Chesterton once wrote that the madman is not the fellow who has lost his reason, but the fellow who has lost everything but his reason. Such a person, seized by a single monomaniacal idea, loses his balance, as if under the weight of a mental hyptertrophy on one side. Because a man may add five and six, and a cash register may add five and six, he discovers that a man is no more than a cash register. He begins to dream dreams of cash registers, male and female he dreams them, coming together to make change. If he is Mr. Richard Dawkins, he dreams of other worlds wherein cash registers, or card catalogues, spring up naturally among the lilies of the field.
But what kind of madness is it when one is simultaneously beset with that single idea, and yet one cannot remember what one has just said? That would seem a monstrous impossibility, a stupidity far beyond the scope of normal perverseness and study. And yet that is what we witness now, a sort of intellectual slapstick. It would be like Mrs. Carry Nation raffling off baskets of cheer to fund Prohibition.
Perhaps it is sex that has driven us mad. I think rather it must be boredom. We are so bored, we not only cannot be bothered to remember what our opponents say. We cannot be bothered to remember what we ourselves say.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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So then, on Monday, the harridans of the National Organization for Women announce the great discovery, that it is a bad thing for men to beat women black and blue. We wonder what took them so long to discover it. APPLES FALL TO THE GROUND, runs the headline, with the helpful addition, Effects on Agriculture Undetermined. So terrible a thing it is for women to be beaten, they must promote a national law, the Violence Against Women Act, to ensure the safety of women against the fist of a brawling boyfriend.
Then on Tuesday, the same harridans announce the great discovery, that it is a good thing for women to join the infantry, to confront not boyfriends, but enemy men who will be at the peak of their physical prowess, armed to the teeth, and filled with the rage of killing and plunder and rape. The chivalry or plain common decency that once protected a woman against brawling—or war—is derided as a masculine plot to keep women in subjection. Women must be free to be conscripted. Women have long missed the joys of trench life, where table and bed and latrine are all the same mud. They have missed the airy delight of seeing a brother blown sky high, or the wonderful tingle of an arm or leg suddenly missing or hanging by a thread. They should then enjoy those experiences, and add to them the salt that makes it all worthwhile, the futility of loss, the unspoken knowledge that it has all been for nothing, and that your brothers and your country would have been better off without you.
On Wednesday, the keepers of our national morality inveigh against a priest or a coach who entices a teenage boy into sodomy. On Thursday, the same keepers inveigh against the Boy Scouts, for shying away from scoutmasters who might do the same. The unnatural experience of sodomy is so crushing to the heart of a normal boy—who simply wants to grow up like all the other boys, falling in love with a girl, getting married, and having children just as his father did—that he cannot get over it, not ten, not twenty years later, but breaks down in public, in mingled rage and shame. But within a single day, one might even say a single sentence, the same pundits will celebrate the same perversion as just an ordinary human variation, such as being left-handed or having a taste for kumquats.
On Friday, the feminists in an alphabet-soup alliance of people with various sexual proclivities will protest against pornography, the technical term for smutty pictures. Their grounds are that it turns women into objects of sexual consumption. The same people, on Saturday, boldly proclaim the right of both women and men to fornicate, coldly, aloofly if that is possible, with people whom they do not love; it is recreation. Apparently, it is an object if it is a picture and distant, but not an object if it is alive and underneath; a dagger of the mind is more dangerous than a dagger of steel; fantasizing about doing a wicked thing is worse than actually doing it.
They do not notice, either, that the GB contingent of the alphabet are notorious producers and consumers of smutty pictures, of men, naturally. It is not clear why this is not equally offensive, rather than something proud to celebrate. The feminist harridans of Monday, meanwhile, make common cause with the G’s on Sunday, and neither notices that the positions are mutually contradictory. The feminist says, “There are no differences between men and women, other than minor details of plumbing.” We gape in amazement at so foolish a claim, and wonder whether she has dropped down from some unknown planet, where bipeds have neither eyes nor ears, and where common necessaries such as food, clean drinking water, stone and ore for building and industry, houses to dwell in, and roads and ships and trucks and bridges simply materialize at a thought, without the bending or breaking of a single back. But let us grant her point. The gay man standing right beside her not only insists on a difference; that difference is so vast, and so determinative, that he cannot possibly imagine learning to love a woman after the ordinary pattern of nature. Almost in the same sentence he and his feminist ally claim that he must have A, and cannot possibly settle for A. He must have the man and no other, because he is attracted to that creature that is just like the woman, with no important differences. He must have the masculine and not the feminine; and there is no difference between the masculine and the feminine.
On the next Monday—for the lunacy outlasts the phases of the moon—we are told that a pregnant woman is, emotionally, a tender flower, who must be protected against people praying for her and her child as she enters the abortuary. On Tuesday, we are derided for being impossibly old-fashioned if we suggest that it might not be a good thing for women who are possibly pregnant to be crawling on their bellies on a battlefield, where men will be shouting things much more terrifying than the Hail Mary. On Wednesday we are told that a church’s failure to provide free contraceptives to its employees is a terrible sin against the common good. On Friday, we are told that the notion of the “common good” is trumped by the individual’s supposed right to be antisocial in matters of sex.
On Saturday, we are told that no man is an island. On Sunday, we are told that every woman is an island. On Monday, a bad man is sued to support a child conceived out of wedlock. On Tuesday, a good man is told to shut up when he sues to support his child conceived within wedlock, rather than have it aborted. On Wednesday, we complain that there are no good men to marry. On Thursday, we make sure to destroy the last institution that made for good men.
On Friday, we complain about “government in the bedroom,” by which is meant no Bureau of Bedrooms, but the least social or legal restraint against sexual vice. On Saturday, we vote for increases in funds for government in the classroom, government in the board room, government in the laboratory, government in the doctor’s office, government in the hospital, government in the warehouse, government in the stockyard, government in the shipyard, government on television, government on radio, government on the highways, government over the churches, government over the government, government in the cradle, government at the tomb.
A comic nightmare comes to mind. I see a man jiggered and wired to a hundred machines, each jolting him at irregular intervals. His cheek twitches, his head jerks, his fingers drum, his knee wobbles, his feet tap, his breath is interrupted with coughs, his blood runs hot and cold. I invite him to leave that contraption, and take a walk with me over to a chapel nearby, and say a quiet prayer.
“You can’t make me!” he cries. “I’m free to choose!”
Editor’s note: The image above depicts Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining.