… what will you do with it? I mean, what’s the first big thing you’ll do with it. Don’t tell me all the decent and responsible things you’ll do with it. I know you will. So will I. What’s the first BIG FUN THING you’ll do with it?
Me, I’ll find a big place in France to rent for the summer — probably at the coast in Brittany, with cool breezes and fresh seafood, especially raw oysters — and clear out of town. I’ll send my family members and favorite friends first-class tickets to come visit for as long as they like.
That’s my neighbor, K.W. Kennon, proprietor of the Shadetree Inn. That’s my part of town, St. Francisville. If we pull off this Walker Percy Weekend, this is the town where you’ll be visiting. Shadetree is one of the best places in the whole town to stay, and K.W. is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
We need leaders who have more confidence in American people and more skepticism for big government
— Gov. Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal) May 17, 2013
The era of big government is strangling our freedom
— Gov. Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal) May 17, 2013
Look, I think the IRS and AP phone records scandals are big deals too, and there is something to be said for fidelity to tradition. But good grief, these Republican boilerplate lines have been stale for 30 years.
In the 1980s, the Roman Catholic Church may have aided and abetted pedophiles in its clerical ranks by not acting against them. But bizarre as it sounds, the avowedly secular Green Party in West Germany actively promoted pedophiles and their interests, as Der Spiegel reports. Excerpts:
He is a boy, roughly 10 years old, with a pretty face, full lips, a straight nose and shoulder-length hair. The wings of an angel protrude from his narrow back, and a penis is drawn with thin lines on the front of his body.
The 1986 image was printed in the newsletter of the Green Party’s national working group on “Gays, Pederasts and Transsexuals,” abbreviated as “BAG SchwuP.” It wasn’t just sent to a few scattered party members, but was addressed to Green Party members of the German parliament, as well as the party’s headquarters in Bonn.
Documents like this have become a problem for the Greens today. Some 33 years after the party was founded, it is now being haunted by a chapter in its history that many would have preferred to forget. No political group in Germany promoted the interests of men with pedophile tendencies as staunchly as the environmental party. For a period of time in the mid-1980s, it practically served as the parliamentary arm of the pedophile movement.
A look at its archives reveals numerous traces of the pedophiles’ flirtation with the Green Party. They appear in motions, party resolutions, memos and even reports by the party treasurer. That is because at times the party not only supported its now forgotten fellow campaigners politically, but also more tangibly, in the form of financial support.
When the Green Party was founded in 1980, pedophiles were part of the movement from the start — not at the center of its activities, but always hovering along the periphery. At the first party convention in the southwestern German city of Karlsruhe, pacifists, feminists and opponents of nuclear energy were joined by the so-called “Urban Indians,” who advocated the “legalization of all affectionate sexual relations between adults and children.” From then on, pedophiles, noisy and wearing colorful body paint, were often a visible part of Green Party gatherings.
In their initial approach to the issue, Green Party leaders have agreed that they are dealing with regrettable but isolated cases. “Protecting children from sexual abuse was and remains a central concern,” says party co-chairman Cem Özdemir. “It is unacceptable that some are now trying to reinterpret the positions of individual groups in the past as a supposedly lax position of the Greens toward the sexual abuse of children.”
But it isn’t that simple. The Greens are not being accused of having advocated sex with children. The real question is whether they contributed to an atmosphere in which people could feel emboldened to pursue tendencies that are illegal if acted upon, and for good reason.
“In terms of national politics, the Greens were the only hope for pedophiles,” says Kurt Hartmann, a member of BAG SchwuP in the 1980s who now heads an association that promotes pedophile literature. “They were the only party that put their necks on the line for sexual minorities in the long term.”
The “Schwuppies,” as pedophiles are known within the party, made no secret of their sexual preferences. BAG SchwuP memos were circulated within party committees that openly portrayed minors as objects of sexual desire. One typical image is a photo of a boy in skimpy gym shorts, bending forward slightly as he stands on a playground. The official letterhead of the chairman of BAG SchwuP, Dieter F. Ullmann, featured a drawing of an older man with his arm draped over a young boy’s shoulders.
Party leaders claim that SchwuP was an embarrassment to the national party from the beginning. A look at the files, on the other hand, shows that the pedophile organization received funding — amounting to several thousand deutsche marks over the years — from the Green Party itself and from its parliamentary group in the Bundestag.
[Via Lee Podles.]
From the Angel & Harp pub. You know what I’m going to do when I win the $600 million Powerball lotto tomorrow night? Take the whole summer and drive around England with this reader, visiting pubs. A man can dream, can’t he?
Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan has a smart post criticizing the move by Swarthmore students to compel the college to divest itself of investments in fossil fuels. Swarthmore’s administration tells the students that it will increase their annual bill from $56,000 to $69,000. Excerpt:
Even if Swarthmore’s claim of a $13K annual tuition increase as a result of divesting from fossil fuels is high, it’s common sense that any investing strategy that makes choices based on politics rather than financial considerations will come with a cost. And that that cost will ultimately be passed on to students, and their parents, and to society at large, when some portion of them default on their insane student loan balance. There is some amount of cognitive dissonance involved in holding the positions “My college is too expensive” and “My college should purposely pursue a lower return on its investments” simultaneously.
One of that thread’s commenters makes a good point:
[T]he main problem here is that the students protesting and demanding that the college divest from anything having to do with fossil fuels will not be the ones to shoulder these costs. The costs will be paid by future applicants and future classes, none of whom have a voice in the current debate. Why should, say, Brown eliminate all fossil fuel related investments from its portfolio to satisfy members of the class of 2014 when it would be applicants in 2018 who would see costs rise by $10,000 or whatever?
In my neighborhood K-8 school, to give an example of the same kind of thinking, there is a group of parents who want to scrap the traditional enrollment scheme that prioritizes neighborhood kids (who are almost all white, as are their kids) in order to diversify the student body. Great idea! Except…their kids are in 8th grade, and will be leaving the school next year, so there is no chance that their kids will lost their spot under this new scheme. It’s generally speaking a bad idea to let your policy be guided by people who will not be at all affected by the consequences of that policy.
No, not another BDSM thread. This, from Psychology Today, is about a different kind of discipline:
In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%. How come the epidemic of ADHD—which has become firmly established in the United States—has almost completely passed over children in France?
Is ADHD a biological-neurological disorder? Surprisingly, the answer to this question depends on whether you live in France or in the United States. In the United States, child psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes. The preferred treatment is also biological–psycho stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.
French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context. They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling. This is a very different way of seeing things from the American tendency to attribute all symptoms to a biological dysfunction such as a chemical imbalance in the child’s brain.
The writer goes on to talk about how French parents take a more holistic approach to treating children who act up and act out, considering environmental and nutritional factors. And there’s this:
French parents have a different philosophy of disciplinine. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word “no” rescues children from the “tyranny of their own desires.” And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France.
This describes exactly how I was raised, and most Southerners in my town, of my generation, were raised — with the notable exception of food consumption, which for some cultural reason was not subject to discipline. My parents were fairly strict, but not unusually so for this culture, and I recall with deep appreciation how safe the limits set, and enforced, by my folks made me feel. Ruthie and I talked about that every now and then as adults, how free we felt as children within the behavioral boundaries set by our mom and dad. I mean, we wouldn’t have described it that way as kids, but that’s exactly what it was. I can remember the times we would go over to the house of someone whose kids ran wild. It felt unsafe, like there was no one in charge, and anything could happen.
I am aware of how our culture erred in ascribing moral failure to neurological distress, e.g., seeing biochemically-caused depression as a moral phenomenon. But in some cases, we overreact. Sometimes the problem does have a moral component, and we can train the brain to respond differently to outside stimuli.
Parenting is hard. So is civilization.
A reader writes on the Problem With Public Schools Is Often The Public thread:
A very interesting discussion. Here some personal observations. Let me state that I am a wilderness tour guide in a third world country with small groups. For some reason or another I have teachers from all over the world among my clients. I spent hours taking to them and I believe we are facing a world wide crisis not only an American one. I believe though that in America it is the worst and it has something to do with American culture. But before I elaborate here a few stories that have stuck in my mind:
- PE teacher from Boulder CO. Great guy, lovely character a real role model if there ever was one. He tells how kids from affluent!!! families don´t even have eaten breakfast when they come to school. Why not? To stressful for the parents no time. In that particular third world country that was unheard of. My partner guide who is a local PE teacher couldn´t believe it. No matter how poor the parents no mother lets her kid go to school without breakfast. Our customer from Boulder also told us how he asks all his kids with ADD how much TV they watch and how much sport they do. I believe you don´t need to know the answer.
Anyhow our customer had been transferred from his school to another one after he had tried to reign in the sale of junk food in his school and the fact that fast food companies are allowed to advertise freely on school grounds.
— Nurse from London. Mid fifties. Shocking tales of families without dinner tables!!! Tales of ever lowering nutritional standards. Diabetes in kids a.s.o.
—- PE teacher from Germany. Sad tales of kids who can´t climb ropes, can´t do push ups, believe themselves entitled, love “chilling out” instead of being active. Really unbelievable tales of decreasing physical standards. But unfortunately alll to true as I heard from other teachers. Tells how the high tech companies in the South can´t find good apprentices anymore as kids can´t concentrate-
I could cite yet a lot more examples. I believe that is what we get if we let the minds of our young be colonized by money seeking corporations. TV and visual entertainment are to culture what fast food is to food. It is not only an American problem but a world wide one. America is just the country which is furthest down that particular trek.
Another observation from talking to teachers and also from living in that particular third world country: nothing is going to work without respect. And there´s no respect for teachers in the West or very little. But a good teacher is almost a wizard. Teaching is as much talent as skill. It is crazy to believe you can mikromanage teaching as they seem to believe in many parts of the US. (And increasingly in Western Europe as well) It is deeply interpersonal and somebody above has written about Haiti. Same true for my third world country. People have no money, teachers get very bad salaries and schools are lacking all kinds of materials. Still they learn more than in the US, the Netherlands and Germany. (That is what I heard from young natives returning from thoese countries) And why?
First and foremost because teachers are still honoured and derive personal satisfaction from their “vocation”. Yes vocation. And then because people still live in a physical reality and not in some electronically created fictional world where daddy state takes care of the fast food.
I believe it will take nothing less than a revolution to turn things around. For the sake of our children food and culture needs to be taken out of the hands of profit oriented corporations. But we will also need to affect a revolution in values. We will need to throw out all that 60s counterculture crap and return to the values that have served mankind since times immortal. As there are respect for elders, clear orientation for kids (no gay marriage and assorted nonsense), sexual modesty and all those other old fashioned conservative values. Our believe that we can be anything and can do anything is only an illusion. Life is not some TV series or some Internet role playing. We are still foremost physical beings and need to acknowledge the existence of god. Everything follows from that.
Let me encourage everyone to refrain from seizing on the reader’s gay marriage remark as a reason to avoid taking anything else he has to say seriously. Just don’t let’s go there. I’m not going to let the thread go off in that direction, so be forewarned.
I don’t fully agree with the reader that this is a matter of corporations compelling parents to live this way. I wouldn’t say corporations are guiltless, but the primary responsibility here must be borne by the people who demand and consume this stuff. That is, us.
This post brought to mind something that occurred to me the other night at bedtime. I was trying to read a novel, but couldn’t get into it, even though I was interested in the writing and the ideas. Trying to get into it felt like trying to land a plane, but not being able to touch down on the runway, or trying to fall asleep, but struggling with insomnia. I couldn’t get my mind to settle down enough to sustain concentration on the text.
I put the novel down, picked up my laptop, and fooled around online for a while. Then it occurred to me that this is a physiological response. Spending all day online, in that environment, has trained my mind and body to be frustrated when I ask myself to focus on a particular task for any length of time. I get the heebie-jeebies. Getting back online calms me.
This is a deformation. This is disordered.
A thought: could this be a deeper implication within Emily Witt’s linking of the deadening culture of porn and Google? That the mediated way many of us experience reality these days — through electronic media, especially online — conditions our brains to see constant stimulation as normative? Compared to most parents, we limit the exposure our kids have to electronic media, but during Lent, we put our kids on an electronic media fast. No TV, no electronic games, no nothing. We noticed much better behavior, especially in the child of ours who is most into video games.
I’m not making a moral point here. I’m making a physiological one, but one with moral implications.
We are forgetting how to be quiet in our minds, and still in our souls. It’s a form of environmental poison, isn’t it?
Reader R-P in Texas, commenting on the “Can A Place Cease To Exist?” thread, tells the story of how his hometown ceased to exist:
I am from one of those Texas panhandle towns. My family had lived there for over a century. When I tell people the story of what happened in those towns a couple of decades ago, they are incredulous. Surely, they say, I’m describing the Great Depression – not the 1980′s and 1990′s.
Most farmers there in the late 70′s were involved in government loan programs that went back to the New Deal. Those programs had saved many communities there. One town is even named New Deal in honor of them. A government department called the Farmer’s Home Administration would loan farmers operating capital against their crop each year. This was done to smooth out income. Any debt remaining from bad years was paid off in bumper crop years. This program supported many small farms well until 1981, when interest rates jumped to over 20%. The sudden jump in interest rates meant that farmers had huge debt overhang that they carried from year to year which compounded with the high rates. We also had several years of drought in the 1980′s which meant many crop failures and very high irrigation costs.
This lead to the “farm crisis” of the mid-1980′s. Once a farmers debt load reached a certain level, they were basically kicked out of the program. They got no new operating loans and had to default. Their equipment and land were seized and auctioned off. Anything still owed was written off and reported to the IRS as “income”, so many of these farmers lost everything and then were pursued by the IRS for years or decades. My dad was one of them. This happened in farm communities all across the Great Plains. One factor made the Texas Panhandle different though. Much of the West Texas economy was also based on oil. As the farm crisis was hitting its peak, oil prices collapsed. The entire West Texas economy went down with it.
It was a catastrophe. Thousands of middle class families were pushed into poverty, sometimes in a matter of weeks. They were often refused welfare and government assistance because they owed money to government programs. (One welfare administrator told me in a very matter-of-fact manner that our family would qualify if my mom would divorce my dad. She said she had been giving that advice to someone almost daily.) One program that did accept everyone gave away large boxes of food once a month. The line usually stretched for blocks every month. It was so bizarre seeing food lines in 1980′s rural America.
Businesses began cutting employees and boarding up. The little town couldn’t support three pharmacies anymore. Then it couldn’t support two. The last one changed hands frequently as it barely stayed afloat. The three grocery stores fell to one. The local burger joints where we all worked as teenagers became empty lots. We were told that many counties had 50% unemployment and nobody was surprised. My grandmother had lived through the depression and dust bowl. She said this was worse.
Many – maybe most – of us teenagers were trapped. We didn’t have the resources or backing to go to college which was at least 60-70 miles away. You couldn’t move to the city to get a job, because none of us had rent or food money to get started. So we took whatever seasonal work we could scrounge up, and sometimes got help from relatives who had government jobs or elderly ones who got Social Security. Of my group of friends, most ended up in the military. A couple ended up in jail. I spent six years scraping by until I was able to put together a couple of years of college, then got a job in Dallas with help from a relative. Eventually we were all gone, but it was a trickle over many years. It didn’t happen all at once.
My hometown, at least as it was for a century, has ceased to exist. The population has dropped by a third since I was in high school. It would have dropped more but there has been a lot of immigration from Mexico into the panhandle in the last 15 years. Between seasonal work and welfare even they can barely get by. The little conservative Protestant town that had been dry since Prohibition now has liquor stores on the main street through town. I have a friend who stayed behind – or more accurately got stuck. He says they voted in liquor sales because it meant a handful of jobs, and because booze gave people there at least something to feel better.
Most of the people I grew up with are now in Lubbock or Amarillo or Dallas. The few descendants of the frontier settlers that founded the town are elderly and dying off. I miss the hometown where I grew up. It doesn’t exist anymore.
(Photo above from the blogsite Texas Ghost Towns.)
It’s a little bit frustrating when some readers complain that several posts about a bunch of BDSM freaks in San Francisco, led by a pornographer-dominatrix named Princess Donna, indicate an irrational interest on my part in the activities of a radical sexual minority. The essay that prompted my initial post, and subsequent posts from Noah Millman, Alan Jacobs, and Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, raises much broader questions than whether or not we think that submitting to sexual abuse for pleasure and profit is morally good, bad, or neutral. As Conor Friedersdorf’s take on the controversy shows. Friedersdorf says, of our various blog reactions:
All of them grapple, at least in part, with what our response ought to be to the explicit acts described. Put bluntly, a group of San Franciscans crowded into a basement to watch and participate as a diminutive female porn actress (who consented very specifically to all that followed) is bound with rope, gagged, slapped, mildly electrocuted, and sexually penetrated in most every way. The tenor and intensity of the event can’t be conveyed without reading the full rendering. The object of all that abuse describes it afterward as physically uncomfortable at times, but intensely pleasurable throughout. She departs extremely happy and eager to do it again.
Was the consent of all participants sufficient to make the porn shoot a morally defensible enterprise?
That’s a great question, and the one Conor takes up in his essay. To put it crudely, both Alan and I strongly believe that consent is not sufficient to make this a morally defensible enterprise. The fact that the young woman chose to be sexually abused in front of a crowd makes it more morally defensible than if she were compelled to suffer like this against her will, but her acts are not, in our judgment, rendered morally defensible because she consented to them.
Conor mostly disagrees with this, and rather than sum up his post, which defies easy summation, I’d suggest that you read it. My sense is that he posits a false choice: either between consent as the “lodestar” (his word) of defining the morality of sexual acts, or consent as inconsequential in determining the morality of sexual acts — a position I think he assigns to Alan and me. I don’t think that’s what Alan believes, and I assure you it’s not what I believe. I think we have made real advances culturally on the consent front, in the sense that for a sexual act to be morally worthy, there has to be mutual consent. You would scarcely find a Christian who would disagree with you. It’s true that in the not too distant past, society — including many Christians — believed that within a marriage, a woman was morally bound to submit to unconstricted sexual relations with her husband (therefore, “marital rape” could not exist). We by and large no longer believe that, and that, to me, is progress.
Yet it is not the case that making consent a sine qua non — that is, an irreducible element — of moral sexual acts therefore makes consent the only meaningful factor in making that determination. Conor’s argument appears to assume this. I believe it is possible for people to voluntarily consent to things that are immoral. Conor believes this too. As he concludes in his post:
The question remains. Are some kinds of sex degrading or immoral even if they’re consensual? Unlike many conservatives, I don’t particularly trust my disgust instinct. It misled me about Brussels sprouts in childhood, and again in the days before I became a dog-owner about how awful it would be to pick up freshly defecated feces with nothing but a thin plastic bag covering my hand. It really isn’t that bad. Who knew? My strong instinct is nevertheless to say yes, some consensual sex acts are immoral. A brother and sister breaking the incest taboo diminishes the norm of presumed nonsexual contact between siblings, a norm that is of tremendous benefit to most of humanity. Or imagine a couple agreeing that it would bring unsurpassed excitement if, mid-coitus, Sally chopped off Harry’s arm with a bedside guillotine, with his consent. That certainly transgresses against my sensibilities, though I can’t articulate just why in a way that wouldn’t encompass other behavior that my instinct would be to refrain from condemning. But if a brother raped a sister? Or if Sally chopped off Harry’s arm without his consent?
That would be much worse.
See what happened there? Conor — who’s a friend, and who is someone I respect greatly, just so you know — admits that there are some things consenting adults choose to do sexually that are disgusting and wrong. But he doesn’t trust his instinct to be a reliable guide, and he doesn’t seem to have any other reliable guide other than consent. But the only defense he offers of consent as the only important factor is the prospect that the lack of consent is worse.
Well, sure, it’s much worse for Sally to chop off Harry’s arm mid-coitus without his consent than for her to do so with his consent. But it’s still pretty horrible and perverse for him to consent to such an act. Why is this so hard to say? And if you cannot say that it’s grossly immoral, even if consent is given, where do you draw the line? In Germany, prosecutors did not know how to deal with the case a decade ago of Arwin Meiwes, a cannibal who advertised for a victim willing to be slaughtered in a sexualized ritual. He found one, and slowly killed the guy, and ate him. Meiwes’ defense? His victim soberly consented to the whole thing, and he (Meiwes) could prove it by videotape. Eventually prosecutors won a conviction, but however they managed this legally, that doesn’t answer the moral question as to whether or not consent validates the gruesome act.
I am certain that Conor would condemn Meiwes’s action as evil. The question is, on what basis. The act of the cannibal and his lover is, of course, about as extreme as you can imagine, but it is often in the extremes that principles become more clear. A Christian has a strong basis for condemning this act as perverse and evil, even though (to use a common cheap rhetorical trick) Jesus never said a word about cannibals eating their victims in a sexualized ritual. Aside from Christian sexual codes, such an act — like the sadomasochistic performance Emily Witt wrote about — grotesquely violates the inherent nature of human beings, and their dignity as beings created in the image of God. This, by the way, is why, by Christian standards, torture is intrinsically evil. Torture is partly evil because it involves unwanted violence, but it is also evil because it violates at a profound level human dignity — and in so doing, defiles the sacred.
This is true even if the torture is welcomed for pleasure, as it was by the porn actress in the San Francisco video shoot.
This is the chasm between Christian and post-Christian culture, or at least the post-Christian culture in which we live. For all its many flaws, Christianity (like Islam, like Judaism) at least offers a standard by which to judge right and wrong. It was not an uncontested standard — as the Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates in its paragraph on torture, the Church itself has not historically acted or taught consistently on the matter of torture — but Christianity at least holds on to the idea that Truth exists, and is knowable, however imperfectly.
This is not the world that Conor lives in. I say that not as a criticism, but as an observation. Absent any firm, clear prescriptive morality for sexual conduct, desire and consent are the only things one can know and give with certainty. And yet, as Conor concedes, there are some sex acts that his “strong instinct” tells him are immoral. But he can’t say why, other than that he feels that they are. Well, what about those who don’t share his feeling? How do you tell them they are wrong?
Ultimately, this is a far more fundamental question and difference than a matter of mere disgust, or mere sexual ethics. As I wrote in my Sex After Christianity essay, this is about a cosmological view of reality. Is morality intrinsic to the cosmos, or are things only right or wrong because we say so? In that piece, I said:
Gradually the West lost the sense that Christianity had much to do with civilizational order, Taylor writes. In the 20th century, casting off restrictive Christian ideals about sexuality became increasingly identified with health. By the 1960s, the conviction that sexual expression was healthy and good—the more of it, the better—and that sexual desire was intrinsic to one’s personal identity culminated in the sexual revolution, the animating spirit of which held that freedom and authenticity were to be found not in sexual withholding (the Christian view) but in sexual expression and assertion. That is how the modern American claims his freedom.
To Rieff, ours is a particular kind of “revolutionary epoch” because the revolution cannot by its nature be institutionalized. Because it denies the possibility of communal knowledge of binding truths transcending the individual, the revolution cannot establish a stable social order. As Rieff characterizes it, “The answer to all questions of ‘what for’ is ‘more’.”
Our post-Christian culture, then, is an “anti-culture.” We are compelled by the logic of modernity and the myth of individual freedom to continue tearing away the last vestiges of the old order, convinced that true happiness and harmony will be ours once all limits have been nullified.
Christianity as the lodestar of civilizational order is gone. In its place is Autonomous Individualism, of which consent is the guiding ethic, and personal happiness the absolute telos. You cannot have Utopia; which civilization is likely to be more humane, a Christian one, or a Therapeutic one (to use Rieff’s term)? To paraphrase Eliot, you may reject God, but you’d better be prepared to pay your respects to Princess Donna.