On the Road is a terrible book about terrible people. Jack Kerouac and his terrible friends drive across the US about seven zillion times for no particular reason, getting in car accidents and stealing stuff and screwing women whom they promise to marry and then don’t.
But this is supposed to be okay, because they are visionaries. Their vision is to use the words “holy”, “ecstatic”, and “angelic” at least three times to describe every object between Toledo and Bakersfield. They don’t pass a barn, they pass a holy vision of a barn, a barn such as there must have been when the world was young, a barn whose angelic red and beatific white send them into mad ecstasies. They don’t almost hit a cow, they almost hit a holy primordial cow, the cow of all the earth, the cow whose dreamlike ecstatic mooing brings them to the brink of a rebirth such as no one has ever known.
Jack Kerouac and his terrible friends are brought to the brinks of a lot of things, actually. Aside from stealing things and screwing women whom they promise to marry and then don’t, being brought to the brink of things is one of their main pastimes. Enlightenment, revelation, truth, the real meaning of America, the ultimate, the sacred – if it has a brink, they will come to it. Crucially, they never cross that brink or gain any lasting knowledge or satisfaction from the experience. Theirs is a religion whose object of worship is the burst of intense emotion, the sudden drenching of their brain in happy chemicals that come and go without any lasting effect except pages full of the words “holy”, “ecstatic”, and “angelic”.
The high priest of this religion is Kerouac’s friend Dean Moriarty. Kerouac cannot frickin shut up about Dean Moriarty. Obviously he is “holy” and “ecstatic” and “angelic” and “mad” and “visionary”, but for Dean, Kerouac pulls out all the stops. He is “a new kind of American saint”, “a burning shuddering frightful Angel”, with intelligence “formal and shining and complete”.
Who is this superman, this hero?
His specialty was stealing cars, gunning for girls coming out of high school in the afternoon, driving them out to the mountains, making them, and coming back to sleep in any available hotel bathtub in town.
Okay, but you have overwrought religious adjectives to describe all of this, right?
[Dean’s] “criminality” was not something that sulked and sneered; it was a wild yea-saying overburst of American joy; it was Western, the west wind, an ode from the Plains, something new, long prophesied, long a-coming.
I feel like once you steal like a dozen cars in the space of a single book, you lose the right to have the word “criminality” in scare quotes.
But please, tell us more:
[Ed and Dean] had just been laid off from the railroad. Ed had met a girl called Galatea who was living in San Francisco on her savings. These two mindless cads decided to bring the girl along [on one of their seven zillion pointless cross-country trips] and have her foot the bill. Ed cajoled and pleaded; she wouldn’t go unless he married her. In a whirlwind few days Ed Dunkel married Galatea, with Dean rushing around to get the necessary papers, and a few days before Christmas they rolled out of San Francisco at seventy miles per, headed for LA and the snowless southern road. In LA they picked up a sailor in a travel bureau and took him along for fifteen dollars’ worth of gas…All along the way Galatea Dunkel, Ed’s new wife, kept complaining that she was tired and wanted to sleep in a motel. If this kept up they’d spend all her money long before Virginia. Two nights she forced a stop and blew tens on motels. By the time they got to Tucson she was broke. Dean and Ed gave her the slip in a hotel lobby and resumed the voyage alone, with the sailor, and without a qualm.
All right, Jack, how are you gonna justify this one?
Dean was simply a youth tremendously excited with life, and though he was a con-man he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and to get involved with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him.
I too enjoy life. Yet somehow this has never led me to get my friend to marry a woman in order to take her life savings, then leave her stranded in a strange city five hundred miles from home after the money runs out.
Jack Kerouac’s relationship with Dean can best be described as “enabler”. He rarely commits any great misdeeds himself. He’s just along for the ride [usually literally, generally in flagrant contravention of all applicable traffic laws] with Dean, watching him destroy people’s lives, doing nothing about it, and then going into rhapsodies about how free-spirited and unencumbered and holy and mad and visionary it all is.
There’s a weird tension here, because Jack is determined to totally ignore the moral issues. He brings this kind of stuff up only incidentally, as Exhibits A and B to support his case that Dean Moriarty is the freest and most perfect and most wonderful human being on Earth, and sort of moves past it before it becomes awkward. An enthusiastic reader, caught up in the spirit of the book, might easily miss it. The only place it is ever made explicit is page 185, when Galatea (who has since found her way back to San Francisco) confronts Dean about the trail of broken lives he’s left behind him, saying:
You have absolutely no regard for anybody but yourself and your damned kicks. All you think about is what’s hanging between your legs and how much money or fun you can get out of people and then you just throw them aside. Not only that, but you’re silly about it. It never occurs to you that life is serious and there are people trying to make something decent out of it instead of just goofing all the time.”
This, 185 pages in, is the first and last time anyone seriously tries to criticize Dean. Dean has stolen about a dozen cars. He has married one woman, had an affair with another, played the two of them off against each other, divorced the first, married the second, deserted the second with a young child whom she has no money to support, gone back to the first, dumped the first again so suddenly she has to become a prostitute to make ends meet. Later he will go back to the second, beat the first so hard that he injures his thumb and has to get it amputated, break into the second’s house with a gun to kill her but change his mind, desert the second again also with a child whom she has no money to support, start dating a third, desert the third also with a child whom she has no money to support, and go back to the second, all while having like twenty or thirty lesser affairs on the side. As quoted above, he dumped poor Galatea in Tucson, and later he will dump Jack in Mexico because Jack has gotten deathly ill and this is cramping his style.
So Galatea’s complaint is not exactly coming out of thin air.
Jack, someone has just accused your man-crush of being selfish and goofing off all the time. Care to defend him with overwrought religious adjectives?
That’s what Dean was, the HOLY GOOF…he was BEAT, the root, the soul of beatific. What was he knowing? He tried all in his power to tell me what he was knowing, and they envied that about me, my position at his side, defending him and drinking him in as they once tried to do
Right. That’s the problem. People are just jealous, because holy ecstatic angelic Dean Moriarty likes you more than he likes them. Get a life.
But of course getting a life – in the sense of a home, a stable relationship, a steady job, et cetera – is exactly what all the characters in On The Road are desperately trying to avoid.
“Beat” has many meanings, but one of them is supposed to be “beaten down”. The characters consider themselves oppressed, on the receiving end of a system that grinds them up and spits them out. This is productively compared with their total lack of any actual oppression whatsoever.
I don’t know if it’s the time period or merely their personal charm, but Kerouac et al’s ability to do anything (and anyone) and get away with it is astounding. Several of their titular cross-country trips are performed entirely by hitch-hiking, with their drivers often willing to buy them food along the way. Another is performed in some sort of incredibly ritzy Cadillac limo, because a rich man wants his Cadillac transported from Denver to Chicago, Dean volunteers, and the rich man moronically accepts. Dean of course starts driving at 110 mph, gets in an accident, and ends up with the car half destroyed. Once in the city, Dean decides this is a good way to pick up girls, and:
In his mad frenzy Dean backed up smack on hydrants and tittered maniacally. By nine o’ clock the the car was an utter wreck: the brakes weren’t working any more; the fenders were stove in; the rods were rattling. Dean couldn’t stop it at red lights; it kept kicking convulsively over the roadway. It had paid the price of the night. It was a muddy boot and no longer a shiny limousine…’Whee!’ It was now time to return the Cadillac to the owner, who lived out on Lake Shore Drive in a swank apartment with an enormous garage underneath managed by oil-scarred Negroes. The mechanic did not recognize the Cadillac. We handed the papers over. He scratched his head at the sight of it. We had to get out fast. We did. We took a bus back to downtown Chicago and that was that. And we never heard a word from our Chicago baron about the condition of his car, in spite of the fact that he had our addresses and could have complained.
Even more interesting than their ease of transportation to me was their ease at getting jobs. This is so obvious to them it is left unspoken. Whenever their money runs out, be they in Truckee or Texas or Toledo, they just hop over to the nearest farm or factory or whatever, say “Job, please!” and are earning back their depleted savings in no time. This is really the crux of their way of life. They don’t feel bound to any one place, because traveling isn’t really a risk. Be it for a week or six months, there’s always going to be work waiting for them when they need it. It doesn’t matter that Dean has no college degree, or a criminal history a mile long, or is only going to be in town a couple of weeks. This just seems to be a background assumption. It is most obvious when it is violated; the times it takes an entire week to find a job, and they are complaining bitterly. Or the time the only jobs available are backbreaking farm labor, and so Jack moves on (of course abandoning the girl he is with at the time) to greener pastures that he knows are waiting.
Even more interesting than their ease of employment is their ease with women. This is unintentionally a feminist novel, in that once you read it (at least from a modern perspective) you end up realizing the vast cultural shift that had to (has to?) take place in order to protect women from people like the authors. Poor Galatea Dunkel seems to have been more of the rule than the exception – go find a pretty girl, tell her you love her, deflower her, then steal a car and drive off to do it to someone else, leaving her unmarriageable and maybe with a kid to support. Then the next time you’re back in town, look her up, give her a fake apology in order to calm her down enough for her to be willing to have sex with you again, and repeat the entire process. Here is a typical encounter with a pretty girl:
Not five nights later we went to a party in New York and I saw a girl called Inez and told her I had a friend with me that she ought to meet sometime. I was drunk and told her he was a cowboy. “Oh, I’ve always wanted to meet a cowboy.”
“Dean?” I yelled across the party. “Come over here, man!” Dean came bashfully over. An hour later, in the drunkenness and chiciness of the party, he was kneeling on the floor with his chin on her belly and telling her and promising her everything and sweating. She was a big, sexy brunette – as Garcia said, something straight out of Degas, and generally like a beautiful Parisian coquette. In a matter of days they were dickering with Camille in San Francisco by long-distance telephone for the necessary divorce papers so they could get married. Not only that, but a few months later Camille gave birth to Dean’s second baby, the result of a few nights’ rapport early in the year. And another matter of months and Inez had a baby. With one illegitimate child on the West somewhere, Dean then had four little ones, and not a cent, and was all troubles and ecstasy and speed as ever.
In case you’re wondering, Dean then runs off to Mexico, leaves Inez behind, screws a bunch of Mexican women, and eventually gets back with Camille, who is happy to have him. Seriously, if I had read this book when I was writing Radicalizing The Romanceless, Dean (and his friends) would have been right up there with Henry as Exhibit B. The only punishment he ever gets for his misadventures is hitting one girlfriend in the face so hard that he breaks his own thumb, which gets infected and has to be amputated. Human justice has failed so miserably, one feels, that God has to personally step in.
As bad as the gender stuff is, the race stuff is worse. This is 1950-something, so I’m prepared for a lot of awful stuff regarding race. But this is totally different awful stuff regarding race than I expected. I have never been able to get upset over “exoticization” and “Orientalism” before, but this book reached new lows for me:
At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night. I stopped at a little shack where a man sold hot red chili in paper containers; I bought some and ate it, strolling in the dark mysterious streets. I wished I were a Denver Mexican, or even a poor overworked Jap, anything but what I was so drearily, a “white man” disillusioned. All my life I’d had white ambitions; that was why I’d abandoned a good woman like Terry in the San Joaquin Valley…a gang of colored women came by, and one of the young ones detached herself from motherlike elders and came to me fast – “Hello Joe!” and suddenly saw it wasn’t Joe, and ran back blushing. I wished I were Joe. I was only myself, sad, strolling in this violet dark, this unbearably sweet night, wishing I could exchange worlds with the happy, true-hearted, ecstatic Negroes of America.
Negroes are holy and ecstatic. But only in the same way barns and cows are holy and ecstatic. One gets the suspicion that Jack Kerouac is not exactly interacting with any of this stuff, so much as using it as something he can have his overwrought religious feelings about.
The “heroes” of On The Road consider themselves ill-done by and beaten-down. But they are people who can go anywhere they want for free, get a job any time they want, hook up with any girl in the country, and be so clueless about the world that they’re pretty sure being a 1950s black person is a laugh a minute.
On The Road seems to be a picture of a high-trust society. Drivers assume hitchhikers are trustworthy and will take them anywhere. Women assume men are trustworthy and will accept any promise. Employers assume workers are trustworthy and don’t bother with background checks. It’s pretty neat.
But On The Road is, most importantly, a picture of a high-trust society collapsing. And it’s collapsing precisely because the book’s protagonists are going around defecting against everyone they meet at a hundred ten miles an hour.
The viewpoint of a character in a book is not necessarily the viewpoint of its author. One can write about terrible people doing terrible things and not necessarily endorse it. That having been said, it’s very hard to read Jack Kerouac-the-author as differing very much from Jack-Kerouac-the-character in his opinions. He still has a raging man-crush on Dean and thinks that he is some kind of holy madman who can do no wrong.
The nicest thing I can say about On The Road is that perhaps it should be read backwards. It is a paean to a life made without compromise, a life of enjoying the hidden beauty of the world, spent in pursuit of holiness and the exotic. Despite how I probably sound, I really respect the Beat aesthetic of searching for transcendence and finding it everywhere. There’s something to be said for living your life to maximize that kind of thing, especially if everyone else is some kind of boring dispirited factory worker or something. Kerouac wrote around the same time as Sartre; it’s not difficult to imagine him as one of the first people saying you needed to try to find your True Self.
Read backwards, there was a time when to spend your twenties traveling the world and sleeping with strange women and having faux mystical experiences was something new and exciting and dangerous and for all anybody knew maybe it held the secret to immense spiritual growth. But from a modern perspective, if Jack and Dean tried the same thing today, they’d be one of about a billion college students and aimless twenty-somethings with exactly the same idea, posting their photos to Instagram tagged “holy”, “ecstatic”, and “angelic”. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t seem like a good stopping-point for a philosophy. It doesn’t even seem like good escapism. I’d be willing to tolerate all the pointless criminality if it spoke to the secret things that I’ve always wanted to do in my hidden heart of hearts, but I’d like to think there’s more there than driving back and forth and going to what seem like kind of lackluster parties.
When I read Marx, I thought that his key mistake was a negative view of utopia. That is, utopia is what happens automatically once you overthrow all of the people and structures who are preventing there from being utopia. Just get rid of the capitalists, and the World-Spirit will take care of the rest. The thought that ordinary, fallible, non-World-Spirit humans will have to build the post-revolution world brick by brick, and there’s no guarantee they will do any better than the pre-revolutionary humans who did the same, never seems to have occurred to him.
Kerouac was a staunch anti-Communist, but his beat philosophy seems to share the same wellspring. Once you get rid of all the shackles of society in your personal life – once you stop caring about all those squares who want you to have families and homes and careers and non-terrible friends – once you become a holy criminal who isn’t bound by the law or other people’s needs – then you’ll end up with some ecstatic visionary true self. Kerouac claimed he was Catholic, that he was in search of the Catholic God, and that he found Him – but all of his descriptions of such tend to be a couple of minutes of rapture upon seeing some especially pretty woman in a nightclub or some especially dingy San Francisco alley, followed by continuing to be a jerk who feels driven to travel across the country approximately seven zillion times for no reason.
Like the early Communists, who were always playing up every new factory that opened as the herald of the new age of plenty, in the beginning it’s easy to tell yourself your revolution is succeeding, that you are right on the brink of the new age. But at last come the Andropovs and Brezhnevs of the soul, the stagnation and despair and the going through the motions.
Kerouac apparently got married and divorced a couple of times, became an alcoholic, had a bit of a breakdown, and drank himself to death at age 49. Moriarty spent a while in prison on sort-of-trumped-up drug charges, went through a nasty divorce with whichever wife hadn’t divorced him already, and died of a likely drug overdose at age 47.
Overall I did not like this book.
If you’re writing about a crime spree you were a part of, you ought to show at least a little self-awareness.
Mysticism continues to be a perfectly valid life choice, but I continue to believe if you want to pursue it you should do it carefully and methodically, for example meditating for an hour a day and then going to regular retreats run by spiritual authorities, rather than the counterculture route of taking lots of drugs and having lots of sex and reading some books on Gnosticism and hoping some kind of enlightenment smashes into you.
Professional writing should be limited to about four overwrought religious adjectives per sentence, possibly by law.
And travel and girls are both fun, but [doctor voice] should be enjoyed responsibly and in moderation.
Thanks for the effort in all this! I could never bring myself to read it, even though an imploring friend’s used copy stares at me from my bookshelf even now.
I recall being a teenager when Reality Bites came out, and recognize some similarities. Hunky, unemployable, meaninglessly rude Ethan Hawke is the clear winner over schmucky executive Ben Stiller. I truly disliked the message of the film (or at least the one my friends got from it), and felt it glorified being an irresponsible jerk. And it did that coming from the female perspective!
Funny. The defining film of a generation is about avoiding responsibility and feeling beaten down, much as their parents’ generation’s defining book did.
…and then five years later Fight Club came out.
Yeah, I see what you mean. Though that at least is upfront about its characters being terrible people who make terrible choices that eventually lead them to blow up a Starbucks or something in the pursuit of authenticity. Not that that stops anyone from glorifying them.
The fight club folks mostly only hurt each other or Starbucks, not individuals like Galatea. And they set a goal, work towards it and achieve it; the movie doesn’t have much of a denouement but the implication is that they really did get a lot of people out of debt and the lead couple got together in a quirky but ultimately wholesome and traditional relationship.
So, I think the narrative genius of Fight Club is being able to provide a lens where acute pain felt by people you could very easily find (employees at a Starbucks) is hidden behind their pursuit of a system without the dull, massive, ubiquitous pains. Principally, Fight Club makes the same argument as those who support Free Trade (although with different conclusions): just because you can see someone not get a job doesn’t mean the system is worse, and just because they have it doesn’t make it better.
I just thought I’d mention this, because within the system there are a lot of victims of Tyler Durden (and even victims outside it — see Marla Singer), and it doesn’t seem like he even pretends otherwise. But their pain is minimized and hidden behind the pain of being trapped in the system.
Fight Club is also very well written. I can almost always excuse a story with that going for it.
I think Fight Club is supposed to be a warning- in rebelling against the system they become an even worse system. They reject an impersonal system by replacing it with an organization where they literally have no names.
Precisely. By hiding the pain of the individual, you lose quite a lot. The loss of names was a great illustration of it, but also spoiler spoiler (I assume that’s specific enough for people in the loop, as regards which spoiler might refer to loss of identity). But I’d say spoiler spoiler also shows that it’s not meant to be an unalloyed bad — that there are benefits to losing those parts of who we are, change that wouldn’t be made otherwise.
Or like in Lord of the Flies where they put on the face paint stuff.
(*Please* can someone tell me when they work out how to do a lobotoy that removes the part of the brain associated with English Lit.)
I don’t see the acute pain. Starbucks would hire some repairmen, assign the employees to the one down the road or otherwise find them something to do. A bit of inconvenience for them (a few weeks of longer commute), for people who can’t get their coffees or have to walk further for them, for the distributed shareholders in Starbucks and their insurers. But no acute pain anywhere.
Is this American cultural assumption that the workers would all just be fired (something that never really occurred to me when watching, because you can’t fire someone without cause over here)? Or something else?
Fight club doesn’t glorify them, though. Both the book and the movie (a rare example of the movie being better than the book) are vehement rejections of tyler’s nihilism (or whatever you want to call it).
The 80s version, done as a comedy, is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
I feel compelled to defend Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — it has a completely different ethic from On the Road. In some ways it almost feels like the anti-On the Road (you can’t tell me it wasn’t deliberately incongruous to have the wild kids skip school to go to an art museum).
Ferris is a free spirit, but he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and in fact goes out of his way not to hurt anyone. The most heinous thing he does is talk Cameron into borrowing his dad’s car without permission; he feels terrible when that goes wrong, and is willing to take responsibility for it. He loves his girlfriend and plans to marry her. He’s on his way to college. The “Most Likely to Succeed” yearbook picture is a shoo-in. If Dean Moriarty represents the wild young man in opposition to a trust society, Ferris Bueller represents the wild young man who’s been tamed by it.
Well, that’s part of what I disliked about Ferris – he is not going to suffer any consequences. He mitches from school and has a whole elaborate set-up to avoid getting into trouble over that?
No problem! He’s still on his way to college, which either means he’s smart enough to be able to skip classes but can still cram enough to pass the exams, or that his family are rich enough to pay for him to go to college (presumably, though it’s never mentioned, as a ‘legacy’).
And presumably he’ll go on the same way at college, for three or four years – skate through, skip classes, come out with a gentleman’s third and step into a job with his father’s company or one of his father’s friends.
Meanwhile, the principal is portrayed as a petty rule-monger, humourless and ridiculous. We’re supposed to cheer for Ferris scoring off him. But there’s also a very subtle undercurrent of classism in the film – the principal, after all, is only a teacher. He’s a hired hand. He makes less money than Ferris’ father (or the fathers of the others). There’s no real fear that Ferris’ parents take his complaints seriously or that, for instance, should he try to prevent Ferris from getting into college, that Ferris’ family wouldn’t be suing the school in a second in order to force him to give up.
Ferris can afford to play monkey tricks because in the end he’s not defying ‘The System’, he’s depending on the system to benefit him, and eventually he’ll settle down and take his place as a pillar of that society.
(Yes, I didn’t find Ferris charming, as you may be able to tell).
FBDO is very much a pro-System movie. There’s a reason it’s the perpetual darling of conservatives like Ben Stein and Mark Hemingway. The message is that you can be a rebel without hating society, and follow the spirit of the rules without being a slave or a bureaucrat. Ferris’ rebellion is pretty tame, right? Deliberately tame. Even the emphasis on having been out sick from school “nine times” feels deliberate. Presumably a high school senior can miss nine days of class without serious damage to his intellectual growth. (I’m pretty sure I did.)
For the same reasons, it’s disliked by people who fetishize authenticity — exactly the sort of people who love On the Road. The ones who are prepared to excuse Dean Moriarty for being evil, because at least he’s “real”, i.e. he refuses to be co-opted by The System. (Edit: To be clear, I’m not trying to lump you into this category. There are a lot of reasons to like or dislike any movie.)
Of course, being temperamentally conservative isn’t necessarily the same as being politically conservative. The System is, in fact, quite liberal! That’s the paradox of modern politics; today’s Dean Moriartys are rebelling against Hillary Clinton.
“Of course, being temperamentally conservative isn’t necessarily the same as being politically conservative. The System is, in fact, quite liberal! That’s the paradox of modern politics; today’s Dean Moriartys are rebelling against Hillary Clinton.”
I think that’s a lot of the drive behind NRx. The actual onerous control that (white, middle-class and up) kids are subject to isn’t symbolized by the parents or the priest, but the school councilor (a personality type that Hilary Clinton exemplifies).
But now, more importantly, all I can think about is the prospect of taking a speed-fueled road trip with Nick Land.
It strikes you as improper that Ferris still gets to go to college?
It strikes me as improper that anyone would suggest that skipping school ten times in a year, in a manner calculated to be at a minimum harmless to anyone, should be punished by forfeiture of a college education that one had otherwise earned. Or that an obviously clever person who thinks he can come up with a better plan for ten of his days than a typical 1980s high school curriculum can be dismissed for all future time as a wastrel.
The part where Ferris and friends manage to not spend five years in prison for grand theft auto is a more obvious injustice. But also a plausible one, given the disincentives for Cameron’s father pressing formal charges.
And unless we are going to endorse a return to the Hays code, there has to be room for movies where the protagonists are both selfish and criminal and get away with it. Do you have any better candidates than Ferris? As stillnotking notes, it’s almost an instruction manual for doing that sort of thing without hurting yourself or anyone else. I didn’t much like Ferris, but I sympathized with his friends and family, and they all seemed the better for his various delinquencies
I don’t care a brass button if Ferris goes to college or not; the point is that there’s never any doubt that that is where he is headed.
The film (in the person of Cameron’s father and his symbolic Ferrari) may take a poke or two at convention, but there are no consequences or no results to Ferris. Cameron may be supposed to undergo personal growth by the fact of destruction (and we never see what happens when his father finds out, or what punishment or censure Cameron undergoes) – but Ferris himself, the instigator?
Gets away with everything. Not even a token smack on the wrist. His ‘rebellion’ risks nothing, yet we’re supposed to admire his cleverness. Yeah! Stick it to The Man, to The System!
Never mind that Ferris changes nothing, nor – fundamentally – does he want to change anything. He’s presumably headed off to college, on his parents’ money, where he’ll get the education that will enable him to start a career – again, presumably, something like his father’s career, whatever that is. Cameron’s father and his car may represent “All they care about is material wealth, and it’s bad to value things over people”, but Ferris isn’t going to leave school and work in a box factory while doing voluntary literacy tuition after work, instead of taking full advantage of his family’s ability to pay for him to go to college and get on the rungs of the ladder of a nice middle-class life.
Ferris isn’t anything but a brat, is what I’m saying. He knows that someone else will clean up after him, that someone else will have to carry the can.
Why I don’t like Ferris Bueller is because he’s too like others I’ve met, who get others into trouble by instigating chaos but manage to slide out themselves and not suffer.
Cameron, for one reason or another, will suffer consequences. Ferris, though he does offer to take the blame, won’t. And I don’t see Ferris changing his modus operandi as he gets older (you can hardly say ‘matures’); he’ll still rely on slick charm and some cunning to get himself out of messes, but he’ll never make a real challenge to anything because, in the end, he profits by the system he isn’t really challenging.
Okay, this is breaking a butterfly on the wheel: it’s a piece of light entertainment, it just annoys me when we’re uncritically supposed to accept the protagonist as this wonderful, wise, exemplar.
The only thing Ferris did wrong was “borrow” and then treat carelessly the car. The rest f what he did was outright admirable imo. Normal high school is a waste of time and I actively encourage young people to cut if they can get away with it. I cut about half my classes in high school and wound up going to college and doing just fine! The parades stuff was awesome and fun. Btw the point of me cutting wasn’t to be a “Rebel” it was that I found going to class extremely unpleasant. I went to a very high ranked high school so I actually lost (on net) socially for cutting so much.
I am not exactly sure how terrible an act it is to wreck your friend’s father’s car. Though its clearly not ok it doesn’t seem like stealing the car makes Ferris a bad guy. If on of my friends had destroyed one of my parent’s cars my parent’s would not have gotten hyper upset. Though obviously they wouldn’t be happy either.
I never destroyed a car (or anything expensive honestly) nor has anyone wrecked my car. But one time I was sleeping while my sister drove. And due to her absurdly reckless driving she got into an accident that might easily have killed both of us if there was any oncoming traffic. And she destroyed our parent’s car. Neither myself nor my parent’s were really upset. “Kids will be kids” seemed to be our attitude.
*as a subset of taking the car pressuring cameron was really douchey.
My father (who is temperamentally liberal, and who did drop out of school to work in a factory) tells me his favorite movie is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and his favorite book is On the Road.
I suspect it’s not so common to view these works through a moralizing, but-what-does-this-say-about-society lens. People instead read themselves into the protagonists, and then happily rationalize and aestheticize the protagonists’ sins, just as they’d do for themselves in a world without consequences.
“Well, that’s part of what I disliked about Ferris – he is not going to suffer any consequences.”
Shauna? Shauna Jean?
“Ferris isn’t anything but a brat, is what I’m saying. He knows that someone else will clean up after him, that someone else will have to carry the can.
Why I don’t like Ferris Bueller is because he’s too like others I’ve met, who get others into trouble by instigating chaos but manage to slide out themselves and not suffer.”
The same could be said for Odysseus, Anansi, Coyote, or any number of other cultural trickster heroes. (Not so much for, say, Loki, because, you know, Ragnarok, but that describes the vast majority of them.) However, much like Ferris, I still greatly enjoy listening to their stories. They may not have too many other redeeming qualities, but their cleverness can be worthy of admiration all by itself.
I’m not sure how I want to relate this to present-day culture, but it might be worth mentioning that trickster stories often run as much on the trickster getting the crap beaten out of him as they do on him scamming some jerk (it’s usually a jerk).
Loki, for example, loses an eating contest against the personification of fire, gets his tail burned off in the form of a hawk, gets impregnated by a horse, gets his lips sewn shut for being a smartass, and finally gets tied to a rock with his son’s intestines and tortured until the end of the world… and that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head.
Americana’s trickster archetype is almost always unreservedly victorious, but Chuck Jones realized this would only work if Bugs was initially the victim of unprovoked aggression. That’s not so obviously the case with Ferris.
Bueller’s three crimes, IMO: First, conspiring to steal and negligently destroying a valuable classic automobile, mitigated by the fact that the legal owner is presented as a jerk who won’t allow anyone (even himself) to enjoy the use of said automobile. Second, weakening by gratuitous example the general rule against cutting class, to the likely harm of less enlightened class-cutters to come. Third, setting off the chain of misfortune that befalls Principal Rooney, but then I tend to view Rooney as having himself ditched school (with all of its boring non-Bueller-related duties) to pursue a private hobby of Beating Ferris At His Own Game, so it’s sort of a wash.
Not sure exactly what sort of harm I should wish to befall a person who commits crimes such as these.
Everybody thought Bueler was sick, so he didn’t weaken the rule against cutting class.
Defecting is ok as long as you’re a hypocrite about it.
If we acknowledge that Ferris was merely negligent in destroying the car, it seems reasonable to acknowledge that he was equally negligent w/re concealing his unlawful behavior. By the end of the tale, it was pretty much an open secret that he’d been getting away with something, even if nobody was quite sure what or how.
I thought that was Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise”.
I thought Ethan and Winona’s characters had a come-to-Jesus-it’s-time-to-grow-up moment at the end of the movie? But I haven’t seen it since it came to VHS. It may read very differently now.
I always primarily read it as a (pretty awful) movie about authenticity, youth culture and its commodification, and that kind of Baffler-y stuff, which at least made it worth criticizing.
I don’t understand how you could bring yourself to finish a book like this.
I share this sentiment. Why would you decide to finish a book like this while so many great books out there remain unread (by you)?
I’ll sometimes finish bad books because I’ll somehow fail to realize until the end that the book in question really is not good enough to merit my attention. You indicate that you did not like the book. Did you only realize this towards the end? If so, why not sooner? If not, why did you keep reading?
1. Reading something to snark in your head about how awful it is can be fun.
2. If you read half a book and say “it sucks, I couldn’t finish it” someone who liked the book will turn up and say “But you would have liked it if you finished it!”
This is a great point, although now I wish that your hypothetical had actually happened so that the people who would have said “But you would have liked it!” could then update against that likelihood for the future.
I am someone who will stay with a bad book to the bitter end. One of the reasons that I do this is so that I can tell jokes about how bad it is to my friends later. But another reason is just that there are certain things that I want to finish after I’ve started, just because I want to know how they’ll end. If I don’t they’ll haunt me. My curiosity is stronger than my boredom and disgust reactions.
It’s incredibly fun to read. Perhaps it helped that I read it as a teenager, but it’s like a novel length version of a jimmy buffet song. It just makes you feel like saying fuck it, sticking out your thumb, and hitching a crazy, adventure filled ride to san francisco.
The cultivation of good taste requires us to experience, to some degree, even the most bitter and nauseating of things. Now, if he was constantly reading things which disgust him that’s a reason to question his actions. Perhaps we’d find that he’s an intellectual masochist who gets off from it all. Perhaps he just has no clue what the hell he’s doing, like a dog chasing its tail without knowing that when he firmly grips it with his teeth it will, indeed, hurt, but who continues to do so, entranced and seduced by the wagging tail.
Thankfully that’s not who we’re dealing with here. This critic/journalist/writer simply understands that there are certain texts (of various natures and mediums) which have been venerated simply because they’ve been devoured in the injudicious glut of a certain culture.
Here the writer takes the caricature (the current understanding of a work) which has come to be loved and reveals it as an inaccuracy. The only just way to do so is to take it as a whole and expose it as a whole.
TL;DR Knowing what you don’t like is just as important as knowing what you do like. To reveal the complete ugliness of something you have to have take it in completely (in the quantifiable sense, not the affective sense).
I thought you were going somewhere completely different with Part III following the above passage. Something something implicit cooperation mechanism something something destabilizing feedback patterns… Oh well, have to find my societal game-theory critique fix elsewhere.
Great book review though!
Can’t you see, though, that like Ayn Rand’s works, there’s a personality type that could gain from reading this book? Maybe you are already sufficiently decadent, maybe you’ve lived in a commune and practiced free love and experimented with drugs or whatever, but someone who is a total square might read the book and say “wow, there is more to life than two hours of commute, eight hours of work, four hours of TV and a couple hours of miscellaneous per day, and I should check it out”. I think a lot of people who liked On The Road were stuck unquestioningly in life scripts that weren’t working for them, and either got shook out of their ruts or at least thought it was nice to fantasize that they could, in principle, get shook out of them.
At least Ayn Rand’s books (or at least the one I read) had a fantasy with heroes overcoming odds and villians getting their comeuppance. I think what Scott has shown here is that the victims in On The Road seem to be those most willing to help the narrator.
While I think there certainly are works that can “[shake] people from their ruts,” and inspire, this one should instead horrify and be a cautionary tale. Indeed, I think Scott has shown this could be used much in the same way as Lolita as a tragedy with an unreliable narrator if the culture war was not won by Kerouac’s ideological descendants.
If someone is caught up in “Live the good square life, not the evil exciting life”, then the message they need isn’t “be evil”, it’s “that dichotomy is false: you can be good and have an exciting life”. This book opposes a restrictive lifestyle by supporting the messed-up assumptions that lifestyle is built on.
Disclaimer: haven’t read it, going by what’s said here.
Be careful how you describe messages. If the message is not intended for you, you’ll probably not give it a fair shake.
If someone is failing to have a good exciting life, is it because they haven’t thought of exciting things that are also good, or because they have thought of them and labeled them evil? In the second case, they really do need the message “stop worrying so much about evil.”
They really don’t need that message, because actual evil remains an option open to them. All the more so, as they set aside convention.
If someone is very bad at recognizing evil, the message should be “here’s how to get better at it” not “you’re doing fine, stop worrying about it”.
You really need my message, but I don’t know how to get you to notice it.
I’d rather have “total squares” stuck unquestioningly in boring life scripts rather than have them become irresponsible dickheads. I don’t think *anybody* needs to hear the message “being an irresponsible dickhead can be fun and beautiful”, and I wish we had much less glorification of dickheads in our popular culture.
I haven’t read anything by Kerouac (and know very little about him apart from the fact that he’s famous, this blog post, and a brief overview of his Wikipedia page), but I find it hard to sympathize with his admirers, and to see any good justification for that admiration beyond hatred for “squares” and mainstream conservative American society, and mabe being an iconoclast for the sake of being an iconoclast.
I think that’s the theme of the movie Anger Management.
Which is to say, some people (e.g. people with anxiety disorders) think that they’re “being an irresponsible dickhead” when they do anything that even slightly annoys others, and have thus scrunched themselves into the lowest-external-annoyance state, however bad this is for them. Because whatever else it is, at least it’s not terrifying.
These people need to be more like what they think of as assholes, i.e. people with self-confidence. They won’t go so far as to actually become an asshole; they’ll just come far enough out of their shells to punch the actual asshole in the nose, or skip school to go to an art gallery, or do one of a thousand other things they’ve dreamed about doing if only it wouldn’t piss someone off.
Worship Rosa Parks, not Jack Kerouac. Even Napoleon and Stalin would be better idols, as not *everything* they did was wrong, and their crimes are harder to do actual replicas of anyway. Kerouac is just (relatively) low-risk evil at (relatively) the reach of everyone, instead of anything anyone should actually learn. And note none of it is actually intelligent, or really non-square; you’d just happen to give life to a square’s strawmen, instead of being anything actually beyond a square’s imagination or comprehension.
But a total square reading the book is just going to take away that the beat lifestyle is completely selfish and destructive and ultimately unsatisfying. I think Scott has shown that above with his own reaction (no offense meant). It would be like showing 1984 to an anarchist and saying “see, government ain’t so bad”.
It would be like showing 1984 to an anarchist, and telling him that this book was greatly admired and respected by non-anarchists, who found the society depicted there fine, and downplayed it’s negative aspects.
Yes, and the squares like you and me end up cleaning up the messes and dealing with the wreckage that the free-spirits like Dean create.
I see lots of characters, both male and female, like Dean in my current job (and in my previous one). Multiple partners, children by various fathers/mothers, no job, no responsibility, gaming the system? Yes, still happening. Sure, Tune In Turn On Drop Out can live free and fine, but in most cases they’re parasitical on the system of society that they’re rebelling against. (Some aren’t, but they’re the ones who have a sense of other people as being real and should not be hurt). The children unquestionably get messed around while Daddy and Mammy are living their free, unfettered, unsquare lives – and there’s plenty of alcohol and recreational drugs involved as well.
I’ve never been tempted, by any book, to throw over my square life and seeing the real-life consequences doesn’t make me any more inclined.
Oddly enough, the one book of Kerouac’s that I liked was “Doctor Sax”, which is a kind of SF-Fantasy/kind of biographical mish-mash, and much more human than the famous Beat novels.
I know I’ve said this before this thread, but it’s important: one doesn’t need to be square to be positive-impact.
Those children without parental provision? Materially cared for out of the excess created by a high-tech society. Which in turn was created mostly by hackers (using the term broadly). Not squares.
The emotional damage? By default falls to social workers or psychiatrists. I don’t know a representative sample of either, but the fields don’t require a lot of squareness. And maybe that will happen courtesy of an honest wandering mystic. That’s a rare life choice, but it’s possible.
The deeper emotional issues almost have to be addressed from a nonsquare perspective. What people who are ripe to be Dean’s victims need isn’t a recitation of rules, but a community that accepts their desires without condemnation and helps them figure out how to achieve them without self-destruction.
“The emotional damage? By default falls to social workers or psychiatrists. ”
Actually it probably falls to grandparents or uncles more often.
You do not want to hear the social worker rant, believe me. About as much use as a chocolate teapot when it comes to getting and keeping children out of harm, until it’s too damn late.
Part of that is down to governments paring public spending down to the bone so public sector recruitment is frozen, people who leave/retire are not being replaced, case loads are crazy, and the concomitant burnout means that people are becoming cynical clock-watchers who won’t do anything outside of office hours because there’s no thanks for it and nothing much comes of it anyway.
Part of it is young, wet-behind-the-ears graduates coming out of college with a head full of this 70s societal repression bullshit, the attitude about ‘accepting desires without condemnation’ and are taken for a ride by people who see them as soft touches.
Some of our clients are what is probably called in popular jargon sociopaths (whatever the accurate clinical diagnosis is); they have children that they don’t care a straw about except as bargaining chips (more than one client has tried getting access/guardianship of a child in order to be eligible for a bigger house, or more money, or get a transfer from area A to perceived more desirable area B). I’m seeing people who are not just neglectful because of lack of emotional/intellectual capacity (e.g. one client who permitted a registered sex offender to stay in her house, where she has three young children), but who are actively harmful to their children.
But what can you say? Call the police, call the social workers? Let me remind you, we’ve had one social worker who classed a client as a “good mother” because, when she shoots up, she always turns her back so the child doesn’t see!
Another stumbling block left out by Deiseach below is that in many of the “helping fields” to paraphrase my former boss: “We are here to help exactly as much, in exactly the manner, proscribed by law. If you help more than the prescription, you will be fired just as if you had helped less than the prescription.
And the lack of parental provision means nobody the hell takes up the slack (I’ll avoid giving social workers a kicking) so the next generation falls into the same messes.
Look, the bare feckin’ minimum any society should do is provide a roof, food and education for all its citizens. But man does not live by bread alone, and what are those children going to use for love?
The girls, as soon as they’re fifteen or sixteen, take up with some young waster because all they’ve got to go on is the romantic notions peddled by movies and pop music of ‘the one meant for you’. The boys have no better examples. I’m seeing second and third generations of the same old thing, and I’m fed up to the back teeth that there is apparently nothing that can be done or at least isn’t being done.
You bet I think a little shame would be no harm! The con artists who take advantage of others, who are all about “my rights me me me you owe me” – a little shame and guilt would do them no harm at all!
I don’t think that these people are capable of interpreting the language of traditional “shame” other than simply as a coded threat of force/social exclusion, and there are certainly other ways to invoke this response.
That language is, as the reactionaries would certainly not hesitate to clear up, is most effectively deployed against their victims. It serves as punishment for cooperation with/tolerance of defectors, although that is not a primary function but a side effect of the need to enforce the “good” men’s rights of property in women.
I don’t give a damn about men’s rights movements. I’m seeing women as capable of selfishness and destructive behaviour as men (and I’m a woman myself, I know my gender are not all stainless angels).
I’m perfectly happy with the idea of using force/social exclusion against those who are harmful not to themselves alone but to all around them.
That’s why I need religion to remind me that I am not God Almighty, these are my fellow-humans, and I do not get to be absolute dictator judging the hearts of others or inflicting what I think are salutary social measures. Believe me, were I not compelled to it by the dictates of my religion, I would not care a rap about others or accept that they have a right to go to hell in their own way by the abuse of their free will.
Cast the first stone, lest ye be judged, etc. Yes.
To borrow from Ayn Rand, shame’s only a useful weapon against those who submit to it. Consider what she felt as the correct response, and question whether this is the correct tool to use against them.
Even if we’re restricting ourselves to the 1850s techniques, starvation seems more useful and more apropos.
> Which in turn was created mostly by hackers (using the term broadly). Not squares.
I think this division is a bit of a non-sequitur, at least these days. In the 90’s I recall there were a lot more people who just work a bit until they have money and then don’t, but I don’t hear stories about that anymore.
As a person in the hacker/square quadrant myself, I find that a little odd. I mean, heck, I am starting a lot of those stories. But with better access to capital and a culture of accepted de-risking just about everyone who isn’t rolling in it (typically only ‘squares’ are rolling in it) becomes a part of the system. You don’t have to, but it’s nicer, and so many do.
I think its because the system is nicer these days. If you are brilliant but can’t submit, used to be you’d do what you said and stop working. Now the system has found a way for you to “work” without the downsides – you can work on what you like and you’ll be given money, and even if you fail it will be a very soft landing (see everpix in particular). So those same people are now becoming “entrepreneurs” rather than retiring early.
Hackers *like to think* they aren’t square. They mostly: don’t commit violent crime, commit non-violent crime other than drug use less than the general population, have sex with modest numbers of people by *remarkably* square means, form stable, attentive families, or fail to reproduce (which happened in square societies to some men without socioeconomic means, as opposed to having children one won’t support), and so on and on. The only areas where they’re really “non-square” are that they read more than squares and differently so, but if anything in a *more* pro-social way than squares do, and that they use drugs – which doesn’t impel them to commit any other crimes, as is the case with most other kinds of drug user.
(Obviously, I’ve seen hackers diverge from the above, but when it happened, often one could discern influence from a different subculture at work.)
Hackers are, overall, more square than the general population, *and this is (mostly) good*.
Seconding this, though I’d be all in favor of including SE’s critique as an afterword to the next Penguin edition. It’s a book you need to move on from (even if only to better Kerouac/Beat stuff).
I’m a square and is sounds like a piece of rubbish.
Imo a much better book in that regard is All the Pretty Horses. Though it’s much less “realistic”.
“The young shouldn’t read Outlaws of the Marsh, while the old shouldn’t read The Three Kingdoms.” It’s not because the young have nothing to get out of Water Margin but because they’re too likely to believe that they’re Gongsun Sheng and not hired bodyguard #2 who dies a miserable death.
Most readers who come away with the impression that Dean Moriarty is someone they can emulate are going to be fundamentally wrong both in their assessment of the world and in their position with respect to convention morality. That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to be gained from the novel.
And what happens to old people who read Three Kingdoms?
If my experience is any indication, they’ll just be very, very bored.
“I think a lot of people who liked On The Road were stuck unquestioningly in life scripts that weren’t working for them, and either got shook out of their ruts”
Now my hands are itching to make a Worm-related joke, but if I said too much it’d be too spoileriffic for one of the later arcs… so I’ll leave it at just that. Most people who’ve read Worm probably know what this sentence reminded me of anyway. 🙂
Donatello au milieu des fauves!
I think you are being unfair to “On The Road.” Yes, Jack Kerouac the author is the same person as Sal Paradise the character in the book (as in, it’s semi-autobiographical), but he wrote it years after the actual events, and it’s told in a way that ought to make you question.
Dean is a charming wastrel, so everyone loves him. But the book shouldn’t be taken as a straightforward endorsement of that, because it also chronicles his self-destruction, physically and mentally, his gradual loss of his looks, his friends, and his life chances. Yes, Dean treats everyone very badly, particularly women, but let’s not evade the others’ responsibility for that too. They know what kind of person he is, they’re with him because he’s that kind of person, so when he treats them that way…
In addition, Sal is in love with Dean. You write he has a “man-crush,” but no, he is literally, straightforwardly, in love with him. The theme of homosexuality is recurrent. The book is, at least in part, a story of unrequited love, because Sal’s relationship with Dean is fundamentally no different from Camille’s.
These are different kinds of responsibility. Dean has moral responsibility for lying to people; the people he lies to are arguably pragmatically responsible for not being so damn gullible*. But if a guy tells you “you’re special and you’ve reformed me” and you believe him, your naivety doesn’t make the lie any more excusable on his part. Similarly, the fact that Jack should’ve known that Dean would abandon him if Jack ever got sick doesn’t make it any less of a dickish thing to do to a friend.
If anything, these stories show just how vulnerable the average person is to a charismatic sociopath**, and therefore exactly how unstable a high-trust society is. Like everyone else I’d like to think I’m too rational to be tricked like this, but likely as not, if I’d grown up in a trusting society I would’ve been the sucker entrusting my Cadillac to this guy.
*In some ethical frameworks these aren’t distinct kinds of responsibility, but not in the kind of virtue ethicist framework we implicitly use when we condemn people.
**I’m very likely misusing a psychiatric term here, so substitute “con-man” if you’re a stickler
Reading Scott’s post I was mentally deriding all the women who became victims of that guy – I mean, how stupid do you have to be? When Scott mentioned “high-trust society” however, it hit me. They live in a society where the word of an unknown white man is highly trustworthy. This is a very beneficial thing for everyone involved, in fact it looks like something an utopian society would have..until some jackasses start going around defecting. He’s destroying himself, and he’s destroying the society around him too, as Scott points out.
I’d still laugh in my head at those women who fall for his lies three times in a row though. Wow.
When a woman keeps giving a man what he wants including sex, despite him repeatedly lying to her, mistreating her, and beating her, this should raise the hypothesis that she’s no longer able to say no, because he has destroyed the normal defence mechanisms non-abused people have. You are not immune to the same process.
If someone gets fooled once, then presumably they were not able to spot the lie.
If they get fooled twice, then perhaps they believe in second chances. Dean IS described as awful charming…perhaps they are lulled into thinking the first time was a horrible mistake.
Third time though, you just have to accept that they are going into this with eyes wide open. What experience has taught them is that Dean will take all their money, give them pretty promises and then disappear. They are signing up for that. Its just financial domination without being explicit about it.
Well honestly in this case their actual motivation is ‘because the author said this is what happens’ but I wouldn’t be so quick to assign motivation where this situation occurs in real life without actually reading up on what happens to peoples’ minds that makes them accept back abusers.
*Today* the readers of On The Road seem to be mostly women. Specifically: with some amount of post-secondary education, postmodernist. I.e. “educated stupid” does exist. Alternately: being with criminals is itself appealing to at least a nontrivial minority of women. Want to have the undying love of many women and have no idea how? Rape 50 women and appear on the news on the way to jail.
Do “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” next?
A better book because Thompson had fewer illusions about himself. He knew that the 60s had ridden a wave of humbug and that he was aboard for the thrill.
Yeah, Fear and Loathing is a much better book. It’s very funny, for one thing, and Thompson doesn’t mistake his drug-fueled rampage through Las Vegas for a mystical encounter with holiness.
I found it entertaining, but there should be a law against letting teenagers read it.
I’ve only met one person who I know read it as a teenager, and the last time I heard from him, he had four drug addictions and was living in Massachusetts after a failed attempt at becoming a porn star.
Unlike multiple drug convictions or a failed porn career, living in Massachusetts is not a sign of either ethical or intellectual failing.
I’ve previously seen you complain about Yankees disrespecting the part of the country you hail from; perhaps you should be more careful to avoid constructing a glass domicile.
I read it as a teenager at the recommendation of my (ex-hippy, arch-lefty) parents. Thought it pretty good stuff, and still like HST’s writing to this day. Though Fear and Loathing on Campaign Trail ’72 was much better.
I didn’t read that comment as a slight against Massachusetts.
My prior is informed by the large number of comments Nydwracu has made over time making (in my experience of 20 years growing up and going to college in MA, false) generalizations about what blue tribe people there are like.
I am well aware that not all blue-tribe people are upper-class college students in the Berkshires, and even that not all upper-class college students in the Berkshires are drug-addled degenerates. But this particular form of degeneracy appears to be an attractor-state in the culture: the more you live by the norms of its art and music and so on, the closer you get to it.
Meh, it was assigned reading for my tenth grade English class. I… only know what became of one other student in that class, now that I think about it. Well, two. One of them is now a highschool English teacher, the other is a successful… something in finance. The latter pointed out to me some months later that the teacher had been phrasing things during class discussions as though she had been there along with the Beats.
Then there’s me, who fails at life for considerably less Kerouacky reasons.
I read On the Road quite some time ago, and I recall disliking it because the protagonists were such horrible people. However, I don’t automatically dislike works with protagonists who are horrible people; I like stories about vampires as much as the next person, and sometimes even stories about non-supernatural monsters like pirates and gangsters. So I’m not sure why in this case I don’t tend to see it as just another harmless, escapist metaphor for power and freedom. It’s not just because it’s semi-autobiographical; the gangster stories don’t really bother me more when they’re based on true stories. But still, I felt that there was some sense in which the lifestyle Kerouac described was being endorsed, in a way in which other fictions about horrible (often much worse) people don’t seem to me to be sincerely endorsing the horribleness. Maybe it’s that Kerouac’s heroes aren’t horrible enough? For murderers, I don’t feel the need for the author to tell me “of course murder isn’t really a good thing;” that goes without saying. But perhaps it doesn’t go without saying that con-men/thieves/cads are automatically bad? I’m really not sure what’s going on here.
A sort of uncanny valley of horribleness?
Yes. I can watch murder, gore, and creative sociopathy. I cannot stand jerks, social embarrassment, or unlikable protagonists. I can watch horror films but am physically repelled by romantic comedy tropes.
I’ve noticed this too. I think the general rule I’ve found is that my tolerance of evil characters is based more on how pleasant it would be to hang out with them, rather than how objectively evil they are. Dean Moriarty seems like he would probably be mean to me, betray me, exploit me, and try to charm me out of getting angry. Ra’s Al-Ghul, by contrast, seems like he’d be a good and loyal friend, as long as I didn’t try to foil one of his evil plans.
But I think if you read a list of their crimes objectively Ra’s Al-Ghul is probably a much more harmful person.
Related example, useful because while dissolute he’s not actually a villain… I assume I was not the only one severely irritated by the primary protagonist of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians (somewhat less so in the sequel, where he actually demonstrates some growth)?
Yes, Quentin was irritating, but kind of fascinating at the same time just because of how far he took ennui. As someone struggling through grad school without a good idea of what I was doing there, it was sort of an instructive example to see someone who’d gone through it all (except in a much more demanding, magical version) and, having done so, is still stuck with the question “Now what?”
Also, if you thought the sequel was better, I highly recommend the third book. He grows up even more, and thematically speaking figures out how to keep having magical adventures without desperately hanging on to the idea that this next>/i> quest is the one that will give his life meaning.
I think it’s more than most evil fiction characters demonstrate some kind of competence. These guys get by on luck, slight charisma, and their own stupidity. I wouldn’t mind being an evil person in a novel. I’d hate to be Jack.
I recommend Jesus’ Son. It’s a quick read.
This is solid RedPill stuff: Sociopathic alpha males get everything they want, and stupid people celebrate it, unable or unwilling to see that the cost is society falling apart.
Seems to me that many libertarians are doing the same mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I do support social experiments (done by volunteers), I just don’t share the happy belief that if we get rid of that One Bad Thing, everything will automatically be okay.
There are other ways to be libertarian than making that mistake. A libertarian could be a deontologist who believes a non-libertarian society is morally evil regardless of the consequences, or he could be a person whose personal sense of honour/pride sees everybody who doesn’t have the freedoms a libertarian society provides to be contemptible.
Meditations on Moloch killed the little deontological libertarian that lived in my head.
Never kill little deontologists in your head. They provide cautionary tales to remember when you start doing some other things in excess.
Especially that one.
Kerouac died at 47 from alcohol abuse. Does that sound like a good life?
Living a good life and getting everything you want aren’t the same, and in the case of the Beat generation were probably opposites.
Presumably people want to live a good life, or at least they would if they had the experience of it – and they definitely don’t want to die of alcohol abuse.
Y’all are getting into Boethius territory here. Suffice it to say that there are plenty who will choose short-term rewards even if it means long-term destruction. Whether, ultimately, they really “want” that is besides the point.
I question that these are even short-term rewards. They fail to build positive interpersonal relationships (in fact, they do the opposite), merely use women for sex and money, commit crimes and act dishonestly, etc. The great pleasures of a life of virtue are denied to them.
One of my uncles hitchhiked around the USA in the 1970s and he did describe that of people being willing to drive him long distances and feed him, and being incredibly generous. He contrasted it with hitchhiking in Europe, where it was faster to get a ride, but it would be just that, a ride.
As far as I know, though, he didn’t smash any cars or get any girls pregnant and then abandon them.
Hitchhiking in the US and Canada in the 2010s I’ve had many people offer me food or money (and more might have if I hadn’t explained that I was just doing this for fun and did not want money). Though most drivers who gave me rides made no such offers.
I’m not entirely convinced that the society we live in today is much lower-trust than Kerouac’s (thinking especially about things like consumer debt, rental cars, etc). Do we have a good quantitative way to measure this?
This pretty much what Robert Putnam works on. He is not optimistic.
This makes me think of how Orwell reacted to various things as a sign of moral decay.
What I really wonder is why the Happy Rouge Philanderers are so effective.
How much identity comes through?
When it comes to books popular with high schoolers, I’ve always thought that Catcher in the Rye holds up way better than On The Road. The former may have been about a teenager whose detachment was much more depressing than edgy, but at least Holden Caulfield was a kid and even then not a complete asshole. Meanwhile Dean Moriarty shares a lot of similarities with Dick Hicock of In Cold Blood. Both were glibly charming sociopaths who got a major writer of the 20th century to burnish their shitty lives so that they’ve avoided the abyss of history long after they should have gone down the memory hole.
The only reason the Beats will be well remembered is Ginsburg, because don’t even get me started on that murderer Burroughs.
ETA: On the fall of the high trust society, I think you’re partially right in that an increasingly small America meant horror stories about these types of people became more prevalent and made people trust others less, but it’s ignoring the big racial issue. There’s no way a black man could have done what these guys did and gotten away with it, or had the same ability to live a peripatetic lifestyle without running afoul of vagrancy schemes.
Whoa, yeah. Good point.
Not only could a black person not have done it, but the high-trust society among whites may itself owe something to racism. If society mentally assigns one group of people as the rotten ones, it’s probably quite advantageous to be an asshole who does NOT belong to that group.
When it comes to books popular with high schoolers, I’ve always thought that Catcher in the Rye holds up way better than On The Road.
Can a book hold up well if you hated it the first time? I’ve never read On The Road, in part because I thought Catcher in the Rye was so terrible I literally remember nothing about it except how much I despised it when forced to read it in 10th grade. (Also that I was the only one in class who didn’t like it, but that’s not really telling of anything.)
Yes, it can. Sometimes you don’t like things that other people do, and that’s okay.
I seem to remember in high school that book was treated with reverence by the teacher but prompted nothing but eye rolling from the students. It’s interesting how many of the sacred texts of the old counterculture now seem patently absurd, even to people who live lives shaped by that era.
CitR strikes me as a perfect example of needing to read philosophy backwards. The angsty disillusioned teenager is something of a trope nowadays that it seems hard to imagine anyone seeing it as eye-opening.
My class had about an even split. In my experience it seems to be very much a love it or hate it book. I liked it, but I can see why so many people would hate it.
I feel like, as a character, Holden is really lacking in charisma or ability to win people over. He’s not a likeable figure. The people who enjoy the book are mostly those who relate to or feel compassion with him, rather than feeling some desire to associate with him.
> The only reason the Beats will be well remembered is Ginsburg
I love Howl and like Kaddish – is there anything else of his that you’d recommend?
I agree race was an important part of the changes between then and now, but a lot of this doesn’t seem racial. For example, it’d take a pretty complicated causal chain before it could explain why (white) drivers were very willing to pick up a (visibly white) hitchhiker back then but not now, or why (white) women were willing to run off with (white) men on the drop of a hat then but not now.
Women are still plenty willing to run off with men at the drop of a hat; this is the purpose of frequenting clubs/bars/etc and procuring a one-night-stand.
Heartiste and the like will give you details on how to string them along longer if you like, which would doubtless work fine for bringing them on an exciting cross-country trip as well. They just don’t generally see any reason to bother when there’s always another girl waiting at the club to run off with them.
I’m not really involved in the clubs/bars/etc scene at this point in my life, but I’m pretty sure there’s a lot less “dishonest proposal of marriage” and “scheme to steal her life savings” involved in the short-term wooing process there.
Of all the awful things that Dean does, I don’t think that hooking up with women is the worst of it; it’s far worse that he hooks up with women by lying to them and demonstrably harms them–impoverishes, strands, literally beats them. It seems… weird to focus on the sex here.
1everything I’ve got.
Right. (Some) women are still (sometimes) willing to have casual sex, but “running off with” a man is more costly when it means quitting a serious job for a cross-country adventure. And women aren’t quite so vulnerable to “abandonment” now because they have bank accounts & credit cards of their own (not to mention birth control).
I also think the rise of well-publicized serial killers has to do with the decline in hitchhiking. Ted Bundy (white, upper-class) preyed on hitchhiking women among others.
Heartiste and his accursed kind are able to operate because the women they go after are aware of how the game works abs certainly neither require nor put faith in marriage. Of course they’re going to run off with someone charming. They just probably prefer someone who isn’t actually a sociopath.
Then they will go home two days or weeks later.
In Pride and Prejudice one runs into a character who does that sort of thing. He only does it twice in his life and the second time is forced to marry and support the woman. (In a society with an intermediate level of trust)
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m sure I’ve mentioned it here:
I find it amusing that Heartiste, RooshV and the ilk will basically state a more vitriolic version of “Girls like Bad Boys” and act as if they have some new cutting edge insight into human nature or a discovered a backdoor vulnerability in the human psyche when all their doing really is to restate a well known facet of human nature.
It’s a trope that’s appeared in the Illiad, the Tale of Genji, Pride and Predjudice, Gone With the Wind among many others.
Wickham went after middle-class/upper-middle-class girls. He could probably have gotten away with an impressive amount of seduction and abandonment among poor girls in the village or servant’s quarters. (Austen might not have thought it worth mentioning if he did.)
Fun fact: half of chapter 60 in Pride and Prejudice is an essay on negging and how it worked, and in particular how Lizzie Bennett inadvertently negged Mr. Darcy when they first met.
Actually I think that it’s suggested he did, although he wasn’t brazen.
… I need to re-read that book.
alexp: it’s a well-known trope, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people grok that it also applies to, or feel allowed to apply it to, the world they live in.
In Pride & Prejudice the man in question though is rumoured to have seduced and abandoned numerous lower-class girls, and run up debts including gambling debts. Although the novel’s heroine doesn’t believe all the rumours she believes some.
I recently hitchhiked across North America. It still works (I think especially if you’re white and don’t look too poor). It doesn’t matter much if hundreds or thousands of cars pass you by, you only need one to pick you up. The tendency of modern media to spread horror stories likely makes it somewhat harder than it was in the 40s, though an additional issue is the proliferation of freeways where laws and speeds prevent cars from stopping (so one has to hitch at onramps or gas stations). On the other hand there are a lot more cars on the road than there were in the 40s.
It’s been a while since I read “On the Road”, but I remember being struck by how bad/inefficient Kerouac was at budget travel. He spent $50 between New York and Denver, equivalent to over $500 in today’s money. I think I could make it for under $50 today. At any rate I don’t think his hitchhiking experiences are particularly clear evidence that society was higher-trust then than now.
Also I was offered (manual labour) jobs multiple times along the way, so even that part might be more feasible today than some posters here think.
Caulfield also had much better excuses. He’s being a jerk, yes, but it’s a very very overt metaphor for depression after seeing his older brother die and (literally seeing) a classmate dive off the roof of a building. Moreover, the book intentionally undermines these excuses : we’re intentionally supposed to find the protagonist unsympathetic. Most readers don’t even notice the reference to a classmate’s suicide, and are more likely to remember Holden complaining about skinflints while haggling with a prostitute than remember his breaking windows in a garage in a rage. You can easily imagine a book that makes Holden’s search for enlightenment a holy mission, but this isn’t that book.
Kerouac’s On The Road does the opposite. You could imagine the characters as side villains in a Hiaasen book, who fall down every step of moral failing before being humiliated in the climax and, in a cruel mercy, ‘surviving’ to a soulless life haunted by their failures before their inevitable early death. I recommend it! But On The Road isn’t that book: it glorifies the lifestyle of the protagonists, and the worst that happens is that they don’t always get what they want, and one of them marries and settles down a bit for a short time. Maybe that was intended as a bad end, but it doesn’t come across as it.
Yeah, this is certainly worth noting. There was a high-trust society that African-Americans could access, but never to the same extent and never as broad and in the 50s and 60s in particular the divide was especially strong.
At the same time, I’m not sure that the high-trust society among whites was dependent on that, so much as that its evidence high-trust societies aren’t proof against racism. There are similar stories of high-trust societies and their collapses in nations without such a large racial divide, or where lines fell in other directions than race.
Burroughs was a murderer and Ginsburg was a pederast.
I never “got” *Catcher in the Rye*. Nothing happened because he didn’t do anything. Even his dream was some pathetic nonsense wish that would never become reality, a job that doesn’t exist. Whenever he started to try something he gave up on it, like with the prostitute. He’s disaffected but he’s unsympathetic, so why do I care? Loser is as loser does. I felt the same way about *The Deer Hunter*.
I don’t think it’s just a question of not getting the disaffected teenager thing – e.g. I absolutely loved the recent (rotorscoped) anime *Flower of Evil*. But there I could understand and sympathize with the people involved; they had ambition, desires, feelings that I could relate to, and while they took things to greater extremes than I ever did, the teenagery there felt authentic, even plausible.
But yeah, *Catcher in the Rye*. Part of the reason I always hated that “rejected by 29 publishers” narrative – maybe it was rejected because, y’know, it’s not very good.
It always struck me that the beat generation, and the hippies, and the 19th century romantics, all sold the idea that repression was all that stood between us and transcendence. But, of course, despite the social changes, it never seems to come. It just made certain types of hedonism part of the norm, with no insight or transcendence added. To steal a quote, “You killed God, and all you got was the single mother household”.
The sexual revolution, at the very least, saved countless people from the scourge of unnecessary shame. I accept that there is an argument to be made that it wasn’t worth it. But I won’t consider serious anyone that dismisses the suffering caused by the collective superego of institutional repression.
Sexual libertinism as a social value comes with its own sources of scourgeful shame.
Just to be clear here- ethically, to what extent in net terms do you consider the sexual revolutions to have been good or bad? Or if you’re not a consequentialist and can’t add it up, in broad terms to what extent was it beneficial and to what extent did it create new cultural problems in your view?
It does? Could you enumerate them? To what extent is this shame present when sexual libertinism is accepted as opposed to expected? Are you saying that there’s no middle ground between “all sluts must die” and “if you’re not a slut, you’re a loser”?
> Are you saying that there’s no middle ground between “all sluts must die” and “if you’re not a slut, you’re a loser”?
The realities of politics and society force this kind of extremism. I don’t think as a society we are capable of the kind of multipolarity that a tolerance for both positions would demand.
Pre-sexual liberation didn’t have “unnecessary shame”, it had necessary shame. It had shame which served to protect women from people like Dean, and which, when functioning according to spec, basically kept Dean from existing in the first place.
I think he just fell prey to the Orwellian pull of the ready-made bigram “unnecessary shame”. Clearly he isn’t actually contending it’s unnecessary because he accepts in the very next sentence that it might have been worth it.
Although it’s a little hypocritical of him to accuse anyone else of being “glib” in that case.
I’m very glad you’re here to explain to me just how wrong I am. Without your condescension, how would I ever pull out of my liberal fog to see the light?
At the risk of embarrassing myself, I’ll try my best to support my ovine conclusions, fully aware of their inadequacy when compared to your bold reasonings, emancipated as they are from the dominant progressive folderol that infects lesser minds such as mine.
If shame is sufficient to stop the Dean Moriartys of the world, then perhaps that shame is not unnecessary. But in a shame-based society, there is shame, and then there is shame. Some is easy enough to justify on consequentialist grounds. Some, not so much. I mean, here, the shame heaped on the women Moriarty fooled. Shame because they are no longer virgins, or had a child out of wedlock, and is thus unmarriageable. I mean the shame of being gay, and having to keep it a secret your whole life. Or of being a feminine man, or masculine woman. Or of masturbating. Or of, as a woman, desiring and enjoying sex. Or of being guilty of one of a host of sins made whole cloth out of the neuroses of long-dead patriarchs. I could go on.
Now, I know that the contemporary left also comes with plenty of shame. But I neither agree with nor try to justify it. I’ve known people who do sexual libertinism well, and people who do it badly. I hope we build norms good enough to do it well. And I take the nrx challenges to progressivism seriously, for exactly the reason that I hope this project will succeed. But it is glib *as fuck* to say that the very real torment of a life full of shame doesn’t matter.
You are playing ideology on easy mode if you’re not going to try to think of how any of that stuff you listed could be justified.
So are you, if you’re just going to assume someone who disagrees with you is simply confused.
I was going to go to some length to show you that I have read enough of the traditional and consequential justifications for sexual repression to make an informed decision about dismissing at least the ones I brought up, but then I realized I don’t care, and you can’t be bothered to seriously consider it, so it would be an exercise in futility all around.
I’ll leave anyone following who cares with this: regardless of whether you believe it was justified or not, shame is anguish, so you had better be damn sure it’s necessary before deploying it.
Fully agreed. And justice should always be tempered by mercy.
Not least because mercy is ultimately a display of power, is it not?
@suntzu: if your shit wasn’t justifiable, it wouldn’t be dangerous in the first place. Strategic signalling, asshole.
I mean the shame of being gay, and having to keep it a secret your whole life. Or of being a feminine man, or masculine woman.
In the 1950s there was some shaming for doing ‘bad’ actions (like stealing, lying, etc), but worse for being something ‘bad’ (like a born ‘freak’ who does not fit gender expectations). Someone who did bad things (like Moriarity) could repent and be forgiven and be welcomed and become a pillar of the church. But someone who was a feminine man or masculine woman or ‘latent homosexual’, was that for life, and shamed for it.
An example was in the 1961 film “The Children’s Hour”. A respectable woman who had been cleared of charges of lesbian actions, commited suicide when she discovered hidden feelings of same-sex attraction.
On the Road was published in 1957. Sexual liberation happened in the late 60s/early 70s. Clearly shame didn’t protect women from men like Dean. And if decent contraception had been widely used there would not have been so many pregnancies.
“On the Road was published in 1957. Sexual liberation happened in the late 60s/early 70s. Clearly shame didn’t protect women from men like Dean.”
But the period On The Road describes is not the 1950s, but rather the 1940s, which did have a high level of sexual liberation and loosening of traditional social mores (shocking to contemporary observers), owing to the massive social disruption of WW2. The traditional order then underwent a revival in the 1950s, before entering its long decline.
Clearly shame did not protect all women from Dean. However, it may have protected most women from Dean.
And what of the abuse of trust involved in going through a sham marriage with a woman you later abandon, merely because you want her money to fuel your no-shame, no-guilt freedom roadtrip?
He may not have gotten her pregnant, but that’s not the main point. He still regarded her with contempt and as a sucker to be exploited, financially and sexually.
Right. Promiscuity is pretty much a historical/geographic universal when it comes to the bottom rungs of society. The difference is that Galatea is now the new normal, across the social spectrum.
@drunkenrabbit This actually makes me a little confused. Isn’t the point that the upper classes can weather the breakdown of the social fabric, and thus liberalization of promiscuity selectively disadvantages the lower classes? If the bottom rungs were already promiscuous, does that invalidate that argument? Or does the argument actually refer to the lower middle class, not totally at the bottom but close to it?
Yeah, I meant that behavior that used to exist only in the underclass now exists in the working/lower-middle class. Should have been clearer about that.
It was collapsing in those days. Shame assumes they Dean will care about consequences and not be able to constantly escape.
What necessary, or rather functional, depends on external factors, like economics and technology. Chestetons fence is an exercise in not seeing that.
Chesterton’s Fence done right accepts external factors changes as a valid answer.
Breaking my SSC absistence again to remind everyone that chivalry was/is a blatant protection racket, and people who support long-running and enshrined and normalized domestic abuse are still little Eichmanns. And that everything that involves not treating people as fully human individuals is ultimately inseparable from abuse.
(Full disclosure: I came here because people on Tumblr were complaining again and I decided to see what’s so bad for myself. I am literally a cartoon SJW.)
P.S.: I agree with Deiseach, men like these are actually very horrible, and women should have the power to deal with them. Reverse the genders and men are even today vastly more empowered to handle attractive predatory women (although they still have problems too).
People were complaining about the post not thinking highly of on the road, or of some commentators thinking well of some instances of shame?
The latter ofc. (If anything, most only seem to have a problem with certain highly specific instances of shame; I’m the rare weirdo who thinks that shaming could be inadvisable even for a manifestly and uncontroversially good cause, and that less conventional options should be examined.)
Rare but not alone!
I’ve never seen any reason why women should not or could not be chivalrous themselves (in the sense of chivalry being ‘the strong should protect and not abuse the weak’).
I see the problem where it’s assumed “women = the weak”, but I’ve always been annoyed by the attitude that men care about honour but women don’t (and I don’t mean honour in the sense of one’s sexual honour, which is unfortunately how it tends to get used with regard to women). Then again, from a childhood steeped in reading 19th century fiction* (YA books were not A Thing when I was growing up), I took the lesson from reading the old books with honourable heroes that this was something to be aspired to in one’s own life, not that this only applied to males and I as a female could not be honourable or care about honour.
(*I’ve read R.M. Ballantyne’s “The Coral Island” and not alone that, but its follow-up, “The Gorilla Hunters”. Amusing to contrast the attitude of yore – that gorillas were savage wild murderous animals – with today’s idea that they’re the primate version of the Noble Savage; I think the truth lies somewhere in-between both poles).
Deiseach: yes, sure, sure. I was talking about the very specific system of prescriptions for gender interaction that feminists sometimes call “chivalry”, not about individual behaviour commonly called chivalrious, or people adopting norms of such behaviour as a moral ideal.
Speaking of chivalry, I’m pretty sure it mostly just applied to other nobles. Serfs were fucked (sometimes literally).
Chivalry, namely, the strong protecting the weak, becomes a problem when it is deployed in lieu of empowering the weak–and thus, the safety and autonomy of the weak remain at the sufferance of the strong. It can, in this way, act as a mechanism for maintaining power inequalities.
@Illuminati Initiate: Chivalry can on one level be understood as the practice whereby the laws of honour supersede those of right or justice. Thus in warfare knights would spare the rights and privileges of other knights, while happily massacring the women and children among the local population. (Peter Ackroyd, Foundation: The History of England…, Ch. 15)
I’m willing to expect that the shame had sufficient social benefits, but this doesn’t make it necessary — sufficient is not the same thing. There are and demonstrably had been a number of other social technologies used to disarm jerks like the main characters of On The Road, a good many of which manage to be stronger and not violate so many sense of justice and didn’t give the Deans and Henrys of the world extra tools.
Even the Chesterton’s Fence arguments for social shame run into problems pretty quick: the advent of the telephone, for one, quickly removes us from the ‘ancestral environment’ of the 1850s.
When you deploy shame, you deploy it both necessarily and unnecessarily.
Think of it like chemotherapy. Sometimes the cancer kills the patient and sometimes the treatment kills the patient. Doctors pick doses very carefully and researchers seek more selective treatments.
For every potential Dean or Dean-victim stopped by shame, how many honorable polyamorists, homosexuals, fetishists, genderqueers and other atypical people were forced into closets?
It gets worse. Shame spreads darkness, and darkness is where predators operate best. If Galatea had been able to tell all her friends the details of her progressing relationship, one of them might have pointed out the warning signs. If previous victims had felt safe sharing their stories, *she* might have recognized those signs. Or if she’d had a few previous healthy casual-sex relationships, she might have noticed the contrast. But when casual sex is stigmatized, only people who don’t care about stigma have casual sex, so those relationships are a lot harder to come by. How many of Deans victims would have been safe in a sex-positive society?
But Galatea was aware of the dangers, or possible dangers; that’s why she insisted she’d only go if he married her.
She didn’t expect he’d marry her and then ditch her; marriage was still a sufficiently big step back then that she thought it retained the weight of investment for him she depended on for security against any possible bad intentions – that is, that if he only wanted a roll in the hay, he’d never bother actually marrying her.
And previous casual sex encounters, talking with friends, and the plethora of daytime ‘Dr. Phil’ type shows that regularly feature ‘He Was Cheating On Me With My Sister, My Cousin and My Granny – But I Still Love Him’ still don’t prevent people today from making disastrous choices in romance.
As for sex-positive – you don’t think someone as amoral as Dean wouldn’t subtly pressure others into “But baby, repression is so mid-20th century! We’re past all that jealousy hang up nowadays! Why put conditions on what should be a free, open, healthy expression of our desires in a mutually rewarding relationship?”
Scumbags do routinely use the (broadly speaking) discourse of sex positivity in that very way, but this problem has a non-obvious upside; by having to signal alleigance to the system, they can no longer hide behind being a brave rebel against a whole world of totally unreasonable rules. He cannot openly flee or fight against the feminist “due process”, the way he would defy the patriarchal one.
This is the kind of thing that occasionally makes me suggest that neoreactionaries ought to support modern feminism: we are, at least potentially, good at tyranny.
Totalitarianism, not authoritarianism. For Moldbug, there’s a difference.
The distinction is even less clear than usual, considering the area of this debate, don’t you think?
Why would it be? If Fnargl wouldn’t do it, it’s totalitarianism. That’s the point of the thought experiment. And Fnargl wouldn’t do it.
…I am so mindkilled right now, but…
Which is worse? The occasional fool falling for some asshole? Or being trapped your’e entire life with someone who sees you as a cross between furniture, an exotic animal kept as a status symbol, a servant, a clueless child and a sex slave? Yeah sure, not all or even most marriages were like that. But some were. No option to remove horrific and dangerous parasites eating you form the inside out and then sucking out you’re soul for years after they emerge from you’re body like little xenomorphs only uglier? Some women may be screwed over by Deans, but how many pre-revolution were screwed over by husbands? A few fools losing there life savings versus half the population being systematically shut off from most of the economy? Domestic abuse both blatant and subtle? Suicides, depression, all the oppressive shaming itself? The sexual repression itself? All to stop the occasional nasty breakup?
If we’re going to treat people as if they lack agency (hell, when it comes to politics I tend to think that way about all people regardless of gender), Its not like you can use “they agreed to marriage or children or whatever in the past” as an excuse, because they agreed to the Deans as well.
And sure, some things are not ideal. We could do with state funded child support, or example. And a lot of problems are cause by the combination of sexual revolution with society being pro-life. STDs can be stopped with a freaking piece of rubber. And I kind of think mandatory STD testing might be a good idea Actually, I also kind of think mandatory reversible sterilization of all men (much easier with men) upon reaching puberty, with reversal requiring application and permission plus a minimum age and income, is also a good idea. (my freedoms! ruggedness! ‘murrica! 1984!).
I might regret posting this under the influence of rage-intoxication, but meh.
Edit: Daniel Speyer is better at arguing than me. And at not flying into mindkilled rage.
I liked how you moved from denouncing traditional family arrangements as a combination of slavery and unethical alien medical experimentation to advocating for coercive state monitoring and control of sex.
eh, its control of reproduction, not sex. You can have as much sex as you want when sterilized.
Also, by STDs I only meant dangerous ones. And while you should be required to disclose them before sex, you should not be allowed to then tell someone else about another persons results because the social stigma attached to STDs would then cause all sorts of problems.
Actually that might be difficult to enforce, so I’m possibly having second thoughts on that one…
For some reason the edit button is gone.
I’m not sure about this. You can come up with a just-so-story about why any particular element of society is adaptive. But this particular story doesn’t work with my psychological knowledge of how sociopaths work. From what I understand that personality is immune to shame and mostly genetic. I suppose shaming women for taking up with sociopaths might be somewhat effective in preventing them from doing that, but it seems like something that could be achieved more efficiently and at a lower cost.
I think the more likely explanation for these norms is that people ran into something they didn’t like (predatory sociopathic males) and then flailed wildly around using every punishing social script they had. The reason they tried to use shame is because of the Typical Mind Fallacy, they didn’t realize that there are some people who had none.
Sometimes various social norms are adaptive and useful. But sometimes they’re the result of flailing idiots behaving stupidly, and are too caught up in various feedback loops to stop. I suspect the vast majority of sexual-repression institutions in society are the latter rather than the former.
Social norms aren’t to change the sociopaths; there will always be some number of defectors. The best we can hope for is to reduce their impact and reduce the number of normal people at the margins who are tempted to join them.
Norms can indeed be a result of random mutations. But if you see one that keeps popping up in many different cultures independently, then it is probably being selected for.
“The reason they tried to use shame is because of the Typical Mind Fallacy, they didn’t realize that there are some people who had none.”
I think virtually everyone can feel shame. But feeling shame is contingent on getting caught. It was internalized norms that Dean lacked. The external norms he avoided by virtue of not staying in one place for long, or with people who would impose these norms.
> I suppose shaming women for taking up with sociopaths might be somewhat effective in preventing them from doing that, but it seems like something that could be achieved more efficiently and at a lower cost.
But how? No, seriously. This shaming was, like, pretty terrible, but it was effective in terms of e.g. number of out-of-wedlock births (something that we know has a massive negative effect on a wide variety of life outcomes for the child).
“It had shame which served to protect women from people like Dean”
But apart from pregnancy, the main consequence of Dean’s actions was shame. So you’re saying that we need people to be ashamed of sex to deter them from having sex so that they won’t experience the shame of having sex.
It’s kind of like how homosexuals couldn’t be trusted in government employment, because someone might blackmail them into treason using the threat of exposing their homosexuality and getting them fired.
Shame and pregnancy, but also:
STDs. Unnecessary heartbreak (because both parties had incompatible desires from the get-go, and because the party who was lied to about those desires feels betrayed). Loss of investment (time, money, effort, life plans, emotions) in the relationship. Loss of trust in future relationships, and in signals of commitment (such as marriage or a promise to marry) that could shore up trust but are no longer reliable. The postulated erosion of ability to form long-term relationships, although that doesn’t seem to exist.
In Dean’s case, loss of your entire life savings, getting beaten, and probably having your self-esteem and relationship kills destroyed.
And those are the negative effects on individuals who have sex with Dean Moriarty, not on society as a whole.
Preventing pregnancy is reason enough though.
Wasn’t that under Hoover? He was personally positioned to know a lot better than an internet commenter, no?
Unnecessary shame?!!! Well I’m glad we got rid of that! Swapping it for rampant criminality, inequality, the decimation of basic social fabric, AIDS and the de-education of four generations was a small price to pay to get rid of that scourge! Some people might thing that, say, VD and single parenthood were a “Scourge”, but we know better. It’s feels.
If you’re looking at it as a consequentialist, it’s all about “feels.” “Feels” are why we care whether someone has an STI, or a child has a single parent, or someone is murdered by a mugger. The lost potential of a child that is never educated is not qualitatively different than the lost potential of a life where flourishing is cut short by shame. The misery of an STI is not qualitatively different than the misery of constant self-recrimination. The tragedy of an innocent gunned down is not qualitatively different from the gay kid who commits suicide because of years of schoolyard bullying.
Even accepting your cartoonish ascription of all those phenomena to the sexual revolution, I cannot take seriously someone who does not even consider the other side of the scale worth noting.
Dare you talk of AIDS.
God either exists or doesn’t exist, irrespective of whether society is structured around appealing to His supposed mercy. Go do twelve Litanies of Tarski in repentance.
Eli: I’m sorry to be so blunt, but go read some commentary on Nietzsche; this phrase is not meant to be invoked literally.
That’s not the point. It’s not saying that we should believe in God because widespread belief in God yields sufficient social benefits. It is mocking those who think that liberalization of social mores and increasing secularism leads straightforwardly to “progress”.
>”they just hop over to the nearest farm or factory or whatever, say “Job, please!” and are earning back their depleted savings in no time”
Sounds about right.
That may be a generational thing. When my parents were 19/20 my dad had moved to the city and was working a factory job. They got wages a week delayed (to discourage people from just walking out without giving their weeks notice). This meant that when you quit, you got 2 weeks wages in your hands.
When my mother was coming down for the weekend my dad handed in his notice the week before, quit his job on the friday so that he’d have extra cash to take her out for the weekend. On monday he went and got another job.
Lets be clear: these weren’t *good* jobs but they were jobs that paid the rent and in modern terms paid quite well, you could get a mortgage etc with the wages from such jobs.
When my uncle came over for the wedding the trip was expensive so he walked into a factory, got a comparatively well paying job and stayed for a few weeks.
Our generation… that’s almost unimaginable. Jobs are things which take weeks, maybe months to line up.
When I was a teenager I applied for a job stacking shelves. There were 3 rounds of interviews that took over a month.
How does that work? If the first job has a delay in receiving pay at the start, then shouldn’t the second job also do so? Therefore, you’d get extra pay when quitting the first job because of the delay, but you’d lose pay at your second job for a corresponding amount of time.
Yes, but then the weekend and taking out your wife will have been over. You weren’t taking her out the following week, but the previous weekend. The point is to shift his income around over time – he gets a week in advance, basically.
Some of this must be supply and demand, but I think it’s also worth mentioning the frictional costs of firing workers. If you could fire anyone for any reason any day, then sure, give people a try by hiring them instead of interviewing them.
Its almost all supply and demand. I worked in tech in the 90s, and it was a lot like this- quit on no notice because you were bored, pick up a new job as soon as you felt like it.
You’d think so, but this is what At-Will Employment tries to make happen, and this mythical land of free jobs does not exist in At Will states, either.
In my more conspiratorial moments, I used to imagine that the reason why jobs are so persistently scarce was that the Powers That Be saw the chaos and upheaval (the country really did nearly burn down in the 60s) that resulted from young people not having to worry about finding work, affording an education or any of that, and declared that if they could help it, no one would ever have a carefree decade in their twenties again.
I know, I know, it’s not actually like that. The fed tries to prevent full employment for sensible economic reasons. But boy, do I ever feel like I got cheated out of simply not having to worry about finding work or affording school.
tl;dr boomers screwed us.
“But boy, do I ever feel like I got cheated out of simply not having to worry about finding work or affording school.”
You got cheated out of affording school because people believe stupid semi-socialist arguments about how everyone should be able to go to college therefore everyone should have guaranteed loans available. Everyone now borrows so the colleges jack up the prices. Of course, the system doesn’t work if everyone simply defaults and declares bankruptcy after graduation so student loans are non-dischargable. If someone came along and proposed an end to federal involvement in student loan subsidization and that the loans should be dischargable they’d be shouted down as someone who wants to deprive hard working Americans of an education and who is a tool of the plutocrats.
The whole “you can’t forget about some tiny minority” (in this case people who couldn’t work or borrow for college but could handle the work) so we have to restructure society basically does no one any good. There’s an analogy there with the commentariat at ssc’s most cherished minorities (people who are sexually deviant in one way or another) and how society is being restructured to make sure they don’t feel a moment’s discomfort (but do suffer a lifetime of AIDS).
Your model of education doesn’t apply outside the US. Job scarcity does.
Conversely I recently heard an interview in which a local administrator claimed that his college was increasing prices not primarily because demand was increasing due to student loans, but mostly because on the supply side my state (Indiana) has been stealthily decreasing the number of expenses the school doesn’t have to pay for. This, according to the interview, was the primary way that the state of Indiana had been funding the school.
The situations with public and private school tuition are not identical, but administrators are not disinterested sources.
Oh, this was a public school. He claimed that the state still engaged more in price breaks (like the property tax on a .5mi^2 of downtown campus) than in actual money. When the state made the school pay these expenses with reduced funding it was essentially a stealth double-cut.
It is really it odd that you seem to be incapable of discussing the economic structure of educational financing without slipping in intimations that homosexuals are disease-ridden spoiled brats that have their every whim catered to.
Single-issue wonks gotta single-issue, I guess.
I don’t know about that, but the end of hitchhiking definitely was the result of a propaganda campaign.
Minor nitpick but right now it’s not the fed that’s prevneting full employment. The monetary nozzle is turned up to 11. Current contractionary pressure is fiscal and for that you need to blame congress and to a lesser extent the president.
Once Kerouac had finished rambling across America he went home to his Mum. William Burroughs lived off his parents’ savings until he was middle aged. One need not insist that people work 9 to 5 jobs, marry and settle down with three kids to feel that there must have been something to social institutions that they so disliked if they were so reliant on them.
>from a modern perspective, if Jack and Dean tried the same thing today, they’d be one of about a billion college students and aimless twenty-somethings with exactly the same idea, posting their photos to Instagram tagged “holy”, “ecstatic”, and “angelic”. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t seem like a good stopping-point for a philosophy.
>There’s nothing wrong with that.
Eh? Seems like you just pointed out quite a few things wrong with it.
It could be fine as a phase. Even if it can’t be the right ultimate answer, it might be a necessary step to get there.
Huh. Shame of sleeping around is totally unnecessary, but having a phase of doing so is totally necessary to get to the “ultimate answer.” That’s something.
“Women are precious and fragile and should be locked away, and woe unto those who refuse” is still a considerable improvement over e.g. Ancient Greece.
@Randy M, you seem unwilling to seriously engage in my point, but okay, let’s go.
“Sleeping around” is not at issue here. The point is the broader philosophy of aimlessness. And *my* point is that there may be some worthwhile and stable philosophy that passes through that aimlessness and is difficult to arrive at without undergoing it. Teenage romantic rebellion is analogous–obviously false, but perhaps necessary to bulldoze your childhood idols and erect something more adult and worthwhile in its place.
“Sleeping around” is not at issue here.
I thought I was being generous in leaving the theft and lying out of it 😉
My point was that I think you are being inconsistent with your wording; I really don’t see how that kind of attitude is ‘necessary’ in a more fundamental way than shame (read: non-violent behavioral punishment). I don’t think that anyone has the right to push the consequences of reckless behavior onto others, be they close family or broader society. Nor does everybody need to be plugged into a damn 9-5 rat race, but there’s a lot of excluded middle that doesn’t include fatherless children or people trying to replace their cars, etc.
Now, some people seem only capable of learning from experience (or incapable of same), and judgement tempered with mercy is usually better for all involved, but in the end I think more people should aim to be “grown up”–that is, thinking of next year and next week, caring for themselves as much as able, and making restitution for mistakes. Being a ‘free spirit’ is fine if it includes this, but I blanch at the idea that doing otherwise is somehow necessary for being a complete, fulfilled or enlightened person.
Honestly, sorry if I came off as flippant or brusque, I was trying to respond to a few comments in the midst of a large and growing thread.
Presumably “that” refers to going on a spiritual journey that never ends up getting anywhere, not engaging in rampant antisocial behavior.
That’s a pattern I’ve noticed before (say, in _Jules and Jim_): Rebellious free spirits stop caring about both what I’d classify as social norms (e.g. “Get married and live in one place”) and what I’d classify as ethics (e.g. “Get married if you promised to”). This seems to stem from contempt for mainstream disapproval, which does not contain exceptions for justified disapproval.
People who do something unconventional I don’t see as completely dickish (this might indicate a problem in my perception of dickishness) tend to either be in a community that has an ethical framework for the unconventional thing (e.g. the poly community), or to portray the unconventional behaviour as a necessity, rather than an attempt to do better than the mainstream (e.g. various disability things).
The border between “social norms” and “ethics” (in your classification) is pretty fuzzy:
a) Some things seem to fall in between, like “don’t try to get girls to sleep with you” which would only be unethical if there are norms punishing girls who do so (it seems to me there are plenty of borderline cases around implicit promises).
b) A lot of people probably don’t make a distinction, don’t try to dig up *why* something is wrong, either out of lack of intellectual curiosity, or because the idea of trying to find the justification for disapproval feels wrong (there is also a norm against it, because it’s the kind of thing rule-breakers do)
c) Even if people can figure out the distinction, merging the two into one big “that’s just wrong” category adds some sting to breaking social norms.
This seems to explain (correctly) why the henceforth-squares don’t make the distinction, but not why the rule-breakers don’t. Some people unhappy with “promiscuity is wrong” write _The Ethical Slut_; why doesn’t everyone?
As a mostly uninformed guess, I’d say it’s split between:
– those that don’t make the distinction because they’re assholes, like Dean.
– those that actually do make the distinction (but are not as fun to argue about)
– those that refuse to make the distinction as a principled stand against “bourgeois morality” or something like that (“okay then if you say all that is immoral, then maybe the concept of morality itself should be dropped!”); this would cover people who use ideas like “question everything”, “down with the status quo”, “authenticity”, etc. as applause lights / tribal signaling (and react to talk of ethics or morality as tribal signaling for the Wrong Tribe).
1) There’s an obvious risk that once a person decides to cast aside social norms and form their own ethics, they will, consiously or through a process of rationalization, end up with an ethical system that privileges their own utility over that of others. It’s adaptive, it’s rewarding, at least in the short term, and it’s fun.
2) Not all people who chose to reject social norms are self-interested jerks, but most self-interested jerks presumably reject social norms. (Although they may choose to mimic them when convenient).
3) Not sure that (a) is a big distinction. The social norms exist, so saying “my actions wouldn’t have harmed you if social norms were different,” even if that’s true, doesn’t negate the wrong. If I frame someone as a norm breaker because it’s fun for me, I think I’ve harmed him, even if it’s true that but for the norms, he might not have suffered any harm.
on a) I was just arguing that the boundary is fuzzy, and that some thing straddle the line. You could try drawing the line in different places but I think there’ll always be some ambiguous cases.
(a) can be an important distinction. If the harm occurs because of both a person’s actions and social norms, it is a legitimate question how to apportion blame. Just because people will react to my actions be doing X, does not mean I am responsible for X happening.
On the contrary, getting the girls to sleep with you is plenty unethical if you have made no provision for the natural consequences of doing so, namely babies.
Acts that lead to children in poverty are unethical.
Surely babies, and any other physical and psychological consequences of random sex can be swept up into the category of social norms, no?
To be clear, it’s then ethical for men to do this if they’re infertile, right? Or for women to get men to sleep with them if they’re infertile or close enough, right?
And gay sex is then super ethical, yes?
Because one thing is not ethical does not mean that other things that are not it are ethical.
Yeah, but I always get the feeling that Traditional ideas about sex being about responsibility toward babies aren’t the true rejection. It’s nice to care about babies. Everyone cares about babies.
It’s a lot harder to get people on board with… well, I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it has something to do with being revolted by sex in all but a few contexts. (Are you as negative about lesbian sex as you are about gay male sex?) So, if casual sex is unethical even if it doesn’t lead to babies, what is the true rejection? Does it also involve coming out against masturbation? Because wow is that one ever an uphill battle, and I think you’ll also have to come out against refined sugar, video games that give you a fake sense of achievement, and maybe fiction in general as well.
If you live in a society where woman who are known to have had casual sex are heavily disadvantaged, you shouldn’t seduce women who are uninterested in dealing with all of Society’s anger and definitely shouldn’t lie about it to them.
One possibility is that the powers that be don’t want the plebes to have any strong powerful experiences, especially not strong powerful experiences that the PTB can’t ration out.
This points at the positive side of On the Road– the message that society doesn’t own your capacity for pleasure.
Per Emile’s point B and Jos’s point 1; if there’s good reason for a general rule against X, it is kind of a dick move to look for rationalizations why it is nontheless OK for you to do your special near-equivalent X’. Because you will likely be biased in your analysis of the harmless nature of X’, and because you will weaken the effect of the general rule against X. See, e.g. waterboarding captured terrorists as a special “acceptable” case of torturing POWs.
So, if the general rule against casual sex in a no-birth-control environment holds up to analysis, casual gay sex would be less unethical, not super ethical.
Grendelkhan: My understanding of the position is that the purpose of marriage (and conservative attitudes towards sex generally) is to turn the sex drive into something that motivates people to build a stable family life and contribute to society. Reactionaries (and also violets to some extent) are people who believe this channeling has broken down and needs to be reestablished. Heartiste is someone who believes that this has broken down, and so fuck it, no reason to contribute anything to society any more.
Why do you expect only one? Things can be harmful for multiple reasons.
Say society decides it’s not immoral for infertile men to have sex. What happens then? Some men go out and get vasectomies, then the birth rate drops and they maybe regret it later. Other men (probably many more) lie and pretend they’re infertile. And they all have more casual sex, which…
…you know the punchline to a few jokes where two people are having sex and one of them shouts the name of their ex? I’ve never seen that happen, but it probably wouldn’t exist in the culture if it never did. Ended long-term relationships have an annoying habit of sticking around in the mind longer than they ought to, even if they didn’t end on good terms.
I don’t think pair-bonding is as strong as some of the insight-Twitter people do (where by “some” I mean Sister Sarah) — I think I have separate categories in my brain for what would have been ‘wife’ and ‘mistress’ a few centuries ago (cf. “alpha fucks, beta bucks” for a similar (though not at all identical) process in women) — but it is certainly a thing, and it’s a lot harder to form those pair-bonds now, given both general atomization and the ease with which they can be undermined (including by casual sex) before they form.
Personally, I would prefer the script of a few centuries ago. Every once in a while, my brain goes, “you idiot, why aren’t you married yet?”, and I have to tell it that that’s not even going to be possible for probably another ten years.
(Partially for economic reasons. It’s calmed down since I started on an actual career path. Also note that the tendency toward pair-bonding is pushed far harder than it ought to be — romance movies, bad ideas from French poets and so on.)
Nydwracu: I suspect there’s a lot of typical-mind-ing going on in these conversations. I tend to be a bit evangelical about the virtues of casual sex and polyamory, largely because (1) I like being pair-bonded with lots of people and (2) emotional closeness is very tied to sexual closeness for me.
You’re correct that exes are highly present in the mind. For me that’s a good thing, because I like most of my exes. Which is why I dated them in the first place. I want to have more connections like that, not fewer.
Going by cultural narratives, this is highly unusual — the narratives say not to talk to your exes.
And I sure as hell don’t.
There’s a reason I cited typical-mind stuff; I completely agree with you about what the cultural narrative is, and find it indescribably weird. Many of my closest friends are people I either dated or hooked up with in some fashion.
One tentative conclusion is that I just emotionally process this stuff in unusual ways. (tentative corollary: what’s emotionally healthy for me isn’t necessarily good for most people, and vice versa). But I do have a number of friends–several of whom are on the list of “close friends I’ve hooked up with”–who feel basically the same way.
Yeah, that last line might give it away. Close friends who I’ve hooked up with, sure, no problem there. It’s only the actual exes who I don’t talk to.
Two different categories in the brain, I think. And it’s usually the exes who pushed for the move from one category to the one that leads me to stop talking to them after it ends.
(I certainly hope I’ve learned better than to keep following that stupid-ass cultural script, but that implies that I should be on Tinder… or, given my history, a lot more IRC channels.)
Eh, some are exes, some are casual, some are somewhere in the middle. (One of my exes I have a much better and closer relationship with now that we’re just good friends who sleep together when we’re in the same city).
I don’t actually really draw a mental distinction between “people I formally dated” and “people I was kind of involved with” and “people I made out with that one time” except insofar as I have a much deeper relationship with some people currently than I do with others. One of my super close friends is an ex girlfriend; another is a friend I had a crush on for a couple years, made out with once, that ended disastrously, and then we were friends again.
I’d also say that this seemed much more true in the 20th century and (where labor politics are concerned) among Old-Timey Dingy Guy With Nagant communism.
The 21s century seems to have very strict ethics in these cases.
So, in the academy of literary scoundrels, does Dean Moriarty outrank Professor Moriarty?
Deans usually outrank mere professors.
In my defense, the joke is less obvious to non-native speakers … 🙁
In his defense, I didn’t get it until he explained it.
I thought AJD was just asking a silly question and that elementary_watson was the one making a joke. But looking back I guesss AJD was trying to make that joke too.
Obviously, Professor Moriarty invented a life-extension compound that had the side effect of lowering IQ.
Possibly of interest, I just yesterday stumbled upon this letter from the guy Dean was based on to Jack Kerouac: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/08/the-great-sex-letter.html
Not that it’s quite as bad as what happens in the actual book, but this does seem like the real Kerouac was willing to endorse some pretty shitty attitudes towards women.
Also thank you for validating me: I haaaated On the Road when I read, although I was too young to articulate my problems with it quite so well.
Wow. I’m sorry, but all I could think of when reading this review is that someone is very very J-E-A-L-O-U-S indeed.
I’m betting that Scott went to university straight after school and then went straight into medicine after that. He might have benefited from a year off experiencing promiscuity, drug use and even petty crime. It worked for me.
I also think he’s taking the soft way out by concentrating on the characters’ criminal behavior or their sexism. It’s a cheap shot, negligible compared to today’s corporate crimes, America’s foreign policy or world poverty in general.
The bigger question is what happened between then and now to take the trust and ease out of society, to make a world (or at least a country) where that free living lifestyle is no longer possible. Why living was so much easier then, mistakes had so few consequences, and you didn’t need to spend a decade or more setting up a house or a career. Scott points this out, but makes no attempt to explain it, apart from snarkily trying to blame Jack Kerouac himself.
There are changes here that need to be explained. The only answers I can think of come from Chomsky, although I’d like some more options.
And as for this choice: “meditating for an hour a day and then going to regular retreats run by spiritual authorities” or “the counterculture route of taking lots of drugs and having lots of sex”
Well, I know which one I’d rather choose.
– “I don’t think all those books encouraging people to throw bricks through people’s windows are such a good thing for society.”
– “Well you’re just JALEOUS that you never experienced the fun of throwing bricks through people’s windows. You should try it!”
To be fair, that doesn’t refute the claim that being the kind of person who throws bricks through windows is good for the person throwing bricks.
I don’t have the empirical evidence to know either way, but I think you should say something on that point.
Agreed; there may be some good to the person as Michael claims, but it needs to be balanced against harm to other people.
It’s a burden of proof (production?) issue, so I guess you could come out either way.
I don’t interpret Scott as saying that smashing cars, making promises to women who you then abandon, etc., are necessarily bad for the main characters*, I think Scott argues that the main characters have an ethical obligation to consider the harm they do to others.
* although I think they are and suspect Scott does too, it’s not necessary for the point.
Why should those of us building windows care much about the internal bliss of brick throwers?
I think you just coined the perfect conservative catchphrase.
Why living was so much easier then, mistakes had so few consequences, and you didn’t need to spend a decade or more setting up a house or a career.
There were consequences. David Kammerer’s stalking was enabled until he got a knife in the chest. Joan Vollmer got a bullet in the forehead. William Burroughs Jr drank himself to death. That some of the Beats avoided consequences of their actions was due to the privilege of having stable families to rely on. Poor men, and women, would have been found in ditches long before. Doubtless, they had fun on their trips – both road and drug related – but if you want to promote alternative visions of life it matters if they end up with a lot of dead and devastated people.
So things are better now? Sure doesn’t seem like it.
I wasn’t aware that we faced a binary choice.
Wouldn’t it be good if we could have it both ways? A society with the freedom, the opportunities, the trust of that time with the (relative) safety, gender and race equality of today. With something like the Basic Income to underpin it all.
Of course things are better now. Things are better along almost every possible axis. Longer life expectancy, higher per capita GDP, higher average IQ, more freedom and equality for minorities (especially sexual minorities), lower crime rates, and, God knows, better television.
The protagonists of On the Road were only able to get away with their shit because America was highly regionalized at that time. Driving from Chicago to Kansas City is no longer a viable way to escape one’s past, especially when it comes to law enforcement or child support payments.
You’ve got a bit of a mixed bag there, I reckon.
Longer life expectancy. Okay.
Higher per capita GDP. Not a good measurement of life quality.
Higher average IQ. Meaningful? Desirable? Possible?
Freedom and equality. For minorities, yes. For Dean Moriaty, no.
Lower crime rates. Okay.
Better TV. How about NO TV?
You forgot some things. No job security. $200,000 student debts. Homeland security. Credit histories.
The Star Wars prequels. Internet trolls.
I agree with Michael R that internet trolls are a serious and often unrecognized problem, FWIW.
Internet trolls? I mean, we live in a world where almost the entirety of human knowledge is available to anyone who can afford a $50 tablet (give or take a cup of Starbucks coffee), and you see internet trolls as the scale-balancing downside? Wait, am I talking to one right now…?
Equality: depends how it’s considered. On the one hand there’s a lot of advances on for example LGBT issues, especially those that affect me and people I know. On the other hand if you look at things like the Gini coefficient then there seems to have been a growth in inequality.
I’m not entirely sure what it means for free spirits/irresponsible cads like Moriarty to have equality with squares/responsible people.
Crime rates are not lower now than they were in 1950.
That depends how “crime” is defined. 1950 did not have all the drug laws we do, for example. The usual criminological shortcut is to use homicide rate as a barometer of a society’s overall violent tendencies, since murder is the least ambiguous crime there is. The homicide rate in America of 2014 is lower than the homicide rate in America of 1950.
The homicide rate in America of 2014 is lower than the homicide rate in America of 1950.
Source? This contradicts what I have read elsewhere.
Wikipedia cites this article, and you can refer to sources like this one for more recent numbers. There’s some disagreement over whether crime over the period 1940-1960 was greater or less than the current period (which is also very low), but consensus seems to be that the secular trend since the colonial era is negative, and that we’re at least looking at numbers comparable to the post-WWII lull. Our local neoreactionaries, of course, would tell you that the numbers are cooked, and to some extent they probably are, but I don’t see much evidence that they’re more cooked than during any other period. The argument from medicine is a bit stronger; if we look at violent crime not resulting in death then 2013 is more comparable to the Sixties or Seventies than the Forties or Fifties, although in some categories it’s very close. 2014 stats aren’t out yet but the recent trend has been negative.
Some graphs I’ve seen covering the 20th century show a very sharp downward spike over its first couple of years, but that’s probably not a good thing to overfit on.
If you Google “FBI Crime in the United States 2013 Report”, it’ll come right up. They just posted the 2013 numbers on Nov. 10. The US homicide rate per 100k in 2013 was 4.5. In 1950 it was 4.6.
The 2013 numbers are too recent to have made it to Wikipedia yet, I think, but it has the 1950 ones.
Stillnotking, your original statement that the crime rate is lower is extremely misleading if it depends on 2% accuracy and the choice of particular year (a choice not available a month ago!). I was careful to say “not lower,” rather than “higher.”
I think it’s significant in that it goes against popular perception — polling suggests that Americans (and perhaps everyone) tend to see modernity as more violent than it actually is, and the past as less violent than it actually was. I bet you that most Americans would be shocked to hear our current homicide rate is even slightly lower than the 1950s’ — Leave it to Beaver casts a long shadow.
I am a zealous evangelist for the idea that things are getting better, because it seems to me a widely under-appreciated fact (across the political spectrum). Perhaps I’m a little too zealous, but I’m not dishonest.
stillnotking, I think a big part of that is that we’re still nursing the hangover from 1980s and early 1990s-era cultural tropes, and at that time things were, pretty unambiguously, getting worse. Escape from New York was… well, it was never anything other than silly, but when it came out it was an exaggerated extrapolation of trends rather than a flight of utter fancy.
The trends in crime have reversed, but the fact that sensationalist crime reporting and shilling decline more generally sells newspapers (or, in a modern context, drives clicks) hasn’t gone away.
Stillnotking, the particular claim in your most recent comment is false. Live by pedantry, die by pedantry.
I’ve changed my mind. I thought the claim was just misleading, but now I think your intentions are dishonest.
Let’s not forget that when people say that crime rates went down, they mean that crime rates went down outside of prisons.
Anonymous, while I might expect a lot of minor offenses in prisons to be handled extrajudicially, homicides are definitely prosecuted and would show up in the total crime statistics.
I was thinking of rape.
On second thought, it occurs to me that I am trusting a single source, but I don’t really feel like researching this, so I’m just gonna retract my confidence. Sorry, y’all, if that turns out to be bunk.
Rape’s a can of worms in general. We’ve been using homicide upthread as a proxy for crime because it’s relatively unambiguous (there’s a corpse or there isn’t); there are some confounding factors, like the fact that what would have been a homicide without good trauma medicine or antibiotics may well now be a mere aggravated assault, but we can cross-validate against less reliable categories of violent crime to handle that problem.
There are only about 100 homicides each year in prison, a lower rate than out, despite demographics heavily skewed towards crime.
Prison rape is a very good point.
Also, there were consequences for all of Moriarty’s victims. Interested how easily we forget them.
“I’m betting that Scott went to university straight after school and then went straight into medicine after that. He might have benefited from a year off experiencing promiscuity, drug use and even petty crime. It worked for me.”
I think you’re joking, but in case not – between my junior year of college and the time I started medical school I took two years off and several different trips, during which I (for example) crossed Great Britain entirely on foot, travelled to about thirty different countries, hiked the Himalayas and got lost and had to be rescued by Sherpas, learned to scuba dive amidst poorly explored weird undersea ruins, starred in a Mongolian-language music video, taught elementary school English in Japan, got arrested twice and spent a night in a foreign jail, biked across Italy, and did various other ill-advised things.
When I say there’s nothing wrong with taking some time off in your early twenties to be a bit crazy and see the world, I’m speaking from experience. I swear I wasn’t always as boring as I am now, and if I ever decide to write my own version of “On The Road” it will be at least as interesting as Kerouac’s – as it is, my old blog is about fifty times more worth reading than this place.
But it doesn’t include any carjackings. My point isn’t that you shouldn’t explore, it’s that you should do it without being a jerk and without fetishizing exploration as the be-all-and-end-all of life.
Oooh, you should totally write that book, Scott!
If I was a neoreactionary I’d write a book called Gnon the Road…
OMG please please provide a link for this.
I read your old blog and I dont remember you mentioning spending time in a foreign jail..what country?
Yeah… or the Britain backpacking.
I hid everything from before my college graduation. That was junior year. The other stuff should be on there.
I will affirm that your previous blog is a fascinating read.
Seconded, here are three travelogue stories I liked:
and one teaching story:
Meanwhile, his description fits me to a T. I was a “good” religious boy, boring old vanilla, until about halfway through college. I went straight from high school to university to the working world. I moved out of my parents’, got my first full time salaried job, and completely supported myself at age 20.
Now I’m 25, I live in the SF bay area, and constantly feel like everyone is looking down at me for being a boring square. I see burning man type people and all I can think of is “do you people not have jobs?!?!?!?”. Of course, over half of them are independently wealthy, either by sponging off their rich family or having won the startup acqu-hire lottery.
So now I spend my time alternating between resenting the fact that I can’t be a free spirit, and resenting the fact that I end up cleaning up after the free spirits that I do know. I wish I knew how to stop being a square.
In what ways do you clean up after them? (As opposed to existing around them and being looked down on by them.) Are you compensated for any of these ways, and by whom?
Now I’m 25, I live in the SF bay area, and constantly feel like everyone is looking down at me for being a boring square.
I’ve never actually been there myself, but I get the impression from previous threads on SSC that the San Francisco area is a uniquely awful place for this sort of problem. Assuming you could find work, perhaps you’re better off moving somewhere else rather than trying to meet the (stupid, obnoxious) expectations of these sorts of people.
I think you should look for better companions in the Bay Area. Do you have experience with the community that Scott praises in an earlier blog post?
Isn’t there sort of a bootstrapping problem, where “better” companions (for most definitions thereof) won’t be very interested in interacting with a boring person?
My apologies Scott, I had no idea you did any of that. Of course I know almost nothing about your past. I’m a relative newbie here, the only thing I remember you doing before was making CIV mods.
Though I noticed you’re not owning up to any promiscuity.
He’s asexual, he probably would not have gotten much out of promiscuity. And based on other statements it does sound like he has done more cuddling than most people.
Why do you think your old blog is more worth reading? I’ve read them both, as well as your community blog stuff, and the quality seems to me to have a positive trajectory.
This . . . is satire, right? (I mean, if so, it’s very well done.)
Poe’s Law, I think.
Expensive oil, financialization, and a population boom among the working classes.
How different was immigration back then?
“Living was so much easier then, mistakes had so few consequences…”
I’d like to thank you for giving me a vanishingly rare opportunity – the chance to use the phrase “check your privelege” without even a hint of irony, sarcasm, or shame. Because I’m pretty sure you’re writing as a young to middle-aged white male, fantasizing about an extended vacation where you get to have sex with a different hot teenage girl every night. Rather than, say, a young latina entrenched in a deeply conservative culture, newly pregnant and wondering if there’s a chance in hell that the fiancee who disappeared two months ago is possibly going to return even to become an abusive husband, which would be better for you than none at all.
Mistakes had so many consequences then, in part because the priveleged class could so easily shift the consequences to others and so didn’t feel any great urgency about alleviating them.
“fantasizing about an extended vacation where you get to have sex with a different hot teenage girl every night”
Damn. You got me.
“It’s a cheap shot, negligible compared to today’s corporate crimes, America’s foreign policy or world poverty in general.”
Apparently, dumping formerly-innocent women is the best possible way to stop corporate bailouts, stealing cars will bring peace, and ruining Cadillacs will cure poverty.
I got it.
Alternative interpretation: only the worst crime in the world matters. Sort of by analogy to how only the most efficient charity is worth giving to. This is why sexism in America should be ignored in favor of sexism in Saudi Arabia. In fact, so long as there’s a genocide happening somewhere, you can get away with basically anything!
I’m sure you had plenty of fun. What about other people?
And of course, by comparison with the really bad horrible Big Whatever crimes out there – your acts of bad faith, promise-breaking, deception, selfishness etc. are nothing at all.
In religious context, this is the “I’m a Good Person” gambit, that is, “I deserve to go to heaven because I’m not a murderer/rapist.” Those being the only sins worth calling sins, and everything else? Well, those are just normal human foibles, surely they don’t count!
“The bigger question is what happened between then and now to take the trust and ease out of society, to make a world (or at least a country) where that free living lifestyle is no longer possible. ”
What happened was that too many people got burned by that free-living lifestyle and so no longer trusted people.
Praising a lifestyle that eats its own seed corn is foolish.
In that case, you have to answer the question of how high-trust societies managed to exist for as long as they did.
I think basically what Scott talks about here:
Before the advent of the automobile and with strictly local law enforcement, communities could self-police pretty efficiently. In the postwar era, between geographic and social mobility and birth control, that level of local social control broke down, along with the trust-enabling norms it promoted.
The million-dollar question is if there’s a way of getting that world back, short of doing something insanely draconian.
iirc part of yudkowsky’s imagined eutopia involved some mechanism of limiting long distance travel, presumably to encourage local communities. ah here’s the link responding to this
as for regaining trust, scott has written about that a bit in his raikoth laws post, in summary, everyone wears a camera that takes photos at random times, the database is only accessible with your permission. not sure if this counts as draconian by your definition
Wouldn’t that be convenient if it were true?
I believe the answer is somewhat more sinister.
Scott may have benefited from a year or two of funny hijinks, fist-fights over trivial matters, and casual-ish sex that was Against the Rules and had to be hidden, and finally getting married when someone for pregnant abs everybody’s going to be OK.
There’s a huge difference between that and Defect Against Everybody Who Has No Idea They Shouldn’t Cooperate.
I’m betting that Scott went to university straight after school and then went straight into medicine after that.
I don’t know what modern doctors are like, but medical students used to have a reputation of being wild and woolly. Also, he studied medicine in my green little island, and if his fellows didn’t regularly drag him to the pub to get so ratarsed the next day went “We must have had a great time, I can’t remember a thing”, I will be very disappointed in my countryfolk 🙂
To back this up, in the UK, medical students are the second most sexually-active subject group (philosophy first, English Lit third). Various kinds of engineer prop up the table.
>And as for this choice: “meditating for an hour a day and then going to regular retreats run by spiritual authorities” or “the counterculture route of taking lots of drugs and having lots of sex”
To be quite frank, it is currently very easy to safely take lots of drugs and safely have lots of sex.
Free living is a product of frontier culture, which is a product of depopulating the USA (it didn’t have the same consequences for other American countries because only the USA had the right physical geography for it). I’m not saying this to evoke any form of moral culpability for anyone – just to say that the circumstances that allowed “free living” are far from historically typical, and most currently-existing countries never experienced them (at least not in their current forms; you *do* find this kind of thing for a number of older polities) – as opposed to them being something formerly common, now lost.
Part of what happened to take the trust out of society was Dean. Would it have been you if Dean hadn’t existed?
Part of what made setting up a career take longer was specialization, which a technically advanced society needs.
“Well, I know which one I’d rather choose.”
The one that at best brings no lasting good, of course. Meanwhile, Freemasons and Sufis (they seem to be close counterparts) were responsible for much actual progress. The fact that people should be free to do a number of things doesn’t make those a good idea. (I’m not against lots of sex; I’m against pretending that’ll teach you anything other than how to have good sex, and lots of people don’t manage even that.)
I’m glad I’m not the only person who thinks that the Beats were full of it.
Well… sort of. There’s another option which protects women from people like the authors, which is patriarchy. The 50’s are the last gasp of a diseased and dying traditional society, which is getting ready to collapse into a puddle of its own vomit in the 60’s and 70’s. And what you see is Dean exploiting the weakness of this society. He doesn’t have much trouble convincing dozens of women to fornicate with him, but he never has to worry about their fathers or brother coming after him with clubs — mobility is to great and families too fragmented for this to be an effective means of enforcement any more. The women have a vague, vestigial notion that they should marry the men that they sleep with, and a childlike faith that these marriages actually mean something. But of course that never works out for them, and neither the legal system nor the social milieu has any means of catching horrible cads like this.
In this way, feminism may be taken as a rearguard action to salvage female dignity in the face of the collapse of traditional mores. As far as that goes, I wish the feminists the best of luck, because a world with neither feminism nor traditionalism is a world in which wolves like Dean basically get away with anything, and it’s horrible.
My thoughts were similar; this is red-pill fodder, not feminist.
Quick, classify the following views:
-Women need to be protected from people like the authors. (They haven’t the wherewithal to protect themselves.)
-Completely immoral, manipulative, destructive men have no problem getting any pretty girl they want. In fact, they can do so in a matter of hours.
-And those girls will still gladly take him back after he’s shown his true colors, and shows up in town looking for another quick bang.
This stuff is straight out of Heartiste, and he will gladly tell you that he owes it all to feminism.
I was thinking the same thing as I read the review.
It was written pre-modern feminism, so obviously this sort of thing happened before feminism.
Also, heartiste and similar guys are much less harmful now that long term birth control exists, abortion is legal etc. Also, child support means that they have an incentive to use contraception.
Risk compensation. Contraception doesn’t help as much as you think it does.
Given the actual historical rates of unwed motherhood, I think we need to say that, on a societal scale, contraception doesn’t work.
Wouldn’t a better diagnostic for whether contraception “works” be rates of unwanted motherhood, rather than unwed motherhood?
You do know that battered children are more likely to be planned and wanted than a control group?
The first question is whether the child is worse off if illegitimate or if unwanted.
I’m not a huge reader/fan of Heartiste, but he coined the term “alpha widow” to describe women who meet a Dean Moriarty once and then spend the rest of their lives hung up on him, unable to commit to anyone who actually cares about them. Contraception can’t prevent that, or the slow erosion of the ability to form long-term relationships that promiscuity seems to create. I can’t find the link right now, but I think at one point this blog discussed that, in terms of higher numbers of sexual partners predicting marital failure (yes, aware how potentially confounded that is).
EDIT: Ha. Possibly. Fixed it.
Freudian pronoun slip?
Otoh, before the Sexual Revolution(tm), if a teenager felt sexual desire, zie had to either abstain or marry the most convenient person (with or without pregnancy). Which led to a lot of incompatible marriages, linked with a high divorce rate in the Bible Belt.
Re: The high divorce rate, that isn’t an effect of sexual conservatism, but rather sexual conservatism denaturing. That is, couples in the Bible Belt that actually attend church weekly have very low divorce rates, while the lapsed/occasional attenders get married, then divorced. It’s like Mai mentioned about Moriarty’s victims retaining a vestigial, childlike belief in the efficacy and permanence of marriage. That attitude, without the dedication or fear of shame to actually make people stick it out, is what causes the divorces. Ross Douthat wrote a very good piece on this:
In the Christian penumbra, certain religious expectations could endure (a bias toward early marriage, for instance) without support networks for people struggling to live up to them.
That is, early marriages require support networks or will fall apart, and it is the “Christian penumbra” that promotes these early marriages in Bible Belt states, compared to later marriages in Blue States. I’ve suggested that the Bible Belt mechanism is that young people are supposed to abstain from sex till married, so they tend to marry the most convenient person, who may not be compatible for marriage. In Blue States, young people can have a variety of sexual partners before choosing which one to marry; thus marrying later, with more maturity and with a more carefully chosen partner.
Blue State marriages have a higher percentage of success, while Blue States have a lower percentage of churchgoers — so churchgoing can’t be the key.
Church-going is a key; it very consistently correlates with more stable marriages. It’s just not the only key.
You should be very cautious about trying to draw conclusions based on classifying entire states as “blue” or “red.” These statistics are very often confounded by internal patches of off-color demographics.
Marriage is especially confounded. The blue states have lower divorce rates, yes, but they also have lower marriage rates (and divorce rates are typically measured as divorces/population, not divorces/married population). If you have a couple who shacked up together for 10 years and has 3 kids but then split up, congratulations, your divorce rate is unharmed because you didn’t call it a marriage. But that is a hollow victory.
In more sense than one. There are a lot more blacks in the South than the rest of the country.
Douthat’s point may apply to more than just a cultural blas affecting non-churchgoers. In those regions, strong church influence on local school boards, pharmacists, and others results in lack of sex education in schools and limited availability of contraceptives and/or abortion to young people, thus increasing early marriage by non-Christians as well as those too far out in the ‘penumbra’ to ever become regular churchgoers.
Also, heartiste and similar guys are much less harmful now that … abortion is legal etc.
To one of the three parties involved, certainly.
I should say there are only two “parties” involved.
That’s an interesting use of should there.
If this behavior is hereditary, would the “On the Road” people have been born in a society with legal abortion? (You can think of this as preventive execution.)
We have a great deal of it today, and plenty of narcissism, promiscuity, and property crime, so, quite possibly. But, taking the freakonomics chaps argument as a given, I’ll freely grant that there are upsides to abortion that I must refuse given the certain downsides that I believe in.
Empirically, the women who get abortions are more likely to be middle and upper class, because abortion would derail their career / college plans / etc., whereas women who are lower class just shrug and have the baby. The result is that cads become a higher proportion of the population.
@Vaniver: “Empirically, the women who get abortions are more likely to be middle and upper class”
This was the case even when abortion was illegal; wealthier women could afford safe, discreet doctors, or could travel to places where it was legal. Poor women cannot, which is why policies like waiting periods, hospital admitting privilege requirements and copayments for long-acting reversible contraception affect them the most.
In any case, the proportion of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion was slightly lower for poor women in 2001, but essentially flat in 2008 (see table 2). (Also, interestingly, Catholics are more likely to abort an unwanted pregnancy than Protestants.)
Any effect is strongly dominated by the level of unwanted pregnancy (the ratio is close to 7:1 if you compare poor to middle-class women). If you’re truly concerned about breeding cads, you’ll seek to provide long-acting reversible contraception to poor women at low or no cost to them, because they’re so effective that people can’t risk-compensate their way around them.
“Also, interestingly, Catholics are more likely to abort an unwanted pregnancy than Protestants.”
I think that might be because Catholicism is a “stickier” identity than Protestantism – lapsed Catholics, even ones like Andrew Sullivan, still identify as Catholic. Probably less so for lapsed Protestants.
@drunkenrabbit: While the snarkier part of me wants to say something about how no true Catholic would get an abortion, the ‘Catholic’ identity seems cultural enough that, like ‘Jewish’, it can persist through a complete lack of religious belief. Well spotted.
I don’t like the stickiness explanation. The two highest numbers that aren’t Catholic are “Mainstream” Protestant and None. If you average them together, they are comparable to Catholic. If you include Evangelicals, they are much lower. (Averaging should weight by population, but I don’t see that number in this report. Weighing by # pregnancies is a proxy.)
I’m a Catholic atheist. (To which one of my friends responded, “oh, you mean a Jesuit?”)
Incidentally, why do you believe in a society in which traditional sexual mores as to women should still exist? When there’s no contraception finding a viable alternative is very difficult, but when contraception is freely avaliable what’s the cultural purpose of such mores? Why should they be seen as a good thing?
I honestly don’t know the answer to this question – is it really the case that these people could not obtain contraceptives in 1950s San Franciso?
It’s also worth noting that Dean doesn’t just want Galatea to sleep with him, he also wants to spend all her savings to finance a cross-country trip. She wants marriage and a stable relationship as a condition for spending her savings on their trip, not as a condition for sleeping with him.
In the US, the first combined oral contraceptive was approved by the FDA in 1960. Oral contraceptives became legally available to married women in all states in 1965, and unmarried women in 1972.
Easy birth control game a few decades too late for women like Galatea.
I’d count condoms as “easy birth control”, and they were available at the time. From Wikipedia:
Condoms rely on the guy to use them correctly. I imagine Dean Moriarty types would be unlikely to do so.
I use condoms as my primary method of contracteption and they work fine, because I date responsible guys, but I don’t think they’d work for Galatea.
I don’t see how making it easier for women to sleep with Dean Moriarty types and have all their money stolen by him is a victory.
The victory is that we have eliminated the greatest harms done to those women: namely, becoming “unmarriageable,” being shunned from good society for the rest of their lives, unwanted children (there is still a chance of this but it is greatly lowered per encounter). Losing savings sucks but it’s nowhere near the disutility of having society shame you for ever and ever.
And it’s not like Dean Moriarty could sleep with many more women in the modern day compared to the time he lived, anyway. He seemed pretty sex-saturated. The only difference is that in the modern day those women wouldn’t be “ruined.”
Amanda L – thanks, I didn’t know that.
Coffeespoons – IMHO, anyone who has sex with a Dean Moriarty type would be well advised to use both condoms (in any event) and backup birth control (if pregnancy is a possibility).
Synthesizing those two comments, I guess Carinthium’s question can be expanded to “now that contraceptives in women’s control (e.g. oral contraceptives, Mirena etc) are widely available, is there any value in traditional social mores?”
I am not smart enough to answer the whole question, but I’ll note that Dean Moriarty also appears to violate the apparent modern alternative – given that pregnancy is a possibility and that the women have the right to chose to bring the child to term, Moriarty doesn’t seem to have any interest in supporting the child.
Yeah, feminism seemed to want to protect women from the stable home life of the ’50s a lot more than it wanted to protect them from the Deans of the world. In fact, I think the evolution of society has shown just that. Now there are tens of millions of Deans, and prominent feminists are urging women to bang them for ten or twenty years before picking some pathetic schlub to settle down with.
Which feminism, whose feminism, where? That only a very specific brand of second-wave feminism is remembered is in itself an effect of specific forces shaping historical memory.
lol nvm m8
No, there are now tens of millions of Casanovas. (The eponymous guy seemed sorta-ethical and took care of the consequences of his actions).
The stable home life was pretty shitty, too: the 1950s specifically were a mess.
Now we are oft disillusioned with liberty, but we aren’t being fucked over *that* way.
All I took from this is that when men sleep with lots of women it is Bad.
I’m kind of hoping you don’t have to believe this to be a feminist.
When men lie and steal in order to sleep with lots of women it is Bad. When women lie and steal in order to sleep with lots of men it is Bad. (Also when men… with men, and when women… with women, and when whoever… with Ozy.) The problem is in the means, not the ends.
Sleeping with lots of women (or men, or other genders) and treating them as notches on your bedpost, bragging rights about your virility and desirability, suckers who are chumps to fall for your line and who are there to be fleeced sexually, emotionally, and financially until there are no more resources to be drained is bad.
Does anyone think Don Juan with his carefully-listed catalogue of conquests cares about women as women, or rather that it’s more women as trophies to impress other men? You can be a very successful seducer and have nothing but contempt for your conquests.
I wonder if its possible to be a very successful seducer and have nothing but respect, admiration and affection for your conquests?
I have the perhaps odd idea that some stereotypes accepted without issue in popular literature and movies, give us information on what behaviors the audiences find believable. James Bond’s hardware and adventures are obviously exaggerated, as are the speed and number of his sexual encounters, but no one argues that his respect etc for his partners is unlikely. Expert seducers who are otherwise rogues (Niven’s master thief in The Pink Panther and Nicholson’s devil in The Witches of Eastlake) behave even more so, but of course they have more time. This might give us information about the audiences of those eras; idk about later popular works.
Yeah, I’m dating him.
This seems rarer, though. Maybe it can only exist within certain (sub)cultures, or maybe it require some other advantages in terms of looks or intelligence.
Great points. The notion of the childlike vestigial faith in marriage as a binding commitment occurred to me as well reading this post.
The natural contrast object for this book would be The Game, which also details a bunch of cheerful defectors who game social norms for their own benefit, but who live in our modem *low* trust society. Notably, it seems just as easy for them as it was for the Beats, (some adaptations: they no longer have to deal with the traditional expectation of marriage, but they have to deal with defensive cold behavior that arose as an adaptation to low trust living.) This of course suggests that whatever rearguard defenses feminism threw up aren’t spectacularly effective. And of course we have to give up all the benefits of having a high trust society.
Evolved defenses against property crimes, on the othe hand, seem more effective today than in Kerouac’s day, notably they weren’t the product of a simultaneous ideological crusade.
Sounds like a nice just-so story, but I’d like to see some evidence. Are people in low-trust societies normally colder and those in higher-trust societies warmer – as measured how? -, especially women? Were people in the US in the first half of the 20th century really warmer with each other?
> Are people in low-trust societies normally colder and those in higher-trust societies warmer
Anecdote says no. Norway is a high-trust society, Pakistan is a low-trust society. In Norway you do not talk to or make eye contact with strangers on the bus. I’ve often wondered if the extroversion and friendliness of Americans (and many other foreigners) isn’t a habit built precisely because of low trust, and that you seek some reassurance that the guy sitting next to you on the bus isn’t one of the bad ones.
Could you POSSIBLY have picked a worse time to say that, even as an aside? Jesus Christ, mate.
I’m not sure what he was saying or what your objection is.
(Content warning: death, racism.)
I can think of many words to describe that, but “ineffective” sure isn’t one of ’em.
Sounds like Dean’s motto would be “Enjoy the Decline”. Now where have I heard that before?
“feminism may be taken as a rearguard action to salvage female dignity in the face of the collapse of traditional mores.”
Sometimes it’s the cad that the woman needs protection from, but sometimes, it’s the brothers and fathers armed with clubs. I come from a society where most women with families have the protection of these men who are so concerned for our dignity, and at least some of us are willing to give up the protections and the horrors of this traditionalism knowing full well that it might expose us to exploitation by wolves like Neal Cassady. Mostly because we examine our lives and realise that there are things far more horrible than being seduced and discarded? Also, we may be able to fend for ourselves given the chance?
Such as what? This is a serious question. It seems to me that the women in this story have their lives well and truly ruined, and it’s hard to think of many things that traditional patriarchy would do which would be worse.
You can probably fend for yourself, but you are not the marginal case.
I’ve seen women privately warn one another about many things, but never (never in remotely good faith, anyway) about how women are inherently weak and defenseless. The advice is, always, don’t lose your head, stand up for yourself and pick yourself back up when you fall. You know, normal sane human advice.
As a radical feminist I agree that women are somewhat strategically exploitable (99% because they get pregnant), and that’s why gender inequality exists, but that’s almost entirely a different matter.
The women in this story were used and discarded both sexually, financially, and in one case, as a literal punching bag.
This is not the The Worst Thing that could happen.
I don’t mean to come across as apologetic for these jerks, just to be clear. They’re very obviously abusive in ways that should result in prison sentences in any just world. The situation unwed mothers had to survive before the 1970s was horrible, and unwed mothers and the children of unwed mothers still have horrible times today.
They don’t have their own sections in mental hospitals, though, which was pretty popular for a while and far worse (especially before the reform of mental hospitals in the 60s). And that’s really just the start of a long serious of serious problems that eventually slide down to regular beatings delivered by the father of the house or even honor killings. Those might not be the parts of patriarchy you’d want back, but they’re no easier to handwave away than the Left gets to handwave the destruction of the family as unwanted.
The risks from excessive protection include what adds up to lifelong imprisonment, and possibly imprisonment with an abuser.
An entire life lived without being granted any agency whatsoever. You have no choices in who you get to marry, what kind of clothes you wear, you’ll not be able to leave the house after sunset without a chaperone (I mean you could, except if you use public transportation, you could get groped, in worse cases raped, and it would be entirely your fault), if you are employed, you could be expected to hand over your entire earnings to either the father or the husband and then have to justify to them any purchases you wish to make. I have friends married to abusive husbands who can never leave their abusers, there are cases of sexual abuse within families which are never brought to the open, just discussed in mostly-female settings in hushed tones years after the fact. Most traditional marriages seem to be unhappy (judged by, spouses do not actually seem to want to spend time with each other or even talk to each other).
That’s in mostly middle-class families where physical assault is not terribly common. Except for the occasional slap that your husband or father may deliver as a method of putting an end to arguments. But things can be worse in a society where men are allowed to violently protect the honour and dignity of their womenfolk. And then there is the society-wide understanding that rape is always at least partly the woman’s fault. A senior politician recently responded to the news of a 12- and a 14-year old being gangraped and murdered with ‘boys will be boys’.
Women are not children. Sure they’ll make mistakes, sometimes even terrible ones. But they might just be able to manage to live their lives without being utter wrecks. Or is that not what you see when you look around you in your society ?
I mostly agree with you, but this jumped out at me:
I would not mind being married to someone I don’t particularly want to spend time with, if they’re an otherwise good person/parent/lay.
As yourself, you think that patriarchy is Don Corleone. From my own experiences as a trans person, it’s more like Al Capone. Nevertheless, we both seem to agree that it is functionally, unsentimentally, a protection racket. And really it doesn’t matter that the particulars of a protection racket are “nice”; if possible, concerned citizens still ought to hang everyone involved as a warning to others.
Oh, and by the way:
“Bolshevism is knocking at our gates, we can’t afford to let it in…We must keep America whole and safe and unspoiled. We must keep the worker away from red literature and red ruses; we must see that his mind remains healthy.”
“Don’t you get the idea I’m one of those goddamn radicals. Don’t get the idea I’m knocking the American system.”
-The same fine gentleman
By “protection racket” you seem to mean “social system in which cooperation is enforced by the threat of stigma.” Do I need to point out that this includes all functioning social systems ever? The only social milieus which can’t be called a “protection racket” in this sense are those in which defectors aren’t punished at all, which are typically not nice places to live.
No, I meant a system which names the activity of more directly hostile, less compromising agents as its justification for existence, and has a very strong incentive to prevent its clients from empowering themselves and dispensing with the need for its “services”
Absolutely. Note how the more a police force has to actually do its vaunted work, the more blatantly criminal its activity looks. Orderly areas aren’t in fact policed “softly but effectively”, you can’t meaningfully police “softly”; you can only police less.
Maybe it’s just the vestigial libertarian that lives in my head talking, but that sounds like a fair-if-unflattering description of governments and hierarchical social systems in general.
A few of them may defy their incentives to disempower their constituents, of course, but the incentives are there.
Yep, I’m drifting more and more libertarian with time.
I haven’t heard the term soft policing before, but I’d wager that where it occurs it owes at least as much to the policee as the police.
@Multi– You actually seem to be drifting anarchist rather than libertarian (since libertarians like capitalism, which requires an extensive police regime to protect private property and function).
I don’t say anarchist because I’m iffy on most proposed models of collective ownership, not because I’m a huge fan of capitalism and private property. I’m reading up on Participatory Economics now, not sure what I think.
(Uh, that last comment made me sound far less leftist economically than I really am. I’m nothing, nothing like the “bleeding-heart” right-libertarians.)
…I think you’re gonna have to unpack this metaphor a bit more.
Personally noble, unanswerable authority thriving and enjoying a dominant position by providing a much-needed service of violence against bad people, versus personally corrupt and immoral unanswerable authority justifying its dominant position on the violence market with the need to protect against bad people.
My point is, even the “noble” (and utterly fictional) Don Corleone who is exactly as described ultimately ought to be executed or locked up for the good of society. Nothing personal.
> …Nothing personal.
Leaving aside the sexual escapades, “On The Road” shows the attitude that was very prevalent: that women held men back. As Cyril Connolly put it, “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall”.
And this was not an attitude about liberating women from child-bearing so they could be great artists; this was the notion that women represented conventional bourgeois society and attitudes, and their clinging demands on men for stable relationships and marriage meant men were being held back from being pioneers and creators; that men needed to be free of all constraints and responsibilities (other than to their art, of course).
On the other hand, men were not expected to sacrifice readily available sex for their art, so you get the attitude of the 50s, 60s and even 70s which I’ve read even in science fiction stories: women! holding men back! men who need to be free to be footloose because the deep creative roaming spirit drives them onward! not to be held back by domesticity!
The same reason that Gauguin gave up his marriage and family for art (or at least excused the breakdown of his marriage that way), the same attitude as the lyrics of The Free Electric Band:
That’s the deeper misogyny which even the Sexual Revolution and the advent of the Pill didn’t address, and that’s why feminism is necessary.
Deiseach: agree completely, been aware of that for a good while now.
It seems to me that modern feminism has mostly taken this attitude and adopted it, just with the genders reversed.
The attitude in the quoted lyrics does not sound bad to me? The fellow believes his partner wants to get married and settle down. He does not. So he breaks up with her. What exactly is not ok about this? (maybe its that he didn’t explicitly communicate with her?).
Dean on the other hand is lying deceptive cheater. Who beats his partner. This is why dean is terrible. Not that he is opposed to settling down.
The attitude is “I sacrificed love for my art!” which is bullshit, because it’s really “I didn’t want to settle down and take on responsibilities”. The guy singing blames the girl (“we explored her body but not her mind”). As long as she was willing to open her legs for him, it was all beer and skittles, but oh noes, she had embedded bourgeois attitudes so he had to skip town (and presumably take up with another girl from a social science class in the new intake of students).
The woman is blamed for insufficiently raising her consciousness when it interferes with the man (who is leeching off his rich family to support his lifestyle of the ‘free electric band’) having a carefree life of her being sexually available to him without consequences. He asks us to laud him as a hero of art who can’t be tied down and his creativity stifled by the ‘pram in the hallway’; what makes it even more gaggingly hypocritical is that the girl in the lyrics doesn’t make any overt demands, he just knows that deep down she’s a square who wants a conventional lifestyle after all because he can read her mind that well.
The attitude is “I sacrificed love for my art!” which is bullshit, because it’s really “I didn’t want to settle down and take on responsibilities”. The guy singing blames the girl (“we explored her body but not her mind”). As long as she was willing to open her legs for him, it was all beer and skittles, but oh noes, she had embedded bourgeois attitudes so he had to skip town (and presumably take up with another girl from a social science class in the new intake of students).
The woman is blamed for insufficiently raising her consciousness when it interferes with the man (who is leeching off his rich family to support his lifestyle of the ‘free electric band’) having a carefree life of her being sexually available to him without consequences. He asks us to laud him as a hero of art who can’t be tied down and his creativity stifled by the ‘pram in the hallway’; what makes it even more gaggingly hypocritical is that the girl in the lyrics doesn’t make any overt demands, he just knows that deep down she’s a square who wants a conventional lifestyle after all because he can read her mind that well.
Bollocks, say I. And that’s why the 60s/70s, despite all the talk of sexual liberation, were still misogynistic – men would now be able to eat their cake and have it, to be sexually adventurous without the risk of fathering children they would be expected to take responsibility for, so women without the risk of pregnancy had no excuse for refusing to be sexually available – unless it was the lingering bad effects of middle-class indoctrination or being a repressed, frigid prude. The dream woman was one who made no demands on her man, not even the expectation that he’d be there in the morning if he had to go, to be free, to roam, to be the free creative spirit that would otherwise be stifled by settling down and selling out – but if he chooses to come back, she should also be there to take him back in.
I agree. I don’t think it’s morally wrong for anyone, of any gender, to desire (and engage in) some no-strings-attached sex.
Lying to your partner is wrong; misrepresenting yourself is wrong; not using proper STD protection is obviously wrong. But what’s wrong, intrinsically, with having one-night-stands with like-minded partners ?
I personally do not find such encounters appealing, but there’s a big difference between “I do not prefer X” and “X is immoral and no one should do it”.
But modern feminism is just about the same complaint reversed, namely that the patriarchy binds women into domesticity.
I agree that the problems in the book are related to a society that has lost patriarchy but hasn’t replaced it with feminism yet.
But the book also makes it clear why patriarchy of the sort you’re talking about was impossible at that point. One of the characters actually did threaten Dean with a shotgun and tell him to stay away from his daughter, but nobody took it very seriously. I’m pretty sure this is related to the move from local to state government. If you’re in a small village where you’re known to be a responsible citizen, and this other guy is known to be the local sleazebag, and he keeps threatening your daughter, and finally you have to shoot him to defend her honor, the local officer is probably going to turn a blind eye. Whereas in a modern legal system, pretty much any shooting (or even brandishing of firearm) is going to put you at serious risk of a few years in prison unless it’s provably in immediate defense of your own life (and sometimes even that exception doesn’t work out). I’m not saying this is bad or wrong, but I am saying it’s a necessary response to a shift from village life to larger-scale social life, and it makes the old “threaten the guy with a shotgun” response impossible.
The other obvious problem is that this kind of requires the perpetrator to stay put. In a big city like New York, it’s easy to remain anonymous – let alone when you’re driving through Nebraska, you have sex with someone, and then you’re out of town the next morning.
I don’t know enough about social history to know whether “fathers will kill anyone who has sex with their daughters but refuses to accept the consequences” was ever a good social control mechanism, but it seems pretty clear that by this time it wasn’t going to work even if people had wanted it to.
As long as I’m here, I’d like to mention once again that in my understanding, the primary enforcement mechanism was more like “society threatening to make the daughter’s life hell if she fails to resist”, not “father threatening to kill guys”. The primary focus is on keeping control of valuable property, not hunting down random outlaws.
I’ve also noticed an air of assumptions that any sex that can happen will happen, even when both parties are schooled on restraint.
In the “delightfully” colonialist book Scotch and Holy Water, the protagonist meets a guy who… fucked the maid. And got threatened with shotgun even though he was privileged foreigner. And married her, which went OK for both parties as far as anyone knew. But he knew this would happen, God knows she did, he wasn’t really interested in marrying her, and they still had sex and it was treated as normal and the fault of other people for putting two young people of opposite gender together.
This is not inaccurate.
I don’t want to list multiple anecdotes given the risk of reinforcing or being read as appealing to the societal tendency to award status for promiscuity, so I’ll limit myself to one.
When I went off to college — and I’ll note that, as far as I know, very few white people had sex in high school, but that could well have been a function of unusual geographical factors (magnet program drawing from a third of a large, suburban county) and the fact that I dropped out after tenth grade… where was I?
When I went off to college, some girl started displaying interest in me within the first week. I ended up spending a lot of time in her room. Some British guy entered into a ‘relationship’ with her (serial monogamy was the norm, and actual one-night stands were uncommon) before I got around to making a move… and within a few days I ended up with her roommate.
Absolutely. In fact, I was trying to figure out how to say the same thing: many of the traditional mechanisms for regulating sexuality and keeping out predators were broken, not by social change as much as technological change. The ability to hop in a car and drive across America and find a job wherever you land made it pretty easy to escape the social consequences of all of this… for the men, at least. Contraception made it theoretically easier for women to avoid consequences as well, but in practice these gains have been mostly illusory for the people who actually need them; the sort of women who have the discipline to regularly use birth control are the same sort of women with the discipline to just keep their legs crossed in the absence of contraception. However, the collapse of traditional mores which the Pill enabled was felt all the way down the ladder, with well-known disastrous consequences for the lower half.
(I was also going to point out that the extension of public benefits to unwed women lowered the costs to women of having an unexpected child, thus further enabling Dean and his ilk. But a bit of research shows that this happened after the time period in question.)
The question for the future is how we’ll rescue a sane and healthy set of sexual mores from the current wreckage, and in the context of current technology. It’s been noted that elites practice a more conservative set of mores than they preach, and I think part of the solution will be that the elites openly become prudes. The best possible spin I can put on “consent culture” is that this is a way of getting a lot less casual sex without threatening the feminists’ self-image as being sex-positive, and that the threat of a life-destroying rape accusation will have the same chilling effect on sexual degeneracy that the threat of pregnancy had in the days of yore. (Note that the direction of consequences are reversed in this case. Turnabout is fair play, I suppose.)
Maybe poor people indeed can’t afford some mores (although I strongly believe that they absolutely do not desire most harmful lifestyles, they simply are robbed of the mental energy and hope to trade up) –
– but upper-class people can demonstrably “afford” much “easier” mores than upper-class conservatives like to signal. Like all people should be able to.
Divorce is *probably* not the best example:
Kids of rich parents aren’t as likely to end up in the bottom quintile of income as kids or poor parents, but that’s not the same as saying that “material life chances aren’t affected.”
I’m not particularly disagreeing; I’m just saying that the floor seems to be set rather high for rich kids here. Maybe not comfortably high, clearly in at least some ways they still do suffer…
I want to emphasize that the difference between well-off divorced families and poor divorced families seems so much more significant than the one between poor two-parent households and poor divorced families at the same tier.
“The question for the future is how we’ll rescue a sane and healthy set of sexual mores from the current wreckage, and in the context of current technology.”
On what basis do you conclude that this is even possible? What if sexual mores functional and healthy for H. sapiens and our current technological and economic milieu are fundamentally incompatible (as appears to my reckoning)?
Is it a discipline question, or do people in the lower classes actually intend the reproductive patterns they exhibit?
It is partly a discipline problem that could be addressed by long-term birth control. But single motherhood is mainly what they intend, compared to not having children. If they could coordinate to snare fathers, that would be even better, but they don’t see it as an option.
An interesting pair of trends over the past 30 years is the reduction in teenage mothers with the increasing rate of single mothers. That suggests that teenage pregnancy is the result of a discipline problem that might have been easily solved by distributing IUDs decades ago. But it also suggests limits to what improved birth control can achieve. (Alternative hypothesis: propaganda changing intents.)
I have read that some poor women intentionally get pregnant in order to have some stable other person in their lives, or some reasoning to that effect. I don’t know if this is accurate or widespread, but I agree we can’t discount a reasoned, if sub optimal by most reckoning, decision.
I’m not a poor woman–I’m well educated and make a good living–but I’ve considered single motherhood for that exact reason.
A review of this is what I am remembering: “http://www.amazon.com/Promises-Can-Keep-Motherhood-Marriage/dp/0520271467/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417568644&sr=8-1&keywords=promises+I+can+keep”
I’m sure it’s a question of taste and other priorities, not merely discipline. Even in my own relatively comfortable, but somewhat socially mixed UK context, all my less well off friends noticeably started getting married at around the age of 20 (and often started having children around about then) and all my more elite university-going friends started getting married 5 or 6 years later and started having children at a much slower rate.
I’m confident that the explanation for that wasn’t lack of discipline (there was no particular need for these people to get married that they were forced into via lack of will). It was probably a lot more to do with different stages in the life course: the people who were getting married and settling down had mostly begun and settled into their working life by this point and weren’t under enormous pressure to devote endless amounts of resources to advancing their careers, whereas all the more elite people were either still in or just out of post-graduate education or jostling madly to get into or advance in competitive elite careers.
David Moss, the topic was single motherhood. That your millieu had the taste or discipline to avoid it shows that it was not mixed. 40% of English babies were born out of wedlock in 1998; half today.
Now that I think about it, I’ve heard a lot about fathers threatening men who might seduce their daughters, but I know very little about whether fathers actually followed through, or whether shotgun weddings were every common.
Common but hyperbolic, as I understand it. The actual enforcement mechanism was the threat of social ostracism for both parties rather than literal applied ballistics. Though if being ostracized puts one in a social category comparable to outlawry, where the law withdraws its protection against opportunistic violence, the effects may be similar.
As noted, social mobility and anonymity makes this not work any more.
Outlawry didn’t quite work that way. Then as now, most people wouldn’t have been interested in going after random outlaws for a bit of the old ultra-violence; the implied mechanism was more that if you’d been outlawed, you’d probably pissed off someone in power very much indeed, and now they were allowed to come after you with intent to kill and without any pretense of playing fair. In practice it functioned as exile backed up with the threat of lethal force if you come back.
Many of the old early medieval procedures for outlawry came with provisions intended to enable the perp to safely if hastily get out of the country: they might, for example, be granted safe passage along the fastest road to the nearest port.
And anyone who impregnated a woman he didn’t want to marry traditionally had options like joining the army as a common soldier. For that matter, even if the father did pull off a literal shotgun wedding, it would be almost impossible to prevent his new son-in-law from enlisting for a decade or two and mustering out a continent away without telling anyone.
So, excluded from anything resembling your old life, barred from most routes of advancement, but not in serious danger of getting killed (unless there’s a war on).
From what I remember of The Better Angels Of Our Nature, Pinker says that the majority of murders are/were committed not for “criminal intent” (i.e. in order to steal things or for the lulz) but as revenge for bad actions, etc. (especially when law enforcement fails to do so, which was more the case in the past).
I don’t remember any specific mention of “protecting your daughter’s honor” but that doesn’t seem like a less likely cause for murder than the others, so I expect it did happen.
I think that’s probably true, but with the caveat that what the murderer thinks of as a bad action may not be what we’d think of as one. If you read the Icelandic sagas (which, despite the epic-sounding name, read more like soap operas set in a land where everyone habitually carries a sword and the dead occasionally rise to break the ornaments off your houses for lulz), you find that they’re full of people killing each other over insults, or land disputes, or trivial incidents of fraud.
That’s very interesting, because a sociologist I was speaking to one time reported to me that, in one set of interviews she was doing, people responded, without fail, with a story about how back in the dimly remembered halcyon days of yore, everyone knew everyone in their communities and there would be a village bobby (i.e. policeman) who would walk around the village green and if he saw any youths stealing apples (she reported that this was exactly the example multiple people would independently give) he would know who they were and drag them off back home (because, of course, he knew the parents) and their father would give them a good hiding. (IIRC the interviews weren’t even really anything to do with this, so it was particularly striking that people kept coming up with these same stories). I don’t know how common the trope is or where it comes from, but it certainly seems pretty common in the UK at least.
When the story’s that consistent, I start suspecting that we might be dealing with cultural tropes rather than true memories.
> In this way, feminism may be taken as a rearguard action to salvage female dignity in the face of the collapse of traditional mores. As far as that goes, I wish the feminists the best of luck, because a world with neither feminism nor traditionalism is a world in which wolves like Dean basically get away with anything, and it’s horrible.
Why can’t you have concepts of ethics and consequences seperate from gender norms? If a man or a woman is an asshole they face social punishment. Indeed that works better when women have the economic and social power to enforce that just as much as men.
“Asshole” is too ambiguous to be an enforceable offense, for any punishment beyond local and informal ostracism. It fails particularly badly when implemented against an edge case, where half the population thinks he was an asshole and half the population thinks that punishing him was an asshole move that itself merits punishment.
For things where local and informal ostracism isn’t enough, you are going to want clear rules, you are going to need to specify that e.g. a promise to marry a woman becomes binding when she becomes pregnant, rather than just trusting everyone to agree about what is or is not an asshole move.
And for that subset of these things where pregnancy is a major issue, that gets you into gender norms.
My inner devil’s advocate failed to anticipate this response. Interesting to look at some aspects of today’s problems as caused by collapsing patriarchy, which is at least better than societal anarchy. Not sure I agree, but upvote.
I have a hard time believing that patriarchy ever spent more effort controlling and punishing unruly boys for chasing girls than it did controlling and punishing girls for not running away from boys fast enough. It seems like a bait-and-switch: I know that right now we seem to focus on slut-shaming and restricting women’s activities, but at some point in the undefined past, we totally spent more effort on controlling the actions of men to protect women… despite part of our mythos centering around how bad efforts to “civilize” boys are.
I am, to put it mildly, unimpressed. When did patriarchy do more to restrain men than to punish and restrain women? It looks like feudalism: yes, the lord had responsibilities to his vassals, but this did not mean that the vassals were the primary beneficiaries of the system.
Haha, looks like I didn’t miss anything by not reading it. Why was this book so popular?
I’d always felt vaguely guilty about not having read it, and now Scott saved me the trouble (yay!).
It glamorized behavior that they wanted to indulge in
Same as Rand in the “All debates are bravery debates” example.
Society says OBEY ALL THE THINGS. Books says FUCK ALL THE RULES WOOH. People end up somewhere in the middle, hopefully moderately functional.
I’m going to want to steal this phrase in the future.
Interestingly, this could easily have come out of the pages of First Things.
This reminds me off he Steve Jobs biography. “Sure, he destroyed a lot of lives on a personal and professional level, but look at all the holy ecstatic products!”
Steve Jobs was a Comanche, not a Kerouac.
Pingback: This review perfectly articulates what bothered me so much about Kerouac's *On the Road* | Inko
That review was absolutely hysterical, and frankly, my heartfelt agreement with it probably indicates why I absolutely loathed the film The World’s End.
Seriously, I found myself thinking the robot invaders had the right idea.
I read this review (quote below, I’m rubbish at html) that had a completely different take on The World’s End. I recommend it–it might make you see the movie with new eyes.
Bonus: it’s Film Crit Hulk.
Argh, Film Crit Hulk. Always interesting, thoughtful pieces.
With a gimmick that makes them so physically hard to read that I can rarely bring myself to bother. I really wish he’d drop it.
Hahaha it’s funny, I read his book, and having the choice, I preferred the all caps. Go figure.
He recommends convertcase.com. It’s still annoying, though. (I binged on him a couple weeks ago).
I strongly encourage you to read Arthur B’s review at Ferretbrain, which articulated the distaste I had for the movie’s message much better than I could.
Well it is a parody so it is unclear how much of the ‘message’ you are supposed to take at face value. I read it as satirizing the scifi cliche of cybermen taking over and eliminating emotions because they are not ‘logical’ until the plucky heroes stand up for good ol’ human values of art and violence (see dystopia fictions).
Except in this version the ‘heroes’ are pathetic drunks, their big speech about human values is drunken cursing at the aliens and quoting song lyrics and they end up destroying the world. So, I wouldn’t see the movie as particularly endorsing the no responsibility lifestyle
I detested it because it seemed as though we should be pleased that whathisname had a world that made him happy, no matter what it cost everyone else.
An interesting thing about satires, is that while they are defined by pointed differences from their genres, they also have to be readily perceived as part of the cluster of their genres. The jokes in a genre satire don’t work unless the viewer is keeping the concept-cluster of the genre in mind. So any trait of a satire that is not Part of the Joke will instead be as central as possible, to provide the setting for the jokes.
People often notice that Onion articles tend to reveal the whole joke concept in the headline, then fill the rest of the space with decreasingly interesting elaborations. That’s not optimal for humor writing, but the meticulous adherence to inverted-pyramid news writing style is part of what makes The Onion read as a satire of newspapers rather than a collection of joke articles.
So there’s a lens to view movies like The World’s End and why it went with the Independence Day ending — that’s the ending central to the alien-invasion genre.
Come to think of it all the Cornetto movies take the genre-central ending, so at least they are consistent.
My main problem with The World’s End was that I didn’t find it funny. The ridiculously muddled message didn’t help.
Let the leeches live.
I’m reading a lot of people dissing On The Road, so I figured somebody should defend it. 🙂
Yes, if you read the book looking for people who meaningfully contribute to society it’s going to come up short. But it isn’t really about that. It’s a vision of America specifically anchored in a particular time and place, where there are still wide spaces to explore and wild rides to be taken, and where freedom through hedonism is available and at least somewhat tolerated. I really liked Scott’s comment about the easy availability of jobs, a crucial part of the narrative that gets overlooked. It’s not just about people who lived this sort of life, it’s about being alive in a time and place where it’s POSSIBLE to live that sort of life.
Kerouac (unlike Marx) never suggests that everyone can live like this. The squares are a necessary component to Sal and Dean’s lifestyle. What he’s celebrating is the notion of living in the moment, not worrying (and not having to worry) about the next day, about the possibilities inherent in that time and place. He’s not arguing for utopia.
Of course it’s completely selfish – this isn’t a new observation, the book and the Beats in general have always been criticized on those grounds. I haven’t read it since college, but in an era of constant connection through the internet, of two weeks of background checks before every job, and of increasing insistence on a new rigid morality, I’d have though the book might have more appeal rather than less.
It’s always been escapist fantasy, that’s nothing new. What’s new is that it seems to be escapist fantasy that people have a harder time engaging with. My female friends in college loved the book; they didn’t overly concern themselves with the poor treatment of the women in Dean’s life. Yes, these activities were only available to young, white American men. Yes, they treat people who aren’t young American white men as “exotic.” If you read it through a race and gender lens you’re going to give it an F. But maybe turn off the lens for one book, one time, and see if you like it.
OK, that was my defense of the book. Now a more practical view: if you don’t read it as a 19 year old you probably aren’t going to fall for its bullshit. Particularly now, where backpacking across Europe is (as Scott pointed out) common and uninteresting, with every moment captured and broadcast to every person you know in an instant and, most importantly, when the damage caused by the irresponsibility of the protagonists is more clear from the vantage of adulthood. But when I read it twenty-five years ago, when European backpacking was not something I had heard of anyone doing and Instagram was science fiction and the world was a much bigger place, it was pretty thrilling.
And don’t worry so much about “kids” reading it. Despite reading it at a young age, I still grew into a responsible liberal.
And… we’re done! Great defense.
Really? That’s the only thing you read books for, to find fictional (or semi-autobiographical in this case) characters contributing meaningfully to society? Wow! You are a rare breed.
The point isn’t that the guys weren’t contributing to society (a low impact version of On the Road would be interesting), it’s that they were actively destructive.
In 1947, a lot more 19 year old American men went to Europe than today.
Yes, but they spent most of their time in barracks rather than backpacking, and the cultural interchange was limited by the concern about maybe having to kill another million or so Germans if it turns out they hadn’t really learned their lesson, or maybe Russians instead this time.
On the other hand, if you just wanted sex with hot (albeit skinny) European women, you didn’t need Dean Moriarty’s charisma and you didn’t need to lie, you just needed some K-rations and a Hershey bar.
All The Pretty Horses is much better for this purpose, honestly. It has much more likeable heroes and much less misogyny and defection. Otoh, it is much less salient and realistic for the typical urban person.
I guess my biggest problem was that it was boring. I don’t think this came through enough in the review.
Some sort of fascinating criminal having a great time and fulfilling our secret dreams would be worth a read. But their idea of escapism is driving really fast and abusing women. Even if I could do it with no moral consequences, I think it would take like a week tops to get bored of that.
Part of why I’m so snarky about all of the visionary ecstatic holy stuff is that it seems artificially inserted to make a pretty boring time – driving back and forth and getting drunk in the same dull towns – sound super-interesting. I think it fails on those terms.
If I want escapism, I’ll take Lord of the Rings any day.
I thought it was at least interesting that he attached the ecstatic holy malarkey to decidedly secular pursuits, something I hadn’t come across as a kid outside of the Beats. But yeah, there’s a reason why I’ll pull out the Lord of the Rings every few years but haven’t read On The Road in twenty.
Still, I have fond memories of the book, and thought it deserved some love here.
“Some sort of fascinating criminal having a great time and fulfilling our secret dreams would be worth a read.”
I’m reminded of the movie “Falling Down” (though it’s been awhile, so that might not be an apt description).
“Wait a minute – I’m the bad guy?” – D-FENS
Some sort of fascinating criminal having a great time and fulfilling our secret dreams would be worth a read.
Have you read Catch Me If You Can?
I think you’re typical-minding here. I won’t bother bringing up the alcohol and partying stats for college first years: you have a better sense of them than I do, most likely. We know that they are high enough to justify a substantial portion of the population enjoying at the very least the idea of getting high and doing things without intellectual stimulation or productivity.
And don’t worry so much about “kids” reading it. Despite reading it at a young age, I still grew into a responsible liberal.
Telescoping time somewhat, if the same kid was reading Kerouac and Ayn Rand and Tolkien, they were probably reading a lot of other stuff at the same time. Maybe such worries assume that the kid is reading only one of the above.
Kerouac, Rand, and Tolkien should turn out an even bigger asshole, as only one of those has *some* upside. (In case it’s not clear: Tolkien’s morality was great for its day, is partly *quite* outdated now, and partly holds up quite well.)
And this is why I don’t read literary fiction – I’d rather have a corkscrew enema than voluntarily read a book like that.
You read no literary fiction at all just on account of the extremely low risk of ending up with a book like this and reading so much of it as you need to realise its awfulness? That doesn’t sound very plausible as a true rejection…
Maybe he means ‘literary’ fiction, as in, fiction that tends to be highly acclaimed by the more well regarded academic literary critics, versus genre fiction.
I’m not prepared to weigh in on such a debate other than that such a strategy does not eliminate all worthwhile, illuminating novels.
But at least genre fiction is renowned for its wholesome and unpretentious qualities.
Shrug. I’m not widely read enough to comment meaningfully; I was just offering a possible meaning to his statement.
Not ragging on you. The thought just made me laugh.
That’s largely what I meant. I do read highly acclaimed fiction if it’s very old – the 19th century hasn’t been bad to me, and most things older have been good, if too odd for frequent consumption. I’ll even read newer stuff if it’s recommended by people whose opinions I actually trust to line up with my own(To Kill A Mockingbird stands out in my memory as being actually pretty good). But anything the establishment likes that hasn’t stood the test of time is very likely to be painful.
Baen Books may print a lot of dreck, but at least there’s pleasure in a guilty pleasure. That puts it well ahead of yet another tale of a middle-aged English teacher who gets bored of his wife.
I’m aware I’m missing some good books by doing this, but frankly we live in a world with so much good writing that I can excise whole genres and still have more quality literature to read than I ever could. I’d rather up my hit rate than expand my reading list yet again, because it’s already far too long.
It might be worth contrasting this with the quite positive review Scott has of Infinite Jest, which is also literary fiction (but Infinite Jest is actually tremendously good).
Just read that review. (Here, for those following along at home)
See, that doesn’t appeal to me much more. The overall message sounds like one I generally agree with, but the style sounds nauseating. Just like whenever a TV show has some drugged-out vision quest I start to hate it, excessively incestuous writing bothers me. I want my books to tell cool stories and have cool characters, not to turn into a hell of self-referential puzzles.
Given the way the protagonists behave, is it really that surprising? Maybe the book should have been titled On The Run instead.
That’s the reason they had to travel, to keep moving on; when you’ve burned your bridges in one place, if you stick around you’re running a good chance of getting arrested, and at the very least the free meals have run out now that people are wise to you.
Plus the whole mythologizing of travelling being like the pioneers striking out for the new and unknown and being open to experience and all the rest of it.
It may have been a more high-trust society than we have now, but it’s probably worth pointing out that Dean was incredibly charismatic, and apparently quite intelligent. It’s not just the fact that he was privileged to be white and male in 1950’s society, and utterly devoid of ethics, it’s that he could probably get a stranger to stuff a live chicken down their pants just by asking nicely. I doubt that even most white males of the time found people this receptive.
I actually agree with the characters feelings that they were oppressed. However my opinion is that all currently living humans are badly oppressed (I really like the SJ attitude toward “oppressed” people I just think it should be extended to everyone).
Doesn’t such overextension of the meaning of this word make it basically meaningless?
No, not really. The implication is that everyone deserves the sympathy and understanding you would give to a person going though a very hard time. Since everyone is, imo, going through an extremely hard time. Though one sometimes needs to be less than ideally kind due to self preservation or protection of others. But one needs to be careful not to overdo the protection thing.
I like the quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Isn’t that a clear case of the “fallacy of grey”? In a charitable interpretation – you can’t look into people’s minds, and someone might have a superficially good life and still be depressed. But on the other hand, quite a few people do have a nice, easy, happy life (deserved or not, doesn’t matter), and others have been dealt a shitty hand. Treating them all with the same “everyone is going through an extremely hard time” is not doing justice to anyone – not the people who deserve compassion and an effort to help them, not the people who work hard to make life good for those who indeed have a good life.
I think the point is more that even the most privileged people in the world have worries and concerns and unhappiness, even if they are about things that might seem trivial. And anyone, no matter how privileged, can benefit from compassion and sympathy.
A society that treats the destructive as well as the productive should be expected to destroy itself.
The worst thing about this book is the echoes of my own past that I see within it; a decade spent being pulled between the glory of Lord of the Rings, and the cynical nihilism of modernity’s ‘self-actualization’. The first seemed unattainable (it isn’t) the latter seemed fun and cool (it isn’t).
I wonder how many lives were damaged by Kerouac publishing this filthy treatise? Or is it just a sign of the times?
Could you expand a bit about the LOTR?
A romanticized view of a free, nomadic lifestyle that includes doing horrible things to innocent people… I’ve heard this before.
The horrible things were even more horrible:
Which maybe is just another condemnation of Aristotle, but it doesn’t seem it.
So what’s the difference? Is it the thought the Comanche could have existed in isolation hunting buffalo and not exploiting other people? If I followed correctly, they subsisted on tribute, not buffalo. Is it just the presentation?
The Comanche, like most of the nomadic Plains cultures, were hunter-gatherers that used buffalo as their subsistence base. Tribute was more of a sideline, although capture and forced or semi-forced integration of people from neighboring cultures — both European and Indian — seems to have been more economically important for them than for your average Indian culture, at least during the era of European contact.
That aside, it seems that there’s an important distinction between them and some wandering charismatic scumbag scamming his living out of a naive culture, but I’m having a bit of trouble putting my finger on it. Part of it might just be that mosaics of tribal raiding cultures are very common and can apparently be stable — you can see echoes of that sort of thing in the older European epics like the Ulster Cycle, for example, although those would have been pastoralists rather than foragers. Pretty hard for me to issue a blanket condemnation of something when it describes hundreds or thousands of years of history, including many of my own ancestors.
One difference is that the Comache were responsible enough to keep their own culture going, while Kerouac and Moriarty couldn’t even maintain a two-person friendship.
I find it quite easy to issue blanket condemnations of hundreds or thousands of years of history including my own ancestors.
Yeah, that’s why I said “me”.
Obviously it’s easy for us to look down our weird evolved noses at historical cultures and declare ourselves superior. And in some ways we are; the murder rate in 1400, for example, was fantastically, sillily high by our standards. But societies are largely collections of adaptations to circumstance, and the stability of a society gives you a lot of information about how well it works in its context. If something lasted for hundreds of years, that’s good evidence that it worked quite well indeed given the constraints of the time, regardless of whether it may have involved things we now consider repellent, like for example caste-based stratification or raiding its neighbors for cattle and children every spring.
I’m not into full-blown cultural relativism, but that’s enough for me to at least give it the benefit of the doubt.
One notes that since the Comanche culture was based on the horse, it can’t have been too old.
Perhaps it, too, was eating its seed corn.
It wasn’t that old, no. The Plains horse cultures evolved remarkably quickly after contact with the Spanish, but they still only lasted two, three hundred years before they got steamrolled by the western expansion of the US.
You could make a case based on those two or three hundred years, and the Comanche were one of the more successful variations on that theme, but I was more drawing a parallel to older European (and Arabic, Central Asian, etc.) cultures that lasted a lot longer.
“worked quite well” given whose utility function? I’m sure Moloch has reasons for His fences being there, but they are unlikely to be ones I agree with.
I’m not interested in having a foundational ethics argument here. Suffice it to say that any given culture is going to be dealing with both Moloch and Elua.
Yeah, that’s OK. Actually I’m sorry if I came off as being overly hostile there, that was non-intentional.
the comanche culture itself wasn’t that old, but it looked more or less identical to much older horse cultures on the eurasian steppe. Those cultures did more herding and less hunting, no buffalo herds in siberia, but were otherwise pretty similar and they were a threat to settled societies from the breeding of horses big enough to ride (roughly 700BC) down to the spread of serious gunpowder weapons in the 16th century.
My brain’s inner aphorist says “the Comanches were predators, the Beats were parasites,” but I’m not sure if that’s true or why that matters.
While I find both the Comanches and the Beats morally reprehensible, you’re right that I have more aesthetic sympathy for the former. Some possible reasons:
1. The Comanches weren’t defecting against anyone. The equilibrium had always been that all the Indian tribes fought and raided each since long before the Comanches existed, and the Comanches were simply better at it.
2. The Beats were old enough to know better, in civilizational terms.
3. Nobody’s defending the Comanches as great role models, so I feel less need to attack them for not being great role models, and so can concentrate on what’s good about them.
4. It seems easier to separate the Comanches’ freedom from their cruelty. The Comanches minus their cruelty are…pretty much any other Indian tribe, actually, and I think in that post I made it clear I was praising general Indian virtues rather than specifically Comanche ones. The Beats minus their criminality are…I dunno. Random vagrants? I have no problem with vagrants.
Actually Scott, your post did sound an awfully lot like praise. . . .
Then, OTOH, there is the little difference that they also put themselves in far more danger of dying than the Beats did. Courage has its points.
5. Temporal discounting.
6. The Comanche were apocalypse survivors.
How about “The Comanches had some virtues, the Beats had none”?
Did the commanches have virtues, though? our brains are wired to have serious romanticism for their sort of martial glory and tribal conflict, so we give it a pass even though we can see rationally that everyone would be better off if we didn’t periodically team up and murder each other. Thus, we judge a couple tribeless cads more sharply for lying to women than we do the comanche tribe for torturing entire families to death.
The whole “everybody wanted to live with them and nobody wanted to leave” thing makes it seem like they were doing something right. Out of the big pre-modern ways of living, agrarian society is the only one that leads to a modern world, but hunter-gatherers and nomadic herdsmen seem to have way better lives.
I have no doubt it was fun, it’s always a lot more fun to be the raider than the raidee. that doesn’t mean raiders are a good thing.
They didn’t feed themselves by raiding. That’s occasional fun, not day-to-day.
You read that and think “hmm, the problem here is that women aren’t free enough to make their own decisions about sex and relationships”.
A rational person reading this thinks, “hmm, seems like women make really poor decisions in picking men – society should probably be set up so that older men and women who care for her are more heavily involved in picking his daughters and granddaughters mates.”
Of course that assumes a rational person is allowed to notice the important differences in thinking between men and women. If that’s out of bounds then maybe the problem is not enough laws mandating that men not act like that.
Of course that assumes a rational person is allowed to notice the important differences in thinking between men and women.
Men are invulnerable to being conned? Sign me up for that!
I would not take Kerouac’s portrayal of Galatea (or anyone else) as representative of all women.
Speaking past each other. Galatea was the rule not the exception in terms of how the cads treated women. caryatis was suggesting that Galatea was not the median woman in the world; she could have been the median amongst the victims.
*Psst* In the book…
Its almost impressive how you took a story about a man behaving sociopathically and interpreted it as the women’s problem.
The argument is that if behaving sociopathically was an obstacle to getting laid, men would quickly stop doing it.
If you don’t think someone can make good decisions, and so you don’t try to teach them to make good decisions, they’re probably going to make bad decisions.
I’m not saying I’m sure that’s the best explanation, but it could be a huge confound.
Also, plenty of men make disastrous sexual choices. Maybe the rates are different — I have little idea of how to estimate proportions like these without my answer being determined by confirmation bias.
The “Wizard of Oz” synopsis actually ran in the Marin IJ, but in 1998 – I thought it was older before I looked it up.
I’m always wary of the I-don’t-like-this-book-because-the-protagonists-are-bad-people (and still allowed to be protagonists) response. One, the discussion is old – see the few hundred years of discussion on Satan’s prominence in Paradise Lost (“the reason why the poem is so good is that it makes God so bad”). The amount of books with bad people as heroes has moved (softened) discourse and response past this reaction. See any critical analysis of: Lolita, Tropic of Cancer, Junky, Gravity’s Rainbow, Henderson the Rain King…
Supplementary facts: Henry Miller and Steinbeck also did travel across the country novels. Kesey followed up Kerouac in the bus Further, driving across the U.S. with none other than the Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty (what a last name)) as pilot. There’s a mythology of travel literature that is interesting in and of itself.
Pynchon writes a good break-down of the transition between traditionalist/modernist literature into Beat and then into post-beat/post-modern literature in the introduction to his short story collection, Slow Learner. It helped me understand what the Beats were responding to and why their voice didn’t last too long (even though Pynchon seems especially fond of On the Road).
Philip Roth gives an answer to this sort of thing that I’ve always admired:
“There’s nothing wrong with the novel’s being written from David Kepesh’s point of view. What might cause difficulties for some readers is that Claire, and the other women in the novel, are there to help or hinder him.”
“I’m not pretending to give you anything other than his sense of his life with this young woman. My book doesn’t stand or fall on the fact that Claire Ovington is calm and sane, but on whether I am able to depict what calmness and sanity are like, and what it is to have a mate—and why it is one would want a mate—who possesses those and other virtues in abundance. She is also vulnerable to jealousy when Kepesh’s ex-wife turns up uninvited, and she carries with her a certain sadness about her family background. She isn’t there “as a means” of helping Kepesh. She helps him—and he helps her. They are in love. She is there because Kepesh has fallen in love with a sane and calm and consoling woman after having been unhappily married to a difficult and exciting woman he was unable to handle. Don’t people do that? Someone more doctrinaire than you might tell me that the state of being in love, particularly of being passionately in love, is no basis for establishing permanent relationships between men and women. But, alas, people, even people of intelligence and experience, will do it—have done it and seem intent on going on doing it—and I am not interested in writing about what people should do for the good of the human race and pretending that’s what they do do, but writing about what they do indeed do, lacking the programmatic efficiency of the infallible theorists. The irony of Kepesh’s situation is that having found the calm and consoling woman he can live with, a woman of numerous qualities, he then finds his desire for her perversely seeping away, and realizes that unless this involuntary diminution of passion can be arrested, he’ll become alienated from the best thing in his life. Doesn’t that happen either? From what I hear this damn seeping away of desire happens all the time and is extremely distressing to the people involved. Look, I didn’t invent the loss of desire, and I didn’t invent the lure of passion, and I didn’t invent sane companions, and I didn’t invent maniacs. I’m sorry if my men don’t have the correct feelings about women, or the universal range of feelings about women, or the feelings about women that it will be okay for men to have in 1995, but I do insist that there is some morsel of truth in my depiction of what it might be like for a man to be a Kepesh, or a Portnoy, or a breast.”
It’s not just that Dean is a bad guy. It’s that his behavior makes the spiritual “insights” in the book look superficial, trite, insincere, and hypocritical.
I think it’s wrong to claim that Kerouac is doing what Roth is claiming to do. Kerouac is not some dispassionate writer, who is merely describing the way in which real people think. If Kerouac tried to justify his characters’s actions by saying “Don’t people do that?”, I’d say he’s full of shit, not just because of all the pseudo-spiritual justifications that are given for those actions in the novel. Dean Moriarty is undoubtedly presented as a spiritual model. If he isn’t presented as such, then On the Road is just a novel about a delusional man idolizing a criminal.
My words btw. I just nubbed it up with blockquotes. Also, by drawing a hard line on the two ways to read Plato.
In general, I’m not a fan of how the Straussians do philosophical analysis because it allows critics overwhelming latitude. You could take any contradictory or bad point in the Republic and say that it really, truly is a reduction to absurdity. Yes, you “could” read the Republic using such a technique, but you cannot do it consistently, and it ends up turning what Plato said into what we wish Plato had said. I’m not saying it isn’t possible that the true meaning of great philosophical works is enigmatic and intentionally obfuscated by philosophers; all I am saying is that I am deeply skeptical of critics who have claimed to discovered that meaning.
I’m not sure how you can judge philosophy as being “purer”if you are unwilling to draw hard lines. Precise distinctions are what make reliable analytical work possible.
“If what he’s being accused of is true, that Kerouac = Sal, then that’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s writing what he (a real person) thinks.”
Uh yeah, and I’m also writing what I (a real person) think. But I am not merely describing what it is like to think like a person like me. I am stating, affirming, and advancing my propositions and way of thinking as correct. I am endorsing what I say. If I were not doing any of these latter activities, then I would be a “mere describer”. What Roth is claiming to do is “mere description”. He is not endorsing the way his characters are; he is describing the way in which a person like his characters would think. This move defends Roth from certain claims. I am saying that Kerouac cannot make this same move. There is clear endorsement, Dean is clearly a figure to be admired, who, in fact, has been admired by generations of counter-culturalists.
If you are determined to say that Kerouac is a mere describer, I think that you remove any power that the novel could have had (which is,in fact, very little), and turn it into an entirely banal thing.
Villain protagonists are great, but the author needs to be aware that they are villains, otherwise it is just unintentional values dissonance. Also, it helps to have a full-on villain rather than just a douchebag.
What if, there are like two axes along which one can judge art?
One, asking if something is a true and skillful depiction of reality, and the other asking whether this depiction is, in a utilitarian manner, a sum positive act. For example, it is possible this novel does many good things as a work of art, but is a bad book for leading many people astray, causing them to become dicks and erode good norms, and destroy their lives with drugs, unplanned pregnancies, and general vagabondery?
Roth himself could be further encouraging poor male behavior by depicting it. “boys will be boys?” No, boys should act like good men and thus need art depicting such behavior (whoops, crossed into virtue ethics)
Another way to put that would be, “every work of art has to explicitly reinforce my preferred social norms”. This approach is really attractive for obvious reasons, but it has some huge downsides…
Hey, have you heard of this thing called “the unreliable narrator”?
But humorously, versatile liars often neglect to lie to an audience they assume will be on their side. A mostly valid assumption in this case. So who knows – it might actually be true.
I agree that their behavior was not morally impeccable, but it is not necessarily the reason to dismiss the book (as a work of art) itself.
Oscar Wilde : ‘There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.’
To that Oscar Wilde quote, I say: not if you’re a consequentialist.
Tell that to the people who take books like this or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as guides to life.
The opera Carmen is another, older version of celebrating irresponsibility plus freedom. The situation is reversed, because it is an attractive woman, who ruins somebodys life and abandons him without guilt. She also has this traveling lifestyle, the gypsy version, mules, not cars. Yeah, and she is killed, but not scared or subdued. I must say I found the plot appealing as a teenager. (I am a woman, but some men seem fascinated, too.) And, as others say here, I have grown up to a reasonably decent adult. Maybe it meant just a fantasy escape from uncertainty and guilt of everyday life.
The short story it’s based on (the opera itself simplifies things to make room for music) is very strange from a modern perspective. The narrator doesn’t care terribly much about the robberies and murders Carmen pushes him to commit, but is livid that she sleeps with other men, even though she tells him from the get-go that she intends to. Carmen herself cares a lot about her own independence (in who she sleeps with, when and where she travels, and what crimes she plans); about her people and way of life; about her criminal gang (when she disappears, she will definitely come back with loot to share); and about her personal pride; but she accepts without question that her husband is the leader, and if he chooses to kill her she mustn’t resist.
I kind of fear to read the original novel. I actually located the book in the nearest library, but people keep saying scary things about it 🙂
In the opera, the Roma only commit petty-ish crimes like smuggling. Honestly Carmen was fairly ethical, if you accept a very local morality and don’t privilege law.
To me, Carmen was fairly blameless. Don Jose was the one with the problem thinking control and stability was possible after forsaking it consciously. His life was ruined before the opera started.
When I saw “Carmen”, I was very unimpressed… like, “the music is nice, but which of these douchebags am I supposed to care for, and why?”
See, when I went to see Carmen I read it as a parody…I giggled my way through the death scene.
@Jadagul, you are not alone. I once experienced a bunch of schoolchildren, who were (semi-forcibly) taken to the opera theater to see the piece. They were restless throughout those 2 hours or so, poor creatures. And near the end, when Carmen exclaimed “Enough ! Kill me already !”, the laughter exploded !
Ok, I have a lot of feelings about the Beats.
1. I always had a very strong connection to the basic feeling of the thing. That one should always remain sensitive to the ecstatic wonder vibrating beneath the skin of the world, that one should be able to *appreciate* things. I actually try to live like that. And I don’t give a damn that it’s corny and dated.
2. The misogyny and freeloading is a real disappointment. If you want to know what it was like to be Jack Kerouac’s girlfriend, read Minor Characters, by Joyce Goldstein. It is *excellent* and tragic. To be a woman who wanted personal (and sexual) freedom in the 50’s came at a terrible price; these girls endured lots of casual cruelty because the alternative was *going home to Mom and Dad*. If I had been young in New York in the 50’s I would have done it too. We are so, so lucky that we don’t have to choose between “marry a boy from a nice family under constant parental supervision” and “be available to every hipster who comes along, including giving away every penny you own.”
3. I don’t like to overuse the psychopharmacological view of history, but these guys were on *bad* drugs. I have been suitably convinced by Beat memoirs to never, ever take amphetamine.
Basically it seems that most people don’t understand that drug experiences can be both profound and trivial. Yes, it’s *real* joy, *real* exaltation, did you think joy and exaltation weren’t made of chemicals? But it’s not insightful unless there’s information content, unless you actually learned something that still holds true in the plain light of day. I see the Beats saying “OMG the world is shining!” and that’s true…but what do you do *next*? What does that tell you about how you ought to live? The hippies made a much more serious stab at that.
4. The conservative point is “Kerouac wasn’t responsible.” I’m not a conservative.
I don’t necessarily think everybody has to be a “good citizen” in the traditional sense. Artists are *supposed* to be a little apart from society; I think the world needs freaks and bohemians and revolutionaries. And the unfortunate thing is that people trying to create entirely new forms of life often make mistakes, including genuinely cruel and immoral mistakes. I’d say something like “you can blame Jack Kerouac the individual for being a bad man, but you would not want to turn off the process in human culture that from time to time creates freaks like Kerouac; on net humanity is better off having a sprinkling of freaks.”
Thanks, Sarah, that post made me think. A few random comments.
1) “Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end. A counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated, dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to to be seen in them by the finest senses? How shall we pass most swiftly from point to point, and be present always at the focus where the greatest number of vital forces unite in their purest energy. To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.”
Now I’m wondering if Walter Pater was a a-hole. I hope not.
2) Great point, well said.
3) This is my day for quoting: “”We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine and a whole multicolored collection of uppers, downers, laughers, screamers . . . Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. The only thing that really worried me was the ether.”
4) I guess the question is whether it’s possible to be ethical without being responsible. My conservative side says that trickster archetypes who survive by exploiting the tendency of squares to be decent people are just being jerks. I could forgive some cruel and immoral mistakes, given some evidence of awareness, ethics, and moral growth. I’m not inclined to forgive cruel and immoral intended and repeated actions, but I definitely don’t know everything, so there may be some value in even a-hole nonconformists.
Pater is one of my heroes. And as far as I know he was a man of temperate habits.
I’m saying there’s a difference between the morality we apply to *people* (where you do, indeed, have to punish criminals and defectors) and the morality we apply to *processes* operating in history (where you might say that humanity is better off on net for having some creative assholes, even though their fellow humans should do their best to put them in jail).
Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.
I’ve been waiting for the pink elephant in the room to get more attention. There’s crime spree, there’s tale of wonder and adventure, and/or there’s account of an early drug trip. A cow looking like all the cow there is, a mean person who talks impressively looking like a guru — that’s what some drugs do. Some drugs make a crime spree feel like wonder and adventure. To demonstrate the power of a drug, don’t go to a cathedral where everything really is wonderful; show that the drug can make dumb nasty evil things look wonderful.
That’s a sort of experience a naive person could have on their first longterm use of drugs back in those days. They can look back on it later with scrambled memories, scraps of what happened to the deteorating ‘guru’ alternating with scraps of their original respect for him. So the book could deliberately have all three aspects, plus an unreliable narrator. If he could remember, he wasn’t there.
Woops, no Edit button.
Not that I’m defending the book or Kerouac: a nasty book about nasty people that probably had more nasty consequences than good consequences.
Recall that Huxley wrote about drugs without hurting anybody, though. He had a cultural context to put them in (he was moving in educated spiritual/speculative circles.) It’s not about it being a different time, it’s about social environment and imagination. If you don’t know what’s happening to you, or that it has happened to other people before you, you can lose perspective and start thinking that up is down and right is wrong because it *feels* so.
Yes, Huxley’s non-fiction book did good, and was about drugs doing good, in a nice way to nice people. I can’t think of a fiction near-classic with a nice naive PV character but without the dramatic contrast of a negative thing for him to be naive about. Forrest Gump, no, plenty of negatives. Huckleberry Finn — actually most of it was negative things. Candide, very negative. Don Quixote, certainly no lack of negatives.
Main characters on a drug trip who didn’t hurt anybody and probably helped? Those could be realistic and probably good stories but, for various reasons, unlikely to be so well known.
I agree about the process and the sprinkle of freaks; what bugs me is this freak being being on a pedestal (also, “freak” is too kind, I’d prefer “asshole”, and keep “freak” for off-putting but harmless weirdos).
“Basically it seems that most people don’t understand that drug experiences can be both profound and trivial. Yes, it’s *real* joy, *real* exaltation, did you think joy and exaltation weren’t made of chemicals? But it’s not insightful unless there’s information content, unless you actually learned something that still holds true in the plain light of day. I see the Beats saying “OMG the world is shining!” and that’s true…but what do you do *next*? What does that tell you about how you ought to live? The hippies made a much more serious stab at that.”
That’s why I prefered (when I did drugs) psychedelics to stimulants.
This is a good comment.
Fast forward 20 years to The Butterfly Kid. Better drugs, really good people irresponsible and not doing much for society, except saving the world from the blue lobsters.
From my perspective, this is a review of the book, not the movie. There were no Starbuck’s in 1951 America. The book is about disenfranchised guys that return from WWII, rather shattered, unable to sit still. They are not “the greatest generation”, they are existenially, PTSD young adults, trying to figure stuff out while fu$%king and drugging their way across America. The novel does not imply that they are more, which iis why it’s great.
An interesting comment on this is that what the Beats claimed was “beating them down” was the social capital cost of maintaining a Trust Society. It had become to expensive to them to maintain, so they were attempting to escape from having to steward the Trust Society (Destroying it in the process.).
> Another is performed in some sort of incredibly ritzy Cadillac limo, because a rich man wants his Cadillac transported from Denver to Chicago, Dean volunteers, and the rich man moronically accepts. Dean of course starts driving at 110 mph, gets in an accident, and ends up with the car half destroyed.
I tend to think it was assholes like Kerouac that really pushed feminism. I imagine one of the things theses guys felt oppressed by was patriarchal expectations. Feminism has made jerks like Dean far more common place. i don’t think feminists realize how intimidating patriarchy is for men. It would be much easier to float through life having sex with strong independent women only stopping to pay for the occasional abortion.
Actually, they do realize.
(And Kerouac was a conservative Catholic, unlikely to have been pushing feminism.)
Not that you strike me as the kind of person who lets facts get in the way of even the lamest of digs, but the list of people who “pushed feminism” is actually fairly well-documented, and Kerouac is not featured.
I’ve also heard a claim that some poor young women get pregnant in order to force themselves to grow up.
The situations with public and private school tuition are not identical, but administrators are not disinterested sources.
There are only about 100 homicides each year in prison, a lower rate than out, despite demographics heavily skewed towards crime.
Prison rape is a very good point.
Of course, there’s the little issue that we differ in sensitivity to stimulus. The exciting life is that jacked-up only for the very insensitive.
How true. Fictional heroes are more likely to suffer from the deadly sin of sloth than fictional villains — and it’s the one that’s especially deadly in fiction.
This was supposed to be a response to 27chaos.
It’s not “fuck you”, it’s “holy fuck you amongst all cosmic fuck yous”.
Inconveniently (if you’re trying to cram “On The Road” into an already dubious analysis wherein red-fearing, constantly morally-panicked 1950s America is a “high-trust society” whose trust network would be rent asunder by about twenty novelists and poets), the ability of Kerouac, Cassidy et al to move around and get jobs almost at will has little to do with the country’s being a high-trust society and everything to do with it being (for all salient purposes) a full-employment economy. There was simply a staggering, by today’s standards, amount of physical work that needed to be done by human beings to maintain production. Much of that work was routine and required no special skill. Employers risked little when they hired for these jobs, because the worst thing that was likely to happen was that a man would turn out to be entirely incompetent (in which case he’d be fired before the end of the first day) or that he would leave after a few weeks. In either case, the company would lose an amount equal to the resources expended on hiring and training him–that is to say, approximately jack squat. A company that tried to be all “2014” about it, insisting on multiple interviews and a drug test and a criminal background check and a master’s degree, would have quickly found itself losing the productivity race to the companies who simply hired any able-bodied man who walked on to the job site, subject to some on-the-spot screening by the guy at the “Apply Here” window.
As to the nearly dead institution of casual hitchhiking, it seems plausible to me that the defectors who ruined that one for everybody else were the tiny handful of hitchhikers and drivers who just couldn’t resist robbing, murdering and/or raping people along the way, and whose cases for whatever reason got a very high cultural profile.
And the rest of the review…well, to me I think it just represents a hard limitation of the “rationalist” mindset in a way that I wish to hell I were able to articulate.
I suspect fear of outgroups has very little do to with trust among presumed ingroups.
The oversupply of low-skilled jobs was certainly an enabling factor of this kind of lifestyle, but high-trust was a factor as well.
1950s middle-class white America might have been morally panicked over the communists or black people, but Kerouac, Cassady and their friends managed to come across as “true Americans”, that is, they displayed all the correct ingroup tribal insignia that elicited a trust response.
Which tribe, though? There are a lot now, and there were more back then. Kerouac was a working-class East Coast Catholic–at a time when a very great number of people in America actually had a much-greater-than-zero amount of care about those last two things. And if any of the numerous, easy to find literary and journalistic descriptions of Cassady’s demeanor were even half true, he would have borne the insignia of the “benzedrine-popping loose cannon” tribe even on his best behavior.
You put a ton of thought into your review. It’s very well written. I think I read On the Road when I was an 18 yr old soldier. At the time it was a nice escape from my regimented life and I was able to live vicariously through the characters for a little while. 20 or so years later I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. As a spiritual journey book it’s far superior in every way..
I can confirm the accuracy of your description of Kerouac.
My uncle lived across the street from the parents (NE corner of 10th Ave and 52nd St in St Petersburg, FL) who took Jack in where he drank himself to death.
The reality matches the “fiction.”
I’m glad you wrote this. I’ve always enjoyed the free spirited ideals of the beat generation, but to be sure I thought there was something a bit hollow and misguided about this story. I’ve spent part of my life running loose and living something in style of Dean Moriarty…it was great fun, but I didn’t presume that it was a spiritual ideal. Nor did I con people into funding my narcissistic search for truth. The adventures of the beat generation these days seem pointless and self indulgent.
“By the time they got to Tucson she was broke. Dean and Ed gave her the slip in a hotel lobby and resumed the voyage alone, with the sailor, and without a qualm.”
Dean & Ed kinda stole this move from Theseus. I’m not sure that makes it a terrible book. One of my favorite notions on the subject of morality in literature (not verbatim): “There are no moral or amoral books. Books raise moral questions. There is only good and bad literature.”
This is good literature. If for no other reason, it captures an era (albeit not the era it became popular in), a lifestyle, a recklessness, and it’s incredibly well-written, while it’s raising all these questions.
Many of my college professors happened to at least cameo in this book or Dharma Bums — including the one who walked us through the text. I didn’t get the impression this was an era of proud lawlessness and exploitation. More the equivalent, perhaps, of “crazy college days,” with misadventures, stupidity, shamefulness, questioning, studying, seeking, and retroactively looking for some new truth in it all. There’s also, of course, some value in remembering the era when judging social progress achieved in the book.
If it helps, apparently when the book became popular, Kerouac basically told everyone to (sometimes literally) get off his porch when they came asking for him to roadtrip it with them.
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I’m curious about what you think would be different about today’s culture with respect to the women Dean exploited. You can’t be suggesting that his behavior would have been praised back in the 1950s? He’s the archetypical cad and women were definitely warned to stay away from men like him. All of respectable society would have viewed his actions as outrageous. And if the women were too trusting of him, that kind of suggests that their ordinary experience of men was that they were honest and prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage, so they were unprepared when confronted with selfish sociopaths.
Gone With the Wind has a similar issue. Scarlet O’hara is self indulgent to the point of sociopathy. The story is a series of identical cycles, Scarlet sees something she wants, uses her sex appeal to get it (often several lives in the process), becomes dissatisfied with it immediately upon acquisition, then sets her sights on something new and repeats. Yet the whole tone of the movie is set up to make us sympathize with her and her “struggle.”
Interesting point. I literally couldn’t watch GWtW in one sitting because I hated Scarlet so much.
Iirc, in the book her constant purpose was to restore and protect her family’s plantation. Each cycle was something needed for that purpose; starting a new cycle was to add extra security, or because a new threat had arisen.
>Mysticism continues to be a perfectly valid life choice…
What?!?! Really??!?! No I’m not trying to fight for my tribe here, but isn’t this kind of mysticism especially harmful?
Isn’t mysticism the kind of thing that would lead gullible people away from work that they could seriously be doing…
I really appreciate a reasonable, cynical critique of hipster bullshit. Hipsters think that this story is great because (for reasons that I partially understand having attended a liberal arts college) they find it easy to identify with nihilistic adolescent morons who are afraid of commitment and who have no convictions in life other than hedonistic pleasure and a self-reinforcing belief that “being yourself” is going to make everything OK. The whole thing is vacuous and juvenile and appeals to a certain kind of existential angst, like Catcher in the Rye but with more sex. It becomes hard to empathize with when you reach adulthood (true adulthood, the “I pay all of my own bills” kind of adulthood) and embrace responsibility and commitment as a chance to be trustworthy and honorable, at which point every greasy, unemployed English major shouting at you to “free yourself!” is revealed to be a self-righteous, ignoble dipshit.
I wonder where you would place Bukowski, as Hank Chinaski, in your thesis. Many of the same variables are in play: excessive drinking, hostility and violence toward women, a parade of meaningless jobs gained effortlessly. On the other hand, Bukowski never paints himself in a flattering light; he’s always crystal clear that he’s a failure, a drunk, a dirty old man. He’s critically reflective about dehumanization in an increasingly materialistic and capitalistic culture, which – in my view – speaks in his favor. Is he the blue-collar realist that counterbalances Kerouac, or just more of the same?
Now I’m glad I didn’t read the Kerouac book. Sounds dreadful.
I would note that I would have some concern about an unreliable narrator here. Hell, Travels with Charley had an unreliable narrator. My guess is some of the criminality is overstated; this doesn’t make the moral message better.
I think the difference between fun-evil and tedious-evil characters is that fun evil characters have interesting goals, and we have some idea the book knows they are evil. Also, they’re fictional; that’s generally better. (Yay, Hitler! will not sell, except in the springtime.)
There’s also the problem of the good characters that the book or movie thinks are evil. (Tommy Lee Jones, the capitalist in A Prairie Home Companion, dies near the end. This is played as excellent news.)
I’ve done a fair bit of hitchhiking in Canada. People here still pick you up pretty often.
It’s very simple: Neal Cassady (Moriarty in the book) was a psychopath. The book (and much of the beat movement’s work) is written in praise of psychopathy. In today’s world, that is manhood distilled. Just think of James Bond or Clint Eastwood (or the characters he plays on screen at least).
> Overall I did not like this book.
I cracked up
Glad to learn I was right to never finish this book. When I tried to read it, I just thought, wow, this Dean guy would be miserable to hang out with, a drunken asshole. Keroac’s worshipful attitude seemed hugely juvenile, and I couldn’t figure out what this was considered a great book.
Still, I understood why Jack liked him, because there is something seductive about transgression. When I was young, I knew people who struck me as “cool” because they seemed to ignore the rules. And there are transgressive characters I prefer to Dean. There is something freeing about doing what you want and ignoring societal rules, yet I can’t think of a portrayal of anyone like that in which their actions didn’t harm other people, and the older I get the more bothered I am by that. I like the idea that one can both be free of meaningless constraints without stealing and scamming lying, but the fiction I’ve come across hasn’t shown me anyone like that. As for real life, the people I’ve known who broke the most rules have generally caused as much harm to themselves as to others and haven’t wound up in a particularly happy place.
Anyway, I need to leave this blog for now. I just discovered it and it’s far too fascinating when you’ve got stuff to do. 😉
I read On the Road when I was in the 7th grade. For some reason it didn’t fully strike me how awful these people were. Years later, I came upon the following passage in a letter of Flannery O’Connor:
“Certainly some revolt against our exaggerated materialism is long overdue. [The beat poets] seem to know a good many of the right things to run away from, but to lack any necessary discipline. They call themselves holy but holiness costs and so far as I can see they pay nothing. It’s true that grace is the free gift of God but in order to put yourself in the way of being receptive to it you have to practice self-denial…. As long as the beat people abandon themselves to all sensual satisfactions, on principle, you can’t take them for anything but false mystics. A good look at St. John of the Cross makes them all look sick.
You can’t trust them as poets either because they are too busy acting like poets. The true poet is anonymous, as to his habits, but these boys have to look, act, and apparently smell like poets.”
What would you do if an old man with a beard and a staff walks into your room, requests you for a glass of water and upon having given him the said glass of water, proceeds to warn you against reading the wizard of oz because it is actually a book about a young girl with a propensity to murder?
What if the old man tells you that indeed the book was written by Frank Baum, only because he was held at gunpoint by a serial killer who was so good that he never got caught? (In fact, I hear its quite common for these serial killer types to want to get caught)
What if the old man then proceeded to talk about how in his day, the worst anyone ever did was sleep around and steal money, whereas the “kids these days” are taught to read about serial killers by the time they are 5 years old. What if that’s the reason for all the violence in the world today?
Do those poor victims of hate crimes against women in [insert name of misogynistic country] know that it isn’t their oppressive religion that is responsible for the sorry state of affairs that they are in, but rather the ramblings of a century old writer (who may have actually been working at the behest of a jack the ripper type personality).
Is this the reason why we are so immune to the mindless senseless violence that surrounds us?
Of course not. I’m just goofing around.
But I would like to see how this can be debated about and challenge anybody willing to accept.
What if people made arguments rather than speaking in unsupported hypotheticals?
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