David S. Oderberg’s “Why Abortion Isn’t Important”

This is an important article by philosopher David S. Oderberg, which first appeared in the Human Life Review, 2002. I highly recommend Professor Oderberg’s works, particularly his books on ethics, Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach and Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach.  His work in metaphysics, Real Essentialism, is no less valuable, but is highly technical—I recommend in only for those already well versed in metaphysics.  It is dry and difficult, although the case he makes—for the reality of essences—could not be of greater importance.  My readers probably know that I hold the nominalism of William of Ockham to be GROUND ZERO of where Western Civilization went off the rails. Everything that has gone wrong since has gone wrong because of the denial of real essences and Platonic forms.  Indeed, I believe this is the basic thrust of Oderberg’s case below “abortion isn’t important,” he says, in the sense that, horror that it is, it is only one local manifestation of a much deeper sickness of the intellect and the will that has infected our civilization for a very long time now.  It is “not important” only in the sense that it is first of all a symptom of a much deeper and more pervasive disease.

But I don’t mean to interpret his words for you. I mean only to present them to you:

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Why Abortion Isn’t Important

Human Life Review | Summer 2002 | David S. Oderberg

Abortion is not important. I never thought I could write such a sentence. In fact, I never thought I could think it. But I do. That’s not all. I also think that euthanasia is not important. Nor cloning. Nor contraception. Nor IVF, embryo experimentation, genetic engineering, nor any other issue at the core of pro-life activity and policy. In fact, pro-life activity and policy themselves are not important. However, before you write a letter of outrage to the editor, or tear up your subscription, allow me to explain.

To clarify what I mean by these issues’ not being important, let me point out that I am not saying for a minute that pro-lifers should stop being pro-lifers, that we should spend our afternoons tending our rose bushes rather than campaigning, protesting, writing, or whatever it is that we do best in defending the pro-life cause. Like most pro-lifers, I am opposed to every single one of the things listed above. Every one of them is a moral crime, an attack on the sanctity of human life, and every one of them should be opposed in heart and mind and action by all people of good will. And yet—they are not important.

As a professional philosopher, I am trained to look at the big picture. True, most of my fellow philosophers, at least in the Anglophone academies, have pretty much given up on big pictures. We philosophers hardly ever talk about big pictures at our end-of-term garden parties, or in the common room between lectures. We don’t knock on each other’s doors and say, “Hey, Fred, what do you think of the state of Western civilization?” It’s just not done. What is done is to knock on a colleague’s door and say, “Hey, Fred, what do you think about Quine’s denial of the analytic/synthetic distinction? Don’t you think recent theories of meaning have cast doubt on his critique?”

Don’t get me wrong. Quine’s denial of the analytic/synthetic distinction is important and well worth debating. Plenty of good papers have been published on it. My list of things to research in philosophy would be a lot shorter if I didn’t have subtle or not-so-subtle technical distinctions to analyze. It was good enough for Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas (let alone all the other great figures in the history of my subject)—so it’s good enough for me. Yet through it all, through the endless training in technicalities, and even despite the best efforts of many of those who taught me to philosophize, I have, one way or another, been trained to look at the big picture.

Which is why I have come more and more to see that pro-life issues, including the ones on which I have published at length and will continue to publish, form a smaller component of the overall stance that should be taken against society than many pro-lifers would think. Social activism, like everything else in the marketplace of goods and ideas, inevitably involves a division of labour. Animal rights campaigners (for all the bad mixed in with their good intentions) campaign for animals and very little else; animals are their world, the abolition of the battery cage their raison d’être. Campaigners against paedophilia have the welfare of children as their sole social concern, and see social policy through the prism of their anxiety that children be protected at all costs. Anti-globalists interpret every facet of economic policy in terms of its promotion or reduction of the depredations of transnational big business.

Pro-lifers are no exception. Of course I exaggerate, but the basic point is correct, that when a person embarks on the defense of a cause (and why they pick one cause rather than another depends on all sorts of reasons both personal and political), they tend to focus exclusively on that cause and to see all other social issues primarily in terms of how those issues reflect upon it. The division of labour is a good and necessary thing, both in economics and in social activism. I am certainly not advocating the disappearance of single-issue campaigning, or of multi-issue campaigning (like pro-life activism) that revolves around one large chunk of social policy. No policy would ever change if activists regularly spread their campaigning too thinly, thus depleting their intellectual and emotional (not to mention financial) resources beyond their usefulness in any one specialized operation.

What I am advocating, however, is that pro-lifers as a whole spend more time thinking about bigger issues and how they relate to their primary concern to protect innocent human life from womb to tomb. Perhaps the single thing that contributed most to this realization was when I first read the famous paper published in 1958 by the eminent (and recently departed) Cambridge philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. Writing about the utilitarianism that has, since Bentham and Mill, taken over virtually all moral theorizing in the English-speaking departments of philosophy (perhaps less true today of high-level moral theory than of applied ethics, where of course the damage is really done—witness Singer and Co.), Professor Anscombe noted that it had become a serious topic of moral debate among philosophers whether it could ever be justified to kill an innocent man (e.g., to save five others). Her response was brave—brave because it went so contrary to the grain of philosophy as argument and dialectic. What she said (and here I paraphrase and interpret¹) was that when confronted with a person who really thinks it a live moral issue whether killing the innocent might ever be justifiable, even if that person offers sophisticated utilitarian arguments in support, the right thing to do is to walk away rather than argue; for such a person shows evidence of a corrupt mind.

Here is one of the (to my mind) greatest philosophers produced by England in the last century, telling people—especially other philosophers—that sometimes it is better to walk away than to argue. Why? Because a person’s conscience can become so corrupt, and lead to such equally corrupt rationalizations, that to engage them in serious argument about those rationalizations is both pointless—being unlikely to have the slightest impact on their thinking—and, what is worse, dangerous—bringing the thinker of good will into serious danger of having his own conscience perverted by the sophistries of the other.

Professor Anscombe did, nevertheless, write much in defense of life— though, notably, much of it for those who already valued life, arming them with arguments, rather than for those who could not even see the truth of the conclusions the arguments were arguments for. As to activism, well, it is not often that one sees a picture of an eighty-year-old female academic lying on the ground being dragged off by the police to the local lock-up. Her crime? Protesting outside an abortuary, of course.

Had she decided that protest against the devaluers of life was more rational than engaging them in argument over the futility of utilitarian thinking? I never got the chance to ask her, but the remarks in her 1958 paper gave pause for thought. After all, thousands of philosophers across the Western world (and it is the West with which I am solely concerned) continue to pose the very sorts of question Anscombe derided as showing evidence of moral corruption. Killing the innocent? No, that’s no longer even a question—most philosophers do not have a problem with it. Rather, it’s meatier territory they stake out now. In fact, when I first learned that the Doctor Exsecrabilis Peter Singer was now somewhat of a fan of bestiality,² I caught myself being not nearly as surprised as I thought I might be: surely this was the logical working out (by a thinker who satisfies G. K. Chesterton’s definition of a maniac—not someone who has lost his reason, but someone who has lost everything but his reason) of a moral position that had already been poisoned decades ago by those first thoughts about whether morality is all about costs and benefits, and whether the job of modern moralists was to overthrow tradition and replace it with a brand new morality for our brand new times.

I assume it will be paedophilia next. Or perhaps incest. (Only a few weeks ago I happened to listen on BBC radio to a learned discussion of incest [not involving Singer] that was as remarkable for its high seriousness as for the insouciance of its participants.) I ask pro-lifers: can we really expect to have a rational debate with these custodians of what’s left of our cultural norms? Perhaps we should keep trying, lest there be one single person out there who changes his mind because of what pro-lifers have to say. Nevertheless, we also play right into the hands of the modern moralists when we approach ethical debate with such a narrow focus. What happens when a pro-lifer publicly debates, say, the so-called “morning-after pill” (alias the early abortion pill) with one of its advocates? Usually, the pro-lifer is accused of an unhealthy obsession with what goes on in people’s bedrooms. Why all this fixation on sex? they want to know. Is it the usual “Catholic guilt” thing, or the fact that they want to deny to others what they secretly wish they could have for themselves? Why don’t they get out of other people’s private lives and worry about their own?

Of course, none of these responses is remotely rational. But the point is that listeners to such debates usually take the rhetorical bait, having long ago abandoned any pretense at rational thought about the issues themselves. And so pro-lifers are portrayed all too often as swivel-eyed, obsessive single-issue fanatics. Needless to say, the double standards are obvious, since such epithets are rarely applied to animal liberationists or anti-globalists. The pro-lifers always get the worst of it: partly due to the obsessions of their opponents, who are really the ones who are utterly fixated on all things carnal; partly through a genuine fear that pro-lifers still (more so in the USA than the UK, by far) have political clout and can actually change things, at least by clogging the courts and slowing down the passage of anti-life measures, at most by getting their own measures adopted (e.g. anti-euthanasia legislation). Partly, as well, due to a tiny trace of residual moral conscience left in their critics. But partly also, it must be said, to the pro-lifers’ own excessively narrow focus.

Does that mean I advocate that pro-lifers should stop being obsessed by matters affecting the sanctity of life? Of course not. If we are not obsessed by life and death, we might as well not be obsessed by anything. What I do advocate, however, is that pro-lifers increase their obsession—not just with life matters, but with the whole state of Western society. We need to be obsessed by the state of utter desolation into which Western society is throwing itself. It may well be (as I believe) that what is left of Western civilization is doomed to extinction—but doing and caring nothing about it is just not an option. It is not only on what we achieve (and we may achieve a lot in the short or medium term), but on what we defend that we will be judged. And we must come to the realization that when a society has reached a state in which abortion and other attacks on life are not only tolerated; not only legalized; not only accepted as normal; but are positively embraced by millions of people as the very solution to what ails that society—then we must realize that something has not only gone seriously wrong, but went wrong a long time ago, long before the Sixties, long before any of us was alive.

We do not need to become social or cultural historians to analyze the current state of things. We should also acknowledge that there is a feedback loop among the phenomena under discussion: explanation is not always in the one direction. A general state of slow-burning moral disintegration gave rise to the climate in which the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s could take place; but equally, with that revolution now secure and its aging vanguard installed as our rulers, the revolution feeds back into the wider state of decay and gives it added momentum. Which way the explanation should go in a given case is best left to the historians. What is more important is that we need instead to see that actions such as abortion can only ever become the norm in a society in which the very bonds that tie us together as human beings have been torn apart. We need to understand that the anti-life movement is a secondary cancer, a metastasis of a primary tumor that began to grow when the West began to lose its religious sensibilities, its sense of communal obligation, its norms of respect and due deference for the elderly, the wise, the experienced, those who govern in our name, its standards of gentility and politeness, when people began twistedly to interpret manners as hypocrisy, noblesse oblige as exploitation, civic duty as state oppression, state patronage as a human right, love of neighbor as poking one’s nose into the business of others, hypocrisy as the greatest vice of all (to which I reply—better double standards than no standards), and proper autonomy as the right to do as one pleases.

The primary cancer is as deep as it is old, and it is almost certainly terminal. But for us—as campaigners, writers, thinkers, activists—its terminal nature cannot be of prime concern. What we must attend to is the enrichment of our thinking about pro-life issues by studied consideration of just how the anti-life culture is rooted in a much broader social pathology. We need not, and must not, become self-styled experts on everything that is wrong with Western society (which of us can claim any such expertise?), and we must not dilute the pro-life message to the point where it no longer stands out against the cacophony of perpetual social commentary that clogs the exhausted airwaves and ever diminishing magazines of “opinion.”

Still, pro-lifers must widen their perspective. We must understand the simple fact that a society in which people are judged not by their looks but by their virtues is a society in which abortion would be impossible. That a society in which travelers regularly give up their seats to the elderly is a society in which euthanasia would be impossible. That the antithesis of a me-first society in which physical perfection is the ultimate goal is a society in which genetic screening for physical handicap would be considered not as a moral outrage, but as just plain absurd—unthinkable, even. This is what I mean by saying that abortion is not important. A society which has gone as far as devaluing the lives of its own members has gone wrong long before. It is not just the metastases which must be attacked, but their malignant origin. Sure, let us be obsessed by anything that touches on life and death—how could we not? But let us also be obsessed by much, much more.

NOTES

1. To read her exact words, see ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’ in her collected papers entitled Ethics, Religion and Politics: Philosophical Papers, vol. III (Oxford: Blackwell, 1981), pp.26-42.

2. See his review of Midas Dekkers, Dearest Pet: On Bestiality, published on http://www.nerve.com in 2001 and also in the British magazine Prospect (April 2001).

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Liberalism and Protestantism: The Same Dilemma

Classical liberalism is fast becoming a conservative position, in the face of neo-Progressivism aka the Regressive Left aka the Social Justice movement/cult.

Classical liberals are seeing their most dearly held values and beliefs tossed on the rubbish heap of history, as being “on the wrong side” of history.  Basic individual rights and freedoms, such as freedom of speech and freedom of belief are nowadays under constant attack.

The trouble is, as classical liberals are waking up to this reality, more and more, they are sounding the alarm, and even the call to arms: “We must fight for our culture and our values! We must endure struggle and sacrifice.  We cannot allow these things to be taken from us!”

Well, why not?

“Because otherwise another culture with different values, which are equally valid, will as a matter historical fact replace our culture and our values, which again, are not more or less valid than the alternative.”

That isn’t a terribly motivating reason.

The dilemma that secular liberalism finds itself in is that it has, in the name of its principles, rejected all possible non-arbitrary foundation for its principles.

The secular liberal, it seems to me, is in exactly the same situation as the Protestant.

The Protestant proclaims the doctrine of sola scriptura, “scripture alone”, and that all we need as a foundation is the Bible. But instead of a foundation, what Protestants get is ten thousand different and incompatible interpretations of “what the Bible really says.”  (I don’t mean you, dear Protestant who belongs to a ‘church’ with 100 members. You are of course correct. The Holy Spirit speaks directly only to your tiny sect.)

The secular liberal, in fine ‘Enlightenment’ style proclaims the parallel doctrine of sola ratio, “reason alone,” and that all we need as a foundation is reason.  But reason works from premises to conclusions; and reason doesn’t supply its own most basic premises.  So just like the Protestants, secular liberals produce tend thousands sects and parties who all claim to know “what reason really says”—depending on which premises they start from.

Unfortunately for the secular liberal, the ‘Enlightenment’ conception of reason—I hope you understand why ‘Enlightenment’ requires enclosing in inverted commas—is of no help:

HumeContraryToReason

A minimalist, instrumental, reductions view of reason cannot help.

The classical view of reason as λόγος goes much farther but even that is insufficient. The only coherent grounding of Western culture and Western values is the Christian faith, which is entirely compatible with reason (unlike Islam), yet goes beyond it, and so can serve as its transcendent ground and anchor for reason and for the values the West dared to proclaim is eternal and self-evident truths:

DeclarationofIndependence

Without a transcendent foundation in the Creator, reason fails and falls to the level of sophistry, of merely competing narratives, a situation which many of  best philosophers of our day declare openly, either morosely or in celebration: at long last, the tyranny of reason is at an end! 

In abandoning God and Christianity, the West has not “liberated” itself, but rather has placed itself in the tyranny of an infinite number of “narratives”, all of which claim the sanction of reason, none of which can support this claim as true of them in particular.

How does the Protestant member of a tiny sect know that his version of Christianity is true, out of the ten thousand or so Protestant sects? He appeals directly to the Holy Spirit, who told him so.

How does the secular liberal know that just his version of liberal secularism and humanism is correct? “Reason” told him so.

Neither the Protestant sectarian nor the liberal secular sectarian can adequately explain why “the Holy Spirit” and “Reason” tell other people different things, and why he and he alone has the right of things.

Nevertheless, human beings are sturdy creatures, and the prejudice “I am right, while everyone else is wrong, because I am me, and they aren’t,” rarely fails us on a personal level.

It only fails us on a universal level when our existence as a community, as a culture and a civilization, depends upon unity and agreement, something the modern West now seems incapable of.

 

 

Planet of the Apes and Prejudice

Not quite a Jane Austen title, I know, but this is something I have found very fascinating for years.

Human beings seem to have a natural “love of their own.” Call it prejudice, if you want, but the truth seems to be that it is both deeply human and at the same time, superficial.

But let’s get to the story!

MCDPLOF FE007

PLANET OF THE APES, Charlton Heston, Linda Harrison, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, 1968, Tm & Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.

During the filming of Planet of the Apes in 1967, Charlton Heston noted “an instinctive segregation on the set. Not only would the apes eat together, but the chimpanzees ate with the chimpanzees, the gorillas ate with the gorillas, the orangutans ate with the orangutans, and the humans would eat off by themselves. It was quite spooky.”

James Franciscus noticed the same thing filming Beneath the Planet of the Apes in 1969. “During lunch I looked up and realized, ‘My God, here is the universe,’ because at one table were all the orangutans eating, at another table were the apes, and at another table were the humans. The orangutan characters would not eat or mix with the ape characters, and the humans wouldn’t sit down and eat with any one of them.

“I remember saying, ‘Look around — do you realize what’s happening here? This is a little isolated microcosm of probably what’s bugging the whole world. Call it prejudice or whatever you want to call it. Whatever’s different is to be shunned or it’s frightening or so forth.’ Nobody was intermingling, even though they were all humans underneath the masks. The masks were enough to bring out our own little genetic natures of fear and prejudice. It was startling.”

(From Joe Russo and Larry Landsman, Planet of the Apes Revisited, 2001.)

PlanetOTApes_173Pyxurz

What is so interesting about this (to me) is that the actors self-segregated based entirely on their costumes, their outward appearance.  It made no difference if the actor was black, white, or asian; what seemed to be the sole determining factor (for the duration of filming) was whether he or she was chimpanzee, orangutan, gorilla, or human.

On the one hand, this seems like bad news: it suggests that a certain level of prejudice against people who “aren’t like us” in an obvious visual way will always be a part of human nature.  I’m certain it is the sort of thing that can be overcome with practice, but it seems to be our default state.

On the other hand, it strikes me as good news: it seems to show that in most cases racial prejudice is an incredibly superficial thing, that it is literally all surface, and that the greater part of this kind of behavior is not rooted in any deep antipathy or hatred of other races.

I suspect this common tendency is part of human nature, and we should certainly be aware of it—but that also means not making more of it than it is.  It should caution us about labelling every kind of tendency towards self-segregation as “racism”—assuming that word carries connotations of racial hatred or prejudice.

The Word “Sex”

I’m afraid this post isn’t going to be very “sexy.” It is going to be about language.  It is going to about what I consider one of the most momentous events in the recent history of Western Civilization, not anything big, like a war or other mighty achievement, but a small event, the gradual change in the meaning of a word, and the consequences thereof.

It is an error, however, to suppose that momentous changes are always big and loud and noisy.  As Nietzsche observed, the opposite is true.  The big, loud, noisy events are always set in motion beforehand:

NietzscheDovesFeet

What does the word “sex” mean? Here is the Oxford English Dictionary:

sex, n.1
Pronunciation: Brit. /sɛks/ , U.S. /sɛks/
1. a. Either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and many other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions; (hence) the members of these categories viewed as a group; the males or females of a particular species, esp. the human race, considered collectively.

▸a1382 Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Bodl. 959) (1959) Gen. vi. 19 Of all þingez hauyng soule of eny flesch: two þou schalt brynge in to þe ark, þat male sex [L. sexus] & female: lyuen with þe.
▸a1398 J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum (BL Add.) f. 303, In suche Wormes is no sexe of male and femele.
?c1400 (▸c1380) Chaucer tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. (BL Add. 10340) (1868) iv. pr. vi. 137 Þilke same ordre neweþ aȝein alle þinges growyng and fallyng a-doune by sembleables progressiouns of seedes and of sexes, þat is to sein, male and female.
c1447 Queen Margaret To King in R. Willis & J. W. Clark Archit. Hist. Univ. Cambr. (1886) I. Introd. p. lxiii (MED), Docteurs sentences..parformyd daily twyes..to laude and honneur of sexe feminine.
1532 T. More Confutacyon Tyndales Answere ii. p. clii, I had as leue he bare them both a bare cheryte, as wyth the frayle feminyne sexe fall to far in loue.
1559 J. Aylmer Harborowe sig. E4v, Neither of them debarred the heires female..as though it had ben..vnnatural for that sexe to gouern.
a1586 Sir P. Sidney Arcadia (1590) ii. ii. sig. P3v, The sexe of womankind of all other is most bound to haue regardfull eie to mens iudgements.
1600 T. Nashe Summers Last Will sig. F3v, A woman they imagine her to be, Because that sexe keepes nothing close they heare.
1612 R. Johnson Crowne-Garland Goulden Roses sig. E8v, Our sex are given to range.
1615 H. Crooke Μικροκοσμογραϕια 274 If wee respect the..conformation of both the Sexes, the Male is sooner perfected..in the wombe.
1671 Milton Samson Agonistes 774 It was a weakness In me, but incident to all our sex.
a1704 T. Brown Satire against Woman in Wks. (1707) I. i. 82 Thy Sex are all Pandora’s; Mischiefs all.
1730 Swift Let. to Mrs. Whiteway 28 Dec. You have neither the scrawl nor the spelling of your sex.
1763 G. Williams in J. H. Jesse G. Selwyn & his Contemp. (1843) I. 265 It would astonish you to see the mixture of sexes at this place.
1768 O. Goldsmith Good Natur’d Man iv. 54 Our sex are like poor tradesmen.
1780 J. Bentham Introd. Princ. Morals & Legisl. (1789) vi. §35 The sensibility of the female sex appears..to be greater than that of the male.
1839 H. Malcom Trav. (1840) 40/1 Neither sex tattoo any part of their bodies.
1846 Ecclesiologist Feb. 41 The propriety and necessity of dividing the sexes during the publick offices of the Church.
1847 Thackeray Vanity Fair (1848) xxv. 210 She was by no means so far superior to her sex as to be above jealousy.
1864 Dickens Our Mutual Friend (1865) I. ii. i. 161 It was a school..for both sexes.
1914 Amer. Med. 9 531/1 By nature all human beings are psychically bisexual—capable of loving a person of either sex.
1958 Listener 27 Nov. 891/2 By using this technique of ‘colour-ringing’ the author was able to record the histories of some forty birds of each sex.
1980 Times 22 May 12 Once you put them on a horse the female sex are far more deadly than the male.
2007 J. Mansell Thinking of You v. 30 Gavin was an enthusiastic chatter-upper of the opposite sex.

The word ‘sex’ in English originally meant the dimorphic biological distinction between males and females, based on their nature, more specifically their role in the reproduction of the species.  The term is not limited to human beings, but is used particularly for them.  There are two sexes, male and female, man and woman.

This usage goes back into the earliest English and is in turn derived from the Latin sexus, the

state of being male or female, specific qualities associated with being male or female, males or females collectively.

So, there are two sexes, and the basis for the distinction between the two is grounded primarily in their respective roles in biological reproduction.

Now, it should be obvious that, in reproduction, males and females engage in a characteristic act.  We could call this the reproductive act, or in understanding that in human beings this act is not merely an animal act, but also an act with transcendent implications, indeed in the Western Christian tradition, a sacred and sacramental act, the marital act.

We could also, with not too much linguistic drift, speak of “the act that is the characteristic act done together by the two sexes” as “the sexual act.

But now notice what happens. “The sexual act“, that is, “the act which is the characteristic act done together by the two sexes” becomes shortened simply to “sex”, which is now the name of the act, rather than the name of a fundamental characteristic that allows those participating in the act to do so.

In this usage, “sex” is now the name of “the characteristic act done together by the two sexes in reproduction.”

From here, “sex” then becomes “any act done together by the two sexes involving their reproductive organs, even if it is not the reproductive act.”

And from here, “sex” becomes “Any act done by any person or persons involving the reproductive organs, even if it has nothing whatever to do with reproduction.”

Let us return to the O.E.D. “Sex” is also defined as

b. Physical contact between individuals involving sexual stimulation; sexual activity or behaviour, spec. sexual intercourse, copulation. to have sex (with): to engage in sexual intercourse (with).
Now the most common general sense. Sometimes, when denoting sexual activity other than conventional heterosexual intercourse, preceded by modifying adjective, as gay, oral, phone sex, etc.

1900 H. G. Wells Love & Mr. Lewisham xvii. 144 We marry in fear and trembling, sex for a home is the woman’s traffic, and the man comes to his heart’s desire when his heart’s desire is dead.
1929 D. H. Lawrence Pansies 57 If you want to have sex, you’ve got to trust At the core of your heart, the other creature.
1953 S. Kauffmann Philanderer x. 174 Her arms went around his neck and his hand rested on her waist, and they had a brief moment of friendship before the sex began.
1962 Listener 7 June 1006/2 Why wasn’t Bond ‘more tender’ in his love-making? Why did he just ‘have sex’ and disappear?
1971 Petticoat 17 July 6/2 The most conspicuous consequence of sex before marriage is the possibility of pregnancy.
1991 Locus May 38/3 She strongly disapproved of the sex and violence now making its way into young-adult fiction, under the guise of ‘problem stories’.
2005 Time 10 Oct. 45/3 Multiple studies have found most teens with same-sex attractions have had sex with both boys and girls.

Note the dates.  This usage of “sex,” which the O.E.D. rightly states to be “now the most common general sense” is very recent.  The O.E.D.’s earliest example is from 1900, technically the 20th century, albeit the very beginning. In any event, although there may be some isolated uses as far back as 1855 or so, the point is that this usage of the term “sex” is, historically, an extremely recent development.

Note what else has also happened: “sex”, reconceptualized as any act involving the sexual organs, that is, the reproductive organs, has now become a genus, that is, a class-kind under which fall many species: oral sex, anal sex, gay sex, ‘phone sex’, ‘cybersex’, etc.

The redefinition of the word “sex” forces a reconceptualization of the meaning of “sex.” If “sex” had a legitimate use as the name of an act, “the sexual act,” was synonymous with “the reproductive act,” since only the reproductive act could be “the characteristic act of the two sexes in reproduction.”

Now, however, “the reproductive act, the characteristic act that occurs between the sexes in reproduction” must be viewed as only one kind of sex among others.

Non-reproductive acts, essentially sterile acts which merely make use of the organs of reproduction now become alternate kinds of sex.  The transformation of “sex” into a genus of acts with many species thus inexorably sets up a conceptual equivalence between all kinds of “sex.”  That is, “all sex is created equal.” What was once alone entitled to be called sex, the reproductive act between male and female, the two sexes, is now implicitly placed on a par with any and all non-reproductive acts done with the organs of reproduction, and between persons of any sex.

There was a time, a very recent time, barely a century ago, when “oral sex” or “anal sex” or “same-sex sex” would have been nonsensical terms.  As non-reproductive and wholly unconnected with human biological embodiment, none of these acts could possible count as “the sexual act.”  As is known, the traditional word for such acts was “sodomy.”

I make no comment other than to note that this is how it happened:

  1. The term for the natural division of the human species into two biological “sexes” became
  2. the “characteristic reproductive act between the two sexes”, which became
  3. “any act between the two sexes that involves the reproductive organs, even if it is non-reproductive”, which became
  4. “any act involving the reproductive organs, usually but not always involving two people, sometimes the two sexes, sometimes two people of one and the same sex.”

“Sex” went from being the name of a natural characteristic of a human person, to the name of the characteristic act of the two sexes, and from there, to a genus of acts, with many species, all viewed as somehow equal—because they are all just various species of the (new) genus “sex.”

Much of the catastrophic collapse of Western Civilization which we are witnessing stems from this seemingly innocuous change in the meaning of this little word.  Here is the tiny seed that has grown into the monstrous tree we know as the sexual revolution.

If we were still capable of seeing in the term “sex” only “the reproductive act,” much could be salvaged.  I am pessimistic that this is now even possible however.

Witches, Patriarchy, White Supremacy

We need to talk about a serious threat to all of us: WITCHES.

Witches are evil. They are a great evil at work in the world right now, using their evil magic to cause great harm to humanity. I wish to make sweeping changes to our laws and public policies and social mores in order to combat the evil of witches and witchcraft.

But I don’t need to be able to say exactly what I mean by witches and witchcraft.  I just have the special ability, based on my personal experience as a victim of witchcraft , to be able to detect it at work nearly everywhere. It may be possible for me to teach you to be able to detect witchcraft everywhere, but maybe not: it could be you are blind to witchcraft because you are already under the spell of evil witches. That’s the thing about witches: they use their witchcraft to make witchcraft undetectable by anyone under the influence of witchcraft.

I also don’t need to produce any evidence that witches and witchcraft exist and are at work actively doing evil to us. My assertions are enough evidence, because I am a victim of witchcraft, and victims of something have special privileges. You may not have had such personal experiences as a victim of witchcraft, so you may not be able to see it. But since I am a victim, you are morally and intellectually obligated to take my word for it without requiring any kind of objective evidence! To ask for evidence would be victim blaming and also helping the evil witches!

I demand the power to conduct witch hunts, to seize witches on the suspicion of witchcraft, to try, convict, and punish witches on the basis of accusations.  Witchcraft is so heinous a crime, there can be no defense of it—not even innocence!

If you are not willing to grant me unlimited witch hunting powers to fight this clear and present evil and danger of witchcraft, then you are clearly under the spell of the witches, and I am justified in denouncing you as, if not a witch, then as a witch-apologist. And as a witch-apologist, you also need to be socially shamed and possibly fired from your job.

On the other hand, if you have a problem with allowing me unlimited power to conduct witch hunts and change our laws and social structures and whole way of life, if you have a problem giving me the power to ruin people’s lives with mere accusations, just on the basis of my claiming to be a victim of witchcraft, without being able to

  1. Say exactly what witches and witchcraft are,
  2. Show that witches actually exist, and haven’t been simply made up by me,

then surely you’ll agree that it’s fair for me not to grant you any special status or privileges or social powers or belief for your righteous political agenda to “smash Patriarchy” or “dismantle White Supremacy,” unless and until,

  1. if you are a feminist, you can prove that “Patriarchy” exists;
  2. if you are a leftist neo-racist, you can prove that a “White Supremacy” exists;

Unless and until you can do that, I’ll treat your ideas of “Patriarchy” and “White Supremacy” in exactly the same way I treat far-right ideologues’ ideas of “White Genocide” and “The International Jewish Conspiracy.”

That is, I’ll treat them as the absurd delusions of fanatical ideologues and will fight against making any substantial social or political changes on the basis of these delusions, no matter how much you assert they are real. I don’t doubt you believe these things, but then, neo-Nazis firmly believe in the international Jewish Conspiracy too—strong belief doesn’t make a thing real.  If you want to claim virtue or dictate behavior to others or make social policy changes to fight some evil—first you have to prove your evil isn’t imaginary.  Your belief in it isn’t evidence, even if you claim to be a victim of it.  Remember, I am a victim of witchcraft, and I say witches are real. You believe me, right?

Seems fair to me.

“Be a MAN. Get Married.”

Prager University released a video on YouTube called “Be a man. Get married” narrated by sociologist Brad Wilcox.

I’d like to share some thoughts on this video.

First I want to note something very important about Prager University’s YouTube videos. They are all, as a matter of policy, only around 5 minutes long.  My assumption is that this is so they can convey their message in a timespan that a majority of people will be able to handle.  But this has a couple of consequences.  First, the Prager faculty cannot make a detailed and lengthy argument.  To get their message across, they have to rely on rhetorical shorthand devices such as examples and illustrations.  This seems to work, as Prager has garnered over 70,000,000 views.  On the other hand, 5 minutes is simply not enough time to lay out anything more than a bare skeleton of an argument.  For example, the philosopher Peter Kreeft has made two Prager videoes “Where do Good and Evil Come From?” and “God vs Atheism: Which is More Rational?“, both of which I recommend, but neither of which gives Professor Kreeft anywhere near the time he needs to really make the argument: he isn’t so much making an argument, as presenting the outline of an argument.  If you want to see the argument actually spelled out at length, I suggest you read one or more of Professor Kreeft’s 50+ books.   He’s an extremely competent, well-respected philosopher who also has a gift for writing books accessible to people with little or no formal philosophical training.

So with that in mind, let’s have a look at Brad Wilcox’s “Be a man. Get married.” The video appears to be a summary presentation of Wilcox’s book For Richer, For Poorer: How Family Structures Economic Success in America.  Wilcox’s main argument is that married men take a different attitude towards life and particularly towards their work, such that married men are markedly more economically successful than single men, on average. Most of the “argument” such as it is, is an anecdote about a young man who was lazy and living in his parents’ basement until he got married, whereupon he had to “man up” and went on to become much more responsible, disciplined, self-motived, and above all (for Wilcox) economically successful.

Taken by itself, this is terrible argument to get married.  While I have no doubt that Wilcox is correct that married men earn more on average than single men, it simply doesn’t follow that (1) married men have more money than single men—the extra money they make is, after all, going to support their wife and children as well as themselves—nor that (2) married men are better off in any way other than economically, something which, given (1) is very like not true anyway.  So, if married men are no better off in being married except economically, and—by the way—they also aren’t even better off economically, except on paper, Wilcox’s case is pretty much a complete failure.

Add to that the fact that he comes across as morally hectoring men to “man up” and get married.  Few people like to be preached at in a condescending manner, especially when the preaching comes it the form of an argument that is almost laughably bad. No wonder Wilcox’s video provoked so much hostility around the net:

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Ouch.

Wilcox also completely ignores the potentially devastating consequences of a failed marriage for men, both economic and emotional.  He bangs on and on about the alleged rewards, but fails even to suggest that there might be risks, much less prohibitive risks for men to get married.

Now, as it happens, I think that marriage is one of the greatest goods possible for both men and women.  Wilcox’s case for it, however, is so bad that it does more harm than good. While I was watching it, I kept thinking of man advising young inner city black males “You should get into dealing drugs; there’s good money in it”, which is also superficially true, but leaves out that whole thing about the overwhelming likelihood of prison time and early, violent death.

Wilcox does actually manage to at least mention two decent points, or at least they appear in the video, one which speaks to the individual good of marriage and one which speaks to the social good:

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I went ahead and struck out the “financial well-being” part of that one.

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Wilcox does go on about the transformative effect of marriage, but he couches his case exclusively in terms of attitude towards work, which in turn leads men to work harder and make more money.  But with the distinct possibility of being less happy, having less leisure to enjoy one’s extra income, and having one’s extra income or more being taken away from one, it sounds very much like Wilcox is arguing that “Marriage makes men work harder, which is beneficial to someone other than them, so they should do that.” In Wilcox’s terms, marriage doesn’t seem like something that the pursuit of happiness would lead to; it sounds, in fact, much like something the pursuit of happiness would mitigate against.

What someone wishing to make the case for marriage to men in the modern West needs to  do is to show how they benefit from it.  And this benefit could with partial accuracy be expressed in the phrase “be a man“—except this way of putting it is apt to sound like moral shaming language.  The truth of the matter, however, is that it should be expressed in terms of virtue and self-actualization: if you would be a man in the fullest sense, you must be a husband and a father.  And why should you wish to be a man “in the fullest sense”? Because that is a component of your εὐδαιμονία—your happiness or flourishing; it is because you are a human being, and to be a human being means, among other things, to be a member of a sexually dimorphic species.  No one, I think, would seriously argue against the propositions that sex and sexuality are major components of the human body and psychē—many of the major moral arguments of the current age revolve directly around sex and sexuality—nor would anyone contend that, collectively, for any gives biological species, reproduction is one of the most important factors to consider about that species.  And of course, no matter how much our prevailing sexual ethos has attempted to conceptually separate sex and sexuality from reproduction, every honest human being knows (so I would assert) that sex and sexuality are naturally directed at reproduction.  That is what they are for.  In older language, having children is the τέλος—the “end”, “purpose,” or “goal”—of sex.

One particularly virulent modern myth is that nature does not have any “ends”, “goals”, or “purposes”, that there are no natural τέλη or that if there are, they are not normative for human beings. I cannot lay out the full case here, but I will note in passing (1) natural τέλη were never “refuted” by any sound philosophical arguments—they were simply deemed unuseful by thinkers such as Descartes and Bacon, who saw in the idea of natural ends (rightly) an obstacle to their project of the human conquest and subdual of nature.  The scientific method does not find natural τέλη because it is part of that method not to acknowledge them from the the outset.  Consider Descartes’ argument, that τέλη have no place in science because the purposes of God are inscrutable:

 

And for this reason alone I consider the customary search for final causes to be totally useless in physics; there is considerable rashness in thinking myself capable of investigating the < impenetrable > purposes of God.

Descartes, René. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes: Volume 2 (p. 39). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Notice that (1) this argument could just as well apply to the parts of physics of which Descartes approves, efficient and material causes, for is there not “considerable rashness in thinking myself capable of investigating” how God has designed the world to operate in any respect? And (2) from the point of view of modern physics, in hindsight, which is the more “inscrutable” proposition: “The spin of a Higgs boson is zero” or “the purpose of eyes in organisms is sight“?

Only someone deeply in the grip of anti-teleological metaphysics could deny that eyes are for seeing, lungs for oxygenating the blood, the legs for locomotion, and sex for the production of children.  The fact that seeing, breathing, walking or running, and especially sex also give us pleasure—sometimes great pleasure—in no way cancels this basic natural directedness-towards of our powers.

One needs only the additional premise that “what our natural powers aim at is constitutive of our good” in the way e.g. knowledge is good, because our natural cognitive powers are aimed at knowledge and truth in a way they are not aimed at deception and falsehood.  Or as Aristotle begins the Metaphysics: “All men by nature desire to know.”

Why get married? Why become a husband and a father? (Or a wife and a mother? for that matter).  Because this belongs to the fulfillment of your nature, which just is the condition of your happiness or εὐδαιμονία.  Certainly one can elect to follow another path in life, and  seek a kind of secondary or sub-optimal εὐδαιμονία, or one can be prevented from seeking  optimal realization of one’s nature by external circumstances.  Life is not fair that way.  None of that changes the fact that being married, with children, is optimal condition for the happiness or flourishing of human beings, women as well as men.

But isn’t it true that our modern society has deprecated marriage, has created conditions in which men have an entire range of disincentives to marry and to become fathers (fathers in the true sense—rearers of children—not in the merely biological sense)?

It sure has. This is one of the reasons that Western civilization is dying.  We are not reproducing, neither biologically nor in our cultural ideas and values—the transmission of which, from parents to children, is one of the primary purposes of the family.

Any civilization that makes war on marriage and the family will destroy itself.  And it will also, along the way, deprive vast numbers of men and women of their opportunity to maximize their own happiness, forcing them to settle for something less.  Both of these are a great shame.