Thursday, November 28, 2013

Series Post--It Takes Three: Solipsistically Enslaved

Once again via the social networking grapevine, I read the following article, entitled A little note to my younger self about sex and relationships by a Dr. Ruthie Neustifter, faculty at University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Somewhat disturbingly, Dr. Ruthie's areas of expertise include "a doctoral degree in Child & Family Development with specializations in Couples and Family Therapy and Qualitative Research".

I will quote a few snippets of the article:
 "Everyone has a right to pleasure and joy, as well as the responsibility to pursue it in ways that don’t inflict negativity on others. And that means that we each have the right to expect others not to hurt us as part of their own pursuits."
"We can each define gender for ourselves, and should respect others’ definitions of how they wish to live their own genders."
"Virginity can’t be lost because it doesn’t even exist. Try thinking of it all as a natural, normal process of human sexual development that includes many different experiences with ourselves and with partners over time."
"Very few people will be a good fit for a longterm relationship with you, and that’s ok. Enjoy yourselves and grow during the time you have together, then part ways as positively as possible when the natural end of the relationship happens. Try to leave each other better than you found each other, if at all possible. Don’t cling to a relationship that met its natural end already."
I'm currently enrolled in a grad school class which is covering Puritan and Transcendental American Lit. It occurred to me that transcendentalism, puritanism, and modern culture all have one huge, corrosive thing in common: selfishness predicated in the name of freedom.  A selfishness so complete, and so utterly and greedily consuming that it is compelled to create an entirely new world to validate the horror and revolting realities that would otherwise be apparent.
  • The Puritan cleavage from Protestant England was a result of their belief in a personal interpretation of Scripture, and a personal experience of God, the absolute Truth of which would transcend individual human frailty and unite the priesthood of believers by leading them all to the same conclusion.  
  • The Transcendentalists removed "God" and "Scripture" from the equation, and the definition of belief now read "a personal interpretation of a personal experience of absolute Truth, which would transcend individual human frailty and unite all by leading them to the same conclusion". 
  • Finally, modern American culture has removed the "absolute Truth'", which leaves us with "a personal interpretation of personal experience". Aka, relativism, or the 'the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute'. In layman's terms: anything goes, as long as you feel good about it.
So what does this depressing trajectory have to do with the specific article I was addressing, or with sex/relationships?

Look at where the dignity of the human person fits within each dynamic:
  • Only some matter: In the Puritan worldview, every person was valuable insofar as he/she authentically and correctly interpreted their encounter with the Divine.  Due to the belief in the utter depravity of sinful human nature, grace was believed to be offered to some, but not all, to enable them to have that encounter in the first place. 
  • Only one matters: Transcendental theorists like Emerson and Thoreau argued for the removal of the distinction between the individual and the Divine. Everyone was Divine, if they engendered an authentic participation in the world around them, embracing the present moment fully.  In this dynamic, while human dignity--or rather human divinity--was considered to be potentially universal, there was no personal accountability to respect others, because the focus was on the Self-Divine. 
  • Only you matter (right?): Now, with the removal of the Divine, of personal accountability and of appreciation for human dignity, we are left with nothing but fallible experience/experimentation and subjective pleasure. In a worldview that is utterly relative and turned inward on the centrality of individual experience, anything and everything goes as long as it makes you [the individual] happy. (And happiness simply means surface-level pleasure, physical or emotional...aka, arbitrary and transitory)
Of course, the catch for the last one, for our modern world, is that if you've devalued everyone around you, chances are, you've devalued yourself.  Nobody that truly 'loves himself' does not love his neighbor, and vice versa.  The great lie of modern culture is that it prizes individuality and self-sufficiency/self-interest. If it's all about you and your pleasure, then all it really is about is pleasure's enslavement of you. In a culture that is repulsed by Puritan morality because it was 'too limiting', we are more in bondage then they ever were.

This relates specifically to Dr. Neustifter's article because her whole message is that sexual fulfillment is the primary component of a relationship, and that it is a universal right, regardless of your state in life, and regardless of who you use or damage along the way. "Try to leave each other better than you found each other, if at all possible", she says. Her pseudo-apologetic tone suggests that the best you can do as you bulldoze over someone else in your blind pursuit of your own [impermanent, never satiated] pleasure is to try not to destroy someone else's psyche, heart, life, etc. 

But didn't she also say this? "And that means that we each have the right to expect others not to hurt us as part of their own pursuits."  How can you simultaneously expect others to look out for you while also assuming that most relationships consist of two people using each other selfishly "during the time you have together"? 

On the other hand, there's a very different kind of mentality to consider:"Friendship, as has been said, consists in a full commitment of the will to another person with a view to that person's good.” (Pope John Paul II)

Friendship. Not even a relationship, but friendship, asks us to put aside ourselves for someone else. Friendship asks us to 'lay down our lives for our friends'. How much more serious should be a relationship? But Dr. Neustifter says "Enjoy yourselves."

I don't know about you, but I'll take the friendships and the relationship(s) that look out for my best interest, not ones that consist of a gladiator-style emotional battle for how much temporary pleasure we can exact from each other.

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