Shaffer: Self, death, love

Untruth and Lies

Like every other great empire in history, America’s decline is hastened by the sexual license of its elite. Yale University, a cesspool of sin, has become a nexus of dirty dancing, sexual exploration and worse.

The YSFP table tent says: “Do not throw rose petals in your bathtub for a romantic rendezvous. They’re covered with poison.” Death by poisonous rose petal while in locked in soapy conjugal embrace is, I confess, poetically sublime. But why the gratuitous mention of sex in the YSFP flyer? It’s obvious. All we care about is sex, sex, sex — not sustainability.

The stiff upper lip and the heroically suppressed sexuality that made our ancestors great are quickly fading. Yale University is snipping the moral fiber of the youth.

Stop. That was all satire. It’s easy to make fun of those who don’t like our current sexual clime. Our attitudes toward sex are political — you’re either with us, or you’re with the fundamentalists. But in truth, there are shades of gray. And many Elis fall in those shades — not condemning all kissing outside heterosexual marriage across equal class and denomination, but also not satisfied with campus romance.

I’m very unmanly in that I’ve always enjoyed love stories. I like the archetype of the young man playing the mandolin beneath the window of his beloved. Granted, it is heteronormative and chauvinistic, idealizing female passivity. But there’s something beautiful about that idolatry, that intoxication, that losing oneself in another.

Demythologizing sex is a crusade of modernity. But mythology animates our greatest art and poetry — our noblest lives. Myth elevates sex from mere mechanics and biology to a kind of rapture. My favorite myth is Aristophanes’, in Plato’s Symposium — that each individual is a cleaved half of a single primordial self cut by cruel gods. A loving couple is really a single soul, each half crippled until they are united. It’s cheesy, but it embodies what couples in love feel about each other.

But this myth is un-American, anti-capitalist, anti-modern, contrary to the ethos of the Yale (wo)man. We are autonomous, rugged individuals — we don’t need nobody. The suggestion we are insufficient, maimed souls until we find our other half is an insult. We, like Aleksey Vayner, think we should strike those who get in our way out of our lives. And nothing gets more in the way of our goals than lovers, clingy and demanding.

The hookup culture is a product of our rugged individualism. It satisfies the libido without threatening our inalienable right to do whatever we feel like we wanna do whenever we please. It is not just freedom from puritanical parents and religion, but freedom from lovers, from their jealousy, from their sorrows, from their needs in times of sickness, from their expectation that we listen. To desire and be desired and then to forget is so much less burdensome than to cherish and be cherished and hope for permanence.

The ideal is no longer to lose oneself in another, but to use another for oneself — to extract the greatest pleasure with the least intimacy. The boy with the mandolin’s climax was through love and marriage, immortalizing the beloved with oneself through children — it was all about the other and permanence. Now love, marriage and children are the things to be avoided. The cool guy sneaks out of the bedroom before sober words can be exchanged — it’s all about the self and transience. He lies to his bros that he doesn’t remember her name, and receives high fives. He might return for another round, but he will dart if ever the l-word is pronounced. A woman who speaks that syllable is tactless, psychotic, obsessed and dangerous. She must be fled. This satisfies our physical needs —all there is, scientifically — without the difficulties and with more high fives.

That’s the idea. But I suspect that Aristophanes was poetically, if not scientifically, right that a single man is a cleft half. The self is a small prison and the only escape is another person. The hookup, isn’t immoral, but it offers a too easy stand-in to the escape that is real love. Autonomy is easier, though wholeness is better. There naive boy with the mandolin has far more of the erotic than the anonymous androgynous hookup. The way we live now is anything but erotic in the classical sense. It is the death of eros.

We know everything about the mechanics of sex: how it’s done safely, every variation on the standard positions and the instruments employable. But we’re incompetent in love. We boldly party naked but won’t (forgive the cliché) dare bare our souls. The proper use of birth control we have down, but the immortality through rebirth in beauty we’re missing.

We need a better mythology of love, not more sexual mechanics. We should consult Plato instead of Sasha Grey.

I, for one, will spend the night with the former.

Matthew Shaffer is a senior in Davenport College.

Comments