Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

More on FOOD and SEX (Insert Whipped Cream Joke Here)

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.

Discussions - 18 Comments

Food is not dangerous, Frankenfood is. I like the reference to transhumanism. These folks are such dark nihlists that they would think nothing of seeing millions slaughtered. Is this not a sort of Eugenics for the new century? We are nearing the age where life extension, artifical organs, or even complete transfer of consiousness may become a reality. The dark underscoring to all that is that people start devaluing natural life and have no qualms about the mass extermination of humanity. There is a lot of scary stuff around this transhumanism in how it relates to the environmentalists and the whole mother earth thing. Some of the thinking is that humanity should be exterminated for the good of the planet. It is not just quacks in the science department at southeastern tech saying those things, we have captains of the technology sector speaking on this topic. It may differ in its reason and methodology, but the ends of transhumanism is the same as Eugenics: The extermination of "lower races/people" for the greater good.

Interesting reflection, Peter. Where does the glorification of love as the greatest thing two individuals can achieve fit in? At least in my conversations with liberals and other Progressives, I find that they usually think that's the case. They think of marriage as primarily a public proclamation of love and commitment to a relationship. The culture of easy sex and the culture that glorifies romantic love somehow coexist. To the Pragmatic mind, of course, any two ideas can be reconciled. Only fanatics think otherwise.

Here's a bit of evidence for your argument. From a brief written by Dawn Johnsen, Dawn Johnson, who has been nominated to head the Office of Legal Council in the Obama Administration:

"Statutes that curtail [a woman’s] abortion choice are disturbingly suggestive of involuntary servitude, prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment, in that forced pregnancy requires a woman to provide continuous physical service to the fetus in order to further the state’s asserted interest."

Our relationship to alcohol seems more complicated--certainly not prohibitionist and increasingly bohemian more than bourgeois. Our tastes have gotten fancier (more microbrew beer over mass produced, increasing consumption of wine) and alcohol consumption is surely one piece of evidence that we haven't lost ourselves entirely in productivity. Americans are still generally squeamish about alcohol at lunch during the workday, but celebrate the after work drink. And since drinking alone is widely considered to be sad and pathetic there's even a gesture towards our gregariousness. Alcohol consumption in America is some indication that we can still enjoy some pleasure at the expense of the body or at least without obsessing about the body and that we can happily do something that for nearly all of us kills productivity. Our drinking has none of the bohemian or spiritual romance of the drugs in the 60's--no one boozes to play out some pantheistic fantasy of universal love. If anything, drinking has become pretentious, a sign of refinement and class, and therefore still somewhat bourgeois. And finally, the acceptance of alcohol over smoking can be partially explained by the modest health gains of very moderate imbibing but probably has more to do with the fact that our anxiety ridden lifestyles need to be softened by its happiness-mimicking effects

And I should add that alcohol for college kids is a very different affair--for them the bourgeois certainly triumphs over the bohemian--beer is the spirit of choice and they use it as a vehicle for delivering drunkeness. Still, their is nothing high-minded about it--no college kid talks of alcohol as a spiritual lubricant. However it might be a necessary social one for kids that strike me as increasingly awkward becuase of the lack of social norms and the guidance of some formality--I've even noticed that texting, emailing, etc has liberated them from learning the indispensable skill of having uncomfortable conversations whether it be hashing out a bad grade with a prof or asking someone out on a date. Truly personal communication for them often requires some dose of liquid courage.

Do you talk about the rise of the "foodie" at all in these reflections? I think there is something in that too . . . a penchant to rebel against the health police that is redemptive only if one can claim exquisite and special tastes. We see this also in sex. There is a certain kind of snobbery that attaches itself to those who see their sexual exploits and taste as being beyond the capacities of the masses . . . perhaps this accounts for the rise of ever more bizarre fetishes, etc. Of course, it all gets tired as it becomes popularized. Think only of sophisticated coffee. It used to be cool before they put a Starbucks at the gas station.

Part of the anti-smoking campaign is an artificat of government payment for health care. Lung disease costs money, and therefore the liberty to smoke should be restricted. (The irony is that, in point of fact, the numbers are not quite so clear. If, starting tomorrow, no Americans smoked, it might cost the system more in the long term.)

Nice straw man you've created. Care to give any examples, or do you think you're just so obviously right that examples aren't necessary? And I guess things are different for you, but I'm living in an incredibly erotic time, erotic with sex, not food. Anyway, keep telling yourself this fairy-tale, because it obviously makes you feel better, and I'd hate for reality to intrude on your elaborately construction. It would obviously be very upsetting to you.

"I'm living in an incredibly erotic time, erotic with sex, not food." Hey Stu your right hand doesn't count!

There is nothing intellectual in this thread. It just seems a sort of fear mongering, like Limbaugh with fancier words. The post immediately takes some Hobbsian and Kantian starting points, converts them efficiently to straw, and leaps to those ideas leading to all the precious natural law traditions and values having no dignity, resulting in hatred of bodies, conveniently sloping to democratic policies. Then of course someone posts about the transhumanists killing us all. Refusing to be determined by biological categories does not mean one rejects them outright, except to the fevered bifurcations of the extreme rightwing.

Maybe Stertinius is right, still I like the general but somehow well developed thought line. As a passtime I have been reading up on transhumanism/extropians fiction and serious work for a while. It still has to be a largely theoretical microtrend sort of thing...I recommend changing Hobbes out for Descartes and tossing Shaupenhaeur into the mix for continental flair and eastern philosophy/religion. The serious transhumanists can be counted by simply keeping an account of who has bought insurance that covers cryrogenic freezing. Of course eating a very low calorie diet prevents or retards ageing...and these are the folks who pay attention to the Mesthusela project. I don't know that such folks enjoy sex or really partake in it...I also don't know that they mesh well with environmentalist in so far as indefinite living is surely a way to overpopulate the globe...certainly they don't want ecological disasters that would disrupt progress and give an incentive for future beings to never reanimate so far as Julie was wrong/right to detect puritanism...I figure she was right to detect the fact that such people are serious...ergo to be puritanical is to have a saintlike devotion...a saintlike devotion in this case without God...but still it is always interesting to talk of folks that have the discipline to actually correspond to ideas...Dr. Adams can say what he wants of pragmatism the central idea is that ideas are not contradictory because human beings don't correspond to them...pragmatically then one asks: is the stimulus Keynesian or not Keynesian? Both, and neither politics intrudes. Or folks ask: who is the real Obama? Would be much easier and Carl Scott would be satisfied if Obama could be pegged down...

I mean if Stu is right then all this is in vain, because one simply has elaborate contructions that aren't applicable...but it does seem that the central tenet of the transhumanist is to make and live the ideas in an applicable way, or in other words these are the serious Cartesian/Kantian/Schaupenhaeurians we are talking about...Or even in so far as Julie is right on the puritan radar...something very similar to the strict and uber rational Ben Franklin...hard working, and strict/chemical about nutrition and Ivan points out alcohol does have social components...but these social components are not necessary for Franklin who sees them as impediments to his advancement(having surplus coin to use as future capital) In other words the drinkers need drinking to give flavor to life, but the life of a franklin is able to defer this gratification...In a sense then in talking of the transhumanists we are really talking about ultimate levels and capabilities for defered gratification...capabilities that are only/made possible if heaven(eternal reward) is in the future...or if a near/quasi eternal life is possible on this planet, in other words these folks redo Pascal/Descartes and say even if the odds are against them...the slightest odds weight in favor of making the effort(belief in God).

Surely she told you:

1) If you don't understand something--stay silent.

2) --Or, ask a question.

3) Calling someone a masturbator isn't nice, and earns you two bars of soap in your mouth instead of one.

Don't confuse my skepticism about the outcomes of transhumanism with anything in the extreme right wing.

Funny Scientist talking about the future of genetics

Genetic Genocide

Transhumanism's webpage

examination of transhumanism

Nothing about technology is inherently a bad thing. Prolonging quality life is good, unless you believe overpopulation is a real problem. There is a certain naive thing about transhumanism where they believe that by becoming supermen they would take on enhanced altruistic or virtuous qualities. This from the same species who have tried many new forms of science to build supermen with the aim of having a superior soldier. If the transfer of life to a non biological form is possible then does it not follow that traditional life is devalued. I'm not coming at this from a right wing perspective, to do that would be stupid considering how the church often does the same thing talking about the afterlife. The thing that is concerning is look at how this idea has been used through history. It's a mixed bag at best. The idea of having two types of humans: boring low class normies who may devolve into goblin like races, and the cyborg supermen is troubling considering how little people have cared about the suffering of people of another nationality or race let alone a different species. The whole thing just reeks of the same old Eugenics talk about supermen leaving the ugly masses behind.

Julie, Regarding "foodies" consider the case of Anthony Bourdain. He may be typically BoBo in his jet-set cosmopolitanism, but he regularly speaks of the joys of hot dogs and fried foods--all the while smoking and drinking. He visits Vietnam and Spain, but also New Jersey and Cleveland. Plus, he often speaks positively of the role of eating meals with family and friends, as well as the role food and cooking play in cultural transmission. He's even self-relective enough to make light of "foodies" like himself, e.g., he ironically calls himself a "blue state liberal arts major." Of course, that may explain why he doesn't speak much of "sanctified eating"--to borrow a term from Leon Kass.

Either way, he's hardly food police, but he's not merely an exotic enthusiast.

Sex beyond biological instinct brings us designed babies. Look at The Fertility Institutes at which has, "Coming Soon" on the website:

"PREDICTIVE GENOMICS TO BE AVAILABLE: Eye color, hair color, cancer tendency and more*"

They do not guarantee results. Apparently they have not yet perfected the matter of choice - nature will intrude. I cannot guarantee that my morning omelet will be perfect, either. My Fromage d'Affinois or Aged Select Imported Gruyere may have gone off or my organic butter (is there really another kind?) may have gone rancid.

I don't know what all the fuss is about concerning this piece! If examples are needed to justify Lawler's position, go watch a movie, a TV program, or read the newspaper. Examples are everywhere you look. "Seinfeld" would have lost its luster early had there not been truth behind the ridiculous! I have been enlightening and entertaining my high school students with Pete's wit and wisdom for almost 20 years, and they LOVE it! That says a lot. Thanks to all the NLT bloggers for improving my students' ability to THINK!

Sounds very interesting! I will check this out!

Nice blog. I got a lot of good data. I’ve been following this technology for awhile. It’s interesting how it keeps changing, yet some of the core components remain the same. Have you seen much change since Google made their latest acquisition in the domain?

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