Monday, March 31, 2008

I can still run for president

I asked our Courage chaplain last week whether there were any videos of his preaching floating around the Internet that could become an embarrassment for me when I run for higher office. Fortunately, he told me, there's only this:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My favorite lesbian atheist

I only read the leftist cyber-rag Salon once a month ... on the Wednesday that Camille Paglia's column runs. In fact (stopped clock alert!!!) Andrew Sullivan said the following last year:
Sorry, I can't help it. Like many non-lefty homos, I just can't get enough Camille (as enraged former New Republic readers in the 1990s will recall).
I've never met a man like myself (regardless of how we react to our same-sex attraction) who doesn't absolutely love her combination of erudition and bitchiness. Here she is this week on the Hillary "it's 3am ... do you trust" ad:
Would I want Hillary answering the red phone in the middle of the night? No, bloody not. The White House first responder should be a person of steady, consistent character and mood -- which describes Obama more than Hillary. And that scare ad was produced with amazing ineptitude. If it's 3 a.m., why is the male-seeming mother fully dressed as she comes in to check on her sleeping children? Is she a bar crawler or insomniac? An obsessive-compulsive housecleaner, like Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest"? And why is Hillary sitting at her desk in full drag and jewelry at that ungodly hour?
If you're familiar with her talk-show performances, you can just *hear* her say this. This is what makes Paglia such a singular writer: she writes as she speaks. But to why I post about her here now, I was recently rereading her book "Sex, Art and American Culture," which includes her brilliant essay "The Joy of Presbyterian Sex." But the thing I found inspiring this time was from a speech she gave at MIT, in which she crystallizes, from the other end of the sexual-morality spectrum, how uncritical the acceptance of a link between same-sex attraction and "gay identity" has been:
Now, you know what I hate? This thing of, say you have a man who's married, he has children, and maybe every month or every few weeks he goes out and picks up a guy. Today, in this fascist environment it's "you're gay! You're gay and you're secretly homophobic! You are self-loathing! You are hiding behind the mask of respectability!" What if he's just married and likes to sleep with men now and then? ...
I don't like the situation because right now it's bad for gay people! Right now, people are afraid. Often, a woman is afraid to go to bed with another woman because she's afraid that if she does that, even though she's attracted to her, she'll be "gay"; she'll have to have an identity crisis, be gay and all that other stuff. Why? I'm influenced by the great foreign films of the Late Fifties and Sixties where you had Catherine Deneuve and Jeanne Moreau and Dominique Sanda floating from bed to bed with a man, then with a woman, then with a man, then with a woman. ...
In terms of my history, you know, for a long while in my life I felt that, well, I have to be gay, because I'm so attracted to women, but then in a way it's living a lie, because then I have to repress my attactions to men. So after a while I thought, well, why do I have to give myself any label? Why can't I just respond from day to day and just go with the flow in the Sixties way? ...
It reminds me a little bit of Holly Woodlawn, the great Warhol drag queen, who was on an early Geraldo show. And Geraldo said to Holly Woodlawn: "are you like, a man who should be a woman, or are you a woman who was a man, or are you a man/woman?" And Holly Woodlawn said, "Oh — who care? As long as you look fabulous!"
Obviously, Paglia is not a champion of Catholic sexual morality (though her relationship to it is mature and ambivalent, not hate-filled and infantile like so many of today's gays). But she's making an important point about sexual identity, how it's actually repressive and constricting, even to someone like her who thinks homosexual acts are not immoral. She refuses to be boxed in and sees her true liberation as moving beyond gay identity. She had feelings, but asserted her freedom not to be defined by them (though she's certainly acted on them).

Honestly, and counterintuitive though it may seem ... Camille Paglia, "a bisexual radical libertarian and fulltime scold of the feminist establishment" (to quote Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes, from memory) and Andrew Sullivan helped me get through American universities in the early 90s, at the height of political correctness and about the time I was starting to become fully conscious of "That." Though neither could be called an orthodox Catholic, they both kept me away from the gay establishment of a time when I might have been quite vulnerable to it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Spitzer scandal

This conversation took place after a Confession in which I had acknowledged abusing myself three times in the previous 24 hours (reconstructed from the best of my recollection). Father's penance involved a devotion to Mother Teresa, the saint of the darkness and spiritual dryness.

FATHER: A treadmill can be gotten off.
(long pause)
ME: You heard about the New York governor today?
HIM: Yes.
(long pause)
HIM: And you're afraid of the same thing.¹
ME: Yes. I didn't want to say it during Confession so as not to come across as making excuses.
HIM: It puts it in context.
(long pause)
ME: I got a call on my cell today from a prostitute I hired a year ago -- unsolicited, not a call-back.
(long pause)
ME: Big etiquette violation on his part.
(Father nods)
HIM: Might be a setup; delete the number from your phone.
ME: Oh, I've already done so, believe me! I've not even close to being tempted. No way, not now.
(CM lets out some mordant, sarcastic laughter)
ME: Wonderful. That's how perverse I am. I'll resist sin if I fear getting caught.
HIM: That's not the best reason, but it'll do.²

Now to repeat, I am not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not not (is that enough "not"s) "blaming" Elliot Spitzer for such a hard fall. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

As Father said, I had been gutted by fear and not for the first time, and I responded in one of the ways people do -- seeking to medicate and forget through escapist private vice (drunkenness and drugs are other examples). I confess that I don't see exactly how, or even whether, this situation would be covered in any of the classic Nine Ways of Being an Accessory.³ And obviously "hey, the New York governor bought a prostitute, so I will too"⁴ is not a self-conscious thought process many people go through.

But the effect of Spitzer's whoremongering on me is, I think, illustrative of how all sin is social and how there is no such thing, ultimately, as a "completely private act." Your acts, everything that you do, becomes a part of the world that everyone else lives in and thus influences everybody else and in ways over which you have no control. Admittedly this next is a greater concern for public figures than other person, but at the end of the day, you can't even really have any knowledge of that influence, only the knowledge that it's there somehow.

I don't expect Elliot Spitzer to care whether he raised anxiety levels in others who have purchased prostitutes or encouraged the masturbatory response -- he has many more-pressing and important-to-him concerns. To make an obviously imperfect bawdy analogy, it's like pissing in the pool. Everybody knows and understands that you can't just pee in your own end. Obviously, one person's discreet whizz is hardly noticeable in any discrete way. But we still know that it circulates, and, if diseased, can infect anyone anywhere in the pool.

The meaning of the term "scandal" has changed. Now it just means "the public fracas over a celebrated person's wrongdoing, often in the personal or private (certainly non-official) sphere." But in the past, as in the phrase "giving scandal," "scandal" meant "the encouragement of bad acts/thoughts in others." And in that sense, Spitzer's purchasing prostitutes, though it may be a "victimless crime" in the sense that bourgeois libertarians imagine -- it is, truly, scandalous. And thus not victimless.
¹ I'm not even close to being a public figure, so fears at the level of "front page of the New York Times" are completely irrational. Lesser forms of outing ... not so.
² Father has told me in more than one other context that I shouldn't worry so much over doing things for not-the-noblest of motivations.
³ "By counsel. By concealment. By command. By partaking. By consent. By silence. By provocation. By defense of the ill done. By praise or flattery." As I say ... not clear if this fits any example.
Or as Chris Rock put it apropos of Marion Barry: "How you gonna tell little kids to not get high, when the mayor's on crack. 'Don't get high, you won't be nothing.' / 'I can be mayor'."