fragments of an attempted writing.

sex in reno.

Years ago I was in a small plains state town. Spending the weekend with a friend of a friend. His parents were disciples of Francis Schaeffer, having spent time at L'abri, but at the time I met them they were living a very comfortable middle class life afforded by getting tenure at a private college that apparently paid decently. The home was a large three story brick dealie with beautiful woodwork throughout, books everywhere, we were offered tea on nice china, that sort of song and dance. As one might suspect from Schaefferites, the conversation covered politics, the arts, theology, and had a slightly stilted, formal air to it. The son of the people who owned this home presented himself as a charming, polite, quite civil and well educated young man, and his parents gave every indication of believing that he was with them in terms of belief and posture toward life.

That was at the beginning of the weekend. After spending the obligatory few hours at the parents' home, we left to go to a bar. It was then I discovered that the son's idea of drinking was at least a fifth of vodka a night, with drinking stamina maintained by the occasional line of coke, a little weed for kicks, and stops at a couple of sorority houses to secure other pleasures.

That weekend was odd in certain respects - the rural plain state town in question certainly wasn't where I would have thought to go if I were looking for an intellectual middle class bloke who could really party - but as a general phenomenon this sort of thing has not been all that unusual in my experience. I've seen on any number of occasions kids from conservative bourgeois and petit-bourgeois homes whose parents had absolutely no idea what their kids were into.

That is what immediately came to mind when I read Reno's Public Square Preferential Option for the Poor piece.  (hat tip Aaron via Facebook - and thanks to Samn! for pointing toward this response to Reno).

Reno is following what seems to be an argument making the rounds in many conservative Christian "intellectual" environs of late.  I went at it a bit with Anthony Esolen in the thread of a Touchstonista post he wrote some time ago which argued much the same line as we find from Reno here.

At least with Esolen you have a writer who can, uhm, write.  I have not subscribed to First Things in ages, and have not picked up a copy in perhaps a year and a half.  I visit their website on those occasions I find someone has linked to something that sparks some interest, which is not often anymore.  But I have in the past wondered how the institution of First Things could survive in a post Richard John Neuhaus world.

RJN was a man with whom I disagreed on many things, but he could write.  He had a wit that was intelligent and formidable.  He had a cultivated and flourishing pomposity, one that drove me nuts in the few brief encounters I had with the man, but there was a mirth mixed with it and there was a gravitas to RJN that, shall we say, gave him room to be pompous with at least some justice.

With Reno we get (later in the same Public Square bit) aphorisms such as:

The postmodern vision of peace: If nothing is worth fighting for, then no one will fight. 


The new liberal elite is made up of the very select group of everybody who includes everybody.


To love is more precious than to know. 

Indeed.  I realize not everybody can be a Nicolás Gómez Dávila but hell, I'm glad I am not paying good money to read smug junior high level (well, once upon a time) aphorisms.  And, of course, following in the footsteps of RJN is a sure way to not measure up, but we shouldn't make excuses.

I don't dispute the idea of moral poverty.  My wife and I are going to Wisconsin and Minnesota later this month and we will be staying with my mother-in-law for part of the time we are away.  My mother-in-law lives in a small, quite rural WI town where one still doesn't have to lock doors of house or car.  There is one cop there whose jurisdiction is that little village and another one a few miles down the road.  Plenty of people in those parts are working class folks who have been laid off of late as packing plants and local industry have made cuts.  My mother-in-law is seeing a significant loss to her own income thanks to Gov. Scott Walker, as are a number of people in that area because it is close to the largest prison in the state.  But for whatever reason when people there lose their jobs and income they very, very, very rarely take up robbery or thievery.  Divorce rates there are typical of white midwestern communities.  There is some meth, and a fair amount of alcohol abuse (my wife's hometown village of 850 has 4 taverns; we are talking about WI), and the usual kids getting in trouble over this or that petty thing.  There are a fair amount of single moms.  Most people there live together before getting married these days.  There seems to be a fair amount of adultery, which most everyone knows about because it is a small town.  None of these "vices" is found to the degree we see here in Memphis, but central rural WI also has had (we will see how things go in a post Walker WI) a much more serious social safety net, better public schools, and other social "props" than Shelby County TN has ever had.

There are so many avenues through which one could compare almost entirely white rural WI to urban mostly  African-American Memphis.  The idea that "moral poverty" can explain the social ills of a place like Memphis seems to me to be about as trite as continuing to blame slavery for all of Memphis' ills.  50 years ago most African-American youth in Memphis lived in the same households as their biological fathers.  That isn't at all true today.  I don't think slavery or "moral poverty" come close to being the analytic silver bullet that explains the mess.

But I will continue to view Reno & conservative Christian company as ideologically pure and intellectually disingenuous so long as they acknowledge the class differences with regard to divorce rates and drug use and single motherhood and the like, but at the same time purposefully ignore material explanations for such phenomena.  It would seem that material circumstances must have had something to do with it - can't a Christian mind assent to at least that?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - before any of these Christian conservative intellectuals venture into the question of class and morality (as construed by Christians who admit themselves to be "bourgeois" as Reno does) they should be required to read Owen Chadwick's 2 Volume masterpiece The Victorian Church (link is to volume 1 only).  The situation today with regard to class based participation and non-participation (among whites) in religion is beginning to look more and more like the class/religion demographics seen in Victorian England.

But aside from that Reno's articulation of his thesis (as Esolens did) strikes me as simply petty.  Flamboyantly so.  Take:

Here’s a typical story. A few months ago, a Northwestern University psychology professor invited a sex entrepreneur to speak to his class, and the visit concluded with a sexual performance that, as one newspaper discreetly reported, involved “a woman, a man, and an electric-powered device.” 

Uh, no.  That is not a typical story - it is the typical story.  Just about every conservative commenter in America has told that particular story 20 times since word broke of it.  The vast majority of college students might get exposed to some literature and social science which is arguably hostile to Reno's conception of morally sound family life, but they are not going to get to watch a couple and a vibrator go at it in class.  That remains fairly exceptional.  Some of these social conservatives are with sex like the old Assemblies of God Pentecostal novelist Frank Peretti was with demons - folks, there is not a demon or a Michel Foucault under every single rock.  If only life were so simple.

Reno notes "suburban librarians insisting on the right to view pornography" but fails to state the obvious with regard to pornography today - that it is now largely a new media phenomenon.  And access to new media is very much connected to class.  I suspect that a higher percentage of Memphian children are exposed to pornography under age 10 than children in rural WI, but I'm not sure that the guys in my metal shop, or the guys selling dope down the street from my shop, actually view pornography more than the average suburban male.  

The more avenues you have to the internet the easier it is to get to porn, quickly and consistently.  I remember in the last couple of years when some of the highest paid skilled workers in my shop had just gotten to the point where they could afford phones with high speed internet on them and quality images.  Yes, those guys occasionally watched porn videos and passed along raunchy emails with those phones.  But most of them still did not have the internet on a computer at home.  As far as I know, I am one of 2 guys at my shop who has high speed internet at home - the few others that have internet have dial-up and I have heard at least one of them talk about how his internet is useless with regard to watching porn because of the slow speed.

As a consequence of having gone to bible college many moons ago I have some friends who are in ministry - most of them ministering to middle class whites (even those that start out in other ministries tend to gravitate toward the suburban middle class life once they hit middle age).  One thing I have heard over and over from a number of friends over the past decade or so is that far and away the most common crisis that occurs in the conservative Christian household with spouses younger than age 45 is the wife being shocked to learn that her husband is watching porn, and generally watching a lot of it.  When your life consists of multiple computers at home and work, and lapbooks, Ibooks, smartphones, etc., etc., there is no shortage of avenues to free online porn.  When you read statistics of males using the internet to watch porn, the rates seem to indicate that the vast majority of males who have access to the internet use it for such.  I'm not sure that class is a factor here.  I have one pastor friend in a "thriving" suburban Evangelical church who a couple years back guessed that at least 80% of the adult males in his congregation use the internet to view porn at least once a month, with about half that number doing such most days.  I'd bet he is more or less correct and his figures are in the ballpark of what is found in most conservative petit-bourgeois Christian circles.

Further, as common as infidelity is among working class young people (say under age 45), it still very often leads to a break in relationship, at least for a period of time, or at least that has been my experience in a lifetime of observation.  Having been exposed to both working class and petit-bourgeois worlds, I'm willing to concede that infidelity may occur less in bourgeois environments, but I'm not sure it occurs to such a drastically less degree than divorce does.  In the (petit)bourgeois circles I have been familiar with, though divorce is certainly an option and happens with some frequency (not 50% of bourgeois marriages, but certainly still 25%+), known infidelity often does not lead to divorce.   There are greater social pressures to stay together and more socially accepted (even mandated, we might say) avenues which help prevent divorce.  Petit-bourgeois couples can go get marriage counseling.  They can afford to pay someone to watch their kids and go off on a marriage weekend retreat, that sort of thing.

Further, it is much easier for a petit-bourgeois spouse to not get caught having an affair.  When you work a job which is salary and not hourly, and you have irregular hours as many professions do (lawyer, doctor, executive, business owner, even teacher) you simply have more opportunity to slip away and have a good excuse.  There is no paycheck which lists the amount of hours worked for your spouse or paramour to look at when they are wondering if you really did work late that night.  A professional is going to have "solid" reasons to get late night phone calls.  He or she will have more internet access at home.  He or she is more likely to travel for business reasons.  A petit-bourgeois person is more likely to use reliable birth control and to know how it works.  No matter what the moral background of a given petit-bourgeois woman, she is generally going to be less inclined to have an abortion because she is more likely to know the health and psychological risks involved, and because her community is more likely to place social stigma on the act of abortion.  This incites a greater fervency and competency with regard to use of artificial contraception.

What I mean to suggest here is that when Reno talks about the bourgeoisie fighting poverty by wearing ties and eating meals and not swearing and not watching reality TV and the like, he nods at the elephant in the room he otherwise seems to ignore.  There is a considerable extent to which conservative Christianity is becoming a petit-bourgeois phenomenon in this country.  And there can be no doubt that the social pressure conservative Christians feel to not divorce easily and to not abort and to not have children via multiple partners actually succeeds in influencing the drastic difference in sociological date between petit-bourgeois and working class / underclass statistics with these sorts of things.

I've heard plenty of elderly black folks in Memphis bemoan the loss of such social pressures in their own communities so I won't fault Reno for wanting those social pressures to remain functioning among his bourgeois white environs.  But when talking about Christian morality, and highlighting the primarily sex-focused aspects of the moral life in the manner that Reno & Co. do, I really have a hard time believing that the bourgeoisie, even the Christian bourgeoisie, are all that less inclined to "sexual sin" than working class / underclass folks are.  I think that the more pertinent factors are their means to not get caught and to prevent certain occurrences, such as pregnancy, and to replace or supplement actual sex with more tech savvy access to better quality porn.  If we want to talk about truly "typical" sexual occurrences my sister-in-law describes a 14 year old Memphis girl, pregnant, who didn't understand that her menstrual cycle had anything to do with pregnancy.  I'd venture a guess and say that most petit-bourgeois girls who have reached their first period have been explained the basics of how it relates to fertility and understand that basic explanation.  There are indications that this is not true in Memphis.

In my interactions with upper middle class and wealthy women over the years (whether clients at work or women at church, etc.) there is, I would argue, a greater emphasis on sensuality and sex appeal with persons from said classes who are between the ages of 25 and 50 than there are with working class females, at least once they get past their 20s.  In their 30s and 40s petit-bourgeois women still have to look good, and maintain a certain confident but spritely demure, sexually available/desirable posture (this is true even with petit-bourgeois women in conservative Christian circles - indeed, it might even be more pronounced there).  There is social pressure for them to do so.  Working class women generally don't have to look so good, and they are rarely under the same sort of social pressure to maintain good looks into their 40s.  People in working class / underclass communities generally expect a human body to look what it looks like after decades of smoking, drinking, drug use, and fast food.  I wonder why Reno would not see the virtue in working class folks "letting themselves go" versus the petit-bourgeois vanity with regard to the body.  There is a sense in which while it might be true that working class folks have more sexual partners and more sex outside of marriage over a lifetime than their petit-bourgeois counterparts, this does not mean that the sexualization of petit-bourgouies culture is markedly less than what one finds in working class and underclass circles.  Consumer oriented postures towards sex are simply expressed differently in different class settings, with the petit-bourgeoisie often having a more sterile and safety oriented approach to sex which better protects their health and their assets.

I wonder if Reno has a certain confidence - I wonder if Reno intuits that were he poor his morals would survive that poverty - and even help lift him out of it or make his situation better.  There is a sort of health & wealthism to his thesis, with morals taking the place of faith as the vehicle through which the believer receives the blessing.

Every time I read a piece like this I am inclined to think that the writer does not have much experience with poverty in a late modern setting.  If we agree with Joseph Pieper that leisure is the basis of culture we might be inclined to consider the difficulties involved in cultivating morals acceptable to the bourgeoisie when you and your spouse or paramour are looking at a lifetime of minimum wage jobs and have to supplement income either through illegal activities or working constantly.  Of course, we will hear the caricature I heard from a petit-bourgeois Christian the other day about "all those black boys" who do "nothing" but "stand in the street all day" but I see no reason to view this as any less requisite a form of business networking than the lawyer or executive or accountant who has to golf with his clients or take them out to dinner frequently.  Dope don't sell itself people.

There is the romantic view out there that from our grandparents' time in the depression and all time before then there was this great deal of moral stoutness found among poor peoples.  For many social conservatives, this romance seems to generate from a view of the "sexual revolution" which was something of a socio-moral vacuum that occurred independently of processes brought about by capitalism.  In fact there have been several sexual "revolutions" in the last 100 years in America, and all of them correspond to widespread changes in access to technologies - in the 1870s-1880s it corresponded to widely distributed romantic literature - for the first time in the hands of a large minority and perhaps a majority of persons.  In the early 20th century came the automobile.  Then radio.  Then TV.  Around the same time interstate highways and the correspondent increase in the number of moves a family makes over a lifetime (think about it folks, if moving out of town is easier then the aftermath of an affair is easier to mitigate).  Then cable.  Then cell phones and the internet and the ability to watch porn in an airport restroom stall.

Further, as modernity has progressed these very technologies have promoted what we might call a totalitarian aesthetic - wherein in the vast majority of dominant media consumed the petit-bourgeois life has been presented as the normative American life, and, more importantly, petit-bourgeois comforts presented as normative - what is to be expected in a run of the mill life.  When someone consuming a media which presents the constant access to entertainment and comfort as normative, and those viewers don't have access to the comforts presented in those images, it may be that they are all the more being encouraged to pursue substitutes.  My grandfather expected much less in the way of comfort and pleasure in life than I do, and the kids who are 20 years younger than me growing up with video games on their cell phones strike me as the biggest collection of spoiled pussies the world has ever produced.  I don't think the explanation here is primarily the loss of certain and particular moral educations being offered, I think that is derivative to technological changes and changes in media consumption patterns and the content of the media being consumed.  What drives those changes is not first a change in socio-cultural postures regarding morals, but, conversely, a capitalism that will render any social norm to a state of flux because changing social norms create new markets for goods and entertainments.

I agree a "moral poverty" of sorts is very destructive to poor communities.  Fathers leaving the homes of their children, rampant infidelity, a culture of lies and perversion - none of this is helping the poor.  But to treat the moral aspects of the equation as if they fell out of the sky after the culture arbitrarily decided it wanted to hook up more and cuss in front of the kids while dressing like a proletarian is simply an ideological diversion.  Capital and recent technologies have far more to do with it.  The bourgeois conservative Christian is desperate to have his cake and eat it too - for him it cannot come down to economic issues - he wants to keep his.  This game is intellectually incompetent and morally perverse.


Fr. Yousuf has such an excellent comment in the thread that cuts to the chase much better than my rambling thoughts.  I thought I'd share it here:

Reno with a straight face suggests that wearing a tie that will be seen of men is more important, more fundamental, than actually giving alms, (either secretly or publicly). It is like a total inversion of the sermon on the mount. He can do this because he assumes from the outset that he and his readers are better. Better than urban liberals. Better than the poor. The core conviction is "we are better" and so the chief obligation is to manifest the betterness.


  1. "...and the kids who are 20 years younger than me growing up with video games on their cell phones strike me as the biggest collection of spoiled pussies the world has ever produced." I dodged this bullet by a few slim years, at least.

    "cuss in front of kids": I saw a news piece on a woman who is against the Go The Fuck To Sleep book and she said, "The coarseness of this book creates an atmosphere of coarseness that is unacceptable." No kidding. Joe and I laughed pretty hard over that gem of wisdom.

  2. Heh, this makes me think about how I've relatively recently observed urban African-American males 1) walking down the street with a boombox blaring R&B (in 2010!), 2) trying to sell me porn DVDs (again, in 2010), and 3)asking me for money due to "being horny" (not sure if that would have been less weird before 2010). I don't know if the likes of Anthony Esolen can comprehend that sort of thing.

    But, yeah, the economic realities, etc., etc. Babysitting costs being impossible, etc., etc. Lack of access to half-decent transportation. Again, I wonder if that sort of thing has ever crossed the mind of an Esolen or a Reno.

  3. El otro pelón01 July, 2011 20:22

    Back to your sprawling prose, I guess.

    I was struck in particular by the example of the "hot, middle class, conservative" wife. Even among the religious, it is all about image. Your woman still better look good after having four to eight photogenic kids. Shopping at Whole Foods helps, I guess.

    Of course, let us not throw in the whole rank hypocrisy element. How many wives have Newt Gingrich and Deal Hudson had? Do we not all know of certain Catholics who are on the prowl for their next marriage after two annulments? Just because you have enough money and bureaucratic know-how to get your sins wiped clean by some cleric doesn't mean that your shit doesn't stink. Working class people usually sin and live with the consequences because they don't have the money to cover them up.

  4. As a young 20-something, I agree that many of my peers are 'spoiled pussies'. Then again, I only wish my phone could play video games -- all I can do with it is text or make calls, which is all it needs to do I suppose.

    "I agree a "moral poverty" of sorts is very destructive to poor communities. Fathers leaving the homes of their children, rampant infidelity, a culture of lies and perversion - none of this is helping the poor. But to treat the moral aspects of the equation as if they fell out of the sky after the culture arbitrarily decided it wanted to hook up more and cuss in front of the kids while dressing like a proletarian is simply an ideological diversion. Capital and recent technologies have far more to do with it."

    This kind of moral explanation is what Bruce Charlton meant by 'clever silliness' -- he applied it to academic liberals, but it works just as well for out-of-touch conservatives who are determined to ignore material causes. Conservatives who argue that poors are the way they are because they have simply decided to abandon Moral Truth are compelled by abstractions every bit as much as the ivory tower liberal who blames poverty on a wispy, ideological theory of racial/class privilege.

    I don't agree that the problem is 'recent' technology; the developments which have accelerated the breakdown of poor communities (which were never that 'moral' or functional to begin with) were set in motion a long time before the invention of internet porn. The combined trends of increasing social complexity and increasing dominance of technique (in the Ellulean sense) are enough to cause the kind of communal disintegration that you mention, and they are hardly new.

    Of course, the other material explanation staring one in the face is that, on the whole, poor people are rather stupid, and the stupid are less able to cope with the trends I mentioned. Owen will of course find this material explanation as distasteful as conservatives find his.

  5. Deleting my comments makes me cry, Owen :(

  6. Those aphorisms are astoundingly awful. It's almost like stumbling across Victor Davis Hanson's twitter, or something.

  7. Baud,

    Two of your comments were sent to spam. No idea why. I've put them back out.

    I related those recent technologies to the sexual "revolutions" which have occurred in the last 100+ years. I don't believe that recent technologies provide the dominant "explanation" of late modern systemic poverty in the underclass.

    Poor people are stupid, but generally speaking the petit-bourgeois are doing a hell of a catch up job on that front of late.

  8. On the poor people stupid thing -

    My wife and I were just talking yesterday about a working class Irish friend we have, and how his community produced working class blokes who have keen wit and a level of general knowledge that one simply does not find here in the South (anymore).

    I knew plenty of working class intellectuals in MN, and a fairly high percentage of working class folks who could do, say, basic math. Then I moved to Memphis and eventually found myself the foreman of a metal shop. At our peak we were running ads for coppersmith apprentices that would get a couple hundred applicants, over the course of a few years I read thousands of applications. With our applications we required a small, simple math test be done. We threw out applicants who didn't have a GED or high school diploma. Of those who did have high school diplomas, maybe (and this might be generous) one African-American in 100 passed the math test, and most missed all of nearly all of the questions. Of the White applicants (most of whom went to high schools outside of Memphis) maybe 10 out of 100 passed the test, and half or so missed all or nearly all of the questions. I mention the racial break down because my shop was about 50% black and 50% white and to keep racial tensions at bay we tried to keep that dynamic the same. As you can see this wasn't easy. Had I been hiring for a shop in the Twin Cities I am confident I would have no problem finding white and black applicants who could pass a basic math test. I suspect it would be even easier to find working class persons who could pass a basic math test in the UK, and even easier in Germany or France (and that includes immigrant communities in France). In my experience the stupidist poor people in America and Western Europe are found in those places with the least social safety net systems and the least devotion to public education. I'm not saying that there is a pure cause and effect relationship there. Perhaps those social orders more inclined to provide a wider and deeper social safety net had less stupid poor people to begin with. I'm tired of the inference made by some that poverty in Memphis is more complicated than in MN because of all the blacks because I've met too many working class / underclass blacks in other locals who, generally speaking, are not as stupid as what one finds here. So there are social dynamics which seem to effect the degree of the stupidity of the poor and I am interested in what those dymanics might be. Memphis is downright third world and almost feudal in its class distinctions and I can't help but note that the stupidities of the poor in more egalitarian oriented places aren't as bad as the stupidities of the poor here. I suppose this might be a chicken and the egg question - which comes first - a situation where a given social order has less (relatively speaking) stupid poor masses which leads to a more egalitarian social order or a more egalitarian social order which leads to less stupid poor masses?

  9. One more thing - one theory I have had as to why the black applicants were worse at math than the white is that in working class black communities, if you have any degree of intelligence at all, even just a very basic competency at math and the ability to spell your name - you are pressed beyond measure to go to college and not move away from "working class" manual labor jobs. We have a number of African American colleges in this area that take high school graduates who would not get into any other college - one of them has a motto that goes something like "where past performance does not indicate future success" - I kid not. One of the very unfortunate things about the stigma of being a black male today is that doing manual labor is considered a failure - even by many in the African-American community. So you get some kid who manages to get a high school diploma and a basic understanding of math out of his ghetto upbringing, and instead of him learning a trade where he could make 50k a year he goes off to college and majors in business and ends up a retail manager who makes 40k a year working a lot more hours than he would have had he gone into that 50k a year trade work. Here in Memphis the better trade jobs (electricians, pipefitters, metal workers, the better factory jobs, etc.) are increasingly being taken by Hispanics who have been established here awhile because in their community there is no diminutive view of doing those jobs. Within the African-American community you either get a job where you wear a tie or you have failed. The Memphis City Schools push this "every child goes to college" nonsense like there is no tomorrow and it does a huge disservice to those kids. It would be more efficient and better for many of those kids were they prepared in a "vocational school" type manner for trade work. Some of the brightest kids I dealt with while foreman came out of vocational schools in rural TN, MS, and AR. Interestingly, those kids were more interested in politics and art and such humanities oriented things than the kids coming out of Memphis City Schools trying to prepare every student for liberal arts colleges.

  10. There is always the possibility that the poor are being rational actors, and marriage provides no benefit for the poor. Being married doesn't produce a wage differential. It does not produce additional job security. (No one says you can't layoff Fred because he has a wife and kids to support.) On top of it, the thing costs $5000 to get into or dissolve, sometimes more. As far as socially, a man is treated no differently if he goes to the company picnic with his wife or the woman he's fucking.

    As for adultery, I don't really know how much more common it is. Just getting laid has seemed to move to a free transaction as compared to being exclusive to brothels and prostitutes. I think the adultery of relationships has pretty much stayed the same. Women have always been in offices. The big difference is that today they are in positions of equal status. Domestic women have had different sources for adultery. A difference today is that they drive out of the neighborhood for things they need for daily living.

    Even having worked extensively in the ghetto (Milw), I don't have a lot to offer on the race question. The reason blacks are suspicious of factory work is because they watched their fathers laid off and left with nothing after 20+ years of service when automation came. Tens of thousands of jobs disappeared within a decade that weren't replaced. Those children were told there is no future in manufacturing.

  11. Dear Owen,

    Reading the Reno piece was painful, but I am grateful that you brought it to my attention, because it gives a certain clarity.

    I confess to being a little surprised at the mildness of your response.

    Reno with a straight face suggests that wearing a tie that will be seen of men is more important, more fundamental, than actually giving alms, (either secretly or publicly). It is like a total inversion of the sermon on the mount. He can do this because he assumes from the outset that he and his readers are better. Better than urban liberals. Better than the poor. The core conviction is "we are better" and so the chief obligation is to manifest the betterness.

    Fr. Yousuf Rassam

  12. Fr. Yousuf,

    I was having an off day.

    Your last paragraph is so good I might add it to the post.


    Two things you missed:

    1) The class you call the petit-bourgeousie are simply undersexed. They commit less sexual sin because they are less normal.

    2) Women of this class maintain their appearance because it is both a source and demonstration of power, not because they are oppressed. It is not any more (or less) oppressive to keep your body hair depilated to local standards and your waist small enough to fit into clothes you can get at the outlet mall anymore than it is to keep your checkbook balanced or discipline yourself to save. Poor people often can't manage any of these things, yes. But it's not liberating to continue to live in the world and deliberately handicap yourself by needlessly looking like a lady hobo anymore than it would be by handicapping yourself by needless fiscal irresponsibility.

  14. Excellent, excellent post. I actually read this article in the print form about a month ago (like you, I used to read First Things regularly and not so much now) and wanted to throw the magazine across the room. You are right about following in the footsteps of Neuhaus, who was always readable and a little more complicated, whether you agreed with him or not.

    Thanks for making me aware of Nicolás Gómez Dávila, btw, of whom I was formerly unaware. When Reno went all aphoristic, I thought of Nietzsche, also very aphoristic, whose aphorisms are fifteen million times better than Reno's. I've Googled Dávila, and will be trying to get hold of some of his stuff.

    Regarding porn, I've read that the rates of use are much, much higher in the so-called red states (which social conservatives tend to hold up as the "real" America)--make of that what you will. Regarding the working class, my feeling is that fifty years ago there was much less stigma to blue collar work and that there were a lot more blue collar intellectuals, as it were. Having worked in various areas of education for most of my working life, I see that stigma, how kids from poor or working-class families are urged to "make something" of themselves, which means going to college and leaving their culture and background totally behind. Thus, your analysis rings very much true to me.

    Re the sexualization of petit-bourgeois women--have you ever noticed that school secretaries, grade school teachers, and church secretaries are often among the most glaring examples? I always get a kick out of the irony.

    Pelón: Just because you have enough money and bureaucratic know-how to get your sins wiped clean by some cleric doesn't mean that your shit doesn't stink.

    I absolutely love it!

  15. El otro pelón03 July, 2011 03:45

    My wife was watching a documentary on opera singers where all of the singers were telling their stories on how they were introduced to opera. One guy, a baritone if I remember correctly, was singing while driving a commercial truck. He said that he received his love for opera from his father, who also taught him to drive commercial trucks. The film was shot in the 1980's, and one should thus remember that not so long ago it was not so rare for your average truck driver to be an opera fan. I thought of this post when I saw that.

    But I clearly blame capitalism for all of this, for the decline of the industrial sector and the falling rate of profit that needs constantly to scramble for capital at a more frantic rate. Hence, the advertising leading to cultural banality, the constant lust for the newer and bigger thing, the race for more material goods etc. Such desires, pace every single bourgeois apologist, are not "natural"; they are manufactured like everything else. At least in the time of the opera-loving truck driver, strong labor unions and the reforms they extracted from the bourgeois state gave many workers breathing room to live a somewhat dignified life. It's a lot harder to do so slaving away at Mickey D's.

    That being said, I want to state in bold letters that the Sexual Revolution was a GOOD THING. That a teenage girl doesn't have to marry the asshole who knocked her up and is not being beaten to a bloody pulp by her father for having sex outside of marriage are good things, full stop. That we are not all that phased when a marriage falls apart, and that we applaud women who leave abusive relationships are good things. All of this couldn't happen sixty years ago, and this is due in great part to the social movements in the streets that made these changes of attitude possible. Just because the Civil Rights Movement brought us Barack Obama doesn't take away from how much of an unqualified victory the defeat of de jure segregation really was. And just because they seem to have benefited mostly middle class white women (including the women who write for First Things), the Women's Movement and the Sexual Revolution should not be seen in a negative light. So capitalism exploits the gains of the masses and seems to distort them? Because they didn't smash capitalism itself, we should hardly be surprised.

  16. Owen,

    I liked the post alot. I'm putting this one in the folder for mandatory reading for anytime I don't feel I need to be repentent for living comfortably.

  17. I want to state in bold letters that the Sexual Revolution was a GOOD THING.

    Glad you got that off your chest. ;-) The question attached to such a statement is "for whom?" Whether one's opinion is changed on the ultimate question or not, the sexual revolution has unambiguously been bad for children. I can't speak as definitively about women. People tend to make a fetish of choice and call it freedom. I think the statement can be supported that there were women who were better off before the sexual revolution. That doesn't end any arguments as likewise claiming there were blacks better off under slavery wouldn't make illegitimate abolitionism.

  18. El otro pelón03 July, 2011 18:38

    It's good to share. It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

    Though I am not sure which kids are being harmed. The ones who are spared having to suffer through their parents' abusive or unhappy marriages? Or the ones in that myth of 1950's childhood innocence that never existed (ever live on a farm and witness animal copulating? Or live in close quarters with multiple generations of adults)? I suppose if one has a rose-colored glasses view of the Catholic societies of yore in particular, one would be scandalized by what the kids are seeing nowadays. When you realize that just as much screwing was going on then as now, then such concerns just seem to be symptoms of a particular form of historical neurosis.

    Now if you are speaking about the general commodification of the human body, the propagation of smut, etc. I believe your issue is with capitalism and not sexual liberation in general. Because last time I checked, no one condones child molestation, and some of the people who supposedly would be most opposed to "sexual immorality" used the same shame culture to cover that crime up. I say, good riddance to all that.

  19. Reno lost me with the tie comment. I have always equated them with pretense. Still do.

  20. With regard to the question of whether "the" sexual revolution was a good or bad thing, for women, for children, etc., I would ask which sexual revolution? And how would one go about being a reactionary to whichever sexual revolution we pinpoint as the epitome of bad apples?

    Do we revoke the masses having access to automobiles? Because just about every social theorist who has looked into the relationship between access to automobiles and sexual habits says more or less the same thing - automobiles in the hands of young people encourage sexual relations outside of a communal context and make it a hell of a lot easier, they also changed courtship and engagement practices.

    One can point to the push by Republican industrialists, beginning in the late 19th century, to get more women into the workforce, as the beginning of social changes which would make feminism inevitable and harm "the family" but women entering workplaces was inevitable after women were granted the rights to own property and be parties in contracts and inherit property and the like. Should we change laws that give women the right to own property, to inherit their husbands' estates, to be a party in a contract, and the like? Both my mother and my wife have at times been the main breadwinner for their families. I fully support the notion that they should be paid the same as a man would be paid for doing the same work equally well. My mother was denied health benefits at a job once when my father was in seminary and sick with a debilitating disease, and when my mom quit that job and was replaced by a man the institution in question got health benefits for the man because "he had a family to support." A pox on those bastards. During that time my brother had to be hospitalized and the costs set my parents back for years.

    As for easy civil divorce, I support such laws. Listening to my parents talk about their childhoods - my dad from a petit-bourgeois family, my mom in a union steelworkers family growing up in a blue collar neighborhood in Canton, Ohio, there was all kinds of abuse of children in the glorious 50s, some of it quite pathological. I'm personally acquainted with a number of disaster marriages, one of them quite intimately.

    I've worked in a homeless shelter and seen the horror of marriages that went truly sadistic. One woman, married to a hot shot lawyer, was at home one night watching her husband get drunk with an old fraternity brother of his who was visiting from out of town, her husband asked his buddy if he wanted to have the wife provide him with oral sex, buddy says yes - wife refuses of course and the two men proceeded to gang rape her. She resisted and when she got to our shelter her face was twice the size it should have been, and that was after a couple of days in the hospital. That woman needed a quick divorce and thank God she got one. God forbid one of my daughters find themselves in a marriage where the guy turns out of be a crazy wacko, but if they do I don't think it is the state's job to force them to take a long time to try to work things out and seek alternatives. If the Church wants to enforce rules regarding the sanctity of marriage then so be it, but the state need not get into that business.

  21. I think that the thing which would provide the most encouragement to people staying in non-pathological marriages would be a social/economic ordo in which it was viable and possible for most people to get jobs which could support a family modestly. I think certain factors might have to go hand in hand with this, such as a single payer universal health care system or some other means to get very affordable health care. It was corporations who manufactured the socio-economic transition to the virtual requirement of a 2 income family for working class persons in this country, and when one considers what has actually brought about the bulk of the transition to great familial instability in current times it has more to do with the actions of corporations and changing economic patterns than it has actions of the state, though the litany of wars hasn't exactly been pro-family. That said, both corporations and the state have done things that have positively and negatively effected familial stability broadly speaking. This is not an easy game to moralize about.

    I know that I am tired of the "woman's place is in the home" song and dance. My wife prefers working to spending all day with toddlers, though she has hang ups about her preference because the religious milieus she has found herself in in life have not been so keen on such a posture. I like toddlers (at least my own), but I really only discovered this after my layoff when I became more or less a stay at home dad. The sort of pseudo social science of the Christian "complementarians" who rail against marital egalitarianism, such as John Piper & his sidekick Wayne Grudem or some of the Touchstonistas - well, I find all that not just intellectually fraudulent but also revolting at this point in my life. Most of the men I have known in my life who were really into "complementarianism" were the sort who were obviously picked on a lot in school and now must get their willies by ruling over their submissive-in-Christ wife. I've seen that sort get eaten alive in a Memphis metal shop on a couple of occasions (there are still some fundamentalists who end up in working class jobs in the South) - in more "manly" environments the rough blokes want their misogyny served straight up and petty "God-ordained" misogyny isn't appreciated coming from lips of the inevitable dweeb who regurgitates such rubbish. And let's face it, in blue collar America today those men in stable relationships depend on their wives - because working class women are more likely than working class men to have stable jobs and stable benefits at this point in time, as the last of American manufacturing goes down the toilet, and those service/industry jobs traditionally in the hands of men (construction, auto mechanics, etc.) become harder and harder to find and hold on to.

  22. A bunch of F---ing cry babies... You want class war, you want to see what it looks like to see people struggle and die..... My friend a fellow Cop is died, shot threw the neck because he was doing his job, saving peoples lives. And you know what his family will get...... well seeing as our city just cut out death benefits for all Officers on the 1st of July lets hope he had additional life insurance.

    This is the rich fucks, the none caring cry baby young bastards, and the put your head in the fucking sand hippies fault, and I get to be the one to watch my friend die....

  23. The sexual revolution is not identical with women's liberation or second-wave feminism; in some ways the sexual revolution was detrimental to the security and financial stability of women, as for instance the freeing up of the sexual market, which meant that both spinsterhood and/or withheld male commitment were greater possibilities than ever before. Later feminists tried to remedy this by demonizing male sexuality, gaming divorce laws, etc, to the point where upholders of the sexual revolution could find themselves in outright opposition to non-sex-positive feminism (as represented by Dworkin).

    I would accept the sexual revolution because the genie is out of the bottle at this point, and powerful human urges will always militate against any reactionary attempts to re-plug that bottle, but at the same time it's helpful to acknowledge the tragic nature of the sexual revolution; that there are losers, as well as winners in it, and there is less hope for unattractive people, or people with sexual pathologies, than there was pre-revolution. On this point, Houllebecq's novel The Elementary Particle is instructive. Here's a great interview:

    I think this quote pretty much sums up my feelings on the whole mess:

    What I think, fundamentally, is that you can’t do anything about major societal changes. It may be regrettable that the family unit is disappearing. You could argue that it increases human suffering. But regrettable or not, there’s nothing we can do. That’s the difference between me and a reactionary. I don’t have any interest in turning back the clock because I don’t believe it can be done. You can only observe and describe. I’ve always liked Balzac’s very insulting statement that the only purpose of the novel is to show the disasters produced by the changing of values. He’s exaggerating in an amusing way. But that’s what I do: I show the disasters produced by the liberalization of values.

  24. I wish you luck with your marriage, Owen, but with women being hypergamous and all there is a risk it will all end like the couple from Blue Valentine -- woman loses respect for man because man is lower status, marriage crumbles, etc. This is true whether or not one believes in 'complementarian' doctrine.

  25. "Hence, the advertising leading to cultural banality, the constant lust for the newer and bigger thing, the race for more material goods etc. Such desires, pace every single bourgeois apologist, are not 'natural'; they are manufactured like everything else."

    They are manufactured only insofar as the mass-man is manufactured (by technique, history, society etc). His ever-rising material desires, on the other hand, are genuine.

  26. "Want to help the poor? By all means pay your taxes and give to agencies that provide social services. By all means volunteer in a soup kitchen or help build houses for those who can’t afford them. But you can do much more for the poor by getting married and remaining faithful to your spouse. Have the courage to use old-fashioned words such as chaste and honorable. Put on a tie. Turn off the trashy reality TV shows. Sit down to dinner every night with your family. Stop using expletives as exclamation marks. Go to church or synagogue."

    I'm reminded of when Victor David Hanson suggested that the cure to our educational ills was to make students study Latin. It seemed like such a nonsequitur, the sort of absurdly superficial non-solution Igantius Reily would come up with (who does resemble more than a few conservative writers). Now that I've read this -- well, this takes the cake.

  27. Baudy,

    "I wish you luck with your marriage, Owen,"

    The spirit of Roissy is everywhere in blogdom these days.

  28. Seriously, these Asperger's-inflicted, twenty-something sociopaths need to shut up when the adults are talking. Perhaps this should lead to an examination of conscience concerning why such dysfunctional people read these blogs in the first place.

  29. Who's Roissy?

    -- Diane, avoiding making boss's picky edits to copy

  30. Nobody needs to invoke Roissy. Female hypergamy is a phenomenon documented by countless studies; what's original in Roissy is the presentation and the dubious PUA logic he uses to interpret the facts he comes across. Really, do you need Roissy to tell you that getting laid off and becoming a house husband-cum-blogger is going to change the dynamic of a married relationship, and probably in a negative way? Or that women don't want to feel like mothers to their own spouses/boyfriends? These things are pretty basic.

  31. Diane,


    So you agree with the content of Roissy even if you see no need to use his name or style?

    And I'm going into nursing on top of all that... Though males nurses tend to be more Roissyan than many folks might imagine.

    In the complamentarian literature, though they might not always explicitly say this, it is pretty clear that wives are expected to mother their husbands. Many things change the dynamic of the married relationship. There are many different temperaments to be found in marriages, and they even change over the course of one given marriage, and these temperaments don't always correspond neatly to the Dobsonista or Roissyan gender stereotypes. To act on generalizations about what women feel or what women do and don't want is about as fruitful as living your life based on something you read in an article on evolutionary psychology.

  32. Baud,

    Are you married or are you one of those one of those Internet geeks who spouts knowledge of the female sex, but whose first hand knowledge ends with pixels and a bottle of Jerkins?

  33. I've said it often, but the best icon of the Christian husband is the Nymphos (Bridegroom) icon from Orthodox Holy Week. Of course, it's found in the Gospel, too, but it's so obvious most seem to miss it. We prefer our own reading of St. Paul via our culture's ideas of masculinity to the quite obvious witness of God Himself. The icon tells us how the God-man dealt with his bride - he let her kill him.

    Of course, that's all a little overblown, but it's a necessary antidote to the stunted rage of men so in need of power - to hide their powerlessness.

    On top of that icon of true humanity is this: the height of all it means to be human was a woman, the Mother of God. (The height who wasn't also God, that is, but He's already been discussed.)

  34. Re "50 years ago most African-American youth in Memphis lived in the same households as their biological fathers": I haven't figured out a quick way to get at these stats but acto the CDC the black illegitimacy rate has been a lot higher than the white rate at least from the 1940s on, with a nonwhite rate of nearly 15% back when the white rate was less than 2%. It also rose earlier and faster, so that in 1960 the nowhite rate was over 20% while the white rate was maybe 3%. After that things start to go to hell, and it's depressingly suspicious that there is a huge jump at 1970 as the CDC switched from counting nonwhites as a whole to counting individual races. The white rate has climbed too but to nothing like the same degree.

  35. I think, btw, that there's some very limited truth to his thesis, but only to the extent that the lower classes tend to attempt to ape the upper middle taste-setters. That class has always been able to indulge itself in recreational sex and rise, to some degree, above the consequences, especially since most of them are really pretty square, and the libertines have thus been able to practice the art of sponging off their better-behaved relatives and friends and patrons when things got thin. Meanwhile virtue can be sneered at for being "bourgeois" or "white" or any other irrelevant class distinction. It's pretty obvious that the fact that I've managed to stay married for twenty years has no impact on anyone other than my children.

    Also, hasn't Reno ever read the parable of the prodigal son?

    And finally, I too have to wonder where the tie thing came from. I suppose there is a greater gravitas coming from wearing a real silk repp tie rather than a polyester clip-on.

  36. Lotar,
    ROTFLMAO! Stop it! I fell out of my chair and hurt myself!!!

  37. Lotar,

    LOL. Actually, yes, I am married. I'm 23, she's 20. If I were a true blue Roissy acolyte, I would shun marriage as beta slavery, etc, so clearly I don't even necessarily agree with Roissy's content. He is entertaining and sometimes a useful corrective to feminist and social conservative myth-peddling, but the biological determinism that informs his commentary is juvenile and nihilistic. He is best in small doses.

  38. Ps-Iosifson, you should have thrown in C.S. Lewis's assertion that we are all feminine in relation to God, following the medieval theories of the soul as anima, etc. You know, just in case anyone got the idea that Christianity wasn't effeminate enough. Really, I wonder where people are encountering this overblown Christian masculinity that needs so much correcting -- surely it can't be in conservative evangelicalism, which is home to some of the most emotional, effeminate people I have ever known.

  39. Thanks for the link, Owen. Turns out I had heard of the guy. But the name had slipped my memory. That happens a lot with us old geezers.

    Baud, you are four years older than my older son. That puts everything into perspective, LOL.


  40. It occurred to me, as I stood in the shower and water coursed over my manly form, that Roissy is the intellectual internet substitute for the rubber dolly. Just as an inflatable chick serves for those who can't handle a real whore, Roissy is for those who cannot handle real internet porn.

  41. Baud: [B]ut the biological determinism that informs [Roissy's] commentary is juvenile and nihilistic.

    To me, making predictions about the marital future of someone you don't even know on the basis of female hypergamy (which boils down to an argument based on biological determinism, to say nothing of the classic logical flaw of overgeneralization) is juvenile and nihilistic. Owen and the other commentators here have shown much more grace and wit in responding to such drek than most would.

  42. My take on the matter...

  43. Great thoughts, Owen. I wish you would have pointed this post out to me on FB. Surely you've noticed I don't follow blogs anymore!

  44. Is the part about critical reason somehow connected to "Preferential Treatment for the Poor?" Was that his way to justify his ridiculous stance that he's helping poor people by acting as a beacon of standard, white, middle-class morality?

    He's committing to this idea that wearing a tie and using the word "chaste" will help the poor because he doesn't want to look at the critical research connecting a lack of a social safety net with poverty. And to use John Henry Newman as a justification! Kyrie Eleison!


  45. Dear Mr. Reno (If you get around to reading Owen's blog):

    You live in New York City, right? I can tell you how to find poor people, if you really want to teach them about morality. Hop on the "D" train (Do bourgeoisie ride the subway), going into the Bronx. Get off at the Fordham Road stop. Take a Left on Fordham Road, until you get to Arthur Av. Turn left, and walk down to 187th street.

    There is a church there called Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The priests let a few poor people beg on the steps of the church before and after mass. Poor immigrant families take their children here to worship. The priests are nice guys. Tell them you are a fellow Catholic, interested in showing "preferential treatment to the poor." They can introduce you to some poor people who live in crowded apartments, some who are drug addicts, some with mental illnesses. You can wear a tie and let everyone know you that you follow the Church's teachings on chastity. I'm sure they'll pat you on the back and thank you.

  46. I believe Reno still teaches at a university in Omaha, Nebraska.

    My experience with white Christians in Nebraska is that their views on poverty and on blacks tend to be framed by their posture towards the blacks living in north Omaha. See for some indication of how that might play out. In certain respects, I think that the Nebraskan Christians I have known were decidedly more racist than the Christian Southerners on the whole - generally speaking of course - or at least more hatefully racist. Southerners have usually had to live in close proximity with "their" blacks and often either had some they had affection toward or had close white relations who had close human bonds with black folk. I don't say this out of admiration for southern racism - I have come to disdain the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie in the South with every fiber of my being. But in Nebraska things are more simple, in a rather sinister way.


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