Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
They Said It:
A wholly sensate, materialist society, in Sorokin’s opinion, ultimately loses all moral restraint to the point at which crime and lawlessness make the pursuit of happiness a hollow goal. Competition for goods becomes increasingly vicious as greed, untrammeled by other values, outstrips the speed at which resources can be induced to match demand. The resulting loss of social cohesion leaves the community defenceless; revulsion against moral anarchy and the sordidness of sensate arts invites belief in a new and more challenging philosophy of life, thus further disrupting traditional loyalties. In the end, the sensate society commits suicide.
Anne Glyn-Jones, Holding Up a Mirror: How Civilizations Decline, 1996.
“HEALTH CARE” AND THE SENSATE SOCIETY.
For several reasons, the Affordable Care Act – better known as Obamacare – has dominated the domestic political news of late. For starters, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in the cases of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, both of which address the legality of the law’s contraception mandate. Additionally, yesterday was the 2014 deadline for enrollment in Obamacare plans. Or at least it was supposed to be the deadline. In what the Obama administration denied was another “delay,” it . . . uhhh . . . delayed the deadline for a couple of weeks, claiming that its own technological ineptitude necessitated the non-delay delay. Or something like that.
Ironically, in the grand scheme of things, it is quite possible that the latter of these two developments, made specifically to minimize the political damage that this law is causing to Democrats, may be the most important of the two politically,
You see, Obama is between a rock and a hard place. He knows that the voting public hates the law, and he further knows that part of this hatred stems from the fact that ever since implementation began last October, he has been rescheduling its deadlines and shifting expectations for its performance, in large part to distract public attention from the disaster that it has been and the even bigger disaster that it will become over time. On the other hand, he knows that if he is not able to temper that hatred by making the law at least administratively adequate, then this culmination of 100 years of progressive health-care-policy scheming may well also prove to be the culmination of 100 years of progressive rule in this country. After all, if the Left cannot successfully implement the policy that it has viewed for the better part of the past half century as the final jewel in the crown of utopian liberalism, then how can it possibly manage anything else in this increasingly chaotic and complicated global civilization?
At the same time, for our purposes today and for the purposes of social and political commentary in the near term, we think that the fight before the nation’s highest court over the so-called “contraception mandate” may be the more interesting and telling of the two. After all, this policy lies at the heart of the Obama administration’s de facto claim that the federal government can compel anyone it damn well pleases – outside a handful of churches – to do just about anything it damn well pleases, up to and including paying for contraception and abortifacient drugs that they find abhorrent.
Now, it would hardly take a genius to figure out how we feel about this subject. But, for the record, we look upon the mandate as an attempt to destroy the remaining vestiges of American civil society. Yet there is a broader and much more important aspect to this dispute. That being what it tells us about Western Civilization’s past, present, and future.
If you were to ask almost anyone involved in political or social commentary about the female “college student” who best exemplifies the cultural inclinations that underpin the contraception mandate, you’d probably receive a raft of observations about one Sandra Fluke. Fluke, you recall, is the erstwhile Georgetown Law School student and current Democratic Congressional candidate who catapulted to fame by insisting that it was far more practical and moral for her Jesuit educators to pay for her birth control pills than for her to shell out the $30 bucks a month to buy them herself.
Fluke testified before Congress about the undue burden of having to buy her own pills and then rose to the top of the ranks of professional victims when Rush Limbaugh rather ungraciously and mean-spiritedly called her a “slut.” She spent most of 2012 – from her testimony to her address at the Democratic National Convention – serving as the face of the Democrats’ “war on women” meme, trying desperately to convince voters of all persuasions that the refusal to pay for a women’s contraception is tantamount to chaining her – barefoot and pregnant, no less – in the kitchen and condemning her to an unfulfilled and unenlightened existence.
Interestingly, though, we don’t care much about Fluke. She had her Warhol-ian 15 minutes of fame. And if she happens to parlay that fame into a cushy lifetime job in “government service” in Congress, then good for her. Frankly, we could think of no better place for her than Congress, although we’re not entirely sure who gets the worst end of that pairing.
No, as far as we’re concerned, the college student who matters most in this discussion is a 19 year-old Duke University freshman named Belle Knox. Actually, her real name is not Belle Knox, which is only her “stage name.” But we have neither the time nor the desire to look up her real name. Her stage name is sufficient, as you may already know. As The Charlotte News-Observer reported recently:
The Duke University freshman whose participation in porn movies sparked much campus discussion in recent weeks has revealed her photo and porn name on two websites.
“Today, I am choosing to reveal my porn identity to the world,” the student wrote on the xojane website. “My name is Belle Knox, and I wear my Scarlet Letter with pride.”
In another interview posted on Playboy magazine’s website, the student says she is performing in porn to pay her tuition at Duke.
“If Duke had given me the proper financial resources, I wouldn’t have done porn,” she said. “They have nobody to blame for the scandal but themselves.” . . .
This is the second story the student has written for the xojane website. In both, she says she is proud to perform in porn, and she takes to task another Duke student who she says revealed her identity on campus after seeing one of her movies.
What, pray tell, does the secret porn-life of a college girl in North Carolina have to do with the contraception mandate and the condition of our political culture more broadly? Well, that’s a little complicated. But if you’ll bear with us a minute, we’ll do our very best to explain.
In the aftermath of her “outing” and announcement, both “Belle Knox” and the official keepers of the feminist flame went out of their way to explain that what she was doing – hard-core pornography – was not only not an embarrassment, but rather, a badge of honor. Ms. Knox – or whatever her name is – declared, somewhat confusedly, that she would “wear her scarlet letter with pride” and that she has no qualms whatsoever about doing pornography, which she claims is both artistic and empowering. Or as she put it in her post/essay for xojane:
I can say definitively that I have never felt more empowered or happy doing anything else. In a world where women are so often robbed of their choice, I am completely in control of my sexuality. As a bisexual woman with many sexual quirks, I feel completely accepted. It is freeing, it is empowering, it is wonderful, it is how the world should be.. . .
I am not ashamed of porn. On the contrary, doing pornography fulfills me.
Writing in the Washington Post, a somewhat flabbergasted Ruth Marcus notes Knox’s defense of her career choice, which consists of the “argument…that pornography is good for women, a jujitsu move against the patriarchy, because it takes back their sexuality from male-imposed stigma.” And Knox is hardly alone in mustering “feminism” to her defense. In Time Magazine, Charlotte Alter declares that Knox is “ultimately right that empowered women can also enjoy kink.” In Dane magazine, a writer named Nino Rekhviashvili writes than porn is, indeed, liberating and perfectly in tune with feminist values. In a particularly telling passage, Rekhviashvili puts it this way:
Impassioned revokes of Knox’s feminism say more about her critics than they do about Knox. They’re so quick to shame her by putting themselves on higher moral ground, shaking their heads at the “poor soul,” but this only reveals their own biases and sexist ideologies that are rooted in notions of female sexual purity. Instead of chastising Knox, people might consider why they think and feel the way we do. Before attempting to shame an adult woman and publicly harass her for taking control of her body and using it in whatever way she wishes, it’s important to reflect on why we feel a certain way, and what kind of logic informed that response. Our truths are not everyone’s, and as Nietzsche once said, “Truth is the greatest lie ever told.”
All of this, we’re afraid, is part and parcel of the standards of the day. Several months ago, you may note, a handful of young women made headlines when they took to the stacks in Columbia University’s Butler Library to make a “feminist porn” film. Jonathan Turley, a lawyer, law professor and TV legal analyst, wrote that the film “was billed as a feminist statement exploring ‘the rituals of American Ivy League secret societies, to the point of hysteria, highlighting our culture’s perception of female desire.’” The film was co-created by Kelly Sciortino, a contributor to and editor for Vogue magazine.
Contemporary feminists use the term, “sex-positive” feminism and argue in favor of embracing and exploiting sexuality and fighting against anything that might smack of censorship or repression, both of which are creations of the “patriarchy.” As the late leftist writer and feminist Ellen Willis put it, “As we saw it, the claim that ‘pornography is violence against women’ was code for the neo-Victorian idea that men want sex and women endure it.” Therefore, in the contemporary construction, pornography is not only “not bad,” it is objectively “good.”
It wasn’t always this way, of course. Once upon a time, ending or at least curtailing pornography was one of the principal crusades of the feminist movement. Feminists rightly understood that the “business” of sexual gratification was also the business of exploitation. Women, in particular, are used. They are objectified. They are treated shabbily. But worse still, in pornography, everything about them, except their sexuality, is discarded as irrelevant. Andrea Dworkin, a proto-feminist if ever there was one, was among those who led the campaign against pornography, arguing that the entire concept was about possessions and specifically about men’s “possession” of women. In a 1993 speech at the University of Chicago, Dworkin addressed feminism and especially pornography as follows:
For twenty years, people that you know and people that you do not know inside the women’s movement, with its great grass-roots breadth and strength, have been trying to communicate something very simple: pornography happens. It happens. Lawyers, call it what you want – call it speech, call it act, call it conduct. Catharine A. MacKinnon and I called it a practice when we described it in the antipornography civil-rights ordinance that we drafted for the City of Minneapolis in 1983; but the point is that it happens. It happens to women, in real life. Women’s lives are made two-dimensional and dead. We are flattened on the page or on the screen. . . .
I am describing a process of dehumanization, a concrete means of changing someone into something. We are not talking about violence yet; we are nowhere near violence.
Dehumanization is real. It happens in real life; it happens to stigmatized people. It has happened to us, to women. We say that women are objectified. We hope that people will think that we are very smart when we use a long word. But being turned into an object is a real event; and the pornographic object is a particular kind of object. It is a target. You are turned into a target.
Pornographers use every attribute any woman has. They sexualize it. They find a way to dehumanize it. . . .
I am talking now about pornography without visible violence. I am talking about the cruelty of dehumanizing someone who has a right to more.
For a roughly three decades, from the start of the neo-feminist movement in the 1960s, right up through the early 1990s, Dworkin’s views on pornography were, for the most part, the views of orthodox feminism. Pornography was dehumanizing, exploitive, and uncivil. And so it was an affront to enlightened people everywhere and to women in particular.
At about this time, however – right about the time that Dworkin gave the above speech – things began to change. For a variety of reasons, the early 1990s represented something of a watershed in American sexual politics. In our estimation, three of those reasons are most critical and best help explain why the country is in the condition it is in now and how that condition relates to the health care law and especially its contraception mandate. All of these reasons are, of course, related. And all of them are derived from even bigger reasons, broader trends which only found more concrete actualization in the early 1990s.
The first and perhaps most critical of these was the maturation of the Baby Boomers and thus the maturation of the moral and philosophical fashions on which they had cut their proverbial teeth. The entire twentieth century had, of course, seen various sorts of reactions to and consequences of the moral vacuum created by the Enlightenment and heightened by the anti-modernists. Nietzsche didn’t kill God, but he astutely noted his passing. And the moral fits of the twentieth century, from Bloomsbury to the Latin Quarter and from Berlin to Moscow, were the inevitable result. And so, for that matter, was the Boomers’ sexual revolution and the attendant obliteration of the sexual mores that had previously, if unevenly, predominated.
We have, in the past, noted that the history of the twentieth century is also the history of the Western civilization’s “sensate” stage. This “sensate society” is a notion initially illustrated by Pitrim Sorokin, the founder of Harvard’s Sociology Department. In brief, Sorokin argued that all civilizations pass through three stages: the ideational stage, which is organized around the transcendental and in which faith is the most prevalent of human qualities; the idealist stage, in which human aspirations are recognized, but the society operates through the rules and institutions of the established order and its moral framework; and the sensate stage, in which the shared identities, the taboos, the traditional customs, mores and, of course, the morals of a society collapse, leaving the culture entirely dependent upon and obsessed with the materialistic. Sorokin put it this way:
If a person has no strong convictions as to what is right and what is wrong, if he does not believe in any God or absolute moral values, if he no longer respects contractual obligations, and finally, if his hunger for pleasures and sensory values is paramount, what can guide and control his conduct toward other men? Nothing but his desires and lusts. Under these conditions he loses all rational and moral control, even plain common sense. What can deter him from violating the rights, interests, and well-being of other men? Nothing but physical force. How far will he go in his insatiable quest for sensory happiness? He will go as far as brute force, opposed by that of others, permits. His whole problem of behaviour is determined by the ratio between his force and that wielded by others.
Over the course of the last one-hundred-plus years, the sensate society has clearly and inarguably taken root. And in the 1960s, among the last of the traditional prohibitions, those surrounding sex, were finally and permanently, demolished.
As we have noted before in these pages, throughout Western history, sex has been one of the most enduring touchstones of social dissent, which only makes sense, given that it is the most enduring object of the taboos of the Western religious establishment. From time immemorial, it seems, anyone who wished to oppose the “powers that be” in the West also encouraged a free, open, and non-procreative approach to human sexuality, knowing full well that breaking the bond between the pleasure and the responsibility of sexual intimacy would also break the social bond of the masses to the old line establishment.
All of this is to say that the sexually rebellious Baby Boomers were not particularly unique in Western history, and nor are they especially to blame. Yet their rebellion came at the right time and under the right conditions, namely the moral collapse initiated several decades beforehand. And so in turn, the Sexual Revolution became the pinnacle achievement of the Boomers, representing both the definitive attack on the old order, the establishment, and on the traditional moral code as well.
The next quarter century saw various fits and starts in sexual “liberation,” along with dramatic increases in various sex-related social travails – from single parenthood to teen births, from divorce to sexually-transmitted diseases. And by the 1990s, the Baby Boomers who started the revolution had come of age and had come to power – warts and all – bringing with them the cultural predilections of an unmoored and unsteady cohort. “Liberation,” was secured. Sex and the supremacy of sexual gratification, which had long prevailed in the generational subculture, became the ascendant values of the broader culture, establishing the sensate society more completely.
In the midst this cultural milieu and indeed because of this cultural milieu, the leftist Baby Boomers and the political Left more generally found a new champion, a man who shared their dreams, their aspirations, and even their failings. Most importantly, though, he shared their moral code. That man, of course – and the second “reason” on our list – was Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States.
Clinton’s election solidified the clash between the old, idealist society and the new, sensate society. In fact, his election brought that conflict out into the open and made it a candid and overtly political battle. The Clinton presidency was about many things, but chief among these was war between moral codes, the confrontation between the old and dying code and new and sensate code. Or as we put it at the height of Bill’s sexual travails:
This theory holds that the public controversy over whether Bill’s alleged ethical and moral transgressions “matter” can best be understood as a battle between two competing moral systems . . .
One side in this conflict can be described as traditional Judeo-Christian. The foundation of this belief system was established some 3,300 years ago with the receipt of the Decalogue by Moses at Mt. Sinai.
Besides Old and New Testament teachings, interpreted and clarified by such scholars as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, who integrated Platonic and Aristotelian concepts respectively, this system embraces a host of traditions, customs and mores that developed in Western society over many centuries. It is supported by a rich heritage of art and literature, and historic struggles, both religious and secular. The twin concepts of “sin” and “truth” help bind this system together.
The opposing system espouses beliefs that are often referred to today as “post-modern.” This system is roughly based on the concept that there are no ultimate, overarching truths, and that judgments about right and wrong are little more than the means by which some people control others, or as Nietzsche, an icon of the movement, put it, the outward expressions of will and power.
The only “sin” recognized by adherents to this system is making judgments about the choices of others. The concepts of “right” and “wrong” are considered to be wholly subjective. Individuals are encouraged to make up their own minds about such things, and neither society nor any person has a right to “judge” those decisions.
In our estimation, the third, and perhaps the subtlest reason for the shift in sexual political priorities in the early 1990s has to do with the support for and the funding of women candidates and women candidates in particular who embraced a specific vision of feminism.
Founded in 1985, a group called EMILY’s List came into its own politically in 1992, when, by its own account, it saw membership rise by over 600 percent, backed a record number of candidates, and contributed over $10 million to federal election campaigns. “The Year of the Woman,” in which four new Democratic women were elected to the Senate, was largely a function of EMILY’S List’s efforts. Those efforts, of course, paid huge dividends, not just in electing Democratic women, but in shifting the dialogue on “women’s issues” from more traditional and broad-based feminist to concerns about abortion almost exclusively.
EMILY’s List is quite likely the most successful and the best known political action committee (PAC) of all time. As you may know, the “EMILY” in EMILY’s List is an acronym that stands for “Early Money Is Like Yeast,” which is to say, that it makes the “dough” rise, thereby providing seed money for further fundraising and, ideally, scaring off potential competitors.
The PAC was created by the left-wing activist, IBM heiress, and former press secretary for the National Women’s Political Caucus Ellen Malcolm. Her creation quickly became a pioneer in “bundling” donations, the process of taking small donations from several members, grouping them, and directing them to speciﬁc candidates, thereby giving the donating PAC far more inﬂuence with the candidate than individual donors would have.
Obviously, EMILY’s List is and always has been adamantly “pro-Woman.” It has also been aggressively Pro-Choice, as have the preponderance of the candidates it has backed. As we have noted in these pages before, a key reason for this focus on abortion, contraception, and the like can, we think, be found in the bio of one of the group’s founding members and one of Ellen Malcom’s oldest and dearest fellow activists. The bio in question reads as follows:
She has used her inﬂuence and resources to work for equal rights and opportunities for women, serving on the board of the National Women’s Political Caucus, and then being instrumental in the founding of three powerful women’s organizations [including] EMILY’s List, which raises money for pro-choice, Democratic women political candidates . . . .
That bio, naturally, belongs to one Christie Hefner, daughter of Hugh Hefner and the Chairman and Chief Executive Ofﬁcer of Playboy Enterprises. Inc. Ms. Hefner’s bio also notes that she is “widely acknowledged as having developed the strategies for reinventing Playboy Enterprises as a successful global multimedia corporation . . .”
That’s perfect, no? Or as we put it roughly three years ago:
Hef ’s daughter saved Playboy enterprises from ﬁnancial ruin, in part by turning it into a global “multimedia” porn operation (magazines, videos, and now internet), while at the same time partnering with Ellen Malcom at both the National Women’s Political Caucus (founded by Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, among others) and at Emily’s List to direct “feminist” attention speciﬁcally and aggressively toward abortion rights and away from other areas of traditional feminist interest – such as . . . say . . . pornography.
Taken in conjunction, these three developments – the maturation of the Boomer sexual ethos, the election of an open sexual-culture warrior, and the explicit and deliberate direction of “feminist” efforts away from pornography and to issues like abortion and birth control – helped to change the American political environment and indeed American society in profound ways.
Among other things, the three combined to wipe out the work of feminist icons like Dworkin and to reduce the feminist movement to the very narrow and rather pathetic end of keeping abortion legal. They also served to convince the Democratic political establishment that women’s votes could be easily and cheaply bought simply by delivering “pro-Choice” rhetoric and a few concessions on other related policy matters.
Did you ever wonder, exactly, how birth-control pills became the ultimate measure of “women’s health care?” Did you ever stop to think how strange it is that the Obama administration would claim to be strong advocates of women’s health based exclusively on the strength of its support for birth-control and even in the face of contradictory evidence, such as the recommendations for breast cancer screenings that push the screening start date out ten years (from 40 to 50) and halve the number of mammograms women receive?
If so, you need not wonder any longer.
We have argued here before that one goal of the Obama administration’s birth control mandate is to enhance the power of the state, specifically at the expense of civic institutions like churches. This goal, we should note, is not incompatible with the far simpler, more sincere goal of wanting simply to ensure the provision of birth control to women. Indeed, we are of the opinion that the Obama team honestly does want to see birth control provided to women and, more notably, to be able to take credit for that provision. In the current political atmosphere, Team Obama has read the tea leaves and determined that feminism as a concept no longer exists in any distinguishable sense and that all it takes to win the plaudits of the mainstream press and its risible feminist component is to reiterate its dedication to abortion and to birth-control, the latter of which, we should note, is opposed as a matter of public policy by exactly no one.
As the policy debacle that is Obamacare continues to unfold, it is worth remembering, we think, that the law has built into it thousands of opportunities for the Obama administration to issue regulatory guidelines that reinforce the contemporary cultural ethos. What this means, we fear, is that this ethos is perhaps beyond salvaging. A 19 year-old porn star is portrayed as a feminist heroine. Bill Clinton’s longstanding accomplice and enabler in his assault on individual women is the frontrunner for the presidency three years hence. Birth control pills are the essence of “health care” and those who oppose providing free abortifacient drugs are dangerous, misogynistic reactionaries. And, of course, sex and all other material indulgences are ubiquitous, with nary a thought given by most people – and certainly most political luminaries – to the baser instincts such immoderation unleashes upon society.
We’re not sure where all of this leads, but we doubt that it is any place good. We don’t know whether civilizations do, in fact, commit collective suicide, as some claim. We certainly hope not. That said, if they do, we suspect that the atmosphere in which this takes place would look a lot like things do today.