Loss of signal
Posted by aogTuesday, 05 April 2005 at 21:01 TrackBack Ping URL

I was reading this post by Joanne Jacobs about how the culture at Harvard has changed over the last century, as seen through two novels involving characters at school there. The difference JJ highlights is that of sexual mores. The old time character, a male, is advised to avoid fooling around with women while at college as being unseemly. The modern character, a female, is a columnist for the school paper who writes about sex and apparently does quite a bit of field research (how unjournalistic of her! of course, it’s just a novel, but still…).

What I wonder is whether some of the problems related to gender on college campuses aren’t related to this. While one can make too much of modesty, it does provide a very useful and powerful signalling mechanism between the genders. In contrast, in a culture where even nudity isn’t particularly outré how does a woman signal that she has more than platonic interest in a particular man? The result of course is things like the Antioch sexual relations code that requires legalistic verbal exchanges between potential partners in intimacy

It struck me that this represents a pattern of the upper middle class college educated New Class that constitutes the core of the Progressive political faction in this country. The essence of solutions from this ideology is procedural — if there is something going wrong, better (and generally far more detailed) procedures can be used to solve the problem. For the New Class, filling out additional forms is easy and natural, even if it is viewed as a burden by everyone else. The standard example is the endlessly multiplying forms for welfare and other government programs. On the one hand these are supported by Progressives to help the poor, but on the other hand the procedures are often so tedious, complicated and unforgiving that many of the putative targets can’t get through the process (not that this is viewed as a problem by the Progressives, because the true purpose is to provide jobs, social status and psychological comfort to the Progressives which doesn’t require helping very many of the poor). The issue with modesty noted above can fit in to this pattern as well, taking something which has been done informally for all of human history (charity, dating) and turning it in to a banal bureauocratic exercise.

P.S. I shouldn’t forget to note that “Campaign Finance Reform” fits this pattern as well. Is it really the Puritans who can’t abide others having fun?

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Luciferous Wednesday, 06 April 2005 at 13:22

The unbaught graces of life are graces because they liberate and unencumber. Well balanced people appreciate it. But the New Class is defined by exageration and see life’s graces as imposed constrictions. Thus they revel in forms in triplicate, and inevitably fall in love with the slaver.

pj Sunday, 10 April 2005 at 08:18

CFR strikes me as a case of purposely creating arbitrary law which nearly everyone will violate, for the purpose of extending the advantages of an elite. The powerful elite will escape prosecution (after all, it’s impossible to imprison everyone), while anyone who threatens the elite can be threatened with prosecution, and a few stubborn resisters destroyed. The fact that elite institutions like the press got exemptions from CFR suggests that protecting the power of the elite was the law’s main purpose; and that the Democrats apparently were coordinating with their 527’s from the get-go is more evidence that the law isn’t actually intended to be enforced against the “good guys” as long as they maintain appearances.

So then looking back at campus speech and sexual harassment codes, they’re like that too. They blurry boundaries, are arbitrarily enforced, and can be used to persecute undesirables.

No doubt the New Class, which has more lawyerly skills and a closer connection to powerful decision-makers than the rest of the population, feels itself best qualified to navigate these complex and arbitrary codes.

The arbitrariness of these laws may be the key. The motivation for them may, I sometimes suspect, have spiritual roots in the first conflict, between the serpent and God in Eden. Complex laws that can only be enforced arbitrarily undermine the concept of fixed law and allow people to define good and evil for themselves. The rise of proceduralisms you mention may just be the revenge of the serpent.

Annoying Old Guy Sunday, 10 April 2005 at 10:35

I’d say the sentencing of Sandy Berger is exhibit one for your case.

End of Discussion