Monday, August 18, 2014

Sulva Come To Earth: The Culmination Of The Hedonic Upheaval

Some old men, firmly attached to the things of their fondly remembered pasts, are fairly easy to shock. Others, emotionally calloused by what they've seen (and in some cases, what they've done), take a lot more work. I'm one of the latter sort. But now and then a development will pierce me in an unexpected place:

Japanese scientists claim to have developed a sex doll that is amazingly lifelike. Advertisements for the dolls in Japan say anybody who buys one will never want a real girlfriend again.

That's probably an exaggeration, but the thing is, just as robot workers are getting better while human workers stay the same, so robot women are getting better all the time, too. And smarter: Siri's inventors are working on a new artificial intelligence program called Viv that will do "anything you ask." Put that together with the fancy sex dolls, and you've got a true fembot.

We've already been warned about what comes next by Matt Groening's Futurama series, in which an episode warned of humanity's extinction as illustrated by a boy who was more interested in making out with his "Marilyn Monroebot" than in school, work or dating. The moral was don't date robots, lest society lose its reason for existence: "All civilization was just an effort to impress the opposite sex. And sometimes the same sex." And, of course, sex with robots doesn't produce children, eventually causing the entire species to die out.

Professor Reynolds, who's more of a child of this time than I, compared this to the well-known short story "The Screwfly Solution," by the late Alice Sheldon (who more frequently wrote under the pen name "James Tiptree, Jr."). The story concerns meddling by an unknown alien race in the human psyche, by which it replaced the human male's drive to mate and reproduce with an unconquerable homicidal impulse toward all human females. But were our beloved InstaPundit to reach a wee bit further into the past, he might have recalled this passage from C. S. Lewis's blockbuster novel That Hideous Strength:

“Who is called Sulva? What road does she walk? Why is the womb barren on one side? Where are the cold marriages?”

Ransom replied, “Sulva is she whom mortals call the Moon. She walks in the lowest sphere. The rim of the world that was wasted goes through her. Half of her orb is turned toward us and shares our curse. Her other half looks to Deep Heaven; happy would be he who could cross that frontier and see the fields on her further side. On this side, the womb is barren and the marriages cold. There dwell an accursed people, full of pride and lust. There when a young man takes a maiden in marriage, they do not lie together, but each lies with a cunningly fashioned image of the other, made to move and to be warm by devilish arts, for real flesh will not please them, they are so dainty (delicati) in their dreams of lust. Their real children they fabricate by vile arts in a secret place.”

Lewis was so prescient, and about such a vast range of things, that I've occasionally wondered whether God had granted him a peephole through which to see the outlines of the future.

Please allow me a longish citation from an old essay of mine:

In a rather well-known essay, commentator Tom Bethell quotes an unnamed acquaintance as saying: "We were worried about the bomb, when we should have been worrying about the Pill." The speaker undoubtedly had in mind the convulsive casting-off of sexual restraint that characterized the Seventies and early Eighties -- the Sexual Revolution years prior to the emergence of the AIDS threat. And indeed, one doesn't have to squint too hard to see the figure of present-day social chaos -- a barbarized culture, brutally exploitative sexual practices, millions of broken homes, hordes of fatherless children, endemic venereal diseases -- in the marble of Sexual Revolution promiscuity. But your Curmudgeon must remind you in his most ominous tone: that figure did not carve itself. There were active agents at work, making use of the destigmatization of sex-for-pleasure-alone as part of a sociopolitical campaign with broad goals. To these social engineers, sex was important solely as an instrument of deflection and distraction.

The Sexual Revolution's enduring social significance was philosophical and economic. Because of the Pill and less popular birth control techniques, sex had become an indulgence that, in theory, could be enjoyed without consequences. Stripped of its emotional significance, it approached being a "free good" as closely as anything ever can. For once, Ralph Waldo Emerson's jaundiced assessment of human endeavor:

The ingenuity of man has always been dedicated to the solution of one problem -- how to detach the sensual sweet, the sensual bright, etc. from the moral sweet, the moral deep, the moral fair; that is, again, to cut clean off this upper surface so thin as to leave it bottomless; to get a one end, without an other end. [from his essay "Compensation"]

...appeared to have no downside. That's how it was represented to us, anyway.

But everything has a cost, even a bit of harmless friction on the mucous membranes. The costs of sexual indulgence were simply well concealed by a veil of wishful thinking, which the social engineers of the Left helped us to draw across our minds.

Much has already been written about the impossibility of divorcing sexual conduct from all emotional entanglement. Your Curmudgeon need not repeat it for you. But above and apart from that, we've suffered from the shift in our assumptions about the consequences, potential or actual, of sex:

  1. Sex need not amount to anything but pleasure.
  2. Averting other consequences is expected of the woman as a default condition.
  3. If she "cheats" and presents him with a conception to which he never assented, the responsibility is entirely hers.

The first of these assumptions is the most ironic. If it's just pleasure one wants, then why intercourse? Intercourse carries the largest potential costs of all sexual or para-sexual acts. More, the intensity of the sensations available from masturbation, with or without technological enhancements, greatly exceeds that of intercourse. From a pleasure-only standpoint, men ought to consider intercourse the least attractive of the alternatives. But they don't.

The same is broadly true for women. Indeed, intercourse poses risks to women an order of magnitude greater than it poses to men: pregnancy, greater receptivity to venereal disease, a heavier social stigma from being known as promiscuous, risks of being stalked or harmed by a quondam lover. But women, too, prefer intercourse to masturbation, and by a large margin. Why?

The fulfillments of sexual intercourse don't end with physical pleasure. They don't begin there, either. Though the language seems brusque, even a bit savage, the principal fulfillment to the man is that of conquest: winning access to the body of his lover. The principal fulfillment to the woman is that of agreeable surrender: the cession of her body to his, not merely for immediate pleasure but also in hope of a union that will last well beyond the physical connection. These satisfactions greatly overshadow those of the body, despite all attempts to assert the contrary.

The marital bond, which originated in the days before contraception or modern treatments for venereal disease, was designed specifically to protect women and their children from men's desire to experience that sense of conquest over and over, with a succession of new partners. In its assignment of responsibility for children and condemnation of adultery, it also protects each partner from betrayal by the other.

Women, who nominally had "more to lose" from accepting a regime of promiscuity, were the original enforcers of premarital chastity. As long as they had no alternative, men accepted that constraint on their desires. But when told that the consequences that made the constraint important could be averted, they strained to cast it off, and to persuade women that they needed it no longer.

The binding, enduring nature of marriage, and the embedding of licit sexual intercourse within it, was congruent with the classical attitude toward "a life well lived" as the source of true happiness.

Happiness, defined by Aristotle as "that which we seek as an end in itself and for no other reason," cannot be sought directly. It must be the consequence of our choices to do this or become that. If the choices are well made, and the actions that follow are well conceived and executed, happiness should follow, even though much of any man's life is determined by forces beyond his control. After all, there's great satisfaction to be had in knowing that one has done one's best and lived up to one's freely chosen standards despite all obstacles and temptations.

Viewed through this lens, the married man's determination to remain married, remain faithful, remain responsible, and "make it all work" are critical to his chances of happiness. The married woman's complementary determination to remain married, rear responsible children, maintain a decent home, and keep her husband by her are critical to her chances of happiness. But these things are not obvious to one who, in place of the classical formulation, adopts a standard of "living for the moment."

To "live for the moment" inescapably means to eschew the consequences of one's actions. More, it imposes a very narrow time filter on one's evaluations: Am I enjoying myself right now? The more closely that filter presses upon one, the more obsessed he'll be with mere sensation, and the less he'll want to be bothered about what might flow tomorrow from his pleasures of today.

Before birth control and the shift in attitudes away from obligatory paternal responsibility for children, "wanted" or not, "living for the moment" was an attitude no woman would condone in a man who wanted her body. But things have changed.

The title of that essay, posted nine years ago at Eternity Road, was "The Usages Of Sulva."

In the more than ten thousand pieces I've written for the web since I started out on this adventure in 1997, I've said a great deal about matters sexual. A superficial reading thereof might induce some persons to deem me a bluenosed prude. That's not the case, though modesty and prudence forbid me the recitation of specifics. Nevertheless, I'm alarmed and more over the extent to which C. S. Lewis's fantastic depiction of the lustful preferences of the Sulvans has become a wholly accurate description of the preferences and practices of millions of humans.

Maximizing pleasurable sexual sensation, as transient as such sensations are, has become the sole aim of many. In pursuit thereof, they eschew normal intercourse -- with or without contraception -- for cunnilingus, fellatio, anal intercourse, vibrators, electric stimulators, and other sorts of machine-produced thrills, specifically because the physical sensations are stronger than those available through ordinary coitus. This is "living for the moment" to an extent even I didn't foresee in the earlier essay: a concentration upon sexual pleasure so complete as to forgo all other pleasures and satisfactions, including others of the body: Genital Nerve Endings Uber Alles!

Will these practices become so ubiquitous as to doom the human race, by reducing fertility rates to below replacement level? Who can say for sure? But the virtual sanctification of live-for-the-moment / anything-goes sexuality -- a cultural embrace so complete as to exhibit contempt toward those who disdain it -- presents an ominous set of possibilities. It is not impossible that the attitude, and the practices it encourages, might become the norm, and "ordinary" sex be relegated to the margins of human behavior.

Sulva has one more dark gift for us: "the fabrication of our children by vile arts," whether or not in a secret place. We stand upon its threshold as we speak.

Advances in biotech have brought us to a point where even an infant born four months prematurely can usually be kept alive in an artificial incubator, such that he will eventually become viable without technological supports. It won't take much longer before we have true artificial wombs, capable of accepting a zygote created in vitro and reproducing the full gestation cycle. At that point, no woman would ever again need to experience the discomforts and quite considerable perils of pregnancy. She and her chosen inseminator would merely provide gametes to a convenient facility, which would supply the equipment required to bring "their" baby" to term. Parentage would be reduced to a matter of genetic input.

I have no doubt that there are couples, wholly innocent of any low motives, to whom such a development would be a unique blessing. (I also have no doubt that when it arrives, massive political forces will rise to demand that it be provided free of charge to everyone.) Given the rapid advancement of our capabilities in microsurgery and genetic screening and analysis, anyone with three functioning brain cells should be able to foresee the consequences.

It is not in me to fear such developments. I doubt I'll live to see them, and anyway, these days I reserve my fear energy for myself and my loved ones. But like Olaf Stapledon's Langatse, I feel that I have looked into the future, and "what I have seen it is not in me to praise."

We reject the wholly horrible: that which brings only pain, and degradation, and death. But when we are offered a more complex bargain:

The ingenuity of man has always been dedicated to the solution of one problem -- how to detach the sensual sweet, the sensual bright, etc. from the moral sweet, the moral deep, the moral fair; that is, again, to cut clean off this upper surface so thin as to leave it bottomless; to get a one end, without an other end. [from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Compensation"] which the terrible price for our present pleasures is deferred by some indefinite interval, we are prone to telling ourselves that the uglier possibilities are avoidable, that our children (should we trouble ourselves to produce any) will find ways to cope that we can't envision, and anyway, that not all such problems are ours to solve -- that wiser heads will surely undertake to solve them for us.

Think it over.

"Of their own will they are barren: I did not know till now that the usages of Sulva were so common among you." [From That Hideous Strength:]


lelnet said...

Given the modern dating and marriage situation, I can't say I'd be surprised to see the robots take over the job.

I mean, for most of my life to-date, I'd have jumped at that chance. To my eternal good fortune, I somehow managed to meet one of the infinitessimally tiny number of women out there who are still capable of love. (In my entire life, I've met five. Three of the other four were already married to other guys when I met them.) And as soon as I could get her to agree, I married her.

If my wife and I had never met...well, those robots would still look pretty good, compared to the prospect of tying my affairs to a normal woman of anything remotely like my own age, especially given how dangerous the modern legal system has made marriage, for men.

Of course, the real turning point isn't a robot you can have sexual intercourse with (we've already got those, and cheaper substitutes besides, that are just as effective...and if those don't work for you, you can hire the job done on an hourly basis, with no capital expenditure required), but one you can take out socially. It's the day somebody builds _that_, when the world's _really_ going to change.

Steve Sumner said...

Sex is not the only frontier for these types of assault on humanity. There is also the notion espoused by people like Zoltan Istvan.

Apologies if I fumble the link...

0007 said...

lelnet pretty much nails what feminism has done to marriage. Why any male in his right mind would consider marriage in this country in these times is a real puzzler. And that comes from somebody who has maintained a pretty stable marriage for 47 years.