Wednesday, November 28, 2012
(Two brothers, their sister and a young woman are arguing about sex.)
(Captain Subtext Transmitting: Catullus is tentatively putting his foot out of the closet with Germanicus so he can see how his family will react to his homosexuality. Germanicus is trying to maintain his rationalistic convictions in the face of the temptation posed to him by Sheila. Sheila is hoping that Germanicus will stop maintaining his rationalistic convictions and ask her out. Lydia is utterly oblivious and thinks it's just a rational debate.)
Sheila: You think sex during pregnancy is unnatural? Seriously?
Catullus: Germanicus, nobody has believed that in 1600 years.
Germanicus: Truth doesn't change. It is eternal. It is immutable. It is fixed. 1600 years do not have any bearing on it whatsoever.
Sheila: But just because they believed something in ancient Rome that doesn't mean it's the eternal truth.
Germanicus: It has nothing to do with Rome. It's a rational argument: you don't sow seed in a barren field. It just doesn't make sense.
Sheila: I am a person, not a field.
Germanicus: It's an analogy. It means you don't do things when they won't conduce towards their ends.
Sheila: But why is pleasure not an end of sex? Or love? Or even just plain fun?
Germanicus: For the same reason that you don't open beer bottles with your wedding ring. The thing that sex is actually for is too important to misuse it just for fun.
Sheila: So love isn't important?
Germanicus: Love is not sex!
Sheila: But sex expresses love.
Germanicus: No. The responsible use of sex expresses love. Being willing to bear another person's children expresses love. Being chaste so that you don't make your spouse sick expresses love. Practicing self-control so that you will actually be in rational possession of your faculties and able to make decisions for the good of another person expresses love. Sex without responsibility just expresses passion, which is often antithetical to love.
Sheila: But how is sex during pregnancy irresponsible? Or sex between two men who are committed to one another?
Lydia: Time out. You're all missing the point. The natural law is not supposed to be a series of hair-splitting casuistries. It's supposed to be a consolidation of the wisdom of the ages on the question of how to live a happy life. It's like a recipe for happiness that was handed down by your grandmother.
Catullus: Cute. But what if “the wisdom of the ages” makes me unhappy? What if it's a recipe for brownies and I'm allergic to chocolate?
Lydia: I realize that that looks like a really strong argument. It is a really strong argument. But give me a moment and I'll try to explain. Okay. It is often the case that people think they will be made happy by things that really make them unhappy. Like you remember that guy I dated, Mark?
Germanicus: We all remember Mark.
Lydia: Right. And I thought that he was just the cherry on the cake, but everyone else could see that he was a Total Loser. By the time I figured that out, we'd already had sex, and now I still have images of him come up in my mind when I'm trying to make love to Tom. Gross. Because I thought I knew what would make me happy and I didn't have a clue. I totally should have listened to Dad.
Sheila: But Lydia, everyone can see that gay people are happier if they have a partner, and less happy if they don't. I mean, whether or not a person has someone to love is a really standard index of the likelihood of suicide, it's a really common predictor of happiness or unhappiness.
Lydia: I know. But have you seen old gay guys? I know, I shouldn't say this, it's horrible, but it's true. It's really sad. Because they put all of their chips down on that one horse, and most of the time it doesn't place. I used to volunteer at a hospice where there were guys there dying of AIDS with no one to visit them. The gay community had used them up, spit them out, and it was terrible.
Catullus: I've met “old gay guys,” and that isn't my experience.
Lydia: Whoa. You took that awfully personally.
Catullus: I'm not taking it personally, it was an offensive thing to say! And in any case, there are plenty of straight people in exactly the same boat. Go to any old folk's home on the planet and you'll find them there in droves.
Lydia: Yeah. The ones who contracepted all their kids away. I mean, Catullus, have you ever, in your entire life, met an old woman with a horde of great-grandchildren who really regrets having chosen that life? Never! Doesn't happen. Having kids is like investing in your future happiness and the happiness of generations to come.
Sheila: But gay people don't have that option.
Germanicus: Sure they do. Look, I know that this is politically incorrect but it happens to be a fact: most of the gay people throughout most of history were heterosexually married. And most of them managed to pay the marriage debt. This whole meme that says gay men can't have straight sex is almost entirely untrue. It's a politically convenient argument to try to make a moral hard-case out of people's carnal desires.
Sheila: So you think that people should marry people that they're not attracted to and don't love, just so that they can have children?
Germanicus: Love is an act of the will. It's not a feeling. I mean, look at all of the other family relationships we have. I don't love Catullus because I saw him one day across the play room and my heart leapt in my chest and winged babies started playing heavenly music over our heads. I love him because he's my brother and I have a fraternal obligation to do so. Obviously I feel affection as well, but the feelings are a result of the act of will, not visa versa. This whole social experiment where marriage is based on feelings has been a spectacular disaster because it roots love in something purely temporary and involuntary.
Sheila: Okay, so when you finally decide that you're ready to get married, you're going to go to your father and get him to find you a suitable woman, a virgin with a dowry who wants to have a dozen kids, and you'll settle down and make it work whether you like her or not?
Germanicus: Well...no. But it would probably be better if I did.
Lydia: Germanicus, that's just nonsense. You shouldn't marry someone you don't love. And gay guys shouldn't marry women just so they can have kids. That's just a disaster waiting to happen.
Catullus: So what, in your opinion, ought they to do?
Lydia: Lots of people live happy lives without getting married. They should form friendships that are stable and responsible, and not based on lust.
Catullus: Why is what you feel for Tom “love” and what...a gay man feels for another gay man is “lust”?
Lydia: If it's not lust, why is the gay community obsessed with sex? I mean, they do they parade around half-naked every year. And it is a notoriously promiscuous sub-culture. Doesn't that suggest that something is not right? If these relationships were as fulfilling as they're supposed to be, wouldn't they be overwhelmingly lasting and monogamous?
Catullus: Oh, you mean like marriage? What is the divorce rate again? About fifty percent? And the rate of adultery is similar I hear.
Lydia: In a self-indulgent, contraceptive culture, yeah. But if you look at the marriages of people who follow the natural law, they're like...I don't remember the statistic, but it's well over ninety percent stable.
Sheila: Because people who follow the “natural law” are almost 100% Christians who don't believe in divorce, so if they're unhappy in their marriages they stick it out for god.
Germanicus: If people are unhappy in their marriages they should figure out how to be responsible for their own happiness, not break their most solemn promises to go scrounging after greener grass on the other side.
Sheila: How can you be happy with someone who you don't love anymore?
Lydia: How can you be happy when you can't depend on the most important relationship in your life?
Catullus: How can you be happy if you can't have that “most important relationship” at all?
Germanicus: Why can't you have that relationship, and just not have sex?
Sheila: Why would you deny one of life's greatest pleasures to yourself and to the person that you love?
Lydia: For the sake of something higher.
Catullus: Higher than love?
Germanicus: Higher than sex.
Sheila: You mean like god?
Lydia: Yes. I do mean God.
Catullus: But why should God object?
Germanicus: For the sake of truth.
(This is where the waitress comes over to recharge the glasses.)
Germanicus: Look. It's a well established fact, known throughout all cultures and all times except our own, that sexual desire has the ability to seduce men away from the Good, the Beautiful and the True. For the sake of sex, men betray their loved ones. For the sake of sex they endure ugliness and depravity. For the sake of sex they deny their gods and abandon reason. You therefore must have some way of conforming sexuality to the demands of right reason. You do that by asking “What is this for? What is it's proper use? How can I make sure that I am acting as a free and rational agent, not just going on blind instinct towards whatever feels good?” And I think it's obvious that the purpose of sex is the procreation of the species. That is a genuine good, and if you pursue it rationally, without subserving yourself to pleasure, you avoid the pitfalls that I outlined above...
Sheila: But pleasure is good. People are pleasure-seeking by nature, that's just how we are. Even your rationality, your morality...why do you value these things? Because you enjoy the pleasure of “interior equilibrium.” Because you enjoy the pleasure of feeling like you're a rational and virtuous person. Because, and I'm sorry to say this Germanicus, you enjoy the pleasure of feeling like you're better than other people. And if those are the things that really make you happy, that's okay for you. But other people want to be held, want to be loved, want to be made love to. That's what we genuinely want and it's what we freely pursue. That's not irrational, or ugly, or depraved...
Lydia: No, of course it's not. But pleasure is not the highest good. It's a finger that points us towards the highest good. The things that bring us pleasure do so because they're an image of God. Sex isn't just a rubbing together of body parts or a burst of chemical excitement in the brain. It's not even just a way of feeling close to another person. It's a way of being in communion so intense and so incredible that it's able to make new life. It's literally an image of the Holy Trinity. Is the desire for that bad? Of course not. It's really, really good. But you have to understand it in its proper context as something that actually leads us towards the Good, the Beautiful and True...
Catullus: Well at least your not hiding behind some specious argument, pretending that it's “rational” and “natural” and nothing to do with religion. I mean, religious proscription I can understand. Don't eat pork. Don't drink liquor. Shave your head. Never cut your hair. Wear a funny hat. Cut off a piece of your dick. Every religion has to have difficult precepts as a way of gauging whether or not one's adherence is sincere. Arbitrary formal impositions that give shape to moral life - I believe in that. I fast when I'm calling on the Muse, I don't produce kitsch no matter how much money I owe, and I will not abandon my vows even if it leads me to death...
Germanicus: You believe in arbitrary laws, but not objective ones?
Sheila: You care more about your virtue than the people that you love?
Lydia: You would trade ephemeral pleasure for the good of your eternal soul?
Catullus: Why would God tell me one thing in my heart and another in your law?
Although the conversation continues on into the wee hours of the morning, no further progress is made.
(End of Part VI)