Quid Pro Quo Vadis?
Senator Rand Paul is leading a parade of misunderstanding about quids pro quo.
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Dear Reader (including the American tank crews heading to Syria in the name of bringing our boys home),
Some people like to get jiggy with more than one person, and CBS is on it!
The digital arm of the Tiffany network has a new documentary called Speaking Frankly: Non-Monogamy that tackles the taboo of polyamory (being in sexual relationships with more than one person).
I like the headline of the associated article better: “Not just ‘one big orgy’: Fighting the stigma of consensual non-monogamy.”
The thing I like is the word “just.” If I defend watching women’s prison movies by saying, “Hey, it’s not just about the hot girl on girl action,” I’m not denying the HGONG is a big part of it. I’m just saying there are other worthwhile things about the incarcerated female oeuvre besides that stuff. “The cinematography in Caged Heat was pathbreaking!” “Linda Blair’s portrayal of the wrongly imprisoned ingénue in—the entirely different—Chained Heat franchise was surprisingly moving!”
The genius of the “just” in the headline is that the reader is tipped off that, while the article will give the reader some defensible excuses to keep reading, there’s the possibility of orgy talk ahead. After all, sex sells, which is why Bill O’Reilly loved to denounce porn and smut on his TV show while running a constant loop of porn and strip club B-roll under his narration of disgust.
There’s a lot to make fun of in the article. For instance, the authors write about a guy living in Brooklyn named Mahdy:
Mahdy, who did not want his last name to be used, met his first partner about 14 years ago and married her in 2011. One year later, the couple met another woman, and the three formed a triad. But it could have fallen apart after the second woman ran into problems with her immigration status, he says.
Mahdy ended up divorcing his wife so his wife could then marry the other woman in their “triad” (it’d be so much cooler if “triad” referred not to their three-way relationship but to their collective membership in a Chinese gang). Whatever you think about the morality of this arrangement, you gotta love the guy not wanting his last name used, yet being happy to be photographed for the article. Only a master detective could figure out who he is now.
Seriously. Who, exactly, is he hiding his identity from? I mean, how many other dudes named “Mahdy”—who look exactly like the guy in the picture—can there possibly be in Brooklyn? When he goes into the office on Monday and someone says, “Hey I saw that article about you,” is he going to reply, “No, no. That’s a different Mahdy! What makes you think that was me?”
Love & Marriage
Lest I lose my social conservative union card, I should at least mention that I don’t support this. I think polyamory and polygamy are objectively bad cultural norms and institutions that shouldn’t be encouraged. I should also note, as I discuss in my book, that polygyny is natural (so is monogamy by the way; human wiring can be contradictory).
Most societies throughout human history have been formally polygynous. But, the packaging on many products at Whole Foods notwithstanding, “natural” and “good” are not synonymous terms. If by “natural,” you mean the way humans lived prior to the arrival of monotheism, the rule of law, Judeo-Christian ethics, air-conditioning, etc., then lots of terrible things are “natural,” including infanticide, rape, murder, human sacrifice, and slavery. That doesn’t make any of those things good. Unless you’re a disciple of Rousseau’s “noble savage” piffle (he didn’t use the phrase, by the way), you should understand that civilization is a battle against nature, specifically human nature. Men in particular have wiring that inclines them to desire as many sexual partners as possible. Gene dissemination (heh) is an evolutionary numbers game for dudes. For women, the evolutionary calculation is different, because they carry a disproportionate burden in the form of actually giving birth and ensuring their kids are cared for.
This asymmetry led to the practice of very wealthy and powerful men having many wives, which is why there are still harems in many parts of the world. (There is a comparatively tiny handful of places where women took many husbands, a.k.a polyandry.) Again, I think this system is very bad for a bunch of reasons. But even if you don’t think that, the simple fact is that monogamy is a better system in terms of the total benefits for society. Polygamy is a bad deal for non-elites, male and female, and for children generally. Monogamous societies are more prosperous, more democratic, and more egalitarian.
And so the stigma against “triads” doesn’t really bother me. I’m not for pelting these people with rocks or caning them in the public square. But I’m fine with the culture and the law erring on the side of marriage as a duo.
Stigma & Tradition
Here’s one of my favorite Chesterton quotes:
Tradition means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.
I was reminded of it by this cleverly asinine tweet:
Tradition, shorn of nostalgia, metaphysical sentiment, and cant is simply another word for what worked. Note: I didn’t say “what works,” because some traditions outlive their utility in both a practical and a moral sense. For instance, slavery was ubiquitous after the agricultural revolution (and rare before it). Over time, it became clear that it was both economically blinkered (Adam Smith pointed this out centuries ago) and, more important, morally repugnant (Smith pointed this out too).
In other words, skepticism toward tradition is perfectly fine, even desirable. But as Chesterton notes in the parable of the fence, tradition also requires a certain amount of deference. If you don’t know why a tradition has taken root, go do some frick’n homework before heaping scorn on it. Smart people figured out stuff like cooking meat is healthier than eating it raw, and thus all traditional cuisines were born. If you start from the premise that tradition is just “peer pressure from dead people,” there will be a lot more dead people, because food poisoning sucks. There’s a rich tradition of telling people not to eat mushrooms with red caps. But hey, free thinkers, go for it.
Quid Pro Quo Vadis?
This was all intended to be lead up to a stem-winder about taboos and stigma and how our culture is obsessed with toppling such things. I was going to ignore Trump entirely. But then I saw this tweet:
I wrote a column a couple weeks ago about how Trump’s erratic and impetuous decision making, combined with his—and his fans’—insatiable need for uncritical support have made “Trump is always right” the only safe harbor for his defenders. Whatever intellectual or philosophical label you go by—conservative, libertarian, populist, realist, nationalist, post-liberal Catholic integralist, whatever—Trump can always be counted on to do something that will conflict with your worldview. Thus, the unspoken doctrine of Trumpian Infallibility (and its philosophical corollary “The Democrats are Worse!”), emerges as the only plank that Trump can’t yank out from under you.
This op-ed by Rand Paul—Mr. Consistent Libertarian—is a perfect illustration of the point. Paul starts by arguing that there’s nothing wrong with quid pro quos, and Democrats are dishonestly trying to scary you with a lot of fancy Latin mumbo jumbo:
Democrats want people to be alarmed by a Latin phrase, but, really, making foreign aid contingent on behavior is actually the defining reason that countries supposedly give aid — to influence the behavior of the receiving country.
Bask in the common sense realism, people! Foreign aid always has strings attached! We make countries buy weapons from “the American military-industrial complex,” we demand anti-corruption reforms “such as when former Vice President Joe Biden demanded the prosecutor looking into his son’s company be fired.”
Never mind the false insinuation that Biden—of whom I have never been a big fan—was motivated by a desire to protect his corrupt son (there’s no evidence for this, though there’s plenty of evidence Hunter is shady). Paul is making a perfectly legitimate point about foreign aid. There’s only one problem. The quid pro quos he’s describing are usually done in accordance with the national interest and, often, congressionally-authorized public policy. The charge against Trump is that he was using congressionally-approved military aid to leverage a quid pro quo for his own personal and political self-interest. Indeed, if Bill Taylor’s testimony is to be believed, Trump didn’t necessarily care if the Ukrainians actually investigated Biden; he just wanted a public statement from them saying Biden was being investigated. In other words, he just wanted to dirty up Biden’s name. (Trump also wanted to get to the bottom of the “server,” presumably hidden in a secret vault beneath Kiev, that contains proof that Russia was innocent of meddling in the election. I wrote about that here.)
The idea that Trump was actually interested in Ukrainian corruption is only believable under the doctrine of Trumpian infallibility. Where else has he ever shown the slightest interest in state corruption—at home or abroad?
If you believe that Rand Paul would be making this argument if, say, Barack Obama pressured Mexico to dig up some dirt on Mitt Romney ahead of the election, you are so caught up in whataboutist spin that you might be in danger of scrotal torsion.
But wait! There’s more!
After establishing that there’s nothing wrong with quid pro quos, Paul pivots to the “but Democrats are worse!” trope:
But Democrats opine that Trump made foreign aid (welfare) contingent on investigating a potential rival, which makes the whole quid pro quo exchange somehow an impeachable offense.
Paul goes on to explain that Hillary’s a quid pro quoer! Obama’s a quid pro quoer! He wants the Senate to investigate the Steele dossier and the terrible quid pro quosity therein. I have no problem with such an investigation—though it’s worth noting there are already two such investigations taking place as we speak. Paul writes:
If Democrats want the American people to believe Donald Trump did something wrong in asking Ukraine to investigate the $50,000 a month that Hunter Biden was receiving, they will first have to admit that their fearless leader Hillary Clinton actually did much worse by paying a foreign spy, Christopher Steele, money for dirt on Trump.
I’m open to the idea that Hillary did something wrong—it’s been my default position for two decades—but Hillary wasn’t president of the United States when she supposedly cut a check for the Steele Dossier.
The idea that a guy who fancies himself a strict constitutionalist and libertarian (albeit with a long record of hiding behind principles when politically convenient) can’t see the difference here would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad.
Hillary’s Paranoid Style
Since we’re on the topic, a quick observation about Clinton.
She recently invited a lot of scorn for her insinuation that Tulsi Gabbard is a Russian asset. In the same conversation, she also said some really batty stuff about flashing videos and the dark web:
Well, I think there's going to be two parts and I think it's going to be the same as 2016: ‘Don't vote for the other guy. You don't like me? Don't vote for the other guy because the other guy is going to do X, Y and Z or the other guy did such terrible things and I'm going to show you in these, you know, flashing videos that appear and then disappear and they're on the dark web, and nobody can find them, but you're going to see them and you're going to see that person doing these horrible things.’
The interesting thing about the response to all this is that people are shocked by it. The thinking seems to be that her 2016 loss broke her in some way and she’s descending into her Madness of Queen Hillary phase.
But here’s the thing: She’s always been like this. She didn’t keep Sidney Blumenthal as her personal Wormtongue solely because she liked to watch him dislocate his jaw to swallow rodents whole. Blumenthal was an irrepressible conspiracy theorist, going back to his JFK theorizing. There’s a reason his nickname was “grassy knoll.” When she was in the White House, long before she uttered the words “vast right-wing conspiracy,” she was obsessed with the vast right-wing conspiracy. In 1995, Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane wrote a 332 page conspiracy theory about right-wing conspiracy theorists describing the sinister network she saw around every corner. In her (first) memoir, she accused William Rehnquist of being part of cabal determined to destroy her husband’s presidency. Despite knowing about her husband’s Caligulan exploits, her first response to every new allegation of infidelity against her husband was to assume it was just the work of her enemies.
It’s entirely possible she’s getting worse. Heck, that would be understandable given the circumstances, but she didn’t have far to fall to hit this new low.
Various & Sundry
Canine Update: Longtime readers know that Pippa has a history of being afraid of dogs in glowing collars. The worst case was early on in her time with us when, predawn, she and Zoë were surprised by two corgis with bright glowing collars. Zoë’s immediate response was to attack the frightening beasts (I intervened very quickly). Pippa took a different tack and ran almost a half-mile, across various streets, all the way home from the park. So it was with some trepidation that we got her a glowing collar of her own. But fortunately, it doesn’t freak her out. Meanwhile, the girls are fine, though Pippa was a bit vexed when her friend Obi took her tennis ball. Also meanwhile, Zoë’s best friend Sammi has learned the art of playing dead to avoid Zoë’s ruff-housing. I don’t have as many good videos this week, because I was travelling so much and when I was home, we’ve been going out in the dark. But the treat videos—a new staple—are in ample supply.
Our real concern is that we have to leave town to visit with our daughter over Christmas break and our usual dog and house-sitters are unavailable. We’re really reluctant to put them in a kennel, even a good one, because Pippa is a worrier and Zoë has a history of coming out of stir in her pre-civilized feral state. We’re not sure what we’re going to do. Suggestions welcome.
And now, the weird stuff.