From various recent issues of the Economist: the Chinese navy is operating off the coast of east Africa for the first time since the 15th century; China now has more internet users than the United States; “in 2007, India had slightly more mobile phone users than America and China had more than twice as many;” “the number of middle class people in Asia has overtaken the number in the west for the first time since 1700.”
To follow up on Julie’s fine post, I’d thought I’d post a few paragraphs from the talk I’m giving tomorrow:
Most of our sophisticated “bourgeois bohemians” today take pride in both their autonomy (Kant) and their productivity (Hobbes). They are, as we way, increasingly libertarian or pro-choice both socially and economically. In both cases, they’re all about the person freely choosing against nature and for him- or herself. Because there’s no dignity in acting according to natural instinct, Hobbes and Kant incline us to think that there’s no dignity in being either begetting or belonging beings—in being social, gregarious animals. So part of being autonomous is refusing to be determined by doing what comes naturally, by, for example, having babies. That’s why today’s productive and autonomous woman is so insistent about her reproductive freedom, in refusing to subject herself to the tyranny of her body’s baby-making equipment and her natural inclination to be a mom. That’s also why our sophisticates affirm the autonomous claim to the right to same-sex marriage; no free human institution can be constrained by biological imperatives. Two or more autonomous beings can come together for any purpose they choose, and marriage should be nothing but the public affirmation of the dignity of that personal choice.
Because there’s no dignity in living according to nature, the perspectives of both productivity and autonomy also accord no dignity to living well with our limits, with what we can’t or even shouldn’t change. There’s no dignity in living with well with death or in being grateful for the human goods that depends upon our mortality or finite existence in this world. Productivity is about fending death off as long as possible. Nature’s victory over each of us may be inevitable but its timing is quite indefinite, and so there’s no need to accept nonbeing. And the idea of autonomy can’t help but point us in the direction of hatred of our bodies and their control over us. The goal is to be able to live as if nature doesn’t determine us at all. Our autonomy freaks are in rebellion against all those institutions that having bodily limits make necessary as truthful reflections of who we are—such as the family, the nation, and the church. The autonomous being lives in humanitarian or cosmopolitan detachment from such parochial constraints.
Productivity and autonomy both point in the direction of “transhumanism”—a free existence unlimited by bodily constraints. So productivity and autonomy are both incredibly unerotic; the incompleteness that animates the various forms of love is undignified. Disembodied eros may well be an oxymoron; even God had to become man to display his personal love for us. Both productivity and autonomy suggest that there’s dignity in separating sex from birth and death or making it completely recreational or an absolutely free expression of who I am. The productive view is that the only limitations to sexual behavior should be SAFETY and CONSENT. A free being does what he or she pleases so long as it doesn’t bring a body into existence, cause a body’s demise, or tyrannizes over another free being. A productive being doesn’t let love or sex get in the way of work. And the autonomous being refuses to allow love—the result of mere biological instinct running amok—to produce undignified or unfree behavior. So it’s no wonder that we live in a particularly UNEROTIC time. Neither the productive nor the autonomous being can extend his or her erotic imagination to include families, children, countries, or maybe even friends and lovers in the full sense.
Food, in fact, has become more exciting—more a dangerous liaison and risky business--than sex. We’re increasingly paranoid, puritanical, and prohibitionist when it comes to food from a health and safety perspective. Gluttony is a vice that can kill you, or it can at least make you fat and less pretty and pleasing and so productive. But sex can kill only if it gets mixed up with too much love—like in the case or Romeo and Juliet--or is unsafe. The truth, the bourgeois bohemian says, is that you can’t get too much safe, recreational sex, and it’s puritanical and prohibitionist to think otherwise. How bohemian could it be to make SEX that unerotic and FOOD that scary? “Safe sex” is the bourgeois view of sex, and obsessive calorie and carb counting is the bourgeois view of food.
George Will writes a provocative essay in today’s Washington Post examining a recent Policy Review article by Mary Eberstadt which asks whether we haven’t witnessed a reversal of moral attitudes regarding food and sex. In other words, we are food prudes and sex gluttons where we used to be quite the reverse. Will wonders whether this means that we’re in for another renaissance of sexual mores as--following the trend with regard to food--we become ever more inclined to replace a moral compass with strict evidence from the empirical record. It turns out that the empirical evidence is proving that smorgasbord sex is about as healthy for your body as an all you can eat buffet full of red meat and sweets. No serious reader of Aristotle or ordinary grandmother with common sense is probably surprised by these findings. Lack of moderation in most things can be expected to have both moral and physical consequences.
What concerns me, however, is the increasing (and ironic!) Puritanism that I see bubbling beneath the surface of these reversals. The generation of today’s food police go too far. They cling too tightly and rigidly to their empirical evidence about the health effects of food. If nutrition were the only reason for eating, they’d have a point. But human beings and human bodies are not mere machines operating on a fueling schedule. Those who infuse (or confuse) nutrition with morality take all the joy out of eating and, thereby, make it less human. And those who insisted on the inherent joy of every kind of miscellaneous sex similarly sucked all the joy out of it and made it inhuman by making it more animal. We may get some nominal improvement in our situation if the sexual libertines become infused with this material concern for the health of the body and begin to call for some more restraint with regard to sex. But in the most important (that is to say, the most human) respect we’re still going to be missing something. A morality based only on the importance of the body and health will not concern itself either with joy or with love. After all, the healthiest kind of sex (if we’re talking only about physical health) would be something akin to a breeding program or mere self-gratification of a Seinfeld brand. And with today’s reproductive technology, one could easily imagine a movement toward a completely sexless world (though I remain dubious about the potential popularity of such a movement). The irony of all ironies is that as we have become more and more obsessed with the vulgar things we are pleased to imagine are erotic, we have become less and less erotic. The only way to preserve true eroticism is to preserve true morality and moderation. The only way to get a true morality is to really understand what it means to be a human being.
I will be speaking tomorrow night at 7 at Bowdoin College in Maine on "The Greatness and Misery of Our Bourgeois Bohemians" OR "Why Productivity Trumps Autonomy Every Time" OR "Why Libertarian Self-Actualization is an Oxymoron."
On the speeches: The most obvious FACT is that our president spoke well and with confidence. Another obvious fact is that Bobby Jindal sounded like a nervous assistant guidance counselor speaking to fifth graders and said nothing memorable at all. The governor was much better on the TODAY show in getting his message across about why he was turning down a portion of the stimulus. He has a lot of rhetorical work to do, and PETE should volunteer to be his speech writer. Our president didn’t inspire confidence in me because words don’t really trump deeds. I’ve already explained why I think his key policies are misguided. But the MSM fawned and fawned, and there are good reasons why ordinary Americans distrust the stimulus but still trust the MAN.
My extended essay on recent environmental books, focusing especially on the theme of growing environmental hostility to the institutions of liberal democracy, is now up over at the Claremont Review of Books. (Disclosure/warning: There is also a contribution in this issue from some nobody named Schramm, Peter.)
ALL the studies show that all "end of" authors are always wrong. The liberals and allegedly recovering conservatives who are trumpeting conservatism’s demise are too ideological about "ideology" and forget that the great conservative Burke would regard pragmatism as yet another pernicious "ism."
Megan McArdle’s comments: "I’ve noticed an upsurge in liberal blogs claiming that of course, borrowers don’t bear any responsibility for their current straitened circumstances. After all, there are two parties in a transaction, and the lenders are professionals and should have known better."
Here’s Benjamin Franklin on an 18th Century version of the problem:
We had an alehouse boy who attended always in the house to supply the workmen. My companion at the press drank every day a pint before breakfast, a pint at breakfast with his bread and cheese, a pint between breakfast and dinner, a pint at dinner, a pint in the afternoon about six o’clock, and another when he had done his day’s work. I thought it a detestable custom; but it was necessary, he suppos’d, to drink strong beer, that he might be strong to labor. I endeavored to convince him that the bodily strength afforded by beer could only be in proportion to the grain or flour of the barley dissolved in the water of which it was made; that there was more flour in a pennyworth of bread; and therefore, if he would eat that with a pint of water, it would give him more strength than a quart of beer. He drank on, however, and had four or five shillings to pay out of his wages every Saturday night for that muddling liquor; an expense I was free from. And thus these poor devils keep themselves always under.
There’s, for example, a prominent physicist famous for his neo-Malthusian warnings about stuff that hasn’t and won’t happen. Cutting carbon emissions significantly probably won’t happen and might well not make much difference. But scientists associated with both parties ignore the real possibility of just removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere altogether. The truth is that the Greens just don’t want to believe that there can be technological fix for a technological problem, while their opponents often won’t acknowledge that there’s a problem that needs fixing. The evidence so far, to say the least, is that Obama is not keeping his pompous and misleading promise not to wage partisan war against real science. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)
First Xenophon, and now. . . This is almost too ironic to be true: Locke Expected to Be Commerce Nominee.
OR to what extent is courage primarily a virtue for men? The manly Mansfield observes that women, today, might be more in need of courage than ever. But it’s also true, as his female interlocutor (Ayaan Hiris Ali) adds, that our enemies despise us because they think of us all as being as weak as women.
I’m not saying I know the answer, but, with the help of the always provocative Ralph Peters, I am asking. Could it be that a surge was the only real alternative in Iraq, but a very imprudent alternative in Afghanistan?
The Dow fell again, now to 1997 levels. Confidence is sagging. No kidding. It is becoming increasingly obvious that Obama and his team (as people still like to say, but now with less gusto) have not yet been capable of instilling confidence that they know what to do. Charles Krauthammer is quoted from Fridayï¿½s Fox News (just a couple hundred words), the short of it: "The markets are responding remarkably, exquisitely, sensitively to political events, much more in than in the past. And the reason is for the last year we have had huge intervention of the government in the markets and the banks, in autos. So it is not just a reaction to economic news, but to whatï¿½s happening in Washington." And this is a nice summary from Investorï¿½s Business Daily. And then there is the issue of possibly nationalizing the banks (This took a bit of an explanation to my mother the other night. Is this possible son? No, no, Mom, this is America, says I with wink toward Hucklebery Finn and his stretchers; why upset my old Mom.): This story indicates that it will not happen. That would surely be the end of regaining confidence and trust...for a long while.
This time from the Washington Times. It praises Norrell’s book, but is otherwise unrevealing. In the meantime, Up From History makes the New York Times "Editor’s Choice" list. I’m glad everyone--left and right--is praising this good book. It gives Mr. Washington a chance to take his rightful place in the pantheon of American greats.
James Piereson discussed his book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism at our Colloquium Friday. His point is that the surprising reaction to JFK’s death stalled the progress of liberalism and led to a change in its meaning. Although his book makes this more clear than his talk--he spends more time than he should on the assassination history itself--it is still very good and his point is unmistakable.
There’s nothing new here, but these words are from a particularly respected mainstream economist who is, in principle, a stimulus hawk. Using the stimulus for unrelated policy goals radically decreases its stimulating power, and spending increases for particular programs--although allegedly temporary--will be just about impossible to reduce later. The economic logic of stimulation has probably been fatally compromised by politics.