"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, September 21, 2018

Hookers Then And Now–‘Lonesome Dove’ vs Today’s Censorious Puritanism

A prostitute is one of Larry McMurtry’s main characters in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove; and prostitutes feature largely in his epic about the post-Civil War West.  Saloons were the only social venue for the emerging West, a meeting place for cowboys and a chance to gamble and, after months of abstinence on the plains, to have sex with a woman.  Granted the women who entertained men in second floor rooms above the drunken brawls and card games below were no beauties; but no man expected more.  They were necessary, desirable commodities who, like today’s immigrants, saw prostitution as way to make a living – no union dues, no pimps, no conditions, much risk, and reasonable rewards.  These first American ‘sex workers’ were part of the Western frontier, perhaps not thought of as marriageable, but respected nonetheless for their profession.

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McMurtry’s Lorie, however, is a prostitute, but a beautiful woman loved by many young men for whom her prostitution is irrelevant to her allure and eligibility.  Part of this, of course, is because of the unforgiving life of the plains, but because she is more than just a sexual object.  The cowboys appreciate her beauty, her delicacy, and her quiet, unassuming character.  Gus, one of the two leaders of the cattle march to Montana, loves Lorie for this and more – her emotional vulnerability, her surprising strength and resiliency, and her qualities of love and mutual dependence.

Gus and Lorie cut cards for ‘a poke’ between other clients, share humor, concerns, and a certain practical but profound understanding of life and its limitations.  McMurtry never speaks of their time together nor of that between her and Jake Spoon, an irresponsible but attractive seducer other than to describe relationships.  She depends on Gus for security, friendship, and an almost paternal love; but is attracted to Jake for his easy ways, his sexuality, and even for his indifference.  She loves Gus but wants Jake.

The point is neither in her preferences nor her performance, but in her qualities and character as a woman.  She is neither disgusted nor damaged by the roughriders whom she services.  She feels neither abused nor used.  She has accepted the profession as necessary, one of the few open to women, and one which may eventually pay for resettlement in San Francisco.

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McMurtry’s prostitutes are real women who happen to be prostitutes.  Frontier women who endure hardship as a way of life, who expect no luxury or benefit, and who do not complain.  They are proud, defiantly individual, and fully accepted members of the frontier community.

Of course social class and opprobrium come into play.  July Johnson is a young, naïve sheriff of a Texas town who unknowingly marries a prostitute who soon after their marriage goes off with another man.  July, out of moral responsibility and right pursues her in the hopes of returning her to the traditional, Christian life she has abandoned.  July loves her, perhaps more because of his sexual naïveté than real affection; but in McMurtry’s hand, Peach is a real woman – desirous, ambitious, savvy, and willful.  Prostitution may have defined her early years, but her pursuit of her former husband and desire to flee far from the traditional, moralistic confines of July is heroic.  She signs on to  a whisky boat, chances her survival, and makes her way.

Prostitution today has become a feminist cause celebre – both a symbol of male patriarchy, sexual exploitation and abuse; and one of female destiny.  A ‘commercial sex worker’ is the female answer to male sexual insistence.  Making money off of testosterone-driven, insensate men, is due justice for all the male oppression of the past. 

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Yet for most, prostitution is still a moral albatross.  A former governor of New York was chased out of office because of his dalliances with a Washington hooker in the bridal suite of the Mayflower Hotel.  A former Congressman was dunned out of Washington because of his hijinks with an Argentine stripper.  Cruising Pigalle, the Bois de Boulogne, or the Marais might be all well and good for French intellectuals who have long ago shed their bourgeois sexual morality; but sex in downtown Washington hotels or group commercial sex in Georgetown is off limits.  

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Americans, as the French well know, are very complexed about sex.  Not only do we keep our distance from streetwalkers and call girls, but must recite a litany of approval at every step of sexual intimacy.  We are more governed by the threat of civil and criminal litigation than we are responsive to individual circumstances.   Sex is to be adjudicated not negotiated.  There is a right way and a wrong way, and any deviance especially if not uniquely male, should and will be punished.  “No means No’ has changed from a women’s natural reticence and concern about reputation and pregnancy to some questionable parsing of desire an emotion of 18-year olds.  The State is watching.

Women, as Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Strindberg understood well, were perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, negotiating to their advantage, and influencing rule.  The queens and consorts of kings were no minor players.  ‘Selling’ oneself to the highest bidder at the Elizabethan court was a matter of pedigree, lineage, beauty, and sexual allure in that order – no different from prostitution except that the former was rewarded with titles and crowns; the latter with money.

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Women have never been the dupes of men – innocent, weak, and dependent as modern feminists have described them – but equal to them.  The calculus has not changed – men desire women, sexual satisfaction distorts intelligence and savvy, and such satisfaction can, if handled properly, can be rewarding.

McMurtry’s prostitutes are the best examples of female reality in modern fiction.  They are competent, aware, determined women.  Sexual favors are no more than currency; and depending on the exchange rate can be very valuable indeed.  His women – if they weren’t prostitutes – would be feminist heroes.

Feminism, for all its successes in securing equal rights for women, has distorted millennia-old sexual realities. Women may have been subservient to men in civil and legal matters; but no student of either literature or history would assume that women have had no power.  On the contrary, as Strindberg knew, control over paternity is the most powerful trump card in women’s arsenal.  The symbolic castration of The Father in the playwright’s play of the same name has resonance even more now than when it was written. ‘Biology is destiny’ a metaphorical alliteration from Freud’s ‘anatomy is destiny’ has never more been true.  While women have not yet shed their love of Daddy patriarchy and traditional socially prescribed roles, they understand how they can manipulate men’s far more simple hormone-driven destiny.

Men pursue and women are desired – a fact unchanged throughout history.  The most savvy women have understood this and used the calculus to their advantage.  The weaker and more vulnerable have used it as a defense. 

There is nothing wrong nor immoral about prostitution per se.  While infidelity may well be scrutinized as morally suspect, the object of straying men’s desire should not be.  Prostitution is an economic transaction purely and simply, and those who wish to make more of it than it is are myopic – self-serving at best and sanctimonious at worst.

Courage–Has It Been Devalued In A Less Honorable Age?

Plato in The Republic stated that courage is the ‘preservation of the belief that has been inculcated by the law through education about what things and sorts of things are to be feared’. Ideas of courage as perseverance also are seen in Laches, explained by Plato as the ability to persevere through all emotions, such as suffering, pleasure, and fear.

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In classical Rome courage formed part of the universal virtue of Virtus. Cicero  says that ‘virtue  may be defined as a habit of mind in harmony with reason and the order of nature. It has four parts: wisdom, justice, courage, temperance.

St. Thomas Aquinas was perhaps the most eloquent on the subject of courage, to which he referred as ‘fortitude’; and according to him, ‘among the cardinal virtues, prudence ranks first, justice second, fortitude third, temperance fourth, and after these the other virtues.’  Aquinas described fortitude’s general and special nature:

The term "fortitude" can be taken in two ways. First, as simply denoting a certain firmness of mind, and in this sense it is a general virtue, or rather a condition of every virtue, since it is requisite for every virtue to act firmly and immovably.  Secondly that fortitude denotes the firmness to bear and withstand those things wherein it is most difficult to be firm, namely in certain grave dangers.  Fortitude is the deliberate facing of dangers and bearing of toils.

Aquinas went on to say that fortitude or courage was primarily about endurance, not attack:

Fortitude is more concerned to allay fear, than to moderate daring." For it is more difficult to allay fear than to moderate daring, since the danger which is the object of daring and fear, tends by its very nature to check daring to increase fear. Now to attack belongs to fortitude in so far as the latter moderates daring, whereas to endure follows the repression of fear. Therefore the principal act of fortitude is endurance, that is to stand immovable in the midst of dangers rather than to attack them.

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The Tao contends that courage is derived from love, or more specifically loving causes the ability to be brave. "One of courage, with audacity, will die. One of courage, but gentle, spares death. From these two kinds of courage arise harm and benefit.”

Aquinas perhaps said it best when the described courage as the strength of will which is the foundation for all other virtues.  It is difficult to maintain the principles of the other virtues – prudence, justice, and temperance – without fortitude.  Aquinas understood that all virtues are difficult to maintain in a largely amoral, indifferent, and venal society.  Cato the Elder in his diptychs – principles of right action – cited honesty, compassion, respect, discipline, and fairness as those virtues to be embraced by the future leaders of Rome; and like Aquinas knew that it would take intelligence, wisdom, and especially fortitude to maintain them.

Perhaps most importantly Aquinas stated that fortitude is the virtue that enables the removal of any obstacle that keeps the will from following reason and argued that courage is a virtue which can only be exemplified with the presence of the Christian virtues: faith, hope, and mercy. In order to understand true courage in Christianity it takes someone who displays the virtues of faith, hope, and mercy

In other words courage is a state of being rather than a particular act.  While our popular notion of courage – risking one’s life for others or dying for one’s principle – is certainly valid, it misses the essential point of personal integrity.  A courageous man, according to Aquinas, can be expected to act virtuously on all occasions and in all situations.  Such a man can be trusted, relied upon, and respected.  Individual acts of courage, as important as they may be, mean less if they are one-off moments and more if they are part of character.

For Aquinas individual acts of fortitude or courage were indeed valid, but like the Tao which taught that the wrong kind of courage – that done with ‘audacity’ always ends badly, Aquinas insisted that courage was more a matter of endurance and resolve.  Like the Tao Aquinas stated that fortitude was a virtue only when done with temperance, patience, and resolve results in rewards.

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Hobbes added another dimension – survival – but in so doing echoed the sentiments of classical philosophers.  Acts of individual courage were only valid or noteworthy if they were done to protect and preserve.  Society as a whole depended on the courage to fight invaders, in whatever form they might appear.

Classical and 19th century thinking meet here – dying at the stake for one’s faith or fighting the the enemy at the gates at all costs are acts of defensive courage. Neither Aquinas nor Hobbes mention individual bravery as an end in itself, so it must be inferred. 

What to make, then, of the soldier on a mission a bombing mission who faces enemy fire but continues to his target?  He has been trained to follow order and to carry out his mission at all costs.  Enemy fire is expected if not certain.  Continuing despite the likelihood of being shot down, killed, or captured is a matter of duty and responsibility, not courage in any classical sense.  Enlisting to carry out such missions may be an act of patriotism, legacy, or personal ambition; but since such enlistment implies danger and high risk of death, flying missions per se cannot be considered an act of courage.  He may be rewarded for ‘valor’ but not courage.

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The distinction is important for ‘valor’ does not imply any inherent value such as Aquinas or others have suggested.  It is simply performing extremely well under dangerous and life-threatening situations.  The soldier who storms the machinegun nest to save his comrades is acting valorously since camaraderie, brotherhood, esprit de corps, and unity are the values inculcated as part of military training.   Only a few act valorously in an expression of these principles, and they are acknowledged and rewarded.

Today courage and valor are conflated – they are one and the same thing and most often thought of in terms of battlefield heroics.  But the classical sense of courage is largely lost.  A person of moral principle can be expected to be criticized and attacked by those who have accepted and adopted a more fluid, relativistic notion of right behavior.  According to this philosophy absolute, a priori values do not exist.  Values are only temporal constructs which evolve out of a cultural and social context and can only be considered and judged as such.  There are too many limiting factors influencing individual decisions to judge simply.  One might have very good and valid reasons for hiding the truth, ignoring dishonesty, or taking advantage of others.  In a highly competitive society where advantage and privilege are not guaranteed but distributed unequally, ‘value’, ‘principle’, and ‘morality’ must only be relative.

In fact the man of courage acting to maintain despite attack what Cicero named as cardinal virtues (wisdom, justice, and temperance), what Cato the Elder taught young Romans about honor and compassion; and what religious traditions have endorsed in their holiest of texts is put upon rather than rewarded.  When values become relative, so does courage; and when relativity rules, courage disappears.

In today’s current environment of ‘identity’, anything goes.  What courage does it take to discredit an honorable man nominated for high public office for possible mistakes made as an adolescent for the sake of political gain? How does deception in the name of security serve any long-term purpose? When government lies are discovered, the essential core of the democracy is eroded.  Nations are no different from individuals, and the precepts of Aquinas, Cicero, and Cato are no less valid.  It takes courage to be honest and trustworthy with the citizens who have given trust are involved. 

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Violence in many communities is fueled by an erosion of such classical fortitude.  Machismo, street creds, and personal ambition pass for courage – standing up to threats, intimidation, or territorial claims; and aggressively moving to neutralize enemy and opposition.

Politicians are not expected to tell the truth, to be honest about their intentions, and to act appropriately and consistent with their office.  Lying, distortion, and manipulation of the truth is expected; and the rules of engagement are to win at any cost regardless of the more systemic consequences.  Courage is defined as one deceitful politician standing up to another.

It is perhaps too much to hope for a return to let alone a reconsideration of Aquinas; but one should never be indifferent.

Every judgement of conscience, be it right or wrong, be it about things evil in themselves or morally indifferent, is obligatory, in such wise that he who acts against his conscience always sins.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Herbert The Whore Monger Runs For Public Office - The Senate Hearings

Herbert Patterson recently ran for the 7th Congressional District of Illinois on a platform of responsibility, duty, and justice.  The 7th for many decades had been a sinkhole of corruption – three federal convictions, four indictments, and a consistent pattern of misrule that surprised even the most inured voters of the State.  Illinois had never had a particularly good reputation as far as righteous rule is concerned.  Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan, Dan Rostenkowski, Dan Walker, and Otto Kerner – four governors and a Congressional Representative – were just the most well-known politicians to be convicted of racketeering, bank fraud, and corruption – and Patterson’s district seemed to be the embryonic center of political misdeeds. 

There was something about the district – perhaps voter weariness, complaisance, and indifference- that provided the primeval broth where lowlife spawned; or perhaps politicians both because of this enabling environment and the patronage of older politicians who, after years of raiding the till, had enough money to retire to Florida.  In any case the 7th had been a safe seat for those who had paid their dues in the tough wards of Chicago, took orders willingly from their bosses, did the needful and the nasty, and were awarded with political office.  They of course never started at the top, but had to work their way up the ladder – aldermen, court clerk, sheriff, minor assistant prosecutors – but with patience and dues, they eventually acceded to real power.  True and faithful to the tradition of the 7th, they trained their minions, selected carefully from the many who wanted public office, and never held on to power long after it was time to pass the torch.

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Herbert Patterson was from a respected family – not well-born or high-toned, but honest working folk whose ancestors had been among the first settlers of the territory who with dedication, hard work, and great optimism made their way and then some.  Patterson’s grandfather had been in the dry goods business, and his father built the small emporium into a  chain of stores throughout southern Illinois.  Patterson, although with great respect for his father and his forbears, felt that his fortunes lay elsewhere; and thanks to his many talents caught the eye of a wealthy Yale alumnus who sponsored the young boy and secured for him a full scholarship.

Herbert thrived at Yale, excited by the vigorous intellectual environment and by the sophisticated, cosmopolitan, but surprisingly libertine ethos of the era.  He was not so much seduced by wine, women, and song but found his true path.  He was an Epicurean of the first order, never knew it growing up in his small town, and only realized it when he joined one of Yale’s many in-crowds.  The Ivy League at the time was still the place of the Gentleman’s C, no one admitted was ever asked to leave, and as long as one kept up appearances and made a reasonable academic effort, the world was open, there, and inviting.

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So although Patterson’s four years in New Haven were not lost – despite Yale’s laissez-faire attitude to the elite members of the university it had always retained its high academic reputation, and Herbert could not help but be exposed to fine minds – most of his time was spent in off-campus ‘parties’.  His wealthier classmates spared no expense to provide the best New York call girls, the finest whisky, and jazz trios from New York.  As these parties grew, Venue 420 as it came to be known, fancied itself as the white Cotton Club – hip, sophisticated, sexy, and off-limits to all but Yale’s best and finest.

It was then that Patterson got a taste of call girls. For a sexual naïf,  a boy with no experience to speak of, the willingness and sexual frankness of the women were exactly what he had always dreamed of.  Of course he knew that they would never replace the right girl, marriage, and children; but for the time being, they were the perfect outlet for his sexual immaturity and an introduction to a sex life that only could be imagined.  His years at Yale, as he fondly remembered them, were the Kama Sutra, Khajuraho, Japanese eroticism, and Casanova combined.  Who cared if his women were paid agents? Or if they had slept with hundreds of men including his classmates?  With the call girls anything went and anything was possible; and Patterson explored the outer reaches of sex and sexuality.  The Bright College Years were indeed the best of his life.

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After he left Yale and returned to his small Illinois community, he found that surprisingly he did not miss Venue 420.  Of course he thought about it, but since he knew that that very special, unique place was unlikely to be recreated anywhere else – some things live in a particular irreplaceable time and place and Venue 420 was one of those.  Ironically Yale had done its job in educating one of America’s future leaders, not in the expected, traditional way, but in a way which was more enlightening that Hume, Russell, and Kant could ever have guaranteed.  Herbert graduated with a maturity and sexual insight that had only been intimated by Freud and D.H.Lawrence.  Tantrism and the Tao were not even considered at Yale.

Thirty years after graduation, Herbert had few thoughts of his college days.  As seminal and influential as they were, he understood that they were only one component of the far more complex and evolved character that he now was.  Law school, public service, corporate success, and community recognition were more immediate and more relevant milestones along the way.  At the age of fifty-five, a group of influential reformers suggested that he run for office in the Illinois 7th.  At first, Patterson was nonplussed.  He had spent his entire professional career building a reputation for rectitude, honesty, and transparency; and now he was being asked to represent perhaps the most corrupt political jurisdiction in the country.

“Hold on, Herb”, said William Sloane, the leader of the reform movement, “Nothing of the sort”.  What Sloane had in mind was a new broom, a long overdue purging of the corrupt entitlement that had infected voters far from the electoral boundaries of the District. Even if he didn’t win, Sloane, said, he would energize the new millennial voters who were increasing in numbers and electoral influence.  Even a loss on a ticket of proven, well-documented honesty and service would not only provide some measure of optimism if not hope among these young voters, it would set him up nicely for a run in a more congenial district.

He agreed, but was quite naïve about the political process.  The old ward heelers of the 7th who had cut their teeth on the dirtiest politics in the land in Chicago decades ago were not about to cut this newcomer any slack.  They would not only challenge him on his rather thin record of public service, they would stop at nothing to discredit him.  As soon as Patterson announced his candidacy, the bosses of the District went to work, hiring the best political consultants in Washington, those who had been party to the demise of politicians high and low on the most personal grounds.  Long before today’s MeToo movement which has raised allegation to an art form, American righteousness and political gullibility were enough in Herbert’s day to give them plenty of cover for the most indefensible of accusations. 

It is important at this moment – for the reader knows what’s coming – to reiterate the nearly flawless character of Herbert Patterson.  He had become in the years since Yale, a successful lawyer who had defended and prosecuted honestly and fairly.  Although he understood that the law permitted any defense in the interest of a client and any evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, to prosecute a criminal; he always acted far from the legal perimeter.  Justice had to be served along with the exoneration or prosecution of the court.   Thanks to this absolute professionalism, it was not long before he was appointed to a judgeship where the ruled from the bench with as much respect for justice as he did for the proceedings before him.

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As his reputation grew, he had been encouraged to sponsor a number of community programs which he did willingly.  He took Jefferson’s adage to heart – the pursuit of happiness should only occur within a community context; the will of the individual and the well-being of the community must both be served – and agreed.

In short, this was a man of fine intellectual abilities, sound jurisprudence, and professional responsibility.  He was a good man, and it was a tribute to his intellectual honesty and moral principles that he even considered William Sloane’s proposition.

It didn’t take long for the Washington consultants to learn of Patterson’s Yale experience.  This was a piece of cake, a smoking gun which had been dropped in their laps; not the long, drawn-out, careful process of nurturing and rewards that it takes today to encourage anyone with grievances against a political nominee to come forward with decades-old allegations of sexual abuse.  No, the Yale experience would be rope, guillotine, and firing squad all rolled up into one.

The TV ads were filled with barely permissible images of cheap hookers on street corners, seedy brothels, and busty women.  This was the man standing for election of the 7th! 

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It made no difference of course that transactional sex, although illegal in most places, was as common as birthday parties and had been a staple of human society since its first settlements.  It made no difference that for Patterson, this period of sexual exploration was far more than an episode of gratification; and it made no difference whatsoever when compared with the man’s impeccable, honorable, and estimable life as an adult.  The campaign was as dirty, disreputable, and sickening as any in recent history.

Why, observers asked, would the politicians of the 7th take on a man sure to lose?  The answer was obvious.  Given the venal, unconscionable reputation of the 7th, this was an opportunity to take the seldom-taken high ground; to show that the District was a place of high morals and principle.
Needless to say that Herbert lost the election, a foregone conclusion.  More than anything it showed how corrupt the political process is.  The ruination of a good, principled, highly professional man means nothing.  The dirtiest ward politics of Chicago in the 20s and 30s are nothing compared to the high stakes affairs of today.

To his credit, Herbert Patterson took his defeat honorably.  What better way to display honor than in a campaign against a dishonorable opponent?  He demurred when asked to run again.  Despite his fortitude and good will, the campaign for the 7h was brutalizing and discouraging. 

Ah, Yale, he often thought.  What wonderful years.