ANNALS OF MIDDLE-CLASS LIFE : SEX AND CONDEMNATION

oscar-wilde

^^ Oscar Wilde : today we all admit to the injustice of condemning his sexuality, but we have substituted for it other sexual crimes no better criminalized.

We in America are living in a time of Middle-class ascendancy. It is no easier to bear this time than it was 160 years ago, when a newly empowered class of haberdashers, cotton factory managers, and private school headmasters, in England and here in the US of A, decreed that sex was an evil and that displays of passion were contrary to limitless progress.

All around us, in the news, where Middle-class proctors enforce their rules, we see men — and it IS mostly men — ruined by vicarious accusation or having to defend themselves by resort to an equally ruesome device, party political interest. It happens now in business, in the media, in the entertainments, and, inevitably, in politics as well.

I said that the targets of this Philistinism are mostly men, but women aren’t safe from defamation. If you have violated a current rule of sex — are merely accused of it : “believe all women,” goes the justification for ruining a man — you are subject to retribution rampant. Nowhere in our law– yet — does such vengeance find sanction, and for that very reason, the lack of specification, the new Philistinism can do as it likes, say what it wants, and do so with near impunity. Thus it was in mid-19th Century England. Violation of the Rules Of Sex brought instant dismissal from polite company that could last a lifetime with no path for appeal.

We do chafe at these punishments. We feel their unfairness. We feel thus because in our heart of hearts w know that sex is not subject to laws or reason, is not an instrument of progress, is in fact the very essence of a human condition that DOES NOT CHANGE, that cannot change. As Blaise Pascal, that brilliant mathematical and philosophic mind of 17th Century France, put it, “le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ignore plus.” — “the heart has its reasons which reason always ignores.”

Merrick Garland said yesterday at his Senate confirmation hearing for the office of Attorney General, that biases and prejudices are built into the human condition., He is wrong about that — they are learned, not innate — but he would have been on firm ground had he opined thus about sex. As old as i am, I have seen much, and if there is any arena of human nature that impresses itself, it is that sex has enormous power to command us, has its own ways not easily subject to reason or to restriction. Indeed, the harder one tries to stifle the calls of sex within one, the fiercer the sex becomes to burst forth and have its way. I stand in awe of sex’s power. I dare not presume to judge the sexual life of anyone. Indeed, if there is any call for the higher authority of a God, it is for this purpose : to judge where mere mortals cannot. Yet to call in a God to these trouble is to pas the buck. Why can we not admit that we are humbled by the power of passion, that there but for grace go we ?

The age of Philistinism was set aside by the next generations, who saw that sexual passions were best left unjudged; that men and women live their life, lives that we do not live because we live our own life, not theirs; and that it was best to turn our desires for mankind’s progress to other matters than sex. Unhappily, this reformative period has now passed by as well, and we find ourselves back before it. The case of Lincoln Project’s John Weaver comes vividly to mind. He sent — so it is charged — amorous texts to young men ? Texts unwanted ? And this is now an occasion for casting a very effective political mind utterly out of polite society and his profession ? Perish forbid that a similarly insatiable sex arouse within us ! I could go on. The instances of sexual condemnation in these times aren’t hard to name.

When I was young and to college, a professor of criminal law once told our class that “you always want older people for jurors, for they have learned how to forgive.” I would advance his aphorism one step further : we who are old have learned to marvel at the perplexities of the human condition; to seek not to judge them but to be taught by them; and then when it comes to sex, we are and ought admit to being its playthings AND its beneficiaries : because sex is the very protein of life itself, of which we partake; and as its protein is within us as much as it is within us as within anyone else, we ought walk humbly upon its steps, and condemn never, for they are what we are and how the Creator made us.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere