The Long Gaze of the State

by Alexander Cockburn

It is no accident, Thomas Wilkinson, a CounterPuncher now living in Germany, pointed out to me a while back, that the first “political” novels about the US, e.g. those of Nathaniel Hawthorne, were concerned with violations of the official sexual code imposed by the country’s founding theocrats.

The control of sex and pornography is a major part of promulgating a prudish, puritanical political culture without ever imposing an overt political censorship regime. The debates about so-called “political correctness”, whether in the race, gender, or ethnicity conflicts can only be explained by the culture of prudery which prevails in American political discourse of all sorts.

“I think it is useful and important,” Wilkinson writes, “to see the ‘sexual crimes’ mania, even its embarrassingly retroactive manifestations, as part of maintaining this rigorously prudish, puritanical political culture the surface of which was barely scratched by the Sixties. Sexual crimes stand for the violation of the established order based on supposed personal deviance and not on any actual material challenge. They have the benefit of being immensely trivial and yet due to the absolutely poor to non-existent transmission of the ‘standards’ for acceptable sexual conduct, esp. occlusion from public instruction, remain ultimately “fantasy crimes”. People can imagine the most heinous punishments for this behavior because it is impossible for them to conceive of a sex crime in the same way as bribery of public officials or assassinations performed by agencies disguised as armies or cultural aid missions. This impossibility goes back to the terror used by parents and teachers to threaten children for violations of their will by creating nonsensical consequences for trivial acts.”

With these reflections in mind, let us turn to that story of the man in Fairfax County Virginia, who got up early on Monday morning, October 19, walked naked into his own kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee? . . . .


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