So there was a lot of press last month about new laws to try and limit rape on university campuses, particularly a new rule that emphasizes the need for, “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement,” to continuously exist between partners. And while this is and should be a basic principle of law, perhaps we should re-examine how our tacit endorsement of “free love” in universities is used as a licence by power-hungry and sexually aggressive men to coerce women. Once upon a time, the institution of marriage was used to regulate these sorts of things, treating any sexual contact between non-married parties as not just taboo, but semi-coercive. (Granted, I’m skipping over the really ugly problem of “marital rape” that existed, but only for the moment.) The sexual revolution has burst apart all but the darkest of taboos in our culture. And yet it has coincided with a perverse rise in the sexualization of young girls, of a (continued) failure to teach boys how to treat women, and a system of higher education that throws teenagers into under-regulated environments with far too few ways to protect their own bodies from exploitation.
We easily forget how fascism works: as a bright and shining alternative to the mundane duties of everyday life, as a celebration of the obviously and totally irrational against good sense and experience. Fascism features armed forces that do not look like armed forces, indifference to the laws of war in their application to people deemed inferior, the celebration of “empire” after counterproductive land grabs. Fascism means the celebration of the nude male form, the obsession with homosexuality, simultaneously criminalized and imitated. Fascism rejects liberalism and democracy as sham forms of individualism, insists on the collective will over the individual choice, and fetishizes the glorious deed. Because the deed is everything and the word is nothing, words are only there to make deeds possible, and then to make myths of them. Truth cannot exist, and so history is nothing more than a political resource. Hitler could speak of St. Paul as his enemy, Mussolini could summon the Roman emperors. Seventy years after the end of World War II, we forgot how appealing all this once was to Europeans, and indeed that only defeat in war discredited it. Today these ideas are on the rise in Russia, a country that organizes its historical politics around the Soviet victory in that war, and the Russian siren song has a strange appeal in Germany, the defeated country that was supposed to have learned from it.
[originally written on September 11, 2012]
“I believe that the witnesses, especially the survivors, have the most important role. They can simply say, in the words of the prophet, ‘I was there.’ What is a witness if not someone who has a tale to tell and lives only with one haunting desire: to tell it. Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future. After all, God is God because he remembers.”
The Captains of the West were foundering in a gathering sea. The sun gleamed red, and…the shadows of death fell dark upon the earth….The onslaught…broke like a wave on the beleaguered hills, voices roaring like a tide amid the wreak and crash of arms…