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

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.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Burnt Offerings–Marches, Demonstrations, And Protests

The Kumbh Mela is a religious pilgrimage which occurs at one of  India’s four holiest sites - Al­la­habad, Harid­war, Uj­jain and Nashik - every 12 years.  The most important is that held in Allahabad, and over 70 million pilgrims made the journey in 2006. 

It is the power of faith that can part a river, move mountains, and endure the hardships that come bundled up for being an integral part of Kumbh Mela, a congregation of millions, gathered together to be freed from the vicious earthly cycle of life and death and move towards a heavenly realm, which knows no suffering or pain. It's the mythological history of India and the sacred religious texts that bind us to an eternal hope. "An eternal life free of sins" is the promise that comes attached with the Kumbh Mela.

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The hajj to Mecca is made by over 2 million pilgrims every year. For Muslims the Hajj has a spiritual merit that provides the worshipper with an opportunity of self-renewal; and which serves as a reminder of the Day of Judgment when all will stand before God.

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The pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, dates from the 9th and 10th centuries – the same approximate time period of the Crusades.  Since that time millions of pilgrims have walked the ‘Camino’ for spiritual indulgence, penance, and grace.

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El Camino de Santiago was an expression of the belief that the apostle Saint James was buried in the land of Galicia, in the northwest of Spain after years of preaching the Gospels in the Iberian Peninsula. After his return to Jerusalem he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa in the year 44 AD, thus becoming one of the first Christian martyrs. Following the saint’s death, it was said that St. James’ disciples put his body in a stone boat that, lead by angels, sailed across the Mediterranean Sea, went through the Pillars of Hercules in the Strait of Gibraltar to finally arrive at the coast of Galicia, where a massive rock closed around his relics. These were later removed to Compostela.

Even for the marginally-faithful the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela is as much of a ritual as a way of seeing Spain. Accounts of personal spiritual meditation are not uncommon among marchers.  Clearly the march is still a pilgrimage.

The Zapotecs lived in a world of natural, immanent power.  Spiritual forces were in the lightning and thunder, the violent storms, predatory animals, and in the rising and setting of the moon and sun.  They were brooding in the massive mountains or in the night sky.  They were everywhere, frighteningly real.  There was no distinction between human life, nature, and the gods.  This religion was not a tame animism. In the Oaxaca valley under a brillian sun and surrounded by mountains, there was no escaping the temperamental and eruptive forces of Nature and the gods. 

Human sacrifice, attended by thousands who had come from the farthest reaches of tribal territories and Zapotec society who had come to worship at the sacrificial mount, surrounded by what they believed were the living gods of mountains, sun, wind, and the apotheosis of paganism.

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While all pilgrimages and sacrificial worship are meant for the spiritual transformation of the individual, they are also very communal events.  The pilgrim’s faith is made even more pronounced, felt even more deeply and passionately when he is surrounded by thousands of others who share the same belief and especially the same ecstatic devotion.  The energy and shared passion of the crowd increase a sense of individual faith, purpose, and devotion.

The Crusades were both a military expedition and spiritual pilgrimage.  Marching to the Holy Land to free it from the Muslim invader was both a Christian and national duty.  Those marching together were bound by an absolute belief in Jesus Christ and the righteousness of Christianity and their obedience to the Pope.  At the same time they would see Jerusalem, dreamed of by many but visited by very few.  They would be walking the same paths of Jesus, visiting Golgotha, Bethlehem, and the Judean desert.  They would do it together, a congregation of true believers, a troupe of conquerors and worshippers.

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Collective worship is common.  Most Americans attend church or temple regularly.  Each has collective ceremonies – the singing of hymns, the procession to the altar to receive holy communion, or the collective recitation of prayers; but these ceremonies are nothing compared to those of Mecca or Allahabad.  Except for certain charismatic Pentecostal ceremonies, they are devoid of passion.  They are reflective, meditative, and respectful services which strengthen the solidarity of the faithful, maintain a link with God, and carry out religious obligations; but they are quiet, and while they may be satisfying because of their spiritual proximity, they are contained, inner services.

Given the history of spiritual pilgrimages, ecstatic worship, and mass, passionate expressions of belief, it is no wonder that in the secularization of religion today, in the tame, politically and socially conscious services, and in the focus on the non-spiritual, indirect expressions of faith – compassion, tolerance, love, and brotherhood – it is no wonder that mass protests, demonstrations, and marches are not only common but increasing in number and passion.  The National Mall is the venue for mass demonstrations against climate change, the abuse of women, the continued marginalization and prejudicial treatment of African Americans, the predatory practices of Wall Street, the irreverence of Donald Trump; or for the environment, women’s rights, the inclusion of gays, lesbians, and transgenders; or international peace. 

The demonstrations are often peaceful but never quiet – nor are they meant to be.  They are opportunities to be loud, intemperate, and intolerant – to express passionately-held beliefs without considering the other side.  There can be no other side when it comes to the final liberation of the black man, the complete and absolute expression of all sexualities, the downfall of predatory capitalism and the establishment of a more moral and just economic system.   If demonstrations become hysterical, so be it.  “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”, said Barry Goldwater, a slogan which referred to conservative patriotism and military strength, but could be just as easily applied to demonstrations demanding immediate if not revolutionary reform.

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However unlike the marches of the Sixties where demonstrations had a specific, well-defined objective – e.g. a Civil Rights Act or the end of the Vietnam War – today’s marches are only celebratory.  ‘End racism!’ when everyone is against it is too general a commitment and too vague a purpose.  ‘Black Lives Matter’ is a cry for recognition but without targeting anything more general than ‘white privilege’.  ‘Gun control’ is more specific in its demand for more restrictions on firearms, but more an integral part of a social reform movement - one that is more tolerant, less violent, and more communal.

As with the great religious pilgrimages to Mecca, Allahabad, and Jerusalem, marchers on Washington gather as much for a feeling of solidarity – a legitimization of political commitment annealed and enhanced by the collective and passionate expression of others.  In fact, the reason for the marches may well be less for stated purpose than the expression of that purpose.  It makes no difference whether or not the demonstrations will have any demonstrable impact.  In fact demonstrators often admit that their purpose is simply ‘to raise awareness’.

The purpose may be to raise awareness in others, but more importantly – in the spirit of pilgrimages and sacrificial ceremonies throughout history – to share that awareness, that ‘wokeness’ with others and increase and enhance a sentiment of belonging and personal purpose. 

It is also not surprising to see so many secular pilgrimages today.  Prosperity and a booming economy has given Americans more leisure time than they ever dreamed of in the early days of the Republic.  At the same, a complex social and economic system the Founding Fathers could never have envisioned, has increased the need for loud expressions of identity -  without which minority groups, now subdivided again and again, would be lost. 

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Last but not least, such a complex, divided, secularized society has made personal worth problematic.  Without religion to console, without the firm belief in a unique spiritual identity (a divine soul), and without an automatic subscription to universal values and the institutions which incorporated them (home, family, church, school, community, and law), it is not surprising that so many Americans seek belonging in mass political movements regardless of their likely effect.

There are only two conclusions to make and both are obvious.  First, everyone needs a sense of personal value and worth; and if that value no longer comes institutionally packaged, it is still necessary, but just harder to confirm.  Second, crowd allegiance and mutually expressed faith, belief, and commitment, seems to be the best, easiest, and most readily available to help the confirmation.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Love The One You’re With–Nothing Doing In Our Neo-Puritanical Age

And there's a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can't be with the one you love honey
Love the one your with (Stephen Stills)

The Sixties were significant for many reasons – a renewed, public, and militant commitment to civil rights, opposition to an unjust if not immoral war, and a rejection of an old, faded, antiquarian morality.   More than anything else, however, the Sixties revolutionized sexual attitudes and behavior.  No longer was one obliged to conform to Victorian mores, Fifties sanctimony, and outdated and irrelevant attitudes towards the nature and purpose of intimacy. Love the one you’re with was the anthem of the Sixties.  Love was relegated to treacly Hallmark cards, daytime television and the Midwest.

At its most post-modern, love does not exist at all.  It is  no more than a social construct reflecting time, era, and culture.  The sonnets of Petrarch for the first time expressing romantic love were a product of the emerging middle class, one which had risen above the peasantry and while not quite upper class or aristocratic had the economic and social mobility to worry less about survival and able to think less of hammers, nails, and anvils.  Love was a new thing, an invented idea, a plaything of the rich and privileged.

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Romantic love has stayed alive for centuries, a commodity of the wealthy and the newly rich and an aspirational ideal of those beneath.  In America the concept of romantic love has been institutionalized in Hollywood, soap operas, comic  books, and popular lore. Everyone wants to fall in love and to be happy forever after.

At the same time romantic love has been progressively marginalized.  Love is found through the social media, contracted civilly, and continued thanks to feminism, sexual mutuality and new-found respect. But is it love? Can any socially-mediated commodity possibly be the stuff of romance, marital fidelity,  or painful, passionate infidelity?

The question of love is more complicated in our age of feminism and gender identity.  Do women really need men, their pursuit, and testosterone-driven sexual immaturity? Has the traditional male-female dyad any relevance whatsoever?  If sexuality is indeed fluid, then relationships between any points on the sexual spectrum are valid and promising.  Love? Reduced at best to a functional state of equilibrium.  The idea of romantic love is not only outdated but treacly, and anti-progressive.  What has love ever accomplished except for the enslavement of women to men’s fantasies; an idealistic notion of woman-as-saint, itself self-serving and deformed when considered with its parallel – woman as whore.  The whole idea of love is antiquated and counter-revolutionary.

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Feminism notwithstanding, thousands of weddings are held each year – not simple ceremonies pledging honor, respect, and fidelity, but oversized celebrations of the idea of love.  The bridal bowers, marriage canopies, romantic ice sculptures, turned out bridesmaids, and four-course dinners and dancing are still common and par for the course.  Petrarch has not been left behind.  Young women in their bridal white with train and flowers feel themselves princesses, adored and put on pedestals by their knights. Marriage is ordained, and love is adhesive.

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Once these brides join their husbands at home, notions of  chivalry and pedestals disappear. Contractual obligations must be met, clauses and codicils of the pre-nuptial agreement discussed and rules and regulations written and agreed upon. As much as the marriage ceremony might reflect female beauty and grace; and suggest complaisance and duty, post-ceremony reality is quite different.  Love may be there, but only if certain conditions are met.

Modern, woke and aware men take these terms and conditions literally.  Suppositions of male authority are long past and gone.  Although parity is presumed, women’s rights have supplanted men’s.  Their bodies are their own, to give birth if and when they choose and to give to other men as cause or desire dictates.

Non-woke, savvy men want nothing to do with such obvious posturing.  They understand, as men have for millennia, that women want them absolutely – their bodies, their confidence, and their authority.  As long as ‘the Daddy syndrome’ persists, women will still defer to men.  If there is nothing genetically programmed to assure this, then nurture is a far more potent signifier than ever thought.

So marriage continues, although a far more challenged institution than ever before.  How can it possibly survive in such a fluid, non-specific, and continually questioned environment?  And should it?

In former times marriage was absolute and essential.  The heritage of kings and courtiers depended on right alliances and proper offspring.  Peasants relied upon marriage certificates and wifely fidelity to assure that they were not working back-breaking hours for bastards.  Marriage fulfills God’s injunction to be fertile and multiply within an acceptable social framework.  In the Catholic Church it is a sacrament, a blessed institution anointed by God himself and reflective of his relationship to his only begotten son.

Marriage has been the foundation of human society for millennia.  However consecrated or observed, the union of a man and a woman was sanctified by church, state, and society.  It was the guarantor of property and civil rights, the model for respectful social behavior, the corral for a wild, independent herd, and social security for the aged and infirm.  It was a breeding ground which produced children to continue the human race but also provided recognition and legitimacy.   Everyone knew who Hermione Porter was (Ah, those Porters), where she came from, and what genetic claims she had to respect and inclusion.

None of this has any importance today except perhaps in Rittenhouse Square, Nob or Beacon Hill.  Despite attempts to modernize and socialize it, remains a holdover from a far earlier age.  It is still a socially mandated correctional institution.  Men and women are far better citizens if they are married than if they are not. 

The Sixties were revolutionary because they challenged this notion.  ‘Love the one you’re with’ was an ode to sexual, social, and emotional liberation.  Despite the political progressivism that characterized the movement, conservative individualism was at its very center.  Community was only a holding pen for newly-liberated individuals.  Communes were collectivities of like-minded people with no hold over them.  They provided the supportive context within which individualism was to thrive.

Within such communities, fidelity was an unheard of concept.  The institution of marriage was as oppressive as any other bourgeois claims to sanctity.  Love was a presupposed construct of a former, unenlightened era.  It meant nothing but servitude.

Of course hippydom disappeared, and even the most partisan advocates of the Sixties zeitgeist calmed down, returned to Iowa and Montana, got married, had children, and lived to a maturing old age.  It was too revolutionary.  Socialism, communalism, even idealism were quite tenable; but sexual anonymity and a rejection of the sanctity of sexual union were more than any generation could handle.

So what now of love and ‘love the one you’re with’? Have we reached an equilibrium where the two can co-exist?  Hardly.  The worst of all possible worlds has evolved .  Neither has stable, traditional male-female marriage remained intact – i.e. that within which both male and female sexual imperatives are expressed and counter-balanced, one against the other – nor has it been transformed into a no-trespassing zone where anything goes within an acknowledged important social framework; nor finally has it disappeared, replaced by a libertine ‘love the one you’re with’ ethos.

Husbands and wives routinely end conversations with ‘I love you’; but the sentiment means little.  Better to acknowledge and admit that they do not love each other but have been co-opted into an arrangement where love has been the authorization.  ‘We satisfy the terms and agreements of our marriage contract’ would be a far more honest statement.

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Men have not changed one iota since the 70s feminist revolution.  They, except for those who for reasons of doctrinal purity or sexual timidity, have chased women, reluctantly agreed to marriage (marriage has always been a woman’s thing) and continued their tomcatting and serial infidelities ad infinitum.

Women, either persuaded by feminist scenarios of authority within institutions (breaking the glass ceiling, dominating men a la Hedda Gabler and Shakespearean heroines), or because of genetically programmed commitments to motherhood and a protective, intact family, have been reluctant to ‘love the one you’re with’ as much as men.  Women have always been defenders of hearth and home.

So, incidents of infidelity among wives has increased significantly, although rates have never even approximated those of men; and men’s rates cheating has remained the same.  Men have always been unfaithful; and if there was ever a case of nature besting nurture, men’s perennial sexual waywardness proves it.  Yet at the same time there is a persistent Puritanical guilt.  Excuses must be made.  Where did the Sixties go?

There seems to be an irreversible urge to be married.  With the legalization of gay marriage, a surprising number of gay men have shown up at the altar despite decades of exaggeratedly promiscuous sex.  They have wanted to join the marital club, leave their lives of happy libertinage, and enter in to pre-nups, legalize marital contracts and, one supposes, empty the trash and clean the bathrooms. Love? Doubtful as a reason for marital union.

There are a few unreconstructed, unapologetic members of the Sixties generation who still love women as women, who have no desire to conclude more permanent relationships; and who, if in a marriage, refuse to accept monogamy.  They are either outliers or revolutionaries.  Hard to tell; but it is a delight to see men who make no bones about their male sexuality, the fundamental differences between men and women, and the absolute pleasure of sexual adventure.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Seven Deadly Sins–A Modern Take On How To Feel Good About Sinning, Part V (Envy And Pride)


Brattle Fuller had always wanted a BMW.  Although he had considered other cars in the same range – Mercedes, Lexus, and Porsche – he felt the BMW was right for him.  The model he wanted – the Z4 – was futuristic, powerful, and with track-ready steering and handling.  It had a state-of-the art transmission, ergonomically perfect controls, and head-turning design.

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He had wanted such a car for years, but could never quite imagine buying one worth over $100,000.  Yet the lawyers at Young, Brewster, and Feingold – one of Washington’s most prestigious law firms and far above the mark of Brattle’s own company - had not balked at the price.  Why should they, since they were earning salaries that others even in the best law firms on K Street could only dream of?  They all had solid investments, profit sharing, and company equity.  As long as they made partner, kept bringing in new clients, and contributed to overall profitability, they would be golden for a long, long while. A  new car – even one as pricey as the Z4 – would be a drop in the bucket.  They earned more in a month that what it cost. 

Brattle watched them come out of the parking garage his firm shared with theirs with envy – not just one Z4 but three of them; not one Maserati, Alfa Romeo, and Ferrari, but a line of them, all headed to rooftop condominiums, homes in Potomac and Great Falls, or to the airport for flights to St. Bart’s.

He had at first resisted the temptation – although he had moved far from his stern Iowa upbringing, his grandfather’s distaste for excess and the showy display of it never left him.  There was nothing wrong with the rewards of hard work, said the old man, but when they became ends in themselves, a path to perdition was certain. As time went on, and as his natural talents and professional abilities helped him rise quickly in the corporate world, he lost much of his reluctance.  After all, he reasoned, if everyone was enjoying the benefits of success, why shouldn’t he.

Yet there was more to it than simple ambition.  As long as he drove cars inferior to those of his Young, Brewster colleagues; lived more modestly than they; and took his vacations no farther than Puerto Rico, he was an unhappy man.  As he saw the last in the line of cars leave the garage at 1212 K Street – the newest Tesla Roadster, an electric car that could accelerate from 0-60 in 1.9 seconds – he made up his mind.  He would join the queue.

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Not only would he ski at Gstaad but own a chalet there.  Armani suits, membership at Congressional, and the brightest and most beautiful women of Milan, Paris, and New York would be his.

Envy was what motivated Brattle Fuller, helped him to realize his ambitions, and achieve the financial success to allow him the life to which he had always aspired.  Yet, his aged grandfather notwithstanding, what was the problem?  Envy, after all, is what makes America what it is.  The ambition to rise and to rise quickly, to acquire wealth and repute, and to capture the élan and gracious living of the well-to-do is the engine of economic progress.  Thornton Veblen aside, conspicuous consumption – his critique of American capitalism at the turn of the century – was the perfect expression of free market liberalism, natural human social instincts, and the value-altering power of money.  People did not work to amass great fortunes only to have them secreted away in bank vaults or anonymous off-shore investments.  Acquired wealth is worth nothing if it cannot be displayed.

The acquisition of wealth and its expenditure in a complex economy have systemic impact.  The One Percent pay nearly 50 percent of US taxes.  Their investments are lent to entrepreneurs, risk capitalists, and homeowners.  Without the invested wealth of the top earners in American society, the economic engine would falter.  Without the expenditures of the wealthy, whether cars, homes, clothes, or leisure, the industries that produce or enable them would be less competitive.

The more people that rise in the economic system and adopt the same habits of the wealthy they have envied, the more vibrant the American economy.  Despite parsimony and good Iowa puritanism, Jesus’ parable about the rich man, the camel, and the eye of the needle has little salience or resonance today. Americans are never satisfied with what they have, are as socially ambitious as ever, and fuel the economy with purchases of status and recognition.  Nothing has changed since 1899, the publication date of Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class.

Brattle Fuller is not to be shamed for his love of excess.  The President of the United States, Donald Trump, is the first president to truly reflect America and its ambitions.  His wealth, gorgeous women, yachts, mansions, resorts, and golf courses are exactly what Americans want.  Trump is a man of Hollywood, Las Vegas, and New York; and Iowans would like to leave the farm and be like him.  In today’s consumer driven, hyper-competitive and ambitious society, there is nothing wrong with conspicuous consumption.  in fact with our increasingly pluralistic society it helps to distinguish the now all-important identity groups.  It is an integral part of diversity.


Pride in many ways is the first cousin of Envy. The same driven ambition is behind both.  Pride – or to be more Biblically correct, overweening pride (a foolishly and irrationally corrupt sense of one's personal value, status or accomplishments) – cannot exist in a vacuum.  Without accomplishments, it cannot exist.  While a poor man can have such pride, he is only foolish and irrational; while a rich man can only be accused of arrogance.  Yet what is the problem with arrogance?  It is derived from hyper-competitiveness.  Anyone who has succeeded against all odds, in a hostile, implacable environment, cannot but have an overweening sense of self-confidence.  It is hard not to look down upon those of lesser talents, abilities, intelligence, and above all, desire.  To never suffer fools gladly. 

St. Paul (2 Corinthians 11:19) said, "For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise”, but like the parable of the rich man, the camel, and the eye of the needle, such advice has little relevance today.  Much is granted to him who has risen to the top.  He has a right to dismiss fools.  His arrogance – if based on accomplishment and ability – is forgiven because he will indeed clean the stables, dismiss the incompetent, and demand the most of the rest. 

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Donald Trump is not only a man of excess but of supreme self-confidence and arrogance.  His is full of braggadocio, boast, and exaggerated claims.  Many think him unfit for the presidency because of these traits, but forget who he is and where he came from.  Of course a man from the bourgeoisie who has made his millions not from quiet investments but from big, outsized activities will be arrogant and dismissive.  He is not a Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or Steve Jobs who built empires based on more judicious but no less innovative ideas.  He is different in the economic spheres in which he made his money.  Who ever said that Hollywood, Las Vegas, and New York real estate were for the quietly innovative, judicious, and temperate?

In other words excessive pride goes with the territory; and if, as suggested above in the discussion of Envy, he is quintessential American, then Donald Trump’s pride and arrogance are ours.

The problem of course is with those who are arrogant with no basis for it.  They are the fools that St. Paul refers to, not the wise men whose arrogance can be understood, tolerated, and even admired.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Seven Deadly Sins–A Modern Take On How To Feel Good About Sinning, Part IV (Wrath)

Lacy Thompson was a Department Director at Cybertronics, Inc., a medium-sized firm which provided technical assistance to foreign governments to help them improve the management of public service delivery.  The firm was profitable, thanks largely to Lacy’s efforts.  Her profit center was the most remunerative by far; and she managed this through discipline, order, attention to detail, and an uncanny sense for new opportunities.  She was quickly promoted up the corporate ladder, and many in the company assumed that she would soon be elevated to the post of Senior Vice President.

Lacy, however, was intensely disliked by her staff.  Beneath a calm, determined, and often smiling demeanor, was a harsh, vindictive woman.  To look at her, one would never suspect the abuse of which she was capable. Few among her minions complained to her Board Room superiors, for the Vice Presidents were only interested in the bottom line; and by all accounts Lacy was rewriting the record books in terms of proposal wins, income generated, profits realized, and low costs.

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Lacy’s anger was expressed with vicious irony calculated to intimidate and cow her employees.  Praise was not in her repertoire unless it was the carrot to her stick. Employees were so tyrannized by her that a word of praise meant everything.  They lightened up, for perhaps Lacy might not be as bad as they had thought; but soon after, she came down with a vengeance on the worker she had praised.  Although she never raised her voice or expressed her temper her savagery was frightening and relentless .  She was always calm and deliberate, but her words were calculated to weaken and destroy, to hone in on the most fragile vulnerabilities. It was a lesson in quiet brutality that no one forgot. 

Yet her record remained clean.  She was so adept at language, so able to turn a phrase, so practiced in the power of speech, so graced with a silver tongue that she never had to use profanity or even gave the slightest hint of a racial, gender, or ethnic slur.  Her remarks were eloquent but deeply hurtful.  She targeted the intellectually limited without the use of epithets or direct reference; she simply made them feel incompetent and slow because they couldn’t understand the full import of her venomous attacks, only the gist of which was more than enough. 

One of her most potent weapons was calling upon one of the slower members of her team (company policy, influenced by lawsuits, made it difficult for her to remove them) in the presence of senior company staff.  Their bumbling remarks were enough to embarrass them out of the company; but the Vice Presidents only saw Lacy’s inclusivity.

Of what, then, was she morally guilty? Was she no different from a  marine drill sergeant who understands that individual will must be destroyed in order to build a fighting unit and feigned anger is a tool? Employees who could have left the company stayed on because her financial successes were passed on to them in the way of bonuses and salary increases.  If intimidation and a damaged self-worth was the price to be paid for well-compensated employment in a premier Washington firm, then so be it.

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Most importantly, was Lacy Thompson a wrathful person?  Was she just as threatening at home with her husband and children as she was in the office?  Was she a good, compassionate Christian in her heart; and was her office behavior simply a canny manipulation of others to produce wealth, productive employment, and the opportunity to grow the company?

Wrath, like the other deadly sins was so named because it diverted one from God’s attention.  Buddhists and Hindus have both valued temperance, the middle way, and disciplined control of emotion.  Anger, intemperate sexual desire, jealousy, competition, and  insult all were incendiary.  No one could think of God, salvation, and spiritual enlightenment when so infected by such passions.  In many ways wrath could be considered the deadliest of the deadly sins.  All the others were simply moral failings which could be forgiven and remediated.  Violent anger or permanent hostility and hatred were more inherent and harder to remove.

Yet as with all the other deadly sins, they have lost currency within the modern world.  Society has become too complex.  Motives, purpose, intent are matters for the courts; and even then the truth is only relative. Simple anger comes and goes, a human foible, too quickly expressed but easily forgiven.  Wrath, a more serious sin because of its deeply-rooted nature, is harder to forgive but never completely.  If Lacy was a good, even kind person out of the office, then should her intemperance on the 7th floor be overlooked or forgiven?

Hostility, intimidation, and humiliation are part and parcel of Wall Street, K Street, and the world of international finance and foreign affairs.  Wrath – violent anger  - is felt by world leaders who have been slighted, ignored, or tricked; but they rarely express it in public.  Instead they resort to quieter threats, working the system to discover chinks or cracks in the perimeter of opponents and would-be enemies, and exploiting them.  No American wants a compassionate, tolerant, forgiving president.

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Lacy’s downfall was not her corporate wrath but her arrogance.  The two are separate sins.  She became too big for her britches, offended her colleagues and superiors, and naively assumed that because her department was so profitable, she was invulnerable.  As a result, other department heads colluded and convinced the CEO that a reorganization was called for.  A distribution of Lacy’s departmental assets to geographical regions – the Africa Department, the Asia Department, etc. – would make more sense in an increasingly geopolitical world. 

Despite Lacy’s overwhelming financial superiority, her ability to generate revenues and profits each and every year, her department was disassembled, Balkanized, and reduced to a shell. It took years for the regional departments to realize even a fraction of the profitability of Lacy’s former department, but it didn’t matter.

No one in the company ever found out whether Lacy was indeed a harridan because she moved to California within months of her resignation, retired from her profession, and lived under everyone’s radar.  Everyone at Cybertronics was convinced of course that she was exactly the succubus she was in the office, but no one really knew.