|Illumination by Loyset Liédet for the Roman de la Violette of Gerbert de Momtreuil, 15th century. Pinterest.|
Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, once again dipping his toe into the waters of crazy, monarchists and Falangists, unreconstructed bigots ("What happens if the bigoted sometimes get things right?"), and now ("The Redistribution of Sex") the involuntary celibates, basement-dwelling boys who have been going all Martin Luther King about their civil right to get laid ("I have a dream tonight, that my two little balls will be cherished not for the smoothness of my dating profile but for the smartness of this interesting argument I just came up with...") and on a couple of occasions literally murdering people to express their disappointment that others don't see things the same way:
Which brings me to the sex robots.
Well, actually, first it brings me to the case of Robin Hanson, a George Mason economist, libertarian and noted brilliant weirdo. Commenting on the recent terrorist violence in Toronto, in which a self-identified “incel” — that is, involuntary celibate — man sought retribution against women and society for denying him the fornication he felt that he deserved, Hanson offered this provocation: If we are concerned about the just distribution of property and money, why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous?It's a "provocation"! Not saying the killer did the right thing, just saying he had an interesting point?
So there are plenty of good takes out there on this obscenity, especially from Steve M and the VacuumSlayer, who point out in different ways that Douthat's real agenda here is to argue not that it's not inherently ridiculous, but that it's inherently liberal, the thing we all secretly believe, with our wicked language about equality, though we're too hypocritical to admit it.
That is, a classic (I'd say Dominican-rather-than-Jesuitical because all the Jesuits are my homeys nowadays) reductio: You libs want to share everything, right? Spread the wealth around! So you obviously must want to spread around the sex too, and if you don't you're just an incoherent poser. Or, alternatively, you'll admit that I'm right and the government-forced sharing of stuff is actually immoral, and indeed un-Christian QED.
Which is obviously my irresistible cue to say, no, kids, as a matter of fact, this concept of redistributing the enjoyment of sex with the ostensible aim of making it fairer is a completely rightwing, reactionary notion.
In the first place, note that the phrase "redistribution of sex" doesn't make any sense, and clearly isn't what these people mean. Sex isn't a commodity like fuel or food, it's an activity. You wouldn't talk about a redistribution of eating.
What they're actually talking about is a redistribution of partners, which overwhelmingly means women. Douthat deliberately confuses the issue by making a reference to the philosopher Amia Srinivasan, who has written about the possibility of a "right to sex" for those who are treated as unattractive or ineligible in our superficial and patriarchal culture (and decided that no, there is no such right), but the basement boys are demanding women, to submit to them and stop being such little bitches about it. They're talking about women as a public good, a commodity in inadequate supply, and asking for a fairer system of allocating it to the consumers, i.e., men.
An idea for which there is a pretty well-known precedent in, I don't know, most of the past eight or ten thousand years of human history, in which the practice of sex and child-rearing was governed in practically all societies by mechanisms for the "exchange of women", as Claude Lévi-Strauss called it in his Elementary Structures of Kinship, 1949, the first and still most important "framework for treating the oppression of women as a social construct rather than a matter of biology" (Wikipedia).
These systems were efficient methods of making sure most people found partners, but they never entirely covered sexual reality, if only because some boys and girls will fall in love from time to time in ways that haven't been prefigured for them, and some people just can't live within the constrictions of it at all, and over the last three or four centuries they have been giving way all over the world to a kind of generalized anarchy in which each of us is responsible for creating our own accommodations with partners who select each other independently from the social order (when I got to Singapore in the 1980s it was still common to hear the expression "free love" for marrying without the services of a matchmaker paid by one's parents). With attendant dangers of its own, as Douthat remarks,
because like other forms of neoliberal deregulation the sexual revolution created new winners and losers, new hierarchies to replace the old ones, privileging the beautiful and rich and socially adept in new ways and relegating others to new forms of loneliness and frustration.Though he gets the date wrong, I guess, assigning the change to the 1960s when it began much earlier and was pretty complete in Western Europe and North America by the late 19th century. Not what he calls "Hefnerism", really (which is all chopped up and blurred in Douthat's mind with the dormroom experimentation of his college years, and the nightmare of Chunky Reese, goings-on that would in any case hardly have startled William Shakespeare, who was 18 when he married an already pregnant, 26-year-old Anne Hathaway), but Austenism, the belief that Lizzie and Darcy can find each other across the class boundaries, the promise of rewards so great that nobody's willing to give up hoping for it.
Once you understand this fairly obvious point, you can see that the plea of the "incels" isn't a loony utopian request for "socialization" of sex, like a kind of government-regulated bonobo society, but exactly what Douthat himself is calling for:
There is an alternative, conservative response, of course — namely, that our widespread isolation and unhappiness and sterility might be dealt with by reviving or adapting older ideas about the virtues of monogamy and chastity and permanence and the special respect owed to the celibate.A situation where every boy who doesn't join a monastery is assigned a girl who can't say no. It's the most conservative thing ever.