Women are apt to chastise us guys for being ruled by our dicks, and there is no shortage of high-profile cases that would seem to prove them right. Time and again, prominent figures such as Bill Clinton have fallen from grace thanks to sexual indiscretions of a crazily risky kind, temptations to which they could only have succumbed if their brains were being bypassed at the time.
When a Kind man finds himself in trouble over an illicit relationship, no matter how consensual, the outcome is of course much more serious than for a politician, whose job and reputation may be at stake but not his liberty. Likewise the politician’s femme fatale may well find herself rocketed to fame, fortune and a great social life by the “scandal” in question, as did Monica Lewinsky, whereas the child partners in paedophilic relationships are all too often traumatised by their “rescue”.
Occasionally we encounter an interesting hybrid category where comedy and tragedy meet in equal measure. Did you hear the latest about Simon Danczuk? He is the MP, it will be recalled, who made his name by damning a deceased fellow MP as a paedophile and then setting off a false alarm about an allegedly widespread Westminster VIP paedophilia scandal. He was recently suspended from the Labour Party following allegations of sending sexually explicit text messages to a 17-year-old girl. He reportedly admitted “inappropriate” behaviour, saying that younger women were his “Achilles heel” and that he needed therapy for sex addiction. And a week or so ago he ended up being arrested and put in a Spanish jail cell after an altercation with his ex-wife that saw her reportedly suffering cuts and bruises leading to hospital treatment.
Just the sort of person to lead a moral crusade against sexual transgression, eh? In rueful mood, the 49-year-old politician apparently said of himself “No fool like an old fool”. To which Heretic TOC would add, no hypocrite like a morally fulminating, anti-Kind hypocrite! Methinks it be not too un-Kindly to savour a modicum of schadenfreude over his downfall!
Most of us Kinds, fortunately, have our sexuality under control, unlike Danczuk and his ilk. I like to think we keep our ethical standards and our public stance on sexual morality under scrutiny as well, especially here at Heretic TOC, so that our private and public attitudes are kept in harmony. It is called integrity: as the dictionary puts it, “The quality of being honest (my emphasis) and having strong moral principles” and also “The state of being whole and undivided”. The private and public standards of the hypocrite, by contrast, are sharply divided. They are neither honest nor moral; and they lack integrity.
But we must beware of complacent self-satisfaction. Yes, our private beliefs and our public stance may fit well together as an honest and coherent whole. But how have we arrived at them? Are our beliefs just rationalisations of our desires, making our stance just as false as that of the hypocrites?
Ernest Jones introduced the term “rationalisation” to psychoanalysis in 1908, defining it as “the inventing of a reason for an attitude or action the motive of which is not recognised”. It was an explanation which (though false) could seem plausible. The term has generally been used ever since by psychologists and psychiatrists to refer to false beliefs. However, when someone’s beliefs appear to be self-serving it is all too easy to accuse them of rationalising even when their beliefs are true.
It is one of the many sticks our opponents use to beat us. In their hands it is a rhetorical device to discredit any arguments and evidence we might bring to bear in support of our position, without having to go to the trouble of refuting the arguments or probing the evidence. As such, it is an ad hominem argument: it plays the man not the ball.
As the admirable Leonard Sisyphus Mann pointed out in his Consenting Humans blog:
Even proving conclusively that an opponent has a personal stake in the arguments he’s making does not invalidate, or even weaken, the position they are arguing for: it is perfectly possible to argue something out of self-interest and be correct: many English slave owners actually supported the 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act because domestic manufacturing was becoming more lucrative than their plantations, and the huge compensation that parliament was proposing to pay slave owners for loss of their property would allow them to cash in a failing resource and invest in that increasingly lucrative domestic industry – indeed the mills of the North of England were built on the proceeds of this compensation.
Mann cites Straight and Crooked Thinking by Robert H. Thouless, who wrote that we must not make “the foolish mistake of supposing that we can settle controversies by… labelling their arguments ‘rationalisation’… A true opinion as well as a false one may owe much of its strength to irrational motives.” The main value of an alertness to rationalisation, says Mann, is a reflexive one: “An alertness to rationalisation is primarily a tool for sorting out our own thinking rather than that of others.”
Having said that, being Kind in our society may afford us a degree of immunity against self-serving rationalisation that is not afforded to those with mainstream sexual tastes. Clinton was apparently able to convince himself (and for a while fool others) by rationalising that he did not have sex with Lewinsky, based on sex being defined as coitus not oral sex: she gave him head but they did not screw. Can you imagine Kind people making that argument, even in the privacy of our own heads, to deceive only ourselves? I don’t think so, not when oral sex with a minor counts as rape and we have constantly dinned into us that even looking at pictures of naked kids is somehow horrific. We can and do reject such characterisations, but society is on our case so much that we cannot get away with superficial excuses: we are forced to think much more deeply than Clinton ever needed to.
Even so, we are not totally immune. There are those among us, for instance, who take a cynical view of morality in general, like Red, the BL hero of Rod Downey’s novel The Moralist. Our reasoned choices, Red insists, are just “a second-generation copy of desire”: everyone, not just Kinds, makes up their morality to suit themselves. Everyone rationalises.
In essence Red is a Nietzschean. Friedrich Nietzsche, in On the Genealogy of Morality, made his famous distinction between master morality and slave morality. Stripped to its basics, it amounts to an assertion that being “good” is a mug’s game. That’s just for losers, notably those without power, such as slaves, including the early Christians when they were being persecuted and martyred by the pagan Romans. Instead of doing whatever they wanted, which was the philosophy of the winners, or the ruling masters of society, the Christians had to settle for “good” behaviour and hoping their reward would come not in this life but the next, in heaven.
The master morality, by contrast, is seen as noble. Instead of abasing himself before God, and repenting his sins in the Christian manner, the moral aristocrat has a keen sense of his own self-worth, such that “good” is whatever seems good to him, not to some censorious authority, whether divine or secular. “The noble type of man,” Nietzsche wrote, “experiences itself as determining values; it does not need approval; it judges, ‘what is harmful to me is harmful in itself’; it knows itself to be that which first accords honour to things; it is value-creating.” The strong-willed man values such things as good, because they aid him in a lifelong process of self-actualisation through what Nietzsche called “the will to power”.
It is a philosophy that seems very plausible as developed in Downey’s novel, on account of Red being a very appealing character. He is a romantic figure, a revolutionary. He is glamorous. He has style. He cuts a dash. And, most important of all, the boy he loves admires and loves him too.
But what if the hero were a little more flawed? It’s a point I took up in my review of the book some years ago:
Let’s imagine Hannibal Lekter saying to himself “What I want is good.” What he famously wants is to eat people. So why can’t we accept this as morally acceptable? Is it just because we happen to have different wants? Is it because most of us (presumably) do not wish to eat people? No, it is because we do not wish to be eaten. Hannibal’s wants are inconsistent with ours, so we need some system – some reasoned, principled system we can agree on – to arbitrate between competing wants. This engages law as well as morality, but both systems of restrictions on behaviour ultimately derive their authority from beliefs as to what is harmful.
Downey goes some way to tackle the Lekter factor. His hero’s morality is thus based not just on any old whimsical desires a body might have, but on love. It is right and good to follow our hearts, to be guided by our desires. But the major and highly disputable premise is that we will all wish to act with love. Well, that’s still no problem for Hannibal Lekter. He just loves eating people!
According to Red, “The moral struggle is not between good and evil, right and wrong, but self and society.” But “society” is not just government, it is not just authority telling us what to do. It is us, as well as them. It speaks volumes about our alienation in modern society that we lose sight of this. Other people – friends, family, lovers, colleagues – all want subjective “good” things that differ both subtly and drastically from one person to another. The way out of the problems this creates is the mutually advantageous resort to reason and, yes, moral principle. This need not result in the tightly defined codes and rules that are the authoritarian’s paradise. It does not imply God-given fundamental truths as to what is good, but rather a consensus of shared feelings between all the interested parties – a consensus that is easier to achieve in small communities, albeit less universal and more questionable on that account as well.
So the Nietschzean “will to power” is not enough. And we all know how disastrous the philosophy of “will” was to become in the hands of the Nazis, when it was extended from individual self- actualisation to the collective will of the “Aryan race” and the glorification of the German Reich. Compared to Hitler, Hannibal Lekter is just a lovable eccentric!
Rather than stepping onto the slippery slope that begins with the “will to power” and ends with Triumph of the Will, world war and genocide, we should admit that moral discipline is necessary. That doesn’t mean we cannot aspire to a triumph of the willy (and fanny!) It just means we must be vigilant in challenging our own rationalisations.
LOTTERY-LEVEL WIN FOR COMPO KID
The Los Angeles Times reports that a former student who impregnated a California high-school teacher at the age of 17 has received a $6 million compensation settlement from the school district.
But compensation for what? For being a teenager over the age of consent (over the British AOC at least) who was lucky enough to have a consensual relationship with a young woman who is now 29?
They have to be joking don’t they? If this is victimhood, there must be millions of teenage boys (and younger!) who would bust their asses for a part of it.
Yet this is what Vince Finaldi, a lawyer for the unnamed “victim”, reportedly said about the astronomical damages award:
“The size of this settlement represents the gravity of the damage done to this young victim and his family and it also highlights the extreme malfeasance and neglect by school officials who turned a blind eye to the criminal conduct of a teacher and failed to protect a student.”
No evidence as to the “damage” done to the now 21-year-old “victim” is presented in the LA Times story, which is otherwise quite lengthy. Arguably, the baby could be considered collateral “damage” of the relationship. Nothing was said about who will be bearing the cost of the child’s upbringing but the “victim” has joint custody with the mother. This financial burden could account for part of the settlement, but $6 million? The infant could have gold-plated diapers for that sort of money, and more than enough for a decent upbringing through to college graduation.