Ed Driscoll

Hef's World, From Top To Bottom

In Tech Central Station, James Pinkerton compares and contrasts Hugh Hefner and Maureen Dowd:

Indeed, one might suspect that Dowd is getting close to exactly what she wants. She is the best-known and best-paid “sob sister” in America today. If not everything she writes turns into gold, her words are still worth their weight in silver, and that’s plenty lucrative.

So when she writes, in her opening, “I don’t even understand what I don’t understand about men” — don’t believe her. In fact, she understands men full well. In her book, she cites her own mother as a lifelong authority on males; she recalls the late Peggy Dowd telling her, “Women can stand on the Empire State Building and scream to the heavens that they are equal to men and liberated, but until they have the same anatomy, it’s a lie.” Indeed, going further, the elder Dowd observed of modern times, “It’s more of a man’s world than ever. Men can eat their cake in unlimited bakeries.”

And by “bakery,” Maureen’s mom meant the cookie factory, a.k.a the cheesecake factory. That is, contemporary society, in which men and women wheel and deal themselves sexually — although as Dowd would be the first to profess in print, the most successful sex-wheelers are men.

We might, for example, consider Hugh Hefner, who founded Playboy magazine the year after Dowd was born, back in 1953. More than any other individual, Hefner changed the name of the game, from patriarchy to anarchy. Bygone institutions such as chaste courtship, followed by marriage, might have oppressed women in various ways, but they oppressed men, too — or at least men felt oppressed by the need to get married before they could have sex.

“Hef” helped to change all that, not only making sexy pictures readily available, but through the articles — honest! — in the magazine, too. Beginning in 1962, he began publishing “The Playboy Philosophy,” which captured, and then accelerated, the budding libertinism in the culture. As Hefner wrote of the “playboy” ideal:

“He can be many things, providing he possesses a certain point of view. He must see life not as a vale of tears but as a happy time; he must take joy in his work, without regarding it as the end and all of living; he must be an alert man, an aware man, a man of taste, a man sensitive to pleasure, a man who — without acquiring the stigma of the voluptuary or dilettante — can live life to the hilt. This is the sort of man we mean when we use the word playboy.”

Those were heady years, indeed, for the young and the restless, when The Pill was becoming common, when a semi-Rat Packer President sat in the White House, when Lenny Bruce shocked and stunned the squares, even as liberal lawyers sought to expand one-narrow definitions of “privacy” to include anything that consenting adults might wish to consent to.

But of course, “consenting adult” has proven to be a synonym for “cookie,” or “cheesecake” — which Hefnerians love to graze upon, without having to stick around and stake a legal and binding claim. Women were liberated from the need to get married, but in a different way, men were liberated from the need to get married, too.

Which, focusing on the bottom rungs of society, is the subject of this profile of Theodore Dalrymple, in Canada’s National Post:

Dalrymple’s father, a communist and a businessman, worried about humanity’s future but didn’t like people and couldn’t enter an equal relationship with anyone. This left Dalrymple permanently suspicious of anyone selling grand schemes. More important, his parents fought a long silent war over his head. They never spoke to each other in his presence and “created for themselves a kind of hell on a small domestic scale, as if acting in an unscripted play by Strindberg.” For a long time Dalrymple pitied himself. Finally he decided, “One’s past is not one’s destiny, and it is self-serving to pretend that it is.” He decided if in the future he became miserable, it would be his own fault.

The single parents he has treated often are at fault — and they know it. They also know they will not be censured. When discussing social issues it is forbidden to blame “the victims,” and women burdened with fatherless children automatically become victims, therefore not responsible for their acts.

He has learned that men who carelessly impregnate women know perfectly well the consequences. “They all know that they are condemning their children to lives of brutality, poverty, abuse and hopelessness.” Yet many do it often. Government, by its (unavoidable) decision to provide some support for children, “absolves the men of all responsibility. The state becomes the child’s father, reducing the biological father to the status of a child.”

He has treated many young women who know “it is both foolish and wicked” to have children by a man without considering whether he could be a good father. His female patients repeatedly choose men who are obviously bad candidates for fatherhood, being some combination of unreliable, drunken, drug-addicted, criminal or violent. In his telling, it sounds as if evolution has gone into reverse, females selecting the males least likely to collaborate in successfully perpetuating the species. They consider transitory pleasure more important than the human beings they create — not the banality of evil, says Dalrymple, but “the frivolity of evil.”

But even Dalrymple faults society. Elite opinion-makers (the “mandarins” in his subtitle) have created an easygoing culture that tolerates just about anything. It abandons traditional values without replacing them and then wakes up surprised to find that millions of young people don’t much care about the civilization that makes life bearable.

Go figure.

Update: Kevin Murphy has some thoughts on MoDo and Hef.