Friday, July 3, 2015

Smooth song of the day: "innocence" the esoteric messages edition

I pause this week to remember Laura Antonelli who died on June 22. She was the Italian sex symbol of the 1970s and was very much a part of the "innocence" of that era.

Don't just take my word for it, here is the New York Times on the subject,
And Vincent Canby, citing what he described as some of her best films, among them “Wifemistress,” “Till Marriage Do Us Part” and “The Innocent,” wrote in The New York Times in 1979: “To those of us of a certain age Miss Antonelli, I suspect, recalls an earlier, more innocent era, before there were porn parlors in virtually every American city, when movie sex was more suggestive, being soft-core, and when European actresses (Bardot, Lollobrigida, Loren) promised more wanton delights than we were allowed in native American films. Miss Antonelli reminds us of our lost movie innocence.”
Laura Antonelli's parents made her study gymnastics in the hopes that would make her graceful. She became a gym teacher and then a model. From there it was a hop, skip and jump into the worst sort of crass sex comedies. Her first starring role was a spy movie parody called, I'm not making this up, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, also starring a very down on his luck Vincent Price.

In every single one of her movies, you watched Laura Antonelli being pursued for sex, and often successfully, by male actors instead of pursuing her yourself which, for the sake of politeness, we'll pretend is what you really want to do. Notice the contradiction: this woman is desired by you and yet, perversely,  the big thrill you get is watching another man with her. 

If that were all there was to Laura Antonelli, she'd be a footnote in film history. Through hard work and willingness to take her clothes off while the camera was running, a much rarer quality then than now, she managed to win the attention of directors of art films and she starred in a whole slew of Italian cinema classics. There she was portrayed on a knife edge of innocence and perversity.

Now, let's pause to consider one of the most famous passages from CS Lewis.
So far from being a channel for this new kind of love, marriage was rather a drab background against which that love stood out in all the contrast of its new tenderness and delicacy. The situation is indeed a very simple one, and not particular to the middle ages. Any idealization of sexual love, in a society where marriage is purely utilitarian, must begin by being an idealization of adultery.
He goes on to say,
A nineteenth century Englishman felt that same passion—romantic love—could be either virtuous or vicious according as it was directed towards marriage or not. But according to the medieval view passionate love itself was wicked and did not cease to be wicked if the object of it were your wife. If a man once yielded to this emotion he had no choice between “guilty” and “innocent” love before him: he had only the choice, either of repentance, or else of different forms of guilt.
I think Lewis has it rather backwards here. The problem was not what men of different eras did or did not feel comfortable about feeling towards women—there were a lot of brothels in Medieval Europe—but rather the sexual emotions they weren't comfortable seeing in nice girls. That was what what the innocence of the 1970s played on. Look at that sweet, beautiful woman and, oh my, look what she's doing now!

Back to CS Lewis:
Any idealization of sexual love, in a society where marriage is purely utilitarian, must begin by being an idealization of adultery.
But what is effect of that adultery on the voyeur sitting in the dark in the sixth row of the movie theatre? He isn't participating but watching. One way to draw than out is to give him a counterpart in the movie. How about the husband? That's what the great Italian film directors did with Antonelli. Read this paragraph from Wikipedia describing what many consider her most successful movie l'Innocenti and tell me what is the effect of the adultery of Antonelli's character Giuliana.
The story is set in the late nineteenth century. Tullio Hermil, a wealthy Roman aristocrat married to Giuliana lives his sexual life with a possessive aristocratic mistress, Teresa. However, his interest in his wife Guliana is rekindled when he sees Guliana's happiness after she has begun a love affair with a novelist, Filippo d'Aborio.
In her next movie Mogliamnate (which means wife/lover), a man has to go into hiding because he has been falsely accused of murder. He ends up hiding in the attic of a cousin's grocery store from where he can see into his house and watch his wife have a sexual and political awakening.

Here's a bit of opera that was used on the soundtrack of l'Innocente. It's from an opera in which a man goes on an underground mission to rescue his lover but must resist the temptation of looking at her, that is of feeling emotion for her.

Social emotions

I've been thinking about emotions a lot lately. The the thing that got me started is a great audiobook from the Great Courses people where the late Robert Solomon talks about emotions. Like all good philosophers, he gets you thinking for yourself.

1. The social media mob

I read a great comment elsewhere about social media attacks. The person, cleverly, likens these attacks to someone putting their hand in their pocket and pretending to have a gun to rob you. So long as you believe they have a gun, they have power over you. The claim is that the social media mob, like the fake gunman, has no real power and will evaporate if you call their bluff. I suspect that's true but it would take some considerable intestinal fortitude to do so.

But I think there is more than fear in our emotional response to attacks on social media. I think we are also genuinely shamed when it happens.

Years ago I was working at a home where a number of mentally handicapped young people lived. One boy, about seventeen, loved dogs. I had a dog and got permission to bring him in. Everything went wonderfully. The boy loved the dog and played with him for hours. One day, however, the boy was angry about something else and, when the I showed up, took his anger out on my dog. I was able to stop the boy before he did any real harm but I still remember the dog's reaction. He was suddenly being attacked by someone he expected love from and he didn't know how to process this. The dog reacted not angrily, he easily could have defeated the boy had he counter-attacked, but with shame, as if he had done something wrong.

A sudden attack on social media does that to us. Someone wears a shirt he wears all the time with his coworkers for a TV interview and suddenly he is being attacked by millions. He wasn't expecting the attack. We are all, like my dog, programmed to think that perhaps we really did do something wrong when that happens.

2. The terror of public shaming

I was talking to a friend of mine who is a psychologist last year about the fear of public speaking and he explained it to me in a very helpful way . I think I've written about this here before but here goes again:

For most of human history being ostracized from a group meant death. A slow terrible and inevitable death. You'd be left to wander in a wilderness slowly starving until some predator got you. Not surprisingly, we all have deep-seated fear of social failure. The consequences aren't as high as they used to be. If you get ostracized from one group now, you can go and find another; the worst you have to fear is that the new group might not have as high a status in your perception as the old one did.

However minor the threat is to us, we are still psychologically programmed by the many centuries of previous human experience and that is why we feel shame when attacked publicly even if we aren't at fault and why people attacked by social media tend to cave immediately. It's like being threatened with death!

3. Network versus community

The best thing I've read on the Internet this week is this article contrasting communities and networks at the Art of Manliness. Read the whole thing!

At first glance, you might think that communities are obviously preferable. I'd say that you definitely want to be part of one community but I don't think you'd want to be part of many communities. I don't think you could.

I also see advantages to being part of networks.

It seems to me the real point of the article is to fully grasp which is which. You don't want to mistake the people you work with for a community because one day they'll get rid of you and then where will you be.

4. Self-deception about networks

If you have 500 friends on Facebook, you're obviously using it as a network. There is nothing wrong with that but where is your actual community? One thing about networks is that you can use them to hide from yourself the nasty truth that you have no community.

There are a lot of people who put more effort into the network of people they work with than they put into their marriage. It's easy to see how this gets started. Your spouse will probably continue to love you even if you neglect her or him but your employer is far more likely to treat you differently if you fail to deliver; you'll get less cooperation from coworkers, you'll be passed over for interesting assignments or promotions and you might even get fired.

Most employers realize this and even manipulatively exploit this by telling you that you're joining a team or even a "family" when you work for them but your just an easily replaceable cog in the mechanism.  One day, you'll retire or get fired and then who do you turn to?

5. Do they want me or do they want my membership?

One way to tell if your being offered entry into a network or a community is to ask if what you are really being offered is just a membership. Membership will be phrased entirely in terms of obligations and benefits; meet the obligations and you can have the benefits. A real community is a place where you are appreciated for being just as you are. That's not without limits: if you persist in being a criminal, you won't be able to belong to any community. Nothing is more of a network and less of a community than a "prison community" and you might say that all networks become prisons if we mistake them for communities.

Those limits aside, a community is a place where you have a place even if you slip on your obligations. It's a group that holds you close just as you are. One of the hard truths I've had to accept lately is that my my mother, whom I had always imagined loving me, was only interested in me as a member of her family. Her "love" for me was always subject to conditions and that has had a huge impact on the way I've connected with others as an adult.

6. Sexual networking

Every once in a while, an old post I had thought dormant will suddenly get a lot of pageviews and show up in my stats. Sometimes it's puzzling when this happens, sometimes it's creepy and sometimes it's gratifying. This week, an old post that I think is one of the best things I've written got a little boomlet. ("Little" being the operative word here as this blog does not attract and does not seek to attract a large audience.)

The gist of the post is that a woman who cheats on her husband really began to cheat on him long before she actually had sex with anyone else because she had locked him out of her intimate life. Here's the key paragraph from the article I was commenting on:
One of the challenges Sheila hadn't expected was where to hide her sexy lingerie. 'I went out and spent a fortune at Myla on gorgeous transparent bras and G-strings – things I'd stopped wearing for my husband, Peter, even before we were married. 
And that got me thinking about fantasies.

One of the things about sexual fantasies is that they are never just fantasies. Part of you always wants to really do it even if your more sensible self keeps you from carrying it through (no fantasy could appeal to you if there wasn't some possibility, however remote, of it actually happening to you someday). Now, there are obvious risks to most fantasies but the real risk in carrying them out is that others will be just playing along and not really connecting with you. That's fine if you already have a solid connection with the person based on common beliefs, shared interests and a similar approach to life. It's a stupid way to make a connection in the first place because you'll just be networking and never really connect with another human being this way.

What occurred to me this week is that they are also a way of dealing with a partner who doesn't want you anymore. To return to Sheila again:
'I love Peter dearly,' Sheila says. 'He's a good husband, and father. I like cooking with him and gossiping about the neighbours. He's my pal and I'd never want to lose that. Sex with Michael is a purely separate thing; it's about erotic abandonment, being seen as just a woman rather than as Peter's wife, or "the doctor" or a mum. Any working mother will know what I mean. Every woman needs something that is hers alone. Some of my friends ride, some sing in choirs, I have Michael.' 
My suspicion is that all cuckold fantasies start as coping strategies for men who are in Peter's place—men who are strongly attracted to a woman who isn't sexually interested in them or isn't sexually interested in them anymore—it's a way of having an erotic interaction with an echo chamber. Like all fantasies it becomes more than that, a subject I'll return to with the smooth song of the day this evening.

But imagine with me that Peter, unbeknownst to Sheila has cuckold fantasies about her. Imagine that, far from being something he would get angry about, finding about her affair would actually be the fulfillment of his wildest dreams. Would that work out? Almost certainly not because she is cheating on him and she'd resent him wanting to know about it and shut him out because, "Every woman needs something that is hers alone."

7. Sex fantasies are dumb strategies for finding a partner

Everyone has fantasies because everyone spent a few years thinking about sexual bonding without doing it. Well, some people had early sex instead but that is a really bad idea. Perhaps a better way of putting it is that every healthy, normally functioning sexual adult has embedded sexual fantasies. You have scenarios you will go to to get aroused and you will have scenarios that will pop into your head when you are already aroused for other reasons. You can't help this, it just is. You sewed invasive crops in all your sexual fields when you were thirteen and you're stuck with them for your entire adult sex life.

The thing is, not only are your embedded fantasies projections, they are projections from a  time when real sex was impossible. They were inspired by whatever was in the air at the time you were going through puberty: ways people dressed, things you saw in romantic movies, things you saw in porn or even utterly random human interactions that you completely misinterpreted so you could use them as fodder for your erotic imagination.

You can see why teenage girls and cuckold fantasies are the two most common male fantasies and why rape fantasies and groups of men having sex with a woman are the two most common female fantasies. Many boys first fantasize about unattainable teenage girls because they are surrounded by unattainable teenage girls when they themselves were teenagers first starting to think about sex. Other boys fantasize about women they know will never have sex with them (that hot woman who teaches them history and, therefore, he is not only are allowed to but is expected to look at for 45 minutes a day) but possibly might be having sex with other men who have a status that an awkward student could never have (for example, the gym teacher). Rape fantasies allow a girl to think the unthinkable. Finally, the wrought up girl on the bus can imagine what might happen if all the men on the bus somehow magically knew how wrought up she was. These fantasies don't so much clear social constraints out of the way so as to allow for sex as they turn those social constraints into erotic props for a private fantasy.

The thing that should be obvious, but often isn't, is that, while it may make sense to share these fantasies with someone you have already bonded with in the normal way, it's a really dumb way to try to connect with someone you don't know yet. And it remains a really dumb idea even if you hit the jackpot and manage to recount your fantasy to someone who already has the matching opposite fantasy.

We live in a narcissistic age, however, and there is a huge variety of songs, books and video out there that treat the pursuit of the person with matching sexual proclivities as what love is all about. Find someone whose fantasies match yours and you don't have to work so hard at it. ("Dumpy person with poor grooming skills and completely lacking in social skills looking for statuesque beauty with social graces and money who is into losers who couldn't be bothered to try like me.")

I'll finish with a  weird leap. Over the years, enough women I've known have told me of unwanted, conversations they've had with married men that I suspect it's universal or nearly so: every woman is subjected to this and every married man probably does this at some point.. The conversation consists of the man revealing that his wife has lost interest in their sex life and that they have not had sex in weeks, months or years.

And the reverse? That doesn't happen so much. The reason should be obvious: because a woman who told a male friend that her husband had lost interest in her sexually would be all too clearly asking for sex and, worse, doing so in a pathetic way. Think about it: she'd be telling you that another man didn't find her attractive in the hopes that you would.

So why do men keep doing this? For that is what a man is doing when he tells his wife's best girlfriend that his wife has lost interest in him sexually. He does it because it's all just a projection. "I'm not getting it, you're here, wouldn't it be cool if sex just, you know, happened?" It doesn't cross his mind that the fact that he isn't getting any, however compelling that is for him, isn't much of selling point. And why is he saying this to his wife's best girlfriend?

Of course, that is somewhat the point. Part of him wants the strategy to fail. And part of him realizes that, even if this crazy strategy succeeds, it would be so improbable that he and the best girlfriend could treat it as something that just happened to them both as opposed to something they were morally responsible for: "We were sitting their drinking that awful white wine while she was out walking the dog and the next thing either of us knew, we were kissing" feels a lot less intentional than putting a profile up on some website.

We laugh at this when it's spelled out that bluntly, but the truth is that our culture increasingly treats that as a reasonable way for adults to connect.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


I'm on a kick about emotions lately. And so, pride!

Brandon Steiner, who seems to be famous and successful and that's all I know about him, says that pride is bad because it stops a man from making three kinds of statements that he needs to be able to make in order to thrive.

  1. “I made a mistake” 
  2. “I need help”
  3. “I don’t know” 

That's good stuff. (I say kinds of statements because these three examples stand for a wide variety of possible statements.) You need to be able to make those sorts of statements, although you need to exercise some care about whom you say them to (I'll get back to this). But is it really pride that stops us from saying these things?

If we start, as we tend to do in the Christian/post-Christian west, with the belief that pride is not only a bad emotion but the very worst emotion, that makes it easy to see pride as the cause of bad things. If we further make a point of contrasting pride with humility, then it seems only too obvious that pride would prevent us from making those three kinds of statements.

But there are other ways of thinking of pride. If we think of pride as the opposite of self-hatred, then we can begin to see a way to another approach. Now, we might object that the person seething with self-hatred, whatever their other faults, would be only too ready to tell us they have made mistakes, need help or don't know. That is true, but I think it opens the door to considering something else, for the person seething with self hatred lacks shame and I think it's shame that prevents us from making those sorts of statements and not pride.

We can easily imagine the person who knows full well that they don't know something or that they made a mistake and is unable to admit because they are terrified at the thought of others thinking they are stupid or weak. And that isn't pride. Furthermore, it seems obvious to me that the proud person is precisely the one who could admit not knowing something, needing help or having made a mistake because they don't fear being diminished in the eyes of others. The proud man knows that knows many things so admitting that he doesn't know what, for example, a circuit breaker is will be easy for him. Perhaps he's never had to deal with one before, a not unlikely scenario.

At the same time, I'd argue that we need sufficient pride to reveal things to safe people. Not everyone has your best interests at heart and there are some kinds of weaknesses that could be used against you to shame you publicly and the list of people willing to do that is very long indeed.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Songs of Summer: "innocence", now with added soft core porn

If you click on that YouTube will probably ask you to sign into prove you are of age. There is some 35 minutes worth of music there but the bit I am concerned with starts at 32:20. This link should take you right there. If you remember Je t'aime moi non plus from a few weeks ago that should strike you as very familiar. It's the Louie Louie riff in the Hang on Sloopy variation with an organ bit over it that is very similar to Je t'aime, moi non plus". Extra bonus points if you recognized that the organ line is clearly inspired by this teenybopper hit from 1969.

I won't belabour the point; the mix of innocence and not so innocent here is quite rich. What I think is worth noticing is how much of our reaction to a piece of music or an image is driven by previous associations we have with it. Once Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin and Julie London had tied slow groove versions of kiddie pop to erotica we could never not think of sex when we heard these things again.

The same thing happened with the visuals by the way. If you look at Sylvia Kristel sitting topless in that rattan throne in the video and notice the clothes she isn't quite wearing, you'll notice how similar they are to what David Hamilton had the teen models he photographed wear. And notice this lingerie ad photo from the same era by Aubade:

And then there is this cover from Penthouse magazine.

These images are like religious icons in that while the faces may change the symbols establish the subject as the same in some way. And if you were to watch Emmanuelle and listen to Leonard Cohen's Suzanne and read a whole lot of 1970s Penthouse magazines while drinking Harvey Wallbangers it would all somehow make sense. Not because these things go together but because, like Fortnum & Mason, they have been linked together so often that anyone of the elements will bring the others with it.

Final note, contrary to what you might guess, softcore porn came after hardcore. You can find hardcore porn going all the way back to the 1920s. Softcore is a product of the pate 1960s and early 1970s with its soft focus and lack of really explicit detail.

It's been a quiet week ...

... here at the blog. I've been very busy in my real life. Here is some stuff I'm working on:

1. "That nasty today"

It was not only in Nazareth that the "today" of the Gospel was not accepted. Later also, in the course of the church's history, it has again and again been denied or rendered toothless. The reason was the same as in Nazareth: apparently it goes against the human grain for God to become concrete in our lives. Then people's desires and favourite notions are in danger, and so are their ideas about time. It can't be today because that would mean our lives have to change today already. Therefore God's salvation is better delayed into the future. There it can lie, hygienically and snugly packed, at rest, inconsequential.
That's from Gerhard Lohfink's book Jesus of Nazareth, What He Wanted, Who He Was. It's not an unprecedented observation. In a sense, it's all to familiar; we've heard this before. Many times.

2. Apocalypticism?

Related to the above, there is an almost universal belief among bible scholars using the historical-critical method, that Jesus and Paul both believed that the end times were imminent. That not a crazy conclusion. Much of the text can be read that way. But, if so, why was the early church able to so easily adapt to the end not coming. Faiths based on predictions of the end of the world tend to evaporate.

Jesus taught that the kingdom (Lohfink says "reign of God" would be a better translation) has come near. One way to read that is that the end is coming soon, as it is undoubtedly coming eventually. Another is to see the reign of God as already accessible. If Jesus taught the second, it would be easy to mistake that message for the first. Early Christianity, as I say, not only didn't fail when the end times didn't come, it thrived. Perhaps because the main message was always a way of living right now. Perhaps Paul's messages about the end times in, for example, First Thessalonians, weren't the main message but rather reassurances for those whose faith is weak, that is to say, they were reassurances for those who could only understand the message about the reign of God being very near as meaning the end times were imminent. If I'm right, the majority of early Christians would have believed not in an imminent Apocalypse in the modern sense of the end of the world, but of something that could transform their present lives. Paul, as we know, was ready to taylor his message to meet the needs of those whose belief was more superstitious than profound.

3. Book review? 

Having mentioned Gerhard Lohfink's book Jesus of Nazareth, What He Wanted, Who He Was, what do I think of it? I don't know yet. I'm only on the second chapter. So far, it is promising.

4. The demands of "love"

I think most men have had the experience of telling a woman they loved that she was beautiful only to have her dismiss the claim. It's a disorienting experience because we say these things because we mean them. The words come out when we look at her and think how beautiful she is. We're not stupid—we know she isn't a fashion model—but what we see is beauty.

Sometimes, the message is received with pleasure and even gratitude but there are other times when a woman will rush to pour cold water on the suggestion that she is beautiful to you. I think part of the reason is that women seek to control men's emotions just as we do theirs. That's a subject I'll return to below. Most of the issue, though, is that love comes with demands. Being beautiful—along with being brave, honest, caring—requires effort. If you tell someone that she is beautiful  when she feels she has that part of her life that goes with being beautiful in control, then she can accept the compliment with joy. If she's struggling, or just doesn't want to make the effort anymore, then it is a demand. If I praise you for being beautiful I am implicitly saying that you should keep on working at being beautiful.

If God loves us, and Catholics and other Christians, believe he does, then there are demands that come with that love.

5. If you want to be part of this family ...

One of my mother's expressions was, "If you want to be a part of this family you need to stop/start [insert behaviour under discussion]." I had an argument recently with some family members about this. I believe that is an inappropriate thing for a mother to do. They didn't agree.

My mother did it all the time. I'm aware that there are far worse things in life. A friend of mine grew up with a mother who regularly beat her children savagely. But acknowledging that things could have been worse doesn't even come close to getting my mother off the hook. The need to belong is intense in children and it is a cruel and manipulative thing for a parent, or any other family member, to behave this way.

As psychologists say, the point should be to name not blame but nothing is worth naming unless it is potentially worth blaming. Naming is a strategy here; it's a way of training our emotions. I could get angry and I'd be completely justified in doing so. It would not, however, be tremendously useful. My mother's dead. Even if she weren't, what would I achieve by getting angry with her? Quite frankly, she never attained the emotional maturity it would have taken to understand that what she had done was wrong.

I do want to reach that level of emotional maturity.

6. Controlling others' emotions

I've often said that we live in a narcissistic age and that, therefore, we are all narcissists.

The Last Psychiatrist (more on this further down) describes narcissism as the tendency to think we are the stars of a romantic comedy and everyone else is a supporting player. I don't that's quite right because that's everyone. We all start life as egoists and we all tend to revert to being egoists. And we all get regular reminders that other people are not just supporting players in our star vehicle. And it is here where narcissism begins to distinguish itself. I'm no psychologist but I think narcissism is a collection of strategies we use to avoid accepting that others have separate lives.

Probably the most notable of these is the tendency to dismiss others' emotions as illegitimate when they don't harmonize with our own. And if they are illegitimate, then they are open to being dismissed or manipulated. And it gets easier to effectively manipulate others' emotions if you don't recognize them as legitimate in the first place. That's the moment when a parent can turn to a child and exploit their desperate need to belong by saying, if you want to be a part of this family ...".

7. To be loved just as we are ...

We all want that, or think we do which amounts to the same thing. But nobody really believes that love is completely unconditional. Hurt me and I may be able to bring myself to forgive you but I'm not going to love you, or love you again, unless you damn well earn it.

Weird leap now, I've quoted The Last Psychiatrist on narcissistic injury approvingly before:
Fat George Clooney discovers his wife has been cheating on him-- and he never suspected. That's a profound insult, a narcissistic injury, and no, people who complain I talk about it too much but haven't actually learned the lessons, you don't have to be a narcissist to experience a narcissistic injury, it's built into the way we relate to other people. It's jealousy AND an existential beat down: look at the limits of your power, look at the limits of your reach, she is able to have a whole other existence that had so little to do with you you didn't even notice, nor did she feel any need to tell you. At least if she had done it to hurt you you'd still suffer the jealousy but your place as main character in your own movie would be secure. Maybe you're only supporting cast in hers? "Screw that. I'm changing the script."
Having been in a deeply committed relationship and being cheated on, I know all about narcissistic injury. TLP does a very good job of describing the ways we react. But there is a crucial moral point to face here and that is that the woman who cheats on you has done you a serious wrong. I focus on women here because we don't feel the same way about men who cheat. Don't believe me? Tell me that you honestly believe that this movie could be made with the sexes reversed:

When my ex cheated on me, I had friends who came t me and told me that I wasn't treating her well enough and that was why she'd done it. Really! And TLP is doing something like that here. It's the male character's fault that he couldn't see that his wife had a whole existence separate from him! If you made a movie about a group of men who discover that a woman has been having sex with all of them and giving them the impression that each was the only man in her life and they got together and tried to destroy her it would, rightly be describes, as misogyny. Do the same thing with women and you can pass that hatred off as comedy.

Now, we could stamp our feet and scream about double standards but, I think,  as men we just have to accept that this is the way it is and adjust our attitudes accordingly. TLP is quite right that we experience a narcissistic injury when someone we've committed to cheats on us and whole lot of unhealthy responses come with that. But it is equally wrong to act as if there was no injury at all.

To return to what TLP says in the quote above, do anything about the following strike you as odd?
It's jealousy AND an existential beat down: look at the limits of your power, look at the limits of your reach, she is able to have a whole other existence that had so little to do with you you didn't even notice, nor did she feel any need to tell you. At least if she had done it to hurt you you'd still suffer the jealousy but your place as main character in your own movie would be secure. Maybe you're only supporting cast in hers? "Screw that. I'm changing the script."
That's mostly good but it ignores a key moral fact: they're married and married people aren't supposed to have a whole other existence their spouse doesn't know about. That's a real injury and  deserves a response. Just not a narcissistic one.

Don't change the script, but do change the conversation.

Anyway, I'll now make another weird leap back to the topic I started with: To be loved just as you are you have to work hard to make yourself into someone who is beautiful and good. That won't guarantee anything. It's a necessary condition not a sufficient one. But the lesson is that the best revenge is to live well and living well means to make something beautiful and good of yourself.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Song of summer: "innocence" with bubblegum on her knees

Bubblegum music was probably called that because one of the leading purveyors of the music was a band called The 1910 Fruitgum Company. Most critics describe it as a dumbing down of rock music with innocents made innocent so as to not offend the parents of young adolescent girls. That's not really true. Rock and roll, which had been kiddie music, was getting decided adult in contend and this was music that tried to maintain an innocence that was in danger of being lost.

But it's all in the delivery. Take a bouncy bubblegum pop song with painfully innocent lyrics do it with a slow groove and let Julie London give it her patented oral stimulations on it and you you'll get a whole different set of ideas.

The people who hated it, and they were legion, thought that Julie had failed to pull off rock music here. What she really did, in conjunction with other oldsters like Serge Gainsbourg and Leonard Cohen, was to create something brand new. It's a masterpiece of its type.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Whose "heavy price"?

Here is a serious argument that is worth a serious response.
The Mater et Magistra dispute led to many ironic consequences. In defending National Review’s capitalist Catholicism, Buckley and Wills had provided a rationale for social liberals to ignore church teachings on sexual matters, which was especially pertinent after the Vatican released the encyclicalHumanae Vitae (1968), reiterating opposition to birth control and abortion. Wills himself moved to the left in the late 1960s, breaking with Buckley over the Vietnam War and civil rights. About the core issue of the Mater et Magistra debate, Wills argued in his 1979 bookConfessions of a Conservative that “[t]here is something about laissez-faire individualism that is historically at odds with Catholic tradition—but this is a matter not reachable by papal fiat or by those who challenge the sincerity of their fellow believer’s religion.” 
By the late 1960s, as Wills also noted, the two sides had flipped, with “‘liberals’ now denouncing encyclicals rather than using encyclicals to denounce others, ‘conservatives’ sticking with the Pope even when he had issued his disastrous encyclical on contraceptives.” One lesson from theMater et Magistra contretemps is that almost all Catholics are cafeteria Catholics. 
For National Review, the sophisticated arguments they used to wiggle out from having to grapple with church teaching in Mater et Magistra came at a heavy price. The magazine became disengaged from Catholicism as a living intellectual tradition and lost much of its Catholic ambience.
That's from a piece by Jeet Heer called "The Last Time Conservatives Dismissed a Major Encyclical, It Ended Terribly for Them". Headlines in political advocacy publications have a tendency to undermine the article below and that one is no exception. Mater et Magistra was promulgated in 1961; to call the subsequent decades a disaster for conservative Catholics is a little odd. The next two decades saw conservatism go from being a fringe movement that was historically at odds with American tradition to the Reagan White House. It was also a period when Catholic conservative intellectuals rose to a level of influence that would have been unimaginable before. A more accurate headline would be "The Last Time Conservatives Dismissed a Major Encyclical, It Exposed Inconsistencies in their Views", which, while accurate, is not terribly compelling.

Those caveats aside, there is a lot that is right about the argument:
  • A Catholic conservative cannot dismiss Catholic social teaching and then take umbrage at those who disregard Catholic teaching on sex and sexuality.
  • Laissez-faire individualism really is at odds with Catholic tradition.
  • If you denounce Encyclicals, you cannot reasonably reverse direction and start using Encyclicals to to denounce others.
All of these are reversible:
  • Catholic liberals who describe Humanae Vitae as disastrous can't tell Catholic conservatives who question Catholic social teaching to shut up.
  • For a long, long time, monarchy fit right in with Catholic tradition.
  • If you use encyclicals to denounce others, you cannot reasonably reverse direction and begin denouncing encyclicals.
The simple conclusion to draw from this is that Jeet Heer is far too wrapped up in the liberal-conservative ping pong game to see that it is just ping pong and, therefore, ridiculous. A deeper point is that too many popes have written too many encyclicals that fit right into these ping pong games. The moment encyclicals become useful paddles for anyone on any side of a political argument, not only that encyclical but encyclicals generally lose a lot of their luster. The big losers in Laudato Si, no matter how you spin it, will be the Catholic church and the office of the papacy.