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Friday, May 6, A.D. 2011
A Glimpse into the Abyss

The genial and insightful Mark Richardson, of Oz Conservative, must have a particularly strong stomach in order to treat the objectionable so soberly and seriously. Read, for example, his exegesis of Ellen Lewin’s Lesbian Mothers: Accounts of Gender in American Culture in “How does Professor Lewin think women step up to personhood? A clue: not through heterosexual marriage.” It is a marvel to me that Richardson can maintain rational apatheia while trudging through such rank and foul spiritual sludge.

It’s interesting to see how liberal autonomy theory plays out in Professor Lewin’s book. For instance, she argues that there is a difference between being a good mother in a marriage and in a divorce. Being a good mother in a marriage is not so good because it is merely a “natural attribute” (not something self-determined). But if a mother gets custody in the courts, that is a “self-conscious achievement” and “evidence of skill” in “protecting the integrity” of her family:

Mothers who face actual or potential custody challenges use strategies of appeasement, support, and autonomy in the course of protecting the integrity of their families. The claim to being a “good mother,” a key element of feminine gender identity in American culture, is transformed from a natural attribute into the product of self-conscious achievement . . .

In this situation a competent mother is one who accedes to enough of her husband’s demands to discourage a custody challenge but not so much that her concessions can be turned against her. Being a “good mother” is thus transformed from a state of being, a natural attribute, into evidence of skill, rewarded by the father’s failure to gain custody or, better yet, by his failure to pursue it at all. [pp.177-178]

As for divorce being a step up for women, this is how Professor Lewin puts it:

These convergences between lesbian mothers’ coming-out stories and the divorce stories of both lesbians and heterosexual mothers point to a telling contradiction in American culture. Marriage is seen as a special kind of success for women, but it also imposes a loss of autonomy and personhood that threatens to compromise the individual’s quest for accomplishment and individuality. As observers of American culture have noted since Alexis de Tocqueville described his impressions in the mid-nineteenth century, individuality and the related concept of privacy are such core dimensions of American culture that conditions or behavior that might be interpreted as dependency seem questionable if not shameful . . .

. . . Both coming out and divorce shift women’s status downward in the eyes of the society as a whole, yet the women who experience them view them in many respects as steps up. At the core of both coming-out and divorce stories is the theme of increasing autonomy and competence, and both kinds of accounts tend to focus on discovery of one’s “true” self. In these respects, as Kath Weston has observed, they constitute odysseys of self-discovery; at the same time, they demonstrate a concern with achieving adulthood and autonomy which is a particular consequence of the infantilization that both marriage and heterosexuality can impose on women. [pp.43, 45]

The logic of the argument is that in a marriage women are dependent on a man, that this makes married heterosexual women infantile, so that divorce and/or lesbianism represent a step forward toward an adult, autonomous life.

I have several friends and acquaintances who share Richardson’s remarkable virtue, but I cannot understand it. I can tolerate a considerable amount of stupidity, vice, and confusion, but at a certain point, I simply recoil from what my primeval instincts sense as miasmic filth. As such, my less noble soul only abhors Lewin and creatures like her. I know that I should weep for her confusion and concern myself about her lost path, but I cannot. I just want her far away from me. I, therefore, might come under Whittaker Chambers’ condemnation of Ayn Rand when he complains, “From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber — go!’” It is not that I harbor exterminationist zeal for ridding the land of Lewin’s revolting insanity; it just troubles me mightily that I share the same world as her. For I have long realized that, deep down, my psychological framework is far more similar to the Leftists whom I despise than my fellow wayfarers on the Right. That pit at the center of ideological self righteousness is darkness, which is simply hate—a hatred so strong that no pleas of Christian love, understanding for shortcomings, or reminders of shared humanity soften its intense disgust with its object. In the abstract, I might entertain those finer calls, but, at best, I just want to remove myself from the occasion of demonic sin by ceasing to think about such matters.

By contrast, Richardson displays an almost heroic soul in his ability to confront such sickness while remaining a decent man. I marvel at such folks.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, May 6, Anno Domini 2011
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