Saturday, December 01, 2007

First Amendment Responsibilities

Sex sells. I saw another smutty “Bebe” fashion billboard in the bus stop shelters in Pasadena. I thought to myself that I could complain again to the Viacom PR representative, who I was eventually referred to a couple of years ago after having made numerous calls to the Los Angeles County MTA. Of course the MTA, which is under the auspices of LA County whom I pay taxes to support, will say that they don’t actually own the bus shelters. But that’s just a technicality, since the MTA has control over the bus stops and profits from those whom the MTA decides can own the shelters that cover the bus stops. Responsibility is so densely layered in the County/City/MTA/Viacom bureaucratic labyrinth that, finding the ultimate source of responsibility is like finding the source of a mysterious river.

It is always good for people who make the decisions to place those ads to feel at least a little heat. However, in the absence of any torrent of criticism from the public, the Viacom representative, who is only the public mouthpiece of the Viacom chiefs, would merely refer to Viacom’s corporate First Amendment trump card -- Sex that sells is a protected form of expression granted by the First Amendment for a business to make a buck.

This got me thinking about a larger problem with the First Amendment as it is applied by the “sex sells” crowd of professional corporate defenders. I have cycled through many attempts to crisply explain the moral problem with their First Amendment mentality. Then it occurred to me, if rights and responsibilities go together, which is a simple moral arithmetic for any reasonable person, our First Amendment rights must come with First Amendment responsibilities.

It also occurred to me that “First Amendment responsibilities” sounds odd. I haven’t actually heard that phrase before. I daresay that far more people in our country are far quicker on the draw in defending their First Amendment rights than in explaining their First amendment responsibilities. So what are our first amendment responsibilities? Our First Amendment responsibilities emanate from something that is implicit in both the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble of the Constitution.

The Declaration of Independence affirms our existence as beings that have been granted “moral patent” by a Creator. In the same manner that a landlord has been granted a “deed” that give him A) the privilege to do with his land what he wishes (within reason) and B) the responsibility to the law and government and inhabitors of his land, so too do we as moral “patent” holders have both freedom and responsibility as human beings that comes with our “moral title”. As “moral patent” holders, we are acknowledged to have a moral right to pursue Liberty, as that moral freedom wherein freedom and responsibility are inseparably wedded together.

It is the Preamble of the Constitution which is established by “We the People” for the advancement of the “Common Good”. Built on the moral foundation of the Declaration which recognizes our “moral patent”, the Pre-Amble defines our collective and individual moral responsibility as American citizens to bear the “Common Good” on our shoulders. An American citizen might read the Preamble superficially and think that his responsibility for the Common Good begins and ends with voting, and that the Bill of Rights exists merely to protect our rights from the schemes of government.

However, the Preamble is operating in a more complete and more demanding moral picture. The representative government outlined in the Constitution outlines one medium by which We exercise our responsibility to the Common Good, by voting for our representatives. Our subsequent rights to speech, bearing arms, etc… amend and elaborate on the Constitution and its Preamble in this way: the Bill of Rights outline yet more mediums of action for us to shoulder our burden to advance Common Good, mediums of action which were intended to compliment voting.

Contained in the Declaration and the Preamble is an implied “American Great Commission”, which can be summed up as, “Go forth, citizen, to exercise your rights so as to make the most good faith effort you can to shoulder your responsibility for the Common Good via every means available to you.” Our First Amendment responsibilities are therefore to advance this “American Great Commission” through the medium of the spoken word, and were are to be protected from the government infringing on this exercise of our moral freedom.

The Framers wrote the Bill Of Rights because they were acknowledging the existence of “moral patent” and the “American Great Commission” as pre-existent moral realities. The Framers did not see themselves as granting us the rights, but as acknowledging rights that were endowed to us at the beginning of our existence/creation. For the Framers, history at then end of the 18th century was merely catching up to what had always been a moral truth.

This is important for this reason. If Person A is exercising his First Amendment right as merely a legal right, he is appealing primarily to the parchment of the First Amendment and to his good fortune that a Framer’s pen touched the paper in a certain way. In response to criticism, Person A, like any corporate “Sex sells” defender, will hold up the First Amendment parchment as a shield, and when his critics walk away he’ll say to himself, “Whew…dodged a bullet!”

Meanwhile, if Person B is making an earnest, good faith effort to advance the common good of our country, he is exercising his First Amendment right as part of the two faceted moral reality recognized by the Founders, with freedom/discretion as one facet and responsibility as the other facet. Meanwhile, Person A is merely exploiting the benefit to himself and his corporation that was bequeathed to him by the Framers’ attempt to reify a moral reality in law.

The moral dimension of the law is the foundation of our nation. The technicalities of the law only supplement the moral dimension of the law, when the parties involved are acting in good faith to advance the deeper moral idea. A mentality that merely looks to the legal words on paper to justify actions at the expense of looking to the deeper moral reality is a mentality that will eventually weaken the law, severing it from its moral foundation.

Sex sells. It’s good for profits of Viacom and the MTA for the time being that the Framers made smut a technically legal use of the First Amendment in our licentious, morally somnambulant society of 2007. While it is a legal use of the First Amendment, it is not a moral use of it. The mentality that defends “Sex sells” as a First Amendment right is a mentality that does not rise to the moral calling the American Great Commission, and the spread of that mentality signals a decline in our nation.

Friday, November 09, 2007

An open challenge to Christians in 2007 regarding Christian Modesty

I want to share some new thoughts and summarize old thoughts on one of my oft discussed topics – Christian Modesty, based on some discussions I’ve had of late. First, I want to re-iterate some facts: 1) Men are visually oriented to be sexually attracted to exposed women’s body parts. 2) There are generally recognized body parts that have special intimate energy, as A) recognized by the law and B) harnessed by those whose express desire is to titillate. 3) Exposed and partially exposed intimate parts are harnessed by the marketplace to the tune of uncountable amounts of money in a vast “distraction industry” that traffics in men’s sexual nature. 4) Any serious attempt to take a culture captive to the Gospel cannot be evaluated merely on what people say. A culture must be evaluated based on what people both say and do – simply examining a culture by what people say is to examine it superficially.

There is an idea that has taken root in our world that either ignores and/or exploits the above mentioned facts. It is this idea that women find their liberation in the exposure of intimate body parts and that men’s capacity to be distracted by it is a thing to either be ignored or harnessed for money and pleasure. This is an idea so powerful and so pervasive that it has acquired all the Orwellian power that political correctness can endow it with. It is the very intensity with which people believe this that they simultaneously act upon it and silence the critique of it from discourse.

The narrative of feminism and sexual liberation behind this idea is so powerfully believed that it has entered, un-challenged and un-examined into vast swaths of the church and has become syncretized with ideas of Christian virtue in the minds of many Christians. Many Christians have embraced and/or accepted this idea and have advanced the unquestioned tolerance this idea as even being a form of Christian maturity.

As I’ve said before and I’ll say again, this aforementioned idea emanates from a view of liberation that is not based on any calculus of being freed from the bondage of sin. It is not based on any serious effort at discerning God’s voice or His will as per Scripture. It is not based on any serious understanding of moral freedom as it exists within the claims that God makes on mens’ and women’s sexuality, including all heart behavior. It is not based on an idea that a fashion choice to expose an intimate body part is a sexual act, and it therefore not “just fashion”. Rather, this fashion is falsely believed to be a “value-neutral” aspect of the culture that people are to accept in order to participate in the culture in order to relate to it as Christians. It is upon embracing this latter fallacy that many in the church have considered the fashion trend of partially exposing intimate body parts as being beyond the scope of culture that the Gospel is called to challenge in people’s lives.

I have observed that there is a spectrum in the manner that Christians are accepting and appropriating partially exposed intimate body parts into the realm of Christian behavior. On one end of the spectrum, I have met Christians who accept the feminist/sexual revolution narrative as wholesale truth, who will say that when a man is distracted by a woman’s partially exposing intimate parts, he is the one who is objectifying her and is threatening her moral freedom to wear whatever she wants. In this idea, there is no responsibility whatsoever that women have for the social environment wherein men must negotiate their call to sexual holiness and purity.

As I have reflected on this idea, it has occurred to me that hookers on the street do not express any regard for my inner life with God with their fashion. Then, again, I don’t have any expectations of Christian community from hookers. For a Christian woman at church to say that she has absolutely no responsibility to my inner life in regard to her clothing as an obligation of Christian community and fellowship, I take this to mean that she wants to me to have no more expectation of her than a hooker in regard to what I can expect my eyes to have to confront at church.

For those Christians who do not go quite so far as to fully and out-and-out embrace the feminist/sexual revolution narrative of fashion as being thoroughly compatible with Christian virtue, many of them will say that it is a virtue of manly Christian maturity for a man to not distracted/bothered by what a woman wears, even in church. In this idea, men must give a woman the room to arrive on her own idea of modesty based exclusively on her own intellectual journey with God and not by ever being confronted by men. In other words, it is beyond the purvue of pastoral guidance to ever suggest openly that God is making claims on our clothing as an arena of sexual holiness. Of course, it is for the very reason that men may be distracted that a woman may realize the value of proper dress. With this notion of immodestly tolerance though, a woman must arrive at this knowledge without ever be informed of it directly by men.

And then there are Christians who do recognize that there is some sort of problem out there in the world and in Christendom, but that the church is many years, or even decades, away from being ready to be confronted on its modesty problem as a topic of sexual holiness. Now I have some sympathy this notion, in the limited sense that, generally speaking, there is some latitude that Jesus provides as to how and when to deal with the topic of clothing and sexual holiness with a group of people. I recognize the value of having a vocabulary for dealing with culture and with complexity as a pre-requisite for this topic, and I do not necessarily support the Victorian missionaries of old who made it first priority to clothe the savages. However, I am convinced that the church in the modern cosmopolitan world of 2007 is in a crisis in regard to modesty and to all of the beliefs and justifications that undergird the unmitigated acceptance of worldly dress standards, and that the church requires an urgent addressing of the topic.

As I’ve said before, when the line regarding clothing is not defined as what is intimate and not intimate, the line will be defined as “what can I get away with where no one will say anything to me”. In the current mechanics of PC in our culture, PC has powerful taboos that keep people from questioning the feminist/sexual revolution narrative. In our current culture, for a Christian to make clothing decisions that is bound only by that which people will risk make an issue out of is for that Christian to allow PC to filter important considerations from his/her decision making. As I’ve said before and I’ll say again and again, one cannot look merely at “what people are willing to make a stink about” as a means to take a culture captive to Christ.

I have asked myself, why the church has been so willing to accept PC and so unable to challenge it in regard to this topic of modesty. I have written an extensive analysis of this in my Crisis of Modesty in the Evangelical Church. At the core of it all, though, is a profound desire on the part of many Christians to fit in with their fellow Christians and to fit in peaceably with the world. It is a desire that is so deep and pervasive that Christians will give PC ideas a gloss of Christianoid wisdom and maturity. To challenge the feminist/sexual revolution/PC notions of modesty is to risk entering into a “social Siberia”, a form of death to ones ease and social acceptance. I have found that it is only those Christians who utterly are desperate for real answers, desperate enough to enter an utterly lonely quest for wisdom, who have the force in their lives to be willing to break from the PC sacred cows.

One interesting bit of Christianoid wisdom I’ve encountered regarding this topic Christians who regard the seriousness with which I take modestly and the lengths that I am willing to go to confront it in the church as being “my choice”. Well, in a sense, they’re right, but not for the reason that they’re thinking. For me, facing the topic is a matter of doing something that is essential to my inner life and to the calling that God has placed with force on my conscience. For me, my choice is to either act or to allow my heart to be cozy with the cognitive dissonance of our sexual culture. Those Christians who present to me as “my choice” are doing so with idea that I can choose my conscience, and that I can choose to have a conscience that is less confrontation and demanding of my fellow Christians. Upon this fallacious idea, these Christians believe that I can thus choose to have a conscience that is happier and more socially adaptive to the current norms around me. Encountering such Christians, I must simply dust off my feet and seek those Christians who crossed a certain threshold of intellectual seriousness.

I recognize that dealing with modesty properly is very hard. Modesty is a very easy thing for one to present merely as a rule, as a “that is just what we do and we don’t question it, and what you should do too” form of legalism. It is very difficult to deal with modesty in the more multi-dimensional context of cause and effect, and textured cultural analysis. That said, I am convinced that underneath the various intellectual deficiencies in the church in these times is a fundamental laziness that must be addressed, lest immodestly -- and the justifications for it-- be allowed to grow and become an ever bigger “elephant in the room”.

Modesty needs to be presented to Christians as an invitation to pick up their cross and be willing to be “baptized” into entering the “social Siberia” that will inevitably enter when they begin questioning something that our culture holds as a sacred cow. As for pastors, it can be very hard to tell the difference between A) pastoral leadership that is not now dealing with the topic of modesty and the feminist/sexual revolution/PC narrative as a genuine God-lead strategy of ministry timing and B) pastoral leadership that is not dealing with the topic for reasons of the fear that they would simply annoy too many Christians, and therefore lose their careers as pastors. It is my concern that in 2007 in regard to Christian modesty there is more far more social fear, laziness, incompetence and cognitive dissonance on both sides of the pulpit than there is any genuine interest in facing the difficult topic.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Image of God and the purpose of having a body

We are made in the image of God, and we have been given the Image of God for the purpose of being able to experience God as we experience ourselves. As we are able to translate our experience of ourselves into correct knowledge of God, we are better see the reflection of God in our Image. As this happens we are better relate with God as friend and Father and are better able to relate with our fellow Image-bearers. To put it succinctly, we are made in the Image of God so that we can be conscious of how we reflect His image for the benefit of our journey into His wisdom and into His joy.

It is with this basic understanding that every component of each person’s Image can be understood has having been given to that person as a teacher that instructs the “I” within that person. These the “teaching components” and “teaching whole” of the Image do their “teaching” as we live and experience life with the God-made selves that we have and that we are. The knowledge that is gained from these ‘teaching components” and “teaching whole” of the Image we possess are gained as marks that are written by the pen of intimate experience onto the page of our hearts, thoughts, memories and emotions.

God is inviting us to journey of learning from the “teaching components” and “teaching whole” of our respective Images so that each of us gains an accrual of relationship-with-God-worthy-wisdom throughout our lives. It is for the goal of enjoying and knowing God better that we are called to take our “teaching components” captive to a journey of learning His wisdom from the Image he has given us.

Having wisdom involves having an understanding that unites word knowledge and real-world, emotional and tangible experience. In regard to our Image of God, the “teaching components” of our personal selves speak to us in a non-linguistic language of emotional, visceral experiences. As such, there is an inherent vagueness whereby the “teaching components” of our Image teach, as they do not teach with words. As such, it is possible for a “teaching component” of our Image to be misinterpreted and even harnessed to craft a message that is anti-God.

So why doesn’t God make it easier and more obvious for us to receive wisdom from the Image that we have been endowed with? It is necessary requirement for our free will that God endowed us with an Image of God that contains “teaching components” that are not didactic, that require one to have a willing relationship with God Himself for one to fully understand. God has created a world where beings are free to rebel against Him, and he has created the resources of that world, including those aspects of it that directly reflect His Image, to be available for the purpose of rebellion, should willful beings choose to be rebellious.

I believe that God reserves his wisdom for his friends, and that he wants the joy of revealing his wisdom to us as a Friend for the same reason that we find in our own character as humans-- it more satisfying to give a personal gift to a personal friend than to give an impersonal gift to an acquaintance. Part of journey to grow in the “wisdom of our Image”, involves us finding the Godly words that reify the non-linguistic messages that these “teaching components” of our Image speak to our character. It is when we find the words for the “lessons of our Image” that we are re-introduced to what we’ve always known, and we are able to fully relate with God as Friend and Father with our lips and thoughts.

It is as a general rule that we experience God and knowledge of God as we experience ourselves in the motion of life. Of course, a fool learns only from himself, and it is not necessary for a person to experience every sort of heart-ache first hand to gain wisdom. It is not possible for every person to learn all the wisdom that there is to know from scratch, to re-invent the wheel. In God’s infinite wisdom, he has allowed many people to fall into various forms of peril and destruction so that those who seek wisdom can learn from their mistakes. Even so, there will always be a large element of personal discovery and experience that will characterize anyone’s journey.

God Himself has a character and so do we, so that our character can interact in relationship with God’s character. We have a character that is designed to find joy peace and fulfillment in the things that enhance our relationship with God and we are designed to find emptiness and heartache in the things that don’t. In this way, those aspects of our selves and psyches that lead to heartache and emptiness are “teaching components” of our image.

While there is a one-to-one correlation between those elements of our character and God’s character, there is not a one-to-one correlation between God’s body and our body, since God does not have a body. Nevertheless, our bodies are too made in the Image of God, and, as such, the body is a “teaching component” of our Image, since our body is so thoroughly connected to our selves and to the development of our characters. Precise manner in which our body is made by God to reflect His Image for our journey into His wisdom is found in the manner in which our body affects our character.

As a “teaching component” of our Image, our body is part of an inseparable feedback loop between the other “teaching components” of our being, which include our character, body, will, thoughts, emotions. As with the other “teaching components” the body provides input into the feedback loop with trans-rational, non-linguistic communication.

One’s behavior can communicate to one’s own deepest being as well as to others. There are certain behaviors that communicate positive, relationship-with-God-worthy and loving messages to our deepest being and other behaviors that communicate degradation and hatred to our deepest being. Everyone knows that a caress can speak affection without words, though the affection can also be communicated with words. It is also part of the nature of our body that certain behaviors that communicate degradation and hatred can have certain pleasing elements to them in the moment.

The body and its behaviors can be said to communicate God’s truth via a symbolic language of consequences of cause and effect. The human body is made in the Image of God to affect character in a certain way, and there are certain universal rules of cause and effect in regard to the way that the body affects people’s character for better or worse. Positive bodily induced consequences will result in built-in positive messages being communicated about God and about other people. Negative bodily induced consequences will negate the body’s built-in potential for positive messages and invert it into negative messages about God and about other people.

So what does it mean to take the body’s God-messages captive to words across the consequences of character? What combination of personal experience, cautionary tales, Scriptural truth and wisdom will harness the power of one’s body so that it is an instrument of one’s joyful relationship with God and an instrument of his/her accruing wisdom? What aspects of any person’s body are unique to that individual person and what aspects are of a universal nature, subject to universal rules of cause and effect? What does it mean to be “introduced to what you’ve always known” in regard to the encoded wisdom of the Image in the human body that God has provided for our benefit? It is with these questions in mind that I want to later begin to unravel the question of the body as it relates to human sexuality.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Civil Rights and Meta-Civil Rights

From time to time I have mulled over the white-hot, hot-potato question of gay marriage. In trying to organize my thoughts on the issue of gay marriage, my thoughts have meandered down several paths. I've decided that I want to begin to explore the topic and other related topics by carefully examining the idea of civil rights, to engage in the dangerous task of stepping outside of the phenomena of civil rights to examine it, even as I live in the world of civil rights and as I profoundly value many civil rights.

"Civil rights" is a loaded term, pregnant with meaning. If one invokes "civil rights", one cannot claim to be merely advancing a legal agenda. Making a "civil right" legal is not the same as making a new increment in the sales tax legal. Making a "civil right" legal is to advance a peculiar arena of law that has meaning far beyond merely the law; having profound cultural, moral, philosophical and symbolic meaning. The goal of civil rights is not simply to make it something legal, but to win a profound moral, spiritual, cultural and philosophical battle through the strategic use of the law and moral and cultural persuasion. It can be said that the successful advancement of a "civil right" confers both "legal rights" and "cultural rights" to the beneficiary.

In the Black civil rights movement, those who advanced the idea that "separate but equal" was unconstitutional were not doing so merely as a technical constitutional argument. Challenging the constitutionality of "separate but equal" was an act of finding the thread of constitutional law that hangs directly on the moral "Jesus bolt" (the bolt that holds the propellers to a helicopter) of the Constitution. This “Jesus bold” is found in the pre-amble of the Declaration of Independence – that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The specific issues of constitutionality combined with the powerful rhetoric of Martin Luther King, who invoked the Declaration in the context of being an echo of Scripture. Through a combined moral, Scriptural, legal and cultural attack, the Black civil rights movement sought to expunge any idea that Blacks were inferior and in any way unworthy and to advance it into the mainstream of our cultural that to think otherwise was to be bigoted.

Of course, the Black civil rights movement was right. It is the genuine moral force of the Black civil rights movement that has been harnessed to lend moral authority to other civil rights movements. Following the basic template of strategy and rhetoric of the Black civil rights movements, other civil rights movements have sought to incrementally expand the meaning of the term "all men" to include all races and ethnicities, both/all genders, lifestyles, all degrees of physical ability, etc...

In addition to expanding the term "all men", civil rights movements have also laid claim to the meaning of Liberty. It is has been the goal of civil rights movements to make the advancement of a legal right not merely to be the advancement of "freedom" but the advancement of liberty, which is moral freedom. To advance Liberty is to advance a class of freedom that is required for the innate design of human beings for their happiness and fulfillment and is therefore immoral not to grant to people. What is at stake with those who disagree over a question of civil rights is a fundamental difference of opinion over what is the innate, self –evident nature of humans, a question that lies at the core of any moral philosophy. In the context of a civil rights movement, the debate cuts to the core of how, exactly, the "Jesus bolt" of our nation is to be understood as the Jesus bolt that it is.

That is why those on either side of a civil rights debate so fiercely oppose each other. By advancing a legal right as a moral freedom, a civil rights movement does not seek merely to be tolerated, living peaceably in a "moral salad bowl" among those who differ in society. It is not good enough for those who disagree to tolerate with each other with a veneer of pleasant appearances. Rather, a civil rights movement seeks to employ a combined legal, moral and philosophical strategy to prosecute the ideas of those who disagree as being fundamentally backward and bigoted ideas.

Since the legal issues and the culture issues are two wings of the same animal, those advance a "civil right" will not only prosecute direct legal action, they will prosecute via a form of cultural "law" expressed in the advancement of cultural taboo and social pressure. For a civil rights movement, the "person is political" and the "cultural is legal". This is made all the more important by those areas of law that are set up to be determined by the culture. Aspects of discrimination law, sexual harassment law, and obscenity law come to mind.

Having taken a hard stance on the moral value of a particular civil freedom/license/liberty, there is a tension in every civil rights movement between the question of sameness and equity. A civil rights movement is organized to expunge a particular idea of difference from law and culture. A civil rights movement will say that for all practical, legal and social purposes, a difference either does not exist or is irrelevant to most, if not all, aspects of public life.

As such, civil rights movements have imposed a particular moral idea on how, if at all, the idea of a difference is allowed to be broached in the realm of intellectual debate, art and conversation. For this reason, it has become more and more of a delicate matter to openly discuss the idea that there are differences between people, their ideas, their character and their choices that matter. To broach an idea incorrectly is to be vulnerable to the charge of being called a "bigot" or some related term.

As this has happened, "civil rights", has been incorporated into a broad moral, social, legal and practical realm of thought. The collective power of all of these civil rights ideas have lead to the advancement of a certain "meta-civil rights" moral philosophies, which are cultural and moral philosophies that are designed for the maximum assimilation and re-organization of ever more and ever civil rights ideas in law and culture. Political correctism is the primary term to describe A) the sum total of all of the cultural "civil rights" that have been added to the mix of mainstream thought by the various civil rights movements and B) the renegotiations of these civil right ideas within prevailing meta-civil rights philosophies.

A meta-civil rights philosophy that operates within political correctism, which I have defined as primalism, is the idea that differences between people are beyond the capacity of an individual person to fathom and must be sorted out by the collective intuition, as expressed by the "times". Within this meta-civil rights idea, differences, having been expunged from common discourse, have their place to be explored in the realm beyond that which can be articulated – the world of art and pop art. In the realm of not-quite-articulated art, catchy slogans and transgressive art, both consumable and non-consumable is understood as a medium of protest and advancement of cultural civil rights. Purchasing consumable pop art in the market place is a key way that the "times" ratify a particular aspect of the working out and the renegotiating of differences that have been barred from common discourse.

Yet another meta-civil rights moral idea is that only those people that a civil rights movement considers as the offended party in history have the right to set the terms as to how and when the idea of a difference may be discussed. This meta-civil rights idea establishes this right as a sort of "cultural affirmative action" that is granted to members of the offended party. This "cultural affirmative action" is part of a larger politically correct meta-civil rights calculus of how and when to discuss a difference that negotiates the flux that exists in the moral force of civil rights taboos. The calculus is this: whether suppressing the discussion of difference serves the cultural civil rights of those considered to have been oppressed. If discussing differences in a certain time and place is not friendly to the cultural civil rights cause, which is considered essential to the legal civil rights cause, it is suppressed under the force of taboo. Since this calculus will vary as it is adjusted by the "times", the politically correct taboo on the discussion in any moment in time may be as much as a "necessary fiction" as a truth; a fiction whose truth is found more in context than in pure, objective content.

Yet another related meta-civil rights idea is that civil rights, and all of the moral freedom associated with it, are only continually advanced through the mainstreaming of meta-civil rights ideas. For primalists, the broad acceptance of meta-civil rights philosophies is understood as the achievement of our current collective moral intuition as a human race, originally endowed to us through evolution, that has been arising in history as the "emerging concensus". For primalists, to question an aspect of meta-civil rights it is to move to a more backward, less evolved, less enlightened and darker age of human existence.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Books I've been reading

Nation of Rebels: Why Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter. This is an interesting book on how capitalism thrives on the so called "rebels" who try to "culture jam" the capitalist system. While capitalism has remained resilient in the face of culture jamming, other aspects of our culture--- for better or worse-- haven't.

Can't Stop Won't Stop about the history of hip-hop by Jeff Chang. Hip-hop, as with early rock n' roll before it, has the moral authority it has because it has been a force for a certain amount of cultural integration across the races.

from the other side of the pond:

Herd: How To Change Mass Behaviour By Harnessing Our True Nature by Mark Earls. I'm always interested in the brand marketing crowd's ever more sophisticated ways of trying to influence us.

Willing Slaves: How The Overwork Culture Is Ruling Our Lives by Madeleine Bunting.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The faith of atheists -- examining the Dennis Prager/Sam Harris debate

Here is my analysis of a debate between Sam Harris, an evangelical atheist, and Dennis Prager, a Jewish theist, that took place back in November, 2006.

Here is Sam Harris' day 1 opening salvo to Dennis:

In the beginning of this debate, Harris declares all religion to be jihadist, loony, and/or prejudicial. Only later in the debate does Harris, hypothetically, consider the value of some sort of religion (which he will later call "Scientismo" in day 4 of the debate). This colors how one is to interpret Harris' statement, "there is no good reason to believe in a personal God", since it can mean two different things: A) there is no good evidence for believing in God and B) there is no good usefulness for one believing in God. In the beginning of the debate, Harris is clearly stating both A) and B). In the course of this ensuing debate, Harris will relinquish assertion B) in favor of assertion A).

Here is Dennis' day 1 reply to Harris:

Here is Harris' day 2 reply to Dennis:

(Harris) Atheism does not assert that “it is all made by chance.” No one knows why the universe came into being. Most scientists readily admit their ignorance on this point. Religious believers do not.

"No one knows why the universe came into being" – that is the statement that needs to be unpacked. It can mean one of two different things A) that no one can have absolute scientific certainly as to why the universe came into being – or B) that it is not possible for anyone to have the slightest clue why the universe came into being. The former assertion leaves room for religious faith, the second assertion doesn't.

If a scientist is operating with intellectual honesty within the limitations of science, he would offer assertion A). However, an atheist is not merely scientific, but is rather scientismist, believing that science is the key to any and all metaphysical questions. As such, an atheist will either firmly believe that 1) the universe was not created -- on account of science or 2) firmly believe that it is not possible for anyone to have the slightest clue as to why the universe came into being -- on account of science.

The first statement is plainly a statement of faith regarding the origins of the universe that asserts a certainty over an uncertainty. The second statement is also a faith statement, albeit more subtle, in that it places faith in the idea that science is the key to all metaphysical understanding and that all knowledge is to be made real/unreal, relevant/irrelevant within limitations of science.

It is also important to note that statement 1) and 2) are tantamount to being the same thing. The first statement plainly says that God does not exist, thereby denying the existence of any sort of God. The second statement says that God knowledge is completely unknowable, and therefore completely irrelevant to questions of truth and knowledge. The second statement thereby denies the existence of a "personal God" who, by definition, has made himself knowable to people. It is on the matter of a "personal God" not existing that Harris asserts total certainty.

And it is not a far leap from the certainly of statement 2) – that no personal God exists-- to certainty of statement 1) – that no God exists at all. At this point in the discussion, Harris is claiming statement 2) in order to downplay his claims of certainty in the face of Prager's charge that Harris is claiming too much certainty. Harris will indicate that he does in fact believe statement 1).

(Harris) Why can’t I say that the cosmos is uncreated?

Of course, Harris can say that the cosmos is uncreated. That is, in fact, what Harris believes, which is why he states it in the first person. Harris is now admitting to having the certainty regarding statement 1) that he did not admit to having earlier. This is part of the reason why Prager will later, in day 4, redirect the blame on Harris for "making maneuvers" in the course of the debate and not owning up to the true extent of his certainty, and therefore, his faith.

Here is Prager's day 2 reply:

Here is Harris' day 3 reply:

(Harris) But it is clear from our debate that you and I differ on the location of the problem. In your view, the problem must be that Europe has lost the moral backbone that only religion can provide (and Islam just happens to be the wrong religion.) In my view, our world has been shattered, quite unnecessarily, by religion itself. As I said, even if you were right, and the only people who could summon the moral courage to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world were the religious lunatics of the West, this would suggest nothing at all about the existence of the biblical God. It would only show that a belief in Him might be politically necessary, in a given time and place, to motivate people to fight (as our inimitable President says) “the evildoers.” I am reasonably sure you are wrong about this. But again, this is quite irrelevant to the question before us.

The question whether religion is useful is relevant to Harris' original salvo "there is no good reason to believe in a personal God".

Here is Prager's day 3 reply:

Here is Harris' day 4 reply:

(Harris) While the usefulness of religion might be worth debating in another context, it is completely irrelevant to the question of whether God exists.

Again. The question whether religion is useful is relevant to Harris' original salvo " there is no good reason to believe in a personal God". If A) one cannot prove whether or not God exists with scientific certainty, as both Prager and Harris have admitted, and B) believing in God is potentially useful, as Harris has admitted, then there is a good reason, under certain circumstances, for one to believe God as a matter of faith. That is why Prager, in day 1, made a distinction between bad God-belief and good God-belief.

If I believe that there is an afterlife, and believing in that afterlife gives meaning to my struggle to be moral, then there is a good reason to believe in the afterlife. In a similar vein, if I am moved by listening to Beethoven, there is a good reason for me to believe that it is beautiful.

By "good reason", I do not mean "a good scientifically verifiable reason", since I recognize that the question of "good" lies outside the realm of science to answer, whether in the realm of faith, morality or art.

If I believe that there is a moral order to the world, and I believe that an idea of God is the key to that moral order, then there is a good reason for me to believe in God. If someone else does not see that belief in God is important to moral order, then for that person, he/she may not possess a good reason to believe in God in regard to the issue of morality. As someone who believes that believing in God is important to having morality, it is my perogative to state my case and leave it alone for each to decide on his/her own.

Here is Prager's day 4 final reply:

I have more to say on the matter of "moral intuition" which Harris raises in day 3.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Morality and Ethics

This past week I was exploring a classic dorm room philosophical question: what, if any, is the difference between "morality" and "ethics".

As I've been reflecting on various moral and ethical issues, I've realized that it's actually an important question. It matters in terms of how to properly classify, compare and contrast morals and ethics across the boundaries of belief and skepticism. It matters, as a Christian, in regard to many of these inter-related questions in terms of how to discuss morality and ethics with the world at large:

-- Is what is moral also ethical?
-- How much does any one else's moral system fit in with "ethics"?
-- What do these terms mean to those who are hailing from a different ideology or different belief system?
-- What is it to have a moral debate or an ethical debate?
-- How much is a question of Christian morality "exportable" into the realm of ethical inquiry beyond Christianity?
-- Do I have a Christian ethical system or a Christian moral system, or both?
-- Where, if at all, do moral considerations and ethical blend in?

As with any important philosophical inquiry, I went to the internet. In, it offers these definitions:

eth•ic ( th k)
1. a. A set of principles of right conduct. b. A theory or a system of moral values: "An ethic of service is at war with a craving for gain" Gregg Easterbrook.
2. ethics (used with a sing. verb) The study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person; moral philosophy.
3. ethics (used with a sing. or pl. verb) The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession: medical ethics.

mo•ral•i•ty (m -r l -t , mô-)
n. pl. mo•ral•i•ties
1. The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.
2. A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct: religious morality; Christian morality.
3. Virtuous conduct.
4. A rule or lesson in moral conduct.

So to what extent are these terms interchangeable? Here, a gentleman named Lawrence M. Hinman gives his effort at making contrast:

"Ethics. The explicit, philosophical reflection on moral beliefs and practices. The difference between ethics and morality is similar to the difference between musicology and music. Ethics is a conscious stepping back and reflecting on morality, just as musicology is a conscious reflection on music.

Morality. "Morality" refers to the first-order beliefs and practices about good and evil by means of which we guide our behavior. Contrast with Ethics, which is the second-order, reflective consideration of our moral beliefs and practices.

Here is wikipedia contrasting morals and ethics:

"Morality (from Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behaviour") refers to the concept of human action which pertains to matters of right and wrong—also referred to as "good and evil"—used within three contexts: individual distinction; systems of valued principles—sometimes called conduct morality—shared within a cultural, religious, secular or philosophical community. Personal morals define and distinguish among right and wrong intentions, motivations or actions, as these have been learned, engendered, or otherwise developed within individuals. Bycontrast, ethics are more correctly applied as the study of broader social systems within whose context morality exists. Morals define whether I should kill my neighbour Joe when he steals my tractor; ethics define whether it is right or wrong for one person to kill another in a dispute over property. "

Notice that the two sites listed above distinguish ethics from morality by defining ethics as the disciplined, conscious study applying the broadest examination of society. Morality is portrayed as being more instinctual, reflexive and provincial. Here, below, is a professional trade publication weighing in on the topic. The distinction made here is similar to that made by Wikipedia that morals are personal, and that ethics are global.

"Morals and the expression, “moral values” are generally associated with a personal view of values. Personal morals tend to reflect beliefs relating to sex, drinking, gambling, etc. They can reflect the influence of religion, culture, family and friends.

Ethics is concerned with how a moral person should behave. Ethical values are beliefs concerning what is morally right and proper as opposed to what is simply correct or effective.

An individual may personally believe that drinking is immoral. However, drinking is not, in and of itself, unethical. Further, it is unethical to impose your personal moral values on another.
Ethical values transcend cultural, religious, or ethnic differences.

Ethical values embrace a more universal worldview. The Josephson Institute of Ethics recommends six, core ethical values to abide by: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship. "

Here is a link to an atheist at who gives a good breakdown of the different ethical disciplines, defining "ethics" in broad enough terms that it could be used to describe any feature of "morality". He does not explicitly define "morality", though in his writing he uses the term "ethics" more in regard to the disciplines of study and "morality" more in regard to their application.

Here are his categories of ethical inquiry listed as links:

Descriptive Ethics
Normative Ethics
Deontology and Ethics
Teleology and Ethics
Virtue Ethics
Analytic Ethics (Metaethics)

Here is a link to a philosopher who draws no distinction, but who is open to others attempting to make a distinction.

"I draw no distinction between ethics and morality. For me, the difference between the two terms is simply the difference between Greek (ethos) and Latin (mores). That is to say: in my lexicon they are stylistic variants of each other. If someone uses these terms in such a way as to suggest a difference, I have no objection as long as the person explains what difference he has in mind. But one should not assume a difference without explaining it."

So with this peek into the web, allow me to take a crack at this question of morality vs. ethics. I recognize that there is a certain value to all of the above attempts at comparing and contrasting ethics and morality, however, all of the above distinctions between ethics and morality, or lack thereof, leave something to be desired. I want to build on the categories of ethical inquiry listed at to define "ethics" and "morality" in a way that encompasses the way that these words are commonly used, but that allows for a more disciplined understanding of how these terms blend together. So I define

Ethics as the realm of inquiry into questions of right conduct and virtue wherein a common metaphysical understanding among the debating parties is not a pre-requisite.

Morality as a particular value system that is oriented around a particular metaphysical understanding. It is the value system of a morality that will inform matters of right behavior and virtue.

By my definition, ethics is not the only province of conscious examination, nor is it the only idea that is non-provincial. Rather, an ethical discussion/debate occurs when the parties involved do not necessarily have an agreement on a metaphysical principle that serves as an ultimate truth. A moral discussion/debate is an inquiry in which the debating parties agree upon a metaphysical principle and are debating the correct application that flows from that principle.

My definition allows a superficial similarity to some of the definitions offered above, since a system of morality as I've defined it will be more idiosyncratic to individuals, since individuals can have a differing view of what is ultimately true. A system of morality will also be more likely to be connected to religion, since religious beliefs provide people with answers concerning ultimate truth.

It is a tendency among philosophical cognicenti to define morality as the "petri dish" that is examined by the objective "microscope" of ethics. The hierarchical relationship that places ethics above morality that is created for the inquiry elides into the conclusion -- that "ethics" is the meta-morality above morality. The trade publication's definitions of these terms are representative of this tendency.

Based on how I've defined "morality" and "ethics", no one can claim to be a member of a cognicenti that has risen above questions of mere morality. Saying that there is no ultimate truth is, in itself an ultimate truth which functions as the basis of organizing a moral value system. Even those who claim that they have no settled metaphysical understanding, in fact, have one by default. It is also possible for people to have un-examined beliefs and therefore have deeply held moral systems that are in conflict with their overtly stated moral/ethical positions.

A moral system may encompass ideas of right conduct and virtue that are amenable to many others who have differing moral systems. It is these common denominator questions of right conduct and virtue that exist in the realm of "moral overlap" and are considered to be the realm of what is "ethical" by many. Ideas of Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship would fall into this category.

In regard to the blend of morality, morals, ethics and an "ethic", "morals" are generally referred to those principles of behavior and value which are not subject to any debate within a moral system. A "(fill in the blank) ethic" is a term that may be used by moralists to describe conclusions that certain members of a moral system have made in regard to particular chosen code/patterns of mind and behavior. For example, it may be moral in my moral system for me pray, and I may have a "prayer ethic" of praying in a certain way. Based on my definitions, if I am having a discussion on ethics that is informed by moral view in a way that can be commonly understood among those with different moral outlooks, I can be said to be discussing ethics.

It is this breakdown of ethics and morality that I will be using when I refer to "ethics" and "morality" in later blog posts. If I am echoing anyone else who has opined on this topic, please let me know.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

My Comment at

Here is a comment that I made at on the topic of modesty using the moniker GW. I respond directly to a person's comments. This person does care about modesty and that's good. However, based on her comments, if she is ever in charge of a ministry, I will be sure not to send men to her church who are struggling with lust, since she expects men of God not to have those struggles.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Female Chauvenist Pigs and their defenders

This post is also my 3rd post as a "review of a review", criticizing the book reviewers opinions. Book reviews are an important part of the opinion media, and are an important place where secular apologists of ennui let their opinions hang out.

Ariel Levy's Female Chauvenist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture is a book that I refer to in my Crisis of Modesty in the Evangelical Church. Despite Levy's faults and naivete in certain areas of her analysis, Levy was one of a couple secular authors who began seriously questioning and confronting the raunch culture at large. I am particularly interested in writers like Levy, since secular writers arguing for social sexual boundaries cannot look to Scriptures to back up their arguments. They are often forced to construct better arguments from available evidence in society at large, often doing a better job than many Christians who care about the same topic.

While researching for my Modesty writing, I found that Levy coined the term, "Female Chauvenist Pigs", while it was Christine Smallwood who actually coined the term "raunch feminism" in her 2005 review of Levy's book entitled "Girls gone wild". There are many aspects of Smallwood's review that have vexed me, and I wanted to examine Smallwood's review in greater depth as part of my ongoing look at raunch culture and its apologists.

Here is the book review by Smallwood that was featured in in 2005

Girls Gone Wild

The second half of Smallwood's review has been copied to my post and is featured in blue. My comments are interspersed throughout it in black. Notice that Smallwood acknowledges certain aspects of Levy's analysis while disparaging/questioning others aspects of it. It is my critique of Smallwood that most of her criticisms of Levy are contradictory and are "red herrings" for a central viewpoint of Smallwood that is not contradictory to any other of Smallwoods remarks.

Levy extrapolates from her research subjects to all women, relying on a "we" without clearly defining who she's speaking about, or for. We revel in the porn aesthetic. We fetishize strippers. We do cardio striptease workouts. We have no real erotic role models. We are female chauvinist pigs.

But are we? It's clear that "we" live in a culture permeated by raunch and pornography -- at least white women do. Levy doesn't take account of black, Asian or Latino culture. She doesn't look at booty shakers pouring champagne on themselves, dripping with gold on the music videos on BET, or thumb through Confessions of a Video Vixen, the bestselling book about a hip-hop video dancer. She doesn't think about Japanese anime and manga, with their double-D heroines.

Smallwood accuses Levy of failing to look at non-white women, but it is not clear what the consequence is. At the beginning of the paragraph, Smallwood seems to be questioning whether “we”—in regard to the idea that “we” live in a culture permeated by raunch and pornography—is a tent that includes all women or merely just white women. Ms. Smallwood then promptly fills in the gaps to say that non-white women do live in their own versions of raunch culture.

After second-wave feminism was accused of being a white movement, women of color assumed an important position in academic and activist debate. "We" could have a lot to teach each other about the ways that we are uniquely, and commonly, misused across media. Female Chauvinist Pigs ignores that possibility.

Again, Smallwood is not criticizing Levy’s fundamental analysis that women are misused across the media, she is criticizing the fact that Levy has not done more to weave non-white women into the discussion. While this is not a bad suggestion, to conduct this cross-cultural comparative analysis Levy would have had to have written a longer book, maybe a much longer book. Levy is giving herself permission to be a bit polemic. Perhaps Levy should have described her current as an analysis of white culture and then write a second follow-up book that includes all of the other bits of analysis that Smallwood wants.

It also neglects any mention of class. Male-identified FCPs are financially successful. Even if they're not at the top of the ladder, if they're bartenders or registered nurses, they're not struggling to get by. They would never be forced to strip for money, for instance, which is one reason it's easy for them to dissociate themselves from women who do.

Who are these indentifying males and these dissociating financially successful Female Chauvinist Pigs? It's Smallwood's red herring and a meaningless pronoun minefield that has no bearing on Levy's analysis. If Levy wanted to deal with class nuances—a tangentially important area to her analysis-- she would need to have written a bigger book.

Aside from the question of "white-ness" and class, Levy is writing to and about those women who have the means to consume, who are knowingly or un-knowingly driving raunch into the mainstream by their consumption choices. As it relates to women who have the means to consume, Levy's "we" covers most of the bell curve of consumerist Western culture, and only excludes, perhaps, the utterly destitute poor, who might feel that they were "forced" to strip.

So you have to wonder why Levy doesn't take the time to interview strippers or sex workers. She quotes Jenna Jameson, but she doesn't get an analysis of raunch from the perspective of an actual sex worker. Presumably such a thing falls outside the scope of her subject matter, but you'd think that a G-string diva would have an idea or two of her own on her new role as cultural heroine.

Again, Levy could have written a massive tome to include every angle of cultural analysis that Smallwood criticizes her for not including. We can read Jenna Jameson’s book, How To Make Love Like a Porn Star to learn about Jameson’s own personal cocktail of pride, bravado, denial, ambivalence and cognitive dissonance.

Levy takes it for granted that Jameson's lifestyle is destructive. There are other things that one can read if one is unconvinced of this. If porn women like Jameson were interviewed so that their opinions could be taken seriously in answering the question whether porn as destructive, most would be in some degree of denial. If it is taken as a given that Jameson's public image is destructive as Levy does, then Jameson represents a proverbial "flame", and mainstream girls who aspire to be like her in some way represent proverbial "moths".

Levy's book is about the motivations of the "moths", and so it is actually far more important for Levy’s over-all analysis of mainstream culture to interview “normal” girls like Erin and Shaina than to further probe into what Jenna actually thinks of herself.

Raunch, whether or not we like it, is tangled and complicated, fraught with pleasure, voyeurism, mimicry, excitement, revulsion, exploitation -- a whole host of contradictory impulses.

Smallwood’s description of raunch also sounds like an addiction. At certain points in the midst of an addiction to drugs and alcohol, an addiction includes all of the impulses that Smallwood mentions – pleasure, mimicry, excitement, revulsion and exploitation. To admit that something is an addiction, though, requires that one be capable of super-imposing a higher and better and more wholesome image of health over and above the pleasure, mimicry, excitement, revulsion and exploitation.

While raunch is indeed a tangle of contradictory impulses, the question is whether it can be untangled. Is there is an image of health and wholeness that one can superimpose over and above the pleasure, mimcry, excitement, revulsion and exploitation of raunch or are the contradictory impulses are necessarily and inevitable linked in a sort of yin and yang, held together with an umbreakable centripetal force?

(There's a reason this stuff tore the women's movement apart.) But all is not a matter of false consciousness. Many women are savvy enough to recognize those contradictions and see through the charade that is broadcast into their lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The advance of raunch in our culture has come from the tandem forces of A) women at large and B) the men who pleasure from and consume raunch and C) the media who profit from raunch. Perhaps there are some women who are able to see this "through the charade”. There are also a lot of women for whom the media and the culture at large is a “super-peer” ("super-peer" was a brilliant term coined by Jane D. Brown, et. al. in an article in Pediatrics). Even if some women are able to see the manipulative element of the media’s involvement in raunch, many of them are not strong enough to resist the pull into raunch behavior and fashion, or they have thoroughly embraced raunch culture.

The essential drive toward raunch behavior in our culture is a destructive drive, and Smallwood has not denied its destructiveness. There is an element to this drive into raunch that Levy has correctly identified – that women, on some level, view it as an avenue to having power equity with men, or even power over men. As a mutated post-feminism that can bear little resemblance to earlier forms of feminism, raunch feminism is feminist in its essential belief in that women demand power equity with men. Raunch feminists seek this power even at the expense of doing destructive things with their sexuality, often aping and even one-upping various forms of male sexual conquest.

This tacit affirmation of power in raunch culture is “false”, in the sense that it is not a true and constructive measure of a woman’s value.

The ways that they consume and digest endless streams of newspaper stories, television shows, magazine covers, books, advertising campaigns, billboards and Internet pop-up ads would have been worth investigating.

Again Levy could have written a book the size of War and Peace, or could write a follow up book.

After all, being a woman faced with infinite images of other women taking their clothes off, gyrating, tittering, moaning and pushing product can be exhausting and demoralizing. (Shockingly, there are those rare mornings that the New York Times online goes down better without the Victoria's Secret pop-up ads.) Raunch, like so much of mass culture, is both out of our control and impossible to ignore. We must develop a smarter strategy for living with it than simply wishing it would go away.

Who’s "simply wishing" it will go away? Is it Levy? Surely Levy desires that it will go away, and which decent person wouldn’t desire that it went away? Smallwood seems to be implying that Levy has not done something constructive in trying to usher the end of raunch. In fact, Levy has done something in her effort to raise consciousness, and raised consciousness is always penultimate to action.

Raunch is a fungus that grows of a critical mass of popular ennui and blasé. If that ennui and blasé were to end, then raunch would diminish. If we believe that it is out of our control then it is. As Andrew Carnegie said, "Whatever you think, you're right", and any reform movement seems like an impossible dream to those who first dare to conceive of it.

Levy's book diagnoses, but it doesn't prescribe. After carefully documenting the sale of female sexuality, Levy closes with the call for readers to believe they are "sexy and funny and competent and smart." Apparently the solution to a system of objectification in which women themselves are complicit, in which feminism has been co-opted by and for profit, is for us to be ourselves. It's a little hard to swallow.

Smallwood seems to be saying that self objectification is in the very nature of womanhood. That for women to "be themselves" is to necessarily live out this impulse to self-objectification, and that to tell women to "be themselves" at the expense of self-objectifying is nigh impossible.

Unless there is a political dimension to our personhood that extends to other women, we will never be more than marketing niches.

"A political dimension to our personhood that extends to other women" that Smallwood suggests would require that women as a group presented a clear objective to the world that could be advanced through the peculiar medium of politics. Feminism was just such an attempt to define a political dimension to the personhood of women that extended to other women and, so says Smallwood, it was torn apart by the contradictions of raunch. So the raunch sexuality that split the political unity of feminism will be fixed by the political unity of feminism? Generally speaking, if this is the "smarter strategy for living with it" that Smallwood suggests, then it's not a very good one.

Raunch is about individual choices. It is a juggernaut that is created by what individual people wear when they get up in the morning, what they do with each other in relationships, what they consume and what they excuse. It is in the intimate realms of life that raunch must primarily be contronted.

Levy has done the good work of documenting raunch culture. What next?

Having offered no hint a substantive solution, and after hinted spuriously at fatal flaws in Levy's analysis, Smallwood is basically saying that self-objectification is an intractible part of modern womanhood.

So what is next? The patent destructiveness of women’s self-objectification and seeking power equity via raunch behavior and the destructiveness of men who participate in raunch will only end with this: when men and women are transformed by a God into the image of Christ who is higher than their sin. While it is possible for certain lone secular thinkers to grasp the problem of raunch, at bottom, there is not other "strategy" for dealing with it other than the individual transformation of people's hearts and minds to an image of spiritual health and wholesome-ness that lies outside of the human predicament of bondage to sin. This is the only strategy that will confront raunch in the intimate realms of life where it is flourishing.

If Smallwood were to consider this suggestion an intrusion of “conservatism” that would erode feminism “hard won gains”, then, for Smallwood, nothing is “next”, and people will continue to be titillated and excited and then demoralized and exhausted by an addiction to raunch that is, and always will be, out of control.

To her credit, Smallwood is at least willing to admit that there is a destructive aspect to raunch feminism. Read some the passionate letters in response to her "Girls gone wild" review, and you'll see the full-throated denial of any dark side to the raunch culture.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Examining a dirty word -- Censorship

Back in May, a book review by Richard Schickel was featured in the Los Angeles Times about book Freedom to Offend: How New York Remade Movie Culture by Raymond J. Haberski Jr. on the era just after the movie censoring of the ‘50’s. I’ll admit I haven’t read the book. However, as with most book reviews that use the book topic as a springboard for the book reviewer’s opining, I don’t need to have read the book confront Schickel’s point of view. Here is the link to Schickel’s book review below.

Read the article

Now that you’ve had a chance to read it, here is a statement that he made that I want to unpack in the context of other thing that he says in his article.

…The real issue was the widespread belief that movies, as a mass art, required closer censorship than other arts. The censors argued, ludicrously, that they were protecting a completely mythical creature, the innocent child who might someday wander into a theater and, in effect, see Mommy and Daddy doing it. Might have, I suppose. But so what? Children see and hear all sorts of things we'd prefer they didn't…

Now my goal is not necessarily to defend the movie censors, their methods or their rhetoric. That is a topic for another post. I will say in regard to this book review that I have a bias: I sympathize with the essential idea that there is an innocence that children possess that adults have an obligation to protect by setting boundaries.

Countering this idea is Schickel who is in the same ilk as Bill Maher when Maher says, “children aren't innocent” (Maher also says that Jesus wasn’t Republican, which is true, but that’s another issue). Here’s what at stake in denying the existence of innocence in children. If there is any idea that there may be a special innocence to the lives of children then it opens the door to arguing that some sort of boundary somewhere is appropriate is appropriate and that some censorship of some kind must take place to enforce the boundary.

While often claiming that parents should confine their jurisdiction of values to the “home”, Schickel and those who share his belief, use a rhetorical sword that thoroughly dismisses the ontological possibility that children have any special innocence. It is this sword that, taken to its logical conclusion, cuts into the very jurisdiction of the home. If the innocent child is a completely “mythical creature” and therefore is as non-existent as the tooth fairy, why should any parent ever raise a finger, a voice or an eyebrow to ever demarcate boundaries to protect a child’s innocence.

Likewise, there is the equal and opposite rhetorical sword; the one that says that there is a special innocence to children. It is a sword that is wielded by those who favor the imposition of boundaries that cuts into a realm beyond the jurisdiction of home and cuts into society at large, and even into the realm of the movies. In response to this threat, Schickel and those who share his belief are willing to use an opposing rhetorical sword that is able to cut into more than they are willing to admit.

What is happening in the paragraph cited above is Schickel in the process of A) creating the rhetorical sword to cut at the idea of children’s innocence, and then B) trying to hold back the sword from cutting along the full arc that his blade is designed to cut. He does this by first declaring that the innocent child who might wander into a theater is a purely “mythical creature” but then admits that "Children see and hear all sorts of things we'd prefer they didn't…".

It is almost an offhand remark, "Children see and hear all sorts of things we'd prefer they didn't". There is more importance and meaning in that statement than Schickel lets on, or is even able to admit to himself, which is why I want to camp out on it. Who is “we’? If we assume for the sake of convenience that “we” is adult society, is this adult society completely and utterly wrongheaded in its preference? Is the preference completely and utterly baseless and devoid of any claim to truth or reality? Here is the problem. The preference that “we” have would need to be completely and utterly baseless in order for the innocent child to be a “completely mythical creature”. “Completely” doesn’t leave a lot of room for ambiguity or nuance.

Perhaps Schickel would try to explain his position by saying, as many would, that A) the reality of kids seeing adult content and B) the desire that we would have for a child to not see it is the difference between what is "real" and an "ideal" in the world. Here, our “preference” is that which is ideal, while the reality of kids being exposed to adult content is that which is “real”. If Schickel took this line of thinking, he would be saying that the “ideal” is something that is purely mythic, and that what is “ideal” in human affairs does not have nearly the claim to being real when compared to that which actually occurs in day-to-day human affairs.

This is a common belief but inaccurate belief. In truth, that which tangibly occurs in the realm human affairs is merely an existential realm of reality. An ideal is not completely mythic in the sense that Schickel intends the word "mythic" to mean, as something as fanciful as the tooth fairy and that can be totally dismissed from serious discussion. Ideals are an intangible part of reality that are as real as our existential and tangible reality, even as our existential and tangible reality falls short of the ideals most of the time. Nevertheless, ideals shape, and should shape, our existential reality profoundly. Human affairs exist in the tension between what is ideal and what is real, and we would quickly think our way into savage behavior if we completely abandoned ideals.

As an example of this, we all know what junk food is even though we eat it. If a Martian were sent to Earth to conduct a superficial survey of what it is that people, in fact, eat, the Martian would discover that lots of people eat a lot of junk food. The practice of eating a purely nutritious diet is “mythic” in the sense that it is an Olympian task that the vast majority of people fail at. However, the need that people have for nutrition is not mythic at all. It may be impractical to prevent people from eating junk food. It may even be that people in a free society need to be free to have junk food. Whatever the case may be, there is an intellectual canyon that is crossed by telling ourselves that it isn't, in fact, junk food or by saying something tantamount to it, i.e. that junk food is completely harmless.

Of course, the nutritional value of junk food can be verified in a laboratory. The innocence of children can’t. The epistemology of tangible scientific empiricism is not always suited to the realm of grasping at ideals any more than it is suited to explaining the mystery of beauty and art. As with many issues, one person’s studies with one agenda can be pitted against another person’s studies and statistics with another agenda.

But maybe, just maybe, the innocence of children exists in some plane of reality, where it is a real thing, and kids are, in some way, better and healthier for having a sense of innocence protected. If this is true, then violations of their innocence are a spiritual and emotional junk food of a different kind. It is my assertion that it is this ephemeral reality that the antennae of collective adult preference is pointing us to, and our intuition, though not provable with scientific precision, may not be completely wrong.

I think that Schickel knows this on some level, which is why he includes his reference to our “preference" in stating his opinion, even as he has crafted his opinion as a “take no prisoners” rhetorical sword. He doesn't want to be too dismissive of the remote possibility that kids have an innocence that needs to be protected and nurtured. However, Schickel doesn't want the faint possibility of this to in any way get in the way of the way that movies are presented to the world.

Schickel criticizes the idea that the “mass art” required some “closer censorship” by brushing aside any concern about the possibility that a few kids made it into the theaters. So Schickel doesn't seem to be bothered by a few kids going in. But that is an easy target of his blasé. The real question is whether he bothered by a vast swath of them going in? It would be more intellectually honest for Schickel to say flat out that he wouldn’t mind in the least if most, if not all, children made it in to see movies with adult content. But then again, his “preference” would get in the way of making such a bold statement.

In regard to movie boundaries, more and more allow more and more sex and gore has been allowed in movies under the R and PG-13 rating over the years. In relation to what was censored in the ‘50’s, more and more kids have been "brought in" to the theatre to more sex and gore. For all intents and purposes, the 1950's boundary that Schickel dismissed has now been significantly breached. Now what?

Later in his book review, Schickel bemoans that "American film is almost universally pitched to teenage dimwits and the nation's addiction to pornography is chronic and more alarming… ”. So what does this have to do with adult content in movies? Movies are part of the larger media infrastructure that has increasingly brought raunch, and gore into the mainstream. And movies for “dimwits” and “porn” are both appeals to our base nature and the lowest common denominator for and easy buck.

What Schickel is actually bemoaning is the taste for raunch and gore and has run amok, that has become so dominant in our society that it imposes its own unique form of tyranny. As our society demands some form of “closer censorship” in the form of a ratings system, so too does our present society demand raunchy spectacle in movies, and it is this demand that has financial clout and with it, the creative clout to crowd out better movies. While certain aspects of some movies may be “self censoring”, the market is not.

Schickel plainly loves the "heady days" of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and hates prissiness and dismay of the guardians of moral purity and the contempt of the high culture that came before and the drivel and raunch that has come after. Here is a scary possibility for Schickel. It is possible that there was a value to the force of censorship, even as the rhetoric of it was grating. The force of ‘50’s era censorship probably kept a lot of dimwit stuff and raunch in check by making movies work harder on different levels to be appealing without having easy access to sex and gore.

It is also possible that the first generation to be free from '50's censorship had the creative spark that was extruded though their being part of a culture that still had a more of a value for the sacred. I think that this enabled the first generation of movie makers who were free from censorship to be able to deal with sex in more aesthetically sophisticated ways than was accomplished in either their past or in their future because it was suppressed for decades in our culture. Their creative ability came out through the pressure of the culture like the force soda after it has been shaken, only to become warm, sticky suds on the ground later. It is possible that sex for lowest common denominator of raunch and gore has become the sticky “suds” of American cinema and media oozing out of spent creative and intellectual fire of the past.

Schickel knows, on some level, that the proliferation of raunchy garbage and the associated costs to our society is the price that he is willing to pay for the artistic freedom that he wants, the price for having enjoyed the “heady” days of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. The problem is that in the cognitive dissonance of completely denying the existence of the innocence of children, but not completely, he has not risen completely to the task of admitting the true extent of the cost of the artistic freedom he wants.

In regard to children's innocence, for Schickel to say that children's innocence is there and is violated would be honest. For him to say that we have allowed it to be violated and that we've all become cynical and blasé to sex and violence would be honest. For him to say that our society values the freedom of movie art and movie economics more than the innocence of children would be honest. For him to say that he and many others are willing to accept the trade-off of allowing raunchy and dimwitted movies to proliferate and help dumb many people down and injure the innocence of many kids in order to allow for greater artistic freedom would be honest.

However, for him to say that the innocence of children is not there to begin with; that it is simply a fairy tale myth with not claim to reality, is not honest. It is simply less painful to his conscience than admitting that the possibility that innocence of children has been injured.