Just Say No to Anti-Sex (h2so4 11)

Of Cheating and Civil Silence

Today, everybody thinks they know everything about sex and power. Sex and its relation to power was the great enigma of the 1970's, but today we all assume that controlling and commanding events and being sexually attractive are the most obviously connected things in the world. We think this because we readily observe how sexuality can be used to get ahead. We see how sex can be traded for something one wants and since getting what one wants is a kind of power, we think that sex and power go hand in hand like strangers in the night. And when we hear of the President getting blow jobs on the job, we think "Well, that's what he gets for being so powerful" and when we watch Monica Lewinsky turn into a personal publicity corporation, we think "Well, that's what she gets for using her sexual qualities in such a savvy manner." But it is my contention that what underlies this common sense "evidence" that power is sexy and that sexiness can be converted to power is not as obvious as the discourse on Monicagate would lead one to believe. Perhaps, while the event is still fresh in our mind, we should consider the paths not taken in this crisis, and ponder what is being acted out, and what left aside, in sex and social regulation today. 

* * *

It is hard to fathom how our nation of family values can continue to be scandalized by a wife who does not reduce her husband to cowering ashes for having fooled around with a young and tender underling. We have seen Lewinsky on Barbara Walters, we have heard Linda Tripp blather for all she's worth; then Monica again on the cover of Time magazine; but Hillary Clinton has remained silent through it all. Is her reticence merely the time-honored tactic of the jilted "older woman" awaiting the long-term vindications of the community? Or has Hillary silently made a kind of stand for yet another issue her husband has not been able to defend? Can anybody say sexual privacy? Or let me guess... do we have to get a witness?

The first bold stroke in Hillary's non-response was to not "go postal" and divorce Bill right away. Perhaps for many who suffer from our toothsome American sentimentality, her response is difficult to understand. However, since our first impulse was to demand that she react in this "divorcive" way, shouldn't we also stop to consider why no one seems to care enough about sexual privacy to ask why and how we ever became the arbiters of First Family affection in the first place? 

Everyone seems to assume that if you're the President, you are owned by the country. And we certainly don't want our employees getting off on the job! The rest of us submit to polygraphs and drug tests, graphologists and keyword snooping and so on; so, if a DNA scan busts the President, he should lose his job just like a fashion model must lose hers if she swells past the weight specified in her runway contract. 

What has been so very mind-gagging about all this is the assumption that it is somehow family-enhancing to ask couples to undergo intensive public scrutiny of their very body language toward one another whenever biomolecular scientists confirm whatever gossips say is so. "What does Hillary's silence mean? Is she leaning toward him? Crossing her legs away? Just "pecking" him instead of offering a heartfelt kiss?" Shouldn't we also ask: Who wants to know? Why? For what purposes? 

***

Perhaps Bill Clinton's greatest failure in all this is not to have appealed to the fact that well-guarded sexual privacy can deflate the consequences of sexual errancy and encourage sexual forgiveness. Where did we learn to believe that to tell all is the "healthy" thing to do? In fact, the cult of baring one's chest (or thong, as it were) seems precisely integral to certain time-honored strategies for converting sexuality into power. Using confession to multiply discourses (to breed them, I almost said) to the point of commodifiable reality is surely the most evident outcome of Monica's gate: is it possible you haven't seen her infamous mouth all over every organ of the press today? Perhaps Clinton was confused about whether oral sex was actually sex because the same organ which gives the pleasure spreads its news as well. But seriously, it is clear that he was concerned primarily with his job ratings and not his family values, and was unable to control how his PR strategy would stoke Lewinsky's well-nourished infamy. 

Take for example, the fact that Clinton was unable to represent himself credibly as having lied in order to spare his wife the spectacle of M. Lewinsky appearing as a person with real claims to a reciprocal and intimate relationship with the President. It started when Clinton's original denials of Lewinsky's humanity ("that woman") began to look like a failure to apologize in the "public eye." At this point (prompted no doubt by the DNA evidence on the dress) Clinton shifted his attack to Starr and not, for instance, to Linda Tripp, or Lewinsky's motivations. Instead of claiming his (and our) sexual privacy, Clinton was forced to accept the outward trappings of Christian piety with no real awareness of why those who care about family values cherish privacy. He apologized and started "the national healing process" instead of defending his right to construe his privacy as a family-enhancing value. 

Clinton could have defended himself as having lied in order to save Monica, Hillary and Chelsea from the public spotlight. Instead he rejected the original advice of his spin team to do just that (one of them resigned at this point) and opted to stand down Starr as an intruder and when Clinton did this, he decided to attack Starr as a person rather than a principle. In doing so he took up the classic masculine crest of the Christianuclear family in a way that citizens would understand at the "gut" level, but he forgot that in taking up this cross he would come off looking at the psychosexual level like he was saying that some other man (the big bad wolf, Starr) had caught him coitus interruptus with a bimbo, and that this outsider, this arriviste-voyeur-Starr, should now in turn be punked out for having interrupted the first (and more gender- and status-appropriate) presidential punking. Such bravado is the prima materia of sex-discourse inflation, and well steeped in the rhetoric of big-time wrestling, to boot. By this point, Lewinsky's goals of being in the limelight were deeply secured but with the consequence that we as a nation lost something crucial to sexual sanity: the sense that sexual privacy is a fundamental precondition of love. Let me explain.

Surely sexual privacy secures the possibility of longer-lasting and more loving relationships. The absence of outside commentators reduces potentially corrosive friction as cycles of attraction come and go within any well-cultivated relationship. Enhanced privacy also allows couples to explore consensual levels of risk in their commitment. As our public culture increasingly insists on no-fault marriage, ( a curious kind of one strike/you're out policy regarding infidelity), we erode the sexual privacy necessary for the existence of the kind of love that makes an emotional contract desirable in the first place. To understand how Monicagate helps turn us all into autoregulating sexual police national enquirers of our own souls let me delve into the enterprising mentality that forms our daily context.

You may ask: what exactly is wrong with a no-fault marriage? Let's start with the simple fact that no marriage is faultless! Contractarians know that a contract is only as strong as the goodwill behind accomplishing the goals specified in the "deal." Sometimes this is even reduced to saying "a contract is only as good as the love behind it." But if it takes a village to raise a child, this is because it takes a community to enforce a contract. Such a presumption most often means that two people must have an active will in accomplishing their contracted obligations or the whole thing will swelter, stink and outright die on the vine like love actually enforced in the legalistic terms of marriage and divorce law often does. Already, something odd is happening when we say that it takes love to make a contract real but that it also (apparently in these here United States at least) takes a contract to make love real. 

If "family values" refers to anything other than the cheap and inhumane bargain we must perpetually strike with the powers that be in order to reduce the price of police in our fair land, then let us be more honest about the civil legacy which bequeaths this familiar style of government. In these sad and latter days, we witness conservatives discovering how very much the slogan "the personal is the political" is turning to their political advantage and to their dreams of subordination, surveillance and social sadism. If "family values" are truly to be our democratic legacy as a nation, if "family values" are the way we refer to enlightenment ideals about respecting whatever teaches children to keep their word and be good team players (key aspects of a good contractarian upbringing, no doubt, and big virtues in the U.S.) then we must remember to teach our children something about Machiavelli whenever we speak of the ideal autonomy of the sexual soul. 

Just as Niccol 's Prince was warned that "men love as they themselves determine but fear as their ruler determines," so too should children know that love is freely given or is not love at all, but is instead a form of vexatious enchantment with power. For Beauty and for Beast, love can never be extorted in full consciousness; but this also means that it can always be annulled no matter what kind of "agreement" is made contract be damned. Anything less than sexual autonomy destroys the ideals that love has traditionally symbolized.

The most important thing "parents who care" can teach their children is that it is a miracle and not in any sense a right that mommy and daddy have been able to negotiate sexual difference and have been able to remain sufficiently monogamous while retaining some degree of passion in their love for one another. To honor the value of the family as we know it now (a most bonsai and certainly miniaturized form, to say the least) is to recognize what a miracle the origami of nuclear family bonding can be when it actually occurs and is not the pipedream of domestic regulation! For love between the sexes is truly a nuclear test site of disintegrating trust. It is rare indeed when the heterosexuality of lovers can be propelled by a contract and accelerated to the level of civic fusion promised in the contractarian assumptions of community in America. A miracle, then and not a right is such conjugal bliss and family value, if, and when, it might occur. 

* * *

Now let's admit what is really at stake. The sexual-chilling effect is not just that politicians (inside the Beltway, as they say) will have to come under near total sexual scrutiny; to the contrary, the overwhelming popular consensus is that politics and sexual activity "have nothing to do with each other." What is stressed in the moral undertow is that philandering threatens families because it can break up mommies and daddies. We are never allowed to question or posit what it is that keeps mommies and daddies together in the first place. Yes, you may say, that's because its so clear that the sexual bond is expressed in jealousy but please note the overweening impact our policies for regulating the effects of jealousy (based on the assumption that parents will "break up" if one of them cheats) have upon our national identity. 

You will notice that very few people are suggesting that we change the way we think about families or about getting jealous in order to encourage families like the Clintons not to break up over something as potentially transient as an affair with Monica L. Instead, what we see is a concern that children understand the wrongness of a parent who cheats. An obsession that a President must be a role model family man in order to lead the United States of America. An insistence that a role model family man does not, apparently, have (any definition of) sex with anyone but his wife. We might ask, then, whether the problem is the perjury. That Clinton lied about his affair to protect his own privacy (or even his wife's and daughter's, or even Monica's for that matter)? Or is it rather that Clinton has done something which we are all supposed to think is downright wrong? Clinton has allowed this second and most moralistic interpretation: he has apologized, and did so in some small part in order to assist in personally villianizing Starr. In missing the opportunity to defend sexual privacy as a principle (as a "family value," even!) Clinton debased love by confusing what its contract might mean.

What Bill did not do has fallen to Hillary's silence. So why not channel, for a moment, the kinds of perspectives that surely condition her point of view? Let us go back to the popular assumption that contracts are all that holds communal life together. Who today is most threatened by the consequences of Bill Clinton's sexual ethics? Old-money brides might care the most since they could be paying for a big part of their husband's identity and this might give them the right to carp when their spouse makes a booty call for younger sexual attention. Then comes the new-money middle-aged women who were probably a bit Monica-Lewinsky in their own day. And there are always those women who hate the idea of another woman, nay, even another person, "getting over" on them for whatever reason. If Hillary were one of these, she would perhaps be angrier if Bill didn't choose the ridiculous big-hair parade in his philandery list Gennifer, Paula, Monica, et al. Imagine if Bill was getting off with Helen Hunt or dallying with Uma Thurman, people probably wouldn't make as many jokes about him being from Arkansas and psychologists wouldn't be able to say things about how he "unconsciously" rejects his own status, etc. And Hillary would probably be much more pissed off. It strikes me as absolutely relevant that when we talk about jealousy, we clarify who it is not just what it is that makes us jealous. Yes, this is gossip, but we have to go there in a principled way, with the tools of metaphilosophical social science (or philosophical metascience, take your pick: there is room for debate here, but the issue is tremendous and merits serious attention).1

Hillary's silence has generated everything but this more reasonable "it is none of our business" attitude: Put your ear to the ground and see what you hear: Is Hillary a "big bitch" because she lets her husband sexually haze his social inferiors? Or, as they say in the big house, does Hillary let Bill "punk out" occasional small-time bitches and nobody ho's droopin' around the White House just cuz that's what she thinks men do anyway, and why shouldn't her man be one of the boyz in the hood? Or is it Hillary who is the misogynist and who thinks that the toe-scraping line of big-haired bimbos are just a bunch of sluts who deserve whatever treatment they get only that she wishes her man wouldn't let these cunts go on so much in public, tiresome as they are? Or is she remaining tres politique, quietly managing her own subaltern love life (much more successfully than Bill we might note in this scenario), understanding that as superpeople and equals, she and Bill need not concern themselves over such trifles except perhaps, when, like recently, they do get nastily swept under the nose (and about the knees, I'm afraid) of their superdaughter Chelsea? Such rumors and opinions about what Hillary is or should be, how she should act or react, serve to deflect serious reflection on love and its conditions of possibility.

For without a better idea of what sexual charisma is a precise, if not objectivistic, language for talking seriously about sexiness, who "does it" for us, how it is socially manifested I don't think we'll be able to discuss "who" makes us jealous and what does and does not break a relationship. And so, instead of an enhanced awareness of our sexuality, we, like the duped and pious hordes in centuries before us, opt for the sloppy and archaic mental notation of talking about "what" it is that makes us jealous, and "what" makes us "sin." This nominalistic spirit causes the conceptual slippage that so unfairly stigmatizes entire sex acts entirely out of their psychosexual context (think of the sodomy laws still on the books) and produces things like our stricture that a younger woman should not give oral pleasure to a man who is her superior or boss or elder. It's all "what" and never "who." 

Thinking that to give pleasure is to be a "loser," we invoke the old angel-whore dichotomy and with this, we make it seem that for a man to receive oral sex is for him to "punk" someone out, to make them kneel, to make them "serve," to put on the kneepads to better cope with the "pain" and prolong the "service." 

And so, "naturally," we come to think that admiration can't be a part of good love, we think that good wives can't be groupies too, or vice versa. We don't take into remotest consideration what a couple's intimate past together may have already "negotiated." Nobody talks about what is most obvious: which is truly that there are several if not a hundred good reasons why Hillary shouldn't care about this dalliance with Monica. But do we have any right to try and force her to lay it all out for us like some virtual superperson? Does she, as a woman, or as the First Lady, have to give us the absolute certainty of family-centered affect demanded by today's hypersexualized calculus of moral responsibility? Do we even want leaders who would accept this kind of scrutiny? Why do we make our leaders into sexual role models in the first place? Will it also be an impeachable offense to have trouble with or even separation or divorce from your spouse? 

Rather than flounder in ignorance, it would be better to have a finer understanding of what it is that makes us accept one person over another as a sexual authority; why we recognize a particular person as worthy of giving sexual advice someone whose advice is eventually internalized and made real because it was already perceived as worth taking. Much better to understand this than to swim on in the swampy tide of public opinion, to bellow, bray and boggle night and day about how Hillary simply must appear on a special emergency Oprah episode to settle the score once and for all with her big billy-bob booby trap bad boy. Based on the misshape of events so far, I would guess Clinton would probably mumble something about "that woman" and go out and counterschedule himself for an appearance on Jerry Springer to shout down Ken Starr... but that's another story and neither of them have anything to do with sexual justice which is what this country wants but cannot have as long as sex remains nothing more than an answer to our escalating problems of social control and not a forthright first question for the philosophy of friendship.

Maybe I've taken an unnecessarily long route here, perhaps we should simply do an Orwellian keyword search in Winston and Julia's email for the phrase "anti-sex league" and remember what was predicted and perhaps began to come true in 1984. It's too bad that Clinton won't get the rat-trap off his face in time to deny he ever really felt anything for how this scandal would affect Hillary, Chelsea, or Monica, because, no doubt, he has some real work to get back to, to be sure. But are we supposed to be comforted if we eventually see on screens everywhere our former President confessing to having been a pervert, a disciple of sexual Goldsteinism, of deliberately engaging in sexual privacy for the purposes of subverting our government? Surely this would be the more ridiculous outcome of events, but, unfortunately, it is very nearly the one we are living. It will be double-plus bad news if we continue to demand sexual transparency in this way, not just for our sexual sanity, but for our entire capacity to respond humanely to one another. 

[©1999, Matt George]