Wednesday 26 June 2013
The very public French opposition to SSM has provoked some anguish among the bien pensants (ie the sort of anglophone who is enough of a plonker to drop French terms into a blogpost).
David Bell suggests that it's the result of a commitment of French feminism to sexual complementarianism:
An important current of French thought, which has no real American equivalent, has maintained that while women deserve equal rights, these rights must not entail the supposed erasure of sexual difference. (Full article.)
Whilst such a viewpoint seems totally reasonable to homophobic sky-fairy-worshipping-cretins like myself, to the Brights it is a sign either of mental illness or not being American (much the same thing of course):
Though abstruse by U.S. standards, the debates reflect deep anxieties felt by French elites. Not only has France’s geopolitical position slipped and its previous cultural eminence sharply declined -- this May, the National Assembly even approved a measure allowing university courses to be taught (quelle horreur!) in English -- but the ideological causes that once mobilized large portions of the French population have largely evaporated. (French Marxism is not even a shadow of its former self, and little daylight shines between President François Hollande’s Socialists and the neo-Gaullist Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP, party.)
Many influential French figures, including a good number of former Marxists, have taken refuge in a sort of cult of French national identity. One pillar of the cult is the Republic, with a capital R, which they associate with strict civic equality, even stricter secularism in public life, and educational institutions capable of molding a single, cohesive citizenry. But another pillar is the idea of France as the homeland of sophisticated habits, taste, and culture, which in turn depends, as many intellectuals explain, on the romance, beauty, and mystery generated by the play of sexual difference. In 2011, this position initially, and embarrassingly, led a good number of intellectuals to defend Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the International Monetary Fund chief and presidential hopeful, as a gallant “seducer,” rather than a sexual predator, after a New York hotel employee accused him of rape.
This strong emphasis on the complementary roles of men and women has had a remarkable effect on the French marriage debate. Unlike in the United States, most opponents of marriage equality have had relatively little to say about the morality of homosexual sex acts, or about threats to the “institution of marriage” in general. Instead, they speak above all about children, insisting that a psychologically healthy family life rests on the union of a man and woman. Back in 1999, when the French Parliament approved a form of civil union, much of the opposition centered on this issue.
I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the current state of French feminism. However, Luce Irigaray, of whom I have read a little, certainly does emphasize the differences between men and women -but so of course did many anglophone second wave feminists such as Andrea Dworkin and Mary Daly. Anyway, if it's true that modern French feminism remains influenced by sexual essentialism -and Jon Cogburn (to whom I offer a H/T for the Bell article) rightly wonders whether it really is- then I suspect the reasons lie not just in feminism but in deeper differences between the construction of the individual in a post-Catholic culture and a post-Protestant one: roughly, that Protestants will tend to see the individual as a pure agent, while Catholic cultures will tend to see the individual as embedded in various identities.
Anyway, odd to note that a view which is quite clearly and undeniably true -that men and women are essentially different in a number of important ways- is ridiculed by both Bell and Cogburn. If the French have managed to avoid this nonsense, good for them. It would be nice to think that the influence of the Auld Alliance stretched to such beneficial cultural influences, but I won't be holding my breath.
Monday 17 June 2013
Despite 'reorientation therapy' for homosexuality not really being a Catholic thing (dealing with homosexual desire from a Catholic perspective being much more about getting focused on God rather than getting over it and finding a nice girl), Nick Cummings, former President of the American Psychological Association makes some interesting points in the course of an affidavit in support of JONAH:
The role of psychotherapy and counseling in sexual orientation change efforts has become highly politicized. Gay and lesbian rights activists appear to be succeeding in their efforts to convince the public that homosexuality is one identical, unitary, unvarying and inherited characteristic.
Persons who identify as homosexual fall along a very broad spectrum of personalities, ranging from shy young men who are so frightened of girls that they fear they must be gay to boys who preferred to play with dolls and wear girls’ clothing and everything in between. Contending that all same-sex attraction is an unchangeable or immutable characteristic like race is a distortion of reality.
Attempting to characterize all sexual reorientation therapy as “unethical” violates patient choice and makes a third party de facto determiner of therapeutic goals.
(H/T and full transcript over at Peter Ould.)
I've mulled over in passing before why the debates around sexual identity have been constructed in the rather simplistic ways they currently are: in particular, I suspect that the current attitude to homosexuality is a coming together of a rampant and naive physicalism (so differences in mind result from differences in body) coupled with an embracing of sexual libertinage and the offloading of the position of trail blazers onto homosexuals. Anyway, that's speculation. But it's good to see a psychologist publicly agreeing with Roger Scruton that:
....it's such a complicated thing, homosexuality. It's not one thing, anyway.
Monday 10 June 2013
Et in Scotia ego....
I've been re-reading Copleston's History of Philosophy recently. In the first volume on the ancients, I was struck by the following:
It is a great mistake to suppose that the Greeks were happy and careless children of the sun, who only wanted to lounge in the porticoes of the cities and gaze at the magnificent works of art or at the achievements of their athletes. They were very conscious of the dark side of our existence on this planet, for against the background of sun and joy they saw the uncertainty and insecurity of man's life, the certainty of death, the darkness of the future. 'The best for man were not to have been born and not to have seen the light of the sun; but if once born (the second best for him is) to pass through the gates of death as speedily as may be,' declares Theognis, reminding us of the words of Calderón (so dear to Schopenhauer), 'El mayor delito del hombre, Es haber nacido' [The greatest crime of man is to be born]. And the words of Theognis are re-echoed in the words of Sophocles in the Oedipus Coloneus, 'Not to have been born exceeds every reckoning' .....
Now this drive towards death really ought to be the common recognized stuff of human experience. But perhaps one of the oddest elision of modern Western culture is the pretence that it doesn't exist. Instead of the reality that the fascination of death and the quiet desperation of life bubbles up constantly and unpredictably in everyday existence, there is the pretence that the normal condition of humanity is one of good cheer, only interrupted by unwelcome foreign intrusions such as disease in old age.
It's this naive narrative which lies behind much of the pro-euthanasia lobby. If life is just one untroubled smile, when pain finally hits you in the face of incurable disease, then the only remedy is, indeed, 'to pass through the gates of death as speedily as may be'. But if life is, as the best minds of the past knew and as the Salve Regina has it, something we pass through as a place of exile, 'mourning and weeping in this vale of tears', then grappling with death becomes, not a single, unrepeatable event, but something that colours every moment of our life. And how we face that last moment becomes of a piece with how we face every single living moment.
I loathe Stephen Fry: he presses far too many of my buttons, from tweedy Oxbridge superiority to smug Hampstead socialism, from atheistic Humanism to being a Wagnerite. I am, however, extremely glad that he survived his latest suicide attempt: loathing, particular of an omnipresent media type, is a relatively harmless hobby; rejoicing in the actual death of a fellow human being is an expression of the deepest vice. The typical narrative is that he is diseased: suffering from bipolar disorder, we simply need to up the dose, and we'll have nice old Stephen back again. But what then of Dominique Venner's suicide, apparently as a political protest against same sex 'marriage'? Well, however sympathetic I am to the despair he felt at the measure, I am completely unsympathetic to his killing himself: that is simply not how you deal with despair, however profound.
I've known quite a few people who've killed themselves over the years. Whatever sympathy I have for their internal state -how they felt- none of them objectively had a good reason for doing so. Most of them left grief stricken family and friends to deal and live with their own consequent despair. Classic Western culture both acknowledged the pull of death, and absolutely ruled out suicide or euthanasia as a solution: like an alcoholic finding excuses to drink, human beings will always find excuses to kill themselves, but an older and wiser culture both produced an awareness of this tendency and means for dealing with it. Modern Western culture pretends that death exerts no attraction and also encourages the view that killing yourself is an adequate solution to life's woes. It is from the combination of naivety and willingness to kill as a remedy that one of the greatest dangers to human flourishing in the modern West arises.
To be honest, I've lost track of where Margo MacDonald's regular attempt to introduce a euthanasia Bill at Holyrood or Lord Falconer's similar efforts in Westminster are at the moment. (The Care Not Killing website seems to suggest that Falconer is currently busy in the Lords. No idea what Margo is up to.) But it's clear that this is one of those issues that isn't going away. Until we're able to recognize the way that life, from minute to minute, is lived in the shadow of death, rather than pretending it is simply a matter of facing up to pain in the last phase of life, then any discussion in this area is going to remain at the level of the nursery.
Anyway, to round matters off -and nicely illustrating the complexities of eros and thanatos- the ever cheerful Morrissey:
Saturday 1 June 2013
Tomorrow (Sunday 2 June) is the Feast of Corpus Christi. I've blogged before about the nature of the claim that bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ in transubstantiation, but I've recently discovered that Elizabeth Anscombe's essay on transubstantiation is available online. I remember reading this in her collected papers when I was an (atheist) undergraduate, and being terribly struck by it (although not quite overcoming the wonder that such a fine mind could be a Catholic. I mean, really!)
Anyway, it's full of fine things, particularly a Wittgensteinian sense that meaning is carried in practice as well as words, whilst not reducing transubstantiation simply to a sort of well-intentioned make believe:
When one says "transubstantiation" one is saying exactly what one teaches the child, in teaching it that Christ's words, by the divine power given to the priest who uses them in his place, have changed the bread so that it isn't there any more (nor the stuff of which it was made) but instead there is the body of Christ. The little child can grasp this and it is implicit in the act of worship that follows the teaching. I knew a child, close upon three years old and only then beginning to talk, but taught as I have described, who was in the free space at the back of the church when the mother went to communion. "Is he in you?" the child asked when the mother came back. "Yes," she said, and to her amazement the child prostrated itself before her. I can testify to this, for I saw it happen. I once told the story to one of those theologians who unhappily (as it seems) strive to alter and water down our faith, and he deplored it: he wished to say, and hoped that the Vatican Council would say, something that would show the child's idea to be wrong. I guessed then that the poor wretch was losing the faith and indeed so, sadly, did it turn out.
It is appropriate on the feast of Justin Martyr, who perhaps more than any other figure in the early Church symbolizes that marriage of reason and revelation that is true Christianity, to recall Anscombe's closing words on the eucharistic mystery:
It is the mystery of the faith which is the same for the simple and the learned. For they believe the same, and what is grasped by the simple is not better understood by the learned: their service is to clear away the rubbish which the human reason so often throws in the way to create obstacles.