donderdag 7 februari 2008

Men, women, and all that

First, a side question:

Why is there no good masculine answer to Valerie Solanas' SCUM manifesto? I'm aware of Boyd Rice's R.A.P.E. manifesto (NSFW, putting it mildly) constitutes an attempt, but I found it somehow tiresome reading. Sophomoric faux politically-incorrect boilerplate. It doesn't, to my mind, have Solanas' certified-insane virtuosity. Russian writer and National-Bolshevik (a masculine political persuasion if any!) revolutionary Edward Limonov's Women's day speech convinced me he has the skills, but perhaps not the temperament. He remains a socialist, even if a surrealist heavy metal nightmare version of socialist. Sade is out, too, I guess. Like Limonov, women are his ultimate concern: Juliette's tormentors, or the four protagonists of 120 Days, are monstruous caricatures, empty, burnt-out shells, whereas his victims are somehow endowed with humanity, inner worlds. Perhaps sadism is ultimately parasitical? In contrast to Solanas' cheerful contempt, neither Sade nor Limonov nor Boyd Rice could proclaim the obsolescence, the needlessness of the opposite sex. Perhaps even in the rawest, bluntest misogyny, men cannot but proclaim their fealty to Graves' White Goddess?

I like feminists. Of a kind. I hearthily despise the feminists of the radical left, who somehow combine adhering to a vision of equality and justice with neo-puritanism. Men and women are equal except women are tender, fragile creatures who need the full force of Mother State to protect them from predatory manhood. Yech. It's not that I despise Puritans, as such. If you feel that pictures of naked bodies are dirty, or that showing a naked ankle is a dangerous provocation to sex-crazed men, or that women should walk around in a burkha, I strongly disagree, but I understand the internal logic of your position. Just don't pretend to be a socialist, and join the Taliban, already.

I'm sort of fond, however, of libertarian feminists of Wendy McElroy's ilk, to the extent that I find nothing to disagree with them, on a rational level. And I respect feminists who are serious about being my enemy (Solanas, maybe Andrea Dworkin? I have to group Nikki Craft with the hateful radical leftists as she is pretty mad but not mad enough). The kind for whom it's war and they mean it. The kind for whom any harmony between the sexes can only arises when one of them (the male) is annihilated. That's something which I can understand.

How did I get there? Basically by thinking about a post about my confused views about sexuality, and how they relate to everything else. I suppose I hold two conflicting positions simultaneously. Which is not a bad thing. It's a precondition for intellectual progress. Many Marxists never get to grasping the Dialectic, but the Dialectic is all of Marxism that I have left.

Merlijn the urbane live-and-let-live libertarian

The one position is basically a libertarianish, sex-positivish version of "Your kink is OK" coupled with a "Safe, Sane and Consensual" ethic for putting kinks into practice. There's some posts on my old blog on this issue, which I might as well revisit. They all deal with pretty extreme issues - but it's the extreme issues that are the most interesting.

In one, I considered the limits of a consent-based ethic by taking up the case of Armin Meiwes, the German cannibal. Because it's such a clear-cut problematical case. Instinctively, you want Armin Meiwes off the street. On the other hand, there's no question that his dinner guest consented to be eaten (or that Meiwes, as a matter of fact, let go a whole series of would-be victims when they found out that Meiwes was serious about it, and not just into some roleplay with cutlery and HP sauce and whatever one roleplays cannibalism with). The notion "Meiwes' victim can't consent to being eaten because his is clearly insane" is circular - why is he insane? Because he wants to be eaten. Alternative solution: one cannot consent to one's own death. Back then, I rejected it:

Yet, I feel the individual himself is solely responsible and sovereign over his life, and his body. I am in favour of legalizing euthanasia if a wish to die is clearly established on the part of the person dying (I am mortally opposed to it when it is not). Assisting suicide of people who are not terminally ill I find ethically extremely dubious. Yet it would constitute a grey area in which I would not want things that I'm highly uncomfortable with from an ethical perspective, outlawed.

But then again, most activities one could "consent" to can be notably ceased anytime one wants. I can decide I'm uncomfortable, don't like what's happening and bail out of whatever is going on. Except dying. If I jump off a roof, safewords aren't going to bring me back on it. It should be possible to make an argument on this basis that it is impossible to establish consent to death. However, such an argument would have possibly consequences for the whole euthanasia issue as well.

I now tend to the second argument, with all of the consequences for euthanasia, assisted suicide, and so on (which I am much more negative towards than I was back then). And, of course, I have serious second thoughts about the whole autonomy thesis I defended back then.

(I guess I could raise a methodological tool called the "Argumentum ad Cannibalum": If your ethics imply Armin Meiwes should go free, reconsider.).

In another post, I considered casting my vote for the PNVD, the Dutch "pedophile party". I should add of course that seeing children as sexual objects is beyond my imagination. I hate children. They go from crying, miserable poo-factories to being unbearably smug know-it-all ten-year olds to being self-destructive fifteen-year olds with an unfailing talent of getting into trouble. Seriously. Give me the choice of painful hemorrhoids or having to spend a trip in a subway carriage with some hyperactive seven-year old monster from Hell, I'll go for the hemorrhoids.

I also believe children cannot consent to sex, and that the state should take measures to protect them against pervs who believe they can. At the same time I feel that those who believe children do have some sort of sexuality, or that the age of consent is not needed, and so forth, should have the freedom to try and convince me otherwise. And I cannot but admire the courage of the three men behind the PNVD. They put their life on the line to defend their opinions, and that's something I respect.

I also think modern western society's attitude towards the pedophilia issue is deeply, deeply warped. Perhaps in a climate where just about everything goes, we need one strong taboo, and pedophilia it is - but the results, with the hysterical reaction towards the PNVD, the occasional outburst of vigilante violence, the media's lurid attention when another poor perv gets snagged, they aren't pretty. There's a dynamic to hysteria and witchhunts. They start with a crime that is so horrible, so unspeakable, that to defend the accused makes oneself suspect. One sees this in discussion forums: the subject of pedophilia comes up, and any response milder than "hang 'em!" gives rise to suspicions about being a bit of a pedo oneself.

So I still stand by that particular position.

The third post, a rather rambling post on everything from pornography to Sade to the nature of freedom, is also one which I can still stand behind.

Except for one thing.

Much as I would want urbane, thoughtful, sex-positive, libertarian Merlijn to be me, it ain't me. Not the whole of it, at least.

In The Executioner's Song, Norman Mailer describes Gary Gilmore's political views as somehow emblematic for the American working class: leftist political impulses and rightist overt opinions. With me, it's the other way around. My overt political opinions may be left-libertarian, but my underlying political impulses are deeply conservative. As in "there's something to be said for feudalism" conservative.

Merlijn the Vogon

The Vogons are, to me, the real heroes of Douglas Adam's galaxy. They beat evolution. They crawled out of whatever disgusting slime they crawled out from by sheer bloody-mindedness, in simple defiance of natural selection. And they write bad poetry, which is also something to which I can relate.

In the end, I'm an incurable romantic. Love, to me, is exemplified by Beren and Luthien, Arwen and Aragorn, Tristan and Isolde - it's should be, er..., well, pure, beautiful, all-consuming and ultimately doomed. This is of course related to my general "conservative impulse": one of my favourite historical novels is Felix Dahn's A Struggle for Rome which depicts the superhuman but hopelessly doomed effort of a Roman nobleman, Cethegus, to play out the Ostrogoths and the Byzantines against each other and revive the Western Empire halfway the 6th century. There is also Arthurian legend, with its last flowering of Celtic and pagan culture before the inevitable victory of the Anglo-Saxons and Christianity; and of course Tolkien and his elves; or indeed the replicants from Blade Runner and their useless struggle to gain a lifespan of more than four years. Or the Consul in Dan Simmons' Hyperion and his vengeance in the name of cultures, species and ecologies that have been killed by an expansionist human society:

On Whirl we stalked the elusive zeplen through their cloud towers. It is possible that they were not sapient by human or Core standards. But they were beautiful. When they died, rippling in rainbow colors, their many-hued messages unseen, unheard by their fleeing herdmates, the beauty of their death agony was beyond words. We sold their photoreceptive skins to Web corporations, their flesh to worlds like Heaven's Gate, and ground their bones to powder to sell as aphrodisiacs to the impotent and superstitious on a score of other colony worlds.
("Hyperion", p. 338)

I guess that part of me getting there was being an uncool fourteen-year old. And fifteen-year old. And sixteen-year old. Uncool with a serious sense of pathos, that is. Though it's easy to look down on one's feelings at that age. They were real enough. Mind you, I got through high school well enough, all things considered. I had some close friends, became a metalhead which fitted my temperament exactly, wrote dreadful love poetry in between typing manifestoes extolling the virtues of Comrade Stalin, and was content to just fantasize about suicidal shoot-outs rather than putting them into practice.

This said, my girlfriendlessness combined with my taste for historical and fantasy novels warped my ideas about love and sexuality a bit.

And no matter how much I would like to assent to the theses of the one part of me above, the other part knows very well that the kink-friendly, tolerant, happy-go-lucky, yet responsible attitude towards sexuality - exemplified perhaps best by the very readable and occasionally hilarious Dan Savage's sex advice colums - that all that is something for the Cool People. And whatever they are, I ain't it. I am, in the end, a Vogon. Descendant of what must be a long line of clumsy, clueless, hopelessly romantic amoebas, early multicellular creatures, primitive fish who all succeeded in somehow procreating by accident. I stand here in spite of the impossibility of me standing here. And my occasional successes in love and in romance and in sex merely underscore that impossibility.

Putting it all together

"I don't think a man ever gets over that first sight of the naked woman," he said. "I think that's Eve standing over him, that's the morning and the dew on the skin. And I think that's the major content of every man's imagination. All the sad adventures in pornography and love and song are just steps on the path towards that holy vision."
An Interview with Leonard Cohen

I guess there is a reason why I am attracted to some of the figures that I started this post with - Sade, Solanas, Limonov, maybe even Boyd Rice. They're still countercultural in a society which has wholly succeeded in assimilating and commodifying the 60s counterculture which spawned the sexual revolution. No matter where your hard limits lie, Sade is not okay, Solanas is not okay - they stand there, inapproachable, at the very end of the field. There's a recent film on Sade called Quills which unfortunately turns Sade in some kind of clownish, basically harmless pornographer. It's brilliantly played by Geoffrey Rush, mind you, but I don't think it does justice to the man. Who, on the one hand, wrote the 120 Days which is such an obsessive catalogue of horrors that it would scare the devils from Hell and who, for all the bloodthirstiness of his writings, refused to execute his own worst enemies at the height of the Terror and whose Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man pretty much sets the height of secular humanist ethics. Whatever he was, he wasn't the clown Geoffrey Rush makes him out to be. And he was definitely not harmless.

Figures like Sade and Solanas are the suicide terrorists of love. They explode all you are comfortable with, until, alone and naked in the rubble, you're not so comfortable anymore because you have a sinking feeling that what Sade says about cruelty and enjoying the torment of others and what Solanas says about the nature of manhood might actually be true, even though it should not be.

My agreement with (some) feminist politics is instrumental only. I'm a strong believer in individual freedom, even if it means the freedom to do stupid things, which puts me in the libertarian Wendy McElroy camp. I obviously believe in equal rights before the law. But I no longer share the socialist pipe-dream that harmonious relationships between the two sexes are ultimately attainable. Or perhaps even desirable. Because I believe that they would take what Houellebecq and C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity sketched for the future: an abolishment of sexuality. Barring that, our infinite capacity to hurt one another combined with the basic impossibility of love (a desire to merge with the other, feel what he or she feels) guarantees that it's going to be conflict all the way down to the second coming.

Which I am fine with. Nothing more boring than utopias.

I just spoke of the impossibility of love. I must correct myself. It was fatalistic, romantic Merlijn speaking again. Ultimately, to open oneself up wholly to the other is impossible - no matter how much I try and want to, I cannot literally share another person's pain, or joy, and there's always dark recesses of the mind which remain forever private and a core of individuality which we cannot transcend. Religiously, I believe, however, that one day we will: that our alienation (from each other, from creation as a whole, from God) will be transcended in the Kingdom of God. There are times when I want nothing more than this, and there are times I dread the prospect. But the impossibility of reaching this ultimate goal by ourselves alone does not make the process itself meaningless.

Sometimes I think the main drivers of sexuality and religious mysticism point at something similar: the desire to break down, for a moment, all the barriers between oneself and the other, to negate one's own ultimate loneliness by negating oneselves, and finding oneself strangely and joyously confirmed in the embrace of another.

And whatever bedroom acrobatics it takes a consenting couple to get there, I couldn't care less.

I'll continue this post some other time.

4 opmerkingen:

Ilíon zei

The horrible thing is that if you ever get this all worked out, you'll find that you have become a "Puritan" (the quotes are because the word is so misused).

I'll freely admit that I haven't read your whole post ... it's too "European" for me. ;)

Merlijn de Smit zei

Heh heh, maybe. I don't think so, but we'll see where figuring all these things out lead me.

mattghg zei


You're missing out.


The Meiwes affair caused me a great deal of consternation, too. In the end it killed my "anything goes between consenting adults" morality stone dead, but that morality took a while to die because it's so clearly taken as axiomatic by those who regard themselves as Englightened (you know, the "liberaler than thou" type), to whom I paid far too much attention. Like I did the cool kids at school, I guess ;)

Just felt like sharing.

Merlijn de Smit zei

Thanks, mattghg. I guess I'm precisely in the situation where I can't take the old morality for granted anymore, but I still need to sort out what replaces it.