Monday, November 01, 2004

The Post Modern Coutesan Responds

The Post Modern Courtesan has responded to my post, via an email. I shall post the entire correspondence and my responses to her. I want her letter to me to be taken in context, rather than 'cherry pick' a few disjointed remarks and comment on them.

Thus, this post will be long. I hope my readers forgive me.
It is however, an important discussion. What follows below is an exchange of opinions and thoughts.

As The Post Modern Coutesan writes,

"High-minded debate is something so acutely lacking in society today that I find an intelligent dissenter far more rewarding than a fawning supporter."

Olympia Manet's (the nom de plume of the Post Modern Courtesan) letter was thoughtful, relevant and in it's own way, very poignant.

Let me be clear. I have no objection to to Ms. Manet herself-- only some of the choices she has made. As I posted in my
earlier piece, "It is authored by an obviously intelligent, educated and erudite writer."

Ms. Manet is not a Nazi, Islamofascist and she does not wear a white hood. She is not looking to corrupt your children nor steal Grandpa's Social Security check.

After reading her letter to me I can only reiterate those things as truths. While I do not agree with much of what Ms. Manet writes and ascribes to, I certainly respect her.

For those of you who will react in a religiously reflexive manner, please recall that both the Old and New Testaments are replete with examples of tolerance and understanding, even for those who have sinned.

For those of you who hate religion and anything else that smacks of conservative values, let me remind you that many of the liberal values we have in this country came about as the result of the efforts of many who invoked God's name.

Here is the letter:

Dear Alex,

I am Olympia Manet, the nom de plume of the postmodern courtesan. I'm writing because a reader forwarded me the link to your blog and your posting on mine.

Let me start by saying that though I suspect our political views would tend to be different, I really appreciate and respect the way you criticized my site and lifestyle without denigrating me as a person. High-minded debate is something so acutely lacking insociety today that I find an intelligent dissenter far more rewarding than a fawning supporter.

I took a moment to acquaint myself with your site as a whole so that I could better contextualize your comments on my site. One of the things I like about your site is that I have been able to pin very few associations on you. I have deduced from your divorced dad of a teenage daughter note that you are a man, and I am assuming you are both white and Christian, though I can't decide if your defense of the Catholic Church was sympathy or empathy. And you appear to be from the beautiful state of North Carolina.

I did want to take a moment to respond to some of your assertions, if only to give you a different perspective, one which I hope is free of rhetoric and cliches. You mention three things in your posting:homosexuality, prostitution, and terrorism that you consider to be disadvantageous to us as a society. I guess my disagreement can be traced to the fact that those three things have been in existence since the dawn of recorded history. Homosexuality, whether sanctioned or closeted has been around since at least Ancient Greece, and prostitution can be found in the Old Testament. Terrorism makes an appearance there as well: the Philistines who attack the Israelites from behind without provocation, killing women and children in a dishonorable manner.

I would wager to guess that these things will be around long after you and I cease to record our digital thoughts. I think what has changed is that we now talk about them. Issues that were once considered unacceptable to air publicly are now well in the public domain. I don't think this is a bad thing.

I'm not solely trying to pick apart your argument piece by piece, but the following passages juxtaposed made me curious:

"I don't believe that mental illness is a curse from God, nor do I believe that Gays are inherently sinfully choice or that that aren't issues that aren't struggled with everyday. I've written about that before as have many others.

Nevertheless, there comes a point where we have to take responsibility for our actions, good or bad.While we can rightly claim the good we do, we must also take the blame for the wrongs we do- or those done in our name."

Does the second paragraph mean that people must take responsibility for their homosexuality and acknowledge it as bad? Are people to be blamed for that? (I'm not going to ask about mental illness, as I am pretty positive you don't think people ought to be owning up to that and accepting blame for being mentally ill). And if they are to be blamed, what does that mean? Is a public apology good enough? Is returning to a time when we just don't talk about those kinds of people enough? Is the proper conclusion that gays should realize their actions are bad and stop requesting rights on par with straight people?

No, Ms Manet, I do not believe that homosexuals need acknowledge their behavior as bad. That is something I will leave for others to determine. Nor do I believe that we ought not talk about homosexuality, sexuality or even question other long held beliefs. That is not and has never been an issue.

I do not believe that there ought to be different rights for different groups of people. Christians, Jews and Muslims share the same equal rights and there is no need to place one religion 'over' another. Indeed, that was the Framers original intent, to preclude a government sanctioned (majority or otherwise) religion from imposing itself on the nation, to the exclusion of other faiths. The same is true of all equal protection laws.

I do however believe, that the homosexual community needs to acknowledge their behavior as different and that attempting to 'normalize' that behavior as an acceptable-- and thus equivalent-- lifestyle has repurcussions to society at large. This is no different than the Amish acknowledging their way of life different, in the same way that Orthodox Jews or Orthodox Muslims acknowledge their own differences. None of those groups ask for or receive special rights that are outside those already afforded them. They do not ask that we change our lifestyles so that we respect their respective Sabbath Days.

Society and government have the obligation to preserve and defend the standard definition of family, if for no other reason than they they are the foundations of our past, current and future existence.

It is true that prostitution, adultery and homosexuality have been around a long time and will always be an issue in society.

Having said that, let me point out that I am all for civil unions. However that works itself out, is fine with me. I do not wish to see any persons in 'this great experiment in democracy,' excluded from equal protections. Equal protections however, does not mean equivalence. Nor does that imply a superior or inferior status. Equal protections are just that- to be applied equally.

As the late Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliot Trudeau once said, "Government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation."

That oft quoted remark will always remain relevant.

Adultery laws, and those about homosexuality, found in the bible (and the quran) were put in place at a time when societies were fragmented and the most important thing was to keep the society together and to propagate it. If you were having sex with someone other than your wife, or with a man, you weren't having children who would in turn further the aims of the society. Most of the biblical laws were put in place to prevent societal atrophy. The entire Old Testament is geared towards making sure there would be enough people to sustain the religion. Adultery and homosexuality were seen to be barriers to that (as was the honoring of parents, the ban on false idols, the coveting of those things that rightly belonged to one's neighbor). Regardless of whether the issue of sustaining a society is still relevant today (which I would posit it isn't, or certainly not in the dire way it was portrayed 2 and 3 thousand years ago), the problem with using those mores as a foundation for a secular government is that it is inherently exclusive. I have always felt that democracy strives to be inclusive, to provide a safe place for people to actas they wish while respecting the laws of the land. Laws that are of utmost importance would be not stealing from other people and not killing them. Without those laws in place, anarchy would certainly reign. I just don't see how homosexuality and prostitution pose the same threat. Yes, there are religions, and those religions have the majority of the U.S. population as followers, that disdain adultery, prostitution, and homosexuality, but that alone cannot be justification for secular laws against them.

Here, I'm not sure what Ms. Manet is saying. Is she implying that there are laws that are actively discriminatory towards gays? If anything, it is clear that there are no laws that are specifically anti gay in nature. There have been laws that have been found to be exclusionary in their implementation, but those laws were reinterpreted by the courts and clarified to be more inclusive. Herein lies the strength of our society. The courts are constantly redefining who we are and what our laws mean. We don't always like these 'activist' courts (unless of course, they rule in our favor, whatever the cause du jour may be), but in reality, overall the courts have worked remakably well.

Ms. Manet's assertion disappoints me in that she implies there are laws that are actively discriminatory, is an unfair characterization of our laws and as such, lessens open and honest debate.

Further, biblical laws pertaining to prostitution and homosexuality were established for more than simply propogation of the religion. It would seem to me that the issues those laws adderssed are as equally valid today as they were back then. The issues the address are the same as the ones we face today. Families are disintegrating and children are being reduced to chattel, bought and paid for on a weekend to weekend basis. We are less engaged with our families. This results in even more detachment.

Even the "It takes a village to raise a child" philosophy is meaningless if there aren't strong families to populate and commit to those villages.

I cannot argue Ms Manet's point that laws pertaining to adultery and prostitution are not the equivalent of the laws relating to murder and theft. Nevertheless, we have somehow managed to find ourselves in a society and culture that is more callous and less grounded. While not resulting in the anachy of murder and mayhem, perhaps we ought to be looking at the slow disintegration of values we hold dear. There is an increasing sexualization of children and the depressing state of what passes for TV and film entertainment, seems to be headed to even lower depths.

Those are not strictly the religious values Ms. Manet would have you believe. I would submit that someone as thoughtful as her would concur that we, in this generation, face challenges never before imagined. We cannot even imagine what the future holds. By Ms. Manet's own words, "biblical laws were put in place to prevent societal atrophy." Why would that be no less true today? Since when is societal atrophy a religious matter only?

To say that moral corruption is a religious matter only, is a disingenious argument, because the obverse would also be true-- that morality is a religious construct.

If that were true, why is the fight for gay marriage being called a moral fight? Why should marriage be relevant at all, outside religious boundries?

Morality exists outside the boundries of religion, as does immorality. As such, there are a whole range of moral issues that must be dealt with by society as a whole.

Putting aside religion, morality and politics for a moment, consider this. In some states, girls as young as 14 can have an abortion without their parents knowledge.

Something is wrong with that. Very wrong and very tragic.

I have yet to receive a response I understand for how granting marriage to homosexuals weakens heterosexual marriage. I don't understand how adultery with a prostitute is any more damaging than adultery with a lay person - and I don't think there would be much support for an anti-adultery law. You yourself are divorced, and I can only imagine what a painful decision that must have been, but the result is that, through what I will guess was neither homosexuality nor the solicitation of a prostitute, your family has become non-nuclear. If the nuclear family is the key towards righting our social ills, I might suggest that both you and I are guilty of contravening that goal.

As I stated earlier, I have no problem with civil unions.

Ms. Manet is right to say that divorce is always painful and neither homosexuality or prostitution played a role in my own, and for that matter, in the demise of most, marriages.

Still, the remark that "I don't understand how adultery with a prostitute is any more damaging than adultery with a lay person...," troubles me.

Nowhere in the letter does Ms. Manet denigrate marriage, nor given her apparent ideology, condemn marraige. Therefore, the remarks are confusing. With adultery and sex with a prostitute, the marriage vows are compromised. Notwithstanding any religious beliefs, society has accepted marital fidelity as a given.

Prostitution reduces intimacy to commodity, no more no less. It is bought and paid for with no consequence. It is the exact opposite of intimacy. It is a commercial exchange, with the emphasis on the commercial. Men (or women) pay for sex, period. While is true there is often the illusion of a relationship, as you have written yourself, in the end, it is just that-- an illusion.

Arguments can be made that adultery is 'better' or 'worse' than prostitution, but regardless, the results are the same. There are consequences to the individuals, families and society at large.

In both cases, prostitution and adultery, social and religious lines are crossed.

But that's not my point. I think that we encounter far greater threats to our way of life and our livelihood than either homosexuality or prostitution pose, and I am saddened that those issues, especially the former, are seized upon in an attempt to distance ourselves from the stickier problems that affect us: poor education, poor race relations, general intolerance, general greed, and the converse, general poverty. I find that arguments made against sexual issues are an avoidance tactic that allows people to be galvanized while simultaneously allowing them to ignore the problems that may well affect them more directly on a day to day basis.

In this area, I find myself somewhat agreeing with Ms Manet. It is true there are greater societal needs than prostitition. I would argue however, that the eradication of the very real issues you mention, go hand in hand with proper perspective. They cannot be attacked piecemeal. When we attempt to deal with societal ills, we need to deal with all of them. Still, she is right. In the great scheme of things, the triage of what must be dealt with, would place prostitution on a lower rung.

On a more personal note, let me be honest and say I know I make my money off human weakness and moral relativism. My livelihood is directly linked to people wanting more and varied sex, being unable to confront their partners with these desires, and coming to a third party for fulfillment. If it breaks up families, obviously I feel bad. But not responsible. A marriage that breaks up because one or both partners stray cannot be attributed to the straying itself, but rather the causes for that straying. If adultery wasn't going to terminate the marriage, something else would have. The world is too complex for that to be a black and white issue. And whether couples break up for reasons of adultery, money problems, or the old irreconcilable differences, and children of that union will be hurt. A child who has just witnessed a divorce isn't going to take time to rank how bad the reasons for the divorce were, he or she will simply be devastated by the divorce itself. But thinking that had one of the parents not seen a prostitute the marriage would still be intact is just poor reasoning.

I admire Ms. Manet's candor with regard to human weakness and moral relativism. With those few words, she concedes much.

I do question her when she remarks that prostitution doesn't break marriages. In a sense of course, that is true. In another sense, an argument can be made that prostitution can contribute mightily to the dissolution of a marriage.

Prostitutes cultivate relationships. That is their business. A good prostitute knows that by being the object of an infatuation, the relationship will flourish and thus be lucrative. I do wonder if Ms. Manet grasps the magnitude of that obsession, in all it's implications.

Prostitution and adultery can indeed contribute to the breakup of a marriage

Ms. Monet seems to make light on the impact divorce has on children, when it comes about as the result of adultery or prostitution. Younger children are perhaps immune to the issues of betrayal, but older children are not. Children as young as 8 years old, the age when rational thought and consequence become apparent, can be acutely aware and traumatized by impact of infidelity and betrayal.
Those wounds are hard to heal.

Similarly, I would like to say that, on a more altruistic note, the way I handle my business affairs is far more responsible than one might imagine. My rule of mandatory STD screening for both me and my clients prevents the spread of a terror with fartherreaching consequences than simple divorce. Men who choose to see prostitutes with less stringent rules run the risk of infecting their wives with something they picked up from a prostitute.

Finally, I'd like to end with your last paragraph:

"Democracy is about a lot more than legitimizing the morally corrupt notion of that 'all is fair in love and war."

You've said a mouthful here. Morally corrupt, as I attempted to describe above, is a spiritual construct, not a secular one. Morality is relative, and though you and I probably subscribe to a basic set of similar morals, those should not be the basis on which we govern. Government should be free from such influence and should instead focus on what is civicley corrupt. Morality is an issue each of us must confront with that to which we pray or believe. Making it something more removes the singularity of our democratic processes and makes it about a special interest. People who preach morality do so, generally, because they truly believe they have the answers to the ills of our society, but their voices are only some of many, and to give credence to any one group overanother is a recipe for disaster. Democracy is about alot more than legitimizing notions. Democracy is about creating an environment where people are free to livetheir lives unoppressed and unmolested. But it is als oabout preserving my right to think that gays should marry and I should be permitted to have sex for moneyand preserving your right to think otherwise. And if some of those thoughts come up against laws where we are restricted from leading our lives because we subscribe to different beliefs or lifestyles, something has gone drastically wrong. It is easy to dismiss the similarities between the rights for gays and the rights for blacks or women, but at the time that equal rights for both blacks and women were debated, there were plenty of people who subscribed to the notion that granting equal rights to those demographics would erode the family and our society as a whole. I'm glad to say that eventuality happened in neither case.

Anything goes no matter if we want it to or not, but I'm not sure if punishment and secrecy are the answer to the problems you see in society. I would wager aguess that if our society were stronger, neither homosexuality nor prostitution would pose the great threat you feel they do. If our children were educated and tolerant; if we didn't have hordes of starving and sick people barely surviving throughout our rich country; if our air and water quality were better; andif we learned to prize and respect each other as unique and contributing individuals, rejoicing in our similarities and our ability to create great things,and not wallowing in those petty differences we often use to separate ourselves - maybe then it wouldn't matter if our next door neighbors were a gay couple with two adopted kids. Utopian, this thought might be, but no less utopian than the world I saw you envision in your post.

I have discussed moral corruption as a social and not strictly religious issue, so I need not repeat myself.

As for much of what Ms Monet goes on to say, I agree. We disagree however, it the conclusions.

As she says, "Democracy is about creating an environment where people are free to live their lives unoppressed and unmolested."

Ms Monet sees the issue of democracy as primarily an expression of individual rights and then communal rights.

I see democracy as an expression of communal rights first, because it is from the community that all sense of individual rights are derived. I too, recognize Ms Monet's notion of 'creating an environment' conducive to democracy where personal liberties flourish. However, those personal liberties are not an absolute. Free speech does not allow for yelling 'Fire!' in a crowded theater. At some point, the well being of the community trumps the individual's rights.

Nowhere did I mention or suggest 'punishment' for those I disagree with. That characterization is unfair and is an atempt to miscontrue my words.

Like Ms Monet, I stuggle at times with the balance. As
I've written before, regarding abortion, that struggle has been very real for me.

Ms Monet tries to equate civil rights for blacks and women as equal to civil rights for gays. That argument won't hold water.

Black Americans were discriminated against simply because they existed. There is no more fundamentall right than the right to live. It took too long, a war was fought over it and we finally corrected that injustice.

Women suffered at the hands of a culture that in many cases, demeaned and denigrated them. That too, over time, was a wrong, rightly overcome. We changed the way we think about women and that has benefited all of society enormously.

The discrimination of gays is also a matter that must be addressed-- and they are being addressed, in the courts and in the market place of thoughts and ideas. Nevertheless, addressing discrimination does not mean specific rights for any group of people. Nor does it mean forcing society into accepting an alternative lifestyle as equal. At some point, society has a right to define itself.

Ms Monet calls me on 'preaching morality.'

I suppose she's right. I do believe in right and wrong. However, I don't believe that I have all the answers. She is wrong however, when she implies I'm trying to cure all the worlds ills. I do have strong beliefs in what would make for a better world, but in reality, I can only attempt to influence that small circle around me. Sometimes I will be successful, sometimes I won't.

I have written that America is a uniquely self correcting endeavor. Elections happen, power is handed over and somehow, the cycle continues and we all seem to move forward.

I have nowhere near the answers for what ails the world, any more than Ms Manet does. I think Ms Manet would admit to that.

Let me also say that discussions of this nature are never final or definative. They can however be instructive and provide food for thought.

Perhaps neither Ms, Manet's way of thinking or mine holds the key to that magical kingdom we both envision, but in the end, we do share similiar ideas about the kind of world we want to live in.

We both want the world to be a better place. That's a start.

This has gone on far too long, and if you're still reading, thank you. I chose to write you personally rather than leave a comment on your blog. However, if you wanted to reprint any of this email for your readers, you have my permission provided that you donot unfairly excerpt. I trust you wouldn't, but I wanted to make my preferences known. I tried not to take your writing out of context when penning this missive, and I would hope you would show me the same respect were you to reprint a part of this. We might have some radically different opinions, but I found your site to be well-written and certainly thoughtful.



Wandering Mind

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