When William F. Buckley Jr. published God and Man at Yale in 1951, the Yale brand stood for something: a first-rate education. Today, Yale is among America’s most competitive schools, meaning it’s hard to get into. But you can probably learn as much at Albertus Magnus College or UCONN. Maybe a Yale degree makes some employers go gaga, but according to recent Yale grad Nathan Harden, author of Sex and God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad, a diploma from the once-great school is a sure entrée into the porn biz.
At Yale these days, there is an annual Sex Week, during which events may range from “a porn-star look-alike contest (judged by a real-life porn film director), to safe-sex workshops, to lectures on the female orgasm.”
Mr. Harden sat in on one presentation by Patty Brisben, a financial backer of Sex Week who sells sex toys (“relationship enhancement products”), and who handled her session with the skill of a TV pitchwoman. She calls for volunteers from the audience, some of them teenagers, and pretends to perform a certain sexual act with one male student. Mr. Harden comments:
I doubt that a male of her age [fiftyish] could get away with working such hands-on demonstrations on a young female. The next day a picture of this very incident appeared in the national news. Not the most tasteful image for a school like Yale to project.
But Ms. Brisben assures a reporter: “If you’ve taught your children what you believe to be the right morals in life, I don’t think that just having a Sex Week is going to corrupt them.” That’s revealing. Sex Week alone won’t corrupt; presumably it will in league with other episodes of deviance.
Sex Week is everything you fear it would be, only worse. But is it an indictment of Yale? Of course, although the critiques Mr. Harden offers are sometimes opaque. For instance, he wonders why Yale for so long banned military recruitment and ROTC (ostensibly because of don’t-ask-don’t-tell) yet welcomes to campus the likes of Patty Brisben. But where’s the contradiction? If the chic academic view is that everything is about sex, then sex belongs at the heart of pedagogy.
Mr. Harden glimpses a connection: “Yale was once animated by a sense of service to the nation. Now it is plagued by a void of moral purpose.” But Yale (to the extent that sexual excess is official policy) simply has moral purposes different from Harden’s.
We’re not talking about Anarchy Week, in which the very idea of moral order would be negated. Sex Week serves higher, more progressive ethical notions. That its philosophy opposes political conservatism and orthodox religion is, according to “liberals” at Yale, a core value: emancipation over mystification. The concrete self-sacrifice of military service is replaced by the blithe self-satisfaction of political correctness. But it’s not a void.
Expelled! (Expulsion from Paradise by Ottavio Vannini, c. 1620)
Of course Mr. Harden is not wrong to object to the degradation on display at his alma mater. But his book will have no more effect on the cultural decline there than did God and Man at Yale these six decades past.
Yale is probably a lost cause. But there are lots of colleges and universities where this sort of silliness doesn’t fly, because a different worldview informs their curricula and students’ behavior. Harden writes: “there is an overwhelming consensus at Yale that porn is completely healthy and harmless.” If true, this is a reason not to go to college there. He knows this:
I have to keep reminding myself: I am at Yale. I am at Yale. But, actually, I think I have died and been reborn into some freakish new world where this kind of banality passes for Yale-worthy education.
Of the ugliness Mr. Harden witnessed as an undergraduate (and it is ugly indeed), few Americans are unaware. To objections raised (and to horror stories enumerated), proponents of Sex Week offer a simple, symbolic panacea: condoms. I’m not being glib when I say that this is a sheer cover-up.
Mr. Harden relates a politically correct bit of nomenclature I had not heard before, that condoms protect students from STIs: sexually transmitted infections. The word disease (as in STD) has been stricken from all the obelisks of the kingdom, although exactly why infection is preferable is unclear.
What is clear is that sex is mashed up with academics and not just in Sex Week. There’s the story of a female student who serially used the “products” of induced miscarriage as “art.” Mr. Harden quotes her: “It is the intention of . . . [my art] to destabilize the locus of . . . [God’s] authorial act, and in doing so, reclaim it from the heteronormative structures that seek to naturalize it.” Now that’s the language of the lost.
Warning: unlike Bill Buckley’s book, Harden’s Sex and God at Yale doesn’t so much engage the mind as turn the stomach. It’s mostly a catalog of obscenities, although not itself obscene.
Buckley wasn’t preaching to the choir, and his book led to National Review; Mr. Harden’s overlong tome, properly edited, might qualify as an article in that magazine. But no editor there would leave in such archaisms as: “Political correctness and multiculturalism have come to dominate modern academic life, particularly in the humanities and social sciences,” nor would most book editors have signed off on the autobiographical chapter that appears to no purpose halfway through Mr. Harden’s book.
Harden’s is certainly a sad tale, all about young people being told – with authority – that what’s wrong is actually right; that sex is not just permitted but encouraged, as long as it’s “safe, sane, and consensual.”
If there are emptier words in our culture, I don’t know what they are.