Soak in the courage, people

Jonah Goldberg in the September 30 issue of National Review, in The Taboo Cliché.

Robin Thicke recently explained what he was thinking with one of his music videos. “We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women.” Soak in the courage, people. Nearly every day there is another preening, posturing, brave essay in some left-wing publication or journal calling for a serious effort to abolish unjust taboos. The Guardian recently ran an essay titled “Paedophilia: Bringing Dark Desires to Light” that argued that the desire to abuse children sexually is just another “sexual orientation.” Over at Big Think, a website so misnamed it should invite a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit, putative big thinker Jacob Appel writes: “Prostitution, Polygamy, Incest and Bestiality. I would argue that all of them should be legal” (he never explains why they Should All Be Capitalized). Appel does allow for the fact that some forms of bestiality might amount to animal cruelty, warranting government regulation. But so long as a man takes his time romancing a sheep (“Ewe had me at hello”), what business is it of ours?

“People say they are concerned about the welfare of the individuals, but what they are really interested in doing is imposing their own social values, or their own religious values on other people. And that’s what really concerns me.”

The proper answer to this supposedly mind-blowing insight is, “Well, duh.”

Imposing social values” is the clunky verb form of the noun “society.” It is what societies do. And that is what is so frustrating about all of this talk of “last taboos.” Ultimately a society is a taboo-generating institution. And while it’s absolutely true that some taboos are disappearing, we are also constantly generating new ones. What is political correctness if not the Taboo-Industrial Complex of the left?

The problem is that we don’t call the new forbidden topics “taboo” because we’ve convinced ourselves that the idea of a taboo is itself illegitimate (in much the same way, we never call the censorship we approve of “censorship”). In other words, we subscribe to an ironic fiction that taboos are taboo.

But the truth is that every society forbids or discourages consideration or discussion of some things. The only question is whether the new taboos are an improvement over the old ones. My hunch is that the sheep have the right answer.

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