The modern transformation of asceticism and the origins of the culture war

Many of us have responded to the new threat to Roe v. Wade by reminding people that the aim of the right is not to protect unborn children but to control women. However, for some people, accustomed to living in a world in which they expect women to be treated as full participants in our political, social, and cultural lives,  that notion is odd. They don’t understand that control of women means and why it is so important in right wing thought. There are a number of answers but one is that policing abortion is part of the right-wing project of policing sexuality as a whole. And policing sexuality, especially female sexuality, is, for the  right wing mind, critical to ensuring that men carry out their responsibilities to have and take care of children and hold down a job. As is common in political and social life these claims rest… Continue reading

It had to be us

Stop and think about it for minute: Every woman I know has said “me, too” in the last few days. In fact, it appears that every woman on FB has said, “me, too.” That’s a lot of awful treatment of millions of women. And it was not all done by Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, and three or four other guys. Most of us men have to be responsible for some part of it. Who else is there? Some of us may have only engaged in or tolerated the repulsive, slut-shaming that was common place when I was in college. Some of us may have asked for sex in ways that were unfair or pressured. (My book on sexuality got its start my junior year in college when I recognized that the sexual revolution gave men seeking unattached sex a new way to badger women into having sex that… Continue reading

Why Women Don’t Report Rape

Defending Cosby Many people have long loved Bill Cosby, for his abilities as an entertainer, his attractive persona or, in some cases, his penchant for blaming young black people for their difficulties. And many—although fewer each week—of these people have been so deeply troubled by the multiple accusations of sexual violence against Cosby that they have rushed to his defense. Their responses to the accusations have echoed two themes that are quite common when women accuse men of rape. First, many of the accusers have themselves been accused of lying, of making up stories about Cosby. The motives attributed to these women are varied—some have been said to be gold diggers who either hope for an out of court financial settlement of the kind Cosby gave to Andrea Constand or who hope to parlay their accusation into a magazine or book deal. (The statute of limitations for both criminal and… Continue reading

Civilization and its Contents: Platonic Reflections on Sex and the Culture Wars

A précis of the book I’m hoping to finish in 2021. I’m going to start linking from this page to posts of of draft chapters soon. Comments always welcome! Civilization and its Contents: Platonic Reflections on Sex and the Culture Wars critiques the conception of human sexuality that underlie both left and right in the contemporary culture wars. It presents a radically new  account of sexuality and its place in human life, one that encourages various good ways of pursuing sex that bring pleasure and a connection to other people and in a way that recognizes and supports the fundamental equality of  men and women. The three philosophical essays of part one of Civilization and Its Contents set out the traditional view of sexuality in some detail and contrasts it with a very different view, inspired by Plato and Aristotle (although admittedly an unorthodox interpretation of them).  I show that extremes of left and… Continue reading

The New Sexual World We Have Made and the Return of the Culture Wars

In the last fifty years, we have seen a dramatic transformation in both relationships between the sexes and our relationship to sexuality. No one thinks that there is any likelihood that we will return to traditional practices and beliefs. But in the last few months Republican candidates have tried to reignite the culture war that has accompanied these transformations.

One reason that traditionalists continue to call the changes of the last fifty years into question is that of those of us who have turned away from traditionalist ideas don’t give as deep a defense of the new world we have made as we could. We defend sexual freedom, feminism, and the acceptance of homosexuality mostly by talking about the ideals of freedom, individuality and autonomy. The traditionalists answer that those modern ideals are empty and low, a mere excuse for doing whatever we want to do. And they claim that the changes in our lives are deeply in conflict with the ideals of love, marriage, and the care of children. Of course we, too, seek love, marriage and the care of children. But we haven’t asserted as strongly as we should or could that our ideals are not only fully compatible with but enhance our prospects for love, marriage and the care of our children.

This essay sketches a new theory of sexuality that underlies an account of the new sexuality we have been creating as we throw off traditional ideas and build a new way of integrating sexuality into our lives. It’s based on my forthcoming book, Civilization and Its Discontents: Reflections on Sex and the Culture Wars. focus in the essay on Continue reading

Unrequited Love’s a Bore

It’s not, of course. Not when you have it pretty bad, when it is the only thing about which you can think. And not when you don’t, either. If all the songs, and films that are at least partly about unrequited love were to disappear, half the jukebox slots in America would be empty and the video stores would carry much less stock. Unrequited love is only a bore when you have to hear about it from a suffering friend. And perhaps it is also a bore when you try, as I’m going to do in this essay, to think about how we deal with it. We express or listen to expressions of unrequited love all the time. But there is surprisingly little written about unrequited love that is reflective about the variety of ways in which we might respond to it. And that’s, in one way, surprising because, as… Continue reading

Rape, domination and sexuality

Matt Ruben wrote a good op-ed in the Daily News today that points out that rape is a crime of violence against women and that calls for making the hate crimes law apply to such violence.   I agree with this conclusion.   But in the course of making the argument, Matt repeats a staple of feminist thought when he says that “research has demolished the myth that rape is a crime of lust or passion. It’s a crime of power: Men rape women because they seek to dominate and brutalize them.” That I don’t think is quite right. Rape is a sexual act as well as an act of domination. And we won’t understand rape, or the other ways both vile and much more innocuous, in which men dominate women unless we grasp that. Continue reading

Dreaming the city of our lives; finding the city of our dreams

Here is a problem for the 21st century: how do you live a life that is changing and flexible and that requires constantly reinventing oneself when there are things in life—family, bodies of knowledge and work, the soul of a person you love—that require long term commitments. Maybe forging a soul of any depth, or getting to know one, is like getting to know a city with broad avenues, narrow alleys, and everything in between; one that holds surprises around almost every corner. You can get to know it only if you can travel back and forth in it from every direction. Not systematically, not with a plan in mind but serendipitously. Eventually, you learn how to make your way through it almost instinctively, knowing at each corner how to get to where else you want to go. That’s Wittgenstein’s understanding of learning your way around a city–and of doing… Continue reading

The Crooked Thing

To the woman who has me looped. Brown Penny I whispered, ‘I am too young,’ And then, ‘I am old enough’; Wherefore I threw a penny To find out if I might love. ‘Go and love, go and love, young man, If the lady be young and fair.’ Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, I am looped in the loops of her hair. O love is the crooked thing, There is nobody wise enough To find out all that is in it, For he would be thinking of love Till the stars had run away And the shadows eaten the moon. Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, One cannot begin it too soon. W. B. Yeats “Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing can ever be made.” Immanuel Kant I’ve loved this poem for a long time. But it was only a few years ago that I think… Continue reading

Your love is not like a faucet

Love is just like a faucet it turns off and on Love is like a faucet It turns off and on Sometimes when you think it’s on baby It has turned off and gone Billie Holiday Fine and Mellow Your love is like a faucet You can turn it off and on Albert King Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong And I have felt A presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man; A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things. William Wordsworth Tintern Abbey We usually think that power, strength, and achievement in politics and the world of ideas—and… Continue reading