A Liberal’s Admonishment to Liberals
An analysis of the Manfred Wolf Column,
This Time, This Place
for January 2020
(c) Vernon Miles Kerr, vernonmilerskerr.com writersclass.net
I previously featured one of Manfred Wolf’s earlier essays in this series of frank discussions with fellow liberals. See Here.. Dr. Wolf is concerned about how extremists within the movement are hurting the cause by “calling out” fellow liberals who do not share a “puritanical” zeal for extreme lefty-ness. I thought the comparison with Victorian puritanical ideas about women was surprising and apt. As Wolf, says, the missiles of discontent have been lobbed at him recently, much like they were lobbed, over on the conservative side, when Mitt Romney stood up for truth. Here is the unabridged This Time, This Place column:
The Righteousness Mob (No.Four of a Series)
Manfred WolfSome of my readers have been taking issue with my series of columns on the subject of our present-day mania for “calling people out.” They think I am indirectly defending the #MeToo wrongdoers, or that I am, as someone nicely quoted, “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.” Others view me as having slid over to the Dark Side; in their eyes I might as well be wearing a MAGA hat.
My claim that these fashionable notions emanated from the Left proved especially offensive. How could I attribute totalitarian gestures to the Left, to those who were progressives and championed social justice? My argument that in our time the left sets the cultural tone and shapes cultural trends — and is frequently able to translate culture into law — went nowhere.
I was also told that my term ‘puritanism’ seems inappropriate in our time when so many different kinds of sexual behavior are not only permitted but celebrated, as indeed they are.
So why do I call our present ways puritanical? Because our “purifying” zeal is endless, and we take great joy in restricting, judging, and punishing. I don’t mean to suggest that attacks against women are ever permissible, nor do I advocate sex with children or adolescents; but calling people out for speaking suggestively, or for leering, or for putting a hand on a female shoulder, as Joe Biden or Al Franken have been accused of doing, is ludicrous and, yes, puritanical. All puritanical ages seek prudishly to root out pleasure, frivolity or any display they don’t approve of.
In Victorian times, women were not supposed to show any skin, nor was sex outside marriage ever condoned. Homosexuality was, of course, forbidden. But the age of consent was not as seriously demarcated as it is now, and Victorian children often went oddly unprotected. It is said that on many a night little girls lodged innocently at middle-aged Lewis Carroll’s house, while few eyebrows were raised at the Alice in Wonderland author’s photographs of young nude girls.
For that matter, the age of consent is not stable even in modern times, as my recent characterization of the courtship of French President Macron demonstrated.
Beyond the fluidity of all these shifting prohibitions, note also that they mark in each case the most recent face of a “progressive” measure. In Victorian times women were sheltered as “protection” from male rapaciousness, much as they are in strict Islamic societies now. Progress was measured by how confined the woman was. The ostensible aim of many restrictive measures is to advance women’s well-being by shielding them. So it was thought that sexual taboos, codes and prohibitions served to advance the cause of civilized men and women, and of civilization itself, though in fact it merely ensured the woman’s captivity.
The mistake that most people make is to see our recent strictures as definitive, as final — as the ultimate state to which progress has led. But they are not The Last Word. They are merely the last words that will be said until they are replaced by other last words.
Manfred Wolf is Professor Emeritus of English at San Francisco State University and a frequent lecturer at University of San Franciso’s Fromm Institute of Lifelong Learning. His Columns have been published in the Los Angeles Times, The Sacramento Bee and several neighborhood newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area Region.
Manfred Wolf’s Fromm Institute courses on Shakespeare, Thomas Mann, Poetry and several more… are available as podcasts, free-of-charge, HERE
Manfred Wolf’s books are available on Amazon.com, some, as Kindle Versions