We wrote last week that Sex and God at Yale is based on author Nathan Harden’s disgust for sex, or at least the public discussion of it. Yesterday, Harden addressed our take on Twitter:
@ivygate What confused me was this review. Why do critics have to pretend I’m campaigning against sex? Straw men fall easily, don’t they?
— Nathan Harden (@NathanHarden) August 27, 2012
So here’s the problem: Harden’s argument for Yale’s decline rests heavily on the menace of the “for-profit sex industry,” which refers to, among other things, manufacturers of condoms, sex toys, and pornography. Here is an instructive passage from chapter 3 (“The Business of Sex Ed”):
To this day, men around the world are debauching themselves over a scene in which [a porn actress] likely contracted the virus that will one day kill her. As for her and the others who contracted the virus during the [2004 HIV outbreak in the porn industry], porn producers are profiting from their damaged lives and, in all likelihood, early deaths.
Now, it’s obvious that Harden thinks this is an indictment of the “for-profit sex industry,” in that it increases and tolerates the risk of sexually-transmitted diseases. (And, clearly, he’s counting on the reader to retch at the fact that people use porn to masturbate.) But Harden is making a far more powerful indictment against capitalism. He has simply discovered that the porn industry throws the worst flaws of capitalism—in particular, the way it rewards exploitation—into a particularly high relief.
But that kind of argument is unavailable to Harden. He belongs to, and has written this book largely for, a political coalition that situates capitalism as the acme of human civilization. As one of Harden’s colleagues at the National Review wrote in June, capitalism “is not only the best way to meet human needs but also reflects and relies upon the moral and creative aspects of human beings.” That leaves him with an argument that all sex industries, for- and non-profit, are bad. And the “non-profit sex industry” sounds a lot like sex itself.
It’s clear, too, that Harden doesn’t really want to question Yale’s involvement with exploitive industries. Were his concern sincere, he would have addressed its varsity football program, which reaps money from the spectacle of young men destroying their brains. (Harden is actually a huge fan of Yale football.) Rather, he has written a book that tries to stir the anxiety of social conservatives but in fact critiques the very system he has sworn loyalty to defend.