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contradictory values
Chesterton once wrote that the madman is not the fellow who has lost his reason, but the fellow who has lost everything but his reason. Such a person, seized by a single monomaniacal idea, loses his balance, as if under the weight of a mental hypertrophy. Because a man may add five and six, and a cash register may add five and six, he discovers that a man is no more than a cash register. He begins to dream dreams of cash registers, male and female he dreams them, coming together to make change. If he is Mr. Richard Dawkins, he dreams of other worlds wherein cash registers, or card catalogues, spring up naturally among the lilies of the field.

But what kind of madness is it when one is simultaneously beset with that single idea, and yet one cannot remember what one has just said? That would seem a monstrous impossibility, a stupidity far beyond the scope of normal perverseness and study. And yet that is what we witness now, a sort of intellectual slapstick. It would be like Mrs. Carry Nation raffling off baskets of cheer to fund Prohibition.

Perhaps it is sex that has driven us mad. I think rather it must be boredom. We are so bored that we not only cannot be bothered to remember what our opponents say, but we cannot even remember what we ourselves say.

So then, on Monday, the harridans of the National Organization for Women announce their great discovery that it is a bad thing for men to beat women black and blue. We wonder what took them so long to discover it. APPLES FALL TO THE GROUND, runs the headline, with the helpful addition, Effects on Agriculture Undetermined. So terrible a thing it is for women to be beaten that they must promote a national law, the Violence Against Women Act, to ensure the safety of women against the fist of a brawling boyfriend.

Then on Tuesday, the same harridans announce the great discovery that it is a good thing for women to join the infantry, to confront not boyfriends, but enemy men who will be at the peak of their physical prowess, armed to the teeth, and filled with the rage of killing and plunder and rape. The chivalry or plain common decency that once protected a woman against brawling—or war—is derided as a masculine plot to keep women in subjection. Women must be free to be conscripted. Women have long missed the joys of trench life, where table and bed and latrine are all the same mud. They have missed the airy delight of seeing a brother blown sky high, or the wonderful tingle of an arm or leg suddenly missing or hanging by a thread. They should then enjoy those experiences, and add to them the salt that makes it all worthwhile, the futility of loss, the unspoken knowledge that it has all been for nothing, and that your brothers and your country would have been better off without you.

On Wednesday, the keepers of our national morality inveigh against a priest or a coach who entices a teenage boy into sodomy. On Thursday, the same keepers inveigh against the Boy Scouts, for shying away from scoutmasters who might do the same. The unnatural experience of sodomy is so crushing to the heart of a normal boy—who simply wants to grow up like all the other boys, falling in love with a girl, getting married, and having children just as his father did—that he cannot get over it, not ten, not twenty years later, but breaks down in public, in mingled rage and shame. But within a single day, one might even say a single sentence, the same pundits will celebrate the same perversion as just an ordinary human variation, such as being left-handed or having a taste for kumquats.

On Friday, the feminists in an alphabet-soup alliance of people with various sexual proclivities will protest against pornography, the technical term for smutty pictures. Their grounds are that it turns women into objects of sexual consumption. The same people, on Saturday, boldly proclaim the right of both women and men to fornicate, coldly, aloofly if that is possible, with people whom they do not love; it is recreation. Apparently, it is an object if it is a picture and distant, but not an object if it is alive and underneath; a dagger of the mind is more dangerous than a dagger of steel; fantasizing about doing a wicked thing is worse than actually doing it.

They do not notice, either, that the Gay-Bisexual contingent of the alphabet are notorious producers and consumers of smutty pictures, of men, naturally. It is not clear why this is not equally offensive, rather than something proud to celebrate. The feminist harridans of Monday, meanwhile, make common cause with the G’s on Sunday, and neither notices that the positions are mutually contradictory. The feminist says, “There are no differences between men and women, other than minor details of plumbing.” We gape in amazement at so foolish a claim, and wonder whether she has dropped down from some unknown planet, where bipeds have neither eyes nor ears, and where common necessaries such as food, clean drinking water, stone and ore for building and industry, houses to dwell in, and roads and ships and trucks and bridges simply materialize at a thought, without the bending or breaking of a single back. But let us grant her point. The gay man standing right beside her not only insists on a difference; that difference is so vast, and so determinative, that he cannot possibly imagine learning to love a woman after the ordinary pattern of nature. Almost in the same sentence he and his feminist ally claim that he must have A, and cannot possibly settle for A. He must have the man and no other, because he is attracted to that creature that is just like the woman, with no important differences. He must have the masculine and not the feminine; and there is no difference between the masculine and the feminine.

On the next Monday—for the lunacy outlasts the phases of the moon—we are told that a pregnant woman is, emotionally, a tender flower, who must be protected against people praying for her and her child as she enters the abortuary. On Tuesday, we are derided for being impossibly old-fashioned if we suggest that it might not be a good thing for women who are possibly pregnant to be crawling on their bellies on a battlefield, where men will be shouting things much more terrifying than the Hail Mary. On Wednesday we are told that a church’s failure to provide free contraceptives to its employees is a terrible sin against the common good. On Friday, we are told that the notion of the “common good” is trumped by the individual’s supposed right to be antisocial in matters of sex.

On Saturday, we are told that no man is an island. On Sunday, we are told that every woman is an island. On Monday, a bad man is sued to support a child conceived out of wedlock. On Tuesday, a good man is told to shut up when he sues to support his child conceived within wedlock, rather than have it aborted. On Wednesday, we complain that there are no good men to marry. On Thursday, we make sure to destroy the last institution that made for good men.

On Friday, we complain about “government in the bedroom,” by which is meant no Bureau of Bedrooms, but the least social or legal restraint against sexual vice. On Saturday, we vote for increases in funds for government in the classroom, government in the board room, government in the laboratory, government in the doctor’s office, government in the hospital, government in the warehouse, government in the stockyard, government in the shipyard, government on television, government on radio, government on the highways, government over the churches, government over the government, government in the cradle, government at the tomb.

A comic nightmare comes to mind. I see a man jiggered and wired to a hundred machines, each jolting him at irregular intervals. His cheek twitches, his head jerks, his fingers drum, his knee wobbles, his feet tap, his breath is interrupted with coughs, his blood runs hot and cold. I invite him to leave that contraption, and take a walk with me over to a chapel nearby, and say a quiet prayer.

“You can’t make me!” he cries. “I’m free to choose!”

Books on the topics in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreThis essay is reprinted here with the gracious permission of Crisis Magazine.

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10 replies to this post
  1. Quite! I recall 25 years ago, a British feminist group complained that pornography equaled violence to women, but the group were sado-masochistic lesbians who quite liked violence against women so long as they kept the monopoly. once one gets over the death of Western Civilisation (which already happened), this material is quite funny!

  2. I’m not sure what it means to be “antisocial in matters of sex”: I’ve found sex to be one of the most delightfully social activities imaginable. In any case, it sure is fun to point out and even ridicule the numerous motes in other people’s eyes, confident as we are that our own vision is unobstructed. It’s also almost sinfully easy, despite which, Professor Esolen missed a few fish in the hypocrisy barrel: on Sunday, for instance, we listen reverently to “Thou shalt not kill” and to the Sermon on the Mount, then on Monday we defend torture and war while voting to cut food stamps and tighten the disability requirements….

  3. Jack Shifflett, I think it would be best not to try and take pot shots at the author, especially if you do not wish to engage with him or his position. It goes without saying that it is highly contentious what the relationship is between Christ’s teachings and generous welfare state provisions, to simply juxtapose opposition to extravagant welfare handouts and the Sermon on the Mount, as if they were self-evidently contrary to each other (without any need for argument) is (apart from a most fatuous example of left-liberal ideology) a very poor and shoddy piece of rhetoric.

    The same goes for the comments on sex. The entire point of the Christian, traditional conservative position on sexuality is that it should be pursued in a natural and human way; that is, sex should be only within marriage. To engage in fornication or adultery or other forms of perversity and sexual immorality is to undermine one’s natural functions and ends, to subvert important aspects of one’s humanity, and, as one is part of a social framework, of which the family is a key part, to engage in a fundamentally anti-social activity. You may not agree with this view, but at least make your snide jeers of it entertaining and somewhat insightful in the future, and not just based on the most superficial modernist ideology.

    • Wessexman: I stand chastened, and no doubt properly so. In my defense, If I failed to entertain you with my snide jeers, Mr. Esolen clearly didn’t entertain me with his, either; and his glib use of the word “harridans” suggested that he was engaged in an exercise in caricature, not actual thought or argument. As to my reliance on “the most superficial modernist ideology”: it’s apparently all I’ve got to rely on, since you’ve disqualified my use of the Sermon on the Mount–about which you’re right, Christ’s teachings are indeed contentious; but then, so are Mr. Esolen’s “insights,” and so is your assertion that the “natural and human” approach to sex is to confine it within heterosexual monogamy.
      Nevertheless, I shall seek in the future to be more entertaining.

      • Caricature may be an exercise in thought and, indirectly, argument. Your own comments were exceedingly superficial ( he strange assertion that sex is always social, as presumably is anything that involves interactions with others, from bank robbery to child abuse; it should be obvious the term social has a gradation of meanings and the lowest sort of category for social activity was not being referred to) and therefore do little to add to insight on these issues. In the case of Mr. Esolen, on the other hand, he presents important, often now neglected perspectives in his essay – indeed, the use of the word harridans reminds us a characteristic the fairer sex is at risk of if it forgets the proper confines of its femininity.

        I didn’t say Christ’s teachings were contentious – I said the equation of them with essentially left-liberal social democratic or Fabian principles is highly contentious. Indeed, that is not strictly accurate; rather, it is just wrong to equate Christ’s teachings with ideologies like these and the government actions we are talking about.

        • Wessexman: geez, I already said I stand chastened and properly so. No need to keep berating me when I’m down…

          I’m pretty sure that my “strange assertion that sex is always social” was intended as a joke (I called sex “one of the most delightfully social activities imaginable,” a description I wouldn’t use for either bank robbery or child abuse), but obviously one by which you were not amused (or enlightened). I won’t do it again. And if
          you and Mr. Esolen think that women who forget the “proper confines” of their femininity should be referred to as “harridans,” who am I to object? I retract my comment in its entirety. I need to go back to the drawing board and learn to employ caricature as a form of thought and, indirectly, argument.

          I understood your remark about the contentiousness of using Christ’s teachings to support a partisan/ideological agenda; I only meant to point out that (a) those teachings have always been contentious in and of themselves and (b) I found some of Mr. Esolen’s assertions and caricatures contentious as well. I was wrong to do that and will not do it again.

          In closing, allow me to point out that you’ve spent an unexpected amount of time responding to what you consider my “exceedingly superficial” comments and “snide jeers”. I’m sort of flattered, and sort of not.

  4. I don’t know if it is relevant, but Mr. Esolen could have also mentioned that women commit, statistically speaking, at least 40% of domestic violence (possibly as much as men) and 80% of domestic violence against children. The fact that the idea that domestic violence is almost totally a men beating up women issue shows just how partial and one-sided the treatment of the relationship between the sexes (gender is a grammatical term misapplied by leftists to replace the term sexes) is.

    It is true that women are more likely to be injured than men than men are by women. This is the only part of domestic violence where men are actually worse than women, otherwise that much vaunted equality of the sexes does seem to have been already achieved!

    This is not to make light of violence against women. As an old-fashioned guy, I find it more reprehensible for a man to raise a hand against a women than the other way around; but then I am an proud sexist. What is the excuse of all those trendy leftist types who actually seem to agree with me in substance (as they largely ignore domestic violence committed by women), even if they’d never admit it.

  5. The point of the essay was madness, not hypocrisy. It is not mad to say that the commandment forbidding murder does not apply to a just war or to certain (and, to give Jack the benefit of the doubt) gravely evil treatments of possessors of information in that war. It may be wrong — and I’m frankly growing weary of American interventions as I grow older — but it is not insane. It is not hypocritical, but it is quite insane, to say simultaneously that there are no important differences between men and women, and to say that a certain person absolutely MUST have sexual relations with a person of the same sex, and could not possibly conform his ways to nature and biology. I’m not picking out motes in people’s eyes. I’m picking out flagrant self-contradictions in their arguments, such as they are.

    To be “antisocial in matters of sex” is to believe that sex concerns only the desires of the people involved, and nobody else — not even the common good.

  6. There is a method to the madness, of course.

    We do get a society stocked with people who can believe we have always been at war with Eastasia, as Orwell described, and who are capable of the moral inversions–seeing good as evil and evil as good–that Arendt described in *Eichmann at Jerusalem.*

    Such people are good for total government–a perfected administrative state. In Boot Camp, recruits are often given ludicrous orders because obedience rather than sense is the goal.

    Trying to find the truth by paying attention to anomalies and working on philosophical coherence is old school–part of the liberal arts model–which is so yesterday. Go read the comments thread at Huffington Post to see the derangement nearly perfected.

    Esolen keeps wading into the most controversial of topics, which is easy when one no longer desires anything the merchants of cool are peddling.

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