History's End

History will end only when Man does

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  • Monday, November 01, 2004

    The New Morality

    This Guardian piece about novelist/writer Tom Wolfe is surprisingly full of insight, considering the source. It covers topics as broad as the Leftist-Elite mentality, the sexual revolution and the Bush Presidency. Actually, those topics are hardly so unconnected as I make them out to be. They do all relate to each other, often in unexpected ways. However, the most important part of the article can be found in these paragraphs:

    A new Tom Wolfe novel is always a literary event: where will he go next? The answer this time is an elite, imaginary Ivy League university, Dupont College, for a book about libido off the leash, and about the cult of what Wolfe calls "the bad comedy" of college sports - athletes taken on by centres of academic excellence for their bodies, not their brains.

    The novel - researched, as usual, down to the last expletive - concerns a young world speaking "f--- patois", loaded with creatine and cocaine, numbed by PlayStation 3, and charged by alcohol, the "vile spleen" of rap and, above all, ubiquitous sex between the heirs and heiresses to privilege in America. Most intriguingly, in this week of all weeks in American history, the book affords a gateway towards explaining Wolfe's boldly delivered, tantalising, remark: "I have sympathy with what George Bush is trying to do, although obviously the excursion [into Iraq] is not going well."

    Four years ago, Wolfe wrote an essay to mark the millennium called Hooking Up, about what he called "feverish emphasis on sex and sexiness". In a way, the new novel is a literary fruition of the essay. The excess and decadence at Dupont College are seen through the eyes of his heroine, Charlotte Simmons, who arrives a diligent virgin from the hills of North Carolina, on a full scholarship. She is initially intimidated and appalled, but eventually conquers her fear to partake, indeed to star, in the jock beanfeast.

    "I personally would be shocked out of my pants if I was at college now," confides Wolfe, who spent four years trawling the campuses for raw material. The book, he says, is "about sex as it interacts with social status. And I have tried to make the sex un-erotic. I will have failed if anyone gets the least bit excited. So much of modern sex is un-erotic, if erotic means flight of fancy or romantic build-up. Sex now is so easy to consummate - it is a pressure that affects everybody, girls more than boys, I think."

    As he notes, the America which votes tomorrow is a country riven over morality like never before. On the flip side of the culture of ubiquitous sex is that of puritan Christianity, as harnessed in no small part by Bush. "Yes, there is this puritanism," says Wolfe, "and I suppose we are talking here about what you might call the religious right. But I don't think these people are left or right, they are just religious, and if you are religious, you observe certain strictures on sexual activity - you are against the mainstream, morally speaking. And I do have sympathy with them, yes, though I am not religious. I am simply in awe of it all; the openness of sex. In the 60s they talked about a sexual revolution, but it has become a sexual carnival."

    "In the 60s they talked about a sexual revolution, but it has become a sexual carnival." I think nothing conveys the situation better. The "New Morality," as it were, is essentially the ultimate application of the Existentialist philosophy. This method of thought holds that the individual is the final arbiter of his or her own morality, and that they must choose how to live for themselves. By itself this isn't necessarily bad, but our culture has taken this philosophy and perverted it into a monstrosity known as moral relativism. Ironically, this philosophy is in fact a rejection of Existentialism, but in many ways descends from it. Moral relativism holds that no morality is greater than any other, and because of this, we can't judge the morality of others. Although, it isn't that huge of a leap from "others can't tell you what is moral" to "nothing is moral or immoral." And because of this we have a sexual carnival, a culture which encourages what was once depravity, and tells us that no one, including ourselves, can truly determine right or wrong.

    Those who partake in this carnival forget that when nothing is wrong, then nothing is right, and there is nothing to fight for. Patriotism and personal responsibility, civic duy, all fall to the wayside. They are unsophisticated. I imagine that Rome's last days were not too much different.

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