Martha Nussbaum's thinking reminds me of the clickety-clack of an old Selectric, the warm scratch of a much-played album. It has a certain visceral appeal. With the infinite human capacity for nostalgia, I can imagine lugging it around and praising its warmth, its palpability. But let's not be mawkish. It's an out-of-date technology, long-since surpassed by superior platforms. Oh and by the way did you know that she was born Martha Craven. Now that is a cognomen a philosopher with a bent toward the Classical world would do well to cover up.
Via the ever-entertaining links at Bookforum, I came across Nussbaum crafting a strained metaphor, likening sexuality to religion in order to make an American-Constitutional case for gay marriage on No Establishment and Free Exercise grounds. In the first place it is strained because what about pedophilia or ephebophilia or transgenderism or polyamory or master-slave S&M or intense coprophilia? I mean, the free exercise of religion permits Scientology. Will Martha Nussbaum's free exercise of sexuality permit polyandry? That the crass slippery slope arguments of the rightwing box-turtle brigade so swiftly expose this rot at the root of the mainstream devotees of legalized sexual equality should prick our noses to the blood in the water.
What to make of this?
…Now let’s think about sex…For many if not most people, it is a central part of one’s search for the meaning of life. Even if sex is in many ways unlike religion, it is like it in being intimately personal, connected to a sense of life’s ultimate significance, and utterly nontrivial. Like religion, it appears to be something in which authenticity, or the involvement of conscience is central. We understand that it goes to the heart of people’s self-definition, their search for identity and self-expression.Personally, I just like to fuck, and although I have surely had some "utterly nontrivial" encounters in my time, I measure their ultimate significance in inches. It is hard to make conscience central to anything involving poppers, let us say. And I do not deny--indeed, I celebrate--that the comingling of souls in certain sexual encounters can indeed exceed the highest religious raptures and bring minds into union, wherefore there were two, then there was one . . . all that jive and flowers. But sometimes I just really want to come all over an undergraduate musical theater major's pretty face, and I refuse to bog down the purity of that entertainment with some dowdy discussion of ecstasy and joy. If the route to sexual equality is the cathedral road, then no thank you. Reifying a new normalcy only lays down new boundaries to be once again traduced in an endless, tiresome cycle of moral posturing and bad-faith argument.
Permit everything. Approve nothing.