Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Thoughts on compulsory romance

Dear Hannah,

One of the strange things about living in America is that one moment you’ll see everyone pretending to cry about 200 kidnapped Nigerian girls, and the next moment Americans will practically try and force you to be one.  I say this because I just finished watching a 7-minute long (and slightly foul) Louis CK monologue, and discovered that I have a moral obligation to romance women who are overweight.  The problem is, I’ve never had a fat girlfriend because I’ve never really wanted one.  All happiness to the men who do; large women simply haven't ever been my type.

Having been around 280 lbs at my heaviest, and having lost the weight in a desperate pursuit of a beautiful woman, I was always under the impression that women could do the same as well.  Simply modify your eating habits, take up a regular exercise routine, and unless you have a glandular disease, everything should be fine (although it should be noted that I had an unhealthy amount of help from ecstasy and cocaine).  But Louis CK has argued the opposite: women are apparently powerless against the Satanic forces of cakes and sofas, and we have a duty to rescue them by tossing aside our own preferences, and entering into romances without any kind of actual romance.   I think Kant said a similar thing about moral actions too, in his Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals.  In Kant's mind, incentive pollutes what would otherwise be completely moral, and a truly moral act is one which is done entirely for the sake of goodness itself.  Seems reasonable to me.  Except for the fact that romance is based upon uncontrollable attraction; or in other words, that aside from keeping our promises and maintaining one's chastity, it's almost entirely incentive.

The strangest thing about the monologue, however, aside from the fact that Louis has completely denied the power of exercise, is the fact that up until I saw this scene, I was convinced that he was in favor of gay marriage, and that he was in favor of it because some people are attracted to some things, and others to others, and that it's really none of our business telling people who they shouldn't love.  Actually, now that I think about it, this has been the driving force of the gay rights movement altogether -- that we should love who we love, and not pretend anything else.  I think everyone agrees, on some level, that the poor princess who was forced into an internationally beneficial but loveless marriage should be given some pity when she's caught with a paramour.  I suppose this would be the universal result of Louis CK's new commandment that we should romance the people we don't really want to love.  Everyone would have a nominal lover, and then they would have a real lover, and nobody would believe anyone when they say that they're in love.  Having seen a number of failed marriages, I hardly believe anyone now anyway.

But Louis isn't the first to say something like this, which makes it stranger.  He isn't some lurking Kantian anti-romantic from the fringes, or a backward prophet screaming in the streets to the random passer-by.  I saw an essay a short while back, on Slate Magazine, that said it was racist to prefer romancing people of your own race, and on the most extreme side, I saw another Hollywood magazine article in which a woman complained that men said the worst thing about being in prison was being raped by other men.  The former said we should be dishonest and date people we haven't got any feelings for; the latter, in the most sick and disturbing way possible, said we should be happy anyone screws us at all.  I suppose this means we should all be romancing without any discrimination whatsoever, and maybe we should even be romancing in spite of the things we really despise, supposedly to prove our saintliness by throwing our lives away entirely.  Maybe if women begin taking this seriously, men will be allowed to fart on the first date, and nobody will have to worry about brushing their teeth.

To make matters even stranger, this is exactly the opposite of what people usually say, oftentimes in the most violent and equally backward way, to women.  Up until this point, I was absolutely sure that women agreed that nobody should ever be forced to have sex or go out with anyone anyone they didn't want to.  But now we have a new and pressing obligation: women must be comfortable dating men they don't want to date -- especially if the men they don't want to date are black men.  Men must find forced sodomy tolerable -- and they must find it more tolerable than perhaps even the prison food.   Fat women in sweatpants are to be wooed like any Aphrodite, we're supposed to prefer people without ever having considered our actual preferences -- and yet nobody is allowed to tell us who we can't romance.  In a strange twist of fate, now they only tell us who we have to romance.  It's almost as though the rapists have gained the moral high ground.  I will leave it to you to decide whether the limitations of the conservative or the compulsions of the liberal are more intrusive and offensive.

At the bottom of this mess between the people who say we mustn't and the people who say we must lies a question, and that question concerns what romance is in the first place.  The confusion arising from the above liberal assertions about morality and race and tolerance necessitates that we answer it.  Romance is the inexplicable attraction, beyond all power and hope of ignoring, that drives us to reckless acts of kindness and selfishness  and heroism and villainy for people we didn't necessarily choose, but whom we against nearly every obstacle large and dangerous pursue.  Romance is almost always short-lived; it leads to broken hearts and broken promises; sometimes it leads to broken homes and sleepless nights and messy lives.  And in those certain cases where a backward society makes difficult what the human spirit and divine sanction grant so freely, it leads to a well-deserved and well-publicized scandal -- but it is so close to the center of our beings, that we can't live without it.  And the one way to make us live entirely without it, is to say that even within the boundaries of natural law and good faith, our preferences are in every way, shape, and form a sign of our inhumanity, and that we must overcome the very reality of our affections, to pursue something which provides no real benefit to anyone in any real way.

I say to hell with it.  Louis can date whichever women he likes; he can collect a harem and marry them all in Pakistan.  But he shouldn't tell me or you or anyone else that we have an obligation to romance anyone other than a wife.  

Your father,

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