Camille Paglia seems to have given a lot of interviews lately. I find her views on current cultural matters to be of great value, mostly because I agree with her. Strangely, she is a notable leftist, yet, she is far more sensible than most of those who inhabit the radical, academic and cultural left today. Then again, Paglia has never belonged to the academic elite, that is, to the Ivy League.
Speaking about today’s college students and their crusade to produce an ideal culture, Paglia points out that they are fiddling while Rome burns. Barbarians are at the gates and young people today are out having a party. They are involved in late stage sexual decadence.
It is worth mentioning, as a commenter on this blog pointed out recently, but Paglia has often promoted the raw sexual energy of youth, especially of performers like Madonna. On that score, she is hardly alone. Yet, with age comes wisdom and Paglia has, like many of us, come to see the larger context.
They [college students] have no sense of the great patterns of world history, the rise and fall of civilisations like Babylon and Rome that became very sexually tolerant, and then fell. If you’ve had no exposure to that, you can honestly believe that ‘There is progress all around us and we are moving to an ideal state of culture, where we all hold hands and everyone is accepted for what they are … and the environment will be pure…’ – a magical utopian view that we are marching to perfection. And the sign of this progress is toleration – of the educated class – for homosexuality, or for changing gender, or whatever. –
“To me it’s a sign of the opposite, it’s symptomatic of a civilisation just before it falls: ‘we’ are very tolerant, not passionate, but there are bands of vandals and destroyers circling around the edge of our civilisation who will bring it down.
These students have no sense that a war is going on. They are not ready to fight and they are not ready to compete. They are indulging what I would call a perpetual state of therapy.
In Paglia’s words:
This hyper-self-consciousness about ‘Who am I? Where exactly am I on the gender spectrum?’ is mere navel-gazing, while in the Middle East ISIS is beheading people. It is a kind of madness of self-absorption.”
The current fevered debates over transgendered restrooms reflect the dissolution… not only of behavioral norms but of mental acuity. Paglia makes an important point here, one that has rarely been pointed out, namely, that the public debate over choosing one’s gender identity is influencing many confused and disturbed young people to become convinced that they are transgendered, thus that God made a mistake. It is producing more of these cases, not solving them.
I refer everyone to Ethan Watters’ fine book, Crazy Like Us, in which he demonstrates how media attention and concern about certain mental health issues tends to produce epidemics of the same issues.
Paglia also mentions the fact that young people, sometimes children, are being shot up with hormones in order to reverse puberty. The fact that children should never be allowed to make such choices is bad enough. It is obviously a form of mutilation. People are going beserk over the fact that some states will not allow Tom or Dick to use the ladies’ room, but no one has any objection to chemically mutilating children. Paglia also notes, wisely, that we do not even know the long term effects of these and other hormone treatments.
Paglia says this:
“I really pity young people today in this environment because the pressures are enormous. It’s one thing to feel, ‘I’m not quite comfortable in the gender I was assigned at birth,’ but the pressures are to change, change, change, and to telegraph it to the world. People are pushed into making choices about surgical interventions and taking hormones, which is dangerous, and they will have all kinds of medical problems in the long run, I believe…
“I think there are authentic transgender people who had a genetic issue from the start, but they are a tiny, tiny minority of the population, and medical science is still developing to help these people.
“But now it’s become a fashion statement, or a mask [for other problems]. People are being induced to think that all their unhappiness -- in family life, in school, in relation to society – is to do with this gender issue. Well, maybe it isn’t. Maybe there are other issues a person needs to deal with.
“In the old days there were different kinds of guidance to help you focus and develop yourself psychologically, spiritually, culturally. Instead, now, all the unhappiness that people feel in these areas is consolidated in the gender issue. Maybe there is a gender issue for you, but it’s not the whole issue.”
As for the current firestorm about rape culture, Paglia takes a stand against the typical feminist distortion of the issue. She wants girls to take some responsibility for their own behavior and to recognize that their needs and boys’ needs are not the same. Why we should need a renegade leftist intellectual to explain this to campus rabble rousers is beyond me, but since we have gotten to the point where college girls are being pimped out by their feminist teachers, someone had to say something:
“How can [a girl] be so stupid”, says Paglia, as to accept an invitation from a boy at a fraternity party to ‘come to my room’ and not know that he means ‘come and have sex’?
“She doesn’t want sex with strangers. Girls don’t want hook-ups, they want boyfriends ; the boys just want hook-ups. But in gender studies they are told that everything is exactly equal between boys and girls, and if boys are behaving badly they have to learn to be more like girls; they have to talk like girls, act like girls – and if you don’t, you are sexist. At the heart of this is a lack of respect for sexual differences … and I’m saying, Girls, wake up!”