Friday, February 27, 2009

Two Modalities

Renoir, Conversation

"In the fact that human beings exist in two modalities--masculine and feminine--one can, (to my mind one should), find a clear and original confirmation of the thesis that man has need of others in order to perfect himself. Any genuine fulfillment or development of the human person can not be achieved without adequate sexual interaction." -Cormac Burke, Man and Values

In a previous post, we discussed the relationship between man's existence and man's material, bodily self. Here, we'd like to describe the effect of the material self on sexual identity. Cormac Burke describes the root of the human existence in two modalities , male and female. His word choice, modality, (defined in the Oxford American Dictionary as "a particular form of sensory perception"), points to the essence of our human interaction, as dependent on the physical. We are rational beings, yes, but rooted in our material world.

Man's essential physical characteristic demands that we examine our physical same-ness and differences. If we are so physical, then the physical world holds significance for us! We observe that, in general, man exists as male and female, each with a distinct set of sexual characteristics. (We note the primary sex characteristics and the secondary sex characteristics.) It seems these physical differences serve a function, namely (at least) the facilitation of reproduction. From this observation, we can conclude that distinct maleness and femaleness characteristics, within the narrow category of physical reproduction, are necessary for the propagation of the species. Humanity's survival depends on the existence and distinctness of these two modalities. Even extraordinary means of reproduction, such as artificial insemination, generally work off a model of reproduction based off the male-female sexual interaction.

We posit that maleness and femaleness is not just significant to humanity on a macro, species level. Just as Aristotle proposes that the polity is necessary for the development of the individual virtuous man, we propose that sex differences, embodied in distinct maleness and femaleness, are a necessary social ingredient for the development of the individual. We will address the particular nature of these sex differences, and why man needs both modalities in a future post- for now, we concern ourselves with the dangers of divorcing ourselves from our biological realities.

Man is a social animal. He needs other humans. The question remains, however, why does the individual need to be manifest one sex or the other? We can imagine a world (let's call it Trumbull) where we relate to each other with varying degrees of relational androgyny, where as long as our physical sexual characteristics exist distinct, we, as a species, exist. (In this occasion, we take androgyny to mean the absence of particular male or female characteristic in a male or female, respectively.) The distinction is that in Trumbull, man exists but man does not flourish. For while Trumbullites see male and female sex differences as only relevant to biological reproduction, and not relevant to how they ought to act, Trumbullites miss what their sex differences have to offer them. For example, if the virtue of motherliness, which is typically associated with womanhood, becomes the norm in Trumbull for both men and women, Trumbullites will lose the full conception of what it means to "mother." We are not, here, trying to determine man's capacity to function as well as woman in the role of motherhood. What we concern ourselves with is the obscuration of the root of the virtue, and the divorce between virtue's origin and practice.

Burke comments, "The human person cannot develop adequately - that is, become fully human - within a framework of purely masculine or purely feminine values (a society itself may be excessively masculinized or excessively feminized)." Virginia Woolf adds, "It would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men, for if two sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the world, how should we manage with one only?" The turn away from sex differences opens up a world of possibilities- a world that is distinctly non-human, because it has lost aspects of our humanity (aspects such as motherliness). Femaleness and maleness have roots in biology. Yes, gender roles may have social foundations, but they are not entirely social constructs. They are constructions upon a foundation. If we divorce our biological sexual characteristics from our persons, and label maleness and femaleness as constructions, out-dated and fit for recycling, we have yielded to the lure of dualism and have robbed ourselves of the opportunity to flourish as human beings.

Friday, February 20, 2009

We Are Bodies

Thermae Boxer

"I exist and live as a body in a world of bodies. We bodies contact each other and by this contact we create the world-space. To be a body, however, is to exist only in process: forming and decaying, appearing and disappearing, recurring and undergoing modification, development and growth. Although at times we seem as inert as sleeping dogs or rocks, we are never simply there, but are always becoming or perishing... Nowhere and at no time do I find myself to be anything but my body."

- Benedict M. Ashley, "Theologies of the Body: Christian and Humanist"

I stumbled upon Ashley's impressive work and was surprised by his visceral images and both practical and reverent take on scientific facts. The grittiness of his conceptualization of human beings struck me deeply. For about a week after picking up "Theologies of the Body," this 770 pager was my constant companion. I read the first page to anyone who would listen. I found an ontology that appealed to me; an ontology that begins, almost exclusively, scientifically and empirically.

While our particular concerns here are humanist, and not theological, Ashley's quote synthesizes well for our purposes of inquiry. We (humans) are bodies. We are lodged, quite firmly, in the material world. Even an out-of-body experience requires input from material surroundings. The feeling of high euphoria associated with an escape from the material world depends on material substance, whether induced by synthetic drugs, natural hormonal changes, etc. Man is a sophisticated homeostatic system. Biochemically, man's cells operate on, and are acted upon, their environment. These basic units are models for homeostasis, which is the tendency toward stable equilibrium. On the personal level, man remains constant, in continuous motion as he flexibly stabilizes both himself and his external world.

We posit that while man is partially a socially constructed being, at the same time as he is a physical being. We suggest that man's physicality is intrinsic to his person. While there may be various other components to his being, we can at least agree that man experiences the world first as physical.

We perceive and we react. As sensual beings, we cannot divorce ourselves from our material, no matter how convenient we find Cartesian Dualism. Descartes responded to the philosophy created by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, that was unforgivably, in his eyes, dependent on the senses and chained to the physical world. He attempted to create an understanding of man as greater than his mere physical experience. His famous, "I think, therefore I am" neatly describes the Cartesian understanding of the essence of man's being as something distinct from the physical world. We see the effects of Cartesian thought in the passive acceptance of man's divorce of his human person from his actions. We consider this a skewed perception of the human person. Regardless of how man feels about his current person or actions, he cannot divorce himself from his physical body.

Take, for example, the dualism of Virginia students on a Friday night. We'll call our case study Christine. Christine gets drunk, streaks the Lawn, and gets caught by the police. She (in all likelihood) doesn't want to take personal responsibility for what she said and did on Saturday at two am on the Lawn. However, regardless of whether Christine mentally detached herself from reason, emotion, or her physical person, Albermarle County will still charge Christine for the felony she committed while under the influence. While Descartes would identify Christine's most complete reality in Christine's mind, Christine's feelings on the subject really have nothing to do with her current predicament. Her body (quite literally) was intimately involved, and therefore, so was Christine. The law doesn't ask whether Christine felt completely like Christine in the preceding moments before handing her a ticket. The law expects a unity between body and thought. Welcome to reality, Christine. Here, we can take the law's custom as an indication of what we can arrive at without complex legal statutes: we are our bodies! For a less ironic example, take your morning ritual as proof of the absolute connection of the person to the body: look in the mirror while brushing your teeth, and you will see you, your person, that one with the bed-head. The matter that you perceive in the mirror is the same as the being that does the perceiving. There's no getting out of it.

We use the five senses to gather information about our surroundings. We do not just take information in passively. For example, in the act of smelling, we physically consume tiny particles of our environment. In addition, we also use the material world to manifest ourselves. We are bodies that express persons. Our unique capacity of communication unites the mental with the physical; language is the materially expressed symbol for thought. Just as we depend on other persons as a social being, we also depend on our physicality to form and communicate ourselves as physical beings.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

V-Day Special: Androgynous Nation

Ahhh. Valentine's day. Love is in the air. The birds are singing, the sun is shining and floristry is experiencing its annual rally on the NYSE. Today is the day to express your love and devotion to your beloved. Today is the day to tell your friends how much you love them. Today is the day, on college campuses, that young couples walk hand in hand, as fellow students greet them with heart-warming slogans such as "if you're headed to the candy shop, don't forget to wrap your lollipop." Ahh, young love.

Huh? Did we miss something here? This juxtaposition of genuine expressions of human love next to crass disrespect for human sexuality gives us pause.

An so today, Valentine’s day, is the perfect day for us to begin to investigate the current state of male-female relations in our culture. We have begun to explore the meaning of friendship and love. Now that we have defined terms, let's get into the meat of the issue.

Why are we writing? Why have we found it necessary to address the issue of male-female relations? The answer is written in our experiences and observations. We have taken to our keyboards because our culture's push for androgyny has stripped men and women of their unique differences. This disrespect and lack of appreciation for the differences between men and women has significant implications for the relations between the sexes and has resulted in the deterioration of the male-female dynamic. But there is hope for an alternative.

Our culture has worked tirelessly to dismantle the unjust structures of gender inequality. Women have championed the cause of full integration and demonstrated their ability to participate fully in the world. Integration between the sexes has righted imbalances in the political and societal spheres. In a testament to woman’s determination, man’s adaptability, and our potential, we have sought to bring about a more just society.

While we praise the achievement of equality of the sexes, we understand equality to be distinct from the agenda of androgyny. Without a doubt, men and women have equal inherent value and ought to be afforded the same opportunities according to their abilities. But, unfortunately, the push for equality has been trumped by the promotion of sameness and androgyny—the belief that there are no significant differences between a man and a woman.

On campus, we are told to "celebrate diversity," yet are ridiculed when we celebrate the diversity between men and women. We are told that gender is a social construct that must be overcome. Rather than recognizing that men and women complement each other with differing strengths and weaknesses, our culture has sought to obliterate sex differences.

This widespread and utter failure to recognize the differences between men and women has led to confused relations between the sexes. Without societal guidelines, young men and women interact with one another with little or no understanding of their unique characteristics as members of opposite sexes. This has an incredible impact on all manners of relating, especially friendships and romantic relationships. What we face today is a crisis in male-female relations.

The simple fact we suggest is this: guys are not girls. Let that sink in. Girls are not guys. Radical idea, we know. The implication of this fact requires that relationships between the sexes must proceed with recognition, respect and celebration of differences. Unfortunately, without this respect for diversity, our culture has become the breeding ground for confusion. It has become the scene of harmful hook-ups and countless ambiguous male-female relationships, which may be regarded as potentially fruitful friendships between young men and women that disintegrate for want of clarity.

We hope the simple truth that “guys are not girls,” which we will begin to explore on this page, will help to mend the growing rent in the fabric of our society.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Gustav Klimt The Kiss

"Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman. In some mysterious but quite indisputable fashion the lover desires the Beloved herself, not the pleasure she can give." - C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

What is Eros? We classically associate Eros with sexual desire, with that feeling of "being in love." We immediately think of the story of Cupid, the Greek equivalent of Eros. Cupid takes out his weapons of love, his bow and arrow, and shoots an unsuspecting individual, who falls violently in love with the first person in sight. Beware of the plague of love! Eros, however, is much more than just base attraction. It is not just plain animal desire. The love between a man and a woman is uniquely more because the object of desire is unique. Cupid's victims are not raging bags of hormones, desiring sexual satisfaction in all surrounding subjects. Instead, they attach themselves to one person. They may do so irrationally, but not flippantly or erratically.

Eros is enrapture in another person who is distinct from all other persons. Man in love would not be satisfied with just any woman. He is only satisfied with his lover. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, Eros wants the Beloved; sexual desire wants sex. Eros is a transformation. It transforms lust to love. It grasps together desire and intrigue and results in a search for an individual. The object of sexual impulse is pleasure, a calculable subjective good. But eros takes sexual impulse and creates a desire for something intrinsically good; a fellow subject. The desire for sex becomes ordered when man seeks, not pleasure, but a person. Man loves in order to share an objective good, to participate in another's existence.

In Eros, lovers seek to possess the other’s heart. A lover wants to know all about the other person and make the other a part of himself or herself. It is a jealous love. In friendship, however, two individuals stand side by side, looking toward common interests. The beginning of friendship is a moment in solitude, which rejoices in the discovery of a third. Friends discover each other, drawn like children to the M&Ms in a bag of Costco trail mix. Ten minutes later, at the realization of the very healthy and decidedly chocolate-free trail mix, the group often scatters. While some might stay behind, chatting over the undesirable cashews and raisins, the interaction that follows is not defined by a hunger for the other person, unsatisfied or even annoyed by the intrusion others. Friends are happy to share their friendship with another worthy person. In Eros, however, lovers want to possess the other; consume the other; to become one.

Who would have thought such a colorful canvas of human emotion could appear from the base palate of animalistic sexual desire? Yet, all around us, we see the perversion of Eros into lust. We might even justify such a degradation of this love as a by-product of the necessary sexual component of Eros. But lust alone is not the totality of love.

Monday, February 9, 2009


We believe men and women are different; equal yet different. These differences should be recognized and respected, particularly in the manner in which men and women relate to each other. In this way, friendships between men and women carry with them boundaries that do not exist in friendships between two women or two men. With this understanding, we will explore the special nature of male-female interaction and attempt to propose an alternative to the current culture of ambiguity. We'll do our best to address issues that we know from experience and observation to be prevalent problems plaguing young people today. We will explore how interaction between the sexes currently is and suggest a way how it could be. So, to begin, let's define terms. We'll look first at friendship.

"... for without friends no one would choose to live."
(Book XVIII of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics)

The topic of friendship has inspired more books than one could read in a lifetime. Search "friendship" on Google books and enjoy browsing over 368,000 titles. Why so many? Because man only makes sense in the context of others. We need friendship. Thus, it makes sense to analyze here, the nature of this indispensable element of our experience. But we'd rather not reinvent the wheel. What we present here is our image of friendship, inspired by Aristotle, supplemented by our professors, and proven by our experiences.

Man is physical. He creates himself by interacting as a person with the environment around him. His interior disposition is a reflection of his actions in the physical world. As a social being, man seeks the company of other persons. Friendship socializes man in childhood and entertains him in old age. In an environment with other people, man seeks to break the solitude of egocentricity. Friendship is the link between man's experience and the human experience. Outside of himself, man can fully experience his "humanity." The human experience is the common search for the true, the good, and the beautiful. In communion with others, man participates in the reality of discovery. In solitude, man is his own measure. So man needs man. But in what capacity?

Aristotle divides friendship into friendship for the good of utility, for the good of pleasure, and for "good qua good" (good as itself). This third type of friendship fulfills man not just on an organismic level, or on an animal level, but on a personal level. It is only in the pursuit of the good as itself that man can enter into an exchange which satisfies man's search for meaning and discovery. The object in this friendship is the well being, the good, of the friends.

True friendship occurs between two persons who seek the good (defined as well-being by Aristotle) in itself. This eliminates from our definition of "genuine friendship" any relationship of utility or pleasure, where man seeks only the utility or pleasantness of the friendship. Friendship must be good for both individuals. It is impossible to love something "not-good;" love is pursuit of the good. Friendship-love cannot exist oriented toward the "not good." It also must be a two way street; one man can't be friends to another man in solitude. Friendship requires time; one man must find another likable. It is not enough to enjoy initial attraction. We emphasize the verb "find." The act of finding requires cognitive effort, and a material discovery. Friendships aren't stumbled upon--they are cultivated. Finally, the virtuous man is a better friend. We improve our friendships by improving ourselves.

"... and in loving a friend men love what is good for themselves; for the good man in becoming a friend becomes a good to his friend. Each then, both loves what is good for himself, and makes an equal return in goodwill and in pleasantness; for friendship is said to be equality, and both of these are found in the friendship of the good." (Book XVIII of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics

In light of what we have written here, perhaps we should all take a moment and consider, who is truly my friend?

Winslow Homer Boys in Pasture

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Compass

Welcome to the Compass for Friendship & Love blog. We are two undergraduate students at the University of Virginia who have undertaken to present an alternative to the current crisis of the male- female dynamic. We see random hookups and quasi-romantic friendships as a signal of the deterioration of the broader world of male-female relations, particularly on college campuses.

The situation is bleak. Dating is nearly extinct, and random hook-ups are rampant while those who reject the hook-up culture are left to navigate the labyrinth of relationships without a compass. Some may say, “So what?” And many do. But we consider the situation to be problematic. There are no more guidelines for the interaction of the sexes. There are no more boundaries and there are no more rules. It’s as if we’re playing a game of soccer without any sidelines—and often without goals either. The world of male-female interaction, especially on college campuses, is plagued by fouls, injury and emotional exhaustion. The injured list is growing and both girls and guys—but especially girls—are filling up the roster.

Men and women are searching for love and companionship, but too often do not have a compass to find it. For far too many, our compass is broken. Exposed to the magnetism of our culture, the compass no longer points north to an understanding and respect of the differences between men and women.

We hope you will join us on this journey as we seek to regain our bearings.