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

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Did He Or Didn’t He? Sex, Sexuality, And Fidelity In Today’s Sanctimonious Age

There was no question about infidelity in an earlier age.  Men were the breadwinners and women were dependent on them.  Things have changed since the days of patriarchy and male privilege.  Once women attained parity – social and most importantly, economic equality – men's wanderings and dereliction would never more be overlooked.  Straying men would no longer be tolerated and their aberration from the female norm of fidelity and good faith would be condemned out of hand.  No second chances, no absolution, and what’s more, no forgiveness.  How could a woke woman possibly put up with a philandering husband in this day and age?  His infidelities are not mere peccadilloes but serious breaches of trust.  

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When feminist conviction meets socio-economic reality, it is no wonder that tomcatting husbands, if not a thing of the past, are no longer considered relevant.  One and done is the rule.  Whether admitted or found out, infidelity is a cause for breach of contract, moral, legal, and ethical. 

This, of course, is the American model, not the French according to which sexual mobility is factored in to the sexual equation.  Regardless of civil or economic equality, sexual liberty is taken as a given.  In a mutually corresponding relationship, say between faculty members of the Sorbonne, directors at Credit Agricole, or entrepreneurs at competing hi-tech enterprises, sexual independence is never a question.  Men and women both will have their cinq-a-septs, the traditional hours for assignations after work, and be home for dinner.  Perhaps too little time for a completely relaxed and intimate encounter, but enough for sexual satisfaction and a renewal of friendship.  There is no question of falling off the moral falaise or even close to toppling over.  Such intimacies are taken for granted, accepted, and ignored.

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Francois Mitterrand, former President of France, had a longtime mistress also mother of his child; and all three stood at attention at his funeral ceremony along with his legitimate wife and family – in public, before the cameras, and in plain view.  Nicholas Sarkozy, another more recent regent of France invited his lover to move in with him to the Elysee presidential palace; and while his wife may have whinged and complained, the whole affair was treated with a Gallic shrug and yawn.   Of course Sarkozy like Mitterrand, Giscard d’Estaing, JFK, Johnson, MLK, and Clinton had their paramours.  No less than Henry Kissinger admitted that power was the ultimate aphrodisiac and even a short, unattractive European refugee like him could have as many women as he wanted.

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France, for all its Revolutionary credentials, ridding the country of noble autocracy and the right of kings and doing its part after England and the United States to establish democracy as the be-all and end-all of political systems, is as importantly but less known for its sexual egalitarianism.  Men, women, rich  or poor, aristocratic or from la France profonde, have the right to stray.  Political scandals as well as civil disputes in the provinces are rarely about who slept with whom, but who did what to whom.  What bribery or breach of communal contract is brought to trial?  The Salem Witch Trials, although ostensibly about demonic possession, were no less than sexual trials.  Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was not about Hester Prynne’s defiance of God but her promiscuity.  The red letter ‘A’ was emblazoned on her breast not so much as a marker of her sin against God but her defiance of Massachusetts Puritan morality.

The French and most Europeans are necessarily cynical about the course of history which has been nothing if not a trail of autocracy, hegemony, and brutal, immoral quests for power.  Kings, princes, emperors, and popes met their demise not because of any sexual deviation but because of political overreaching or weakness in the face of a more determined, equally amoral enemy. Sex had nothing to do with it.

America, of course, has a different socio-cultural trajectory.  We were born into Puritan rectitude and have never lost it.  The fate of politicians, preachers, and Wall Street investors has always had less to do with their dishonesty, shady dealings, and financial deviousness than their sexual lapses.  Taking a bribe here or there, greasing the wheels of the marketplace, currying favor, or feathering one’s nest have always been lesser crimes.  Cheating on one’s wife, frequenting prostitutes, keeping mistresses, or simply enjoying the odd affair were more damning. 

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Who, the French offer, cares about sexual improprieties?  Of course Donald Trump in his days as a mega-rich real estate magnate took liberties with women; and of course ambitious, beautiful women took advantage of his meal ticket. Of course powerful men in Hollywood made unwanted advances to young starlets.  In many if not most cases, the affair was consensual.  The beautiful young things from Iowa and Nebraska put up with the moves of ugly, rich, newly-assimilated European Jews because their careers depended on it.  What was lost? And what was gained.  The calculus of American capitalist enterprise is not so difficult to understand.

Of course fraternity parties are ragged, unholy affairs.  No woman in the Ivy League hoping for High Mass would ever set foot inside ‘Deke’, DKE, Yale’s animal house.  A world-renowned brain surgeon, responsible for saving countless lives from unnecessary death, stirred martinis with his dick at DKE in the late Sixties.  No harm intended.  No offense meant.  Just drunken, sexual hijinks which not only were expected but hoped for.  If the future Dr. Henry Caruthers had not stirred martinis with his dick, the invited would have demanded their money back.

All of which leads to the issue of marital infidelity en masse – i.e. between normal, ordinary American husbands and wives. Is there some socio-cultural or temporal firewall that prevents the spread of adultery?  Do only today’s feminized, woke women demand Puritanical obedience to the marriage contract? Probably.  There are legions of men who have ‘bought into’ the assumption of male aggression, sexual depredation, patriarchy, and retrograde ideas of masculinity; who have taken women’s side in a revisionist view of biological and social sexual history; and who have capitulated their essential (viz. D.H. Lawrence) maleness to a feminist ideal.  For them adultery is now a capital offense, a hanging offense.  Sexual libertinage is tantamount to animalistic primitivism.

Having a string of sexual partners whether during, before, or after marriage is inherently wrong, debased, and intolerable.  Fidelity – celibacy even – is the highest and most telling standard of moral probity.

In today’s MeToo accusatory age, anything goes.  Any 'unwanted attention’ is considered abuse, and infringement of a woman’s civil and apparently sacred right to self-determination. Who says so?  Not the French or Italians who have always whistled at a beautiful woman and gotten a smile in return.

Of course when ‘unwanted attention’ turns to physical coercion, the calculus changes; but in today’s censorious age, where is the line drawn?  Lord knows, millions of teenage boys groped, fondled, and caressed their hoped-for lovers in the back seats of their fathers’ Fords without incident.  The girls knew what they wanted, why they were there, and how to stop ‘invasion’.  It was the way of the world played out at drive-ins.  The heroines of Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Strindberg knew exactly what was what.  They understood their innate power and the weaker ascribed power of their husbands and lovers.  There was no distorted calculus.

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A well-known Washington lawyer had been married for thirty years.  She was born into an older, pre-feminist generation of the 40s and 50s but matured in the feminizing years of the 70s.  She loved her husband, was attracted by his sense of humor and especially his bad boy attitude, but found herself unsure of her decision once she found that he had been having affairs – not just one or two, but a series of long and short encounters that had persisted since the day they were married.  His infidelities did not seem to interfere with his attention to her or to their two children.  He seemed just as attentive and loving as ever; but the fact that she knew of his ‘delinquencies’ – his straying from bed, contract, and commitment – was perplexing.  What was the problem, she thought, if he has affairs without consequence; affairs which, if the shoe were on the other foot, she could have? Was the issue sexual congress? Breach of contract? Or something more questionable?

Her husband had none of these qualms.  Like most men he was able to compartmentalize his sexual interests.  Diane, Lisa, Grace, and all the others meant little to him other than affirmations of maleness, sexual diversity, adventure, and pleasure.  His marriage was secure, permanent, and inviolable.  What was her problem?

Her problem, of course, was the problem.  Men and women simply do not look at sex and sexual intimacy in the same way. To her his adultery was sinful and dishonest.  To him it was natural, expected, and in no way unusual.  He ascribed to the French model; she to the American, Puritan one.  And never the twain shall meet.

Might there be a compromise? A leavening of the American sexual imperatives? A more realistic approach to male-female relationships, one derived from age-old, millennia-old, behavioral patterns, and immortalized in Hedda Gabler, The Father, Miss Julie, and Shakespeare’s Comedies? A less sanctimonious assumption that a sexual spectrum is absolute and not derivative?

Doubtful.  Sexual assumptions – cultural and social and therefore temporal, temporary, and insignificant – seem hard to refute or ignore in an age of ‘relevance’.  The social justice juggernaut pushes on with only light resistance; but this too, will meet an incoming tide.  Eventually we will return to fundamental, inescapable, and absolute bi-polar sexual dynamics.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The End Of The World Is Nigh! Apocalyptic Visions Of The Horrors Of American Conservatism

The Book of Revelations speaks about the end of the world. 

“I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.

“And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’” (Revelation 6:12-17).

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Revelations 6-10 makes it clear that once the end of days begins, there is no hope, and all will be lost in unimaginable misery.

And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men.
And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.
And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle.
And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.

The New Testament God is just as vindictive, cruel, and unforgiving as that of the Old.  The only difference is that the Christian Bible holds out some hope.  There is always time to repent, to find Jesus, and beg for his divine mercy.  Yet over forty percent of Christians believe that while personal salvation may still be possible, delaying the inevitable and soon-to-come apocalypse is not.  No less of a Christian icon than Billy Graham said, ““We see the storm clouds gathering and events taking place that herald the second coming of Jesus Christ.”

Those who believe in doomsday cite twelve signs, all derived from the four books of the New Testament, of which the following are the most important:

* The emergence of false prophets

* Rumors of and preparations for cataclysmic war

* Calamities – floods, earthquakes, pestilence, and violent storms

* Persecution of Christians

* Love, Compassion, and Tolerance will disappear in an age of iniquity

Once the twelve signs have been realized, the way is paved for the coming of the Antichrist, and after the final battle of Armageddon, Jesus Christ himself will return to earth.

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To many it sure seems like Biblical prophecy is coming true.  For Christians the rise of radical Islam alone is enough to satisfy three of the five signs; and even the most casual observer sees that natural calamities are on the rise.  Devastating fires in the West, increasingly powerful and destructive hurricanes in the East; AIDS and outbreaks of even more dangerous emerging viruses like Ebola; consumerism, bare-knuckled capitalism and the concentration of wealth and economic power all conform to prophesy. 

Muslims subscribe to the same end-of-time beliefs. The  hadith contain several events, happening before the Day of Judgment, which are describe as several minor signs and twelve major signs. During this period, terrible corruption and chaos would rule the earth, caused by the Antichrist in Islam), then a messianic figure will appear, defeating the Dajjal and establish a period of peace, liberating Islam from cruelty. These events will be followed by a time of serenity when people live according to religious values.

However sixty percent of American Christians reject any notion of imminent doom.  Jews have never considered New Testament prophecy valid but have their own eschatology, far more benign than the Christian.  Until the late modern era, the standard Jewish belief was that after one dies, one's immortal soul joins God in the world to come while one's body decomposes. At the end of days, God will recompose one's body, place within it one's immortal soul, and that person will stand before God in judgement. The idea of a messianic age has a prominent place in Jewish thought, and is incorporated as part of the end of days. Jewish philosophers from medieval times to the present day have emphasized the soul's immortality and deemphasized the resurrection of the dead.

Hindus and Buddhists see the universe as eternally becoming, light and dark, creation and destruction; so the idea of one, eliminating purge makes no sense. 

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It is not surprising that a country like the United States, one of profound religious roots, an expansive Christian fundamentalism, a history of Utopianism, and a deep-seated belief in progress and perfectibility, would believe that the end of days is upon us.  Although expressed in secular terms, there is no mistaking the apocalyptic tone of environmental destruction, a dangerously distorted economic system, military adventurism, social intolerance, and lake of compassion – vices and evils persistent and growing in the United States and inflicted on the world.

Progressives feel an obligation to do God’s work and to reform the world to his liking.  Although the Bible only talks of resurrection, rapture, and salvation – that is, it does not suggest that history or divine prophecy can be altered, political advocates insist that despite the appearance of apocalyptic times, the doomsday clock can be slowed; and if enough energy, commitment, and passion can be invested in the existential struggle, it can be stopped.

For progressives Donald Trump is the Antichrist, an incarnation of the final evil that will be visited on the world.  He, they say, not only acts irresponsibly but actually espouses the very evils cited in apocalyptic literature.  He is singlehandedly provoking the world to war, dismissing the fiery end to the earth’s resources, contributing to the rise of hatred among people and nations, and, thanks to his indifference, contributing to the rise of natural calamities.  He is a man with no moral principles, no social conscience, no compassion or understanding.  If not the Antichrist himself, then he is the closest thing to it – a Satanic creature who defies both reason and faith in his desire to create a kingdom of evil.

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While the most religiously fundamental conservatives see progressivism as the work of the Devil, thoughtful political philosophers of the Right are less demanding and less hysterical.  They know that the progressive agenda is built on fragile, temporal assumptions.  They dismiss liberal claims that their views on gender are the final, ultimate, and permanent ones.  Sexual polarity is only a historical and cultural construct which has had its day.  Sexual fungibility is the enlightened conclusion of a long history of sexual evolution.   Biological and genetic determinism, Biblical injunction, and the history of art, literature, and ideas make bi-polar or bi-modal sexuality the only conclusion. Religious faith may indeed be eroded by agendas which favor rights over morality, intend to recalibrate sexuality and put it on a fluid spectrum,  and to neuter individual enterprise and freedom in favor of government patriarchy; but these are not existential events. While man might have something to do with the warming of the planet, it is inconsequential compared to his adaptability, resourcefulness, and intelligence.  In fact, constant, perpetual, change and adaptability to it have always been the rule.  All these progressive existential concerns are unfortunate but predictable secular outcomes of secular influences.  One may certainly be judged by God, but his judgement will have little to do with the glass ceiling or deforestation.   It will be a matter of morality, faith, duty, and grace. 

It is quite natural for those who devoutly believe in social progress to take an apocalyptic view of the future and to mix secular and religious metaphors.  To those most passionate advocates of social and environmental justice, it must certainly seem like Donald Trump is the antichrist – and just when America with Barack Obama was on the verge of social, environmental, and global justice.  The visceral feeling of justice and right can be at its most passionate a religious one.  There must be an absolute goal to human progress towards a more just world, otherwise it would be just one more current of history.  In other words, social progress is in and of itself and absolute good.  The utopian ends are the inevitable result of such goodness.  The means are even more important than the ends.

The reason why the country is so politically divided, so angry, violent, and intolerant is because the battle is not secular but profoundly religious.  There is an absolute good to all reformist claims.  Although advocates might not express environmental protectionism in these terms, the Earth is divine.  It cannot simply go up in smoke like a dying star. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Liberal And A Conservative Walk Into A Bar….

A liberal and a conservative walked into a bar; but the liberal realized he had made a mistake and left.  There were far more important issues to attend to than to waste an hour and twenty dollars on barfly conversation.  The liberal in this case, Peter Bower,  had always been tempted by The Four Aces, a neighborhood bar which had been around for decades.  He had gone there with his father many years before, sat in the corner while the old man played pool and drank beer.  The Four Aces was an old-fashioned bar with regulars, dollars and change, Luckies and Camels on the counter, cheap beer, cheap talk and dollar nine ball.

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While the Four Aces may have seemed like a hundred other Washington bars, it was not. While the conversations at the Four Aces began with sports and ended in politics, they were never angry.  There was no sign of the  infamous American divisiveness.  Why, in such a politically-charged city, in a hyper-inflated political environment could this be so?  Because the Four Aces had been self-sorted – over the years the entire bank of televisions on four walls and talk at the bar had become consistent in tone, content, and coverage.  Baseball, bass fishing, work, and conservatism.  
The bar in Peter’s father’s day and even today was the watering hole of Maryland plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and mechanics – an inexpensive, informal, and unassuming bit of turf in an otherwise upscale, trendy, and progressive area.  These men, on their way down to DC from Rockville and Gaithersburg had a convenient, welcoming rest stop between work and home.  For years the Four Aces never changed nor had its clientele; but increasingly men from the neighborhood started to stop in for a beer – first on their way home after a long trip on the Metro, then in the evenings after dinner, and finally for football games on Saturday and Sunday.  The Four Aces was not really their kind of place; but the well-heeled oyster-and-brunch places were too much like work; and the Four Aces was real – a bit of rural Maryland, hammers, pipes, saws, and chewing tobacco – that they would never see in their ordinary rounds of familiar, like-minded places, ever find.  Surprisingly they found the atmosphere congenial and the politics welcoming.  They stayed.

Not surprisingly, the Four Aces was, in the opinion of the neighborhood’s majority progressive residents, retrograde.  Stepping up to the bar was like stepping back in time.  Cigarette smoking had been grandfathered and  only recently discontinued.  Cheap beer was drunk by the barrel, and the talk was all about pussy and working for a living.  It was as though the liberal race-gender-ethnicity juggernaut had passed many miles to the south.  For all intents and purposes, the Four Aces belonged in rural Texas a generation ago rather than here.

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The neighborhood liberals who had never set foot in the Four Aces – or like Peter, set foot and then quickly left – would never have understood the place.  The Four Aces wasn’t some Southern backwater with good ol’ boys bellying up to the bar spewing racist invective, but an early 21st century counterculture venue just as revolutionary as Woodstock. 

The classic liberal movements of the Sixties both in the United States and Europe were partnerships between educated students and the working class, a solidarity of progressive interests which set aside class and cultural differences for the sake of idealism and political purpose.  The Four Aces was no different.  Its patrons were both those well-educated professionals who had come to conservatism logically and deliberately; and the Marylanders whose families always had and never lost their fundamental American beliefs.  They didn’t have to adjudicate political differences or debate political and social philosophy.  Their foundational democratic beliefs, their fundamentalist Protestant and Catholic tenets, and their difficult socio-economic struggle to join the mainstream made them ‘instinctive’ conservatives. 

The two streams of American conservatism – one which had always been defined by human nature, and one which was derived from intellectual analysis – met the Four Aces. 

The bar was no home to rational discourse, no exchange of ideas on sexuality, maternity, women’s destiny, or reproduction.  The patrons of the Four Aces might have used ‘inappropriate’ language, but their issues and the concerns were no different than those discussed in downtown wine bars.  The difference, if any, was one of conclusion.  The wine bar conservatives listened to progressive theology with objectivity  – there might be such a thing as a gender spectrum, biology never determines destiny, civil rights always trump morality, government always holds the keys to social and economic promise, climate change is settled science, etc. – but then dismissed it because it could not stand up to historical evidence to the contrary. 

The habitués of the Four Aces were originalists – theirs were convictions of received wisdom, lived history, and common sense.  Their beliefs were derived from religious history and American tradition and human nature.  Whether on matters of sex and sexuality, nationalism, economic enterprise, or the role of government, their conclusions were fundamental, not ascribed or interpreted, but no less right. 

Once the K Street conservatives got over the beards, the mullets, the tattoos, and the gun racks, they knew that they were among their own.  There was no difference between those who came to conclusions rationally – a study of Biblical exegesis, genetics, Early Church writings, and European and American history and those who had lived reproduction, faith, territorialism, and self-interest.

Tolstoy wrote in A Confession that he had spent his entire life trying to sort out meaning and faith; but studies of history, philosophy, science, mathematics, and religion offered no answers.  He backed into faith.  If millions of people believed in God and his divinity; and if billions more before him had had a similar faith, then there must be something to it.  These primitive originalists who came to their conclusions by ‘logical intuition’ had more sense than he ever had.

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Human life – and the human nature which lies at its center – is not complicated.  We are aggressive, territorial, self-protective and self-interested.  We know without thinking that we are alone, and that life is perpetual but without purpose.  It did not take Thomas Hobbes for us to understand that at best life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” and that faith can offer solace if not salvation.  It did not take Adam Smith to explicate capitalist enterprise since human societies have competed, traded, negotiated, and developed according to predictable patterns.

The only difference between the habitués of the Four Aces and the downtown crowd who joined them was that the lawyers came to conclusions while the Marylanders never had to.

The lawyers had to admit a guilty pleasure in talking about poontang, gay boys, and guns; but were quick to point out that the asides were never the angry, bullheaded, and spiteful hate that their progressive colleagues had assumed. Theirs was not a primitive, backward maleness, but an originalist one; and a welcome change from assumptions which denied maleness and femaleness.  Theirs was not an NRA-inflamed belief in the right of gun ownership; but an originalist one – human beings had protected themselves with violence since the first human settlements.  Theirs was not an easily packaged, easily dismissed box of simplistic conservative opinions.  Those came from the derivative progressives downtown whose political cabal was far tighter and more impermeable than the Four Aces would ever be.

The Northwest Woodstock never grew into a revolution.  The Four Aces conservatives were just as committed as anyone, but had a familiar fatalism – a belief in the permanence of human nature and the consequent predictability of history.  Activism is vain, irrelevant, and disappointing.  Moreover, the men at the Four Aces worked for a living.  They had no time for speculation.  Received originalist wisdom has a distinct advantage – conviction without righteousness.  Conclusions need not be acted upon.  Men in their families had worked for a living long before they came over on the boat, and their sons and daughters would do the same.  They would marry, have children, hope to improve their lot but nevertheless accept it, join the American mainstream or not, and never flinch. 

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.