Category Archives: Uncategorized

Myrrha and Cinyras meet on Facebook

Tuesday 20 January 2015

A curious article appeared in a hipster magazine a week ago. Therein was reported the story of a Midwestern woman, barely legal (as the saying goes), in love with her own father, a love he claims to requite. Let us take the tale as true; if false, we will be relieved.

The back story is wretched. Eighteen years ago a young man and young woman went to their high school prom together. Later that night she conceived. They cohabited for a while but the young father abandoned the family and the mother suffered progressive emotional disorders. Grandparents assisted in rearing the baby. As she grew the father made intermittent attempts to see and spend time with her; he sent occasional presents and made brief visits, but her mother prevented any meaningful contact. The mother and father each engaged in serial failed relationships through the years. During a lonely and chaotic childhood the girl clung to an idea of her father. When she was seventeen he contacted her through Facebook. They began spending time together. She went to visit him where he was living with a girlfriend. There she gave up her virginity to him. They moved out of the girlfriend’s house and now room with a former lover of his, who is at ease with their relationship. So, it seems, are the girl’s paternal grandparents and her best friend. She says she has found her soulmate, a once-lost part of herself, and now feels complete. She paraded him at her own high school prom. Father and daughter are engaged, having sex, and planning their wedding, after which they will move to New Jersey where incest is not prosecuted. They look forward to having children together. She declares her ecstatic joy.

This ecstasy blinds her to the horror she is in and to the far greater horrors awaiting her. But we see and foresee them. Her father’s depredation and depravity are hidden from her. But not from us. Oedipus famously blinded himself upon recognizing the hideous truth of his incestuous love. This real-life case is worse than a scene from Chinatown. We pray that no children issue from this coupling. For her we are anguished, hoping that she can somehow escape sheer catastrophe. For the father there can be no pity.

In an ancient Semitic myth, adapted by the Greeks, a young princess, Myrrha, fell hopelessly in love with her father, Cinyras, the king. She detested even the thought of young suitors her age. She confessed her wicked desire to her nurse and confidante who was at first revolted, but when the princess seemed bent on suicide, the nurse facilitated a liaison (always, a nurse). She told the king of a young noblewoman, unnamed, who was mad with lust for him but out of shame wished to conceal her identity. He, flattered and eager, arranged with the nurse to bring the lady to his bed in the dark of night while the queen was away for some days at a religious festival. Each night the nurse led the princess into her father’s room where they enjoyed unbridled sex. On the last night the king, overcome by curiosity about his lover’s identity and looks, suddenly lit a lamp he had ready. As he beheld in horror his own child in his own bed, he drew his sword to kill her. She fled, he pursuing. She escaped and wandered, pregnant, for nine months to Arabia. At last, too weary to continue, she begged the gods for mercy. They in pity turned her into a myrrh tree, her tears becoming drops of fragrant resin. As the metamorphosis neared completion, the child was born, a boy. He smelled so sweetly that the goddess of sexual desire adopted him and saw to his rearing. When he was old enough she and he became lovers. He died horribly.

The laws of the gods are those things which three thousand generations of our kind have learned to be true. We cannot say just why they are true, but we know they are. We know, too, that fury and nemesis hound those who violate these laws. Even in Jersey.

The authoress of the New York article writes a “What It’s Like” feature on alternate lifestyles and sexual preferences. Bestiality, for example. Her reportage in this case is hip and cool, passing no judgment. Clinical jargon, however, betrays a will to accept. “Genetic sexual attraction” and “consensual incest” help us avert our stare from the truth of this freak show. And so does her citation of Keith Pullman, whose Full Marriage Equality blog encourages marital anarchy, especially between family members: “The global definition of marriage should be as follows: ‘The uniting of consenting individuals in a witnessed ceremony.'” That is, marriage is what any compact of adults (more or less) decide what it is for them. More precisely, people should be free to call whatever sexual relationships they have “marriage,” mutual consent and a witnessed ceremony the only requirements. At least Myrrha and Cinyras did not pretend it was marriage.

Samantha Allen in the Daily Beast quickly takes down this pseudo-science farce. She further faults Pullman for borrowing arguments used to qualify same-sex unions as marriage in order to claim the same status for incestuous and all other conceivable sexual relationships. But he has every reason to do so. Arguments and rhetoric of racial civil rights campaigns were and still are employed in demands to recognize same-sex unions as marriages, despite their inaptness. Warnings about unintended consequences of redefining marriage were not merely unheeded; the warners themselves were scourged, shunned, silenced. And now marriage redefiners grasp for arguments to prevent others from enjoying the fruits of their great achievement. They have left themselves none.

This pitiable young woman is a victim of their success.


But will you love me tomorrow?

Tuesday 13 January 2013

Is sex a lasting treasure, or just a moment’s pleasure?

A slight change to Carole King’s lyrics gets right to the point of her song and also of Conjugal Union. What Marriage Is and Why it Matters by Patrick Lee and Robert P. George.

The sexual revolution was a surrender of marriage to hedonism. This capitulation was justified by pronouncing marriage a failed institution, a repressive rapist regime, a worn-out construct that no longer fit modern reality. In its place, free love, shacking up, and open marriage, much more thrilling, more fulfilling. Murphy Brown required no redundant male parental unit to help raise her child. Swift and easy divorce spares us acknowledgment of our faults. Many Boomers boast of this transformation of the family, our liberation of ourselves and future generations from those shackles upon our happiness. We uncoupled sex from marriage. Marriage now is what we choose to call it, lasting as long as we feel satisfied in it or until we get a better offer.

But many others rue the social and political changes our generation wrought, changes whose damages we now must try to undo. Resources are needed for this. To understand the real nature and the good of marriage, to defend marriage from downward definition, to find principled, clear, and convincing reasons for the restoration of marriage, and to return meaning to sex, this book is indispensable.

Definition is the core problem. Expanding on What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, Lee and George argue that marriage is a unique relationship: the comprehensive, exclusive, permanent, biologically sexual, social, emotional, and spiritual union of one man and one woman oriented toward procreation. Marriage cannot be defined in any other way. Other kinds of relationships share certain features with marriage (common residence, caring for children, mutual affection, sexual intercourse, etc.), but this does not qualify them as marriages. To extend the term to other relationships destroys its whole meaning.

The authors’ argument against including other associations such as same-sex partnerships and polyamorous arrangements in the term “marriage” is strictly logical and ethical. They acknowledge their personal religiosity but allow it no place in this presentation. They do not criticize same-sex preferences per se, but rationally show why homosexual sex acts cannot be naturally complete as necessary for marriage; only male-female sexual intercourse can be so. This is so because male-female sexual congress, as Lee and George repeat, is biologically oriented to the joint creation of new life and the rearing of children. This inescapable fact is the essence of the meaning of marriage. Opponents will attempt as an analogy that many man-woman couples cannot beget children but are still married. But this is to confuse what marriage does in particular cases with what marriage is in principle and in nature.

The authors demolish the legal arguments for considering same-sex and other kinds of relationships as marriages. They articulate how the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment have been wrongly interpreted by justices in same-sex “marriage” challenges and they show how there is no way for judges to avoid making arbitrary and unfair decisions when they attempt to broaden the definition of marriage.

Lee and George restrict themselves, properly, to narrow legal reasoning. I would have liked to see a refutation of the underlying assumption in most cases: that same-sex preference is equivalent to being of African descent and that to forbid “marriage equality” (a euphemism) is to deny a civil right. The “born this way” premise, that one’s sexual preferences are as congenital and unchangeable as one’s racial characteristics, is a foundation of sand. We will find no homosexual gene nor will a Laplander ever come out as a Nigerian. Comparison to the Loving v. Virginia case, which challenged anti-miscegenation laws, also fails the test of simple logic. Assume that same-sex preference is, like race, genetically determined. To be analogous to Loving, a same-sex attracted person would have to be denied and then claim legal right to marry a heterosexual person. This is of course absurd.

We have experimented with sex and marriage. We have tried to detach the meaning of one from the meaning of the other. This is no cause for self-congratulation. We have confused ourselves and are now passing that confusion on to our posterity.  Conjugal Union helps us — forces us — to admit the experiment’s failure and to do all we can to repair the damage it has caused.



Remember James Powell and Lt Thomas Gilligan?

Wednesday 7 January 2015

I’d been away for some time at the University of East Anglia (motto: “Do Different”)  where I spoke at a convention on the Role of the Village Idiot in Society.  It was a good meeting. We all came away with fresh energy and commitment to the practice of idiocy in our own villages. Upon my return to these shores, though, news of violence and turmoil over the deaths of two young men at police hands and of two young policemen assassinated by a vicious loser cast my thoughts back in time …

Boisterous teenaged boys are loitering on a city sidewalk one summer morning. They are of African descent, from other parts of the city. They are in this affluent white neighborhood to attend summer school at the junior high across the street. The superintendent of an apartment building, a man of Irish inclination, is hosing down the walk in front of his building. He tries to shoo the annoying youngsters away from the stoop. They ignore and then mock him. So he sprays them with water from his hose, scattering them into the street. Slurs and imprecations are hurled from either camp, then trashcan lids and bottles by the kids. Other newly-arriving teens now join the affray. At a flash point of temper, one of the latecomers chases the super into his building, where a brief altercation takes place out of view. As the youth exits he is seen by an armed off-duty much-decorated police lieutenant, also of the Irish style, who has just emerged from an electronics repair shop next door. The officer confronts the youth, showing his badge and gun. Three bullets, the second one mortal, boom from his sidearm. He claims that the adolescent had attacked him with a pocket knife (he displayed injuries on his arm as proof and such a knife was found near the curb). A police squadron arrives as several hundred highly distraught teens scream, shout, and assault them. With difficulty the school principal and cops restore order by afternoon.

The next morning, professional activists show up to organize and agitate, holding the death yet another case of epidemic police brutality. Protest and demonstration dissolve into mêlée, mayhem, malice, and every manner of mischief. It recalls a simile from Vergil:

     Ac veluti magno in populo cum saepe coorta est
     seditio, saevitque animis ignobile volgus,
     iamque faces et saxa volant—furor arma ministrat —

And just as when, often in a great multitude, an insurrection has arisen,
and the nameless mob grows wild in its passions,
and now torches and rocks fly — their rage supplies them weapons —

Tactical police troops are called in who bludgeon protestors and who in turn are pelted with brickbats and Molotov cocktails. Firing warning shots, they run out of ammunition; a fresh shipment is delivered by armored truck mounted with machine guns. The battle blazes for a week, leaving one other person dead, hundreds sent to hospitals, and property damage of one million dollars. At trial later, eye-witness accounts are Rashomon-like. It is learned that the young man was familiar to authorities and had brought two knives to school that morning. The lieutenant is acquitted of all charges. In half a dozen other cities similar riots erupt in solidarity. Thus begin almost ten years of summer riots across the United States.

Those events were fifty years ago, beginning Thursday 16 July 1964 in Yorktown on the Upper East Side, flowing north to Harlem, then over the river to Brooklyn. That very same day, as it happened, Barry Goldwater accepted the Republican party’s nomination as its presidential candidate in San Francisco. Out in Flushing Meadows, Queens, the New York World’s Fair was well underway, “Peace Through Understanding” its motto. And it was Freedom Summer. Lyndon Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Act only two weeks earlier. Not one month had yet passed since Ku Klux Klan brutes murdered three young voting rights organizers down in Philadelphia, Mississippi. It was a very hot summer.

The human mind cannot take in or make sense of the chaos of real experience; only the divine can do that. The human mind’s efficiency is to sort that chaos into recognizable and memorable patterns of action, scripts for later reference. It makes symbols, analogies, and metaphors to give meaning to these patterns, to teach and to learn lessons from them, to make them portable through place and time. Such action patterns (or “narratives,” to use a current term) we call myths, stories which, while not factually true in each real detail, nonetheless convey knowledge. They are packets of meaning, stored and shared.

From such real cases as the one related above, as from those of Rodney King, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, and far too many others, a structured myth emerges: a young black person, usually male, usually between fifteen and thirty years of age, is engaged in some criminal activity of minor or grievous degree. A policeman, usually male, always white, attempts to check the activity or arrest the malefactor. The young black person resists the policeman’s authority, sometimes violently. The policeman responds, sometimes excessively. Almost always the policeman shoots a pistol at the young black person, who dies. Or it could be a severe beating. An immediate local display of outrage is taken over by persons who see in any one such particular event further proof of a general wrong or injustice and who arouse the passions of the multitude. Protest marches and demonstrations ensue, sometimes exciting more malevolent behavior. As in every good story, some initial harm or loss is suffered, followed by a complex working-out of the damage and a restoration of the normal state of things. But it is sometimes tragic, for undue suffering is often visited upon those who don’t deserve it. There is a brief journalistic apotheosis of the dead. At some point a ceremony is staged, rather like a tragic chorus. Important personages speak and attempt to teach lessons larger than the actual disturbance. People calm down, sadder and wiser. Before long it all happens again.

James Bowman, acute critic of journalism and man of Honor, writing recently in The New Criterion (Jan 2015, 68) about the media representation of the Brown and Garner deaths, expressed this distinction between chaotic reality and organizing mythology as one between content (facts) and context (the story or narrative): “It was enough that the victims were black and the policemen white for the whole matter to default to the classic paradigm on which the racial grievance industry has thrived for years, of white authority figures brutally exercising an illegitimate power over oppressed blacks.”

That “classic paradigm” is of course one version of this particular myth. There is another: the miscreants themselves, by their poor upbringing and consequent antisocial or illegal behavior, attracted due police attention to themselves and then either resisted or acted out against the arresting authority; the brave and dutiful policeman was mortally imperiled and resorted at last to legitimate use of lethal force; this one incident neither proves nor fits into a pattern of general injustice; it does prove the valor of — and the need for — police in protecting society from outlawry.

Neither story is wholly true, neither wholly false. But each is a meaningful distillation of complex and disturbing events. And the meaning intensifies with each iteration of events. With each fresh addition, with every retelling, the Tale acquires greater verisimilitude, greater power. Some people associate around this version, others around that one. We all belong to the species homo mythopoeticus. We cannot escape our own myth-making because that is very much who we are. It should not surprise, therefore, that journalists, no matter their professed standards of objectivity, also associate with one or the other version: it makes sense to them, it represents reality. Yet we are not at the mercy and whim of our inclinations. Nor must we fall victim to falsehood. We can with humility accept our ignorance of all the truth of any one thing. We must therefore recognize the danger of accepting any one story without acknowledging that some of the truth might lie in another telling of it.

On reading Montaigne

Thursday 11 September 2014

This piece originally appeared as part of the Revisiting the Classics series of the National Association of Scholars on Wednesday 10 September 2014.

Imagine an amber autumn afternoon a few miles north of the Dordogne in Aquitania. You are at the base of the south tower of an ancient château; through an old stone arch a parterre radiates outward. To the west and east, thick woods. You look southward onto vineyards heavy laden. Beyond the village, chalky hills slope to the river. You recall Grigson’s “Montaigne’s Tower”:

Was it really here, in this tiled room
In this tower that Montaigne wrote?
I hope that it was so. Never was there
A place better for recalling, I would say —
For being benign and wise, for loving
In words. I see him back a chair
Across these tiles, and stand and stretch, and then
Descend this newel stair, and going
Slowly as if arthritically outside.
He looks down, with feeling he sees again
How exceedingly sweet is this meadowed
Small valley below and how half-reddening
Vines in such a light cast straight
Black bars of shadow in row after row.

On a table there, a garnet Bergerac, a pitcher of water and fresh glasses, a plate of truffles, some foie gras; on a board, a tome d’Aquitaine beside a crunchy bâtard. Your host greets you and takes the other chair. It is easy to imagine him. He has already told you so much about himself—and seems to know you so well—that you fear there will be nothing to say. But he loves conversation more than all things. Four and a half centuries do not come between you as the smooth hours glide away.

This tower is not of ivory but of natural stone. Montaigne, who could have spent his life in turreted ease, served as Mayor of Bordeaux twice (once staying on the job during a plague) and was a courtier of kings and dukes, his advice valued highly for its dispassionate perspicacity. He knew the world very well. The death of his friend Étienne de La Boétie, when Montaigne was thirty, caused him to dedicate the rest of his life to self-examination. His library and study in the upper floors of the tower (the ground floor was a family chapel for Mass) were his observation post. It was his own Delphic temple, emblazoned, in a way, with those two Apolline maxims: Know Yourself and No Excess. The beams and rafters of his study were decorated with apothegms and dicta memoranda in Latin and Greek. You can still read them there.

The most frequent adjective we would apply to Michel Eyquem de Montaigne as he appears in his Essais is “modern,” often accompanied by an adverb such as “remarkably” or “surprisingly.” These additives reveal our own self-regard, as if it were sheer miracle that a sixteenth-century man could mount so intellectually high as to attain our Olympic thoughts. No, self-congratulation is not among the reasons to read Montaigne. Disabusing ourselves of our conceit, our easy moral satisfaction, our intellectual laziness—that is why we go to his tower, so to speak. Montaigne gives us hundreds of pages of reasons to set self-assurance aside. All done with courtesy, wit, and style. Does he seem wonderfully “modern,” then? Perhaps it is because he himself, in his piercing vision of mankind, created a great part of our own modernity.

But modern how? We cannot answer that question unless we consider the world into which Montaigne was born. Western Europe generally was emerging from what we call the Middle Ages. A New World was being explored. The cultural movement called the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation were provoking revolutionary thoughts and acts as well as harsh responses to them. Inquisitions were expected. The coldest part of the Little Ice Age coincided with Montaigne’s life, and while he wrote the Wars of Religion were roiling France: torture, hangings, and beheadings were frequent if not common. Islamic jihadists would feel quite at home in that world. We can easily see why Montaigne retired to his tower, there to commune with the Muses.

One particular instance of his modernity can be seen in his observations of the religious and political extremism of his age, many of which can easily be applied to twentieth and twenty-first century attempts to recreate society by discarding custom and usage and forcibly, violently, imposing a totalitarian plan upon whole peoples. Anticipating the French Revolution and Burke by two centuries, Montaigne observed that “It is very easy to generate in a people a contempt for their ancient observances: no man ever attempted it without succeeding. But many have come to grief in their attempt to establish a better state of things in place of what they have destroyed.” As George Homans once noted, “They who shake the foundations of a state are liable to be the first involved in its downfall” would be well understood by Robespierre and Trotsky, among others.

Montaigne’s skepticism about the limits of human knowledge appears in his criticism of our blind obedience to customs. And yet he warns that the obliteration of our customs to further one particular ideology or another always entails very great social and political hazards:

“They who have bent [religion] to the left hand, they who have bent it to the right, they who            call it black, they who call it white, employ it so alike for their violent and ambitious undertakings, progress so equally in riot and injustice, that they make us doubt and unable to believe in the diversity of opinions they profess, in a matter on which depends the rule and conduct of our life.”

“And to resist the encroachment of an innovation which forces its way by violence is a dangerous obligation and inequality for one who, everywhere and in all things, holds himself in check and bound by rules; it places him at a disadvantage when faced with one who assumes all freedom to act, who regards everything as lawful that will serve his own designs and whose only law is to follow up his own advantage.”

Montaigne corrects our unthinking habit of reducing the complexities of life to simple As versus Bs. We might find his thinking inefficient, meandering, maddeningly inconsistent. But that is precisely what we have to learn from him. You will find no isms here, no rational plan of life, but life as it is, faced fearlessly and described in detail, yet without navel-gazing. As Oakeshott said in his own essay on Hobbes, “It will be remembered that the brilliant and informal genius of Montaigne had perceived that our most certain knowledge is what we know about ourselves, and had made of this a philosophy of introspection.” For Montaigne, freedom and truth are the paramount concerns of our life; we must be ready to sacrifice any and all of our cherished opinions for their sake. And the whole purpose of education is to prepare us and give us the means to do just that:

“I, who make no other profession, find in myself such infinite depth and variety, that what I have learned bears no other fruit than to make me realize how much I still have to learn. To my weakness, so often perceived, I owe my inclination to coolness in my opinions and any hatred for that aggressiveness and quarrelsome arrogance that believes and trusts wholly in itself, a mortal enemy of discipline and truth.”

It well serves the purpose of this present series of essays by the NAS that Montaigne’s modernity is itself a product of antiquity. The ease and readiness with which he calls forth examples from ancient Greek and Latin authors in every genre is astonishing. The past provided him the means both to deal with the world of his own time and yet to see beyond it; his comprehensive view of human life and society approaches universality. The very notion of essays on old books that still and always matter is possible chiefly because of Montaigne’s Essais. To write an essay about them is almost too meta. To read his books is to learn how to examine your own life. Anyone just approaching Montaigne will benefit from Barzun’s masterful chapter in From Dawn to Decadence (pp. 133-140). Hilary Masters has a collection of essays, In Montaigne’s Tower. And Sarah Bakewell has recently put out her How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. I haven’t read these last two—yet. But Montaigne himself I shall always read.

A bucket o’ blood for BDS

Friday 5 September 2014

I once taught at Ohio University in Athens in the southeastern corner of the state. I still have friends there and cherish the memories of my time among them. Hence my annoyance at Ms Megan Marzec who is enrolled at that institution and is the current student body president. This past Tuesday, in response to a challenge made to her by OU President Roderick McDavis to dump a bucket of ice water on herself in the current ALS fund-raising fad, Ms Marzec instead spilled a bucket of tomato juice, red paint, and water over her head in a ridiculous Carrie-style scene.

She filmed herself — of course! In the video, on behalf of her fellow students (she says), she calls upon the President McDavis and OU to divest from all its associations with Israel, and she declares that she does this in the name of the Palestinian victims of Israeli genocide and occupation. The closing credits: “Free Palestine.”

Perhaps her drenching was done in that grand tradition of the Berrigan boys and their Plowshares Movement? More likely in solidarity with the Islamic State thug who poured a bucket of — presumably real (human?) — blood on himself in late August, in mockery of the ALS ice-water challenge in the US and elsewhere. His gagging at the end suggests that the fluid was probably not some good vodka and tomato juice. But at least Megan had the courage to show her face and state her name (even if out of narcissism), unlike our masked and alias-bearing or anonymous jihadi weasels.

Excreta collided instantly with the ventilator blades. In a meeting the next day, the OU student senate denounced Marzec for claiming that her repulsive grand-standing was done on behalf of the student body. The student group Bobcats for Israel gave her a hard rhetorical whipping. The Society of Alumni and Friends of the University condemned her exploitive deed. Unpleasant e-mails and tweets poured down on Megan, a great big barrel of outrage, one might say. People are out for her metaphorical blood, demanding her impeachment or resignation. Poor Megan cried out for her rights to freedom of speech, somehow forgetting that other people have theirs, too and damned well intend to use them — on her. She shut down her Facebook and has since gone dark. Read more here and here.

What an appalling spectacle. And I think that is a good word for it. Megan Marzec seems a troubled young person and desperate for attention. She’s an art major, I hear. I’m sure we’ll see her “work” in some chic gallery soon, perhaps precious antique vases filled with blood, urine, semen, gastric juices, vomit, which vases Ms Marzec will then smash, splattering their liquid contents all over the patrons in the name of some cherished liberal and progressive cause du jour. And if things keep going as they have in the last fifty years, I expect she’ll get a prestigious endowed chair in ” … Studies” at an elite university. Call that a rose-tinted view.

Is Diversity a sorites paradox?

Never heard of a sorites paradox? I hadn’t either until I stumbled upon the subject the other day while looking up sorites polysyllogism, a logical cousin of the paradox, it seems. Found a fine article on sorites-related problems by Prof. Dominic Hyde of the University of Queensland. Prof. Hyde is the boss of all matters soritical. Anyway, one Eubulides of Miletus is credited with some famous logic puzzles including the “Heap” puzzle (soros means ‘heap’). It goes like this: Does a single grain of wheat make a heap? No. How about two grains? No? … Eventually we’re going to have what we can agree is a heap of wheat, but we cannot say at any one point exactly where “heapness” has been attained. Even if we could do so, were we to remove a single grain of wheat, would we then no longer have a heap? How about two grains?  Three … ?

A sorites paradox thus depends on two factors: a vague collective term in the predicate of a statement, and small individual increments that might make up that collective whole but do not permit a precise definitional limit. We might say “x grains of (a particular kind of) wheat make a gram” because of the standardized specificity of a gram weight. But we can’t do that with a “heap” because we can’t define a vague term in exact constituent units.

As it happened, I had also just been reading several articles about Diversity (the social movement, not the real thing) and affirmative action. The first piece is “Assessing Affirmative Action” by Peter H. Schuck in National Affairs, the second  is by W. Lee Hansen for the Pope Center, and the third is Terry Eastland’s “The Nitty Gritty of Diversity” in The Weekly Standard. These essays all concern the same question: how do we know when some imagined “critical mass” of individuals in an institution or organization has been gathered such that we can then — and only then — say that the institution or organization is now satisfactorily “diverse?”

As the good Prof. Hyde wrote to me, “we might not be able to know of any particular point in the growing diversity of a group that it is the point at which a non-diverse group becomes diverse (i. e. we cannot know that sharp boundary), but this does not rule out our knowing of some cases that they are clear cases of a diverse group.” A wheat heap’s very vagueness permits general agreement that it is indeed a heap of wheat. And we can, I think, just as generally agree that the people in a given organization present a great variety of human characteristics, real diversity, that is.

You can see where I’m going with this. Proponents of Diversity and affirmative action are attempting to define a desired heap of students by calculating student grains. They seek precision in something that by definition can only be vague. The very definiteness they desire (an exact ratio of persons of African descent) cannot construe any real diverseness, even at only one point in time. Hence the endless contradictions, inconsistencies, and absurdities. For example, assume that in some college Diversity has at last been achieved. If a single student drop out, is the college then no longer diverse until it replaces that dropout with an exactly similar student unit? Perhaps it is time to add illogicality to the list of things that are wrong with the Diversity movement and affirmative action.

Gender Defender

The Idiot has been away recently to attend the Village Idiots Convention, held this year at the Lee Plaza Hotel in Detroit. He returns to conclude his musings on The Transgender Tipping Point and related subjects.

Well, Dog Day Afternoon was pretty interesting, especially where the bank robber Sal Naturale names Wyoming, my home state, as the foreign country he wants safe passage to. Hah! And how peropportune: the movie was based on a real Brooklyn bank heist carried out in 1972 by three hapless clowns, including one John Wojtowicz whose “wife,” Ernest Aron, was a man who self-identified as a woman. I use the scare quotes because the wedding ceremony was of dubious legitimacy. Well, it seems that Ernest had some serious psychological issues due to his sexual confusion. Or was it the other way around? Who knows. The point is that Wojtowicz robbed the bank partly to get enough money for Ernest to afford sex-change surgery. Having failed in that crime, he did nonetheless get enough money from film rights to pay for the change, and Ernest became Elizabeth Debbie Eden. She died from AIDS in 1987.

I grabbed a cup o’ Black Whole Singularity from Dogface Donuts and sat on my bench to try to make sense of all this. I’d talked to the Fool on the Hill and Moe Rahn and I’d done some reading and lots of thinking. So, where are we with this? The Village Green lawn, just mowed, glittered with golden gobs of sunlight. Teenage kids were making out, young couples were playing with their children. Ah, nature. It was a good afternoon for some clear thinking.

There have always been, and always will be, people whose inner sense of their own gender doesn’t agree with their natural gender: boys who think they’re girls, girls who think they’re boys, and a bewildering, chaotic, ever-morphing variety of preferences and practices. Let’s call it LGBPTTQQIIAA+ for now; the acronym will no doubt expand. And we know that some societies have made allowance for people like that. But it has also happened often enough that other people have been unjust and cruel to such persons. Humans are like that sometimes, one is sad to admit. Such mistreatment has given rise to a new quasi-civil rights movement and to demands, not only for protection and acceptance, but even for approval, praise, and celebrity. Conchita Wurst, Carmen Carrera, Chaz Bono are hailed as heroes or, in that noxious media cliché, “icons.”

One thought-floor down, this “movement” seems to have as its first principle that science’s proper purpose is to fix or improve what is not naturally “right” in some sense. We can all agree that science and technology can and often do improve our natural conditions. Skilled surgeries, pharmaceutical products, technological devices, these save lives every day. And most of us would agree that sexual-confusion disorders are real as psychological and emotional conditions, with multifarious causes, kinds, and degrees. We should all agree that the sexually-confused should be treated justly, not because they are a special case but because they are persons and deserving of justice. But we do not all agree that sexual confusions should be treated as physical disabilities, nor that reassignment treatments require us to accept the results as real. Gender reassignment is a radical extension of cosmetic surgery. Yes, results are sometimes beautiful; but they are always artificial. These procedures are a frontier, not of civil rights, but of medical ethics and the limits, both natural and humane, of science itself.

But in the very basement of transgender-rights thinking, I now believe, there lies that ancient Protagorean skepsis: each one’s inner reality is real to him, and of external reality there is no complete agreement. We wish we knew more of what Protagoras meant. In our time, however, doubts about nature and objective, shared reality have been routed into class warfare tactics. To insist on such natural realities as physical sexual organs is to “privilege” one group, “oppress” another. To avoid being an oppressor, one must deny the meaning of reality. To prefer lies to truth is the new “civil right.” It allows us only the freedom to applaud a tyrannical Emperor’s haute couture.

I’m a certified Idiot. Life is confusing enough, I know. But this movement is moving in the direction of far greater idiocy and very far away from real rights.

A journalist’s diatribe on a college’s sins

Sunday 20 July 2014

A Boston Globe writer with much gall in his ink penned his opinions on Gordon College’s recent action regarding ENDA. The Idiot wrote to the Globe editor as follows. 

Dear Editor,

I am obliged to say that it is Kevin Cullen who has insulted your readers’ intelligence (“Gordon College insults our intelligence,” Boston Globe July 14 2014). He did so by reducing what is very complex to an easy and false simplicity.

He drops the name of a deceased priest who once defied his Archbishop over sacerdotal pedophilia protected by the Church. Well and good. That must have been a courageous man. But in what respect was his dilemma an “existential question?” And how does mentioning that priest’s actions in a very different matter help readers to understand the recent action of Gordon College? Not at all, other than a very thin “what would X do?” thread of a thought.

Having certified, by reportorial association with a man worthy of the collar, his own moral and spiritual bona fides, Mr Cullen then delivers his wrathful condemnation of persons who have committed the mortal sin of disagreeing with him. Such heretics are “holy rollers” and aimless hypocrites. That term, holy roller, is typically used of a practicing member of one of the charismatic or Pentecostal Protestant churches, especially in the Southern states. And of course we all know how backward, inbred, and ignorant they are, don’t we? But any Christians whose views have not “evolved” in accordance with Mr Cullen’s are ipso facto “holy rollers.”

It will be news to many that the Constitution “forbid[s] an established religion.” I and, I suppose, most Globe readers read the clause as “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Perhaps Mr Cullen had a different Constitution in mind. Or perhaps he is employing a well-known journalistic elision so as to make things simpler for the good but dim folk of Boston and New England.

With his blazing sword of Rectitude, Cullen pierces through the armor of Gordon College’s hypocrisy: “This isn’t about religious freedom. This about money. … It’s bigotry dressed up as virtue.” The notion that Gordon College is sincere and uses what tax benefits it may get to help young people who want a Christian education get a Christian education is of course risible to the hard-hitting Globe journalist. The fact that Gordon does employ same-sex attracted persons and does admit same-sex attracted students, as is proven both by a number of the comments upon his piece as well as by Gordon’s own statements, the plain fact that Gordon is not excluding anyone for their sexual preferences, well, those are not even tiny clouds in Mr Cullen’s perfect sky. Globe readers are thereby spared those troublous thoughts.

And of course, Gordon College’s understanding of Christianity does not rise to Mr Cullen’s level of understanding. He knows, sure and doesn’t he, exactly what Jesus would do in any situation. And we can rest assured that he regularly does so. The man is practically a brave priest himself. The sermon concludes with a warning about “the weakness of humans, the insidiousness of self-righteousness.”

Indeed, sir.

Un-Manning Private Bradley

Well, it seems that the diminutive traitor formerly known as Private Bradley Manning and now preferring to be called Chelsea Elizabeth Manning will be allowed to remain in relatively safe military confinement rather than be sent to a federal civilian prison. In Leavenworth he will be provided with and permitted to wear feminine foundational items. He might also get some hormone shots which will, he hopes, get rid of his icky leg- and armpit-hair and pump up his boobs a bit. This is “the [rudimentary] medical treatment she (i. e. Bradley) deserves and is entitled to under the law,” says the erstwhile soldier’s attorney, one David Coombs. Deserves and is entitled to, please note. Manning hopes for more: surgical expertise to render himself an Atys, beloved of Kybele, or one of her priests, the Galloi. Once a eunuch, always a eunuch. Anyway, the Army wanted to hand Brad over to a civilian prison where they could provide such accommodations. Such was their professed interest.

A wave of nausea has overcome most who have heard or read this latest chapter in this particular saga of human confusion and cognitive dissonance. The very public Private has been sentenced to thirty-five years in the Big House. What is the point, any curious reader might ponder, of making oneself a female mannikin in those circumstances? Does he hope to marry a young gentleman of good family and bear his children?

The medical arts, alas, cannot transplant the soul of a troubled person.

Gender Extender

Tuesday 15 July 2014

The morning after my chat with the Fool on the Hill about the “transgender tipping point,” I left my bench on the Village green and walked over to Dogface Donuts. I took my customary seat on the plastic milk crate outside the front door. It was a good day for depending on the kindness of strangers: I soon panhandled enough for a medium latte and a Choco-Loco croissant. Mighty tasty. Crossing the street to the library, whom did I meet but my old pal Moe Rahn.  It was still ten minute before the library’s opening time, and I hadn’t seen Moe for a while, so it was good to catch up with him.

“Idiot! What brings you to our fine local bibliothèque? They painting your bench today or something?”

“No, Moe, I come by most mornings, use the restroom to brush my teeth, wash my face, tidy up a bit. Then I’ll do some reading, catch up on the news. In fact, just yesterday the Fool on the Hill and I were discussing this so-called transgender thing and I want to learn more about it.”

“Oh, yeh, the Laverne Cox story. Did you read that Time piece on her a few weeks ago? And how’s the Fool doing, by the way? Haven’t seen him in a while, either.”

“He’s good, but the eyes in his head see the world spinning ’round. And yes, that’s the article we talked about.”

“Come to any conclusions? Reach an agreement? I imagine you two see the issues differently.”

“Not really. He reminded me that human societies have always had to tolerate individuals who occupy a liminal sexual status. That’s the Fool’s preferred term, ‘liminal,’ but it seems some people now call this ‘two-spirit.'”

“True, but others use the term ‘third gender.’ In fact, the Supreme Court of India ruled a couple of months ago that this is now a legal category of persons. The law is mostly about welfare-state benefits and protection from discrimination, not so much about social acceptance. And you know, that idea is really old in India. There’s a line in the Mahābhārata I recall: ‘among men you will become a man in form, among women a female, among the third class an un-man.’ And you’re the grammarian after all. That’s what the neuter gender is all about, right?”

“Huh. Yeh. That’s interesting. Reminds me of Aeschylus’s Seven Against Thebes, where Eteocles demands the loyalty of everyone in the city, ‘man, woman, and whatever exists between them.’ What worries me, though, isn’t that there have always been such people, but where we think we’re going with all this redefinition. I mean, the ‘third gender’ itself is a basket of virtually infinite varieties and nuances of gender and sex, like Facebook’s hypostatizing list of sexual self-identifications. Eventually this can only render basic words like ‘male, female, masculine, feminine, man, woman’ meaningless. That doesn’t seem much like progress to me. Seems more like chaos.”

“Just fears, Idiot old friend, and timely too. Jerry Brown just signed legislation replacing the terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ in California state marital laws with ‘spouse,’ and another bill is heading to the California senate that would allow a woman to refer to herself as ‘father’ or a man to denote himself ‘mother’ on a child’s birth certificate. Once you finish your toilette, check those out. And you’ll want to read a recent Wall Street Journal editorial by Dr Paul McHugh on  the medical ethics of sex-change surgeries. Let me know what you think.”

“Paul McHugh, huh? Will do, Moe, and thanks for the tips.  See you around the Vill.”

I spent the rest of the morning in the library, following this trend as far as I could and wondering where it might be leading. The McHugh piece made sense: people who feel that they are a different gender than as they were born are suffering from a psychological disorder and deserve our understanding and proper treatment. Gender “reassignment” surgery seems nothing more than disfiguring mutilation. And one article I read made an interesting comparison to the Cat Man, that sad guy who really felt that he was a wild cat and had all kinds of surgeries to become one. Killed himself eventually. All the cases of sex-change changes of mind and the high suicide rates of people who still can’t find happiness after their surgeries — I don’t know; doesn’t seem like something we should be celebrating as a “new civil-rights frontier” in magazines. Seems a lot more like a serious medical ethics problem, a detachment of science and technology from humanism and nature. Some parts of the Hippocratic Oath still apply after all: “I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman.”

As I walked back to the Village green I wondered ‘How’d we get to this point?’ I could detect filaments of Romanticism, Nietzsche, Deconstruction, feminism, the sexual revolution, anarchism, multi-culturalism, diversity — one gnarly knot of notions. Back on my bench I then remembered Moynihan’s fine and famous article “Defining Deviancy Down.” Good old Moynihan. And that’s it, really: the advance of the anti-normative over the normative. The very concept of norms is increasingly viewed as oppressive, while deviation from norms is increasingly regarded as heroic, liberating, deserving of favored or special treatment for all those who might claim restitution for some real or imagined past injustices. That is, for all of us. And not as members of a society or civilization but as separate claimants upon society for its social goods.

Well, at the Village Odeonplex they were showing the classic Dog Day Afternoon, wherein Sonny and Sal hold up a bank to get money so that Sonny’s lover Leon can get his sex-change operation and be a woman. Based on a true story.  More or less.

To be continued …