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

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Life As A Cliché–Why Allusion And Aphorism Suit Us Far Better Than Accuracy And Precision

“Beauty is as beauty does’, said Flannery’s mother, one of a string of clichés she used every day. ‘An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’, ‘Actions speak louder than words’, and ‘All that glitters is not gold’ were just a few and all perplexing to the young girl, looking up to her mother for love, support, and advice but getting only illegible aphorisms. 

“What does that mean, Mommy”, Flannery would ask.

“Why, it’s obvious”, replied her mother. “It means just what it says.”

Mrs. Booker had used clichés all her life as her mother had, so many in fact that her language had become a strange American Creole.  “The pot calling the kettle black”, she told her husband when he had made a comment about her driving, a comment that had nothing to do with his driving, but a reference to some other minor flaw.  Within this family lexicon, it was up to him to decipher her meaning and intent. 

It was not as though Mabel Booker could not think more precisely or clearly.  It was just that she preferred ellipses rather than rectangles.  Precision left no room for reflection.    It was better to let her husband wonder a bit what he had done wrong than to confront him with it.  Lord knows he had a lot to answer for, so let him chew on it for a while.

Mabel carried her clichés with her wherever she went – to the country club, afternoon tea, or the Women’s Auxiliary.  There was always room for an allusive comment.  No matter what the gossip, Mabel was ready to comment.  When the ladies suggested that Pastor James had interests in a certain young lady in the West End, Mable said, “He’s already got one paw on the chicken coop”.  The image of a cunning fox about to sneak in to Lily Thomas’ bedroom was more apt than any more direct and presumptuous allegation.  To comments about Harry Abel’s unseemly doings and unsure health she said, “Before the Devil knows you’re dead”, a favorite of her Irish uncle who, the drunker he got, the more he recited, “Ah, Mick”, he said, raising a glass to his dear departed friend, “May your glass be ever full, may the roof over your head be always strong, and may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead.”

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The ladies looked up from their tea sandwiches, smiled, had no real idea what Mabel had meant, but as was Mabel’s intention, they began to wonder. She knew that Harry Abel had many more skeletons in his closet than most, and he would be lucky if he escaped the law let alone God’s divine justice; but rather than add to the already murky mix, she let things and Harry Abel lie.  Let them think what they may, she thought, smiling back at Laura Dugan in her lovely flowery sundress, and taking a bite of a delicious cucumber and chutney canapes the hostess had prepared.

Mabel was particularly fond of Biblical clichés which added import to her observations.   ‘A soft answer turns away wrath’, ‘A prudent man conceals knowledge’, ‘Your enemy shall distress you at all your gates’ were some which seemed to have particular salience in these troubled times.

Jesus himself spoke in parables when he could have just come right out and said what he had to say plainly and clearly.  He wanted to make people stretch their belief and force them, by solving his parabolic puzzles, to realize the profound meaning behind them. Anything important, Jesus implied, was not black and white.

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So Mabel, encouraged by Jesus and the Bible, but as an indirect and imprecise person from birth found clichés to be her go-to manner of speaking.  She knew that many found her endless, Hallmark card, predictable, and treacly aphorisms unbearable, a sign of an unfinished education, flaccid thinking, and hopeless idealism.  At the end of the day, what were they worth? When toted, they didn’t amount to a hill of beans.  A collection of worthless, childish sayings that, Biblical reference or not, adding nothing to discourse.

Yet had the ladies at tea stopped to consider themselves and their equally imprecise, subjective, and speculative comments, they might have been more forgiving of Mabel’s childish verse.  What was the difference, after all, from drawing conclusions from Pastor James repeated visits to Harriet Goodman’s house while her husband was at work?  He could certainly be spending long afternoons in bed with her; but he could just as easily have been ministering to a woman at the end of her rope.  Why indeed did the ladies make more of Harry Abel’s supposed delinquencies when he could well have been in a legitimate although marginal business?

The ladies, like most people, found it much easier to come to facile conclusions than more cogently argued ones; and if truth be known, it was more fun to speculate than to know.  Innuendo was no different than allusion.  Both suggested but never claimed.  Mabel was only more obvious.   She contributed as much to the gossip by her well-timed clichés as the ladies did by their catty innuendos.  Both were in the same boat.

And, when one considered most clichés, they were not stupid or irrelevant.  An apple does indeed not fall far from the tree.  Children are like their parents and no sooner can avoid their influence than an apple can fall upward.  The bigger they are, the harder they fall has been true forever.  Ambitious, arrogant men will always become overconfident, incautious, and reckless; and will inevitably be removed.  Blood is indeed thicker than water, shown time and time again, the stuff of O’Neill, Faulkner, and the Old Testament.

A film critic recently wrote that he saw no difference between Turkish soap operas and so-called ‘great’ literature.

If it is at all true that great drama should be judged in part by its evocative, emotive power; then why should popular dramas not be classed in the same category as Williams, O’Neill, and Miller and judged as such?  Turkish soap operas – most notably Winter Sun, The End, Black Money Love, and Love is in the Air – are perceptive in their understanding of human nature; the inevitable crises, ambitions, frustrations, enmities, and selfishness of families; jealousy, sexual competition, and conflicts between family and individual loyalties; the nature and satisfying pursuit of revenge; and the disruptive, painful experiences of disease, disadvantage, and death.

Turkish dramas are as focused on human nature, foibles, desires, and disappointments as the plays of Tennessee Williams.  The characters are memorable, and while they are often formulaic they are never dry, sterile, or academic.  What more is there to learn about human nature than we already know? We turn to both drama and soap operas to see it played out in a thousand entertaining forms.  What makes them so popular? They are good, true to life, relevant, and compelling.

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Anything that has broad appeal is automatically suspect in the eyes of traditional reviewers.  If tens of millions of viewers could be watching and enjoying Turkish soap operas, how could they possibly be?  How could anything mass produced, predictable, and simple be considered anything but popular entertainment? Even Graham Greene, author of some of the most morally complex yet compelling dramas of recent decades felt obliged to divide his work into ‘Entertainments’ and serious works.

Without a doubt Turkish soap operas are theatrical clichés.  Everyone expects infidelity, deceit, jealousy, unwanted pregnancy, fatal disease, crime, and power; and viewers are never disappointed.  Like verbal clichés, those on the Turkish ‘dizis’ are familiar, predictable, and obvious.  While they may not have the more profound insights of more respected playwrights, they accomplish the same purpose.  They illuminate human nature, encourage viewers to reflect on it, and even move them off the couch.

Is not the purpose of art to enlighten? To educate? To move?  A case can be made that the best Turkish television serials do all three.  Winter Sun is enlightening because of its personal insights into the most common human sentiments – jealousy, envy, revenge, and ambition.  The subject may not be new, but the way the series’ producers and staff have configured it to display a range of moral, emotional, social, and family reactions to provocative events is compelling and fascinating. 

Clichés are really social code.  They need no explanation but are open to interpretation.  Which apple? Whose blood? Whose chicken coop?  In an increasingly complex world, they are needed shorthand; a way of commenting on familiar, endlessly repetitious human actions without exegesis.  Human nature has not changed in a hundred thousand years and is unlikely to; so why not rely on a proven lexicon to allude to what is already known but unendingly surprising?  The cliché not only has its place, but is part and parcel of human observation. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

D.H. Lawrence’s Sexual Epiphany Played Out Today– Predictable, Boring Episodes Of A Daytime TV Series

D.H. Lawrence had a very particular if not unique way at looking at sex.  Far from prescribed procreative union of man and wife, nor the expression of love and belonging, nor passionate adulterous, hopeful affairs, nor the refuge from an unconcerned, dispassionate world; sexual union had epiphanic possibilities.  If a man and a woman could come to sexual consummation in a state of perfect sexual balance – male and female impulses and desires for submission or domination, love or hate in perfect equilibrium after a struggle of wills – it would not only be personally satisfying fulfilling, but would represent existential hope.  Both the corrosive and demeaning effects of modern industrialization and the equally disabling influences of sexual primitivism would be dismissed or superseded.  The centrality of sexual expression was not only the core of male-female relationships but a model for post-antagonistic, equal and balanced human relations.

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Of course no one who reads Lawrence can take him entirely at his word. At worst he is prolix, repetitive, and boringly insistent.  ‘Enough already’, cry even the most sympathetic critics.

Yet Lawrence was on to something. No matter how much one can see a more balanced, tolerant, and permissive approach to sex and sexuality, the war between the sexes continues unabated with nary a sign of Lawrence’s hoped-for epiphany. No matter where one figures on the sexual spectrum, the struggle is one of wills rather than gender.  Lawrence, despite his insistent focus on the essentiality of heterosexual relationships – no different from the Tao, the concept of ying and yang, Tantrism and Shaktism – was tolerant of alternative versions of sexuality.  Ursula and Ingrid in The Rainbow had a lesbian relationship; and the friendship between Gerald and Birkin in Women in Love while never explicitly sexual, was far more than simple male friendship.

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His point was that gender specificity – or lack thereof – made no difference to the essential nature, common to all, of sexual dynamics.  Sex will always determine winners and loser in struggles  of will, regardless of roles.  Gay men will fight their way to sexual equilibrium with just as much investment and just as much pain as their straight colleagues.

Lawrence is intriguing and compelling because of his insistent focus on the expression of sexual will – not as a boring replay of marital discord, but as essential and necessary for emotional, psychological, and spiritual evolution.  Paul Morel, the main character in Sons and Lovers battles his dependency on his mother, hatred for his father, and sexual ambivalence with women because he is sexually naïve, and immature.  He thinks only in traditional terms.  He wants a saint-whore as a partner, the perfect amalgamation of artistic sensitivity, rectitude, and sexual desire.  He cannot appreciate sexual nuance nor the inevitable struggle of sexual will.  He is dismissed by both Miriam who grows impatient with his dithering and Clara, profoundly sexual, who sees him as far less of a man than her abusive husband.

Tom Brangwen is as befuddled by women, sexual enterprise, and the meaning of coupling.  He has no clue about women, wants them to love him and support him, but hates them because of their power.  Will Brangwen is equally perplexed and finds meaning in his relationship with Anna only in the bedroom.  He sense the need for something more, but shares Paul Morel’s and Tom Brangwen’s immaturity and naivete.  Skrebensky cannot abide Ursula’s demanding independence and sexual will, finds his traditional patrician sense of dominance disturbed and waning when he is with her, and ends up more disappointed and alone than ever.

Edward Albee understood sexual dynamics as well if not better than Lawrence.  His Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is the seminal piece on sexual battle, resolution, and epiphany.  At the end of three acts of brutality, meanness, and cruelty George and Martha find themselves flayed not to the bone but to the marrow.  All illusions, all ideals, all preconceptions about dominance and submission, union and independence have been stripped.  They are Lear’s bare, forked animals.  They can only promise each other a better, more informed, more resolute future; but few playgoers agree.  They have done all the right things – as Lawrence’s characters do – but still have not faced who they are and what they must become.

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Ibsen, Strindberg, and O’Neill, let alone Shakespeare, understood the fundamental, innate nature of sexual will.  Nothing other than the struggle for sexual supremacy was relevant or meaningful.  Hedda Gabler is a pure Nietzschean figure, but she learned nothing, advanced not at all, and was happy only in her exercise of will.  The women of The Master Builder and Rosmersholm were equally determined and defiant.  Laura (The Father) was a manipulative, dominant, amoral character who knew how to humiliate and destroy her husband to attain her own ends.

There seems today to be nothing of the sort.  There are no existential battles of male and female sexual wills, but victory by attrition.  A pound of flesh here, a minor adultery there, a string of allegations, suspicions, and denials; but nothing epiphanic.  The only result of a bad marriage today is divorce, a period of adjustment, and a re-engagement in rounds of sexual mating.

There is nothing tested, nothing lost, nothing gained, nothing even ventured.  Lawrence wrote:
So with man and woman.  They must stand clear again. Or rather, they must fight their way out of their self-consciousness; there is nothing else.  Or rather each must fight the other out of self-consciousness.  Instead of this leprous forbearance which we are taught to practice in our intimate relationships, there should be the most intense, open antagonism.
We are far from and afraid of such contention for fear of what it will uncover – weakness, timidity, submission or worse.  We would rather accommodate, compromise, and settle rather than confront.  Confrontation is antagonistic, against the rules of progressive evolution.  Nothing can be gained, many claim, from sexual conflict.  All is to be decided within a civil, progressive context – one where women ultimately have the final say, where gender rights are finally established, and where peaceful resolution rules.

Worst of all, men have ceded their rightful equal place in the ring  They, according to Lawrence, have become too feminine, too complaisant, too willing to abandon maleness.  Women for their part have filled the sexual void, but their ambition, their insistence on a new, dominant sexual role must come with a price.  No advances either by men or women in the sexual arena should go unchallenged.  Only through challenge, conflict, and resolution can sexual parity ever be achieved.

So one must put up with bickering, bitching, and whining about up-down toilet seats, hair in the sink, and too many days ‘working late at the office’; too much slavish responsibility to children, hearth, home, kitchen refinishing, and  budgets; too much boring,  repetitive sex; and nothing at the end of the day but dry aspirations. 

It would be far better to have the all-out, winner-take-all battles of George and Martha, Anna and Will, Tom and Lydia, and Ursula and Skrebensky than the stale, unpleasant arguments of ‘modern’ Americans. 

Better to have at it, no holds barred.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Sex, Desire, And A Refusal To Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Billy  Baxter had thought his love life was over.  After all, he was a man who, despite all his efforts to the contrary, was beginning to sag and line in all the wrong places.  There was no escaping the fact that he was far beyond usefulness; and unless one calculated his reproductive potential – his sperm count was high enough to populate a small country – he was well beyond his sexual prime.

Yet what was he do do with the relentless sexual fantasies which popped up at the most unsuspected hours and at all hours.   Why hadn’t he been born a pasha, or at least a courtier in the Ottoman Empire? Why was the pony-tailed, sweat-lacquered young trainer off limits?  Or the 40-something mommies eating ice cream cones? Surely there were women who would look up from their pizza pies and see an attractive, seductive man despite his faded and spare looks.  If he could see the virile, potent, and irresistible man within, why would it be so difficult for them to catch a glimpse through age’s shutters?

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It is God’s ultimate irony to have created men with indefatigable sexual desire but to have limited their field-worthiness to a few paltry decades; and the older one gets and the closer one approaches the finish line, the worse the penance. An older man has years of regret behind him (opportunities missed, clumsy advances, too many should-haves and too few consummations ).  A young man has only promise, possibility, and hope.  He regrets nothing, despairs of nothing, and pines for nothing.

Billy had no intention of throwing in the towel although his handlers said it was time.  What was the point, they asked? Weren’t the last decades of a man’s life a bonus, a small win in God’s lottery,  a chance to figure out what’s what without the distraction of women and sex?

There were options which short-circuited the normal course of sexual decline.  A man could always order a mail order bride.  Yet the offerings were limited. The most savvy had cornered the market for the most desirable women – blonde, blue-eyed Russian and Ukrainian beauties - shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.  The trade in beautiful, complaisant, dutiful Southeast Asian women had also dried up, leaving nothing but Biafran and Bambara women who would give anything and marry any white man for a song.

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Billy was not tempted by the trade.  It would be a come-down at best, and a public display of his failing sexual allure and his increased economic fortunes.  Better to be alone with with a whisky and a one-shilling fire than shout defeat.  At least alone, fit, trim, with only scarce signs of age, clearly had not been consigned to the Macy’s bargain basement of sexual seconds.

Serendipity – the most underrated of life’s surprises.  Who could have foretold Laura Barnes, Assistant to the Director of Human Enterprise, 30ish, single, looking, often disappointed, sexually mature, and ready?  Billy worked in the same wing of the Avex Building, far from Human Enterprise and more in commercial development, so their paths should not have crossed.  Had it not been for an unexpected absence, a necessary slot to fill, and few employees uncompromised, the paths of Billy and Laura would have gone on for months without notice. All it took was one meeting, one final after-hours en charrette push to finalize the proposal, celebratory martinis at the Mayflower, and a kiss goodnight to set the clock to a new time. 

The affair lasted almost two years, a closeted, hermetic Saturday- and sex-only adventure in Laura’s tight, ill-lit Adams Morgan walk-up; but it was ‘transformational’, the term Laura had learned at the company’s gender workshop to describe sexual epiphany.  The workshop facilitators had meant the term to mean the transformation of the individual from gender-locked to sexual chrysalis; but Billy understood it quite differently. His old, sagging, lined, and flagging body had been rejuvenated.  He had been transformed from an alte kocker to virile performer in the bat of an eye. 

More importantly, the passion and desire of the affair aside, it meant that his pull-by date had been extended.  If lowly Laura from Human Enterprise would have him, who else even more attractive, younger, and less needy might welcome his advances.

Yet the curtain on the hoped-for second act never rose.  After Laura he languished in the later years of a dry, forty-year marriage, troubled once again by dreams of Ottoman delights, young women crossing his path, and now persistent, insistent sexual memories of Laura.  Had it been worth it, he wondered?  Was the sexual salvation he experienced really any such thing?  Had he not set himself up for an obvious and inescapable letdown?

Of course it had all been worth it.  What was life if not serendipity? He had been given an early Christmas gift, nothing to sniff at, as important as any other expected reward.  To dismiss it lightly would have been niggardly, self-important, and ignorant.

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Billy knew that hitting the jackpot twice was unlikely.  The likelihood of another Laura was unthinkable; and better to  forget the possibility and return to predictability before it was too late. 
Yet since God created this Universal Irony – the fate of men to desire women long after the possibility of conquest and consummation – Billy could not like down and curl up like a lapdog before the fire.  He was not done for by any means.  A woman as desirous as he, as interested in extending life by any means possible, and as optimistic about sexual/emotional congress regardless of age, was out there waiting.

D.H. Lawrence, the master of sexual expression believed that the sexual union of man and woman was existential.  Far more than sexually satisfying or procreative, the act was liberating and affirming.  Nietzsche pronounced that the only validation of life  in a meaningless universe was in the expression of pure will.  Lawrence concurred but added a proviso – the resolution of the battle of individual sexual wills. 

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Lawrence died very young at 44, so never had to experience the consequences of his convictions.  What was to  become of a man who fails to realize such an epiphany in youth? Is he animated by the conviction that such complete sexual, existential union is still possible? Or must he be tormented until his dying day in realization that his time has long since passed?

Billy Baxter, for better or worse, never gave in.  He had come close to Lawrence but knew that his affair was little more than simple satisfaction.  Laura saw the affair differently – a gateway to the marriage, family, and children that had heretofore escaped her.  A traditional, predictable, sympathetic, never-to-be-realized hope.  Neither she nor Billy came away rewarded.  She got no husband and he no epiphany.  Neither, however, left empty-handed.  He in a renewal of sexual anticipation and a validation of maleness.  She in a passing but no less important tapping of her sexual and emotional reserves.

Graham Greene’s The Quiet American is the story of an aging foreign correspondent who falls in love with a Vietnamese girl and who assents to complicity in his rival’s death because of her.  Fowler like Billy Baxter sees Phuong as a last, desperate desire for sexual love and companionship.  She has been bought, negotiated a promising trade, and dependent on Fowler, his prospects, and his life.  Love is not an issue nor the question.  He does not love her so much as depend on her.  He can not return to his wife in England, and knows that marriage to a beautiful, opportunistic woman in wartime Vietnam is tentative and precarious. Yet he knows that he has what few of his older colleagues have – the (temporarily) free, pure, unlimited sex with a younger woman.

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Fowler abandons his wife, betrays his friend, sexual competitor, and colleague Pyle. One cannot blame him. He abandoned his principles, and his God because of his awful desperateness.  A life alone was simply unthinkable, and his betrayal of Pyle, despite the moral cover Greene gives him - ridding his beloved, suffering Vietnam of an enemy - was an act of jealous revenge, nothing more.  Fowler was more of a man than Billy could ever be - complicity in murder, yes, but a willful, natural act of self-preservation and conquest that Billy could only imagine.

Billy was never as desperate nor never so much infatuated nor in love with a woman as Fowler.  He was predictable, dishonest, and insecure; but never determined and not the slightest bit willful or heroic.   He took his serendipity for what it was worth, a cheap toy under the Christmas tree, threw it away when he was done with it, and like a child, hoped for something better next year.

Yet because Billy is like all men, like the rest of us, he deserves some attention.  His was never a life on the chaise lounge, defeatist, and happy enough with a sedate old age to last him till the end.  He was an ordinary man with ordinary wishes but who refused to go quietly.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light (Dylan Thomas)


Friday, October 12, 2018

Throwing The Unnecessary, Irrelevant, And Distracting Overboard - Clearing The Decks For Running

Carson Blythe had always been a social man, a man of dinner parties, formal teas, and poker at the 19th hole.  He liked company and the more the merrier.  He celebrated every birthday with more elaborate events on the fives.   It was not that he liked being the center of attention, although that was a pleasant by-product.  He simply liked being surrounded by friendly people, a social coterie whose members like him simply loved association with others.  There was no point to these gatherings – no agendas or purpose.  Religion and politics were off the table, contentious issues which would fray the carefully woven fabric of the events.  Carson did not explicitly orchestrate these gatherings nor conduct them away from serious issues.  Such a baton was never needed because there was a common understanding that affinity was the only organizational principle and good fun was the only rule of order.

Carson’s hospitality was well-known in the West End of New Brighton.  An invitation to the Blythes was a guarantee of good food, superb cadre, and marvelously lively and witty conversation.  Carson and his wife went out of their way to make each event special. In warm weather they arranged tables on the lawn, shaded by the oaks and maples which had been on the property and in their family for generations.  The tables were set with damask tablecloths, silver, and crystal – settings which would have been elegant inside in their formal dining room but even more impressive outside, set off by the rich, green, manicured grass, the intricate tracery of the early Spring leaves, the rose garden, the picket fence, the trellis of bougainvillea, and the antique buckets of impatiens.

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Dinners were never less than three courses which he selected with a symphonic ear.  Each course was a movement which both stood on its own, anticipated the next, and formed part of a well-balanced whole.  His guests appreciated each course for its uniqueness, color, architecture, and presentation; and most importantly discussed them.  They were stimulators of common interest.  Each course added a new dimension of discussion which began with food but always continued well past it – lunches on the porch of the Whittens on Gay Head, the time the cat ruined the soufflé at the Middletons,  Scarlett Johansson and the Macron family at Bofinger, the strawberry endowment at Yale.  No points were made or conclusions drawn at these dinners which were indeed never meant to be anything more than congenial gatherings to appreciate food, table, and each other.

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Carson’s outings were no different in intent, style, and bonhomie from dinners at home.  He selected restaurants, bars, and cafes with the same attentiveness  and attention to orchestration and symphony.  A badly-chosen restaurant would be remembered even longer than a great one, especially because it was hors série – memorable not for its excellence but its lack thereof.  Thanks to Carson’s experience and well-adjusted taste, he never went wrong.  The oysters were always briny and brimming with liqueur, the grouper properly charred and succulent, the steaks from the best Kansas City wholesalers, and the wines from celebrated but small vineyards in Sonoma and Willamette Valley.  The cadre was attractive, modern without too much glass, steel, and track lighting.  The atmosphere was always lively but never overdone – happiness but no din – and the service impeccable.  In short, the restaurants served to enhance Carson’s famous ‘affinity’, a value added to an already congenial group.

He and his friends – never the same group, but always the same core – carried their happy friendship sailing on the Chesapeake, hiking the Camino de Santiago, summering in Kaş or wintering in Gstaad. 

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The experience was always enough for them.  They had no need for guided tours with Harvard docents.  Turkish Mediterranean beaches were enough for them without following in the footsteps of St. Paul to Ephesus.  Carson and his friends were by no means uneducated.  In fact most of them had an Ivy League pedigree.  It was simply that their idea of the good life was one free from intellectual entanglements, an epicurean life of pleasure without guilt.  None were on a mission, none had ever been. Society – the Victorian meaning of one’s social group with which one always associated – was their be-all and end-all.

All of which made Carson’s sudden divestiture surprising and worrisome.  As he got older, he began to lose interest in the gatherings which had been de rigeur for decades.  He grew impatient with what he now considered idle chatter.  What difference did it make, really, whether the coquilles St. Jacques were overdone? What possible difference could a walk through the Cotswolds make alone or in company?  What was the point of birthday parties, outings on the Bay, or afternoons by the pool?

“I’ve had enough”, Carson said to his wife when she asked him about his growing reclusiveness; but she could not leave it there.  Any aberration from predictable behavior, especially that which had been at the very center of one’s life and well-being must signal the onset of depression and dark days.

First to go were the Parkers whom Carson had always suspected of airiness. While his other friends might be airy and bright at dinner but who had sparkles of wit, the Parkers showed nothing and nothing showed through.  There was no there there, and whereas Carson had never noticed it before - so competently did the brass, strings, and percussion play together - he noticed it now.  Clearing this one lone pine from the stand might even make it more beautiful and serene.

The Parkers went without much notice, the absence of a moth in a complex ecosystem, but the gatherings like the ecosystem would never be quite the same.  When Carson disinvited the Wentworths the disruption in the formerly well-tuned harmony was noticed; and when the Abbots were absent, the group had finally lost its character.  Although no couple substantively added to the substantiality of the group – no one added anything except their enjoyment – absences were felt.  A symphony can be rescored, but if enough sections are missing, the music is flat and not worth playing.

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Carson chose to dismantle the group rather than simply leave it.  He felt, before his insistence on divestiture had become irreversible, that perhaps he could do with a smaller group, fewer parties, less ambition while pursuing his other, new, much more personal interests.  He soon realized that he was wrong.  He had created an orchestral wonder, but when looked at through his older, now severely critical lens, it was worth nothing no matter how big or small. 

“What’s the point”, was his irritating, repeated bar.  How could a man of Carson’s intelligence, talent, and ability fallen into such nihilistic inaction?  Would this downward spiral increase, or would he pull up, redirect his energy, and right his ship?

Carson was unconcerned.  It was about time that he ridded himself of the clutter he had accumulated; and although he wondered how he had put up with it for so long, he knew it was time to clear the decks for running; to get rid of excuses – which is what he now saw his compulsive socializing to be – and to get alone and serious.

It was not an easy transition.  Not only was his wife unhappy – she loved her husband’s social affairs and missed them – but he found that while one might get rid of the unnecessary, where was one to find the necessary? For a man used to company, camaraderie, and bustle, it was not easy to settle down and read.  Read what, actually? Nor was it easy to reconfigure his days, especially now that he was retired.  He was only sure that he wanted no more part of the Middletons, Parkers, and the Whittens.  In his new incarnation the thought of spending a dinner with just the four of them was horrible.  Whereas the symphony of friends played itself, he would have to work at some kind of harmony with only one couple at the table.

It wasn’t long however before the void was filled.  Carson had given up his socialness but never his sociability.  He began to keep up with friends he had ignored in the shuffle of the moveable feast – classmates, former business associates, childhood friends – and make new ones.  Soon Starbucks and the Irish Inn replaced Gatsby, Hemingway, and St. Tropez.   Carson was now on a need-to-know basis, his version of K Street focus and dismissal of the irrelevant.  While his mates for coffee and beer were not that different from his big party friends – Ivy League pedigree, wealth, and overall well-being – the conversations were.  They were more personal, even more intimate, and certainly – in Carson’s eyes anyway – more relevant and satisfying.  Bert, Ray, Joe, and Bill might not be the answer to what’s what, but at least they were edging closer to it than the crowd at Bofinger ever had.

Carson’s wife was unfortunate collateral damage in this transformation.  She had never expected their gay life to end, at least not so abruptly and so completely.  What was she to do while her husband schmoozed with his buddies?  She had none of her husband’s later-life angst and his need to fill the void; and would have been happy carrying on with the group; but Carson’s systematic dismantling of it rather than simply absenting himself, eliminated it.  None of the pieces were the same once they had been hived off from the whole.

“I am social”, Carson replied when his wife brought up their lack of friendships and events.  “Just not in the usual way.”  A collectivity of friends, each met individually and personally, was a social entity even though it never met.  Carson had shown that remaking oneself was indeed possible; and while his transformation was far from religious epiphany, it was still significant.  He had used his natural and native social need – deformed in the past by lack of intent – to good use.  He was neither fulfilled nor particularly happy, but good enough.  He sailed on an even keel, finally admitted his destination, and was content.

Monday, October 8, 2018

MeToo, You Too, And Hell No!– Revolt Against Movements, Marches, And Collective Idealism

Betsy Cartwright had been brought up properly – good manners, politeness, respect for her elders, civility, and reason. To be sure she was born and raised in a far simpler era, one in which fundamental values of morality, right, and fairness were unquestioned.  Although her time was two hundred years removed from Hamilton, Jefferson, and Adams, their rectitude and sentiments of equality and justice had been passed on through generations of patrician Americans and still resided in her family.  She was a  legatee of the Founding Fathers and no less committed to their principles than their immediate political descendants.

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It was hard for Betsy, therefore, to make any sense of the political hysteria of the second decade of the Twenty-First century; a decade as antithetical to the sentiments of her forbears as any.  Even the days of Robber Baron, laissez-faire capitalism were more representative of early American philosophy – competition, survival of the fittest, human ingenuity, consolidation of power and the willingness to use it  - than her era of fractious politics, questionable allegations, and assumptions of right.  At least Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Mellon were up front and proud of their proto-capitalist enterprise; an expression of religious conviction, historical imperative, and downright common sense.  There would always be weak and strong in any society, the ruling and the ruled, the advantaged and the disadvantaged.  The way forward was countervailing force – let those who object to raw market forces propose alternatives, other ways to tap individual enterprise within the context of community and civil rights.

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Jessica Nadel was a spokesperson for the Me/Too movement, a popular initiative to encourage women who have been ‘abused’ to come forward and tell their tales.  The movement was not only a way to provide shelter and support for those aggrieved women, but a collective 'consciousness raising' effort focusing on men in general whose maleness, in their opinion, was ipso facto predatory, dangerous, and evolutionarily backward.  God may have had his reasons for creating two sexes, but the story need not end there.  God’s word, like all his words in the Bible, is subject to interpretation; and no member of the New Generation could possibly take the fiction of the Garden of Eden nor the endless family quarrels of Deuteronomy and Kings to heart.  One need only look to history for a confirmation that God’s original intent is not what earlier Biblical critics have asserted. Neither God nor his Son ever intended a legacy of male dominion in perpetuity.

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Those who take a more originalist view of Creation, the Bible, and the course of history think nothing of the sort. God’s will has indeed been demonstrated over and over.  He created Man and Woman not necessarily to get along but to procreate and survive.  The rest is up to Adam and Eve’s descendants.  Shakespeare, Ibsen, Strindberg, Albee, and Lawrence; and philosophers Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Kierkegaard understood this dialectic perfectly.  Only through a recognition and acceptance of the essential centrality of sexual will – the inevitable and necessary struggle between men and women – can any individual moral or spiritual evolution happen.   The relationships between Hamlet and Ophelia, Othello and Desdemona, George and Martha, and the weak men and strong women of Scandinavian drama are necessary, predictable, and survivalist.

Betsy, a young woman in her early forties, had come of age in the high tide of neo-feminist sentiment.  Her mother had been an early feminist, a woman who refused to accept male privilege, but who had never hated men nor judged them in a priori terms.  Men were attractive, sexually alluring, and irresistible although some of them lagged behind in updated sexual understanding.   It was never difficult to see a boor coming, a frat house grosserie in the making, an unwanted solicitation brewing, or some ignorant, sexually immature approach happening. 

Betsy’s mother was not of a super-race of women, justice warriors who saw the battle lines drawn between male and female, defended the battlements of feminine integrity and attacked the misogynist invader; but of a generation of sexual realists.  Boys would always be boys and men would always be men; and to survive and prosper, a woman had to determine when male behavior was unacceptable, when it was accepted but ignored, when it was resisted, and when it was used to advantage.

Betsy’s mother took her inspiration from the heroines of Shakespeare, women who were intelligent, canny, and strong; and above all knew that in a patriarchal, male dominated world, direct conflict was counterproductive; and that only deviousness, manipulation, and strategic compromise would yield results.

So Betsy, on the inspiration of her mother, on an appreciation of sexual history, and out of a reservoir of conservative independence and will, dismissed the organizational efforts of MeToo, BLM, Occupy Wall Street, or any of the other progressive collectives.

She was an ideal recruit – daughter of a well-known 70s feminist, advanced degrees in history and human ecology, author of recognized articles on civil disobedience and American exceptionalism – but her recruiters failed to look beneath the surface.  Yes, she had presumably valuable credentials for progressive movements; but no one had the patience or initiative to look further.  Had they read Betsy’s work carefully, they would have quickly seen the author’s impatience with and summary dismissal of mass movements of social solidarity and sexual union, movements which in Betsy’s view were antithetical so social progress, the equality of women, and the bridging of the political divide.

‘Hysterical victimhood’, as Betsy called it, would be the most corrosive factor in the current trend to equalize the sexes, races, and ethnicities.  History had amply shown that inequality was the rule, that male aggression was the norm, that female solicitude and complaisance were far from over, and that individualism and the expression of individual will were as central to male-female relationships as they ever had been.  D.H.Lawrence was as right as rain when he placed sexuality at the core of human relationships; and when he stated that the battle of sexual wills was inherent and necessary to establish social equilibrium.  Sexual equilibrium, he said, was the sine qua non of social equilibrium.

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The street manifestations of sisterhood, feminist solidarity, anti-male patriarchy and privilege were nothing but self-serving, idealistic, and misguided interpretations of fundamental Lawrencian sexual dynamics.  Women marching on the Mall were ignorant of Ibsen, Strindberg, Shakespeare, and especially Nietzsche.  While their protests were designed to threaten, intimidate, and neuter male aggression, they would do nothing of the kind unless women reflected on their own limitless sexuality.

Women in Love, Lawrence’s most important book in his tetralogy (Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love, Lady Chatterley’s Lover) expressed these sentiments perfectly.  Society itself, wrote Lawrence, depended on the resolution of sexual conflict, the most powerful and consequential conflict within human nature and society.   Birkin, Ursula, Gerald, and Gudrun were locked in this essential struggle; and understood that they took precedence over any other resolution – war, peace, globalism, nationalism, or social unrest.

Mass protests today, thought Betsy, unlike those of the Sixties which had a clear purpose and objectives (passage of a Civil Rights Act, dismantling Jim Crow, and ending the war in Vietnam) , were vague and emotional.  It might feel good to march with a million other women who hate the very thought of male privilege, but little is likely to come of it.  It may feel good to express one’s outrage at male ‘abusers’, but such outrage does little to address the fundamental, underlying, ineluctable reason – innate male assertiveness.  Such outrage erodes the basic principle of equal justice under the law, presumption of innocence, and fairness.  The end result of ragged, insistent, and theatrical outcries of ‘abuse, and unwanted attention’ can only result in a further political division – an equally virulent and hysterical reaction against women, against progressivism, and against the principle of equal justice.

So Betsy dismissed the importunity of those women who insisted on recruiting her for The Cause.  It was not that she did not sympathize with those women actually assaulted despite their caution, wariness, and self-defense; it was that she saw a dilution of political enterprise when spilled into mass protests – protests which were simplistic, emotional, idealistic, and inopportune.

Betsy's natural affinity was with Tamora, Volumnia, Dionyza, Goneril, Regan, Lady Macbeth, Laura, and Hedda Gabler”, the most demanding, insistent, willful, and powerful heroines of literature.  They belonged to no group, followed no leader, espoused no universal hatred; but never, ever, were victims and always masters of their own fate.  They all understood, like Lawrence and Nietzsche, the fundamental independent nature of the individual.

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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Sentimentality vs Progressive Realism–Why Norman Rockwell And Hallmark Cards Will Always Have A Place In America

Sentimentality – pictures of grandma’s hands, babies’ feet, pretty smiles, gardens and quaint little cottages – is everywhere; except perhaps in academia where such dreamy idealism is looked down upon as anti-intellectual, hopelessly subjective, and worst of all damaging to reality, the stock-in-trade of progressivism.  Sentimentality leads to the status quo, complaisance, and irresponsible self-satisfaction.  Sentimentality, in fact is the only fake news that progressive realists acknowledge.  America is not a great country nor anywhere near it.  It is a country of unequal wealth and opportunity, civil oppression, privilege and unfair advantage, one which with a false sense of righteousness continues to bully and threaten, cheat and deceive, all to impose American hegemony.

There is no ‘Morning in America’, no ‘Shining City on a Hill’, no ‘Thousand Points of Light’.  These are the electioneering slogans of Republicans who have always relied on sentimental images – the flag, patriotism, home, farm, and family, purple mountains’ majesty, and a kind, beneficent God – and have nothing to do with objectivity or fact.  They are meant to mislead, to quiet political resentments and socio-economic concerns, and to create a national fiction.

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Benjamin Myers writing in First Things, wrote ‘The Sentimentality Trap’ in which he argues that sentimentality creates a false sense of security and by so doing separates us from the harder realities of philosophical and religious understanding.  “Sentimentality offers us the dubious chance to feel while bypassing the messiness of any real human engagement”, he says, “not too much feeling but too thin an experience. This is what Flannery O’Connor meant when she wrote:

We lost our innocence in the Fall, and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite. Pornography . . . is essentially sentimental, for it leaves out the connection of sex with its hard purpose, and so far disconnects it from its meaning in life as to make it simply an experience for its own sake.

“Sentimentality is emotional satisfaction without emotional connection, an agreement between the artist and the audience to skip straight to the gratification, which, due to the skipping, is not so gratifying after all”.

Myers point of view is Christian and rooted in Christian history and teaching.

The Christian sentimentalist wants the bliss of Easter morning without the pain of Good Friday or the sorrow of Holy Saturday, reducing the great joy of Easter to the pleasantness of a sunrise or spring flowers. The sacrifice of our savior is lovely. His blood is pure. If we can look on these things and know they are good, then we, in a deeply Christian art, should not fear looking at the hard realities of our fallen world. The Christian artist who wraps himself in sunbeams and daffodils fails to be Christian at all, producing a bloodless, lifeless art that pleases a middle-class consumerism, not an authentic Christian encounter with a hurting world.

The progressive realist and the Christian theologist have a lot in common.  The way to both secular utopia and divine salvation is through ‘truth’, the unvarnished, unsentimental appraisal of life as it is.  Such objectivity can help the faithful of either type to better understand the problem and take steps to resolve it.

Yet it isn’t sentimentality per se that limits vision or purposeful intent.  It is an intellectual lassitude which is as much a part of the human condition as intellectual discipline. It is far easier to accept images than ideas; slogans than documents; dreams than reality.  The progressive realist is as seduced by images of a parched earth, fire, and natural disasters as the political idealist is of fields of wheat, harvests, mountains, and parades.  It is hard to parse court decisions on religious liberty, balance arguments of individual responsibility against those of community values, study economic and financial balance sheets to prove or disprove the contributions of immigrants, to validate or dismiss public investments in education, to interpret and understand geopolitics.

Relying on images is not necessarily sentimental, but more likely a natural reversion to simplicity in an overwhelmingly complex world.

What about pure sentimentality?  Myers quotes the opening lines of a poem by Mary Oliver.

Every day I’m still looking for God
and I’m still finding him everywhere,
in the dust, in the flowerbeds.
Certainly in the oceans,
in the islands that lay in the distance
continents of ice, countries of sand
each with its own set of creatures
and God, by whatever name.

Or Oliver’s less spiritual but equally sentimental:

But the tree is a sister to me, she
lives alone in a green cottage
high in the air and I know what
would happen, she’d clap her green hands,
she’d shake her green hair, she’d
welcome me.

These poems are Shakespeare compared to the drugstore greeting card rhymes.

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Aside from political refuge, a need for simplicity in an intimidating world, and a desire for settled convictions, sentimentality has another more profound role.  It expresses common emotions in a popular, evocative way.  There is no need for any of us to read Plutarch’s or Shakespeare’s sonnets on love and loving; no need to struggle with the intricacies of the Romantic poets.  While intellectuals may sniff at the treacly rhymes in Hallmark Mother’s Day cards, no one reads them as poetry.  We already love our mothers and the verses evoke a momentary but emotional response.  Verses evoking childhood, romantic love, beauty, and serenity are enough. 

Norman Rockwell has been roundly dismissed by art critics.  His works are too sentimental, too obvious, and too one-dimensional to be considered serious art.  They cannot possibly be compared to the works of  Anselm Kiefer, powerful, evocative paintings that challenge settled wisdom, belief, and conviction.

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Nor can Rockwell be compared to Francis Bacon whose works of religious figures are frightening, familiar, and inescapable.

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Yet it is wrong to dismiss Rockwell for his lack of depth and ‘seriousness’.  His works capture the zeitgeist of America not only of the 40s and 50s but for all its history.  His evocation of family life, school, patriotism, compassion, and belief are iconic.  Rockwell had an innate sense of what America was all about – the fundamentals which underlie civic nature.   On one level he was indeed sentimental in the greeting card sense.  One look at his paintings and immediate, positive, generous feelings are felt.  Yet unlike the quickly-penned, formulaic verses of Hallmark, Rockwell’s paintings are careful and considered.  They are meant to evoke sentiment, but never sentimentality.

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There is plenty of room in America for sentimentality and progressive realism.  It is when they become exaggerated caricatures of themselves – treacly, manipulative sentimentalism and hysterical, exaggerated scenarios of doomsday – that they lose resonance and meaning.  Both have a place.  One is evocative, the other demanding and insistent.  One prides itself on intellectual rigor, academic sophistication, and logic; the other on evocative image and the power of simplicity.  From the perspective of the Left, most of Middle America is hopelessly lost in a senseless and immature fantasy, in an ideal world which never existed.  From the perspective of the Right, progressives of the Coasts are ignorant of history, human nature, and essential values.  Their ‘objectivity’ and realism are nothing of the kind.  They are as trapped in fantasy and idealism as any.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Trial Of Brett Kavanaugh - Andy Warhol, Saturnalia, And Today's Censorious Puritanism

Anders Piggott was a righteous man, and had been his entire life.  He was a model of rectitude, propriety, respect and good taste.  Of course there had been delinquencies when he was young.  He had gone wobbly around some ethical corners, but never went off the rails.  Unlike his classmates who seemed to be on no track whatsoever, sent to _____ as legatees, happy enough with a Gentleman’s C which allowed more time to spend tailgating, drinking, and carousing, Anders was never tempted.  If there was ever a time to be a libertine, said his St. Grottlesex friends, this was it.

Fetters and traces awaited as sure as sundown.  Investment banks, law firms, and industry had no time nor patience for the uncertain.  College was a time to bond with one’s class, to get all extraneous bits extruded from character, to pick up some savoir-faire, and have a damned good time doing it.
Anders Piggott had come from a solid, honored New England family whose ancestors in England were viscounts and earls, and who had come to the New World not out of necessity but for profit and adventure

The Fourth Earl of Ponsonby , a forbear on his mother’s side had owned half of Barbados, half the slaves, and a goodly number of slave ships which plied the Three Corner Trade out of New Bedford. His more recent ancestors had become industrialists in New England, made wealthy thanks to the demand for armaments in the latter part of the Revolutionary War and most importantly the Civil War.   Anders was born and brought up in New Brighton, at one time one of the largest and most important cities in America thanks in large part to his family which had built it from a Connecticut Valley byway to the major producer of tools, ball bearings, and rolled steel.

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By the time Anders came of age, his personal, social, and financial future was assured.  He would go to ______ as his grandfather and his father had, do an apprenticeship on Wall Street, then join the family firm of Piggott, Peabody, and Wilkins on the stock exchange from almost its inception.  He would marry well,  live on Park Avenue, but never give up either the old homestead in the West End of New Brighton, the house on Martha’s Vineyard, or the bungalow on St. Bart’s. 

Such a pedigree would have been more than enough to keep him well, prosperous, and happy during his adult years; but his moral sobriety and confirmed sense of right and responsibility would lead him farther than his equally privileged peers.  Anders had nobility; and so not only would he be a  captain of industry, and a leader of his community, but a  national figure.  His parents and friends with no trace of presumptuousness or irony even envisaged him as the next Hamilton or Jefferson.

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For three years at ____, Anders never deviated from his path of probity and good sense; but by his fourth and last year, something went wrong.  He began to question the destiny that had been charted out for him without his say.  Perhaps his classmates were right – character is formed by the time one is five, and only solidified and strengthened by parental and institutional influences.  in other words, no amount of carousing could possibly twist one’s genetic fibers into someone else.

One fraternity in particular was well-known for such carousing.  In fact, despite the university’s conservative and well-heeled reputation, some of the grossest behavior ever seen on any campus occurred there. Alpha Beta Gamma’s Saturday night parties were more than bacchanals and more than orgies.  They were at the very avant-garde of sexual libertinage. La Dolce Vita was passe, Andy Warhol’s Factory a passing show, and Kubrick’s latter day Eyes Wide Shut an academic, art house chimera.  Knowing that character was innate, that their privilege shielded them from any social opprobrium and legal difficulties, and most of all because of a sense of absolute entitlement, the young men at Alpha Beta Gamma took their libertinage seriously.

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It would be a mistake to assume that only the men of the coming-of-age generation, the first to enter the modern era, were sexually liberated.  It takes two to tango, and men-only saturnalia would be as boring and lame as the all-men choruses in WWII films about the Navy.  No, of course girls from Vassar, Smith, Holyoke, and Radcliffe joined in.  These were not sweet young things from Midwestern farms, innocent, virginal, and trusting.  They were the daughters of bohemian, European, adulterous fathers and bored, sexually active mothers.  They were as strong, determined, savvy, circumspect, and capable as the women of Shakespeare, Ibsen, or Strindberg.  They, like boys at _____had innate character, breeding, and respectability; and also like them wanted to take advantage of this unique moment in their personal history.

“What do women want?”, Anders had asked his father.  “Exactly what you do, my boy”.  That simple, simplistic homily never made any sense until transposed to Alpha Beta Gamma.  While most women were indeed prim, and protective of their virginity and their sex, those  women who accepted invitations to Saturday nights at Alpha Beta Gamma were not.  They were as adventurous, sexually daring, and unafraid of exposing what their sisters would never even consider.

So, Anders’ final year was like any other.  Thanks to the aforementioned genetic cast and anointed breeding, he was able to keep his bearings, graduate with honors, and go on to a successful if predictable life.  He had no need to revisit those final days at Alpha Beta Gamma, nor long for their return.  He had ‘gotten it out of his system’, and had received perhaps the best lesson that ______could have given him.

All of which made Anders quizzical at the bevy of accusations reported in the early 2000s about sexual ‘abuse’ that allegedly occurred while he was partying at Alpha Beta Gamma.  Had all the women of the Factory disappeared? And all their descendants?  Where were International Velvet, Viva, Ondine, and Ingrid Superstar? Had sex returned so completely and irretrievably to the Puritan Age? How had women become so timid, so politically outraged but so sexually timid?

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One recent accusation was that a woman accused a high-profile nominee to high office of exposing his genitals at Alpha Beta Gamma, and hoped to help bring him down by forcing him to admit to such licentious, misogynous behavior.  Of course the accusation was nonsense, not because it never happened, but because it always happened.  What else to expect from a Dionysian, Factory, Eyes Wide Shut bacchanal?  The price of admission guarantees exposed genitals and a lot more.

Anders a Wall Street legend and the rest of the boys of Alpha Beta Gamma were successful in their own right, some even in the politics.  None of them so far have been accused of misbehavior during their _____days; but their turn in this censorious age, might well come.

There is no evidence that well-heeled, patrician, responsible young men of probity and rectitude – because of a short year or two at Alpha Beta Gamma – would become insatiable Lotharios, misogynists, or sexual deviates.  It was never an issue of ‘boys will be boys’, but that boys must become men; and there is no predicting how, in what form, or where.  Sexual ‘abuse’ was never an issue at Alpha, for the young men wanted willing, equally adventurous partners.  Forced sexual relations were crude, low-class, and totally unacceptable.  It wasn’t done.

This severe, uncompromising time will pass.  Most Americans would never give the sexual antics of Alpha Beta Gamma any consideration whatsoever, living out their lives as they do in the tens of millions as good husbands and wives with only occasional lovers; and so the accusations coming from questioning, uncertain women concern only a tiny fraction of men – and many of them  crude, undisciplined, and low-class as  the elite members of Alpha correctly characterized them deserve calling out. But for the sexually unique, those men and women always at the sexual margins, those for whom a different standard of sexual propriety must be assigned, there are no established rules of behavior.  Perhaps most importantly, like at the Factory, men and women are exploring together.

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