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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, July 3, 2014


At the end of Part 1 of this series I wrote:

In Part 2 I will discuss some reasons as to why this is at most a lesser threat, one that pales in comparison to one that a modern Nietzschean might call "men and women with no chests."
This was a little misleading: the phrase "men without chests" originates not with Nietzsche or any Nietzschean, but in a quote by a critic who was in some ways opposed to everything Nietzsche stood for: the redoubtable C.S. Lewis, who wrote in his book THE ABOLITION OF MAN, "We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst."

Francis Fukuyama only quotes Lewis once in THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN, but he utilizes this memorable phrase as the title of Chapter 28, which is principally his discussion of Nietzsche's objections to what we now call "liberal democracy."  Fukuyama does not dwell on the differences between Lewis and Nietzsche; he's interested only in comparing one similarity-- the pursuit of excellence, which Fukuyama associated with *megalothymia,* the human desire to prove oneself superior to others.

Liberal democracy, in contrast, is devoted to *isothymia,* the desire to prove oneself equal to others-- a desire to which both Lewis and Nietzsche were opposed, albeit for different reasons. 
It may be fairly claimed that often a given agent's desire to prove equality is spurred by another agent's attempt to prove superiority. Indeed, the key concept of what I define as ultraliberalism is the assumption that this defensive, reactive posture by a marginalized entity is the sine qua non of the liberal outlook. Thus in Berlatsky the majority of superhero narratives are defined as validations of the status quo,  and in Kelly Thompson the majority of sexy female costumes in superhero narratives are attempts to marginalize and/or dehumanize real women.

Real liberalism, in my view, allows its agents the freedom to campaign for greater real-world equality and, simultaneously, the freedom to compete for superior status upon a hypothetically level playing-field.  This level playing-field, however, does not mean that everyone strives after superior status in the same way, and when said field is occupied by both men and women, different strategies can fairly pertain.

In JUG BOND I printed this photo of a "girl about to go wild:"

Now, while both males and females have the ability to display their secondary sexual characteristics, and while hetero women do like to view the sec-sex characteristics of men, there's really no display males can mount that is quite this elemental. Yes, a given man can develop his pecs and abs to Schwarzeneggerian proportions, but this is a modification that takes a lot of work. Body-builders sculpt, they don't go 'wild," and many hetero women claim that they don't like this type of extraordinary musculature. In the end, there's no sec-sex characteristic that a male can display that reaps the same automatic, enthusiastic response. And while a woman's unveiling of her breasts can mean more than one thing, as I also noted in JUG BOND, in my opinion it most often connotes sexual readiness.

Camille Paglia famously argued that the ability of women to display themselves often had a profound, empowering aspect. One need not believe that it applies to all situations, as Paglia seemed to credence, but this view does supply a necessary corrective to the ultraliberal/WAPster notion that feminine sexual display can mean nothing but "coming across for The Man."

Further, sexual display is a strategy that works for some but not for all, even on a hypothetically level playing-field. Not all breasts are equal, and no matter how much WAPster feminists may campaign for a sisterhood in which all are equal, some women can flash tit to great approval, and some can't.  There have been any number of workplace suits alleging preferential treatment for women with "better" looks, and there's no excuse for that sort of unfair competition in the world of business.  But in fiction, it's entirely possible for "beauty" to correctly signify "goodness" and "ugliness" to signify "evil." The attempt to eliminate such hierarchies of "beauty vs. non-beauty" isn't politically possible in real life, and the attempt to curtail them in fiction is the sine qua non of absurdity.

As noted above, Lewis the proselytizing Christian and Nietzsche the advocate of "the death of God" were on very different pages. However, they were essentially agreed that human beings needed to strive toward excellence. Now it may be that neither scholar would have advocated that excellence in the form of being either a male or a female "hottie."  But I do, at least within the sphere of fiction, because physical beauty is often a conduit for the affect of the sublime-- a connection I may explore in more detail in a later essay.

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