Human Nature vs. Human Institutions: Camille Paglia on Sex and Rape on Campus

Since abandoning her monthly Salon gig a few years back, Camille Paglia hasn’t had much of an Internet presence, but when, beyond her book writing, she does surface, she writes thought provoking things. Here’s a bit of what Paglia recently wrote for the Time.com website concerning sex, rape, and the college student:

Colleges should stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives, an authoritarian intrusion that borders on violation of civil liberties. Real crimes should be reported to the police, not to haphazard and ill-trained campus grievance committees.

Too many young middle class women, raised far from the urban streets, seem to expect adult life to be an extension of their comfortable, overprotected homes. But the world remains a wilderness. The price of women’s modern freedoms is personal responsibility for vigilance and self-defense. […]

The basic Leftist premise, descending from Marxism, is that all problems in human life stem from an unjust society and that corrections and fine-tunings of that social mechanism will eventually bring utopia. […]

But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.

In other words, Paglia is arguing that changes in institutional structures are not going to change male nature–which is a Jacob-wrestle between its better and worse angels–and that young women need to be savvy navigators of that nature, and so she writes this:

[E]xtreme sex crimes like rape-murder emanate from a primitive level that even practical psychology no longer has a language for. Psychopathology, as in Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s grisly Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), was a central field in early psychoanalysis.

She also links up aesthetics, hunting, and scapegoating in an insightful–and disturbing–manner:

There is a ritualistic symbolism at work in sex crime that most women do not grasp and therefore cannot arm themselves against. It is well-established that the visual faculties play a bigger role in male sexuality, which accounts for the greater male interest in pornography. The sexual stalker, who is often an alienated loser consumed with his own failures, is motivated by an atavistic hunting reflex. He is called a predator precisely because he turns his victims into prey. […]

A random young woman becomes the scapegoat for a regressive rage against female sexual power: “You made me do this.” Academic clichés about the “commodification” of women under capitalism make little sense here: It is women’s superior biological status as magical life-creator that is profaned and annihilated by the barbarism of sex crime.

I’m not sure her broad-sketch analysis of sex and rape wholly works, especially that last sentence. Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims, after all, were males. And institutional and cultural signals obviously can and do influence many men–though obviously not so much the behavior of psychopaths.

In a way, Camille Paglia has set up a straw man of blank slate-believing Lefties to knock down. Still, Paglia’s analysis is interesting. Teaching young women, through art and literature, about the Apollonian-Dionysian tensions in the human breast might make for sharper navigating of the male psyche. And yet structural analyses of human behavior–“no man is an island”–are valuable to teach as well. It’s not a zero sum game.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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One Response to Human Nature vs. Human Institutions: Camille Paglia on Sex and Rape on Campus

  1. Agreed. Any analysis of sex and rape is likely to not cover all the aspects so they will, and generally do, fail to see the whole problem or provide a solution which works universally. This is a problem of the human mind. None of them seem to work perfectly and the minds that do seem to work alike also seem broken in some common way.

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