Is this or is this not a strange combination?
Recently, Carl Trueman, a professor of Biblical and Religious Studies at Grove City College, released Strange New World, a study of contemporary notions of identity, with emphasis on the Sexual Revolution. The book is a condensation of his earlier book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, which was a volume of the sort reviewers in the Legacy Media often call a “surprise best-seller.” Strange New World is trending in the ”surprise best-seller” direction as well. I’ve just ordered a copy, so I can’t yet comment on the book. However, the subject matter is inherently worthy of pondering.
Why, considering how absolutely uniform the sexual capacities of our bodies have remained these past half-million years, should notions of individuality bear on sex in any way or to any degree? Is there anything sexual – indeed, anything physical — that any one person’s body can do that no one else can do? My expertises don’t include human anatomy or physiology, so perhaps my Gentle Readers should discount my opinion. That having been said, it doesn’t strike me as likely.
Perhaps my conception of individuality is too far off-axis to see the connection. In my view, one has individuated when one accepts full responsibility for himself, his choices, and whatever might proceed from them. Yet the most radical sexual “innovators” – we’ll get back to that notion – are often prominent in the mobs screaming for other people, including governments, to save them from the consequences of their actions. That doesn’t scream individuality to me.
Yet there’s no separating the sexual radicals from the contemporary phenomenon of identity politics. How did this come to be? Why have so many thousands of people, mostly assumed competent to cross the street without a minder, chosen to define themselves according to their sexual proclivities – and to allow that self-definition to circumscribe the rest of their existences, including their political choices?
I’ve known a few from every category…in some cases, without being aware that I did. The majority of those acquaintances were disturbing. Some were extremely so. Yet my belated discovery of their sexual choices has usually explained what it was about them that had twisted them.
Self-definition is a powerful thing. Most of us do it consciously to some extent. Consider the prevalent practice of telling a new acquaintance that “I’m a [insert occupation here].” As our occupations do consume a great part of our adult lives, the tendency to self-define in that manner is fairly easy to understand. What we seldom pause to contemplate is the persistence of that self-definition.
For example: For the past seven years I’ve been a writer of fiction, non-fiction, and opinion: nothing else. I’ve said so in my most recent encounters with new acquaintances. More than half the time my interlocutor will ask “Do you actually make your living that way?” I usually chuckle and demur…which immediately evokes the follow-up question “So what did you do before this?”
(It says something elusive about our cultural matrix that no one has yet accepted that I once destabilized the governments of Third World countries on contract. Clearly, the general level of credulity is not what it could be.)
I’m sure many other retired persons, happy and adequately occupied by their retirement vocations, could tell a similar story. When so many people self-define according to how they earn their daily bread, the tendency to assess others in the same fashion must be strong. We do tend to map our own mental models onto others. But my main point is the power of self-definition, not merely in how we see ourselves, but in how others are likely to see us.
What follows are purely my opinions. Don’t be afraid to differ with them. However, they seem a good fit to the trends. Why else would I be slathering you with them?
Given the immense power of self-definition, it strikes me as extraordinarily limiting, even belittling, to define oneself according to one’s sexual preferences. Yet there are substantial numbers of persons – the majority of whom are presumed sane and competent – who do exactly that. It makes no more sense to me than defining oneself according to one’s dietary preferences…though there are numerous persons who do that, too. (Q: How can you tell if your new acquaintance is a vegan? A: Don’t worry; he’ll tell you.) As icing on the cake, it’s as irrelevant to one’s value to others.
The only worthwhile measure of a man is how he deals with events. Is he calm and confident? Is he anxious, or nervous? How much forethought does he give to his decisions? Does he respond to the unexpected smoothly and without undue disturbance, or does he “run in circles, scream and shout?” Are his responses usually adequate? In the aftermath, is he given to critiquing and learning from his own behavior? Does he routinely seek help…or demand it? If he subscribes to a standard of any sort, what kind of event, if any, would make him depart from it?
Time was, among the highest compliments one man could pay another was to call him “a good man in a storm.” It was a favorite of my Navy veteran father’s. I maintain that one’s individuality, however conceived, ultimately matters less than how one “weathers the storms.” He who self-defines according to how he employs his genitals is unlikely to do well in a storm. His obsession will expose him to storms the rest of us won’t face and will leave him unready for them. That having been said, he might be the man to ask about which nearby clinics give out free Preparation H or penicillin.
“Q: How can you tell if your new acquaintance is a vegan? A: Don’t worry; he’ll tell you.”
For some reason it’s the same for people who don’t own a television.