This article on the burgeoning sex addiction confessional industry.

What Romano does not admit, in his article, is that these confessions are really boasts. Sex is an acceptable addiction, and “confessing” to having too much sex is like complaining about being too good looking or too rich. Oh, the pain I must endure! Of course, I must go on to say that in a clinical sense we are talking about compulsive behaviour often (sometimes?) associated with feelings of a lack of self-worth, and also with a risk of disease and violence. (Like working night shift in a hospital, except there’s no program to get you out of that predicament.) But if these public confessors really feel so bad about their behaviour, why are they being so public? I suspect the people for whom compulsive sex is truly a problem would rather not go public, just as real alcoholics tend not to go on Oprah to talk about all the money they lost, all the hours wasted in bars or in front of the TV, the memory problems, the mouth ulcers, and the really humiliating things they recall doing in public (and if you say “Oh, they do talk about those things”, then I ask you, do they talk about being arrested for urinating in public? Because that’s the classic police record for a confirmed alcoholic). Oprah alcoholics are either shyly macho about it, or else bathing in the uniquely American virtue of public redemption from socially unacceptable but basically harmless sins (by harmless, I mean it’s not as though they went around stabbing people or anything, is it?).

If sex addiction is a problem that needs to be addressed, what about compulsive masturbation, which I suspect is far more prevalent, but is much more shameful to discuss in public? How many impractical fetishes have been promoted to naive lonely people, how many people rendered sexually incompetent by the unreal strictures and fantasies of the porn industry or their own circumstances?

Romano should really have spent less time being wittily titillating on the subject of pseudo-intellectual books that pander to the compromised ids of the chattering class, and more time asking the following: Is sexual addiction a problem? If so, how? If not, what is the real problem?


This article also cites Giulia Sissa’s Sex and Sensuality in the Ancient World as saying that the Ancients (capitalised because, of course, the only Ancients worth looking to as a precedent are of course the Greeks and Romans) were more relaxed about sexual desires. Well, that’s a one-sided and simplistic way of looking at it. Certain individuals and cults are recorded as conducting orgies and sexual rituals, but the fact of their being noted may point to their exceptional nature. I’ve read elsewhere that high-class Greeks and Romans thought rampant sexuality the province of the bestial lower classes; literally bestial, as beasts know no self-restraint or aesthetic sense. The small genitals of the Classical nudes would seem to support this view.

A&LD has just posted a link to an April article by Teddy Dalrymple in the New Standard. There’s not much really new here (though perhaps that’s his point), but I have a couple of nits to pick with his argument.

Then the First Citizen enunciates what might be called the first principle of socialist economics, upon which (implicitly, of course) Shakespeare pours scorn):
    What authority surfeits on would relieve us. If they
    would yield us but the superfluity while it were
    wholesome, we might guess they relieved us
    humanely; but they think we are too dear.
In other words, the fundamental problem of economics is one of distribution; and if it were sorted out, all would be well. The redistributionists have ye always with you.

This glib attempt to say “See, Shakespeare hated socialists just like we do!” isn’t really honest, and I suspect Dalrymple is aware of this. The citizen is not advocating for anything we would recognise as a socialist system, but arguing for what we call noblesse oblige, the idea that those whom God has raised up are morally bound to, among other things, show charity to those beneath them. (While he was at it, he might have referenced the rich man and the eye of the needle, if not for the anachronism.) While charity has become more institutionalised and less personal since the Industrial Age, we see in Nineteenth Century literature the remains of the old way, when the gentry would personally give of their surplus to their tenants and impoverished neighbours, and when ladies of good family would take it upon themselves to support the “worthy poor” (see Gaskell’s ‘North and South’, for instance). The idea faintly persists in the name of Boxing Day, traditionally the day after Christmas when money or food was given in boxes to those of inferior wealth and station. Certainly in Shakespeare’s time, any other meaning to the above quotation would have been inconceivable.

Dalrymple also begs the question in his call to historical analogy:

Has political life really changed very much since Shakespeare’s day, at least as portrayed in Coriolanus? If anything, it seems to have regressed towards it, having perhaps (but only perhaps) have moved away from it for an interlude of a century or two.

Here Dalrymple seems to have become confused: Shakespeare is not describing political life in his own time. England was not a democracy, though courtiers might gain influence at court by accumulating a popular following. (I’m not especially familiar with the political forms of Shakespeare’s times, but I suspect democracy went no further than election of town aldermen by the local burghers – hardly the blood and iron of Roman politics.) Thus there was no great need for any person to appeal to the public for high authority; thus the analogy is false.

Shakespeare knew of the republics of Rome and Venice, of course, and the democracy of Athens, but not in great detail, and his depictions of politics beyond the personal usually fall into the Great Man view of history – the quarrels of titans shake the Earth of we mere mortals.

Shakespeare was familiar with the Mob, of course. What ancient Greeks despised as the okhlos was still around in the Nineteenth Century, stoning the windows of the Duke of Wellington, for instance. (I suspect alcohol and unemployment were always involved, and since mass chronic unemployment is now less common, and daily drunkenness less acceptable, the present-day Mob limits its demonstrations to sporting victories and New Year’s Eve.) Shakespeare would have expanded his experience of the English Mob to the proportions of the Roman electorate, and imagined how a stiff war hero might cope if he required their acclamation. It is a literary triumph, but we should not err by imagining he represents truly the political life either of his own time or of Rome’s.

Another article on the appalling revelations of Naipaul’s recent biography.

I vaguely recall reading Naipaul’s book “In a free state” at university. It was one of several “post-colonial” novels we were required to study (the only other title I recall is “Waiting for the barbarians”), and none of them stood out as especially interesting. The large part of Naipaul’s book is set in Africa, which you’d think would give an opportunity for evocative scenic descriptions, vivid characters, and highly dramatic situations, but I only recall it being (like the other books) grey, artificial and uninteresting. But Naipaul was feted by academia because he wrote in a genre which was of high repute, due to theoretical trends that persist to this day – the idea that the story of a “non-Western”, non-European person was more authentic and more virtuous, and the story of this person being oppressed by the white, male, Western “dominant paradigm” even more so. Even better if the author was a genuine non-Westerner (but only if he was a well-spoken academic or a humble coolie; the other, scarier sort of foreigner was best praised from a distance well beyond their punching/shooting/bombing range). All this gave the professors a warm feeling inside, and the opportunity to write a lot of mutually-reinforcing papers on the subject. The matter of purely literary worth was of course a laughable anachronism.

As Joseph Bottum says, “Naipaul’s books never sold particularly well. He grew fat, instead, on literary institutions: the prizes, the lectureships, the grants, the scholarships, the artist-in-residence programs.” This is pretty much the same story as for other prodigies of the academy, but Naipaul was not as house-trained as the others, and his indiscreet revelations have culminated in his authorised biography, “The world is what it is”, by Patrick French. In it, we learn that Naipaul boasted publically of being “a great prostitute man”, while his wife was dying of cancer, this same wife to whom he was repeatedly and flagrantly unfaithful, and to whom he said “You are the only woman I know who has no skill”, and “You behave like the wife of a clerk who has risen above her station.”

We learn of his violent, sadistic relationship with a woman he met in South America, who had multiple abortions for him, wrote awful, pleading, self-abasing letters, and was eventually discarded for being “middle-aged, almost an old lady”. He told his wife about these escapades, and produced some photos for illustration.

He also seems to have adopted the White Man’s Burden*, disparaging dark-skinned Indians and frequently using the epithet “nigger”. How much of this attitude is revealed in his Third World travelogues is for others to discuss; I haven’t read them and certainly don’t plan to, but I recall reviews of his book on the Muslim world suggesting he had been rather narrow and uncharitable in his views. This suggestion was mollified, of course, by Naipaul’s tame status – he spoke with the unquestionable voice of the authentically non-Western, and besides, he was “one of us” (i.e. an enlightened academic), and his sharper comments could only be the result of some clever irony which we mere gweilos have failed to comprehend.

Now there arises the question of what this means for Naipaul’s future literary reputation. My own hope is that the revelation of his vile character will lead to a further revelation as to the minor status of his writings. After all, how perceptive can a man be (perception being the supreme quality needed by a writer), when he uncaringly indulges in Sadism, giving rein to his most brutish parts? With how much human understanding can we credit a man who repeatedly insults and humiliates his wife without remorse; and who, supposedly more aware than most of the racist humiliations visited by colonialists, makes free use of racial epithets? An artist in a more abstract vein, a painter or a composer, perhaps has little use for personal virtue, but from a writer may we not demand a modicum of self-awareness, let alone self-understanding?

Why has Naipaul revealed his scabrous soul like this? Bottum suggests several subtle and clever reasons, but prefers to exculpate his subject by saying that this is his final, cumulative creation, “one last literary construction”. But this is merely a pathetic fallacy: if this destruction of his own reputation is in fact Naipaul’s final creation, why didn’t he write his biography himself? Or is having someone else do the heavy lifting a brilliant post-Modern twist, another academically-approved sign of his mastery? I have my own theory as to why Naipaul has shamelessly soiled himself before us like this: he is a prick.

Naipaul is, I think, of a particular personality type I’ve encountered before. Fundamentally cruel and aggressive, he covers his shame with a thin intellectual veil, that of honesty, and authenticity. After all, aren’t people who aren’t aggressive being deceitful about their desires? When they are kind, or meek, aren’t they really concealing their true desires for cruelty and vengeance? And, in a way, aren’t their soft words and quiet rationality characteristics of the passive-aggressive personality**, which is worse than naked violence because of its dishonesty and manipulativeness?

This is the mind-set of Naipaul and his kind. The possibility that someone might restrain themself from violence because of a sense of empathy is unthinkable to him. And, lacking empathy or even an understanding of it, he reveals that he is in fact a psychopath. Close analysis will reveal his fictional characters to have the integrity of clockwork dolls. This is why his writing is so dull, despite the ostensibly interesting material. Indeed, from my reading, I believe that literary realism is frequently the resort of writers who would rather catalogue the world than understand it. Critical assertions that the highest literary fiction addresses the matter of “the way we live now” have abetted this and led to the superanemic state of “high” writing we currently see. Maybe, in fact, fantastical writing is the truer test of a writer’s quality; when the all-answering virtue of the Real is stripped away, then we see the writer in his stark-naked prose and judge him truly. May this fate befall the prick Naipaul, and all who follow him.

* Kipling’s poem “White Man’s Burden” has long been taken for an imperialist, racist tract, but to an intelligent mind it is obviously heavily ironic and in fact critical of the colonial enterprise.
** Passive-aggression is a widely misunderstood concept, too often applied to introverted, unconfrontational people by the aggressive sort described above, who are frustrated at not receiving like for like, or humiliated by being shown for the bullies they are. Please read the correct definition.

Thought for the day 11/11/08

11 November, 2008

Strong principles are no substitute for common sense.

(Inspired by this confused, “funny” rant by PJ O’Rourke.)

I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, and had another flare-up today, probably due to a green capsicum I ate last night as an experiment. But these days I’m generally paranoid about food – given that humans can be allergic to just about anything, am I allergic to rice, or to ginger, to substances that are supposed to be nonallergenic and helpful? There’s not doubt food does affect my condition, but I don’t really have the patience to spend months going through elimination diets.

Of course, I’ve been trying to eat better, purer foods, but it’s so hard to avoid the easy, tasty short-cuts: pad a meal with grain-based food, pick up a “lite” yoghurt for a snack, and a tin of stew when I feel it’s too late to make dinner from scratch. And which “pure” foods can I really eat, given I seem to react to so many things?

The broadest solution is the “cave man” or hunter-gatherer diet. Think about it: humans (homo sapiens) have been around for perhaps 300,000 years, but we’ve been eating bread for only 10,000 years. And when we say “we”, we’re talking about tribes in the Middle East. What about humans in the British Isles (where my ancestors are from), who, after being isolated in the Basque area during the last Ice Age, migrated northward and were then isolated in Cornwall and Ireland by the rising sea – when did they start eating bread? “Rye and barley were the chief bread grains in Britain until about AD 1700“, i.e. not wheat. Barley was introduced to Britain about 5000 years ago*. Rye might have been introduced by the Romans, which would put its introduction around 2000 years ago.

What about milk drinking? When did the inhabitants of the British Isles begin herding milk-giving animals like cows (the predominant milk-giver), goats and sheep? Cattle herding seems to have existed in Britain since the Neolithic period, which for Britain begins about 7000 years ago.

Of other foods:

The native fruits of the British Isles, and which, till the thirteenth or fourteenth century, must have been the only sorts known to the common people, are the following: small purple plums, sloes, wild currants, brambles, raspberries, wood strawberries, cranberries, blackberries, red-berries, heather-berries, elder-berries, roan-berries, haws, holly-berries, hips, hazel-nuts, acorns, and beech-mast. The wild apple or crab, and wild cherry, though now naturalised, would probably not be found wild, or be very rare in the early times of which we now speak. The native roots and leaves would be earth-nut, and any other roots not remarkably acrid and bitter; and chenopodium, sorrel, dock, and such leaves as are naturally rather succulent and mild in flavour. … The more delicate fruits and legumes, introduced by the Romans, would, in all probability, be lost after their retirement from the island… It may in general be asserted, that most of our best varieties of fruits, particularly apples and pears, were brought into the island by ecclesiastics [12th-15th centuries] … “It was not,” says Hume, “till the end of the reign of Henry VIII that any salads, carrots, turnips, or other edible roots, were produced in England.”
[An Encyclopaedia of Gardening, p.283 – JC Loudon]

My ancestors were not wealthy, and possibly never even ate an orange until the 19th century.

The American vegetables, which now so dominate our diet, were only available to Europeans after 1492, which means we’ve had 500 years at most to adapt to them. The obvious examples are: potatoes, tomatoes, peppers of various sorts, maize (sweet corn), chocolate, coffee, avocados, but also include blueberries, strawberries, cashews, peanuts, papaya, squashes (inc. pumpkin), tobacco and vanilla. (The peppers have been promoted as an “alternative” therapy for arthritis, but their therapeutic value derives from deadening nerve endings when rubbed into the skin – they are a mere palliative, and when ingested may actually cause joint inflammation.)

Native Americans have had about the same adaptation period with these as the British have had with the previously-mentioned foods, as the first humans came to the Americas from 14- to 20,000 years ago. Australian aborigines, having been largely isolated for at least 40,000 years, have possibly the least period of acclimatisation to the new foods of Europe and America, which may partly account for their chronic health difficulties. Of course, if wheat only became the dominant grain in Britain around 1700 AD, then British settlers and Australian aborigines have actually had about the same time period of exposure to wheat bread.

Overall, we can see that, while Homo Sapiens has existed for hundreds of thousands of years, a British native would only have had about 10,000 years (at the very most) to adapt to the foods which are the dominant diet today, and in many cases the period would have been considerably shorter. It cannot be coincidence that it is the “new” foods which are the most health adverse: wheat, soy, dairy, capsicum, et al. (I should also mention that when I say that Britons didn’t have time to adapt, what I actually mean is that there was probably insufficient time for natural selection to substantially reduce the reproduction of those most vulnerable to adverse effects, which would mean a stronger resistance to adverse effects in the surviving gene pool.)

Cutting these foods from the diet is a great psychological hurdle, as I can tell you from personal experience. Our food culture is so pervasive that nudism seem comparatively acceptable next to giving up the delicious staple foods which seem universal. Avoiding grain products has been especially difficult for me, as my father was involved in the bread and cereals industry throughout his career – rejecting bread feels like rejecting my father, and I feel I’ve already hurt him enough, in various ways (not to say he hasn’t had a strongly adverse affect on my life, but that’s a blog for another day).

If the resolution to avoid recently introduced foods is taken, which foods remain permitted?

Well, first we also have to consider the issue of meat. If the cow and other large milk producers are recent arrivals in Britain (see above), that means their meat is a recent addition too. Certainly, red meat has been associated with arthritis, although I don’t know if any definite conclusion has been reached. (Bear in mind also that “red meat” these days means factory-produced beef, fat saturated and containing antibiotics and growth hormones.) Smaller animals would have been known, however (voles, badgers, rats?).

Birds would have been a staple, and their eggs, when available. Ducks and other migrators would have been known, but only seasonal. Chickens were domesticated about 5000 years ago; it’s unknown when they came to Britain, but it would have been after that date. Pigs are not native to Britain and were domesticated 5-7000 years ago. Rabbits are now ubiquitous in the world, and I’m not sure where they originated. Apparently the Phoenicians discovered the European rabbit in Spain 3000 years ago. We may probably place them in the <10,000 year period of the modern foods explosion.

Seafood was part of the diet of ancient Britons. Fish, of course, are ubiquitous, more or less. Unfortunately, eating fish is a dangerous occupation these days, due to risk of mercury poisoning, especially with the larger fish. This American report says canned tuna shouldn’t be eaten more than once a month. How this isn’t a great international controversy is beyond me, but it is further proof, if any were needed, of our imminent doom through the stupidity of our leaders. Molluscs were also prominent, e.g. periwinkles (winkles), cockles, oysters, scallops, mussels, whelks. Seaweeds were also eaten. There were crabs and lobsters, and presumably, further up river, people also ate slimy things like frogs and eels. Again, most of these animals are contaminated in various ways these days, so it seems that organic, isolated farming is the only way to get natural, clean food. This is naturally a lot more expensive than the factory system, and it may in the long run be cheaper, if not more convenient, to raise your own meat.

As for vegetables, it seems a lot of plants from the old diet have been crowded out of production by the more popular vegetables. Where would you buy earth-nut, chenopodium, or dock leaves?

Sorrel, at least, survives as a little-known herb, but it contains oxalic acid, which is reportedly counterindicated for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. This substance is also prominent in rhubarb, black pepper, parsley, poppy seed, spinach, chard, beets, cocoa and chocolate, most nuts, most berries, and beans (inc. soy); also wheat, citrus peel, carrot, celery, eggplant, leeks, olives, peppers, potatoes, zucchini, “summer squash”(?), tomatoes, tea, dark beer, yoghurt, et bloody cetera. Oxalic acid is also produced by metabolising vitamin C, which is pretty fucking depressing. According to this diet advice, you can eat “bottled beer” (?!?), cola, milk, wine, milk, cheese, butter, avocados, bananas, grapes, melons, nectarines, papaya, mangoes, “canned peaches” and “canned pears” (but not the real things for some reason), every kind of meat except liver and sardines, barley, corn (maize?), rice, pasta, cabbage, cauliflower (but not broccoli?), chives (but not onions?), cucumber, mushrooms, peas, radishes, basil, oregano, and white pepper. Since some of these things are contra-indicated for arthritis, I’m not sure what to make of this list. Maybe it would be healthiest to eat nothing at all? Since, despite the counterindication, I haven’t read of any effect of oxalic acid that would worsen rheumatoid arthritis (which is not caused or worsened by calcium deficiency, nor by oxalate crystals), I think this advice may safely be junked as trendy pseudoscience.

So, the rheumatoid arthritis-safe diet:

*Meat: some chicken, small fish and molluscs.
*Vegetables: avoid American vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers), limiting to green leafy vegetables and roots. The general rule should be: if you can’t eat it raw, don’t eat it at all.
*Fruit: European berries (i.e. not blueberries; not sure about strawberries), apples, pears, cherries, plums, hazel nuts. Avoid nuts in general, chocolate, coffee, vanilla. No citrus fruits.
*Condiments: salt is fine (hooray!), as are oregano, basil, and other European leafy herbs. Not sure about ginger. No soy sauce.
*Sweets: avoid chocolate, coffee, vanilla, (see Fruit, above).
*No dairy.
*No grains (wheat, rice, oats?)
*Avoid chemical additives.
*Eggs are fine in moderation.

Oats are a soft grain that may be edible raw, so they may be an occasional exception to the no-grain rule. I remain unsure about maize (though I’ve seen it contraindicated), pumpkins, squashes (I do find zucchini skin irritating, but that could be a bio-engineering thing, same as they did to celery), and tropical soft fruit (bananas, mangoes, papaya, avocado). Grateful for any feedback on this.

Link: More stuff about bad food.

Daniel Finkelstein suggests Barack Obama won the US presidency because of changes in the population’s ethnic makeup and social mobility. The first is undoubtedly an important factor in allowing Obama to win, but the fact that the majority describe themselves as “middle class” is hardly pertinent.

Obama won because of the disastrous decisions of the previous administration, but also because he appealed to small “c” conservatives with his solid and sensible persona, as opposed to that freakshow the GOP was running (has anyone pointed out that “team of mavericks” is an oxymoron?).

Diehard critics say that Obama is a novice who would have won anyway, and at the same time a superslick politician who won because he fooled the voters. I say you can’t have it both ways. Fact is, Obama may be a short-term senator, but he was schooled on the hard streets of Chicago: he’s a player, and worse for the Republicans, he’s a player who’s somehow retained a modicum of compassion and integrity.

McCain could’ve been the man in 2000, but he was too old to be the man this year, too old and compromised by his machinations such as sidling up to Bush Jr for additional clout, after Bush had stabbed him in the back, and denying him again when the electoral cock crowed. McCain could’ve been the man, except that Karl Rove has, in turning the GOP over to its extreme elements, turned it into a circus of hate (now there’s a phrase to google!).

Now the diehard Republican rump is still growling into its beer, repeating the ridiculous slanders of “nigger”, “Muslim”, and “Communist”. For Christopher Hitchens watchers, he has descended even to the level of these cranks – did you know that, c.f. the Jeremiah Wright “scandal”, Hitchens criticised Obama for attending a “shade-oriented” church? For those too young to know, “shade” is an old, polite term for “nigger”. (Interesting additional comment here.) Hitchens is another sad example of England’s tolerance for high-spoken drunks (Kingsley Amis, Jeffrey Bernard). Apparently, during post-election coverage on the Australian ABC network, Hitchens started ranting (via satellite) to the point where they had to cut him off.

Maybe if the GOP spends even more money on even more ridiculous propaganda, turning the whole population of the USA into survivalist millenialists, then they’ll get back into office. But I hope they don’t. I hope they discard the crazier elements of their base, and establish themselves as the small “c” conservative party: modest foreign policy objectives (as opposed to poorly planned, badly bungled exercises in cruelty to foreigners), financial prudence (as opposed to grotesque laisez faire disasters-in-waiting), and recognition that climate change is an urgent, non-partisan issue.

What are the odds of that, do you think?