Eros: An Obituary (Dispatches from a Dying Democracy, Part I)

Originally published as a standalone article in Areo Magazine (August 31st)

The aim of the Party was not merely to prevent men and women from forming loyalties which it might not be able to control. Its real, undeclared purpose was to remove all pleasure from the sexual act. Not love so much as eroticism was the enemy… Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema. This, again, was never put into words, but in an indirect way it was rubbed into every Party member from childhood onwards… The Party was trying to kill the sex instinct, or, if it could not be killed, then to distort it and dirty it. —George Orwell, 1984

In his preface to Love & Friendship titled “The Fall of Eros”, Allan Bloom writes in perfect language the thoughts I have been having for the past four-to-five years concerning the current state of men, women, love, and sex. If you have ever experienced the sensation of “a book reading you”, then you know the feeling of which I speak. The catch is that Bloom wrote “The Fall of Eros” in 1992, when I was still in diapers. His work, then, is one of those odd volumes that perfectly describes the time one is living in even though it was written in a different time.

Bloom himself, it must be noted, was an interesting character in 20th century American philosophy. Adored in his day by conservative giants such as William F. Buckley and George Will (mainly for his criticisms of relativism), Bloom was always quick to reject the conservative label, and was in fact an open homosexual and atheist at a point in American history when to be either was far outside the realm of mainstream acceptance. Bloom’s last book, the aforementioned Love & Friendship, perhaps acquires more credibility, then, when we learn that it was dictated from his hospital bed as he laid dying of AIDS; yet another loss among millions from a community of men who, during the 1980s and early-90s, knowingly and willingly loved one another in the face of danger.

I discovered Bloom after a reader commented beneath an essay I wrote, Love: The End Of An Art?, about how observations I made regarding love and sex in the digital age based off of Erich Fromm's Art Of Loving were also similar to Bloom’s observations in Love & Friendship. Upon examining the Wikipedia entry for Allan Bloom, I came upon this brief description of his work and was immediately intrigued:

Bloom’s critique of contemporary social movements at play in universities or society at large is derived from his classical and philosophical orientation. For Bloom, the failure of contemporary liberal education leads to the sterile social and sexual habits of modern students, and to their inability to fashion a life for themselves beyond the mundane offerings touted as success. Bloom argues that commercial pursuits had become more highly valued than love, the philosophic quest for truth, or the civilized pursuits of honor and glory.

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In “The Fall of Eros”, Bloom takes on an ideology he calls “radical egalitarianism”. Upon reading his first use of this phrase, my eye-roll was reflexive. Equality isn't “radical”. At least, not if we go by the definition of equality that has been the ideological pillar of Western civilization for the past three centuries: where “all people deserve equal rights and opportunities”. But this was not, as it turned out, the kind of egalitarianism Bloom took issue with. “Radical egalitarianism”, according to Bloom, is a different beast entirely which seeks utopia-through-sameness. The radical egalitarian holds that all human conflict has its root in difference, and therefore the elimination of difference— along with all cultural and traditional practices which support it— will usher in global peace, the unity of all mankind, etcetera etcetera. But more specifically, radical egalitarians hold— at least partially— to the Freudian view that every human pursuit boils down to sexual/erotic motivation, and therefore any attempt at eradicating pursuits which encourage or praise difference must begin in that most personal of realms. To better break this down, then, and create a clear conception in our minds of the subject being dealt with, I think it important to list three main ideas and characteristics that are contained within a “radical egalitarian” worldview as found in Love & Friendship’s “The Fall of Eros”: 

  1. Beauty, especially in regard to attraction, is discriminatory. Because attraction is based on what the beholder regards as beautiful, and to regard a person as “beautiful” means that there is a “not beautiful” that exists somewhere in the beholder’s subconscious to contrast “beautiful” with. Therefore, for a person to have preferences regarding who arouses them sexually is to be at odds with radical egalitarianism, which holds that utopia can only be achieved if there is sameness in all things.

  2. The “motivations” and “power dynamics” behind love and sex should be analyzed so thoroughly, and so microscopically, that both are completely de-eroticized.

  3. Bureaucratizing relationships by speaking of them in contractual terms rather than in terms of mutual affection, caring, sacrifice, and selfless love; also, presenting relationships as a gender “power struggle”, where one half is privileged and the other oppressed. Additionally, individuals have the ability to be completely self-sustaining on an emotional level; individuals don’t need intimacy with other people, intimacy with other people is merely a “perk” that one can do with or without while still having a fulfilling life. This makes relationships purely transactional and wholly self-centered. The idea of devoting oneself to another is regarded as silly and outdated, if not downright oppressive and “old world”.

At first glance, these three tenets and characteristics of radical egalitarianism don't really seem like they tie-in with each other. But as Bloom goes on to show, what unifies these seemingly different and separate ideas is the elimination of the concepts of beauty, mystery, romance, and transcendence as experienced through the enjoyment of intimate sex, all in favor of utopia-through-sameness.

Before I let Bloom speak for himself in just a moment though, I should say that I have never heard anyone refer to themselves as a “radical egalitarian”. And even if there are people who refer to themselves as such, they obviously would not word their philosophical beliefs the same way I just did by paraphrasing Bloom. But one of the reasons why “The Fall of Eros” really spoke to me after I read it, is because although radical egalitarianism is not so much a spoken philosophy promoted by self-declared advocates, it is a philosophy that likes to hide within other philosophies which are very loud and out-in-the-open today; philosophies and attitudes I initially began to notice while at university, and am now noticing seeping into society as a whole. 

In regard to the first idea of radical egalitarianism— that beauty is discriminatory, and therefore the concept of beauty must be eliminated— Bloom writes:

Lookism is included among the currently recognized vices along with racism, sexism, and homophobia. Yet eros begins, sad but true, in preferences founded in the first place on what is seen with the eyes, founded on ideals of bodily beauty. Nobody serious ever suggested that this is where it ends, but if this essential beginning is suppressed, farewell eros. A good education would be devoted to encouraging and refining the love of the beautiful, but a pathologically misguided moralism instead turns such longing into a sin against the high goal of making everyone feel good and of overcoming nature in the name of equality... Love of the beautiful may be the last and finest sacrifice to radical egalitarianism.

There’s definitely a lot to unpack in this statement, but the most important takeaway is how we deal with the complexity of beauty. One could easily make the mistake of thinking Bloom believes there are objective standards which decide what a “beautiful person” is. But this isn't what Bloom is arguing at all. While there are features consistently desirable across cultures (like symmetry over asymmetry), individuals clearly have their own unique preferences when it comes to potential partners they regard as beautiful. In fact, Allan Bloom’s beauty preferences and my own would be a perfect example: To me, a beautiful person would be a latin woman with dark hair, while for Bloom, a beautiful person would likely be a tweed jacket-wearing male academic-type. So there is a certain level of subjectivity when it comes to what we see as “beautiful”, and Bloom wouldn’t have disagreed. But the problem, he notes, is when that subjectivity is presented as shallow and unjust; when the beauty that one is drawn to is presented as a thing to overcome, rather than a thing to enjoy and feel comfortable with.

One catches a slight whiff of this attitude in today’s movements against “body standards” and “sexual racism”, where men and women are chastised as being bigoted for daring to establish dating criteria based on height, weight, appearance, or even gender. Supporters of these movements would counter that, yes, such criteria is bigoted because one is judging a person based on looks and not on character traits or moral attributes (as if attraction is synonymous with “judging”). But arousal— by its very nature— is sensational and animal, not logical. And its deliberations are as immediate as they are visceral; rarely does it allow the host it possesses time to “get to know the person” before kicking in or not. Assuming there is such a thing as individual “will”, arousal/attraction should be understood as a mysterious force that is wholly separate from it, whilst still being able to arrest it, toy with it, burden it, and bend it to its will like a puppet master. The idea that one can train their unconscious instincts reveals a complete denial of human nature by those who hold the view. Despite our boundless arrogant optimism that we are in control of all that resides in our own inner world, we are not in control of our passions and never will be. But even assuming it was possible to train our instincts, the demand that we be attracted to everyone— if obeyed en masse— would ultimately render attraction meaningless. All the better to radical egalitarians, of course. Eliminating attraction and the concept of beauty was the intention all along. Bloom says as much when he writes:

Yet simply put, human sex is inseparable from the activity of the imagination. Everybody knows this. The body’s secret movements are ignited by some images and turned off by others. Ideas of beauty and merit, as well as longings for eternity, are first expressed in the base coin of bodily movements. A biologist can describe male erection and female readiness and tell us what bodily processes make them possible, but he cannot tell us when and by whom they will be set off. The truth of erotic arousal defies materialism. One sees action at a distance. And it is imaginative activity which converts sex into eros. Eros is the brother of poetry, and the poets write in the grip of erotic passion while instructing men about eros. You can never have sex without imagination, whereas you can be hungry and eat without any contribution of imagination. Hunger is purely a bodily phenomenon and can safely be left to the scientists, and now to the dieticians. But our sexual dieticians are absurd. The best you can do by neglecting or denigrating imagination is to debauch and impoverish imagination.

On the second idea of radical egalitarianism— that the “motivations” and “power dynamics” behind love and sex should be analyzed so thoroughly, and so microscopically, that both are completely de-eroticized— Bloom writes:

Constantly looking at one’s motives [behind why they love someone or have sex with them] in this way is demystifying and furthers rationalizing calculation. This is peculiarly deadly to love, where being serious about the reality of perfection imagined in another is essential to self-forgetting in passionate concern with that other... Listen to Mozart and then see what psychoanalytic interpreters do to his work. You have to become very perverse to think such interpretations tell us anything about the music itself, which opens out onto a higher real world that cannot conceivably be constructed out of Freud’s childish building blocks.

Bloom’s example of Mozart brilliantly illustrates the problem of analyzing love and sexuality that so often is attempted in sociology and gender studies courses. But a similar example could also be when someone tells a joke: A man tells a joke that makes every person in the room laugh except one, who says “I don't get it.” This irritates the joke-teller because he knows that breaking the joke down and explaining why it’s supposed to be funny, in turn, makes it un-funny and ruins the moment. Likewise, the attempt to “deconstruct” the reasons for why we, and others, love and have sex, especially through the lens of critical theory wherein Freud is a heavy influence, is— how shall I say it?— a “real mood killer”. Because like humor, the transcendence experienced during love or sex (or during love and sex) dies with dissection. That which inspires feelings of awe, passion, ecstasy, and elation, does so precisely because it takes our words away.

Bloom continues: 

In a better world, sexual education would be concerned with the development of taste. All the great lovers in literature were also lovers of tales and had their heads full of sublime rivals in their divine quest. The progress of civilization is intimately connected with the elaboration of erotic sensibility and a real examination of the delicate interplay of human attractions. But everything today conspires to suffocate imagination. There have been hardly any great novelists of love for almost a century... Reading classic books has become less and less of a taste among the educated, although cheap romantic novels, the kind that are sometimes stuck into boxes of household detergent, apparently flourish among housewives who haven't heard that eros is dead. And now the most respectable authorities in the study of books tell us that their messages were always pernicious and sexist. There is practically nothing within our horizon that can come to the aid of ideal longing. Sure, you can be a romantic today if you so choose, but it is a little like being a virgin in a whorehouse. It just doesn't fit with the temper of the times and gets no support in the current atmosphere. Talking about love has suffered the most. Eros requires speech, and beautiful speech, to communicate to its partner what it needs and wants. Now there is plenty of talk about relationships and how people are intruding on one another, akin to discussions on the management of water resources. But the awestruck vision of the thing-in-itself has disappeared. It is almost impossible to get students to talk about the meaning of their erotic choices, except for a few artificial clichés that square them with contemporary right thinking.

This last quote from Bloom overlaps heavily with the third idea of radical egalitarianism— that relationships are spoken of in contractual terms, and presented as gendered “power struggles” where one half is privileged and the other oppressed; and further, that individuals are completely self-sustaining emotionally and don’t need intimacy with other people. You can be a romantic today if you so choose, but it is a little like being a virgin in a whorehouse. Bloom expounds on this attitude when he says:

The worst distortion of all is to turn love, a relation that is founded in natural sweetness, mutual caring, and the contemplation of eternity in shared children, into a power struggle. This is another one of those games that intellectuals can play. But why would anyone want to do such violence to real experience? It is the war of all against all again, and the only possible peace is to be found in artificial constructs. This is the last stage in the attempt to found all human relations on contract, the discovery of complementary interests, rather than on natural inclinations. Abstract reason in the service of radically free men and women can discover only contract as the basis of connectedness— the social contract, the marriage contract, somehow mostly the business contract as model, with its union of selfish individuals. Legalism takes the place of sentiment. It is now asserted that the relation between men and women is not based on their pointedness toward each other and can properly result only from a haggle that conciliates their separate wills to power... The power and pervasiveness of this view among the current intellectual elites are hardly to be believed by those who are not amateurs of those elites. It authorizes a veritable thought police whose actions are legitimized by an almost religious guilty conscience about the harm that sex can do... This view reinforces the lack of sexiness in the liberal view, but it is in radical tension with the liberal view’s laisser-aller. Radical feminists insist that the liberals’ ‘consenting adults’, especially the women, consent only because they are forced to by sexist education and public opinion. So we must in the first place reeducate the partners so that they no longer think they need each other. This will put off enjoyment for a good long time.

Once again there’s a lot to unpack in this statement, and in fact one could easily write an entire essay based off of this alone. But I’d like to recall a time in college where I took “History of Feminism” as an elective study (the only other option at the time being Greek philosophy, which at that point I was burned out on), and I remember hearing what one would expect to hear in a feminist course; how the interests of men and women were diametrically opposed to one another, and how men were the privileged class throughout history and society while women were the oppressed class. But one example that stood out to me was my (single) professor’s portrayal of American domestic life. Women alone, we were told, were expected to do unpaid household labor even in a time where women and men increasingly began to share the role of “breadwinner” outside the home. As our professor put it, “Women have two jobs while men only have one.” And I immediately thought— though at the time didn't dare voice— “Wait, that's just not fucking true.” Men are often the ones who tackle household repairs (leaky pipes, rain gutters, broken appliances, etc.), yard work, vehicle maintenance, and— most importantly— men are the ones expected to risk loss of life defending their families in the event of a break-in or assault. So not only do men also have their fair share of unpaid domestic tasks, but we also function as unpaid bodyguards. If this sounds like a cold way of considering domestic life though, then good, it should! By presenting household upkeep as “unpaid labor” instead of presenting it as an act of love, relationships take on an eery corporate nature, resembling business partnerships more than a bond of two hearts, defined by transactional expectation rather than selfless giving.

For this, as you’ve read, Bloom blames radical feminism. However— as I will touch on briefly at the end— I actually believe that the commodification of love, and of acts of love, is a product of the unholy alliance between sex-negative feminism and capitalism. But more on that later. For now let us focus on the major implication of “power struggle” theory: consent.

If women, as a group, are an oppressed class, and men the privileged class, according to “power struggle” theory, then consent to sex becomes another opened can of worms. Because, as Bloom notes, how do we know women are fully consenting if their agency is compromised by being indoctrinated by sexist culture, education, and advertising? Such a view of course is absurd, as it infantilizes women and portrays them as incapable of speaking and thinking for themselves. But this perception has prompted demands for the only solution an alleged problem like this could yield: state intervention in people’s personal lives. This is what Bloom— and myself— mean when we refer to the “bureaucratizing” of sex and relationships. The demand of an end to “patriarchy” by creating an actual paternalistic government tasked with looking after women, who, bless their hearts, are incapable of looking after themselves.

In California, for instance, in 2014, the state legislature passed the “Yes means Yes” affirmative consent law (SB-967), which redefines consent as:

Ongoing throughout a sexual activity and [able to] be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them should never be assumed to be an indicator of consent.

I added emphasis on the “throughout sexual activity” part, because according to the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, Project Respect, and Mic, this means that a person must gain verbal permission to engage in each sexual act, not just the encounter as a whole. Picture what that looks like: “Can I kiss your lips?”, “Yes.”, “Can I kiss your forehead?”, “Yes.”, “Can I kiss your ear?”, “Yes.”, “Can I nibble your ear?”, “Yes.”, “Can I kiss your neck?”, “Yes.”, “Can I kiss your breasts?”, “Yes.”, “Can I go down on you?”, “Yes.” Such needless narration couldn’t even be sexy if you were James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman. But that’s precisely the unstated intention. “Continual enthusiastic consent” has a dampening effect on sex. It’s robotic and condescending. It doesn’t feel natural. It’s not meant to enhance eros, it’s meant to kill it. As feminist firebrand Camille Paglia noted in her 2015 Spiked Review profile:

Sex is a physical interaction, animated by primitive energies and instincts that cannot be reduced to verbal formulas. Neither party in any sexual encounter is totally operating in the rational realm, which is why the Greek god Dionysus was the patron of ecstasy, a hallucinatory state of pleasure-pain. “Yes means Yes” laws are drearily puritanical and literalistic as well as hopelessly totalitarian.

Laws requiring “continual enthusiastic consent” also effectively outlaw seduction. While seduction is not pursuing a person who has rejected your advances (that’s harassment), seduction is a largely non-verbal cat-and-mouse game, where the pursued— aware of his or her pursuer’s intentions— erects barriers of paper, not of stone, intending to signal virtue as a form of self-flattery before eventually yielding to forbidden pleasure. Many captivating romances, old and new, fictional and real, have been written surrounding the theme of seduction. It could even be said that seduction is one of the great pleasures of life (though a rare pleasure, and one not experienced by all). Yet this surrendering of the will to the will of another in playful submission, once seen as a form of consent itself, is now shunned as being yet another manifestation of sexist culture in need of eradication. As Lara Kipnis observed in her piece on the future of seduction for The Cut:

No doubt it’s retrograde these days to wish to melt like chocolate or be scaled like a fortress. Even writers of romance fiction are having to revise the tropes of the seductive hero. The handsome bastard who knew the heroine’s desires better than she did herself used to be hot, at least in fantasy. Now our fantasies are meant to get with the program, too: The preferred romantic template is the contract, not the tempest. “Enthusiastic consent” has its benefits, but being surprised by your desires probably isn’t among them.

No wonder so many of us are conflicted in our longings lately. Who doesn’t want to be passionately wooed, to be insistently persuaded, against all practical knowledge, that you’re the one, the only one? It’s tough to say no to extravagant expressions of ardor and (seemingly) undivided attention. Then we lash out when things go south. Restitution must be made, lest it be thought the seduced entered these arrangements voluntarily...

The dismal truth is that none of us is particularly unique, but it’s a solace to occasionally be persuaded otherwise, even temporarily. It does, of course, mean that the people we’re best at conning will be ourselves — and never more than in the reassuring fables we tell of preyed-upon innocence and virtue wronged.

The trepidation about seduction— especially in light of “Yes means Yes”— on the surface appears to be about social incompetence: “What happens if non-verbal cues are misread, or even outright imagined?”, “What happens when an attempt at seduction ends awkwardly?” And what can be said in response? Some people suck at romance. Some people have no game. Not my problem and not yours. It’s also not really what the end of seduction is about. What the end of seduction is about— just like the end of non-verbal consent (i.e. reading body language)— is the killing of eros.

As Cristina Nehring noted in her article in Elle only a few years ago:

In our safety-checked and responsible culture, in our endlessly chattering, texting, blogging, brownnosing, apologizing, analyzing, verbalizing culture, eroticism may be the last frontier we can explore intuitively. Like dance, sexuality is at once preverbal and transverbal: It predates the word and outstrips it. To pin it down with questions and formulas is like pinning a butterfly to a wall. You can see it better there, but it no longer flutters. And neither, in all likelihood, does your heart.

To understand why this is a goal, we need to look to the second part of Bloom’s third point: the radical egalitarian belief that individuals are completely self-sustaining emotionally and don't need intimacy with other people. Recall the last portion of Bloom’s statement above: “Radical feminists insist that the liberals’ ‘consenting adults’, especially the women, consent only because they are forced to by sexist education and public opinion. So we must in the first place reeducate the partners so that they no longer think they need each other. This will put off enjoyment for a good long time.”

In the third chapter of my book A Letter To The Left, released late last year, I voiced suspicion that sex-negative feminists— who used to be on the fringes of feminism but are now mainstream— ultimately seek to make heterosexual sex completely undesirable; recalling Catherine MacKinnon’s statement that “The major distinction between intercourse (normal) and rape (abnormal) is that the normal happens so often that one cannot get anyone to see anything wrong with it.” My central point was that the way sex-negative feminists strive to achieve this is by promoting fear and suspicion of men in popular culture, as well as the notion that men are generally useless.

If you think this agenda is far-fetched, or even a kooky conspiracy theory, look no further than this New York Times author who writes:

Ultimately the question is, does “mankind” really need men? With human cloning technology just around the corner and enough frozen sperm in the world to already populate many generations, perhaps we should perform a cost-benefit analysis. It’s true that men have traditionally been the breadwinners. But women have been a majority of college graduates since the 1980s, and their numbers are growing. It’s also true that men have, on average, a bit more muscle mass than women. But in the age of ubiquitous weapons, the one with the better firepower (and knowledge of the law) triumphs. Meanwhile women live longer, are healthier and are far less likely to commit a violent offense. If men were cars, who would buy the model that doesn’t last as long, is given to lethal incidents and ends up impounded more often?

Or you could read this writer for Entity magazine, who lets us know:

Men are scared of powerful women because powerful women don’t need men. A strong woman doesn’t need you in order to be herself. She can feel accomplished and fulfilled, all on her own. She doesn’t need you for her life to make sense; to have meaning and purpose. She doesn’t need you to fix her broken pieces— she does it on her own.

If the end of heterosexual sex and relationships isn’t the goal, then it’s mighty suspicious that the language of “independence” is used in the context of the absence of romance, but never in the context of any other type of relationship. You don’t hear anyone saying, “A strong woman doesn’t need friends in order to be accomplished and fulfilled.” Nor do you hear anyone argue that family— parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, etc.— are unimportant relationships for strong women to maintain in order to be happy. But for some reason romantic love, especially from a woman to a man, is now perceived as unnecessary for achieving a feeling of completion. The cultural message is clear: while no man is an island, every woman is.

Predictably a reactionary movement of men has risen out of this phenomena, mostly online, who call themselves “MGTOWs” (the Men Going Their Own Way movement). A story in The Independent tells us how these men, mostly between the ages of 25-45, have grown resentful toward a society that increasingly views them as disposable, and as a result have chosen to avoid sex and relationships altogether. “There are individuals realising that the deck is stacked against those that choose to try to engage in traditional relationships and are opting out,” one MGTOW explains to a Sun reporter. And another says, “We’re just a bunch of men who’ve decided to live our lives alone peacefully without outside interference or validation.”

This cultural attitude being promoted to women and men is painfully tragic and colossally stupid. 

No matter how “empowered” we are and no matter how long we might “go our own way”, eventually we’re going to need (not just want) someone with whom we can share our secrets, our joys, our excitements, our disappointments, our sorrows, our boredom, our hatreds and our laughter. Human beings are social, interdependent creatures. We evolved to survive and thrive by cooperating with each other, not just to fulfill one another's material needs but our emotional needs as well. And we should, all of us, strive to have a love like that as described by the poet Pablo Neruda:

Take bread away from me, if you wish, take air away, but do not take from me your laughter. Do not take away the rose, the lanceflower that you pluck, the water that suddenly bursts forth in your joy, the sudden wave of silver born in you. My struggle is harsh and I come back with eyes tired at times from having seen the unchanging earth, but when your laughter enters it rises to the sky seeking me and it opens for me all the doors of life. My love, in the darkest hour your laughter opens, and if suddenly you see my blood staining the stones of the street, laugh, because your laughter will be for my hands like a fresh sword. Next to the sea in the autumn, your laughter must raise its foamy cascade, and in the spring, love, I want your laughter like the flower I was waiting for, the blue flower, the rose of my echoing country. Laugh at the night, at the day, at the moon, laugh at the twisted streets of the island, laugh at this clumsy boy who loves you, but when I open my eyes and close them, when my steps go, when my steps return, deny me bread, air, light, spring, but never your laughter for I would die.

If Allan Bloom— who laid in his hospital bed literally dying from love— used his last days to dictate a book about the importance of love in life, how arrogant can we as a society be to doubt it?

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I remember the old left. And by “old left” I mean the left of nearly six years ago that I became a part of, and which I saw begin to be erased roughly a year later. The old left approach to sex was as simple as it was wonderfully hedonistic: what consenting adults did within the privacy of their bedrooms was nobody’s damn business. Individuals deserved to be free to pursue their pleasures and to define their own ways of consenting— verbal, body language, bright purple smoke signal, whatever— rather than be told what their consent would be from any bureaucracy on high. This was a big reason for why I was drawn to the old left actually. At the time I was 22, and had recently left the conservative church I had grown up in, and the prospect of forging my own path philosophically, ethically, and sexually was tantalizing and liberating. As “no hell below us, above us only sky” became a triumphant anthem that rang through my mind, I also became excited at what was, for me, a new secular, Enlightenment, anti-totalitarian, and yes, socialist vision of the way the world could be, filled as much with personal liberty as economic justice.

It was almost overnight, it now seems, when a major part of the left made the transition from liberation and freethinking to control and moral panic. Frenzy over the alleged prevalence of “rape culture”, male privilege, and harassment occurred simultaneously with frenzy over the need for trigger warnings, prevention of microaggressions, and calls to censor— or outright ban— certain speakers from giving lectures at campuses.

But more to the point, the new left, in contrast to the old, has carried— from the day it began— a deep suspicion of pleasure, and an open loathing toward the timeless dance of the masculine and feminine. Judging by its opposition to pornographyprostitutionBDSM, and strip clubs, the new puritanism of left sexual politics has resurrected pearl-clutching from the graveyard of the religious right. The distance between the ghostly echoes of Andrea Dworkin and Jerry Falwell is a puddle, not an ocean; and while the spirit of the latter has only managed to possess inconsequential conservatives like Rick Santorum and Mike Pence, who have very little ideological sway over the political movement they belong to, the spirit of the former possesses nearly all mainstream feminist voices today. Thus the new left, especially modern feminism (in contrast to older schools of feminism), has been fertile ground for radical egalitarian ideology.

Yet it would be sloppy to view radical egalitarianism as solely a product of the left.

There is a lot of overlap between the radical egalitarian idea of self-fulfillment and the lack of need for romance, and the philosophy of Ayn Rand that selfishness is the only virtue and love is for fools. Perhaps this is part of why the modern feminist prescription for how young women should live their lives closely mirrors corporate culture, where everything is done with frigid formality and calculated ruthlessness. But what is certain more broadly is that capitalism drives all human interaction away from affection toward profit motive. In the age of dating apps which function as virtual “people stores”, consumer mentality has caused individuals to be commodified into “personality packages” meant for consuming and discarding upon whim (ultimately leading to feelings of dissatisfaction for the user and the used); and in this sense radical egalitarians, within feminism and wider leftism, who seek to bring about the end of romantic love find within the monstrous economic system a strange bedfellow.

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