This post is undergoing severe re-Clarification! It is the writers opinion, following his enlightened readers, that the terms used obscure more than clarifies the meanings he is trying to propose…

It is not “religion” that makes people more “conservative” and sexually less “liberal”, but it is the capitalistic system, and the emergence of a bourgeois society. So Religion, or religious institutions in a capitalist system, religion under the watchful eye of the State can project more “conservative” practices.

Yet “conservative” does not mean much, and the management of the body is a much more complex issue than being “free to do whatever I want”. Because “free” and thinking that one knows what he/she “wants” are conceptual illusions that blind you from seeing how enslaved one is by the power structures in place. And that’s the merit of the liberal system.

14 Replies to “Clarification”

  1. Je suis horriblement tentée de commenter, mais je m’abstiens parce que j’ai la vague impression que mes commentaires déplaisent ici…

  2. Ceci dit, ce que tu penses s’applique bien sur cette bourgeoisie là :

    hihihi! Clownesque
    Je pense aux evangelicals aux etats unis, plus white trash et moins bourgeois que ça tu crèves.. Mais bon, j’imagine que ce que tu dis dois bien s’appliquer à certains contextes et certaines régions…

  3. I can’t think of a single example that might actually back this idea up, Bech. So it’s the rampant free market capitalism and rampant bourgeoisie that’s made Egyptian and Syrian societies so sexually conservative? Lebanon, which has an economy that’s much more capitalist than either of those countries, should then, by your theory, be more sexually conservative.

    I think both of us know that that’s just not true.

  4. Well, see that’s the problem when I don’t write long posts and I don’t clarify what I meant to say. ‘bougeois society’ is a short cut of course. But a friend advised to write short posts and then go into details into the comment section.

    First of all i did not comment on the types of capitalism (free market, more social intervention etc.) because I think it is irrelevant. I’m just comparing pre-capitalist to capitalist societies. So societies with and without the modern state and all its educative institutions.

    And yes bourgeoisie, if such a concept still applies, meaning middle class, nuclear family, with average jobs, and whose livelihood depend on the functioning of affiliated institutions of the modern state, have more conservative sexual practices. “Religion” re-interpreted in light of these social and economic changes can be an anchor for this conservatism. So instead of bourgeoisie let’s call it capitalist society.

    Also, by conservatism i don’t mean “you don’t have the right to have sex before marriage” or that type of very simplistic criteria. I mean a totally novel understanding of the body that becomes more disciplined, less free from the inside even if ‘opportunity’ exists in ‘the outside’.

    Under a capitalist system, social bonds tend to go under heavy tension which creates this gap filled by the educative institutions (school, media, re-worked family, religious institutions, and other State sanctified institutions).

    What I mean is it is even possible to consider Europe as more conservative than the Middle East say, although the Middle East is catching up.

    If Egyptian and Syrian societies are perceived to be more conservative it is first the case in large urban area where capitalism as a economic but most importantly social system prevail. Cairo is much more dynamic at this level than Beirut for example. Although I don’t think we can say one city is more conservative than the other.

    And again I used the term conservative as a shortcut, it should be a more complex relation to the body, health, sickness, discipline, etc.

    It probably is still abstract, but I hope it makes sense, if not I could give examples. Let me know.

  5. I’m afraid my understanding of what qualifies as “sexually conservative” must be really simplistic, because I can’t understand a definition of either sex or conservative that would rate Europe as more sexually conservative than the Middle East or Cairo as more sexually conservative than Beirut. Unless, of course, by “conservative” you mean the opposite of its generally accepted definition and by “sex” you mean something altogether different from what we normally think of when we talk about sex.

    If anything, I think the exact opposite of what you’re saying is true: urban middle class society tends to be less sexually conservative than rural traditional society. Maybe if you could say what you mean by sexually conservative, I could understand you a little better, because I have the sneaking suspicion that we’re talking about completely different things.

    As for the blog format, I think something shorter than what you normally post is best, but not something so short that your point is lost from a lack of clarification or precision.

  6. Ok i have to admit the words i use are not ‘clarifying’ things.

    First of all, I don’t like the term conservative. because for example with regards to matters of sex and social norms it has a very poor descriptive power.

    But what I mean is ‘more disciplined’ probably (rather than more conservative). more controlled. and control emanates, in a capitalist/liberal system, from within the self. it is internalized control. This control is spread by families, schools, hospitals, media, and the political system in place.

    Because in a liberal system you think that ‘you have the choice’, that you’re ‘free’ etc. that is only possible because the way you are controlled as a social actor is much more alienating. in a society where there is no overarching State and a capitalist economy with this sheer size of human mobilization then you would not need control probably. These are what I termed pre-capitalist.

    In a capitalist system you start having the modern notion of religion as another educator. This is why yes Cairo, Syria, etc. with Islamic resurgence, modern disciplinary resurgence in the eyes of the watchful state, have devised new disciplinary models, just like Europe has before hand.

    also when i said urban i did not mean ‘not rural’. Anyway, in a capitalist system, meaning a State, rural areas are penetrated by urban practices. They refer to the same institutions in any case.

    Now to the question of what I mean by sex. I don’t mean ‘be able to have sex’. I mean our representation of sex. our representation of our body, our sanitary control, our manners, our management of our desires, the ‘choices’ we make etc. A bourgeois society, as in a middle class based society with all the stuff i talked about will have much more of these rules. Most importantly, today

    first of all, say if you are able to have sex, but you are under the pressure of committing, wearing condoms, having a specific common lifestyle, social norms to abide by, all these are going to influence your management of ‘relationships’, of sexual practices. You may be able to have sex all you want, but you may be frigid, neurotic, depressive and all these terms we find today to depict modern humans.

    Second, in the case of Islamic societies, religion has served as a powerful tool to help the State discipline. But without the overarching system in place, with economic changes, none of this would have been needed. And at the cultural level, without the idea that modernity is this and that, there would have not been an effort to reformulate people’s relation to their body.

    Probably i’m still locked in these categories of ‘conservative’ and ‘bourgeois’ but I just wanted to make us catch a glimpse of something I think exist.

    Of course, i can’t say that one city is more conservative than an other that would be a sweeping generalizing and distorting claim. it does not mean anything. I want to warn of such generalizations, and I want to warn of the generalization that because you’re say a religious person (whatever that means) it means you are sexually less ‘active’.

    Keeping in mind that modernity has given us the illusion that we have ‘knowledge’ of things and so we can make ‘informed’ decisions, thus the liberty of engaging in sexual practices, etc.

  7. Someone’s been reading Foucault? Actually, it is a good place to clear up this confusion, as there he takes aim at the ‘repression hypothesis’ of the Freudian-Marxists such as Marcuse.

    It’s a short book, weird and incoherent in places, but I always recommend it for those who want the Crib notes on Foucault and his critique of the ‘enlightenment’ and/or the will to knowledge.

    I will stop there cause I aint read it in like 14 years.

  8. Very interesting discussion. Does indeed smack of Foucault, if also slightly misappropriated. Foucault argues precisely against the idea that techniques of the self are novel, a capitalist or bourgeois invention, or intrinsically a product of modernity. He goes to great pains over several volumes to explain how these techniques were used by the Greeks and developed over two distinct phases. The bourgeois obsession with the body as a class-body is only a historically specific instance of that and, I would argue, it has passed.

    Bech, I also sense a knee-jerk reaction for continually positing Islamic culture as the “other” of this heritage. This is historically misguided. The same Greek literature that fed into a European set of techniques rooted in science and Christianity reached Islamic culture first. Medieval Islam abounded with manner and ethic manuals. You should be familiar with the notion of adab (meaning both literature and behavior). Of course, given its historical context, the focus here was more on the constitution of the self as a subject of ethical Islamic conduct. This kind of literature continued to be popular under the Ottomans as wa`z literature before anything that can be labeled “modern” cropped up.

    Conceptually, I think a lot of the confusion would clear up if you stop using “techniques of the self” and “disciplinary models” interchangeably. While the latter internalizes the former through disciplinary institutions, among other things, the former does not necessarily imply the existence of the latter. But I will stop here otherwise my comment will become even longer and more tedious.

  9. Dada, were you trying to link to something?

    Shoghig, I am really trying to capture one aspect of the problem and I don’t think I can describe all types of sexual practices with this idea.

    I have to say that this time I got in several wrong paths. I do have an intuition that I think is interesting but I have mixed it with a lot of contradictory and confusing details and labels. Let me try to reformulate somewhat differently, my basic idea is that with capitalism and the advent of the liberal ‘worldview’ if one may call it this way, the creation of the nuclear family, and the rise of the State, sexual practices have been controlled very differently.

    As much as it can be resonant with what Foucault worked on, I am trying to talk about something else, namely the role of religion in all this. The ethics you are talking about Tee is exactly the difference with the liberal paradigm where ethics in this case are based on contradictory concepts of human ‘nature’ ‘choices’, ‘freedom’ etc.

    And so, Islamic traditions have their own ‘disciplinary’ practices, and I am not at all trying to think that they are different in essence or representing an ‘other’. Today in any case, it has drastically changed because Islamic discourse is inscribed within the Liberal one to a certain extent.

    I will clarify yet another time in a new post! So bear with me and thank you for your very useful criticisms.

  10. Hey Bech,
    You misunderstood my reaction. The “oh boy, where to start” was not really a judgment on what you wrote. I haven’t really formulated an opinion, let alone a reply, on this one yet… It’s a tough one, and I don’t want to dip my nose into something without having come up with a well-thought-out and clear argument, so as not to raise too many eyebrows (which is what I specialise in anyway…).

    Anyway, just to test the waters… I will say that I agree with you when you say:
    “Because “free” and thinking that one knows what he/she “wants” are conceptual illusions that blind you from seeing how enslaved one is by the power structures in place.”

    Yes, I definitely agree that we ARE enslaved by the power structures in place; but it would be wrong to assume that the capitalist state (and what you call the capitalist system) and the religious establishment (which is often -more often than not- an extension of the state or, at the very least, utilized by it to further its ends) are the A and Z of power structures that enslave us. I would argue that it is not just the capitalist state that enslaves us, but more importantly, the STATE itself. The concept of the state is a fallacious one (a false dichotomy of sorts), and is inherently oppressive. The relationship between the state and its citizens is one of master and slave, not servant and served. It is not the state that serves the citizens, but the citizens that serve the state (the concept of nationalism is a cheap rendition of this). In so many words, the citizens ‘exist’ for the state, not the other way around. And when I say the state, I don’t mean it merely as a concept, but as a power hierarchy. Hierarchies are marketed as the pinnacle of civilization, but they are as brutish as slavery. Why am I talking about hierarchies and the fallacy that the state is? Because ultimately it is the state that controls and manages the relations between its citizens, in every way. Look no further than gender relations? And not only that, but gender identity itself?
    I think I agree with the essence of your post (if I understood it correctly), i.e. the attribution, but we differ on naming the culprit. I say it’s the state itself, whether capitalist or socialist, democratic or authoritarian, liberal or conservative…
    Oh, boy…. I hope that made sense… Keeping my fingers crossed.

  11. can i summarize your position shoghig? You are such an anarchist! hehhehe.

    I agree with most of what you said, but the capitalist State has its specificity, I stand by this argument.

    Also, the anarchist argument that the actual bad guy is States as such, dominance, hierarchies, etc. is also locked in a liberal discourse of choice and ‘rights’, and concepts like ‘equality’, ‘freedom’, creep in from the back door.

    If you think of humans not as having rights but as having social roles let’s say, then things acquire a totally different meaning and hierarchies, caste etc. have a crucial role to play.

    More on this later.

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