The Higher Infidelity
Can’t you go to bed with a woman without loving her, and can’t you love her without going to bed with her?- de Sade
Two areas of contemporary gender equality are of immediate interest in the history of sexuality; infidelity and voyeurism, the first measured in intimate disloyalty in both formalized and informal conjugal relations and the latter observed with regard to the consumption of erotica. These suggestive scenes point us in the direction of imagining that the politics of the body have been somehow separated from that of the State or corporation. This specific disconnect was certainly well-practiced by the church, but during this pre-modern period the schism between the dominant sexes was shot through the entirety of society. Now, and for the first time since mechanical social organization where all was apparently equal in its inequality, we see a diversity of equalities and inequalities. Why should this be, in our own time, the case?
In ‘The Higher Immorality’, C. Wright Mills reminds us that while noble ideals can summon ignoble efforts in the hopes of achieving them, it is also true that these dubious means can themselves attain a more highly valued approximation to the ideals to which they supposedly would lead. This gentrified baseness is operative not only in the State and its functionaries, but also in individuals. Previously, the ‘martinet’, the one who aped the emperor in a style hyperbolic in order to assuage any misgivings others might have about his loyalty, was the sole vehicle for the sense that baseness could cover itself over in nobility. But it was well known both by the martinet – whose political ancestor might well have been the court jester; both are, to once again use Mills’ vocabulary, ‘inside dopesters’ – and by everyone else that this was only a masquerade become a charade. Today, however, there are true believers in this new livery; one need only recall Oliver North to mind.
While sociology is not itself caught in a bind of its own creation, any observant human being may well imagine that she now is, precisely due to the problem of self-fulfilling prophecy, much analyzed by Robert Merton and others. For on the one side, we have actual people sincerely believing in the fascism of political or State loyalty, and on the other we have Thomas’ proverbial sensibility that ‘if you believe something to be real, it is real in its consequences’. Therefore it is to political reality that such an analysis might at first cleave. Yet almost everyone remains aware that politics is at best, a performance containing ulterior motives, some of which may be publicly known, others of which may be discernable in policy statements, and yet others occluded in personal networks or even childhood friendships, each exerting its own brand of loyalty. But the reality of politics is too transparent, even so, to be a radical enough ground into which an analytic may place itself and thence become a fertile engine for social change.
Instead, it can be taken as a sign of sexual politics and the more literally interpreted ‘body politic’ that women and men share both a patent disdain for one another as well as find that betraying one another on an equal basis makes them more equal. Is this too a delusion? Mills’, in his review of de Beauvoir’s great work, The Second Sex, summarizes a crucial point she makes about the institution of marriage and also its sabotage. As de Beauvoir writes, marriage as a ‘career’ for women must be prohibited. Instead, sex and love should be candidly separated and distinguished along the lines of a partnership and a liaison: “Sexual episodes do not prevent either partner from leading a joint life of amity with the other; adultery would lose its ugly character when based on liberty and sincerity rather than, as at present, on caution and hypocrisy.” (1963:342). Yes, young women in particular are yet portrayed as ‘darling little slaves’, but not always. 2021 is not 1961 in many ways, though it may be astonishing for some that much if not most of the world’s population vehemently prefer women to be only servants.
What I recommend in such cases is not disloyalty to one another as human beings, but rather a higher infidelity directed at social institutions, including the formal idea of marriage, the State and in particular, its educational system – this is not to say that most current attempts to set up alternatives are based on some liberating consciousness; rather quite the opposite – as well as party politics and political machines, state sponsored media corporations and further, the sense that one is a ‘fan’ of anything too particular at all, including specific sports teams or entertainers. Fine to love soccer and metal, not so fine to zero in on singular people with the effect of aggrandizing them beyond their shared humanity. No, they must rather be levelled with those who show them interest. Many celebrities are uncomfortable with their status – one only need call to mind Prince Harry to this regard – and so we should also not attempt to blame those in the limelight simply because they find themselves to be so. Like the state of governments in democracies, it is we who are responsible for the hounded harried hurry of celebrity. It is certainly correct that the stereotypical genders should be eliminated, as Mills goes on to say later in his review, and not only that of the female. Men are just as oppressed by our system of gender relations as are women. Though it is unfashionable to admit to this, it is nevertheless the case. One only need to look at the rates of male suicide to raise the bar equal to the rates of female mental illness. Men simply don’t stick around to become or remain ill, and thus provide a grim recompense for public health care.
This said, it remains a deeper understanding that infidelity directed at one’s own selfhood is by far the greatest danger. The sources of auto-disloyalty are many and various. Given that sexuality is in the process of being equalized, at first on a covert or semi-covert level, as we have seen from the examples of ‘cheating’ and pornography consumption, we should take a look at how these two scenes are first constructed. Both contain a servility and an attempt at an aesthetic. The base and noble mingle as if they were one thing. One can certainly fall in love with another and betray one’s spouse. This additional love may be as noble as that current, or it may supplant it. The base side of the dynamic is the subterfuge, not the emotion or even the sexual act. With the sex industry proper, sleaze and usury conjoin beauty and empowerment, once again, the base and the noble. In the coming of age short story ‘Strip!’, I seek to contrast these two elements. An out-take:
“Yes, that is it. Now just slip that dress right off, okay sweetheart?”
“Bryce, get the fuck out of here.” This from Mitts. But Bryce, who clearly ran the operation, stared stonily back at his camera-woman. “First day, Bryce. Come back tomorrow.” Now the middle-aged man moved off, nodding his acquiescence but not without a grin. Mitts groaned and stopped her production entirely until the uninvited third wheel rolled his half-flattened self back out the door.
“Just take it right off then?” Virginia asked. Mitts had to strain to hear her.
“Look, whenever you’re ready. Keep the heels on for now. But I do need to see you naked at some point, okay? For now, ease into it.” Okay, I knew it. I fucking just knew it. Fine. I’m not a child. I know I’m hot. Everything and everyone everyday tells me so. This is no different. No, it is different. It’s better. Better by far. I’m getting paid now. People want to look, then they pay. That’s the way it should be. My gods those volleyball shorts. Huh. Okay, I’m not a prude. Mom and dad, huh, after attending the first game I ever played, back in grade eight. Even then. They had to say it. I could tell in the car ride home they weren’t happy about something or other. Well, my team won, so what the fuck was it? No, it was our athletic gear that had geared them up. But Mom was nice. If I recall correctly she said something like, ‘So, honey, are you comfortable wearing your team uniform as it is?’ That was rich. Team ‘uniform’. Come off it mom. But at that juncture I simply said, ‘for sure’. Later, when I was older and bolder, I said, apropos of nothing after a game, something more like ‘this gear fits like a glove. Don’t even know I’m wearing anything. How about that, dad?’ I like to tease him, for obvious reasons. He can’t answer back. He can’t do anything at all.
“Okay, yes, so I figured. Brilliant. Let’s go through the entire series of poses again, and I’ll call them off just like we’re doing a square dance call, hey?” Good, I’ve got this. I hate heels though. I want them off already. I could never ever be wait-staff. Almost every other girl on both the volleyball and basketball teams was a waitress. Hmm, they don’t even use that word any more. Okay, sure, keep it coming. I’ve got this. Fuck me it’s a fucking work-out, actually. Hah! “Beautiful.” Mitts concluded before coming up for air from behind her camera.
That one word. That’s what I live for now. Maybe I’ll die for it too, but I’m eighteen now, an adult. I need to at least act like one even if I can’t immediately actually be one. How many times have my teachers and even mom and dad said the same words to me. The very same. Act your age, for goodness sakes. No threat of punishment of course. I love my folks for that alone. Nothing like that in our schools at least either. All good. But the way they still speak to you; adults, I mean. Surely these older people can’t quite be ‘adults’ either, in the same way that I’m not quite one. No, they’re not. They’re actually only like us, just bigger and sometimes smarter. And they use both of those advantages against us, at least, a lot of the time. Here, I’m in control. Okay, this is the moment, I can feel it. I’m ready though, for sure I’m ready to get these gosh-darn shoes off. Like they’re meant for a ballet practice!
“Just go with that now. Not the whole thing quite yet. Let’s do some yoga. Anything you want. Anything. Okay, breathe. Hold it in. Release. Now: its just you, okay? You in thin denier tights. Everything about you is beautiful. The sun wants to know you, and the moon tells its secrets to you. The bedding braces itself for your embrace. The linen longs to robe you in its folded fearlessness. The hands of time desire to caress you, to take your youth and make Time itself stop. That’s what you’re doing right now, beautiful Ginny; I can no longer feel my heartbeat for it has flown on wings of joyful wisdom and arcs over your youthful breast.” Holy gods. I have never heard anyone speak like that to me. It fills me with desire. I’m actually getting seriously aroused doing all this. If that sleaze-ball Bryce walked in on me now I wouldn’t even notice him. I can’t hear the camera clicking and whirring. I can’t see Mitts. All I feel is a lightness, a denial of gravity, as if I had stayed in dance, which would have been past a joke.
Now it’s gone. Huh. Wipe your eyes, you big baby. You’re such a pussy. Such a coward. Grow up, you. No wonder you’re so worried about graduation and what comes next. Moving out? Fat chance. You couldn’t survive a week on your own. College? Well, my grades are awesome so college can go fuck itself. No, its not the world that’s scary, it’s you who are scared. Just plain scared.
“Hold that!” All the surf of sounds then washed over Virginia, as if she were nothing more than a grain of sand, but also nothing less than an entire beach. Back and forth, from large to small, from universe to bedroom, from game to shower, from object to subject, objecting to both and yet subjected to both. Subjecting herself to both? Is that what adults do then, in the world? Do they really choose their fates? Eighteen and a model. Still in school and a nude model. Now that’s fun to think about, that is. Okay, let’s think about that and that alone. …
The traditional separation of sex and love, beauty and shill, subject and object, have been collapsed in the arenas of social life wherein the genders have sought to collapse themselves. This quest is itself noble, but our means for doing so are, thus far, not so much. Instead, within a dialectical dynamic there exists the freedom to bracket both these oppositions and transcend them. If we are disloyal to the other in our vainglorious and yet life-willing guerrilla attempts at liberations, if we are disloyal to ourselves in allowing others to prevaricate their own freedoms at our expense, then we can yet commend to ourselves the higher infidelity of a space which does not admit to either man or woman. Case in point, Marx’s ‘atheism’ has been misinterpreted as a disbelief in a god. No, for Marx, in communist society, the question of God cannot arise at all. Since we have been able to imagine such a freedom as this, one cast in the direction of metaphysics no less, surely it would be no such feat to imagine a social world where the questions of marriage, family, the State, subjection and objectification, exploitation and yet ‘beauty’, and even gender itself could never themselves arise.
Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of forty-five books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.