Skip to comments.Dead Issues
Posted on 02/04/2004 4:16:09 PM PST by AreaMan
This article is a version of Mr. Anderson's chapter on Ridicule in "This Will Hurt: The Restoration of Virtue and Civic Order," just out from National Review Books.
Modern society prides itself on its knowledge. But a society without taboos knows nothing for certain.
Necrophilia is the erotic attraction to corpses. There is no exclusivity here. The corpse may be old or young, male or female, human or animal, stranger or relative, ones own recently departed mother or a sheep taken at random from the abattoir. Various aspects of necrophilia are illegal and, insofar as it is mentioned at all, it is to my limited knowledge, socially disapproved of. Or, if you prefer we could say that necrophiliacs are politically repressed and socially discriminated against, their rights to free sexual expression systematically denied.
Suppose you wanted to champion the oppressed necrophiliac not only to free him from legal shackles but to have his sexual identity and lifestyle considered normal, as normal as that of a normal married couple how might you go about your campaign? You might call a philosopher. He would explain that absolute moral standards were not the issue in this multicultural society. Today we are enlightened enough to tolerate and even affirm others lifestyles provided they do not harm third parties. He could easily show that necrophilia harms no one in the usual and moral use of that term. Not a single complaint has ever been made by the object of a necrophiliacs attentions. Would that we could say the same about the violence within traditional marriage! And necrophilia is essentially a private affair. Much quoting of John Stuart Mill would take place. Our philosopher might recognize that necrophilia is thought outlandish but point out that if we persecute every idea thought outlandish we will end as a very repressive society. He might then catalogue all the items once thought outlandish which are now understood to be perfectly normal.
A classical liberal economist could easily be found to talk impressively about costs imposed on others, externalities, private and public goods, and Pareto optimality. He would reach a conclusion similar to the philosophers: it hurts no one. A psychoanalyst would go further and point out that necrophiliacs were more likely to hurt others if their desires were repressed than if they were indulged. Indeed those desires might be transferred to live objects. Necrophiliacs should be no only allowed to practice but encouraged to talk about their practices. Assorted necrophiliac activists would then sift through history to find all sorts of generals, kings, bishops, and scientists who were necrophiliacs or would have been had they not lived in societes irrationally prejudiced against necrophilia. They would produce a survey which showed that 27 per cent of the American population had had or had fantasized a necrophiliac episode, and that these included taxpayers and men who had fought for their country. The final card to win the game would be a statement by a leading sculptor or novelist that the denial of necrophilia was a denial of artistic and creative freedom.
The idea of a campaign to promote necrophilia is not as fantastic, if I may use that word, as it might seem. Currently there is a case before the European Court concerning the rights of sado-masochists to hurt each other in various perverted ways.
More generally, Western societies have seen a series of behaviors, once thought evil, perverse, or just plain barmy, solemnly argued for as normal and very quickly accepted as such. Take the case of illegitimacy, once thought an occasion for shame; or that of vegetarianism, once thought, for instance by Orwell, to be the sure sign of a crank; or that of homosexuality. All these have become accepted, at least officially, as being normal of equivalent worth to the bearing of children in wedlock, traditional food, and heterosexuality. And the journey from being thought outlandish to being affirmed as normal is taking less and less time. And there are others. Consider the way counseling, a practice almost entirely without a tested scientific basis, now sits in our hospitals alongside sophisticated surgery and elaborately tested pharmaceuticals; or the eay a society steeped in the sophisticated wisdom of Christianity and Judaism has easily fallen for New Age nonsense and Mother Earth sorcery.
Ii is important to remember that these behaviors were once not just disapproved of. They were seen as obviously wrong or barmy, things to be dismissed out of hand, without discussion, as ridiculous to be laughed at. This suggests questions. Is there anything that modern society is capable of dismissing out of hand? Is it condemned to considering all behaviors and views solemnly, weighing the pros and cons? Is ridicule out? And is there something about the way modern society solemnly reviews what was once thought perverted and barmy that makes it very likely that it will accord that behavior normal status? Because if all is to be normal then nothing will be, and all will be chaos.
The road to loss of judgment and proportion looks at first so rational. Modern society is scientific and democratic, and so if believes in debate. But it has deified debate. The old society believed in debate, but not about everything. It knew in its bones that necrophilia was deeply disgusting. The feeling of disgust and offense had something to do with dishonor to the dead and a lot to do with the notion of perversion. Both are increasingly lost to contemporary society. In a way difficult to define, promiscuous debate has something to do with that loss. Debate dignifies the daft and the dirty by giving them the same attention as things time has established as right, just, sensible.
This happens partly too because of the terms of the debate. What counts is harm or benefit shown to be done to others. And next to nothing else counts. Cases where the harm is difficult to show, such as offensiveness especially to public decency, wont do well in this utilitarian and consequentialist debate. And cases that depend on absolute ideas of virtue, of something being wrong whether or not it does harm, wont be admissible at all. Tradition is denied entry to this court. The judges have no time for the prejudices worked out by experienced societies over thousands of years. Prejudice is a dirty word.
The modern debate allows only two verdicts. Either the behavior is accepted, in which case it has to be thoroughly accepted. Or it isnt. So homosexuality, for instance, cannot be grudgingly tolerated. Once it is legal, it has to be considered as good as heterosexuality. The same goes for the voluntary single family. Discriminate totally or not at all. Theres no room in this society for a little discrimination, a spot of shame or embarrassment. The old society, in contrast, had a sophisticated shading of ideas in which some were mainstream, some beyond the pale, and yet others in the shadows. Oscar Wildes friend Lord Alfred Douglas wrote of the love that dare not speak its name. Even in the nineteenth century that was not such a harsh thing. Indeed Wilde and Douglas spent much of their time nattering to anyone who would listen about their supposedly silent love. They did not just want to be left alone. Douglas told Andre Gide what he had wanted when he entered the Savoy with Wilde. I want everyone to say, There goes Oscar Wilde and his minion.
THE old society was not static. Ideas and behaviors moved from the illegal to the legal, from providing contempt and ridicule to drawing acclaim, but they did so slowly via stages in the shadows. Indeed, this was the way the old society tested ideas. Dismissing an idea was not the worst thing one could do to it. James Fitzjames Stephen puts the point nicely, commenting on the ballad, Cursed be the coward that ever he was born / Who did not draw the sword before he blew the horn. Having to fight for a hearing of ones idea tests it. Until a man, says Stephen., has formed opinions for which he is prepared to fight, there is no hardship in his being compelled by social intolerance to keep them to himself and to those who sympathize with them. The replacement of prejudice, measured approval, and degrees of intolerance by simplistic, prove the damage done debate and the total rights that go with it is responsible for very grave trends in society. Most grave, it is producing a frivolous society, one that does not know an idea which can contend for serious claim from a trivial one. Then, since many of the ideas now so rapidly and totally admitted to full normality are tied to behavior, we must live with the behavioral consequences. There are now millions of children being brought up without fathers partly because society had no adequate prejudicial defenses against the one parent family. Many of the homosexuals who have died from AIDS were killed, in part, by societys rush to endorse homosexual behavior as normal. Ideas do indeed have consequences. The last consequence is the most literally grave. One of the strongest defenses against outlandish ideas and behavior was ridicule. Ridicule is not now permitted. And a society that is condemned to take all claims seriously will soon be a society whose eyebrows cannot be raised in disbelieving amusement, whose gaze cannot turn down in scorn, whose mouth cannot laugh. It will have lost its best defense of order the sense of the comic. Do I hear the sound of spades against graves?
Thanks for taking the time to do that. I liked this line from the article:
"Most grave, it is producing a frivolous society, one that does not know an idea which can contend for serious claim from a trivial one."
Thanks for taking the time to do that.
I found out quickly that it was faster than typing by foot.
I think the point is that the same arguements can be made for two living consenting adults.
By the way if the only criteria is two living consenting adults then what is the objection to two immediate realtives getting it on.
And while we're at it, who are you to set the bar at a standard like living or adult? How narrow minded of you. Why should the lovin' stop just because I have reached room temperature?
Hey if you want to take that up with Europian Royality, then by all means.
The problem with the spread of STDs, no matter if it is hetrosexual or homosexual, is the lack of personal responiblity in how a person is not careful about who they choose to be their partner and about how many partners they have had.
The have royalty on the moons of Jupiter already? Damn, I knew we should have put more money into the space program!
Just kidding, I know what you meant about the royalty.
The spread of STD's is a result of not having any societal shame or ridicule for sleeping around.
When virginity is seen as a stumbling block to social acceptance then it is no wonder that sexual promiscuity will follow with all its attendant problems.
The spread of STD's is a result of not having any societal shame or ridicule for sleeping around.
Listen to yourself; shame, ridicule. All negitive methods, with no positive ideas.
Explaining the possible consequences of a person's action in a more constuctive way would be a much way to go about it.
Name one father and daughter 'relationship' (or mother son) in European royalty. The last sister/ brother marriage that I can think of is Kleopatra, but that was before Christ and in Egypt.
Hey, lighten up. I was just joking. Look at my comments, I said, JUST KIDDING!
Sometimes the stick works better than the carrot. Look, screwing around is FUN, no doubt about that, but the consequences seen and unseen to you and those around you are in many cases permanent or fatal.
The problem is that most people don't think about the consequences of their actions. And in the absence of their thinking we should all tell them that what they are doing is stupid.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.