My first honest reaction to the new memoir by recent Yale graduate Nathan Harden was shock.
Not shock at the sexual shenanigans he relates in "Sex and God at Yale," but shock that America is still so good a country that it can produce brilliant young men innocent enough to be capable of shock when exposed to a systematically degraded sexual culture.
Honestly, at first glance, Yale's sexual culture as described by Harden is not that different than it was over 30 years ago, when I was an undergraduate: co-ed bathrooms, one-night stands, not even the remotest hint of advice on where all this urgent young desire is supposed to lead; not one hint from the highly educated grown-ups that civilization knows anything about how to choose a sexual self; no rules but the one law of consent; no hint of an erotic ideal capable of inspiring a great culture.
Oh yes, we were told to wear a condom if we didn't want to get diseased or pregnant. But should you want to get pregnant? Even Yale, which represented the most advanced intellect our civilization had to offer, appeared to have no clue.
Sexual progressives love to shock people. It's the drug they depend on to feed their self-image as avant-garde revolutionaries.
But the truth is sexual degradation is the most plebian experience in America. It is commonplace. Every young person in this country has been given a sexual license by marketers of culture to indulge in any sexual desire they want, either virtually or in reality.
But after reflection, I realized there was still something else shocking about what Nathan Harden reveals: the systematic nature of efforts by Yale's grown-ups to inculcate a porn ethic into America's best and brightest young minds. "It is one thing to find porn in a frat house, and another thing altogether to find it in the classroom under official university sanction," Harden writes.
When I was at Yale, it was still the young students who were pornifying the sexual culture. But nowadays, professors grimly and politely insist on getting into the game.
In Spanish class, he informs us, films are chosen by the department heads, which today means you cannot learn Spanish without being treated to lesbian sex scenes.
"Yale is perhaps the only university in the world where you can show up to class and find your instructor naked," Harden writes. He describes how a porn star invited to teach in a Yale classroom shows a bondage porn video of herself to groom the students. Then she "removes the straps of her dress, revealing her naked breasts to the class." Harden leaves as the scene progresses from there. "Nude photos from this event are now available on a pay-per-view porn website," he notes.
Harden attends a "Master's Tea" with a guest of honor named Dr. Susan Block, an HBO sex educator and an aging porn personality. (She and I were both at Yale during the '70s, so she must be getting on in years.) The Saybrook master, professor Paul Hudak, a respected computer scientist, looks slightly embarrassed, but he dutifully helps her hand out hard-core porn flicks with names like "An Orgy for Obama" (which she said depicts an orgy she held in honor of his election), vibrators and white thongs with the play on Yale's motto, "Lust et Veritas."
Transgressing the boundaries between professor and porn is apparently one of the few opportunities to traduce a norm that aging sex revolutionaries at Yale can imagine.
What happens to a next generation of leaders whose elders initiate them into a culture of sexual degradation and pretend that it is progress?
Apparently, we are about to find out.
I would bet, though, that this is not the end of eros, but of the sad attempt to create a civilization without it -- to reduce sex to meaningless spasms of pleasure without content in the name of freedom.
Harden may have arrived at Yale an innocent married man, but he knows far more than the elders who failed in their attempt to corrupt him.