A couple weeks ago, the philosopher Edward Feser–despite all I’ve written about him, I can’t call him my rival or nemesis, because he doesn’t know I exist–wrote a blog entry titled, “Psychoanalyzing the Sexual Revolutionary.” In that essay, he argues that “sexual revolutionaries”–those who see nothing wrong with homosexual sex, or trans people, or just non-procreative or extramarital sex generally (for instance, a married couple using contraception, or a boyfriend and girlfriend having sex)–have never proven that traditional sexual morality, which condemns those things, is actually wrong. Thus, Feser concludes that many sexual revolutionaries, especially given how supposedly “shrill” and “intolerant” they’ve become, are actually motivated by personal failings–psychological dysfunctions–rather than reason or objective evidence.
A few years ago, I might have agreed with Feser. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I used to take a lot of homophobic positions to piss people off when I was younger (among other things), and most of the people I sparred with were what Feser would call “sexual revolutionaries.” However, as you can tell from that previous post, I’ve rejected even tongue-in-cheek homophobia and have come to the exact opposite conclusion: that hating on gay and trans folks is stupid and, more importantly, ultimately contrary to my own self-interest. Ironically enough, you can find the reason why in one of the “psychological dysfunctions” Feser thinks he’s identified in his blog entry. But as I hope to prove, it’s not actually a psychological factor or dysfunction–it’s just good sense.
To understand why, let’s first look at and dismiss two of the “psychological factors” Feser says motivates the “sexual revolutionary,” at least in my individual case. He identified three in total, and the third is the only one that comes close to applying to me.
First, Feser says that many “sexual revolutionaries” are blinded by lust. Ostensibly, gay folks, or anyone who really likes having extramarital sex at all, are so horny they can’t rationally understand that any sex that doesn’t lead to children within the bounds of (preferably holy) matrimony “is directly contrary to nature’s ends.” Now, I think this is a load of hooey, but that’s a topic for another time (Feser has written extensively on this subject in an essay titled The Perverted Faculty Argument, and I critique that essay very extensively in future writings). Here, it will suffice to say that I’m a straight cis guy, so my acceptance of gay and trans folks can’t be chalked down to any sort of overwhelming sex drive demanding I be okay with buttsex or whatever. According to Feser, my “sexual faculties” are already “properly ordered,” so they can’t be what’s convinced me he’s wrong. I suppose he could argue that my acceptance of extramarital sex of any sort means I actually am consumed by lust, but we’ll get to that in his third “psychological factor.”
The second factor Feser identifies is a sense of inferiority and loathing. According to him, “sexual revolutionaries”–again, that’s gay folks, trans folks, and even heterosexual folks who just don’t want to get married, or who just want to use contraception–know deep in their hearts that it really, truly is the case that sex is only meant to be between a married man and woman for the purposes of having children, that this is as obvious as the fact as 2+2 = 4, and the only reason they deny it is because they’re so messed up or dysfunctional or whatever they can’t live up to that heterosexual ideal. In other words, though they may not admit it, the “sexual revolutionaries” are deeply ashamed of themselves, and in order to alleviate that painful shame, they say it is their opponents who are shameful, that anyone who advocates for traditional morality is a bigot and a hater.
Whatever. I obviously don’t put much stock in all that, but again, that ties into why I think Feser’s “teleological” account of sexuality and his whole Perverted Faculty Argument fails, so I won’t get into it here. Suffice it to say that as a straight guy, I wouldn’t have THAT much trouble getting married and subsequently staying loyal to a woman. So it’s not that sort of “ressentiment” (Feser thinks Nietzsche’s term is accurate here) which has led me to sympathize with the sexual revolutionaries.
If I’m not consumed with lust, or feeling guilty over my failures to uphold supposedly self-evident sexual morality, what possible reason could I have to support gay and trans folks, especially when I used to harry them back in my angry troll days? If I’m a conventionally masculine heterosexual male without any deviant fetishes, doesn’t that make “sexual revolutionaries” my natural enemies?
Not at all, and Feser touches on–but doesn’t quite grok–the reason why with his third “explanation.” Let’s quote large chunks of it this time:
“Why do even many people whose personal sexual behavior is relatively conservative nevertheless strongly object to any insistence that such conservatism ought to be normative?
In part this is simply a consequence of the lazy relativism and sentimentalism that tend to prevail in egalitarian societies. The very idea that any one way of life is better than another, and the prospect of someone’s feelings being hurt if one were to suggest otherwise, become intolerable. (Again, see Plato’s analysis of democracy in the Republic.) Hence even those who prefer to live more conservative lives often won’t let themselves commit the thought-crime of believing that it is morally better to do so.
But I would suggest that there is more to it than that… tolerance of more recherché sexual vices allows those whose vices are more humdrum to build a “fence” of permissibility around them…If even really extreme things are not prohibited, then it is less likely that more mundane things will be prohibited. For example, traditional sexual morality condemns fornication as well as transsexualism, but it regards the latter as more directly contrary to nature than the former. Hence if even the latter comes to be seen as permissible, it will be that much easier to justify the former.”
Now, to defend egalitarianism generally would require a post all its own, so that can also be left for another time. It will suffice here to note that an acceptance of many different ways of life is not “lazy sentimentalism.” Quite the opposite–simple practicality. Feser’s knock on egalitarianism comes largely from Plato and Aristotle. To describe every aspect of their belief system would again take more time than I can afford, so here’s a capsule summary: P and A believed that people were unequal and some were just suited to rule. They also believed that certain pursuits were just inherently better than others. Both of them believed “contemplation,” that is to say, doing philosophy, was the highest human pursuit. Philsophers thought doing philosophy made them better than everyone else? Quelle surprise. Plato thought that it was the philosophers who should rule over everyone else as “philosopher-kings,” and while Aristotle was a little more down to earth, he did believe that philosophy was the highest pursuit and should garner the most respect in any given society.
Alas, it seems to me that both those guys were forgetting a little something. However much would-be philosopher-kings like Plato and Aristotle might have wanted to feel superior to everyone around them, even they would admit (grudgingly or not) that their “better ways of life” absolutely require a wide variety of supposedly “inferior” ones. A society where everyone just sat around “contemplating the good” would starve to death mired in its own shit sooner rather than later–someone’s gotta grow the food, maintain the sewers, and generally perform a very wide range of activities beyond “philosophy.” Even if one were to doggedly assert that the philosopher’s life is objectively and necessarily better than all others, simple pragmatism demands you accept that the life of the construction worker or farmer or sanitation worker is, if not noble, and if not suited to “philosopher-kings,” at the very least acceptable for at least some members of society.
The same reasoning applies to sexuality. I might live the life of a (relatively) sexually conservative heterosexual man. I think it’s obvious that such a life is best suited to me personally, but even if I were to argue that such a way of life was *objectively* superior to all others (and I don’t believe this), it wouldn’t follow that even “inferior” ways of living would be completely worthless, entirely unacceptable, or ought to be circumscribed. Rather, it would be the case that the gay lifestyle would be appropriate for those of a different psychological makeup than I, or a libertine heterosexual life for other straight men with higher sex drives than mine. Even if my way of life were the best of all (and again, I don’t believe it is; it’s just best for *me*), the gay or libertine lifestyles would still have a place in society. The libertine could give me advice on becoming attractive to women even if I just wanted to marry only one, the gay dude could give me home decor tips, and so on, and so forth. Yeah, these are humorous examples, but they illustrate a serious point: Egalitarianism has a worthy friend in pragmatism. At the very least, you can’t deny there’s more to recommend it than just sentimentalism or “ressentiment.” Thus, Feser’s little knock on egalitarianism doesn’t really work as a proof that the sexually liberated life ought to be discouraged, even if (and that’s a BIG if) we agree it’s inferior to a conservative one.
All that is a little more abstract, though, and I came around to that sort of thinking only some time after I’d already rejected all forms of homophobia. The more immediate reason I eventually came around to an armistice with the “sexual revolutionaries” had more to do with the second point Feser brought up, namely that tolerance of more “extreme vices” increases tolerance of mundane ones.
As I’ve said before, my homophobia was largely ironic, more intended towards pissing off “SJWs” (as they’d be called today) than anything else, but at the end of my troll days, I began taking a closer look at the people who held such beliefs un-ironically, and I noticed that they were a very loony bunch–to put it *very* mildly. In fact, I realized that those sorts of people who would have been allies against “SJWs” actually represented a legitimate threat to me and my ability to live happily. As a heterosexual man, I quite enjoyed, and still enjoy, my sexual freedom: If I were so inclined, I could happily enjoy the company of women of any race (white, Asian, black, whatever) without worrying about getting lynched like Emmett Till (based on a false accusation, no less). If I wanted to sleep with any of them, so long as I earned their consent we could have a good time without worrying about anyone’s angry father (either mine or hers) causing trouble. And if I didn’t want to bother with any of that, there was always Pornhub and Rosy Palms. Of course, complete chastity was and is an option–nothing keeping me from spending a night reading rather than seducing or fapping. But the fact that I had so many options was a big reason I was pretty happy those days.
The problem is, the anti-SJWs around me, the sorts of people Feser would say were true and sane traditionalists, hated the freedoms I enjoyed every bit as much as they genuinely hated gays (and trans people). Christian conservatives (Protestant and Catholic) inveighed against porn and extramarital sex, and places like Liberty University made even their heterosexual students live under a pretty burdensome code of conduct, limiting how you could interact with the opposite sex and what you could watch online. And that’s not even going into how more extreme right-wingers, ranging from Klansmen to neo-nazis, thought “miscegenation” was just as bad as “sodomy.” I wasn’t nor am I currently interested in any white women, but as I said, I take my freedom quite seriously. The thought of one of my erstwhile “allies” putting up a burning cross in front of my house if I ever found a worthy partner who just happened to be EVROPAN ™ was enough to make me think I really needed to find better allies. And whaddya know, after giving up the anti-SJW schtick, I found a whole bunch of much better allies–men and women of all races, some gay, some straight, but all of whom with a much healthier interest in my well-being than right-wingers generally. At the very least, none of the “degenerates” I associate with now would put me to death having sex on a date, marrying a woman of a different race, or even just fapping once a week if I had nothing better to do (and given how busy I am with reading and writing these days, that’s not very often).
Or, in other words, rather than lust or guilt or some other psychological factor, my motives for going over to the side of the sexual revolutionaries were entirely rational and pragmatic: The “revolutionaries” were far less opposed to my self-interest, that is to say, my ability to enjoy myself as a happy bachelor, than the traditionalists and conservatives. So I simply made the rational decision to support the revolutionaries and abandon virulent anti-SJWism. Nothing more than that.
Now, Feser would say I’m still a thrall of “lust,” if not guilt. “Hah hah hah,” he might gloat, “you haven’t proved me wrong! I’m still exactly right! Remember what I said: ‘the “bourgeois bohemian’ progressive expands the boundaries of what is permissible to safeguard the milder sexual vices that are what he really cares about.’ In your case, you just don’t want to admit that fornication and onanism really are vices, so you defend the greater vices of sodomy and transgenderism to avoid facing your irrationality!”
Well…not quite. Go back and re-read the third paragraph before this one. For the purposes of argument, I’ll concede that fapping and premarital sex really are vices. But there was one thing I mentioned that even Feser wouldn’t consider a vice at all: Miscegenation. As he’s written before (specifically on page 58 of The Last Superstition), “[b]eing a rational animal is…the essence or substantial form of a human being; having black or white skin is not part of this essence.” The difference between essential and accidental properties is a little more involved (see this entry for more), but suffice it to say here that Feser, like me, thinks that race is more or less metaphysically meaningless and that it’s perfectly acceptable and “in accordance with reason” to have heterosexual sex with someone of a different race as long as you’re married and don’t use contraception. That is to say, he’d consider the Klansman and the neo-nazi’s prohibition on miscegenation to be stupid, and agree with me that such a thing should be permitted.
But interracial love isn’t the only “rational” practice conservatives have forbid. Some of Feser’s co-religionists have declared that *any* sexual activity besides penis-in-vagina intercourse, *even within a heterosexual marriage,* are out of bounds! As he laments in the footnote on page 402 of Neo-Scholastic Essays, some moralists have condemned stimulating one’s partner with one’s mouth or one’s hands, despite Feser saying “such stimulation can enhance a couple’s delight in one another and in their marital relations.” Even worse, there’s at least one Catholic theologian who has condemned having sex at all with one’s lawful wife! As St. Jerome said,
“The same Apostle in another place commands us to pray always. If we are to pray always, it follows that we must never be in the bondage of wedlock, for as often as I render my wife her due, I cannot pray…If we abstain from intercourse, we give honour to our wives: if we do not abstain, it is clear that insult is the opposite of honour.”
However unseemly “sexual revolutionaries” may be, Feser’s fellow conservatives have views which are even more extreme, as St. Jerome demonstrates. If you’re gonna tell me that extramarital sex and/or masturbation are wrong, you’ve got to at least permit me the joys of marital sex, if only to ensure more children are produced and the human race doesn’t go extinct. But if your fellows like St. Jerome can’t even allow me that, and seem to condemn other behaviors which are harmless even by your own metaphysics (like interracial marriage or going down on your wife), all of the sudden the sexual revolutionaries don’t seem so bad. Even if I wasn’t “consumed with lust,” even if I had no desire at all to fap or have premarital sex, even if the only thing I wanted to do was have sex with my lawfully wedded wife and nothing else, I’d still be better off supporting the revolutionaries, because at least they wouldn’t keep me from bedding her like St. Jerome would.
Let me put it more directly. Feser’s problem isn’t that he’s wrong, it’s that he’s only half right. It’s true–I’ve come to defend the “recherche vices” of homo and trans-sexuality so that my more mundane vices of onanism and fornication will remain safe. But Feser didn’t finish the sentence: I defend my mundane vices so that things which are clearly not vices–love across racial lines, and in fact heterosexual physical intimacy, period–remain safe. If one allows gay sex, it is harder to forbid fornication and onanism, and if it is harder to forbid fornication and onanism, it is extremely hard to forbid happy physical intimacy between a heterosexually married couple.
Yes, you could say that defending vices in order to defend innocent pleasures is a pretty roundabout way of doing things. Regardless, when you take this into account, Feser can’t accuse me of being “enthralled to lust:” My “bizzarro pharisaism” as Feser would say, has its ultimate end in defending innocuous behavior, not just “vice,” and is therefore rational (in Feser’s sense), or at least not as entirely irrational and “enslaved to the passions” as he implies.
To Feser’s credit, he might admit this too–as he says at the end of his essay, “I am not saying that the three psychological tendencies I’ve identified…are at work in absolutely everyone with more liberal views about sexual morality,” and “[arguments in defense of the sexual revolution] need to be (and can be) answered on their own terms, entirely independently of the motivations of or psychological influences on those who make them.” Very nice of him. But the purpose of this essay I’ve written isn’t to outrightly deny everything Feser said, it’s to use one point he brought up as a springboard to talk about a much stronger, direct argument for sexual liberalism (namely a rational, detached assessment of my long-term self-interest as a normal heterosexual man). And if guys like Feser really want to triumph over the “sexual revolutionaries,” they’re gonna have to work on getting guys like me back on their side.
A last word, I suppose, for the Twitter tradcaths. Should any of them ever chance upon this entry, they’ll dismiss it with more tiresome accusations of me being “enslaved by my animal passions” and/or being a subhuman non-Aryan untermensch. The latter can be dismissed with a laugh-if I’m a soulless subhuman, why do you care if I adhere to your sexual morality? You’re gonna put me in a gas chamber (or try to, at least) anyways no matter what I do, so there’s no rational reason for me to be concerned with anything you say or think. The more egalitarian among you deserve a little more consideration. First you’ll say that “sexual conservatism” will save me from hellfire. Look, you’ll first have to convince me not only that Pure Act ™ exists but that He/It is interested in human affairs (Aristotle thought It wasn’t) and actually considers libertinism to be a violation of my Final Cause or whatever. Yeah, I know you think you can do that, but you have to admit you actually need to put in some effort to succeed, and we can hash that out in another entry.
The second consideration is more practical–as I’ve implied all throughout this entry, you ask a lot of straight guys. I mean normal straight guys of all races, even white ones or those who don’t watch porn as much as I do, and ironically enough, I partake of that vice a lot less than some of you, like this unfortunate guy from 4chan:
In any case, you might be able to draw some of us to your side by proclaiming that “sexual revolutionaries” want to turn us all gay or trans or whatever, and that if we join you we’ll be able to have “submissive wives” and 2.5 kids in a nice house with a white picket fence. The problem is, as I implied above, it seems like you “traditionalists” want to turn us into celibate ascetics, which isn’t really very appealing to the typical man you want to recruit. It’s no good offering us “stable families” in response to the “sexual revolutionaries” if the example of St. Jerome tells us you’re going to turn around and start screaming about how even sex between a husband and wife is “degenerate.” So you need to offer us some assurance that you people aren’t actually that crazy. Good luck with that.