Once again I find myself, pace Matthew Arnold, “wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born.” Three articles I’ve looked at recently remind me again that I don’t know how to negotiate the difference between the cultures my parents were raised in and that my children are. In this case it’s the culture of sex. My parent’s world, small Frisian villages, was one of austerity, ignorance, and some repression. My children’s? Well, consider the following:

Today’s NYTimes has an article detailing a new show on MTV which explores the hypersexualized lives of teenagers, and features teenagers in leading roles. The article notes that the show is vulnerable to child pornography regulations; nonethless, it’s a big hit among teenagers. How would it even be possible to talk about sex intelligently with individuals who watch this show? (To preempt the inevitable comment: my children do not watch MTV, but I suspect some of my students do.)

The Times article notes that the MTV series is a near exact replica of a British series. If we suppose that the pathologies of English-speaking liberalism move westward, this article from London’s Daily Mail demonstrates that such pathologies are not simply matters of private concern. Indeed, when coupled with the nannyish properties of the modern state, such supposed pathologies (in a classic Umwertung aller Werte virginity is treated here as a pathology) are “corrected” through the use of taxpayer dollars.

Not that America isn’t capable of producing it’s own sexual dystopias, in this case the always compliant Duke University. Caitlin Flanagan in the January Atlantic highlights a case at Duke involving a young woman who catalogued her sexual encounters (via powerpoint no less) and submitted them as an undergraduate thesis.* The entire story will leave you feeling dispirited, and if this doesn’t convince you that the main victims of the sexual revolution are young women, nothing will. The always incisive Flanagan demonstrates once again that the contemporary feminist movement loves women not enough.

Child pornography on television? State institutions paying for individuals to fly to Amsterdam to get laid? Undergraduate theses detailing perverse, violent, and subjugating sexual encounters? Give me the “backward” world of the small Frisian farming village.

Hat Tip: MVDG

*EDIT: Readers noted my mistake here, that it was not actually submitted as an undergraduate thesis. Flanagan notes this in her article, but in my pique I forgot this.  The beginning of the powerpoint says: “Senior Honors Thesis. Duke University. Submitted to the Department of Late-Night Entertainment in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for a Degree in Tempestuous Frolicking.” Obviously not official coursework. This doesn’t alter the character of her debasement, however.

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Jeffrey Polet
Jeffrey Polet grew up in an immigrant household in the immigrant town of Holland MI. After twenty years of academic wandering he returned to Holland and now teaches political science at Hope College, where he also grudgingly serves as chair of the department, having unsuccessfully evaded all requests. In the interim, he continues to nurture quirky beliefs: Division III basketball is both athletically and morally superior to Division I; the Hope/Calvin rivalry is the greatest in sports; the lecture is still the best form of classroom instruction; never buy a car with less than 100,000 miles on it; putts will still lip out in heaven; bears are the incarnation of evil; Athens actually has something to do with Jerusalem; and Tombstone is a cinematic classic. His academic work has mirrored his peripatetic career. Originally trained at the Catholic University of America in German philosophy and hermeneutical theory, he has since gravitated to American Political Thought. He still occasionally writes about European thinkers such as Michel Foucault or the great Max Weber, but mostly is interested in the relationship between theological reflection and political formation in the American context. In the process of working on a book on John Marshall for The Johns Hopkins University Press, he became more sensitive to the ways in which centralized decision-making undid local communities and autonomy. He has also written on figures such as William James and the unjustly neglected Swedish novelist Paer Lagerkvist. A knee injury and arthritis eliminated daily basketball playing, and he now spends his excess energy annoying his saintly wife and their three children, two of whom are off to college. Expressions of sympathy for the one who remains can be posted in the comments section. He doesn’t care too much for movies, but thinks opera is indeed the Gesamtkuntswerk, that the music of Gustav Mahler is as close as human beings get to expressing the ineffable, that God listens to Mozart in his spare time, and that Bach is history’s greatest genius.


  1. It’s worth offering a slight correction to your post. The thesis at Duke was actually, as the Atlantic notes, a “thesis” – a joke written for the amusement of friends that was inevitably leaked and went viral.

    • Thank you for the correction. Readers should take note. The beginning of the powerpoint says: “Senior Honors Thesis. Duke University. Submitted to the Department of Late-Night Entertainment in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for a Degree in Tempestuous Frolicking.” Obviously not official coursework. This doesn’t alter the character of her debasement, however.

  2. “. . . . a case at Duke involving a young woman who catalogued her sexual encounters (via powerpoint no less) and submitted them as an undergraduate thesis.”

    I agree with your point of view, but you have a factual error here. She did not submit it as her undergrad thesis. Let’s not make it even worse than it is. She wrote up her encounters as an unofficial “thesis” which she “submitted” to a few friends. Perhaps she was idiotic enough to think it wouldn’t go viral, or exhibitionist enough to hope it would. But she did not submit it to faculty as anything official.

  3. Your comment comes on the heels of the prosecution of a Philadelphia abortionist, and what I would call satanic mockery of life – http://www.philly.com/philly/news/breaking/114200224.html?cmpid=15585797.

    The philosopher John Haldane noted that we are in the midst of a culture which consists of a combination of “preference satisfaction” and “materialism” and argued:

    “Putting these orthodoxies of human nature and value together yields consciousness-centered utilitarianism or, equivalently, hedonistic consequentialism. That theoretical mix has been brewing for over a century, with the vapors seeping from the philosophy journals into the classroom and the public culture. Over the last half century, Western societies have been moving toward the same conclusion: Human beings are subjects of consciousness residing in the extended bodies that also serve as instruments for the production of gratifying experiences.” I am reminded also of Alasdair MacIntyre’s definition of emotivism, which reduces all statements to questions of preference, thus equating “It is good to do X” with “I like X.”

    Combining Haldane and MacIntyre, throwing in overburdened “rights” language, and a dash of discredited Freudian-ism, one comes up with a cultural philosophy which: 1. Must allow any portrayal or act of sexual desire to go forwards, as that is what our bodies are ultimately made for; and 2. Cannot allow any limitation of such “right” because it might infringe on free speech, or (more likely), would limit someone’s right to define the universe as they see fit, because to do otherwise might harm the individual.

    Is it any great surprise that cooking shows are the new foodporn?

  4. The title of this piece is correct as far as it goes: the nanny state certainly bears some guilt in this. But I do not think it bears all the guilt, or even the lion’s share. We must also remember (as if we could forget) the anti-literature of advertising, to which we are all exposed on a 24/7 basis. The literature of the past sought to uplift; advertising seeks to degrade, on the grounds the a degenerate consumer is a good consumer. Sex sells, and MTV is a commercial operation. So is everything else. Love itself becomes a marketable commodity, and its market-clearing price is one’s dignity and self-respect.

  5. One notes, if hesitantly, that the “small Frisian farming village” has social correction (you called it the “nanny state”) costs of its own. Among others, one cost has been that schools have to offer, and train teachers to teach, “sex education” classes, to compensate for parental ignorance or prudery.

    And further, I have to ask, did you even read the article from the London Daily Mail? The young man in question isn’t having his views on virginity “corrected,” and virginity isn’t being treated as a pathology. Rather, the social workers who approved the expenditures saw sexual expression as a kind of right, and so, believed that the state had some kind of obligation to help the handicapped realize it. And further, as the article makes clear, the British government did not intend that the monies in the fund be used to pay for sex; social workers approved the expenditures *without oversight,* which makes it sound like a broader regulatory scheme (aka a bigger ‘nanny state’) would’ve helped avoid the problem you’re decrying.

    Obviously, there’s a debate to be had about whether sexual expression is a right. But the broader point is that such a debate a far cry from claiming that Britons see ‘virginity’ as a ‘pathology’ to be corrected by ‘the nanny state,’ and indeed, that sexual promiscuity or the sexual revolution or whatever is somehow causally connected to expanded governmental authority. And indeed again, if what emerges from the free market is just an expression of desires in aggregate, it seems to me that the problem posed by MTV, et al, that you mention is a function of *someone* failing to teach children what they ought to desire. It’d surprise me to find a ‘conservative’ who wanted to confer to the state that particular responsibility, though.

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