In a string of pieces from 1919, Mao deals with the questions of sex, love and marriage. These were prompted by the suicide of a Miss Zhao, who killed herself in the marriage sedan that was taking her to a wedding she did not want. One of these articles can be found here, but there are more than a dozen others. In ‘The Question of Love – Young People and Old People: Smash the Policy of Parental Arrangement’ (1919), Mao writes:

We have many different kinds of desires, such as the desire to eat, the desire for sex, the desire to play, the desire for fame, and the desire for power and influence (also called the desire to dominate), and so on. Of these, the desires for sex and food are fundamental, the former to maintain the ‘present’ and the latter to open up the ‘future’. Of these two desires, there is no absolute difference in the desire for food according to age. Sexual desire does, however, differ with age.

The expression of sexual desire, generally speaking, is love. Young people see the question of love as being very important, while old men don’t think it’s worth worrying about … Only in China is this question put to one side. When I was young, I saw many people getting married. I asked them what they were up to. They all replied that a person takes a wife to have someone to make tea, cook, raise pigs, chase away the dogs, spin, and weave. At this time I asked, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to hire a servant? It wasn’t until later that I heard that people got married ‘to carry on the family line.’ This left me still perplexed. … Society does not regard love as being important, and thus, except for the slave’s work of making tea, cooking, and so on, marriage is nothing but that base life of fleshly desire. (What we call sexual desire, or love, involves not only the physiological satisfaction of fleshly desire, but the satisfaction of a higher order of desires – spiritual desires and the desire for social intercourse.) … In short, capitalism and love are in conflict with one another. Old men are in conflict with love. Thus there is a tight bond between old men and capitalism, and the only good friends of love are young people.

Revolutionary Writings, 1912-1949, pp. 439-40.

The first of a couple of posts on sex, love and intimate life from a youthful Mao Zedong. Initially, he moves between sex as a necessary instinct and then as an unstoppable wind from a great gorge (so to speak):

Whatever is natural is both true and real. Can something that is true and real fail to contribute to improving my life? Besides, my life and development ultimately depend on just such things. The desire to eat contributes to my life, sexual desire is good for my development, and both of these come from natural instincts … The conscience certainly always sees our appetite for food and sex for what they are. It is only at a particular time and place that the conscience will suggest restraining the impulses, as when the desire for food or sex becomes excessive. And then the conscience acts only to restrain or moderate the excess, certainly not to oppose or deny these desires …

The truly great person develops the original nature with which Nature endowed him, and expands upon the best, the greatest of the capacities of his original nature. Everything that comes from outside his original nature, such as restraints and restrictions, is cast aside by the great motive power that is contained within his original nature. It is this motive power that is the strongest and truest reality, that is the spring that fulfils his character … The great actions of the hero are his own, are the expressions of his motive power, lofty and cleansing, relying on no precedent. His force is like that of a powerful wind arising from a deep gorge, like the irresistible sexual desire for one’s lover, a force that will not stop, that cannot be stopped.

Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, pp. 255-57, 263-64.

The Reverend Thomas Malthus may well have provided the possibility of a new pick-up line.

Let’s begin with his two laws of human nature, established by the “Being who first arranged the system of the universe”:

First, That food is necessary to the existence of man.

Secondly, That the passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state (An Essay on the Principle of Population, p. 4).

The very assertion that one’s philosophical hypotheses are laws of the universe seems to have been a fashion among the classical economists of the time. A mark of their bounded specificity, I would suggest, but also a rhetorical device to give weight to their arguments. To bolster his scientific credentials, Malthus soon enough deploys mathematical terms. The availability of food may increase in an “arithmetical ratio,” he opines, but population does so in a “geometrical ratio” (p. 6). Even more, he goes on to speak of the algebra of lust: “The passion between the sexes has appeared in every age to be so nearly the same that it may always be considered, in algebraic language, as a given quantity” (p. 40). Of these two “scientific laws,” lust is the stronger, no matter how much geometry and algebra is involved. Or rather, it precisely because of the mathematical nature of the two laws that lust is more powerful. Given the geometrical nature of lust, “A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second” (p. 4).

One cannot help wonder at how the good reverend made a move for sex, or what a Malthusian pick-up line might be – “in light of the irresistible geometrical power of my libido, would you care to …?”

Adam Smith may be noted for borrowing the ideas of other people, for his story-telling and myth-making, but on one matter at least he fails abysmally. That is the question of sex. All I have been able to find is this:

Poverty, though it no doubt discourages, does not always prevent marriage. It seems even to be favourable to generation. A half-starved Highland woman frequently bears more than twenty children, while a pampered fine lady is often incapable of bearing any, and is generally exhausted by two or three. Barrenness, so frequent among women of fashion, is very rare among those of inferior station. Luxury in the fair sex, while it enflames perhaps the passion for enjoyment, seems always to weaken, and frequently to destroy altogether, the powers of generation (Wealth of Nations, I.8.37).

Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population is a book everyone should read, partly for its sheer lack of insight and dubious arguments, but also for its unwitting pearlers. Some choice moments:

On higher wages for workers:

It is a general complaint among master manufacturers that high wages ruin all their workmen, but it is difficult to conceive that these men would not save a part of their high wages for the future support of their families, instead of spending it in drunkenness and dissipation, if they did not rely on parish assistance for support in case of accidents (p. 28).

The algebra of sex:

The passion between the sexes has appeared in every age to be so nearly the same that it may always be considered, in algebraic language, as a given quantity (p. 40).

On free love:

Mr Godwin considers marriage as a fraud and a monopoly. Let us suppose the commerce of the sexes established upon principles of the most perfect freedom. Mr Godwin does not think himself that this freedom would lead to a promiscuous intercourse, and in this I perfectly agree with him. The love of variety is a vicious, corrupt, and unnatural taste and could not prevail in any great degree in a simple and virtuous state of society … An unshackled intercourse on the contrary would be a most powerful incitement to early attachments, and as we are supposing no anxiety about the future support of children to exist, I do not conceive that there would be one woman in a hundred, of twenty-three, without a family (p. 54).

On women, who are like maps of Madagascar or perhaps magnets:

One feature of an object may be as distinct, and excite as different emotions, from the aggregate as any two things the most remote, as a beautiful woman, and a map of Madagascar. It is ‘the symmetry of person, the vivacity, the voluptuous softness of temper, the affectionate kindness of feelings, the imagination and the wit’ of a woman that excite the passion of love, and not the mere distinction of her being female. Urged by the passion of love, men have been driven into acts highly prejudicial to the general interests of society, but probably they would have found no difficulty in resisting the temptation, had it appeared in the form of a woman with no other attractions whatever but her sex. To strip sensual pleasures of all their adjuncts, in order to prove their inferiority, is to deprive a magnet of some of its most essential causes of attraction, and then to say that it is weak and inefficient (p. 67).

(I can’t help noticing a slight contradiction with the earlier observation).

How to control the passions just noted:

In the pursuit of every enjoyment, whether sensual or intellectual, reason, that faculty which enables us to calculate consequences, is the proper corrective and guide. It is probable therefore that improved reason will always tend to prevent the abuse of sensual pleasures, though it by no means follows that it will extinguish them (pp. 67-68).


In order to gain some impression of the Reverend Malthus desperately seeking reason to control his passions, here’s the lech:


As part of my reading for Idols of Nations, I have to work my way through some mind-numbingly dull material. Hugo Grotius is bearable to a point, but John Locke and Adam Smith and the others are dead bores. ‘Utter tedium’ barely captures it, so much so that I wonder at the attention lavished to these writers, supposedly the doyens of English economic thought. John Locke, my focus at the moment, was a man quick to anger and without any sense of humour. Then again, he does manage the odd pearl despite himself, especially when it comes to sex:

God in his infinite wisdom has put strong desires of copulation into the constitution of men, thereby to continue the race of mankind, which he doth most commonly without the intention, and often against the consent and will of the begetter (First Treatise on Government).

For some reason I cannot quite fathom, scholars continue to squirm over bestiality. I am preparing to write a piece on bestiality and other paraphilias for a collection with Routledge called Sex in Antiquity. In reading the scant literature on this topic, I came across a piece by JoAnn Scurlock (in Encyclopaedia of the Bible and Its Reception), who appears to be slightly unsettled by the relaxed approach of some of our civilisational forebears to matters sexual and bestial.  She wants to argue that they found it all rather distasteful, skipping by material that suggests otherwise. But the highlight is perhaps this moment in her argument. She notes that in the list of omens in the Cuneiform Texts in the Kuyunjik Collection at the British Museum, the following omen appears:

In the one preserved omen where the human takes the initiative, a man inseminates a horse and kisses it (for Mesopotamians a post-coital act), and it means he will have long days.

Not quite sure whether is the “insemination” or the kiss that is problematic here (how do you pash a horse?). Nonetheless, Ms Scurlock proceeds with this stunner:

This would appear to be an endorsement; however, behavioral omens inhabit an amoral universe where the only calculation is of whether anything about the behavior could be interpreted as being of benefit or harm to the solicitor of the omen. It does not follow that good-omened behavior is necessarily desirable or even legal.

What? How is a collection of omens amoral, especially when their purpose is to ensure benefit or harm? And how can good-omened behaviour not be desirable? The presence of bestiality does seem to unsettle the normal processes of logic.

Anyway, I plan to include the smooching horse in my article, along with further reflections on the hippophilic Hittites and the fascinating ritual for a man who has a twinge of guilt for a dalliance with a goat.

kiss 02

Given that sheep and goats formed the economic basis (as far as fauna are concerned) of the sacred economy in the ancient Near East, one would expect creative uses of such animals. That is, one used every conceivable part of the animal, and the animals performed all manner of functions. Some would be expected – fibre, milk, meat, bones – others less so. Such as:

If a woman quarrelled with her man, she could seek to overcome his anger by knifing a sheep, touching its death wound, holding a magnet in her right hand and an iron boat in the left – not to forget the necessary prayer to the goddess Ishtar. Why? Her man’s anger would be as dead as the sheep and he would – like the iron boat – find her magnetism simply irresistible.

More intriguing is the ritual for the man with a twinge of regret for intercourse with a goat. Yes, there is a ritual for this too. It goes:

You take hair from the she-goat. On the roof, before Shamash, you tie up a virgin she-goat and you take hair from a she-goat whose hair and body are red. You lay them out before the virgin she-goat and pour a libation of beer over them.

Of course one wonders why, but it may well be that the opposition between one’s recent dalliance and the goat with whom one has not copulated, along with the opposition between the colours red and white (hair from the respective goats), all point to the wish for separation.

It goes on:

You tie that hair up in a linen cloth. You put it on the ground before Shamash. You kneel on it and say as follows … You say this three times and report your doings and then prostrate yourself. You throw that linen cloth into the gate of a beer distributor and after fifteen days you remove it. The gain of the beer distributor will be diminished but the omen will stand to one side and its evil will not approach the man and his household.

Why a beer distributor? Not only was beer a crucial product of agriculture, perhaps one of the reasons why human beings gathered together in the first place, but it may also be due to the fact that the goddess Ishtar was the patron of both goats and sex.

One of the heartwarming things about spending some time in east Berlin is the plentiful architecture from the time of the DDR. There’s the stunning Stalin baroque along Karl-Marx Allee, the imposing Dietz Verlag, and the slender Mauer.


The wall had certainly grown in the ideological retelling, attaining monstrous proportions, but it is really a rather modest affair.


Anyway, sauntering along I came up short with this offer from the generous Berliners:


Ah, but I was to be disappointed, for it turned out to be something else:


I must admit that I can’t get excited over Obama’s comfy ‘evolution’ to support gay marriage, apart from its relevance to electoral issues in the USA. Or even in Australia Penny Wong’s made-for-TV heartfelt admission concerning ‘the most important person in my life’. All the same, there is much celebration over the potential extension of marriage – should these personal opinions ever make it into legislation – to good, middle class gay couples, especially when we keep in mind Kant’s definition, slightly adapted from The Metaphysics of Morals:

Sexual union (commercium sexuale) is the reciprocal use that one human being makes of the sexual organs and capacities of another (usus membrorum et facultatum sexualis alterius).

Sexual union in accordance with law is marriage (matrimonium), that is, the union of two persons of [either the same sex or] different sexes for lifelong possession of each other’s sexual attributes.

In light of which Brecht wrote the following: Über Kants Definition der Ehe in der ‘Metaphysik der Sitten’

Den Pakt zu wechselseitigem Gebrauch
Von den Vermögen und Geschlechtsorganen
Den der die Ehe nennt, nun einzumahnen
Erschent mir dringend und berechtigt auch.

Ich höre, einige Partner sind da säumig.
Sie haben – und ich halt’s nicht für gelogen -
Geschlechtsorgane kürzlich hinterzogen:
Das Netz hat Maschen und sie sind geräumig.

Da bleibt nur: die Gerichte anzugehn
Und die Organe in Beschlag zu nehmen.
Vielleicht wird sich der Partner dann bequemen

Sich den Kontrakt genauer anzusehn.
Wenn er sich nicht bequemt – ich fürchte es sehr -
Muß eben der Gerichtsvollzieher her.

The agreement concerning reciprocal use
Of chattels and sexual organs
Which he calls “marriage,” appears to me
In urgent need of clarification.

From what I hear, some partners are remiss.
They have—I don’t count it a false report –
Withdrawn their sexual organs from the bargain:
The net has holes, and some of them are large.

Only one course remains: go to court
Arrange an attachment of those organs.
And perhaps that will afford the partner occasion

To contemplate that contract more scrupulously.
If he doesn’t give it care, I fear very much
That the sheriff will have to appear.

Next Page »