What are women for?

I keep trying to better understand James Poulos. I like James a great deal, though we disagree pretty fundamentally on many things. I’ve been fascinated by his discussions of the Pink Police State (a conservative argument against panem et circenses.)

And yet postmodern conservatism has always been somewhat vague. It’s unorthodox in terms of American debate – not quite paleoconservatism, not quite neoconservatism. I’m not sure exactly. Like I said, I keep trying to understand Poulos, and I don’t always succeed.

So I walk with caution into his latest piece at The Daily Caller – a piece which was at once designed for controversy (and certainly titled for clicks) but which James has taken plenty of flack on already. I hate to be merely pile on.

I almost hate excerpting, but I will anyways. After mucking through the contraception debate a bit, James veers into a discussion of left orthodoxy and particularly what he sees as an inchoate take on “what women are for:”

Lip service is often paid to the impression that the point of empowering women is to empower them to do whatever they want, but much of the left stops well short of the more radical implications of that easy answer. The left’s culture of celebration is hamstrung by the very assertions of should and shouldn’t that contemporary women have inevitably come to make — as the ongoing debate over the advisability of marriage reveals. Reihan Salam has hinted that typically left-wing implications of academic theories like “erotic capital,” including mainstreaming prostitution, point in directions quite at odds with the dominant but failing framework of liberal sexual politics.

To the growing discomfort of many, that framework hasn’t come anywhere close to answering even the most basic questions about what women are for — despite pretty much universal recognition across the political spectrum that a civilization of men, for men, and by men is no civilization at all, a monstrously barbaric, bloody, and brutal enterprise. A few inherently meaningful implications about what women are for flow naturally from this wise and enduring consensus, but no faction of conservatives or liberals has figured out how to fully grasp, translate, and reconcile them in the context of our political life.

Ironically, one of the best places to look for a way out of the impasse is the strain of left feminism that insists an inherently unique female “voice” actually exists. That’s a claim about nature. Much good would come from a broader recognition that women have a privileged relationship with the natural world. That’s a relationship which must receive its social due — if masculinity in its inherent and imitative varieties (including imitation by quasi-feminized males of quasi-masculinized females!) is not to conquer the world.

I read this as an extension of James’s broader critique of libertarianism or perhaps libertinism. But I find the framing of the issue distracting at best, and unnecessarily inflammatory at worst. What are women for?

This sounds quite a lot like, “Where do women fit in contemporary society?” or “How does biology create different social roles for the sexes and how can we grapple with that question given the political grounds we’ve all staked out?”

Perhaps I’m mistaken. But here’s my translation: We haven’t decided yet, as a culture, how to properly determine the roles of men and women in today’s society, or today’s economy, or today’s politics, and the thought police on the left have adopted an essentially libertarian argument about a woman’s body – placing individual choice above all other values – and that this, rather than helping us understand one another, serves merely to obscure.

As I’ve noted previously, I think the framing of this as “What are women for?” itself serves to distract, and perhaps it’s just me but I think that while James is a fine writer his prose can be a bit inscrutable at times. On one level, of course, he’s correct – we haven’t and likely won’t come to any cultural definitions here. The very notion of “roles” has become antiquated, rubs against the grain of modern thought. To even want to come to some conclusion strikes many as illiberal or sexist. This is what happens when your culture is at war, when you live in a plural and rapidly changing society.

James has concocted a brief lament and cloaked it in pithiness. Where he sees something troublesome – sociological Huns at the gates of the city – I see elbow room for evolution.

Then again, I may be missing the point here altogether. I’m sympathetic to much of what James writes. Our biology really does define us more than we’d like to admit. So do our thousands of years of social evolution. But I’m not sure trying to rope this discussion into something quite so polarizing is going to move the ball forward, or backward, in any meaningful or particularly helpful way.

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Republicans pick man with three wives instead of Mormon in South Carolina primary

Newt Gingrich's secret South Carolina weapon was fear.

So Newt Gingrich has won the South Carolina primary.

In the course of a week he turned around his campaign, transforming a serious deficit into a 13 point win. South Carolina voters rejected Romney’s time at Bain Capital, his Mormon faith, and his insincerity. They turned, instead, to the disgraced former Speaker of the House, a man whose personal life is quite frankly enough to disqualify him from any possible general election run; whose statements over the past few years in regards to Obama, religious freedom, and other controversial issues place him not only on the far-right of the political spectrum, but among its worst elements.

Gingrich can pander like no other, but his personal and political past should be enough to rouse Republicans from whatever drunken stupor has led them to this precarious destination.

Admittedly, one state does not a nomination make, but Romney has never been so vulnerable.

“This is the Republican crack-up people have been predicting for years,” writes Andrew Sullivan. “Gingrich is on a roll. I think he can win this – and then lose this in a way that could change America history. That is a brief impression in one moment of time. But I cannot see Romney winning this at this point. They are just not into him, and he’s an awful candidate.”

The Republican Party “deserves its spokesman,” Andrew argues. “But do not under-estimate the appeal to some of the idea of humiliating and removing the first black president. That’s what Gingrich is really about. He is giving them what they want. And it’s meat that has barely seen a skillet.”

It’s remarkable, really. There’s a sort of debauchery to it, this willingness to follow whoever says the most extreme thing, whoever is willing to play the raging fool.

What is conservatism in this country? What has it become?

Corey Robin argues that it’s the politics of the perpetual reactionary. Conservatism here and in Europe has been the manifestation of the status quo reacting to the forces of change and progress. Sullivan argues that true conservatism is more a matter of disposition and temperament; that the true conservative seeks balance. In some ways, these are very much the same thing though Robin’s conservative is a revolutionary in reverse, and Sullivan’s is a force for stability. (I am suddenly reminded of Ra’s al Ghul and his reactionary League of Shadows…)

These days I see conservatism more as a bastion for fear of the Other than anything else. The Other is the crux of every conservative argument: fear of the immigrant other (Mexicans!); fear of the cultural other (Liberals and Elitists!); fear of the religious other (Muslims!); fear of the racial other (black people!); and so forth. Conservatism is a sort of protectionism that inhabits the minds of the fearful (and make no mistake, this tendency creeps up on the left at times as well.)

Conservatives believe that we must protect our borders, stop the flow of communism or radical Islam, etc., fight big government but not the entitlements that big government so graciously hands out to us. No wonder most conservatives want to keep the military strong and well funded when so much fear is at play. A conservative in the American sense is not interested so much in turning back the clock as he is in stopping it altogether.

This – this harnessing of fear and resentment – is what Newt has tapped into on the right and he’s done so better than anyone else – better than the bumbling Perry or the more mild-mannered Santorum. It doesn’t matter if he has a plan or if he’s lying through his teeth or if his past is littered with failures both moral and political. It doesn’t matter if he’s just another big government rightwinger in disguise, pandering to whatever shreds remain of the once mighty Tea Party. What matters is what he represent – he’s become, quite suddenly, an avatar for all this terror at the browning of America, at the financial crash, the poor labor market. He’s become Obama’s doppelganger.

Obama is all that is Other and Newt is that comforting swell of rage that accompanies it. In this sense, Newt’s very familiarity is a blessing when it ought to be a curse.

Why Newt and not Romney? Certainly Romney has taken a hard-line stance on everything. I’m not sure it’s his Mormonism so much as it is his insincerity. When Romney talks about Obama or the various issues conservatives have with Obama, he just isn’t convincing, even to a liberal like me. He sounds like a phony. (Like I’ve said before, he has no soul.) Gingrich, on the other hand, has plenty of soul, dried up thing though it may be, and he can access deeper emotional resonance in the GOP base. Romney’s anger is flat and papery. Gingrich may indeed only be a better actor, but he’s a method actor, and he pulls off the role he knows he needs to play.

Whether he can sustain it is another question. Gingrich comes with his own cartload of baggage and plenty of moderates in the GOP outside of South Carolina are just as nervous about the former speaker as they are about the former governor of Massachusetts. This game is far from finished.

What a glorious sport we’ve made of our political system.

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Salt Lake City: The Gayest City in America

Post image for Salt Lake City: The Gayest City in America

That’s according to The Advocate which describes Salt Lake City thusly:

While those unfamiliar with the Beehive State are likely to conjure images of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, far-less-oppressive-than-it-used-to-be Salt Lake City has earned its queer cred. There are more than a half-dozen hot spots for men and women, including the eco-friendly nightclub Jam (JamSLC.com), though the sustainable bamboo flooring is perhaps less of a draw than the packed dance floor. The Coffee Garden (878 South 900 East) is a gathering spot for those looking for a caffeine fix, the Sundance Film Festival brings LGBT film buffs to screenings downtown, and lesbian-owned Meditrina (MeditrinaSLC.com) is a true wine bar — yes, you can get a drink in this town.

Via Sully.

I guess I haven’t spent enough time in Utah. Every time I’ve passed through the state it’s felt distinctly not-gay. It’s beautiful, but also sort of empty. And its’ very Mormon which is sort of the opposite of gay. Or something.

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