Destruction ‘ad Nihilem’

Many years ago, the feminist Carol Gilligan made a study of boys at play. She noticed something with which every boy in America is familiar – and I daresay every boy anywhere in the world, in any culture, of any degree of wealth and at any stage of technological development.

Let’s say that boys are playing baseball. There are two outs, the tying run is on third, and the batter slaps a grounder to the shortstop, who fields it in the hole and slings it to first. The play is close. The shortstop says, “Got him!” The batter says, “I’m safe!” The runner crosses the plate. The batter and the shortstop have been needling each other for the last hour, and now their faces are red and their fists are clenched.

What happens?

The boys go through a set of unwritten “rules” that govern such instances. The rules help ensure that hard feelings are averted or deferred, and that the game continues. Here’s how my cousins and neighbors and I would handle it. You appeal first to evidence.

“I fielded the ball clean and threw hard to first,” says the shortstop. “There’s no way you can outrun that! You aren’t that fast.”

“You were clear across the infield,” says the batter. “I beat the throw and that’s that.”

So the evidence is ambiguous. Next comes an appeal to equity.

“Look,” says the shortstop, “we gave you the last two close plays, but you’re not getting this one.”

“You gave us nothing,” says the batter, “and a guy who’s safe is safe no matter how close.”

The batter is being mulish, but he has a point. Next comes an appeal to the Honest Observer.

I’m convinced that there’s an umpire in the soul of every decent boy. There’s something right about the job of an umpire, something even noble. I worked as an umpire one summer when I was a teenager, as did my brother. We enjoyed it, even if the parents could be obstreperous. One of us once ejected a parent from the crowd, under threat of a forfeit by the son’s team. We had the rule book and knew our rights. We gave the kids a generous strike zone, to encourage them to swing and not to wait for walks. That was right, too.

Rule makers by nature

In any case, the Honest Observer replies, “I saw the play, and you were out, Joe” – and Joe and the Honest Observer are teammates. The defense then immediately leaves the field and comes in to bat. Joe grumbles and fetches his glove, and the game continues.

Or the Honest Observer says, “Sorry, guys, but I didn’t see the play.” At this point there are two possibilities. The disputing players can dig in, letting their feelings carry them away. Then the game breaks up. Consider that a kind of death. It is of all things the least desirable, the least admirable. The other possibility involves a useful fiction. The boys pretend that the play never happened. It falls out of existence. They declare a do-over. The batter returns to the plate, and the runner returns to third.

That’s remarkable. A ballgame requires plenty of cooperation and submission to the rules. The competition may be fierce – otherwise where’s the fun? That means that disputes will arise. The boys must have some way of subordinating the individual’s desires to the common good, and such subordination will naturally result in hierarchies, whether of rules to apply, or of judges to acknowledge and obey.

Professor Gilligan saw these things, and noticed that girls behaved quite differently when disputes arose in their play. But instead of reveling in the beauty of sexual difference, and being grateful for boyish displays of chivalry or integrity, she despised them, and said that we need to train boys not to turn to impersonal systems of rules. In other words, we need to force boys to behave as girls do.

Her insane conclusion bears upon the cultural situation in which sane people in general and Christians in particular now find themselves. To look upon boys doing boyish and innocent things, and accomplishing something impressive, and to regard them with disdain or hatred, is a sign of mental and spiritual disease. It would be like seeing a mother rocking her child to sleep, and sniffing at the scene with contempt. It is what Dietrich von Hildebrand would say was a deranged response to value.

If that were all, we could shrug and try to avoid such people when the fit is on them. But it is not all. It cannot be. What Gilligan manifested was a deep disdain for created being, a hatred of the ordinary world as we find it.

That brings me to my point. It’s one thing to dislike something particular or peculiar, say, the music of Wagner. It is another entirely to hate nature – human nature especially. The man who dislikes Wagner may love Puccini. But the man who is set against human nature will know no bounds to his hatred. It will be an all-gnawing acid in his soul. Everything it devours leaves the soul emptier and more ravenous than before.

There will be no end. The pubic Left will not be content to pretend that a man can marry a man, or that a boy who calls himself Lily is a girl, or that a woman who can’t tote her ammunition can be a soldier, or that it’s all right if children grow up without a married mother and father. They hate Nature, but Nature is everywhere about them, above them, below them, and within them.

Imagine being stung to envy or disdain by a boy and girl holding hands. Such people cannot be mollified by political victories. Their hatred of God’s creation ex nihilo aims ultimately ad nihilem. Milton’s Satan: “Only in destroying I find ease / To my relentless soul.”

Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest books are Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. He directs the Center for the Restoration of Catholic Culture at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Gilson observes somewhere, “The terms which a critic of Mallarmé used to describe his poetic enterprise fit exactly the mad ambitions of modern man: “to construct a poetry which would have the value of a preternatural creation and which would be able to enter into rivalry with the world of created things to the point of supplanting it totally.” He adds that “To abolish existing creation in order to create another: that is also the ambition of authentic surrealism, by which I mean the one which Andre Breton defined a short while ago as: “something dictated by thought, released from all control of reason, divorced from all aesthetic or moral preoccupation”. We will then be able to say everything as well as to do everything. If we start by annihilating everything, what limits can stop us? None whatever.”

    Surrealism has moved form art to politics.

    • Stanley Anderson

      At this point (unless it is later corrected) your last sentence has what I believe must be a typo — I think you meant “from” instead of “form”. But I must say that “form” gives a distinct and almost palpable sense to your intention. I rather like it, actually. I think moving “form art” to politics could be a very curious way of putting it.

    • Nancy Lynne

      I just read online Etienne Gilson’s, “The terror of the year two thousand,” and I am overwhelmed. Thanks so much for your comment which led me to the Gilson essay.

  • Veritas

    I like this article, Tony. Finally, we can place a face with the castrating female mentality that dwells in lofty ivory towers.

  • grump

    Let me guess. Professor Gilligan is a fat lesbian (excuse the tautology). As for Wagner, his music is not as bad as it sounds, to quote Mark Twain.

  • Howard Kainz

    Carol Gilligan claimed that mature female ethical development emphasizes consideration of contexts and personal relationships, instead of the application of abstract principles. The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, had a similar observation: women do not interpret morality in terms of rules and duties, but rather in the sense of tasteful and comely actions, performed in accord with “beautiful” virtues.

  • givelifeachance2

    De Beauvoir is Gilligan’s twin in so despising mothers at home that she would deny any woman the right to choose such a profession “No woman should be authorized to stay home and raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.”

    Would that it were so. We’ve got an Obamadaycare center on every block and paying government school teachers gazillions in pensions when children could be taught at home so much better by their moms. But no, fancy-named Simone must have her craven say.

  • Angela T

    Stanley, it’s not just the male response… I would have wanted to see how the girls resolved their conflicts between them in a game… The one place I could could think of where I played mostly with girls (I was a tomboy growing up) was card games and if the game was something like blackjack, the way we resolved conflicts was actually similar…

  • chrisinva

    Ejecting a spectator?

    One time only, watching a friends son pitch in a middle school game, I tried to rattle the batter.

    The umpire did not eject me only because he couldn’t reach me. But he pushed his face so hard against the fence that separated us that the diagonal stripes of the wire were etched on his face when he finished delivering his admonition.

    “We don’t do that here, ” my friend chuckled.

    Well, his son became an Air Force pilot and I forget who won the game. But the rules apply to dads at play too.

  • James_Locke

    I agree with the above, but only as understood that sometimes, the attitude that boys will be boys leads to genuine abuse, harm, and humiliation that is neither constructive, nor good for the spiritual and moral foundations of either the agressor or the victim.

    There once was an all boys school in Maryland run by a religious group who has been in the media in the last 15 years. They had an attitude that could basically be summed up as this: boys will be boys and they will form their own social rules to govern themselves. The result was very positive for about 75% of the boys. There were social tiers, leaders, followers, and a pretty strict idea of what it meant to be a man. However, for about 25% of the boys, this heirarchy was brually abusive. If you did not adhere to the strict requirements for “being a man” of the school, you were verbally abused and taunted in class and out, on the web, you were defamed and slandered, and during breaks and recesses, you were beaten, tripped, your things stolen and hidden or destroyed, and you were told to “man up” and fight back.

    The fighting back was important. If you fought back against the punches, kicks, trips, theivery, then you were, in the face of the 75% justfying their violence because, as they suspected, you were just this evil person from the start. Weight, tastes, sports, even family and racial elements came into play. Many boys came and went from the school, most of them cyclying in and out of the 25%.

    in the early 2000, a gang of older boys (16-17) excited by the possibility of expressing dominance with a sexual twist began to abuse the middle schoolers during breaks and between classes. They would grope and run, laughing about how friendly they were. This went on for 2 months until one boy cracked and told the administration what was going on. He was told to keep it secret. One of the abusers was brought in and apologized to him, but after the meeting, told the boy he was so dead for ratting. Eight years later, another of that gang, now long graduated, began working for the school as an alumni director. He stayed for 7 years in that position. The director that had known what that young man had done was still working at the school and did not move against hiring a known child molestor. Why? Why were those boys not arrested and charged?

    It is because of the totalization of the attitude that boys will be boys and that their social actions will work themselves out. It is the opposite extreme of the attitude shown by Gilligan and it is just as harmful. Sadly, in most American Catholic circles, this attitude still prevails. And nobody knows how to speak against it.

    • DeaconEdPeitler

      Is Esolen saying that boys become men by only governing themselves and without the mentoring of a truly masculine male? It’s that boys have a gender-specific innate sense of justice and problem-solving that is uniquely different from females. It’s why boys prefer the company of other boys from about age 8 to 15 without interference from women who know nothing experientially about what it takes for a boy to become a man. And getting to manhood is not without its bruises and scars. We are now finding out what our society is going to look like when boys are socialized to be more like women. My guess is that 90% of the men in prisons were not raised by men to become men and disordered violence results from their confusion

      • Antonio

        Very well said Sir! The Feminist movement don’t only destroyed their gender but also inflicted deep wounds on our gender. Just like the homosexuals are doing, they are not satisfied on just care on with their lifestyle; keep for himself. No, not enough for them, lets changed the society as a whole. End of times is near, I see the signs!God only can take so much abuse, and i think He got enough now. Be in Peace with Him, and nothing to fear.

  • Tamsin

    We are homo ludens. We wish to know the rules of the game.

    And, even a Carol Gilligan wishes to know that when she calls for help, the good guys or gals will show up with sufficient force to stop the bad guys or gals from harming her or her husband.

    • Micha Elyi

      I have no doubt that when “even a Carol Gilligan… calls for help” she wants a policeman or fireman to come to her rescue, not another feminist.

  • lwhite

    Tragically, Gilligan is at war against “being”. But she simply embodies the war against being, or nature, that has raged since The Fall.

    In a series of articles James Larson confronts the truth that the Church since Vatican II is also at war against “being”.

    In one article entitled “When to Be is not to Be” (Feb. 2004), he states: “In Thomistic ontology, the flaming swords which guard the gate to being, and therefore to all reality, are the Principle of Contradiction and the Principle of the Excluded Middle. These are the logical principles inscribed in our hearts and minds by God which are the foundations of all our perception of reality. These principles simply say that a thing either is or it is not, that a thing cannot both be and not be, and that we do not have a third alternative-something, as it were, in the middle between being and non-being. To dismiss either of these two metaphorical angels guarding the door of being is to surrender ourselves to intellectual insanity-with moral and emotional insanity a short distance down the road.”

    Mr. Larson argues that the Church, since Vatican II, like Gilligan, is also at war against being, particularly citing the writings of one Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. His articles are interesting and informative.

    • RainingAgain

      That seems intriguing. Could you elaborate a little more, please? Are you saying that Mr Larson is accusing Ratzinger of being at war with being or that he is using the Pope Emiritus’ writings to bolster his case?

      • lwhite

        I’d suggest you read his articles and judge for yourself. He is no fan of Ratzinger.

        I’d suggest you read his entire essay on The War Against

        • RainingAgain

          Thank you.

  • RainingAgain

    I can only speak for Europe. But it is becoming very likely here that the emasculated society of eunuchs promulgated by the likes of this mad feminist, which has wrested control of this continent for some decades, is going to facilitate its own demise at the hands of a civilisation (?) which treats women as nothing but chattels. I’ll be long gone before the process is complete, but in a way there is a sense, tragic though it may be, that the Islamisation of Europe will be good enough for all the feminists, homosexuals and gender-benders.

    • DeaconEdPeitler

      We’re in Europe just now and happened to be speaking to a delightful young woman of about 19 years of age. I asked her how she preferred to be addressed and while she indicated that one only used the term “madame” now, she preferred being referred to as mademoiselle. I questioned her further and she admitted the feminists would disapprove of this.

      By the way, European culture no longer exists. It been both americanized and muslimized. I hardly recognize it anymore.

      • lwhite

        I’m in the U.S. and years ago, a newly elected senator from my state included the title “Miss” in her contact screen. On the other hand, the senior senator never did. Her choices were “Ms.” or “Mrs.” Not too long after, the title “Miss” was eliminated from the newly elected senator’s contact screen. Both of these senators are Democrat women.

        I have always objected to the title “Ms”, invented by the feminists as though there was an alternative to being a single woman or a married woman.

        I wrote an objection to both of these senators as I was single and would never use the title “Ms.” Neither senator ever replied to me, both are still senators, and both of their contact screens do not include the title “Miss”. I began using the title “Dr.” in subsequent correspondence. It makes no difference, however, because they simply have a prepared statement sent to everyone, never responding to your particular inquiry.

  • Chris R

    Spot on.

  • VP Mary

    Thank God for the do-over!

  • Thomist

    Anthony, thank you for this post. If only I could retain it in my mind when tilting swords with the world of “progressives” who surround me.

  • veritasetgratia

    Thanks for highlighting this woman whom I have now read about. Goes to show. Never knock the power of “one”. That gives us hope frankly. God raises up “one’s” and can use those who hear His voice for good. Meanwhile there has been so much feminisation of education generally also within the Church. Tragedy!

  • Arden Abeille

    It would be like seeing a mother
    rocking her child to sleep, and sniffing at the scene with contempt. It
    is what Dietrich von Hildebrand would say was a deranged response to value.

    You say that, Sir (the bit I’ve highlighted), as if nobody would dream
    of doing that. And yet, they do that, too. The “feminists” absolutely
    decided that motherhood was a contemptible occupation. They would never
    say that out loud, but it was everywhere implied (and impressed upon us
    growing girls in the ’70’s and ’80’s), by the repeated messages that
    women needed more that “just that” to “be fulfilled,” that making a home
    and nurturing children was somehow “beneath” the true dignity of a
    woman; that she deserved “more,” that she was “worth more,” etc. As if
    there could be any more humanly ESSENTIAL, any more URGENTLY IMPORTANT,
    occupation for ANY HUMAN BEING, than raising up children and providing
    for their health and safety and preparation for life. It is, as you
    say, insane, but that’s what they were about, and the whole culture
    followed them right down that bizarre rabbit hole.

    It is certainly true that women can make important, beautiful,
    enormously valuable contributions in every other field of human
    endeavour, as well. And it’s lovely that women have opportunities now
    to do so, far greater than they did at any time previous. However, we
    must admit that a great multitude of babies quite literally were thrown
    out with the bathwater of workplace discrimination against women. In
    addition to the million-plus per year actual babies that are discarded
    as medical waste, the metaphorical “baby” of the value of MOTHERHOOD was
    also discarded.

    We are now an entire culture who pays almost no attention at all to the
    image of a mother rocking her child to sleep, and–far worse–little or
    no attention to the image of a mother having someone murder her own
    child in her very womb. Go figure. Motherhood? Forgetaboutit.