Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Accepting our monstrosity?

Below is a controversial tweet from the New York Times:

It is advertising an opinion piece by a Canadian writer, Stephen Marche. Most of the reactions to his piece have been along the lines of "this is liberal craziness." I actually believe it is worth reading, not because I agree with Marche, but because Marche is somewhat courageously highlighting a fault line within his own liberal belief system. It's worth trying to understand the point he is making.

Marche makes it clear that he has an extraordinarily negative view of male sexuality:
For most of history, we’ve taken for granted the implicit brutality of male sexuality... 

The masculine libido and its accompanying forces and pathologies drive so much of culture and politics and the economy, while remaining more or less unexamined, both in intellectual circles and in private life...

He goes on to add:
Women are calling for their pain to be recognized. Many men are quite willing to offer this recognition; it means they don’t have to talk about who they are, which means they don’t have to think about what they are.

So this is no surface issue. For Marche this is about something deeply troubling about who and what men are. He goes on to explain why he is so distressed about the nature of men:
Sex is an impediment to any idealism...What if there is no possible reconciliation between the bright clean ideals of gender equality and the mechanisms of human desire? 

So here is the crux of it. Marche is worried that sex does not fit in with liberal ideals of gender equality. And, of course, he is right to be worried, as the two are at odds. I'll deal with the contradiction a little further on. But here's something else that Marche gets right:
Meanwhile, sexual morality, so long resisted by liberals, has returned with a vengeance, albeit under progressive terms. The sensation of righteousness, which social media doles out in ever-diminishing dopamine hits, drives the discussion, but also limits it. Unable to find justice, or even to imagine it, we are returning to shame as our primary social form of sexual control.

This is interesting. Liberals have prided themselves on undermining the older restraints once placed on sexuality. But Marche himself feels ashamed of his own sexuality - and, in fact, if he wants to be a good liberal, then he should feel ashamed, because his own sexuality is inevitably at odds with liberal beliefs about sexual equality.

(I like, too, Marche's admission that liberals thrive on the "sensation of righteousness" doled out by social media, which gives a temporary dopamine hit.)

Marche finishes with this:
The crisis we are approaching is fundamental: How can healthy sexuality ever occur in conditions in which men and women are not equal? How are we supposed to create an equal world when male mechanisms of desire are inherently brutal? We cannot answer these questions unless we face them.

If you want to be a civilized man, you have to consider what you are. Pretending to be something else, some fiction you would prefer to be, cannot help. It is not morality but culture — accepting our monstrosity, reckoning with it — that can save us. If anything can.

He once again squarely faces the issue: male desire is inherently too brutal to fit in with liberal notions of sexual equality. He is not sure if anything can save us from this situation, but he thinks that morality won't do, only men "accepting our monstrosity, reckoning with it" is a tough enough response to the problem.

So what is this "monstrosity" that men have to reckon with? In the liberal ideal, there is no significant difference between men and women apart from the plumbing. Our sex, a predetermined quality, can be made not to matter. Men would simply see women as their "equals"in the sense of treating women the same that they would other men.

But sex is highly sexed. There are moments in sex when the connection to the opposite sex is felt profoundly and meaningfully. We respond to a woman in sex as the desired "other" - we become keenly aware of women as distinct from our own selves, to the point that we can feel that we are participating in a union, physical, emotional and spiritual, of two different expressions of life.

And it gets worse than this for liberals. There is an element in sex of men as the active and aggressive part and women as the responsive and receptive part. And there is an element in sex of men wanting to possess and to be potent.

And when it comes to desire and attraction, we think in terms of men who are commanding - of men who are muscular, self-confident, achieving, strong - with women being drawn to masculine power and status. Men, though, desire women for their softer feminine qualities and their beauty.

If you are a liberal wanting to make our biological sex not matter, how can this not be a problem? Stephen Marche is so upset by it all that he thinks of his own sexuality as monstrous and shameful. He is at war with himself for ruining the prospects of his own political idealism.

Marche could, of course, resolve his dilemma by reconsidering his political ideals in the light of the created nature of men and women. If it is not in the deepest nature of men and women to relate to each other under the terms demanded by liberalism, then perhaps it is liberalism which needs to be re-examined rather than declaring male nature to be monstrous.


  1. They have completely separated sex from reproduction, a situation in which the parents experience completely different yet intertwined roles.

    This warm well is where anti-natalism leads. Sex is just another hedonistic experience devoid of higher meaning or opportunity for growing close to a spouse.

    One typo: "
    But sex is highly sexed. There are moments in sex when the connection to the opposite sex is felt profoundly and meaningfully. "
    You want another word at the end of to remove the ly from those two adverbs.

    1. Sex is just another hedonistic experience devoid of higher meaning or opportunity for growing close to a spouse.

      That's well expressed. It's another instance of how we are challenged to order our instincts/behaviour/drives.

  2. I believe the philosopher Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) expressed similar ideas. Specifically that women were morally superior.

  3. Marche admits right up front that he "quite literally" doesn't believe what "men have become", meaning either that he doesn't believe men have changed, and still believes that they are now what they have always been; or that what they now appear to be isn't how they really are. If he "quite literally" doesn't believe what he is about to say, why should a man bother to read it?
    What did he miss? Man - all men - changed suddenly beyond his notice, as a species, in some mysterious, silent and invisible, cataclysmic evolutionary event, sort of over night? Did he just emerge from a cave? Maybe the men sharing his cave always club their females over the head for sex, but behind his back, because they knew it would trouble him deeply. Men still go clubbing.
    How would Marche, I wonder, react to a sexually aggressive woman?
    I'm poking fun at his "literal disbelief".
    I'm 70 years old. During the 70s and 80s, before I married, I had sex with dozens of women. I have never in my life touched a women inappropriately. Not once. I've never had unwanted sex with an unwilling woman. Very often, it was not me who initiated the sex.
    Am I and the many men like me in the minority or the majority? Are most men "implicity brutal"? I don't believe it.
    If Marche believes that, by definition, a man's erection is implicitly brutal, he's an feckless moron. He can't have a sex life.
    For God's sake. At what stage in human development did man become a sexual brute? Did the first men and women begin as sexual equals, with no power differential and no erections? How did we get here?
    Maybe Satan turned men into brutes to end the species? Didn't work.
    Did man start out with a brutal, pathological, bestial libido? Or, did aggressive women have to continuously nuture men's flacid masculinity? How, when and where did it all turn so "unbelievably" brutal?
    Mr. Marche and his men friends "gossip and surmise". He talks about men like he's a female feminist. He thinks it "profound" that men don't want to talk to him about their "own gendered nature". I can only "surmise" why.
    Marche needs some quiet time in his own orgone accumulator. Freud and his nut-job student Wilhelm Reich are a bottomless pit of sex psychobabble. Every time I see a serious reference to either of them, I know someone's disturbed.

  4. There is an element in sex of men as the active and aggressive part and women as the responsive and receptive part.

    And the thing that really really upsets liberals, the thing they really will not face, is that on the whole women like sex to be this way.

    The big problem for liberals is female sexuality.

    1. Good point. You only have to read female "romantic" fiction novels to get an idea of this. The men in these stories are forceful and powerful - to a degree that would probably surprise the average man in the street. Stephen Marche is worried that he is too masculine in his sexuality for his liberal ideal of sex equality to work out, but it is likely that the average woman is more worried that he is not masculine enough in his sexuality, i.e. that he should be more so, not less so.

  5. One at war with thyself is a self-annihilator.

    Desire for self-annihilation = desire for “equality...”

    Desire for “equality” = rejection of objective (S)upremacy...

    One at war with thyself BECAUSE he idealizes “equality” is at war with (P)erfection.

    And the “white (s)upremacist” is the ineffable bogeyman of annihilating rationalizations.

  6. What’s fascinating about Marche is not his truthfulness, but his projection of a false consciousness.

    The very nature of the “brutality of the male libido” is to be found, by material reductionism, in the criminally-minded homosexual hate rapist of whitewashed prison lore.

    If Marche understood his race as his father then he would see the “brutality of the male libido” in his anti-racism... His hatred for his father...

    Marche is in that state of “radical autonomy” characterized by a total lack of racial self-awareness. Hence, the ease at which he projects a false consciousness regarding an experience he cannot truly conceive.

    Nothing in this article suggests that Marvhe can say anything remotely insightful about the “brutality of the male libido” because he simply has no experience with “it” nor has he really researched the very “nature” of this BRUTALITY.