its expression must be met with extreme skepticism. Once this attitude becomes entrenched, it’s very hard for me to see how pretty much all remaining boundaries will not fall. I feel I should emphasize here that this is not the consequence of some master plan by dark conspirators to poison our precious bodily fluids. No, it’s just how things will naturally unfold as people try to muddle their way through moral issues by way of analogy, without recourse to an authoritative source of moral wisdom.

Why now — why did this come about in the post-World War II period, as opposed to some earlier time? It’s not like our 19th century Victorian ancestors were incapable of orgasms, after all. Well, ask yourself: When was the last time you thought about sex in a way that centered around making babies?

Thanks to a combination of unprecedented societal wealth and scientific control over biology, we have reached a point where the conception and rearing of children is no longer an act fraught with existential consequences, as it has been for nearly all of human history. For most of the time humans have been on this planet, every time a man and a woman decided to have sex, it was a potentially life-changing event for both partners. Indeed, the potential for change wasn’t necessarily limited to the father and mother — the fate of entire empires could hang in the balance. Sargon of Akkad, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Mohammed — these planet-shaking lives were all the product of some random girl and some random guy screwing.

When it was impossible for anybody to ignore the fact that every random fuck could determine the rest of your life, your family’s life, and possibly the fate of the human race, it was quite natural for people to believe that what happened in bed — the most private of all human spaces — was society’s business. In this kind of environment, it was easy for people to come to the conclusion that, yes, the government did belong in the bedroom.

Today, the only people who still think in these terms are, of course, the highly religious, whose minds are often concentrated by the fact that they have voluntarily submitted to rules of conduct that preserve the existential peril of the sexual act. To those who have no strong religious beliefs, this probably seems as silly as the Amish refusing to use electricity or internal combustion engines.

For those who do not submit themselves to the strictures of religion, it’s possible for a person to have sex almost entirely without consequence. Thanks to birth control pills and abortion, women have near-complete control over reproduction from the point of potential conception to near the moment of birth. (Men have slightly less control over the process — but only slightly. There is not yet a “birth control pill for men,” and a man cannot legally compel a mother to either abort his child or give birth against her will. Even so, a prudent, sexually active man in 2016 has far more options than his great-grandfather could have dreamed of.)

If a woman does decide to give birth, then once birth occurs, she can give the child up for adoption and wash her hands of the whole matter; conversely, she can choose to raise the child alone. No matter which choice she makes, no stigma or shame will attach to her. Furthermore, if she chooses to raise the child herself, today’s mother has resources available — many provided free of charge by the government — that would have been unimaginable to the women of antiquity. No woman living today in an advanced society need ever face the agonizing dilemmas faced by her ancestors of only a few centuries ago. (Again, things are a little trickier for men. But us guys should be wary of making too much out of this. Things are still far easier for a sexually active man today than they would have been in, say, 1816.)

Thus, through our wealth and ingenuity, we have successfully constructed an environment in which the link between sexual pleasure and babies has been completely severed in the mind of the average person. We have done to sex what video games like “Call of Duty” have done to the act of killing: We’ve devised an arena which allows us to enjoy all the pleasure of the act while removing all possible consequences. In doing so, we’ve managed to transform “moral” constraints on sexuality into entirely arbitrary barriers, which are maintained purely due to inertia. These traditional “barriers” now have all the strength of tissue paper, and can be shredded with the slightest application of pressure. The cold knife of moral reasoning via analogy will whittle everything down to a least-common-denominator version of morality. It’s not very difficult to shoehorn pretty much every form of sexual deviancy into that generous standard.

Coming next: Why you think this cannot happen, and why you are wrong.

“Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”

Saw this last night. It was … okay. I’m not sure how to really evaluate it, because on one hand, it wasn’t terrific. On the other hand, it was better than I had expected. Based on the reviews I read beforehand, I went in expecting it to stink to high heaven. Instead, it was was just an average action movie. Nothing special, but not a bad way to kill a few hours. It’s one of those movies you’d tell your buddies is “not worth seeing in the theater, but worth a rental,” if we still had video rental stores.

Do you even care about the plot? It’s Batman fighting Superman! What more do you want? 🙂

Seriously, though: If you don’t know much about comic book history, the significance of this matchup might escape you. You might ask, why are two good guys fighting each other? And why is this even a contest? Wouldn’t Superman easily crush Batman into paste?

The answers are, A) Because Superman and Batman are the two greatest superheroes ever, and everybody loves to watch two legends go toe-to-toe. It’s the Godzilla vs. King Kong of the comic book world. The elemental appeal is so strong that comic book writers have been dreaming up various excuses to have Batman and Superman fight each other since the 1950s. It’s such a popular plotline that it’s been trotted out dozens of times in the comics. Every few years it gets brought back in one form or another, to great success, and it nearly always ends with the two heroes becoming friends again. In other words, this is nothing new in comic-book land; it merely happens to be the first time this plot has made it to the big screen.

As to question B) Why’s this  a “fair fight?”: Well, remember, this is the comic book world, and Superman and Batman are essentially archetypes of the two paths of superherodom. Superman is the ultimate embodiment of the “gifted hero” — the seemingly-ordinary mortal who has mysteriously been granted immense powers, which he then uses to fight for justice. Batman, by contrast, is the ultimate embodiment of the “self-made hero” — the mortal man who becomes a superior warrior for righteousness entirely through his own strength of character and iron will. He isn’t given any “gifts” — all of his powers and skills are acquired through dedicated study and the sweat of his brow.

These two paths set up the two types of conflicts traditionally faced by superheroes: The gifted hero must struggle with using his powers in a responsible way. The self-made hero, on the other hand, must struggle against his own human limitations just as much as he struggles against his adversaries. In Greek mythology, the Superman archetype would be Hercules; the Batman archetype would be Odysseus.

If you’re wondering why Batman would have a prayer at fighting Superman, the standard comic book answer is that Batman is a genius, so his brains supposedly give him an edge, whereas Superman has to rely entirely on his muscles. It usually comes down to whether Batman can out-think Superman, and in this movie, it’s no different.

As for the final product: As I said, it’s surprisingly not bad. Not great, but not bad. I strongly suspect the real superhero of this production was the film’s editor, David Brenner. This film shows all the signs of having been put through an editing-room Cuisinart — scenes seem oddly truncated, shots feel out of place, and there’s a generous amount of padding with “impressionistic” asides and interludes. All this gives me the feeling that director Zack Snyder — a guy who’s never been accused of subtlety — probably turned in a first cut that was a blazing dumpster fire of awfulness. The studio then told editor Brenner to take a chainsaw to the entire film and cobble together something that was watchable.

I have no behind-the-scenes knowledge here; for all I know, what you see on screen was exactly what Snyder intended. But as someone who’s spent many hours in a film editing suite, I can say that I got a definite “rescued in the editing room” vibe here.

Performance-wise, Henry Cavill was as wooden as the lumber section of Home Depot — but that’s no biggie, as he wasn’t really required to do any serious acting. Mostly he was just there to stand around and look good in a cape. Ben Affleck’s take on Batman was surprisingly restrained and effective — I don’t know who gave him advice, but whatever they told him, it worked. And though I’m apparently in the minority here, I really liked Jesse Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luthor. I think Lex-Luthor-as-Mark-Zuckerberg is a funny and interesting spin on the character, but a lot of folks apparently disagreed.

We need to talk about sex, part 3

This is the third part of a series of posts I’m doing about the liberalization of sex laws throughout the West. Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 is here.

Was the Foundational Consensus I’ve described a good system? Well, it depends on how you want to look at it.

A recurring problem in the way many people look at the past is their tendency to believe, as I’ve put it before, that “ainchent peepul wur stoopid.” The thinking goes that up until, like, two weeks ago, all the people in the whole world were barely literate savages, scratching their butts and hooting in wonder every time there was a solar eclipse.

In fact, ancient people were pretty damn smart, and some of them were geniuses. Some were quite a lot smarter than about 99.999 percent of the people reading this. A lot of confusing things about history become much clearer if one takes into account that in most cases, the very smart people of the past were doing the best they could with the tools and knowledge they had at their disposal. Let me give you a clue here: If an objection to this or that rule can occur to your dumb-ass bovine brain, it’s almost impossible that the same objection never flickered up in the minds of the smartest people on the planet for thousands and thousands of years.

Let’s apply this reasoning to the Foundational Consensus. Underlying the Consensus was the assumption that sexual fulfillment was not a human right. Sex was recognized as an incredibly powerful, potentially destructive force, and governing authorities were assumed to have sweeping powers to regulate it, “for the good of society.” It was, from their perspective, no different from governments regulating guns or nuclear weapons, or establishing rules for a common currency.

Many of the tough restrictions of the Consensus actually make a lot of sense if you start from the assumption that we are living in a harsh, poverty-stricken world, where all but a very minuscule, very fortunate sliver of people will spend most of their lives just struggling to get by. Seen from that perspective, many of these seemingly-cruel limits on human appetites can be seen as reasonable tools for maintaining a tenuous grip on civilization.

If resources are limited, you want to make sure you get the maximum possible return on investment from every single baby born. All these rules that strike oh-so-enlightened moderns as stupid Sky God mumbo-jumbo — you shouldn’t have sex unless you intend to have a child; if you do have a child, the child needs two parents, and ideally those parents should be the child’s biological parents; in order to maximize investment in the child, the parents must be forbidden from separating and should focus their sexual desires exclusively on each other — are actually common-sense rules for an environment where there is only so much to go around, and life is just one major plague or war away from descending into chaos. Furthermore, restrictions on homosexuality make sense in a world where infant mortality is very high: You want to ensure that as much sexual energy as possible is channeled into sex that could potentially result in children.

From a purely utilitarian perspective, “sexual morality” is nothing more than an efficient rationing tool for a crucial resource in an environment where every resource must be maximized. (A super-utilitarian, with access to population statistics and powerful computers, could probably devise an even more efficient system — on paper. But it’s doubtful whether that system would fit comfortably with natural human instincts.)

People chafe at these restrictions, of course, because in a perfect world everybody would love to, as KISS memorably put it, “rock ‘n’ roll all night and party every day.”

In times of greater wealth and living standards — Restoration England, Renaissance Italy, America during the 1920s — rules are relaxed, and people are given more freedom to “cut loose” a little. (And as previously noted, the fortunate 1 percent at the very top have always been given much greater leeway in these matters than the common people.) It’s important to note, however, that prior to World War II, even during times of greater sexual license, the Foundational Consensus was still the “official” standard, even if a lot of people failed to live up to it.

Coming next: The Consensus crumbles.

We need to talk about sex, part 2

This is the second part of a series of posts I’m doing about the liberalization of sex laws throughout the West. Part 1 can be found here.

In order to better understand where we’re headed, let’s review where we’ve been.

Sixty years ago, homosexuality was illegal everywhere in America and across pretty much the entire civilized world. Sex outside of marriage was frowned upon — even illegal, in some cases — and the only legal form of marriage was a union between one adult man and one adult woman (definitions of “adult” could be a little elastic, but no matter where you drew the line, non-adults were off limits).

Within marriage, there was a strong presumption that sex was primarily intended for procreation. Obviously this wasn’t something that was legally enforceable, and different religious traditions had different attitudes towards “non-procreative” sex between spouses, but the presumption that sex was primarily for making babies was strong enough that access to things which might enhance “non-procreative” sex, such as birth control, was tightly restricted. Some jurisdictions banned birth control outright; others limited its availability to married couples. Even where birth control was legal for basically anybody, there were enough restrictions in place to make procuring it a bit of a hassle.

Divorce was something that ranged from difficult to impossible. In some parts of the world, notably many U.S. states, marriage between people of different races was forbidden. That last restriction seems unbelievably cruel and petty to us today, but remember that at the time, marriage and sex were seen primarily in terms of making children. Because many societies (and not just the U.S.) gave different legal rights to people of different races, multiracial children could raise thorny legal problems. One could argue that restrictions on interracial relationships were justified on the basis that society had an interest in minimizing such problems. (How much freedom people ought to have to choose their own spouses has always been a thorny question in Western culture, but based on the fact that nobody’s ever written a poem in praise of arranged marriages, we can confidently say that people have always believed couples should have as much choice as possible — they just haven’t agreed on the boundaries of what is “possible.”)

And of course, in the past, there were rigidly-enforced distinctions between the sexes, and your sex was assumed to be biologically immutable — a man could not put on a dress and demand to be treated as a woman. In some places, simply dressing up in the clothes of the opposite sex was sufficient to get you thrown in jail, regardless of your reasons for doing so. Needless to say, most “alternative” forms of sexual expression were forbidden and frequently illegal.

All of this represented what I’ll call, for lack of a better term, the Foundational Consensus on sexuality. This Consensus dates back at least to the early Middle Ages, when Christianity first came to dominate the Western world, though elements of it date back even further, to the foundation of civilization itself. At different times, certain aspects of the Consensus have received greater or lesser emphasis; at times, parts of it have been honored more in the breach than in the observance. And of course, in all times and places, the rich and powerful have been given much more freedom than ordinary folks to flout the rules.

Coming tomorrow: Why people were willing to put up with all this.

The losers

Megan McArdle wrote a great column the other day that touches on why so many people think the American experiment has gone awry. You should click over and read the whole thing.

As Megan points out, it’s not enough to just keep repeating the same old mantras: “Every system has winners and losers. Start everybody at zero tomorrow and in ten years, a lot of the people who are on top now will be on top again. There will be bumps and scrapes along the way, but ultimately we’ll all be better off.”

No shit, Sherlock — nobody disputes any of that. Yes, any competitive economy will create some losers — we all get that. Only dreamy-eyed commies think otherwise. But you can’t run a functioning society when more and more of the benefits are captured by a tinier and tinier sliver of people at the top, while “the losers” constitute a bigger and bigger chunk of the population. As Megan acidly notes, “even the Soviet economy worked well — for the commissars.”

I’m sorry if I sound like some Bernie Sanders loving hippie here — I’m really not; I swear. But you’d think smart people would understand such simple stuff: People who have no stake in your success will have no real incentive to protect it, and may in fact decide to work against it, even if it might cause a little bit of pain for themselves. Maybe they’re motivated by greed, envy or hatred — or maybe they’re not. Maybe they’re just like bored, aimless teens blowing up toilets with cherry bombs. Maybe they think it’s worth it to fuck you over for nothing more than shits and giggles. If the outcome looks like it’s going to be the same for them either way, why not go with the most entertaining option? (I’m convinced this goes a long way to explaining the success of Donald Trump.)

I thought it was arch-capitalist Adam Smith who pointed out that people don’t bust their asses at work every day out of some larger, abstract commitment to the capitalist order: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

I get my ass out of bed every day for money, not for “capitalism.” I can’t pay my monthly electric bill with a copy of the Wall Street Journal, no matter how damn high the S&P 500 goes.

As if on cue, two days after Megan posted her article we got yet another tone-deaf piece over at National Review which is again telling us that, hey, in a capitalist economy, some folks lose, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Too bad, so sad.

The money quote from that article: “Do American parents really aspire to have their children sitting at a sewing machine making shirts? Or do they want their children to become doctors, computer programmers, or technology specialists — good jobs with good futures.”

I have to wonder how often the author of that sentence, Michael Tanner, gets out of his office at the Cato Institute. Has he even met any real people?

Back to Megan: “The implicit assumption of elites in both parties,” she observes, “is that the solution for the rest of the country is to become more like us, either through education or entrepreneurship. Rarely does anyone discuss how we might build an economy that works for people who aren’t like us and don’t want to turn into us.”

Here’s a statistic which an amazingly large number of smart people can never remember: Exactly half of any given population — 50 percent! — is below average. There is no known educational method or government policy which can turn all of America into Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

Smart people often have difficulty understanding what the world is like for people who are not very smart. Part of the problem is how rigidly stratified our society has become on the basis of cognitive ability. If you are a smart person, chances are that you rarely have any extended interaction with people who are not very smart. Even the “dumb” people you regularly interact with are  likely to be quite smart.

In his book Real Education, Charles Murray at one point gives a sample of the kinds of questions that below-average people struggle with. It’s quite sobering. A person with an IQ of below 100 — again, that’s 50 percent of the population — probably cannot handle anything much more complicated than 8th-grade level math. They can usually learn to read, but it takes enough effort that few of them ever read for pleasure.

None of these people will ever be “doctors, computer programmers, or technology specialists,” yet Michael Tanner writes as if these people just do not matter at all. Fifty percent of adults will be unable to find decent jobs, but somehow it’ll all just work out, because gosh, we can’t just “climb into a time machine and return to the 1950s.” Somehow a society where 50 percent of citizens have no use and no hope is supposed to be a recipe for a “vibrant new economic future,” and not a violent revolution.

I don’t know how to fix the economy, but I think I DO know how to fix the callous disregard so many of our elites seem to have developed towards their fellow countrymen: Bring back the draft. It would have to be done right, though — opportunities for deferments or string-pulling by well-connected elites would have to be severely limited. The idea would be to force people from all backgrounds to mix, in order to give people a better understanding of their fellow citizens. I’m convinced that spending some time in the trenches with a representative cross-section of society would disabuse our future leaders of a lot of the frankly dumb ideas they seem to have about the way the real world works. “Stick to the theory and hope for the best” doesn’t cut it on the battlefield.

We need to talk about sex

Note: I have been working on this for a couple of weeks now, and it was starting to turn into another of my absurdly long-winded blog posts — the kind I’m told people hate. So instead of trying to cram it all into one post, I’m going to try an experiment: I’ll break the whole thing up into separate posts, over a series of days. Hopefully that will make the whole thing easier to digest. I only ask that you read the entire series before you reply in detail; there are some obvious objections that might occur to you while reading it which I plan to address in subsequent posts. 

Let me tell you something which will probably unsettle you: Child pornography, and even sex with children, will one day be legal in the United States and across much of the Western world. For many of you reading this, it will probably happen within your lifetime. It may not be legal in every Western country or every U.S. state, and there may be fairly heavy restrictions on it — at least in the beginning. But it will be legal in some form.

Given that this looks to be where we’re headed, right now seems a good time to stop and ask the question: Are we OK with this? No, I mean really, in our heart of hearts, are we OK with it? Forget whatever you feel compelled to say publicly; obviously nobody in their right mind is going to publicly announce, in 2016, “kiddie sex? No prob, bro. It’s all good.” No, we need to consult our most private beliefs here, the thoughts we don’t share with anyone. We need to decide now, because this might be the last moment where we as a culture have a choice in the matter. We already know from experience that once things progress past a certain point, the logic and cultural inertia will take on a life of their own, and we’ll be powerless to stop it.

If we’re not OK with this, now is the time to try and stop it. Not later; not in a decade or so: Now.

Let me explain my thinking here. For quite some time now, I’ve been of the belief that at some point in the coming decades, our society is going to basically just drop all remaining restrictions on sexual behavior, with a few minor exceptions. Incest, polygamy, bestiality, prostitution, and yes, even kiddie porn and kiddie sex will all be acceptable in the eyes of the law. While I can’t foresee any situation in which forcible rape could be legalized, everything else is probably going to be fair game. The trajectory of gay rights and, in particular, transgender rights just confirms this, in my view.

Oh, yes: I went there. Putting gays and transgender people in the same bucket with baby rapers! Except you should know that I largely support gay rights, and am at least sympathetic towards the problems faced by trans people, even if I’m not quite on board with the whole transgender thing. Point is, this isn’t going to be another one of those cranky old person rants about how “perverts” are destroying our decent, God-fearing society. I hope my scribblings here will be more thoughtful than that. I’ll flesh out the connection with the larger LGBT+ movement a little later on, but I’m not coming at it from the Westboro Baptist Church angle, as you’ll eventually see.

I should also point out that the future I’m contemplating here isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s still a few decades away, at minimum. I’m 40; readers who are much older than me will be gone before any of this comes to pass. I expect I’ll live to see it, but I will probably be a very old man, so for me the whole the whole discussion remains entirely academic. But I think this is where we’re headed, because try as I might, I don’t see any limiting principle that’s going to stop us from ending up there.

Coming tomorrow: A look back at the ‘good old days.’

The party poopers

Breitbart.com has a terrific article up right now dissecting the online “alt-right.”

I’ve been belatedly coming to the realization recently that the alt-right phenomenon probably includes yours truly. Click over and read the whole thing.

The Breitbart author breaks down the movement into four branches.

The Intellectuals: These would be online heavyweights like Steve Sailer. They’re the guys who run the sites and write the articles that get the big traffic and recruit new adherents.

Natural Conservatives: This is probably the bucket where I would go. These are guys who lean naturally towards the right side of the political spectrum but have been developing deep misgivings about the direction of mainstream right wing political parties.

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An example of The Meme Team at work.

The Meme Team: These guys are the newest incarnation of the bomb-throwing humorists that, among the Baby Boom generation, led to the Yippies, Saturday Night Live, and the original National Lampoon. Every generation has its version of this iconoclastic brand of humor. This crowd is less concerned with practical politics and more focused on goring society’s sacred cows for shits and giggles.

The article quotes Curtis Yarvin explaining that “if you spend 75 years building a pseudo-religion around anything — an ethnic group, a plaster saint, sexual chastity or the Flying Spaghetti Monster — don’t be surprised when clever 19-year-olds discover that insulting it is now the funniest fucking thing in the world. Because it is.”

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Jeb Bush is a particularly juicy target for the meme guys.

It hasn’t escaped the notice of this new generation of satirists that nearly all of modern society’s sacred cows are on the left, so they are gleefully engaged in the age-old process of turning them into delicious hamburger. I touched on this phenomenon in one of my previous blog posts. These are, naturally, the guys who came up with the term “cuckservative.”

Last, but not least, are the ‘1488rs.’ These fellows are actual, no-kidding Nazi skinhead types — what Jared Taylor called the “Jews in your sandwich” paranoid weirdos. They’re the brush that leftists would LIKE to use to paint the entire alt-right. Naturally, most alt-right people hate these guys (you know they’re all guys) and wish they’d bugger off.

It’s a pretty good article. Check it out.