The Tyranny of Morality by Consent

Stop.  You’re in your mid-twenties, bored, somewhat educated, and free on a Friday night.  Your friends invite you to go out and barhop for a few hours.  Maybe you’ll get drunk and just go home a few dollars poorer, dragging yourself back to the apartment you rent with five other people after a night of dancing, boozing, and casual light drug use.  Or maybe you’ll hit it lucky this Friday evening and hook up with somebody who’s got cute eyes, good legs, and just the right amount of alcohol tolerance. 

Seven hours later, laying in that particular someone else’s bed after an hour or so of sweaty, manic tossing in the sheets, you’re staring at an unfamiliar ceiling and thinking that life is pretty good.  You’ve done this a few times and you kind of enjoy it.  The excitement of someone new tends to override the fact that neither one of you really knows what you’re doing and you’re treating each other’s bodies as warmer, less user-friendly sex toys.  In the morning, you’ll share some coffee and maybe promise to contact one another the following week, but usually you simply don’t bother.

Five years later, you’re turning thirty and you’re doing this for the fiftieth or five-hundredth time with the fiftieth or five-hundredth new person, and whatever feeling of satisfaction you once felt from these encounters has been lost.  What happened?  Where did the magic go?  Is it because you’re getting older?  Do you feel like you’ve been spinning your wheels?

But you can’t have been spinning your wheels.  You’ve finished a grad degree.  Your career is doing great.  You’ve moved into several different apartments, each one nicer than the last.  And the car you drive—once a beat-up used Honda from 2004—is now a Subaru Impreza with all-wheel drive and a turbo.  You’ve accomplished so much!

Sure, the house you live in was built to have a family live in it, and sure, the salesman that sold you the new car kept going on about the child safety features as a key selling point, and sure, someday you’d like to have kids, but that might detract from those weekend evenings when you’re free enough to go bar hopping like you’ve been doing for the last ten years.

You’ve reached the dead end.  You might be fortunate enough to meet someone to spend your life with, though at this rate, it’s becoming increasingly unlikely.  Cultural cues have taught you to so disrespect the people you interact with as to use them as little more than means toward ends.  Your bosses have customarily been sources of paychecks.  Your friends have been sources of mutual agreements and ways to squander the time.  Your hookups have been methods of masturbation.

What I’m saying is, you have degraded yourself.

Sexual Liberation as Self-Degradation

One of the most obvious themes of Modernity is its emphasis on devaluing personhood to the point that people become conceptual automatons.  For all the vigorous talk of individualism on the contemporary right, in particular that sort of radical individualism espoused by an-caps and libertarians, such individualism results in the destruction of personhood as such.  This may seem like a contradiction.  After all, a person is an individual, isn’t he?  But it’s not a contradiction; a person finds meaning and value in groups and becomes greater than himself through the bonds he forges with his peers and those he partakes in with his elders and juniors.  Individualism’s emphasis of solitary abstraction, and specifically the notion of self-reliance driven to the extreme, comes at the expense of the reality that is social interaction.

This is built upon a distinctly modernist anthropology: people have agency, but agency is meaningful only in respect to how it is used to secure personal wellbeing—you can think of it as another version of the will to power, albeit watered down.  The definition of personhood, then, is the base unit of a social network; it’s one thing set up and defined in relation to all other singular things in the social machine.  What this means is that persons only hold a single innate responsibility, which is to safeguard their own wellbeing.  All other responsibilities and rights necessarily have to take the form of some kind of implicit contract—which is where the ludicrous idea of the Social Contract stems from.

This stands in stark contrast to a more classical understanding of personhood, which entailed various rights, responsibilities, and bonds contingent upon the particular periods of a person’s life.  Classical conceptions of persons don’t involve static, individualized units of social machinery.  Instead, they’re agents who grow and change over time.  A child is held to certain standards, given certain responsibilities, and granted certain rights by virtue of his being a child; as he grows these things change—some subtly and some not-so subtly.  Sometimes roles of a more social nature spark a fundamental change in his being, such as turning from a bachelor to a husband, or from a husband to a father.  But where Modernity would insist that fundamentally, a father is no different from a husband, since fundamentally he should be the same individual, a more classical understanding of the world begs to differ.  Just as an acorn sprouts into a seedling, takes root to become a sapling, and assuming all goes well, eventually becomes a great tree, so too do people undertake these radical changes without ever ceasing to become something other than they are.

But that’s the classical standpoint.  Where does the modernist conception take us?

Let’s assume they’re correct, and that personhood boils down to this static idea of an ‘individual’.  The world is split then between the Self and the Other, with everyone who will ever meet you being jammed into the category of the Other.  Being that Others are not your Self, it stands to reason that there would be the presence of a de facto double standard; a man finds it easier to apply certain ethics to his treatment of himself while applying a different set of these Others.  One form this takes is the process of rationalization.  Even when a man knows rationally of some general universal moral code of behavior, if he is not guided by virtue and reason, he will invent an excuse that adheres to a private double standard—he will operate according to two ethical codes that apply to two different categories: himself, and everyone else.

Any attempt to apply the same ethical standard to Others will have to result from this man finding something that appeals to himself first.  Take the opening riff above as an example: mutually beneficial encounters between people certainly come across as cases of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, but this is only because mutual self-interest has motivated some sense of moral reciprocity in a given exchange.  In other words, people caught up in such an exchange will never meet each other, since they will only ever have used one another as means to an end.

What does this say about the rise of hook-up culture and the degeneration of courting into dating and from dating into casual sexual encounters?  Sexual appetite has taken a front seat to the guidance of our moral behavior.  The meaningful yielding of ego and pride to the creation of a family—the formulation of one flesh out of man and woman—is so foreign a concept to the modern mind as to be unimaginable.  This degeneration has gotten so bad, in fact, that too often we hear pundits and trend-setters express complete doubt as to the validity of any form of relationship not founded on the appeasement of immediate sexual gratification.  What use are men, to the feminist, if not to be consumed as a form of immediate pleasure?  And what use are women, to the modern male, galvanized by decades of feminist talking points, if not to be consumed as a drug to please the sexual appetite?

In the pursuit of satisfying the insatiable hunger of human vice, individuals—somehow less than persons—consent to be used as objects.  Dignity is of no importance for social interaction, only the indulgence of some pleasure.

Destruction By Means of Consent

The modernist morality follows naturally from its anthropology.  An individual social unit, characterized as it is by its economy, can only decide right or wrong as it relates to its own wellbeing—in a manner of speaking, this really comes down to its own whims.  Consent is the name of the game; all things I consent to, as a modern man living a modern life, are fair game.  They’re good!  It doesn’t matter whether I’m consenting to some good wholesome behavior with my lawfully wedded wife or indulging in sadomasochistic homosexual  bondage role-play on the streets of Frisco.  All the parties apparently involved have consented, so what’s the harm?

Well, what is the harm?  We’re witnessing it now.  A few generations have passed since this became the default narrative of a secularized culture.  And on full display isn’t just the rampant celebration of sexual indulgences, not just the normalization of single motherhood and the destruction of stable family systems, not even just the inculcation of liberalized sexual idolatry into our children.  On full display is the literal destruction of our future.

The anchoring of modernity to something as fluid and indeterminate as consent means the reduction of all moral behavior to the impulsiveness of the moment.  Only the most immediate effects of an action can be gauged according to the barometer of consent, since consent can only measure the things it’s already familiar with.  Long term plans are often difficult if not painful to implement in the short term, and when all it takes is a simple redaction of a party’s consent to destroy those plans, those plans simply won’t be made.

The sexual revolution was inevitable the moment the word individual began to usurp the territory once held by personhood.  It was making into reality what was already known in theory: the elimination of the sensible and the substantive in favor of the momentary, flattened veneer.  Modernism is an ideology of appearance and self-service.  It is one of self-destruction.  Modernism, perhaps more obvious today, after a century of it, is a dying testament to the nature of all those possible ideologies that fall away from the one true reality of traditionalist teaching: those that deny reality ultimately commit suicide.  More than that, they do so with full knowledge and willingness of the act.

A life lived in the moment is a life lived severed from its ancestry and its future.  It’s just a long and fruitless waste of time, accumulating experiences that mean nothing and consuming goods that can’t be taken with it into the grave.

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