The High Cost of Free Love

On Mother’s Day, as a favor to my venerable mater-in-law, I chopped up a dead log that’s been sitting in their backyard for the better part of three years. It wasn’t much of a chore. For weeks now, I’ve been look for an excuse to use an axe: the sweetest fruit of man’s rational soul.

One of my neighbors has been running a chainsaw every weekend since the snow melted. The sound of machines just bugs the Hell out of me, and not only because they’re loud and ugly (which they are). More than that, it’s the sound of the all the insane false “progress” of which we moderns are so proud.

I got through that tree in an hour and a half with a $60 axe and got a great workout in the process. Meanwhile, my neighbor probably spent $200 on his chainsaw to save himself the time and effort of chopping up his tree; he probably also spends about $40 a month on a gym membership so he can lift heavy things and then put them back down.

That’s the modern world in a nutshell. We pay one company to make our lives easier, and then we pay another company make them more difficult. We waste hours and hours trying to save ourselves a couple of minutes. It’s absurd—literally absurd.

This isn’t me saying that I’m so smart and my neighbor is so dumb. He can afford a chainsaw, which I can’t, so he’s clearly got the lead on me. But we just don’t think about these things. We deprive ourselves of real work, and then spend extra on a simulation of work.

Put it another way. When I was a kid, my Mom and I loved to go strawberry-picking. You pay a little extra for the experience, but it’s worth it. Man was made for the Garden, and yet so few of us have a chance to put our feet on raw earth and get dirt under our fingernails.

Now ,fast-forward ten years. I’m in middle school, and I spend the summer working on the same exact farm. Suddenly, they’re paying me to pick the strawberries.

Of course, I didn’t get to keep them when I was done. But it occurred to me: I could make a killing if I started the world’s first “self-serve farm.” I’d charge folks an extra 5% to go into the field and pick their own corn or milk their own cow. I’d make more money than my competitors, and I wouldn’t have to lift a finger. Pretty good scam, eh?

Once you start noticing these little absurdities, you realize that our whole world has been given over to a sort of mass absurdism. Deep down, we know that something has gone wrong. We know that our lives are somehow impoverished. We’re missing out on something, but we can’t quite figure out what it is.

And yet we’ve been so thoroughly indorenate into to the Cult of Comfort that we’d rather waste all that time and money on a chainsaw and a gym membership than buy a friggin’ axe and chop some wood We’d rather pay to pick strawberries than plant a garden. We demand that our labor be leisurely, and that our leisure be laborious.

Make no mistake, my friends. The Cult of Comfort has invaded every aspect of our lives.

The Sexual Revolution promised America’s youffs a new age of unlimited genital stimulation. No need for marriage or children, or even a “committed relationship.” Just find some comely young waif, climb into the back of your VW Bus, and knock boots.

Alas, we know now that “free love” is anything but free. Women now have to deal with unprecedented challenges like ghosting. That’s when you hook up with a guy you meet on Tinder, and you’re interested in a long-term relationship, but he was only in it for a bit of cheap rumpy-pumpy. After your magical night together, he drops you like a hot rock. No calls, no texts—nothing.

According to the psychologist Jennice Vilhauer, women who are “ghosted” may cause future difficulty in forming long-term relationships. “Being vulnerable is the number one thing that creates intimacy between people,” she observes, “and if you worry about being hurt all the time, you’re not able to be vulnerable and it affects the quality of connection.”

Dr. Vilhauer is right. But I wonder if she’s heard: there’s actually a system whereby a woman may secure a long-term commitment from her sexual partner before going to bed with him. It’s called marriage.

Likewise, the author and former prostitute Melissa Febos has also written about the difficulties faced by women who “consented to touch that they didn’t want.” She even conducted a survey of women and asked if they’d shared that experience. One replied: “Hmm, every time I’ve had sex? Literally. Every sexual encounter, there has always been an element of ambivalence.”

But, again, there’s a way for women to work through the messy nuances of consent before they have sex with their partners. You spend a few months—maybe even a few years—getting to know a man before deciding whether or not you really want to sleep with him. It’s called courtship.

I’m sure I sound pretty smug, though I really don’t mean to. We have to be blunt with our friends in the “cultural mainstream” (a favorite Christian euphemism for the Outer Darkness). I believe their suffering is real. I believe that men (and women, but especially men) are yearning for real, healthy work and real, healthy leisure. I believe that women (and men, but especially women) are paying a high price for free love.

Before anything gets better, though, we have to make a clean break from the Cult of Comfort. We have to shake this implicit assumption—which every single human being in the developed world shares, to one degree or another—that we have a right to a life of ease and pleasure. But the Cult of Comfort is only one cultus in the wider Church of Progress.

Again, take sex. All of these (very real!) concerns about “ghosting” and “consenting to unwanted touch” are predicated on the assumption that sex could, in theory, be totally anonymous and also consequence-free. It assumes that we could have a society where women can enjoy a one-night stand without the risk of being jilted if they decide they actually like the guy and want to form a long-term relationship.

We assume that, in some imminent, more perfect world, women like Ms. Febos can enjoy the fruits of sexual liberation without ever feeling pressured to accept an “unwanted touch.” We can tear down the ancient barriers that reserved physical affection to the confines of marriage and family without men ever taking liberties with women, knowingly or unknowingly.

And we assume that such a perfect world is imminent, because that’s how we’ve been trained to think about history. We can do anything we want. What’s more, we can do it right now.

“It has to be easy!” the modern man cries from the depths of his being. “It just has to!” Well, it’s not. We’re still operating off the assumptions given to us by the hippies: that sex is easy, that love can be a purely recreational activity without any harm coming to lovers. But they were wrong. Objectively speaking, they were wrong. Sex isn’t easy. It’s infinitely complex.

Again, Chesterton put it best:

“There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

The hippies didn’t see the use of traditions like marriage. They didn’t see the use of taboos against premarital sex. And, so, they gayly tore them down. Now, half a century later, the very heirs of the Sexual Revolution are explaining the uses of those traditions and taboos. Their theory has been disproven, as they’re the first to admit… and yet they cling to it for dear life. They refuse to believe that sex isn’t easy. And so they make themselves absolutely miserable.

As I explained in an earlier post, this is why I insist on calling myself a reactionary. The only real solution to our modern malaise is to rebuild the fences and gates that hem in the human libido. Restore the tradition of marriage; rebuild the taboo against premarital sex. But we won’t do that. Why? Because it would offend the great god Progress. He has promised us comfort and ease, and we’ll not be denied what is ours by right.

So, we would rather invent a thousand new, more insane solutions to the problem of “ghosting” and “consenting to unwanted touch” than to admit that the hippies were wrong and the fuddy-duddies were right: that sex isn’t easy, and free love isn’t free. For instance, Ms. Febos writes:

“On some level, we [women] know how often we are touched by men without our consent, from childhood onward: belly and cheek pinches, tickling, waist squeezes. But most of us rarely talk or even think about it. Really, you need look no further to understand why a woman would be ‘very confused about who my body belonged to’ or even why she would consent to being cuddled by a stranger. Despite warnings of overt sexual molestation, we are mostly socialized not to reject the hands of others.”

From what I can tell, Ms. Febos recommends that I ask my five-month-old daughter’s consent before I tickle her belly or give her Eskimo kisses. Which is insane. It’s insane for at least three reasons: (1) We do the same thing to baby boys, and apparently it doesn’t condition them for sexual assault. (2) Children can’t give consent to any contact that might be even vaguely construed as sexual, which is why we have laws against statutory rape. (3) Physical affection is absolutely vital to human development. Children can actually die if they’re not cuddled and kissed and tickled enough. In human beings of all ages, touch is essential for good physical and mental health.

But if (A) as Ms. Febos suggests, women may suffer from “consenting to unwanted touch”—if No means No, and also sometimes Yes means No—and (B) we must reject any limits on the human libido, then we must strictly prohibit any affectionate “touching” until the age of (say) sixteen, when puberty is in full swing and young women can fully understand the sexual impliciations of every “touch.”

And here we have a fourth reason why this theory is insane: affectionate “touching” is not inherently sexual. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with sexuality, or conditioning women’s bodies for sexual acts. Ms. Febos is retrospectively interpreting those “touches” from her experience as a survivor of sexual assault. And my heart really does break every time I read her essay in the Times—not least of all because those experiences could be entirely avoidable.

Like me, my friend Tony Esolen largely grew up in the “cultural mainstream.” We both stumbled into the same Catholic “intentional community” here in southern New Hampshire. And we were both struck by a certain fact: that men and women here can show physical affection for one another without there being any sexual implications. Here, where chastity is the norm—where marriage is still an honored tradition and premarital sex is a serious taboo—boys and girls court and dance and even hold hands without any sexual implications. Sure: there may be aspect of physical attraction. But holding hands isn’t a gateway drug to coerced-if-“consensual” sex. That possibly doesn’t even occur to these kids.

As Dr. Esolen says, it’s jarring at first. It becomes even more jarring as you slowly realize that this used to be the norm—and not just in the Fifties, but for most of human history. Tradition and taboo kept philia (friendly love) distinct from eros (romantic love). Even after philia became eros, it had to run the gamut of courtship before the couple pledged themselves to one another in Holy Matrimony and consummated their eros on their wedding night.

That’s why those gates and fences existed. And you don’t have to be a traditionalist Catholic or a fundamental Protestant to see their use. These practices are not only pious: they’re reasonable. They’re sane.

This is a fairly common critique in conservative-Christian circles. Yet many conservatives and Christians limit their criticism to the libido dominandi. Again, I think it’s more a symptom of a greater disease—albeit an especially grave symptom.

The West has experienced periods of libertinism in the past. The Renaissance, for example. But each of these revolutions has been followed by a Counter-Revolution led by men like Girolamo Savonarola or Martin Luther. The West has teetered on the edge of pure decadence before, but we’ve managed to pull ourselves back… at least for a while.

In my book The Reactionary Mind, I argue that this particular period of decadence is more severe—and, perhaps, terminal—because we categorically reject the possibility of a Counter-Revolution. Since the Enlightenment, our worship of the god Progress has warped into a kind of historical determinism. We believe that the present is better than the past because it’s the present. We believe that the future will be better than the present because it’s the future.

We tend to thin of “rationalism” as the great byproduct of the Enlightenment, but that’s all wrong. Reason is the one faculty we’re absolutely forbidden to exercise. Why? Because, as with the Sexual Revolution, all the evidence points to our present attitudes towards sex being objectively worse than those of our grandparents and great-grandparents.

Look: back when he was Barack Obama’s VP, Joe Biden warned of a “pandemic” of sexual assault on college campuses. Conservatives pooh-pooh statistics which claim that, for instance, one in five female undergrads will be victims of sexual violence. They either claim that (A) that number is way too high for any reasonable person to believe, or (B) they wield it as evidence that academia—the vanguard of radical leftism—is full of perverts and hypocrites.

They might have a point with option “B”. The ivory tower is known to valorize the sexual theories of rapist and pedophiles like Michel Foucault.

But having left college in 2016 (albeit without a degree), I can attest that option “A” is off the table. Put that many horny teenaged boys in a giant sleepover with a bunch of drunk teenaged girls and you’d be surprised if only 20% of those girls experience some sort of non-consensual “touching.”

Toss in the problem of unlimited access to violent pornography and it’s no wonder that one in three male undergrads admit that they would happily rape a classmate if there was no chance of their being caught. This is grotesque. It’s evil. Certainly, it’s no time to worry about “owning the libs.”

The rational observer would respond by abolishing co-ed dorms and blocking porn from campus servers. But that’s not what anyone is saying, outside of a few Christian colleges . Progressives won’t say it because, again, it would mean admitting that the Sexual Revolution was a failure. Conservatives won’t do it because they’re absolutely terrified of being called fogeys, fuddy-duddies, and (gasp!) reactionaries.

So, we’re basically going to keep letting these poor young women hurl themselves into the dragon’s maw. Maybe when they grow up they scold their husband for changing their daughter’s diaper without her verbal consent. And even then, what if her Yes means No…?

That isn’t rational. A rationalist society would chop wood with an axe, plant their own strawberries, and abstain from sex before marriage. In other words, it would look nothing like the United States of America in the Year of Our Lord 2021.

Well, then, let the Counter-Revolution begin.

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