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.