John C. Wright (johncwright) wrote,
John C. Wright


As frequenters of my humble weblog may know, in recent days a certain article appeared in this space, where I complained, not without abundant sarcasm and scorn, that the Sci-Fi Channel (or Syfy Channel, if you insist) had yielded to the forces of political correctness, and were persuaded (or cowed) into publicly apologizing for their relative lack of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered characters on their programs (only two in the year in question), and promised to have writers include more. The express purpose of that inclusion was to influence the public mind into abandoning traditional norms of public decency and decorum to adopt the norms of toleration of the political-cultural Left.

It was, in other words, an expression of loyalty to the idea that art and entertainment exist subordinate to the crusades of politics. If you doubt this, imagine what the reaction would be if the Sci-Fi channel had publicly apologized to a television evangelist and promised to have more programs promoting family values or displaying Christians in a more favorable light.

As I science fiction writer, I have more than a passing interesting in maintaining, not just for myself, but for the whole field, a certain level of artistic integrity and freedom: I voice no objection to putting characters of any description, gay or straight (or practitioners of sexual habits as yet undreamed by modern men) into a story when the story calls for it. My objection was to putting GLBT characters into stories as part of a political agenda, when the story does not call for it, in an attempt to change the moral convictions of the audience under the cover of entertainment.

Such attempts are not the province of artists and entertainers, but of the Thought Police. Artists serve the muses; Thought Police serve the Party.


Ironically, my screed expressing an objection to having political correctness pressure SF writers was met by an organized flood of hate-mail, from persons whose attempt, by and large, was to pressure me into conforming to political correctness.

Ironically, in that same article I challenged anyone reading it to answer me with some argument, any argument, other than a personal attack, this was met with a mindless (and not very imaginative) flood of personal attacks.

From their comments it was pretty clear that the majority of these partisans were operating on autopilot: that is, the phrases and arguments used were merely boilerplate, having no particular relation to the issue.

These comments were neither right or wrong, merely irrelevant, and serving no particular purpose I can imagine: one poster expressed the hope that she could vomit on me, for example, or another complimented a third on his icon, or a fourth posted pictures of deer sodomizing each other, or a fifth heaped scorn upon the laws in the Book of Deuteronomy.

But the topic being discussed had no particular relationship to vomit, or icons, or deer, or Deuteronomy, so no matter how well meant or ill meant, these comments were pointless.

One too many of them looked to me like prepared comments, following a playbook, or, more likely, following a habituated emotional response. These were mere repetitions of other points made in other arguments the commenter had no doubt had before, in some other venue. Perhaps the points made sense in that venue, but not here.

Keep in mind this was not a current post, but something I had written a while back: when 800 comments appeared during the course of one afternoon (while I was at work, and not at liberty to reply), it strained my credulity to believe that all these folk had independently, or for any innocent reason, just each happened to come across the post, and each according to his independent judgment, came to the same conclusion about it, and each independently decided to write in the same few comments with minor variations of wording over and over again.

I am very skeptical of organized outrage. It strikes me as insincere—a thing done to deceive the unwary. From the comments, I overheard that a publisher in a house rivaling my publishing house had sent around some hundreds of emails urging customers to flood my inbox, boycott me or boycott my publisher.

Well, well. No doubt the motives of most of the people writing in were pure, but at least one of the megaphones urging them on was in the hands of someone whose economic interests were being served.

Organized outrage is like a cat puffing out its fur, trying to make itself seem a bigger than it is. Unlike a real mob, an electronic mob is not so very intimidating, as it can be silenced by selecting a filter option. I deleted the post, leaving the orcs free to go elsewhere on the vastness of the Internet to continue their antic capers.

Some folk expressed disappointment, wonder or contempt at the idea that I would fail to maintain on my web page a mob gathered for the Two Minute Hate. These folk are conflating the respect one owes an opponent in debate, whom one must heed and address even if the disagreement is bitter, and the respect one owes expressions of mere inchoate emotion, which is no respect at all. To them I say: if a loud noise were being made by drunks in the street while you were trying to sleep, you would close the window. This would be expressing no particular disrespect to the persons of the drunks, who may well be fine fellows when sober, but it expresses indifference their noise, which they do not intend to convey any meaningful content in any case.

But there is an exception to every generalization! Hidden here and there in the deluge of noise, were one or two intelligent comments. These comments did not necessarily agree with me, and they were not necessarily the epitome of tact in their wording, but nonetheless they were on the topic.

Those people addressed me honestly, and deserve an honest answer. Those people I regret having lost their comments, to them I apologize, and I hope I can make amends by trying to answer by this article. It has consumed days of time I should not have spared: let no one doubt took the time to answer as best I might.

Also hidden in the deluge were one or two people whose feelings were actually hurt by my words.

Now, to be blunt, this is a self-inflicted sort of wound, but a decent human being, seeing another wounded, must offer what help he can to stop the bleeding, no matter whose fault it is.

Those words I regret – as I said, my original post was covered with sarcasm as with gravy, and this sarcasm was uncharitable and uncalled-for. I was right in what I said, but wrong in the tone of contempt in which I said it. Our society has conspired for years to make people thin-skinned, and it is not their fault if their skin gets bruised or cut, for there is nowhere these days they could have learned to be more callous.

I apologized publicly to those who were actually hurt: and I repeat that apology here: please forgive me.

I know very well that this apology will excite nothing but scorn and contempt in the hearts of those who think apologies are weakness, but their opinion on the matter is not exactly the center of my concern here.

To those honest partisans, I promised one particular reply. Many a comment condemned the Christian religion for having persuaded me to adopt a posture of intolerance toward gays.

This comment is factually wrong on both counts.

First, anyone reading my posts knows my sympathies rest with the gays. My enmity is for the political Left, whom I believe are exploiting the gays for purposes of their own. They will throw the gays under the bus when they have no more need of them.

Second, anyone knowing my history knows that I came to the Christian religion after I became convinced of the logic of chastity (or intolerance, as it is called in the anti-conceptual jargon of PC), not before. I did not become pro-marriage (or homophobic, as it is called) because I am a Christian; I became a Christian because I am pro-marriage.

I made the claim that I used to be a member of the Sexual Revolution, like them, and had believed for most of my life that whatever two consenting adults did in the privacy of their bedroom (or on their kitchen floor, depending) provided it harmed no other, was no concern of their neighbors, and not a proper object for either legal sanction or social disapproval. All harmless and consensual sexual acts were licit.

Over a period of years, and very much against my natural inclination, I was driven by logical arguments or the lessons of sad experience out of this position and into a more conservative and traditional view of sexual morality. Neither my motives were religious, nor was the argument. I was not merely an atheist at the time; I was a vituperative, proselytizing, bitterly zealous atheist. To call my motives Christian is beyond untrue, beyond comical, and deep into the territory of being absurd.

But when I made this comment, I did not give the argument. I said it existed, but I did not repeat it. The honest partisans expressed doubt that such an argument can exist. It is a matter of fundamental dogma, often expressed among them, that the only opposition to homosexuality or other sexual deviancy comes from Christian fundamentalism, and can come from no other source.

To set that record straight, I here offer the argument that undermined my loyalty to the Sexual Revolution. Please note it makes no reference, even indirectly, to any deity, and it appeals to no supernatural norm for its support.

As an aside: in my original post, I call these arguments “lawyerly.” This aroused mirth and derision, for it is not unknown that my legal career was a short-lived failure. Nonetheless, the word is apt, not because my reasoning was particularly skilled (you may judge the rigor or lack thereof for yourself) but because the reasoning rested on legal concepts, such as parties at interest, consent, and investment of rights. I was not making a purely moral nor a purely pragmatic argument, but a legalistic one.

Note that I do not make the claim the argument is either value-neutral nor multicultural in sentiment. Someone seemed to think I was making that claim, and I was not. Multiculturalism is a unique cultural product of the one cohort of one wing of the intellectual vanguard of the Left, and my argument rests on a larger and broader basis.


In order to make sense of the argument that persuaded me to change my conclusions, I must make mention of what my conclusions were. Forgive the length of this (some 60 pages of text!), but the field is rife with misunderstanding, I would rather impose on the patience of my readers than mislead them by omitting a crucial point.

I should explain at the outset that I was (and to the degree not incompatible with Christian faith, still am) a Stoic, a follower of the writings of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and others. The Stoics persuaded me concerning the necessity of self-control, the objectivity of the morals, and the utility of the virtues.

Stoics are somewhat of a morbid school of thought: their primary concern is how best to live one’s lift in preparation for an honorable and tranquil death, an eventuality they contemplate with equanimity, even favor. The examples of Socrates in the Crito or Cato of Utica are constantly in the thoughts of a true Stoic. I mention this because the thinking here is not hedonist, nor Epicurean, nor eudaemonist: the argument that something should be done because it is pleasant, or because it extends life, is not within their contemplation.  Any argument issuing from Hedonistic roots need not be addressed here. For this argument, all that need be established is that there are non-Christians who are also not hedonists, and I was one such.


The Stoics reason as follows: of things, some are within our control, and others are not. Things within our control include the reason, which is the seat of logic and judgment, the passions, which is the seat of honor and virtue (good habits or bad), and the appetites, which is the seat of desire. Things not within our control include externals: your flesh, your money, your rank in society, your reputation in the eyes of others, the fortunes of war, whether you are healthy or sick, whether you live or die. You can influence these things only indirectly; you can try, but you cannot be assured of success. 

Even a cursory inspection of the human condition provides us with ample experience that the passion and appetites cannot be controlled unless habituated. One cannot, merely by a momentary effort of will, create or put aside a passion or an appetite, until and unless those passions and appetites are by long habit of self discipline subject to the sovereignty of the reason. The power to put aside unreasonable passions and appetites is called “virtue” (indeed, originally, the word “virtue” simply meant “power.”)

Because it is unusual to make a distinction between passions and appetites, let me emphasize the difference. The word “appetite” here is being used to mean a self-centered desire for a specific physical pleasure: lust is the appetite for copulation, thirst is the appetite for drink, hunger the appetite for food, and so on. “Passion” is not necessarily self-centered, and is not necessarily satisfied by any physical pleasure: the desire of a bold soldier for glory in combat, for example, or the desire for a mother to protect her children, or the desire of a friend to come to the aid of his friend, or the desire of a patriot to see his home and nation honored. Many, if not most, passions are connected to imponderables: love and loneliness, shame and honor, glory and humility are matters that concern the passions.

Unlike the brute beasts, a man can train and domesticate his passions to serve his reason rather than his appetite. I do not see the need to dwell further on this point: the literature and philosophy of all mankind through all history dwells primarily on the human condition, of which the tension between these three parts of the mind is the primary reality. A skeptic unconvinced of this point is directed toward those writings.

That man has a duty to so domesticate his passions to serve his reason we can deduce from the raw fact that the appetites are a multitude of contradictory desires, as easily able to be inconsistent with surrounding facts of reality as consistent. If I desire to keep my cake and eat it too, the reason must arbitrate which desire shall prevail, since both cannot. If I desire to eat the moon, the reason must put aside that desire, since reality will not comply.

Some desires are vain, and it is vain to pursue them.

From this we can conclude that, even from a merely utilitarian motive of arranging our desires so as to satisfy them in the greatest number, or by the highest priority, or in the most efficient fashion possible, self-control is a necessary, indeed, an inescapable duty of any human being. Since this self-control cannot be effectuated by an instant effort of will, or even by a shallow-rooted and momentary conviction, it must be pursued by a recurring habit. This habit is called virtue, and the success of this habituation is also called virtue. The absence of virtue, i.e. self-indulgence, is called vice.


Even a cursory inspection of the human condition provides us ample evidence that there is a moral component to virtue and vice. Aside from the merely practical arrangement of the passions and appetites needed in order to sate one’s hungers efficiently, the reason makes a judgment on the fitness, wholesomeness, goodness or righteousness of the passion or appetite. The seat of moral judgment is called the conscience.

There are those who claim these judgments are relative, or arbitrary, or are the by-product of Darwinian social evolution, or are the product of a programming imposed by economic class-interests. Their claim is that the judgments of the conscience either have no jurisdiction outside a narrow sphere, or have no jurisdiction at all. Their claim, simply put, is that all moral judgments are subjective, therefore illegitimate. To prefer virtue to vice (so the argument goes) is as arbitrary and personal a judgment as to prefer pie to cake.

We can dismiss the claim that moral judgments are all subjective merely by inquiring whether or not we ought to inquire into the claim.

Ought we to inquire whether or not all moral judgments are subjective?

If the answer is no, the question is closed.

If the answer is yes, then ought we to make this inquiry honestly, or dishonestly?

If the answer is that we ought to make this inquiry dishonestly, then (a fortiori) we are not bound the results. For a dishonest thinker is under no moral obligation to accept a conclusion to which his logic drives him; even if he loses the argument, a dishonest thinker is not under a duty to change his mind or mend his ways. For what will impose the moral duty upon the dishonest thinker to conform his thoughts to the conclusions dictated by reason? Why must he be truthful even to himself? Why listen to his conscience?

If the answer is that we ought to make this inquiry honestly, we necessarily thereby acknowledge at least one universal moral duty: the duty to think honestly. This duty is universal because the only other possibility, that we have no duty to think honestly, is not something we honestly can think.

 So we can at the minimum conclude that there is at least one moral duty to which the conscience prompts us, and this duty is a universal, which means it is an absolute, which means that the statement that all moral duties are relative is false.

1.3.   ON VIRTUE

We said above that virtue consists of domesticating the passions and appetites to the reason; but this phrase is empty unless we establish where and what the reason dictates.

Courage and fortitudes are passions employed to confront dangers. This passion is used to overcome the opposite appetite of physical fear, which is the craving for personal physical safety. (We use the same word to refer to the passion used to overcome the opposite passion to avoid real but imponderable threats to emotional wellbeing.) The reason can judge whether a risk is worth facing, but unless the passions are habituated to follow the reason, a mere sense of rage and honor, or a mere sense of self-preservation, will make a man flee when he should stand, or stand when he should flee.

Temperance and moderation are the virtues referring to restriction the passions and appetites to proportionate indulgence or proper, just or fitting times and places and means of pursuing them.

Justice is the virtue restricting the appetite of self-interest of the passion of factional loyalty to its proper sphere, so that neither self-love nor love of one’s own will interfere with the rational judgment concerning strangers and rivals and enemies. Justice is rendering reward, penalty, courtesy, and dignity each according to his merit, rather than to the interests or personal loyalties of the judge.

Chastity is nothing more nor less than justice, moderation, temperance, or fortitude in reference to the sexual passions and appetites.


Even a cursory inspection of the human condition reveals two opposing tensions. On the one hand, it is not possible for tribes of our race to live together in peace without laws to punish and customs to instruct. Laws by formal sanction alone are insufficient: a consensus is necessary, and is enforced by a thousand informal, often tiny, sanctions and influences. You cannot pass a law even on so trivial a matter as the speed limit, and expect the mass of subjects to obey it, if that limit is not also something they customarily would obey even in the absence of a sanction. Laws, in other words, cannot lead the herd: at best the laws can drive stragglers back into the main mass. The mass determines the direction of the herd.

The Libertine position states baldly that none except the two (or more) persons engaged in the sexual acts have any interest or right to dictate terms; no one can forbid or qualify what the lovers seek. Nonetheless, the Libertine position still allows for a legal sanction against sex outside the established bounds of its position (no child pornography, for example), and this would imply, since otherwise the law is a dead letter, that the consensus of society must by informal custom enforce certain norms.

This implies not only that the individual conscience must be sensitive to violations of the boundaries of the sexual code, but that there must be a social conscience as well, an unspoken and semi-voluntary mass agreement.


Such, as I say, was my state of mind back when I was a card-carrying member of the Sexual Revolution. Robert Heinlein and Ayn Rand, not to mention Hugh Hefner, had persuaded me to adopt the moral standard that all sexual acts were licit if between consenting adults and creating no harm to others.

The libertarian writers in particular urged me (with success) to adopt that standard that the laws must place all matters of sexual morality outside their orbit, except that marriage should be treated like a contract, containing only those provisions the private parties shall mutually agree, and severable at will.

A logical outgrowth of these two conclusions was that homosexuality, both the desire and the sexual acts, were licit, as was also incest between two adults, or polygamy between more than two.

Let us call this the Libertine position. Although other more accurate and less flattering terms suggest themselves, I don’t want to cloud the waters with a merely terminological dispute.

How could I be both a Stoic and a Libertine? Absent some additional proposition, there is no necessary conflict. The Libertine position specifically outlaws three types of sexual passion: (1) sex with non-adults (2) sex without the consent of the partner and (3) sex leading to some other harm to a third party (self-imposed harm, by these terms, is allowed: you may licitly have the Marquis come by and beat you with a whip, if that is what floats your boat). Lawyers will note that case (2) encompasses case (1) since minors cannot give legally valid consent.

Hence, even for a libertine, there is a need to have the passions and appetites restricted to a defined sphere of licit sex. Examples include: that the moment you discover that you have venereal disease, you expose your partner to an unacceptable risk, ergo you must check your impulses. Likewise, the moment you discover your paramour is one month shy of the age of majority; or too drunk to give legally binding and informed consent; or is married to another and hence not at liberty to give consent; under all these cases, even the Libertine position demands that virtue moderate or quell the sexual passions, base or sublime, even if it is true love you are forsaking.

The erosion of my loyalty to this position was in a series of questions.  I began to wonder why some things were in the bounds and others out of bounds.


Since the logic of even the Libertine position demands the subordination of the sexual passions to the reason, we need not long dwell on what might be called the Romanticist position.

Romanticists say that Love Conquers All: the sexual impulse is too strong to be checked, or is determined by genetics, or that it is unjust for some other reason to demand virtue or self-control in sexual matters.

Usually, the Romanticist argument is used to excuse only the form of sexual deviance being defended in the particular argument, since there can be found to be some sexual desires beyond the pale even of those most tolerant of sexual deviation. This is a rhetorical tactic, not a reasoned position, and we need not pause except to dismiss it. A partisan of the Sexual Revolution who, if any exist, sincerely maintaining that sex acts with children, dogs, corpses, other men’s wives and the children, corpses and dogs of other men’s wives, in violation both of common prudence and simple justice, must have their argument fail merely on the terms of the absence of consent and the presence of harm.

A prudent magistrate, without even making a moral judgment concerning the sex act itself, must outlaw adultery and bigamy on the grounds that these violate the common peace by breaching solemn contracts.

 Since the Romanticist position need not detain us, the question whether the reason ought to check the sexual passions through virtue no longer arises: the only question is where the boundaries fall.

Only two basic positions need concern us, since the other positions are variation on the main two: The Libertine position and the Matrimonial position. The Libertines draw the dividing line at the act of consent and the consequence of harm. Any sexual act inside the boundary of harmless mutual consent is licit. Any outside is illicit. The Matrimonial position draws the divided line at matrimony. Any sexual act inside the boundary of marriage is licit.  Any outside is illicit.

Let us assume for this argument that we are only discussing consensual matrimony. If someone wishes to argue that sex within a marriage where the woman does not consent is licit, we can address that at another time. For the moment, that falls outside the boundary of the Libertine position, and lawyers would rightly call that rape or concubinage.

Note that this assumption places the Matrimonial position entirely inside the Libertine position, like a citadel inside a walled city. The disputed ground is everything within the walls yet outside the citadel: non-Matrimonial sex. The technical term for such sex acts, in law, is fornication. Fornication includes what common law defined as seduction, adultery, bigamy, and unnatural acts. Incest between adults falls here also.


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