Rebut

This, in response to the belle dame’s entry (see, I’m doing what the guy said to do):

“Everyone will write a memoir” was supposed to be another of my “awful” predictions, although, unlike the apocalypse article, I’m not certain that this is the most awful outcome. The most I’m willing to commit to is that it would be another valuational slide to another portion of the spectrum. I made the prediction because it is obvious to me that we are sliding in that direction. Of course, I agree with the concerns you raise; I wonder, though, whether they involve valuations that, like the sexual mores, we will ease up on in time. “When in Rome…” seems to apply to our own place as we travel forward in time and, in fact, the short term effect of our changing, technology-mediated mores may be that we’re becoming, as a culture, more Mediterranean. But yeah, I was primarily trying to express potential philosophical discomfort with the thing, while at the same time fully admitting that I’m in the thing.

So I agree about intimacy, and the value of limiting disclosure to a small circle of friends. I agree that full disclosure and zero taboo leads to “boring sex”, i.e., no tittilation and thus, paradoxically, none of the incentive that progressively brought about the disclosure. It may be, though, that the future forebodes “boring sex”. First of all, Foucault’s radical claim, made by Freud and Marx as well, is that sexual repression didn’t exist in the same way 600 years ago, because sex was simply regulated by various practical taboos. They just said, “Hey! Don’t have sex! God doesn’t like it, and it creates complications for the community!” But everyone, commoners and nobility alike, knew “about” sex (wrapped up in these stories are some ideas about proximity to animal breeding and sexual repression). If you look at Greek drama, they don’t talk about sex not because they’re prudes, but because they don’t think there’s much to say about it. They probably had fairly “boring sex”, too.

“History of Sexuality” chronicles all the ways in which the Church and various social institutions (law, medicine, psychology) encouraged and developed a discourse (and a technical knowledge) about sex where there was none before. Among other things, all the focus goes to the venal sins, in law and religion. People start witch-hunting for onanism (and Foucault says, pederasty) for the first time. And the S&M thing was that the deeper your horror at your sexuality, the more pleasure you got from confessing to the proper authorities. And the whole time, it seems that the authorities are becoming more and more knowledgeable about the ways and mechanisms of common sexuality. To demonstrate this, Foucault describes all the explicit (written) precautions boarding-school adminstrators took to protect the young boys from each other. Then there’s this anonymous Victorian gentleman who wrote a several volume memoir detailing his increasingly bizarre sexual contests, all the while claiming that his book is meant for moral edification. When Freud casts off the shackles of repression and instructs people to talk at great lengths to psychologists about their sexuality and their personal histories, Foucault sees this as a culmination of and not a break with a modern Western development. Likewise, sexual guruism and sexual athletics post-60s. And then the fact that millions of people can’t get it up without the help of a corporation would be seen as something of a confirmation of his entire body of theory.

The social investigation of sexuality is supposed to parallel at every point an investigation into other details of the private lives of individuals. It’s as if history is for the sake of the sociologists. Or, more likely, the sociologists investigate for the sake of society.

Now, the difference is that we’re all registering ourselves with everyone else. We like to record the details of our lives and have others there to comment on them. I know that I feel a strange compulsion to leave a record of myself, and that the loss of my harddrive felt like a terrible loss of a vast chunk of my being. The radical-constructivist theory of Foucault and ilk says that there’s no simplicity to my desire; my desire is conditioned by a long and complicated historical process (Pinker would view all of the preceding as nonsense). But if this is true, it probably doesn’t make sense to rail against or attempt to reject the pedigree of my desires. After all, if repression is something like an historical accident, it does lead to “good sex”. The problem is dealing with changing mores: do we join them, can we join them?

But if people keep demanding more and more personal information, and people keep feeling this intense desire to “get themselves on film”, I think this means that everyone will write a memoir, or make a autobiopic, or whatever. Data storage is running away from the existing data, so people keep finding new data that needs to be recorded, indexed, patterned, cross-referenced, etc. If everyone wrote a memoir, it would represent the biggest sociological data trove imaginable. But, like you said, people lie, so the most important social mores to instill would involve the spiritual sanctity of a personal record. To meet society’s demand, a person revealed to have lied in his memoir would have to be treated like a child molester. Okay, but is this terrible? I think you would see a weird double relationship to the memoirs: on the one hand, no one would want to have a dull memoir; on the other hand, no one would want to depict himself (truthfully) as a monster, so everyone would play a Baudelairian game, preemptively creating a colorful canvas of themselves. In the same way that the shame of confession should ostensibly prevent you from sinning, but the promise of confession allows you to sin, the prospect of the memoir would be a postmodern moral guide.