Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites . . . . It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
–Edmund Burke, Letter to a Member of the National Assembly
I have written several essays critiquing contemporary liberal values such as equality, tolerance, and diversity. This adds to the number.
Autonomy too is a poor ideal to live by. It fails in roughly the same way as “equality,” which is incoherent if it means anything other than the semi-tautological and completely unhelpful proposition that we should “treat likes alike,” as I have argued elsewhere, though it is taken to mean much more, to the confusion of our political discourse. In the same way, there is a huge gap between the proper philosophical definition of “autonomy” and its popular meaning. “Autonomy” can mean mere unconstrainedness (lawless liberty, which is the popular meaning) or conscientiousness (following the law generated by one’s own conscience, the proper philosophical definition). Continue reading →
Art has been, is, and will always be political and in the most absolute way. We are often under a misconception that artists are rebels with the courage to challenge accepted truths. While I am certain there are artists like this, probably many, these are not the artists we are acquainted with. The rebel-artists we cite—take for example Lin Manuel Miranda—are not struggling with popularity. They are famous not because they have challenged the world with new ideas but because they are a voice through which a generation speaks, or, since a generation is never a monolith, more accurately, a significant portion of a generation. Perhaps it is a new and rising voice, but the popularity of the artist is a sign that the scale is tipping or has already tipped.
If at that supreme hour, the wedded pair, dazzled with voluptuousness and believing themselves alone, were to listen, they would hear in their chamber a confused rustling of wings. Perfect happiness implies a mutual understanding with the angels. That dark little chamber has all heaven for its ceiling. When two mouths, rendered sacred by love, approach to create, it is impossible that there should not be, above that ineffable kiss, a quivering throughout the immense mystery of stars.
Sex is getting cheaper. The pill de-babied and the sexual revolution de-institutionalized and a-moralized sex; it is now much less constrained than ever before by marriage, mores, or maternity. Accordingly, it has settled in our society’s wild realm of personal choice and preference. Whether this has been a good or bad change is arguable, but it seems everyone could agree that we’d expect to see more sex as a result of the falling price. Slash prices and consumption increases. Remove the fence and the amusement park is overrun.
But that hasn’t happened. Surprisingly, just the opposite has occurred: Americans are having less sex. Continue reading →
Modesty, like reverence, is becoming a forgotten virtue. Calls for modesty in dress in ultra-orthodox jewish neighborhoods are perceived by some as a violation of human rights. Others, less extreme, view codes of modest dress as stifling individual expression or as shifting responsibility for men’s sexuality from the men themselves to women. Now, it may or may not be a good idea to post signs in the hasidic neighborhoods. And codes of modest dress may indeed be misinterpreted by men as absolving them of responsibility for their own sexual behavior. But regardless, modesty is still a virtue–and one that deserves to be encouraged and inculcated.
We use the term “modesty” in the context of dress and in the context of personal achievement, but the core of the idea is the same Continue reading →
Too many people seek lasting happiness and fulfillment in romantic love, where it is not to be found.
What romantic love offers is agitation, desire, a fevered preoccupation with the object of love, the blithe contemplation of an other. There is beauty and there is truth to be found in romantic love, but no lasting happiness or fulfillment. That “happily ever after” is to be found in romantic love is the first of its delusions.
Yet there is something undeniably beautiful about two souls waltzing in a private heaven, loving and being loved. But one falls when one waltzes in heaven. Romance either lands on the earth of daily life or it combusts in tragedy. By the “earth of daily life” I mean mainly marriage or the modern forms of pseudo-marriage. The only realistic alternative to these is some form of tragedy–breaking up or dying or in some other way being separated. These melancholy obstacles to consummation are the only way to prevent romance from descending into the soil. And that is why romantic novels and movies inevitably end shortly after consummation (traditionally, marriage). The last scene may be the wedding; or the story may play out just long enough to witness the tragic pre- or post-consummation death of one or both lovers (as, e.g., Tristan and Isolde or Romeo and Juliet).Continue reading →
There is a facile enthusiasm about “believing” that is manifest every Christmas season and often enough in-between. Sentimental movies like “The Polar Express” and “The Miracle on 34th Street” chime in with their paeans to believing, and even works like “The Life of Pi” suggest that it is proper and even admirable to accept as true “the better story” even when it is the unlikeliest story imaginable.
At the front end, let me admit that there is a kernel of truth in these expressions. But there is also great danger is assuming that optimism can or should trump reason, and that belief in the truth of whatever appears good or lovely is itself necessarily good.
At least in questions where the relevant evidence is capable of being comprehensively considered, the proper formula is very simple: belief should be according to the evidence. Continue reading →