Sunday, July 7, 2013

Attempting to distinguish well

Or, beware of smoked pickerel.

There is a study (oh, there's always a study, of course!) news whereof has been lately making the rounds, apparently demonstrating that, under carefully controlled laboratory conditions, men who exhibit one particular kind of reprehensible mental habit outside carefully controlled laboratory continue to show same habits, and even more so when contemplating pictures that gratify those habits. As Jolly Shea would summarize, water is wet.

Astounding, isn't it, that this kind of study was (apparently) approved by some ethics board?

There is another article entering the debate somewhere pointing out that modesty is an ambiguous word, being emblazoned with a Renaissance statue allegory of Modestia, the virtue whose opposing vice is vainglory. And they mention that many scriptural exhortations to "modesty" are corrections of excess in dress. The noted Shalit wrote a fascinating book richly woven on this ambiguity in modern (hmm) English, which does a much better job on their relation. I suppose it's just one of those funny things that the closest-sounding thing to "pudicitia" (lat) and later "pudeur" (fr) is the English prude, which is actually a contraction of a French contraction "prud-homme", which seems to be about prudence more than anything. In short, these are not the foxes you are hunting.

Recently, in advocating that people who live in civilization should be clad1, I pointedly declined to comment on swim-wear. There are a number of reasons for this; e.g. : there are severe engineering constraints on garb that both protects and is wettable, to the extent that what you could suitably wear to Church (say) would kill you if you tried swimming in it for more than ten minutes; e.g. : the popularity even of recreational swimming, at least on these shores (hee!) is a fairly novel thing; e.g. : there are or were places where undress is expected for swimming (and if one is there not to swim, he is effectively driven away); e.g. the second time we hear of Simon Peter leaving his boat at sea, a point is made that he was in some state of undress which he hastened to correct2.

The trouble with using the study to inform (or to deconstruct) choices of swimwear is that it replaces what seems to be a moral question (what reasonably can I do not to scandalize my brother and sister?) with one of instrumental reason (how can I use clothing to manipulate everyone else? whether to allure or to push away). The trouble with using this study to inform the genuine instrumental question (how does dress affect the beholder) is that it confuses use with the expressed desire to use.

B.t.w., if there somehow is a question as to propriety around swimming, the most I will actually venture to say is that swimwear is excellent wear for swimming, so long as it really is good for swimming (and I have my doubts about lots of it). More generally, the meaning of particular garb is, of course, dependent on context (which is why carefully controlled laboratory conditions are about as silly as taking an MRI to the beach).

A former school colleague, in conversation about obvious things, asked whether deleterious behaviour that happens to find biblical condemnation should again be condemned also in our Criminal Code; the fishy point in this question is that you don't need the bible to tell you that deleterious behaviour is deleterious.

You need the Bible to tell you that God is to His people (indeed, to every created rational soul) as Husband to Wife; that is, you need the Bible (or authentic living tradition, but this is a tradition attested in ancient Holy Writ) to tell you that, if you get Marriage wrong, you also get yourself in relation to God seriously wrong. That is, you might just need the Bible to tell you that getting marriage wrong in this kind of way is itself a grave sin.

You do not need the Bible to tell you that [effacing the distinction between dwelling in common vs. establishing a productive, living family] is [the state spending itself on society killing itself]. Do not in any argument accept the premise that the marriage question is only a religious question.

1 : Allow me to remark that clothing the naked is classified as an act of corporal mercy, along with feeding the hungry, comforting the sick, and consoling prisoners; to be short of clothing, in our fallen world, is a misfortune and a poverty.

2 : This, I think, lends more support to the beautiful theory expressed by Miss Sabatina; namely that if Peter has learned to swim then he has also learned that it's boat-loads easier without the coat; so, given that he put his coat on, it's even more likely that he isn't swimming!


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