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

Thursday, August 31, 2023

How MeToo Killed Romantic Love - The End Of Passion And Sexual Obsession

Petrarch is considered the originator of the concept of romantic love.  His many poems to ‘Laura’ describe love’s  transforming nature – it is never simply an affection, a simple desire, or a feeling.  It is transformative, epiphanic, and spiritual.

Image result for images petrarch

My Laura, my love, I behold in thine eyes
Twin daystars that Mercy has given,
To teach me on earth to be happy and wise
And guide me triumphant to heaven.
Their lessons of love thro' a lifetime have taught
My bosom the pureness of thine,
They have roused me to virtue, exalted my thought,
And nerved me for glory divine:
They have shed on my heart a delightful repose,
All else it hath barr'd from its portal,
So deeply the stream of my happiness flows,
I know that my soul is immortal.

The idea of romantic love was something new in the Middle Ages, an era of plague, early death, and subsistence.  Marriages were arranged for convenience whether between kings, queens, and courtiers or among peasants.  Marriage was a practical union, a combining of resources, a means of reproducing labor or maintaining power. 

Petrarch suggested that something more significant and much more expressive of God’s love and man’s search for it existed beyond economics, heritage, and duty.  Tales of knights and their fair maidens and the idea of virginal love and the heroic conquests of it were common.

Dante who wrote his love poems to Beatrice a few decades before Petrarch anticipated the new, romantic attitudes that were to prevail through the Renaissance and well beyond.  In this poem the theme of untimely death, a feature of much of subsequent love poetry, is suggested:

To every captive soul and gentle heart
Into whose sight this present speech may come,
So that they might write its meaning for me,
Greetings, in their lord’s name, who is Love.
Already a third of the hours were almost past
Of the time when all the stars were shining,
When Love suddenly appeared to me
Whose memory fills me with terror?
Joyfully Love seemed to me to hold
My heart in his hand, and held in his arms
My lady wrapped in a cloth sleeping.
Then he woke her, and that burning heart
He fed to her reverently, she fearing,
Afterwards he went not to be seen weeping.

Image result for images dante alighieri

Shakespeare continued the tradition of romantic love poetry with his sonnets

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Petrarch, Dante, and Shakespeare all wrote of romantic obsession, a benign longing, a happy unhappiness, a desire which relegated all rational thought, delayed enterprise, and left the lover despondent.  Sex was only implied, for it was less important to the poet than the sublimity of romantic love, an expression of the best and highest human purposes and not to be distorted by lower order sexual instincts.

In the 19th century, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy wrote of obsessive sexual love.  Dostoevsky’s A Gentle Creature tells of a man’s obsessive desire to dominate and control the young woman he marries.  Tolstoy’s The Devil tells of a man’s pursuit of a peasant girl, a liaison which ends in death.  Evgeny does not love Stepanida and cannot explain his attraction to her.  She has a devilish control over him, a spell which he cannot resist.  He is tormented by his unwillingness to sleep with her after he is married, and is tortured by thoughts that he will and in so doing abandoning all moral authority. 

Image result for images dostoevsky

Graham Greene was a master of sexual obsession, and the introduction of Catholic guilt and inflexible moral codes adds a unique dimension to the plights of his characters Scobie and Bendrix.

Emily Bronte, Ian McEwan, Josephine Baker, and especially Vladimir Nabokov and Thomas Mann (Lolita, Death in Venice) were masters at describing sexual obsession – a pursuit that had little to do with romantic love, but with an unnamed and unknowable desire for possession.  Humbert pursues Lolita to relive the love he once had for a girl who died young.  Lolita, a ‘nymphet’, a girl of premature sexuality and an innate, indescribable sense of her allure, is his old love reborn; and he cannot resist her.

Aschenbach’s obsession with the beautiful boy Tadzio, unlike Humbert’s obsession with Lolita, has no known antecedents or psychological influences.  It is an unexplained but irresistible sexual desire for a boy of remarkable beauty and innocence –something unexpected in a man of his age and propriety.  

Aschenbach loses all sense of the social and personal order according to which he has always lived.  He becomes unmoored from the past and from the person he always thought he was.  He cannot help himself. He dies unhappy and alone without ever having made his love known.  He is not unlike Tolstoy’s Evgeny who cannot explain his ineluctable sexual attraction to Stepanida, who cannot resolve how to act with her or with his wife and who ends up badly.

Image result for images movie death in venice

For the most part, literature is filled with simple sexual combinations – women who love others than their husbands, but who are not compelled to do so.  Their interest is social, economic, and practical.  Emma Bovary is not a Stepanida but a willful woman determined to control her own destiny.  Hedda Gabler does not love her husband or the man she persuades to kill him, and acts only out of an act of supreme, unstoppable will.

George and Martha in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf are obsessed with each other, caught in a marriage that was inevitable but ultimately destructive.  Never in the play do either of the characters want to end the marriage, but continue to flay each other to the marrow for the sake of their intimacy.  It may not have been love which they wanted to preserve, but certainly the powerful, consuming relationship which defined them.

The rest of the world has neither love nor obsession, married with children. The idea of romantic love seems outdated in modern times.  Too much is being made of identity, social purpose, meaning, reform, and progress to allow for anything so diverting and frivolous as romantic love.  Old people holding hands on a tropical beach is definitely wrong.

Sexual obsession seems equally to have gone by the wayside, dismissed as misogynistic, retrograde, and socially inhibiting. Men continue to have affairs but do so increasingly carefully.  An aggrieved wife, now a trial lawyer with serious investments, will dissolve the marriage quickly and efficiently.  Women who put up with dalliances are a dying breed.  Only wealth that matches or tops spouse’s net worth assures quick disentanglements, and easy sailing. 

None of this speaks of obsession, an idea faltering after so many years of Freudian analysis and many more of a Puritanical, censorious era. In fact it is a joyless era overall.  No high spirits can last in an atmosphere of constant, unremitting sanctimony.  Not only love and sexual obsession have gone by the wayside.  Having fun has too.

Of course men think about women all day long – that is the one obsession left.  Not an irrational desire for a woman but for all women, any woman, a universally sexually frustrated desire, the saddest of all.

There may come a time when the pall of political hypocrisy clears, when both romantic and obsessive love are let out again, when men’s desirous pursuit is not condemned, and women’s sexual allure not demeaned and dismissed.  Dante and Petrarch will be back and so will Mann, Nabokov, and Tolstoy.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Law Of The Jungle - The Primitive Nature Of Governance And The Vanity Of Compassionate Rule

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a story of the darkness of the human soul; but also one which admits its profoundly moral nature.  Most importantly it is a story of a man who embraced man’s primitive side but with his last words, ‘The Horror…The Horror’ – he realized the terrifying nature of humanity which, while given to moral justice, is more often compelled by evil. 

The discovery was not one of moral redemption but tragedy.  Not only had his life of brutal rule, greed, and arrogation of supreme and divine authority meant nothing in face of its similarity to so many others; but at his end he could only conclude that a life of such universal barbaric similarity had to be both horrific and meaningless. 

Kurtz becomes more African than the Africans.  In arrogating divinity to himself through a manipulation of tribal beliefs; and by maintaining complete control over the natives because of this assumed power, he rules absolutely, amasses a fortune in ivory, and becomes megalomaniacal at best and bestial at worst, 

Kurtz never tamed the men or the jungle but ruled over both through fear, intimidation, and an expression of absolute and indomitable will.  As death approached he understood that he had neither civilized, nor exploited, nor governed; but by means of the same primitive savagery, he expressed the same amorality of a universally violent, aggressive, and insatiable human nature as he found in the natives. 

In Jack London’s Call of the Wild the wolf Buck is raised as a domestic animal in Southern California and becomes domesticated; but when he is forcibly taken to Alaska as a sled dog, he quickly realizes that the moral codes of his former human home do not apply.  There is only one law – the Law of Fang and Club – no law at all but a primitive, savage, rule of survival and dominance.

He adapts well to this new, unfamiliar, and this brutal new world; but more importantly he reverts to his truer, original nature.  The animal in him, so long repressed in his settled human-oriented life, emerges; and not long after his arrival in the North he becomes as savage, primitive, and animalistic as any of the dogs, wolves, and half-breeds he encounters.  He no longer thinks of the warmth, security, and peace of the South and only of fighting for food, killing his enemies, and leading the pack.  He is successful and not only as the fittest does he survive, but dominates.


The Call of the Wild is a metaphor for human nature – the ineluctability of a genetic hardwiring that has given us the aggressiveness, territorial imperative, economic and social self-interest, and family defensiveness that has characterized human society since the first settlements – and an endorsement of social Darwinism, the application of the same animal law of survival of the fittest to human beings.

Genghis Khan was a charismatic and fearsome figure.  He and his armies were known for their cruelty and barbarity, and the sight of them advancing across the battlefield in a storm of dust, the earth shaking with the thunder of 50,000 hooves, was enough to send enemies into retreat. The thought alone of this terrible, bloodthirsty, and mighty warrior was enough to rout enemy armies. Genghis Khan was a man of absolute will and power, a frightening presence of power and vengeance.  He was a horseman of the Apocalypse.

There have been many successful armies in the world.  Julius Caesar, Scipio Africanus, Pompey the Great, and Marcus Agrippa were as brilliant generals as Genghis Khan, and brought Roman organization, discipline, and management to the battle.  They won because of superior ability, armaments, and military thinking; yet it was Genghis Khan who, with an almost untamed savagery, conquered the world.  At its height the Mongol Empire extended from far eastern China to the Danube, the biggest empire the world has ever seen. 

Genghis Khan was a brilliant strategist, canny politician who through tact, intimidation, and offers of great spoils, enticed the warlike Turkic tribes to join his armies, nearly doubling their strength.  However, it was not only the might of his imposing armies, nor his ability to manage, discipline, and control such a large and diverse military force; nor even his tactical acumen and understanding of calculated risk which assured victory.  It was his indomitable, absolute, unalloyed will. 

Khan had no qualms, moral reservations, or ethical hesitancy.  Wars were for winning, civilians were complicit enemies, and total annihilation of any opposition was his modus belli. Not only would defeated populations be without the wherewithal to mount a resistance or counterattack, they would never dare to incite the bloody, murderous, savage wrath of the conqueror.

It is popular in this age of progressivism, to assume that a more peaceful, verdant, and communal world is within reach; that we have learned the lessons of history, given up the savagery of the past, and turned to a more compassionate vision of life. International conflicts can be resolved peaceably, and negotiated compromise can benefit both parties.  National divisions are only temporary interruptions of comity and cooperation; and once disputes have been settled in favor of social equality, society can return to a Jeffersonian vision of polity.

This view, however, ignores the unpleasant truth – the Twentieth Century was one of the bloodiest in human history.  There could be no negotiated settlements with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.  These men, descendants of Genghis Khan and inheritors of the most basic, primitive, unalloyed wills were not anomalies, but characteristic leaders.  They, like Genghis Khan had no compunctions about the use or application of power to extend their influence, expand their territories, and rule their empires.

The Twenty-first Century has started off no differently.  While there have been no decimating wars, it has been characterized by smaller aggressive incursions.  The rise of ISIS and Islamic fundamentalist terror, the increasing nuclear threats of North Korea and Iran, the war in Ukraine, and the instability in nations of Africa and South America offer no suggestions of a coming world peace.

William Tecumseh Sherman understood this lesson well, and rode through South Carolina, the first state to secede from the union and fire the first shots against the North, intent on destroying every building, every crop, every monument, and every byway of the state to teach it an unforgettable lesson – the South will never rise again.

A century later Israeli Defense Forces followed the lessons of Sherman and Genghis Khan.  Attacks on the State of Israel would be met not only with reprisal, but with the full might of its military power.  It’s retaliation would  be complete, disproportionate, and annihilating.  The integrity and survival of the State of Israel would never, ever be compromised, and any action to assure its safety would be justified.

Progressives are undeterred by the brutality of ISIS, an amoral incarnation of Genghis Khan.  ISIS declared their intention to create a radical Islamic caliphate that would extend far beyond its narrow Middle Eastern lands.  ISIS was implacable, determined, and unbowed by any appeal to human dignity, compassion, or moral justice.  They were just as brutally savage as the armies of Genghis Khan, just as willful, and just as sure of victory.

Yes, say progressives, but ISIS was defeated by the forces of right, extinguished, eliminated from the world’s stage.  A smudge on history’s archives.  What these progressives choose to ignore was the frightening will and determination of ISIS – and by extension any human group - to act violently with brutal territorial aggression.   Worse, they chose to ignore irreducible, permanent, and inexhaustible human nature – a nature which is one of unmediated self-interest, self-defense, and territorial ambition; the nature of babies, children, adolescents, and adults; and by extension of tribes, communities, regions, and nations.

No amount of hopeful, wishful thinking, moral enterprise, or righteousness will purge, expunge, and relegate these human energies.  The only time in recorded human history that peace ruled the world was during the Pax Romana, a two hundred year period during which no serious armed threat was mounted against the Roman Empire. Of course this empire, extending impressively from east to west, although only half the size of conquered Mongol territories, was secured through military victory.  Compliance with Roman rule – the key to peace – was assured through brilliant civilian leadership, canny threat-and-reward diplomacy, and impressive administration and management.

For the rest of our 10,000 years, violence, brutality, conquest, and bloody empire have been the rule; and the acquisition, maintenance, and extension of power at all levels of human society is still our modus operandi.

Today’s political progressives choose to ignore Genghis Khan as an anomaly, a one-time phenomenon, a primitive throwback to the Stone Age.  There are no lessons to be taken from him, they say, except for his irrelevance to our newly aware, profoundly moral, utopian age.  Social progress will be assured through dialogue, diplomacy, and good will.  

Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were no anomalies, no steps out of historical line.  They were the inheritors of Genghis Khan and his impressive modern exponents.  It is only vanity, historical ignorance, and incredible idealism which close the blinds on the Twentieth Century.  It is inevitable that men like these will return.

Joe Biden's Dismal, Sorrowful Vision Of America - Why Trump Will Win In 2024

Attending a Biden offering is like listening to a sermon by the Reverend Bark Phillips of the Westerly First Methodist Church, Reformed - penitential, secularly sacramental, uninspiring, dutiful, and thuddingly boring.  The black man, etc. etc.; the climate, women sharing America’s ill-gotten treasure, ad infinitum, ad nauseam until every last one of the congregation especially and even those in the front pews nod off to another of Pastor Phillips’s badgering notions about doing the right thing.  

Phillips, an ordained minister with political ambitions but left to feedbags and dry fodder while the President picked one black man after another as his spiritual advisor, the likes of the Reverend Al Sharpton who chased every racial ambulance that ever plied the streets of the inner city, or Pastor Edmonds of Anacostia store front fame, chosen at six years old to preach the gospel in the ghetto to lost souls, prison inmates, single mothers, and crack ho’s while he, scion of white Methodist secular evangelism, counsel to the rich and powerful of K Street, was left on the curb.

Ezekiel Stoddard: The boy preacher aged ELEVEN who is storming Maryland's  churches 'on a mission from God' | Daily Mail Online

Biden did in fact attend Sunday services once, escorted by his wife, aides, and the Secret Service into the place of honor – at the acoustical center of the church to better appreciate the music of the Julliard-trained choir, the spiritual center as well, focal point for the Reverend Phillips as he honed his message and lasered it to the congregation.  

Phillips had debated long and hard over the sermon to be delivered that Sunday – a sermon which had to touch just the right chords, a blend of Biblical entreaty and practical progressivism – but because of the bewildering diversity of priorities in the Biden White House, he decided on a big tent approach. He would talk of general reform, progress, and the inevitable progressive Utopia.

Everyone in the congregation looked snappy and enthusiastic on the day of the President’s attendance.  There were chrysanthemums and zinnias in the planters, a hint of lilac and lily in the wings, and light music from a Telemann ode played on the organ as a processional as the President made his way to his seat.  A bit too Catholic, Pastor Phillips admitted, but the President was a Catholic after all despite his evangelical posture in recent days.

Altar Boys - Mater Dei Catholic Parish

The event went well, the President nodded at the right moments, and the congregation felt honored if not blessed by his presence.  God – if there was one (the First Methodist Church, while nowhere near Unitarian secularism, was as close to it as a mainstream Protestant denomination could come while still belonging to the confederation) – would be pleased at this blend of traditional belief and modern utopianism.

Not far from Phillips’s church, Donald Trump was holding a campaign rally and it was a doozy.  Trump, in the early stages of his re-election bid, had pulled out all the stops for this extravaganza in rural Maryland, a Republican redoubt amidst liberal clamor for social reform – an electoral district still adherent to Christian, traditional, conservative values.  

Although the district was small and relatively insignificant to the final 2024 outcome, it was a perfect staging point for the former President.  It was but a hop, skip, and a jump from the White House, and the cheers of support would be heard there from the little town in the Shenandoah.

The unexpected joy at a Trump rally in Iowa - POLITICO

The former President was at his best – confident, hellacious, bullyingly politically incorrect, a one-man vaudeville show worthy of the big time.  His show was as perfectly orchestrated and magnificently staged as anything Rihanna, Beyoncé, or Lady Gaga ever produced at the Super Bowl.  It was a combination of Las Vegas runway glitz, New York glamour, and Hollywood fantasy.  Music, décolleté, high-stepping, and that particular brand of American bourgeois elegance that Trump understood and espoused so well. 

While Biden and his claques were somberly predicting the end of the world, a dismal, climatic failure, a social dysfunction never before witnessed, Trump was at his vaudevillian, Barnum & Bailey best.  The show was covered by news agencies as far afield as All India Radio and Agence France Presse, media outlets who knew a political phenomenon when they saw it.

MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times, and The Nation covered the event only cynically – the boobs, the unwashed, the insignificant, the irrelevant had been commandeered into the big revival tent of Trump evangelism – but there was no dismissing its importance.  The cheering, applauding, laughing crowd was a sign of the times; and the macho, brilliantly choreographed, master of ceremonies, The Donald, was not to be denied.

The nodding support for Joe Biden is tepid, unenthusiastic, reticent compared to that for Trump.  It isn’t simply a matter of one man, Trump, in his political, social, and personal prime, vs an old, doddering, incontinent man but a contrast of Americas.  It is Trump who is the real, familiar, legitimate American; for who among us does not want his yachts, model wife, arm candy, and Mar-el-Lago?  Who prefers the dowdy, basement Catechism of the Biden administration to the glorious, long-legged, sequined, starlit groupies of the former President?  

Trump is an American President whose populism reaches out to the pig farmers, cowherders, and housewives of inner-America who want what they can’t have – a high-bourgeois, cotton candy,  life in St. Tropez crowd who could care less about January 6th, secret documents, or payoffs to call girls.

Hubbard's ReelzChannel picks up Miss USA pageant after Trump flap

The political divide in America is not about political philosophy but culture.  While conservatives reject the historical revisionism of the Left, their presumptive claims to moral superiority, and value practical, longstanding, foundational values, their support of Donald Trump has less to do with Constitutional principle than oversized, outrageous, Wild West leading men, corrals, and victory.

As much as progressives cannot understand how the former President’s supporters ignore his treasonous, treacherous, un-American derelictions and dalliances, Trump supporters do indeed.  A steady diet of afternoon soap operas, prime time faux drama, sports extravaganzas, and rock superstardom can only produce solid citizens – American citizens, not Parisian intellectuals, German Goethe aficionados, or Deconstructionist heroes.  Trump is the first real American president, while Joe Biden is only a sorrowful, historically irrelevant political groupie and has been since his early days in Delaware.

‘A sorry state of affairs’, said the decommissioned host of a CNN morning show, a far more temperate appraisal than that of The View, a gaggle of feminist women whose meme is derogation – Trump is nothing less than evil, they say, and Biden is a latter day Christ, an incarnation for today.

Few Americans watch either one to the chagrin of progressives who have staked their reputations and their lives on the progressive vision.  America is a circus, vaudeville, Las Vegas runway, Hollywood soundstage place, and nothing will change it – not black, brown and yellow immigration, not hectoring from the pulpit, nor preaching by the likes of Al Sharpton,

Trump will win again in 2024 because of all this – a popular disgust with elitist cant and sanctimony and an end to the hectoring, preachy, depressing notions of America The Worst.  Trump is cut from the same cloth as Ronald Reagan, he of the Shining City on a Hill patriotism, but his suit of clothes is pop, new, and outrageous, just like America.