Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


"What Am I Supposed To Do With All This Happiness?"

(following "The Needle, The Thread" by Danielle Cadena Deulen, reproduced and reviewed here)

What am I supposed to do with all this happiness?

What is Texas supposed to do with all this rain?

What is Finland supposed to do with the sunlight
On those magical evenings
When the Baltic can seem gentle and benign?
When a lover's caress would not seem out of place,

What is the shop owner supposed to do
With all his melting ice cream
After a hurricane has come through
And knocked out the power?

This can't be what is meant to be maximized.
This giddiness, this is not what is good in me.
Maximize something else, anything else, it doesn't matter.
Maximize the feeling of the cold wind on a buffalo's face.
Maximize the chances that a north Atlantic seabird will survive the rats and the pollution
To dive into the frigid water one more time
And emerge cold and exultant in the piercing air,
Beak like a knife.

If I were you, I would pour that fucking ice cream down the drain.
When the winter comes, you won't lose only the sunlight
You will lose the memory of it too, or if the memory persists
All the feeling will be stripped away,
And it will be reduced to an object of empty lust,
So flat and pornographic that philosophers might wonder how it can refer
To anything real.

What am I supposed to do with all this happiness?
It is a matter of some urgency.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Stories We Tell

A friend alerted me to this charming story the other day:

I once went to a billiards bar with another client, the NBA player. The place doubled as a night club, and because my guy had just won a title, heads turned the moment we walked in. 
An attractive married woman—she had a huge rock on her finger—came over and started hitting on my client immediately and relentlessly. After a while, her husband came out from the dance club area, clearly upset. He never threatened anything physical. He barely even raised his voice. He just wanted to know what she was doing. His wife played dumb. So my client spoke up: "Your girl is trying to fuck me." 
The husband got into it a little with his wife. He wanted to leave. My client called over one of the bouncers and told him to get rid of the couple. The wife decided to stay. The husband got booted. He was irate. She didn't care. Five minutes later, my client was having sex with her in the back office of the club. She left, and he never talked to her again. Obviously, we have no idea what happened with the marriage.

What I like about this story is that it is a good way to test whether, deep down, you are a feminist.  When I read this story, I found myself sympathizing with the husband—the husband!  The one character in the story who behaved immorally.  (Admittedly the slut-shaming he put his wife through was relatively minor, but it is still hard to believe she had to put up with his patriarchal bullshit in this day and age.  "I bought you a ring, so now I have the right to comment on your sexual choices."  Jesus Christ, what is this, the 1950s?)

But as I said, almost despite myself, I find that my reaction to the wife is more negative than my reaction to the husband.  I assure you, this is all happening on an emotional level.  Rationally I know that the woman's behavior was above reproach.  But I can't shake the (deeply misogynistic) feeling that something is distasteful here, something is not as it ought to be.  And that is how I know I am not really a feminist at heart.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Two Monopolies, or Revenge of the Hedonistic Secularists

It occurred to me a while ago that the church has a monopoly on certain important life ceremonies, notably weddings and funerals.  (Of course this does not apply to people who aren't even nominally Christian—Jews, Muslims, Hindus—but they tend to have their own religious ceremonies.  On the other hand, even lapsed Christians are still generally within the church's clutches, at least for these turning points in life.)

And in defense of the church, it has gotten very good at these ceremonies.  The hymns, the sitting and standing, the solemn prayers.  The architecture, the stained glass.  Even an atheist might wish for a proper religious funeral.  It has a certain amount of dignity regardless of your metaphysical beliefs.  In any case, I'm sure plenty of atheists have resignedly put their parents' funerals in the hands of the religious authorities.

But it seems to me that the atheists/secularists are getting their revenge.  The church may hold the keys to marriage and to the afterlife, but the materialists have monopolized love itself.  By which I mean, people generally fall in love after forming a sexual relationship, so that you will generally be lonely (at least in a romantic sense) unless you are willing to participate in the market for casual sex, with all of its customs and infrastructure.  The church has little to offer, other than to discreetly look the other way when people who have cohabited for years finally get married.

Of course you can fall in love with someone in the traditional chaste way, in theory, just as you can theoretically arrange a secular funeral service for your loved ones.  But not only is this difficult to do, it is ill-advised.  The marketplace for traditional courtship is thin and subject to adverse selection.  (Again, there are exceptions for people who live in cultures that have maintained some of the old ways of living.  I imagine the Amish can still fall in love in the traditional way.  But the whole infrastructure for that system of family formation has been destroyed in mainstream American life.)

And anyway, there are definite advantages to the modern way of doing things.  No one actually wants a return to traditional gender roles, and the traditional way of pairing off was subject to severe pathologies.  Even if you were able to purge traditional sexual attitudes of their homophobia, misogyny, and sex-negativism, you would still have to deal with imprudent marriages (including vastly premature marriages), sexual mismatch, and all the drama inherent in treating sexual relationships much more seriously than they generally warrant.

I think this does bear some thought—the structure of the marketplace is not a neutral matter, and in a lot of ways our culture's sexual libertarianism has probably exacerbated inequality just as political libertarianism has in the economic sphere.  But in any case, the materialists should take a victory lap.  Weddings and funerals are still in the church's hands, but the things that really matter in life have been placed squarely in the hands of the hedonists.