A modest proposal
Posted by aogMonday, 01 January 2007 at 22:24 TrackBack Ping URL

Over at Diversely We Sail is a post is a post deploring that fading existence of any common standard on modesty. As a moderate fan of the moderate middle, I too find it a sad thing as well.

Naturally, there is intellectual tingle in anticipation of my reasoning on the subject, given my atheistic minarchist tendencies. Naturally, there are several threads that lead me there.

A good starting point is the novel The Diamond Age, one of Neal Stephenson’s better efforts1. One of the key themes in the book is the link between sexual repression and technological / complex civilization. Reduced to an aphorism, it is basically that if people can have sex all the time, they won’t bother doing anything else. It is a view that I find more plausible all the time.

It reminds me of an earlier post about profanity and conversation. To think that immodesty is fine because there’s nothing wrong with the female body is fall in to what is (to me) the same error, that dynamics are useful. If everything is at full volume all the time, there is much to be missed, much subtle yet informative communication that can’t occur. This is also a subject I have touched on before. Modesty is useful even for exhibitionists, because otherwise how can they be such?

Relatedly, there is also the fact that it is not clear to me that immodesty is actually, overall, more pleasant than modesty. The former destroys many joys that can only exist in the presence of the latter, precisely because of the “volume” issue. Variety is the spice of life after all. One might note that this is a failure of burqazation as well, stripping that variety out of life.

In the end, I don’t see modesty as some sort of anti-pleasure grimness, but something that one could argue is pro-pleasure at a more abstract level. Perhaps in the end it is more a matter of asthetics than morals.


1 I have tried various novels in Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, but I have not managed to gain the traction needed to push through to completion on any of them.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Robert Duquette Sunday, 07 January 2007 at 12:47

Good points AOG. Any idea that there is nothing wrong with all-out exhibitionism ignores the dynamics of human sexual behavior. There is an analogy to economic behavior. Things in short supply command a higher price than things in oversupply. And sexuality really is not symmetrical. Women are primarily the suppliers, men the consumers. Sexual interactions are negotiations between two parties. It makes no sense for the supplier of a product to give it away, what’s the point? It also doesn’t make sense to price yourself out of the market, but it also doesn’t make sense to consider price the only factor. Why is it that Ferrari can get away with charging 100x more than Kia for an automobile? Immodesty in women is the equivalent of the going out of business sale in retail.

I also liked Diamond Age, and have yet to finish Cryptonomicon.

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