“No one has the right to define or restrict the parameters of another person’s attractions, love or intimacy.” So writes Charles Blow, a commentator for the NY Times whose column I read regularly and from which I frequently benefit. But every now and then all of us say things that are as foolish as they are well intended. Mr. Blow’s column – Sexual Attraction and Fluidity – speaks exactly to its title. And it lifts up Miley Cyrus as the spokesperson for the age’s “sexual fluidity”. In the attempt to claim ground for persons whose sexual appetites include … well, pretty much any and every other human being – Blow ends up sounding ridiculous. No one has the right to define or restrict … etc. Really?
This is clearly the age of what David Brooks calls “expressive individualism”, and apparently it applies to the full gamut of human greed – from orgasm to consumerism. If it is what I want, then that is justification enough to take it, to claim it, to own it. We are running headlong into the wall of our own emotional, spiritual and political demise.
Brooks, in a more carefully thought out piece than Blow’s, points to the front runner / outliers in the current season of politics. In his piece, The Anti-Party Men: Trump, Sanders, Carson and Corbyn, he observes that the current front-runners in the protracted US presidential posturing are people who don’t belong to the party whose nomination they seek. Donald Trump – a wealthy opportunist who doesn’t need the well-heeled, well-greased Republican machine to fund his campaign; and Bernie Sanders – a Socialist Independent whose populist appeal seems impervious to the typical Democratic policy contortions … and then there is Ben Carson. Ben who? What is the appeal of these three folks? (We won’t get into the across-the-pond politics of the UK and Jeremy Corbyn.)
Brooks postulates that the appeal has to do with running a campaign that draws its energy from individual dissatisfaction and a new kind of hyper-intensified self-interest. The two major political parties in this country have, over the decades, focused on governing a broad constituency that demands compromise and patience. Sarah Palin gave voice to what appeared to be an equally broad dissatisfaction with everything “Washington”. She was the outsider who spoke for the masses and articulated their frustration and anger. The sound defeat of McCain/Palin did nothing to stop her. Resigning as governor didn’t seem to take any steam out of the appeal of her rhetoric.
The problem with these folks, says Brooks, is that while their appeal to their constituency is solid, their ability to govern the masses is shot full of holes. It’s not enough to be mad at the rich, critical of the establishment, or solidly devoted to “open carry”. Trump’s success as a business man, Bernie’s consistency in the Senate and Carson’s accomplishments as a physician don’t guarantee the perspective needed to lead as the Chief Executive of the nation. What they have to say makes certain folks feel good. The problem is that we do have the right to restrict the parameters of each others’ atractions, loves, intimacies and politics.
That Charles Blow holds up Miley Cyrus as a standard bearer for what is needed in this country when it comes to acceptance of each others’ sexual orientation, attractions and intimacies is almost as frightening as the thought that Sarah Palin or Donald Trump, Ben Carson or Bernie Sanders might actually be the president of the US. Relationships, whether in love or governance, are less about the orgasmic moment and more about trusting each other in the daily grind of life.
David Brooks writes: “There has always been a tension between self and society. Americans have always wanted to remain true to individual consciousness, but they also knew they were citizens, members of a joint national project, tied to one another by bonds as deep as the bonds of marriage and community.”
In other words, the continuation of a civilization requires a delicate balance between self-interest and the welfare of all. “How do we channel cynicism into citizenship,” wonders Brooks.That is the question for those who try to convince us they can lead. And to the “casual, carefree-ness” of Miley’s statements that Mr. Blow finds so “charming and revolutionary”, one might ask: Are you willing, whatever the fluidity of your attractions, to accept the personal disciplines and make the compromises and commitments required for a meaningful, lasting relationship?
Sex and politics … they have never been all that different, have they! We won’t get into the “religion” part of the triangle. We’ll leave that for another time.