Shame and Post-Human Sex

Anxiety and guilt are unpleasant, but anyone who has read Kierkegaard is aware of the psychological argument in their favor, at least to some extent. It is in anxiety and guilt that we decisively grasp our individuality. In this spirit, Marc Barnes reflects on Max Scheler and shame, especially the higher levels of shame reported by religious folks who watch pornography:

Scheler sums up shame as “a protective feeling of the individual and his or her value against the whole sphere of what is public and general.” In this view shame is a positive good, and the “bad feelings” associated with it are really the feelings evoked by those conditions which necessitate our blushing rush to protect our individuality — the objectifying gaze, the dirty insinuation, or the public insult.

For Barnes, shame is not primarily a category of social discipline, but is rather a subconscious act of self-defense. Barnes quotes Scheler: “Shame is, as it were, a chrysalis; sexual love grows within it until it breaks through.” Calcifying the distinction — i.e. shame is a technique of self-discipline, not social discipline — makes the case somewhat flat and unconvincing. But it is interesting to think of shame in a positive light, especially with respect to sexuality. So, who in our society could use a little shaming?

During the recent culture wars, Christians risked shaming women in vulnerable positions (contrary to Christ’s injunction about casting the first stone). Even so, I have been trying to think more positively about prudishness lately.

The shamelessness of an increasing population of males  concerns Kevin Williamson over at National Review:

In metropolitan areas where they congregate, young men are in almost every case outearned by the young women in the same cohort… As the French novelist Michel Houellebecq put it in his own vision of sex after humanity: the future is female. With the institution of marriage in decadence, the family in chaos, and men’s traditional role as providers and protectors rendered marginal by economic reality, only the ruthless sexual market remains, stripped naked of such traditional mediating forces as have customarily wedded male sexual energy to sociable purposes. More than that: As porn becomes more of a substitute for sexual relationships and more of an end unto itself, we are entering an era in which sex is, at least for some section of the population, post-human.

Like David Foster Wallace’s wild essay “Big Red Son”, Williamson posts his racy report as a correspondent at the Adult Video News (AVN) Awards in Las Vegas. Like Wallace’s essay, it is full of irresistible double entendres, while all the while painting a picture of a hopelessly unironic event populated by sad characters. Williamson’s apocalyptic tone may play well on the Right, but his choice of French theorists — Houellebecq notwithstanding — is surprising:

Porn is no longer an ersatz, last-option sexual substitute — it is an end unto itself. The AVN spectacle turns out to be a perverse vindication of the theories of Jacques Lacan: The signifier here has indeed taken precedence over the thing signified.

Our generation of young men, schooled in “post-human” sex, might put a little shame to good use.

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