Sonnets and Hosannas

As I grow old(er), I tend to be more convinced of the correctness of core traditional values, but equally so of the correctness of limited government. Hector and I have wrestled over religion before but for right now, I believe that the current Church is too enervated to roll back the tide of libertine-ism.

And, I should note, I’m not really anti-libertine-ism. I think there are probably some people who do the least damage they’re likely to do if left to pursue their own self-gratification.

It just seems to be lacking as a social survival strategy.

I was taken by the use of this sonnet in Adventureland. (Shakespeare’s sonnets are like the “Twilight Zone"s of poetry, they always have a twist ending.) You may recall that the main character sites this sonnet as the reason for his virginity; to wit, that he decided he’d rather forgo sex than have it with someone he didn’t want to be slave to her desires. (My favorite, by the way, has always been sonnet #130, which I take as a 16th century "FACE” to other poets.)

Now, it’s probably not a good idea to encourage kids to pattern their romantic lives after the poetry of 16th century courtiers, much less said courtiers’ actual lives. But it occurred to me that a possible secular solution to licentiousness might be self-esteem.

But wait, you cry! Schools focus on self-esteem! If this were to be true, wouldn’t our children already be experiencing the benefits?

At which suggestion, I point and laugh. And then feel a little bad for you that you don’t know what self-esteem really is, or that it can’t be given through trophies or awards, but must come from actual accomplishment.

Anyway, lacking a connection to their history, lacking any real knowledge or skills, young adults end up not valuing themselves. What’s more, without getting puritanical or priggish, they don’t seem to know from junk.

Now, again, I’m not particularly anti-junk. But I think a steady diet of junk food, junk art, junk accomplishments is naturally going to lead to junk sex, junk jobs and a complete bafflement as to what the hell happened–how one ended up with a junk life.

In Adventureland, the lead has a sense of not wanting his life to be junk. And it’s telling (and accurate, I think) that those around him particularly mock him for those things that he values. (You know, you can’t really be mocked for something you don’t care about, which if you think about it, puts a different spin on a lot of “comedy” today.)

Adventureland is cast in the mold of an ‘80s teen sex farce, which only gave a fleeting nod (at best) to anything not junk. (They were junk, after all.) But that atmosphere pervaded the ’70s, and into the mid-’80s, when AIDS put a damper on things.

Not just sex, either. If I were to try to capture that atmosphere, it would be a kind of nihilistic, materialistic, hedonistic world where good acts of individuals were overpowered by evil organizations. “If only,” the zeitgeist seemed to say, “there were no religions or corporations, we could all live in harmony and do what we wanted until we died, because that’s all there is or ever will be.”

It’s a seductive philosophy–I mean that in the way that a Twinkie is seductive or a $10 whore: That is, if you’re trained to simply take the quickest, easiest, fastest way to satisfy an urge–or worse, you don’t even have an inkling that there is another way, then the conclusion seems logical. Inevitable.

So, the extraordinary thing is how people immersed in this do end up valuing things that the pervasive social message says they should not. It wouldn’t surprise me to survey kids like that and find real accomplishments compared to their peers. (I don’t, by the way, mean to draw any kind of absolute there.) How does someone like James end up the way he does? And how is he able to stick to his guns? (I actually think the current system puts women at a serious disadvantage sexually, but that’s another topic for another day.)

It also wouldn’t surprise me to find that a strong education with an emphasis on historical traditions and an increasing emphasis on skills would reduce the amount of junk sex, and certainly the number of junk lives.

Which makes this one of those things that I write that seems stupidly obvious by the time I finish.

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