Wednesday, March 19, 2008

a brief walk through the labyrinth of sex and love

The other day a couple of people I know had a disagreement. The woman was concerned that the man, aged fifty-one, had an interest in a woman fifteen years his junior. ‘What’s wrong with women closer to your own age?’ she asked.

The man was annoyed at the question. He didn’t like the idea that the woman seemed to be playing this as a moral issue. She seemed to be implying that, the closer the woman was to his own age, the more ‘right’ his feelings would be.

We don’t generally choose the people we love, they choose us. Also, as survey after survey after survey has shown, men prefer young beautiful women, women prefer men of status. This is a general rule, with of course many exceptions. Men and women, then, are equally but differently shallow. Only, of course, it’s not shallow at all, it makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective. What attracts men, generally, is women of child-bearing age – and the best years of child-bearing, which isn’t the mid thirties but the early twenties, and the years round about. They are the best bearers of the seed.

Now I know this is controversial stuff and some women will argue that it’s all just a self-serving take on sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, and that we’re more than just animals, that we’re not merely driven by our instincts, and that we don’t see men – at least not all of them – ditching their partners when they hit menopause and chasing after the young and fruitful.

This is a complex and confusing matter, and I’ve already confused it further by treating sexual desire as if it is love. They are in fact two separate things. You can continue to love someone though you no longer feel sexual desire for her, and this happens, for example in marriage and long-term relationships, much more often than people like to admit. Love, to me, is essentially about empathy and identification. Suffering with he who has suffered, delighting in her delight, I mean really feeling it, being bowled over and knocked about by it. The love thing often interferes or clashes with sexual desire – it’s where commitment and loyalty come in. It’s also supported by mythology. The other day, I heard this remark in a film – ‘when I kissed her lips, I realized that I never wanted to kiss any other lips than hers again’. The fact that this referred to a lesbian relationship might have obscured its underlying traditionalist message, the message from Plato’s Symposium as relayed, no doubt facetiously, by Aristophanes: that love is about finding your other half, the Desire and Pursuit of the Whole.

I for one am unconvinced by this mythology, but who hasn’t been beguiled by it? When you kiss another’s lips for the first time, isn’t it sweeter if you somehow believe these lips are the best ever tasted, the most perfectly matched with your own? Love of this kind is an invigorating, if often harrowing, invention.

This mythologizing of the other is all down to hormones, the women’s magazines tell us, and it lasts no more than a few years at most. After that comes a readjustment of expectations, or a break-up. If the latter occurs, both parties will probably be guided in their next choice by those general categories above-mentioned, youth and beauty for the male, social status for the female, and they will quite likely look askance at each others’ facile, shallow choices. Unless of course, they still love each other, in that empathic way I’ve mentioned. But then, why would they have broken up?

To me, the mature option is to recognize that love and sex really are different, and to cut each other a little slack, as the Americans say. To be mature enough to recognize that having sex with another isn’t necessarily a slap in the face, nor a denial of love. It’s simply a recognition that there are no lips we want to kiss to the exclusion of all others, that variety does spice up life.

It’s often a hard road to hoe, what with jealousy and insecurity, not to mention the effort required to entice new sexual partners to your bed. It’s hardly surprising that most of us give up – if we ever travel that road – and settle into complacent monogamy, spiced up now and then by easy-to-hand fantasies from parties, movies or the internet.

So to return to our fifty-one year old single gent and his sexual pursuits and fantasies. Does he really deserve scorn for showing interest in a woman fifteen years his junior rather than five years his junior? Would he be more ‘moral’ to pursue women closer to his own age? If he fell for a woman of twenty-five, would this be obscene? My own view would be that in a world of mature, consenting adults, let people pursue their objects of desire as they will, and let the cards fall as they may. Tears, longings, mixed and missed messages, rebuffs, hope deferred and heartsickness may follow, along with moments of exhilaration and, with a little luck, contented days. Our gentleman may end up getting just what he deserves. Then again, maybe not.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Kissinger and Vietnam

criminal handshake? - Kissinger and Hanoi's Le Duc Tho, January 1973

Tomorrow, supposedly, we’ll be coming out of the biggest heat wave for any Austalian capital city in recorded history [which goes back only 120 years]. Biggest by a long drink, too, today being the fifteenth day with a maximum over 35. Previously, Perth held the record with 10 consecutives 20 years ago. I’ve survived this period – well, haven’t quite survived it yet – sans AC, though I helped Sarah install one from Radio Rentals a few days ago, and have been taking advantage of it just a little, nervously, being semi persona non grata over there.

Not surprisingly it has been an unproductive period, I’m having big trouble with my novel/memoir, it being too unwieldy, too personal, too obviously uncommercial for a publisher, too potentially dangerous [though that’s too strong a word] to people I love. I’m not sure what to do about it.

What do you do when someone you love lets it be known that she despises you? You have to let it go, I think. The Morcheeba song plays in my head: Fear can stop you loving, love can stop your fear. But it’s not always that clear.

So let me focus, for the time being, on Kissinger and Vietnam. I’ve just read a tatty old book, first published in 1973 when Kissinger was still at the height of his power and the Vietnam War was still being prolonged by the Nixon administration, called Kissinger: the uses of power, by David Landau. I was prompted to read it because, well, it was around the house, and I wanted to get some background to claims by some that Kissinger is a war criminal.

Landau’s book is unsympathetic to Kissinger, though far from unreservedly so. I doubt if it would’ve occurred to him at that time to consider Kissinger a criminal, especially as he deals in his book with considerably more hawkish characters, including Nixon himself. Also, as I argued in my piece on Suharto, the idea of bringing heads of state, or top brass, to book for their decisions is a relatively new one. Landau, who confines himself in the book to Kissinger’s involvement in the Vietnam War, contents himself with the conclusion [devastating enough, after all] that Kissinger and Nixon did more to perpetuate that war than anyone else.

Kissinger was a great admirer of the nineteenth century Austrian diplomat, Metternich, and he shared Metternich’s anti-democratic elitism. This elitism seems to have blinded him to considerations about what the Vietnamese people really wanted. In fact he would have doubted if they knew what they wanted, realizing that, for all sorts of reasons, they were more easily captured, in terms of minds and hearts, by the NLF than by the Americans and their European precursors. He was doubtless right in this, but it’s only a short step from having a certain contempt for a people’s ability to choose what is best for them, according to Kissinger’s lights, and treating them as dispensable.

We are moving away, I hope, from the ‘grand schema’, chess-playing politics of the nineteenth century, and its partial revival in the seventies under Kissinger and his ilk. With the growth of education and trade, and the opening of borders, we’re making many more connections well below the heady levels of world diplomacy. Kissinger’s reputation has become something of a victim of this more humane refocusing, and deservedly so. Vietnam was never a threat to the USA, and Kissinger, as much as anyone, must’ve known that its people were much more interested in self-determination and freedom from foreign interference than in chimerical concepts such as communism. It seems that his ambition and love of centre stage led him to conveniently adopt the more rabid anti-communism of others in the Nixon administration [many of whom were suspicious of his ‘dovishness’], which allowed him to play the interfering game on the world’s stage to his heart’s content – at a massive human cost.

Landau’s book, though full of an insider’s insights, doesn’t touch on Chile, East Timor or other hotspots and disasters mentioned on such anti-Kissinger sites as this one. Neither does he claim Kissinger as the architect of the Cambodia bombing, as seems to be commonplace among Kissinger detractors now. It may be that further information has come to light, I don’t know. It’s an important matter, for if it’s true that around a million civilians of Cambodia and Laos were killed in those raids, as is claimed on the previously linked site, then that is a crime for which the decision-makers should be held responsible. Claims that the government of Cambodia permitted the bombing are hardly exculpatory.

Is Kissinger a criminal? I honestly don’t know. The real problem is that the evidence will never get to be tested in an international court, because the USA recognizes no international jurisdiction over its citizens.

It should be taken as a given that the foreign policies of all nations are monumentally self-serving. The word ‘monumentally’ provides essential emphasis. This is a fact for the most powerful and the least powerful nations on Earth. However, the most powerful countries inevitably wreak most havoc in the global arena. Given this fact, international policing and legal institutions are essential to safeguard small nations from the depradations of stronger ones. The USA has placed itself above the law in this regard – a situation which is as unacceptable as would have been a monarch proclaiming the divine right of kings in the enlightenment era. As unacceptable as a police force, with almost unlimited powers, answerable to no higher authority beyond itself.

This untenable situation needs first to be fixed, otherwise all the evidence in the world will amount to very little.

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