11 July 2012

O tempora! O mores!

One last vacation post. Between holiday-making, we at Those Who Can See have stumbled upon a few news stories that so vividly called to mind Juvenal's satires that we couldn't help but take a peek side-by-side.

The empire was still centuries from falling when the Roman satirist so scathingly critiqued her vices.  Today many of us find ourselves tempted to proclaim 'the end is near!'  But decadence can have a long shelf life. Inertia, some claim, is itself one of the mightiest forces in human history. Who knows what lessons then (if any) can be drawn from comparisons such as these.  Perhaps wiser minds than us can say.

'How can a woman who wears a helmet be chaste?'

Dateline: Corpus Christi, Texas, 2012

The Corpus Christi, Tex. Police Department has found itself on the business end of a civil rights lawsuit after the Justice Department concluded that a physical ability test used when considering job applications discriminates against women.

As a condition for employment, new applicants must pass a physical ability test (PAT) involving: pullups, a 300-meter run, a 1.5 mile run, and sit-ups. Only 19 percent of female applicants passed this test between 2005 and 2009, compared to 63 percent of men, the DOJ complaint records.

“The Justice Department is looking forward to working with the city to resolve this matter in a way that eliminates the use of the unlawful physical ability test and gives women who were screened out of the process an opportunity to become Corpus Christi police officers,” Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement on the lawsuit.

In 2011, the city police modified the benchmarks for the PAT. Thirty-three percent of women passed the test under the new standards, along with 82 percent of men. DOJ says that these results also indicate discrimination.

Washington, D.C., 2011

A high-level military advisory panel is set to recommend that the armed services overturn its policy barring women from serving in combat roles, a step that would remove a key structural barrier for women trying to advance their military careers.

Women currently make up 14.6 percent of the active-duty military. Since 2001, 137 female service members have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 1994, women have been barred from serving in units at the level of battalion and below that engage in direct ground combat.

A draft report by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, a group established by Congress in 2009, concludes that the current policy is outdated and discriminatory. Commissioners include 24 senior retired and active-duty members of the military, in addition to leaders in the business community and academia.

"The Commission recommends that DoD and Services remove a structural barrier for women," reads the report, which commissioners met to review Thursday and Friday.

These two anecdotes, which leave one unsure whether to laugh or cry, for us call to mind Juvenal's sixth satire, wherein he lampoons the women of his day for believing they can fight like men:

Who doesn't know about the Tyrian wrappers and the ointment for women's athletics? Who hasn't seen the wounds in the dummy, which she drills with continual stabbings and hits with her shield and works through the whole course of exercise--a matron, the sort you'd expect to blow the trumpet at the Floralia [goddess celebration]--unless in her heart she is plotting something deeper still, and seriously training for the actual games? How can a woman who wears a helmet be chaste? She's denying her sex, and likes a man's strength. But she wouldn't want to turn into a man, since we men get so little pleasure.

Yet what a show there would be, if there were an auction of your wife's stuff--her belt and gauntlets and helmet and half-armour for her left leg. Or she can try the other style of battle--lucky you, when she sells her greaves [leg protectors]. [...] Look at the noise she makes when she drives home the blows her trainer showed her, at the weight of her helmet, how solidly she sits on her haunches (like the binding around a thick tree), and laugh when she puts her armour aside to pick up her chamber-pot.

'A friend is taking to himself a husband'

Our second story's title, we note for posterity, refers to the current leader of the most powerful nation on planet Earth:
Obama says same-sex couples should be able to marry (May 2012)

US President Barack Obama has ended months of hedging on the issue of gay marriage by saying he thinks same-sex couples should be able to wed.

A Gallup poll on Tuesday suggested that 50% of Americans were in favour of legalising gay marriage - a slightly lower proportion than last year - while 48% said they would oppose such a move.

"There have been times where [wife] Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and... [grade-school age daughters] Malia and Sasha, it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently," Mr Obama said.  "It doesn't make sense to them and frankly, that's the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective."

The rather complex issue of gay sex in ancient Rome has scholars still debating madly.  Many believe that 'dominant' homosexual behavior was considered normal, while 'passive' was disdained.  Whatever the case may be, Juvenal's third satire does give us this:

The man who is now arraying himself in the flounces and train and veil of a bride once carried the nodding shields [sacred processional objects] of Mars by the sacred thongs and sweated under the sacred burden [was once an active priest]!

O Father of our city, whence came such wickedness among thy Latin shepherds? How did such a lust possess thy grandchildren, O Gradivus? Behold! Here you have a man of high birth and wealth being handed over in marriage to a man, and yet neither shakest thy helmet, nor smitest the earth with thy spear, nor yet protestest to thy Father? Away with thee then; begone from the broad acres of that Martial Plain which thou hast forgotten!

"I have a ceremony to attend," quoth one, "at dawn to-morrow, in the Quirinal valley." "What is the occasion?" "No need to ask: a friend is taking to himself a husband; quite a small affair." Yes, and if we only live long enough, we shall see these things done openly: people will wish to see them reported among the news of the day. Meanwhile these would-be brides have one great trouble: they can bear no children wherewith to keep the affection of their husbands; well has nature done in granting to their desires no power over their bodies.

We include this verse from the Iberian Martial, typically berating an effeminate man:

Since you're always bragging that you're a citizen
Of Corinth, Charmenion — and no one denies it —
Why are you always calling me brother ? I hail from
The land of Iberians and Celts and the River Tagus.
Do you think that we even look alike?
You wander around looking sleek with your curly hair,
While mine is wildly unruly in the Spanish style.
Every day a depilator makes your body smooth,
While I sport hair on my thighs and cheeks.
Your mouth is lisping and your tongue is faltering,
But I speak deeply from my guts;
We're more different than a dove from an eagle
Or a timid doe from a raging lion.
And so, Charmenion, stop calling me "brother"
Or else I'll start calling you "sister."

'From the whole globe, they are congregated'

Our final story, not even two weeks old, is entitled
Obama’s halt on deportations already under way :

Federal immigration authorities have begun granting tentative legal status to illegal immigrants under President Obama’s deportation halt — and in some cases are even ignoring the administration’s eligibility rules to stop deportations for those who shouldn’t qualify, according to the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, [...] obtained documents laying out how U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) officers should actively search for illegal immigrants who are “apparently eligible” to have their cases dropped. Those illegal immigrants then would be granted tentative status.

“President Obama is granting amnesty to illegal immigrants behind Americans’ backs,” Mr. Smith said.

Which reminded us of Victor Davis Hanson's tale of a recent voyage through central California:

Many of the rural trailer-house compounds I saw appear to the naked eye no different from what I have seen in the Third World. There is a Caribbean look to the junked cars, electric wires crisscrossing between various outbuildings, plastic tarps substituting for replacement shingles, lean-tos cobbled together as auxiliary housing, pit bulls unleashed, and geese, goats, and chickens roaming around the yards. [...]

Yesterday, for example, I rode my bike by a stopped van just as the occupants tossed seven plastic bags of raw refuse onto the side of the road. I rode up near their bumper and said in my broken Spanish not to throw garbage onto the public road. But there were three of them, and one of me. So I was lucky to be sworn at only. [...]

I counted eleven mobile hot-kitchen trucks that simply park by the side of the road, spread about some plastic chairs, pull down a tarp canopy, and, presto, become mini-restaurants. There are no “facilities” such as toilets or washrooms. But I do frequently see lard trails on the isolated roads I bike on, where trucks apparently have simply opened their draining tanks and sped on, leaving a slick of cooking fats and oils. [...]

In two supermarkets 50 miles apart, I was the only one in line who did not pay with a social-service plastic card (gone are the days when “food stamps” were embarrassing bulky coupons). But I did not see any relationship between the use of the card and poverty as we once knew it: The electrical appurtenances owned by the user and the car into which the groceries were loaded were indistinguishable from those of the upper middle class.

Which brought to mind Juvenal's horror at watching his beloved Rome sink (in his mind) under a sea of foreigners, Easterners mostly but worst of all the loathesome Greeks:

A Grecian capital in Italy !

Grecian ? O no ! with this vast sewer compared,
The dregs of Greece are scarcely worth regard :
Long since, the stream that wanton Syria laves
Has disembogued its filth in Tiber's waves,

Its language, arts ; o'erwhelmed us with the scum
Of Antioch's streets, its minstrel, harp, and drum.
[...] Hie to the Circus ! there in crowds they stand,
Tires on their head and timbrels in their hand.
[...] while every land,
Sicyon, and Amydon, and Alaband,
Tralles, and Samos [Asian cities], and a thousand more,
Thrive on his indolence, and daily pour
Their starving myriads forth : hither they come,
And batten on the genial soil of Rome ;
Minions, then lords, of every princely dome !

A flattering, cringing, treacherous, artful race,
Of torrent tongue, and never-blushing face ;
A Protean tribe, one knows not what to call,
Which shifts to every form, and shines in all :
Grammarian, painter, augur, rhetorician,
Rope-dancer, conjurer, fiddler, and physician

To which we add this from Seneca, again on foreigners in Rome:

Of this crowd the greater part have no country; from their own free towns and colonies, in a word, from the whole globe, they are congregated. Some are brought by ambition, some by the call of public duty, or by reason of some mission, others by luxury which seeks a harbor rich and commodious for vices, others by the eager pursuit of liberal studies, others by shows, etc.

*       *       *

The whys and wherefores of such changes may be hard to pin down. At least on the subject of women acting like men, Juvenal thought he'd sniffed out the cause:

You ask where these monsters come from, the source that they spring from? Poverty made Latin women chaste in the old days, hard work and a short time to sleep and hands calloused and hardened with wool-working, and Hannibal close to the city, and their husbands standing guard at the Colline Gate--that kept their humble homes from being corrupted by vice. But now we are suffering from the evils of a long peace. Luxury, more ruthless than war, broods over Rome and takes revenge for the world she has conquered.

We'll be back to regular posting shortly.  Thank you for stopping by and good luck on your journey.


Hail said...

If we are now in the decadent, declining period of the Roman Empire, when was Rome's 1945?

The further away we get from that year, the clearer it seems that it was a watershed, from which socio-sexual-racial decline became inevitable. (There are many uncomfortable with this, as am I, to be honest). Whatever we think or wish to think of the fascist movements, anyway, it seems the die was cast in the 1930s (to use another Roman turn-of-phrase), and 1945 became Europe's defeat, Europeans' defeat, no matter where they may live on Earth.

See, e.g. Steve Sailer's recent post: "Because the Continentals lost in the name of Fascism, there wasn't much resistance to the old-fashioned Marxist Left "

M.G. said...

1945 does seem decisive. I think the best way to test such an idea is to imagine the counter-factuals: What if Fascism had won everywhere, not just a watered-down version in Spain/Portugal? Would the western cultural decadence have been slowed down or reversed? And for how long? And secondly, how do you see the victory or defeat of Fascism affecting the Anglosphere (much of it so far-flung from Europe geographically) and its plunging headlong into cultural suicide?

I myself tend to fall too easily into thinking that history is largely driven by technological change. But Juvenal's diagnosis--'But now we are suffering from the evils of a long peace'--brings to mind the fascists' trait of always being on war footing. Feeling constantly under threat of attack seems to go a long way toward keeping certain vices in check.

I'm curious to hear how you see a post-WWII world with Fascist victors, cultural decadence wise.

Anonymous said...

"Because the Continentals lost in the name of Fascism, there wasn't much resistance to the old-fashioned Marxist Left"

The cultural left takeover of the media and education meant that the truth about what happened after the 1917 revolution was suppressed. That's what gave the cultural left the moral high ground. Even today, if the Holodomor was taught equally to the Holocaust the left's moral advantage would be neutralised.

"I'm curious to hear how you see a post-WWII world with Fascist victors, cultural decadence wise."

On the continent the people driving the cultural decadence through media and education wouldn't have been there and the signal from outside would have been jammed until satellites were invented.

"And secondly, how do you see the victory or defeat of Fascism affecting the Anglosphere (much of it so far-flung from Europe geographically) and its plunging headlong into cultural suicide?"

A permanent state of war a la 1984 with the people driving the culture in the US maintaining a healthy if excessively martial culture while the impasse lasted.