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Foucault foresaw our identity crisis We allow ourselves to be manipulated by institutional powers

How repressed are we? Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty


August 28, 2023   8 mins

A common experience these days is being told that people don’t talk about things that people are constantly talking about. “Let’s Face It” — declared a recent headline on the website of McLean Hospital, the famous psychiatric facility in Boston where David Foster Wallace, Sylvia Plath, and Robert Lowell were patients — “No One Wants to Talk About Mental Health”. This is an odd claim. If Sylvia Plath, for example, were revived after her six decades in the grave and made to listen to the streams of babble that course through our popular culture, one thing she would surely find remarkable is all the talk about mental health. She’d be amazed and maybe depressed at how avidly people diagnose (and how eagerly they invent) their own mental troubles, at how much jargon from psychotherapy circulates in everyday conversation, and with how much numbing regularity educators and other functionaries intone the phrase “mental health”.

It’s fair to say that the morbid fixation on mental health among a certain class of visible and voluble teenage girls has grown to be its own mental health crisis. Yet, the PR teams at psychiatric hospitals can say without laughing that people who would speak of mental health must first overcome a culture of silence, and that the people who do manage to pierce the layer of stigma, who defy the heavy shame to voice the forbidden theme, they are heroes. This includes those who celebrate the brave heroes mentioning mental health, since they also are mentioning mental health.

I’m generally torn when I hear these solemn, delusional pronouncements. On the one hand, I find them irksome. However sincere or sympathetic the intention, they express the interests and ways of thinking of powerful institutions that are, I think, increasingly destructive. On the other hand, in the sheer scale and clarity of their falseness, and the vaguely religious tenor of their repetition, they’re kind of funny. The devolution of psychotherapeutic expression from the clinic and the couch to the individual’s bedroom and his TikTok account, and the valorising of this common form of status-chasing as rare and brave, are undeniably comic, from a certain angle.

This undeniable comedy is something Michel Foucault captures about the moral melodrama through which our therapeutic age celebrates itself — especially in Volume I of his The History of Sexuality. I’m tempted to say that this book, along with his other main historical work of the early Seventies, Discipline and Punish, belongs to the formal division in classical theatre between comedy and tragedy — the traditional comedy being about sex (and ending with a wedding), and the standard tragedy being about death (and ending with, well, a death). Discipline and Punish begins (rather than ends), with an 18th-century prisoner’s prolonged and gruesome execution by a method I’ll call “enhanced dismemberment”. The History of Sexuality, on the other hand, begins with a quick paragraph that lets us know we’re descending into a lampoon, impish mockery of a familiar “story”: “For a long time, the story goes, we supported a Victorian regime, and we continue to be dominated by it even today. Thus the image of the imperial prude is emblazoned on our restrained, mute, and hypocritical sexuality.” Foucault sets out to show that this “story” is so distorted and self-serving it’s funny.

The “story” that Foucault wants to expose as a sort of kitsch, a corny inverse moralism, is often told by sex professionals (sex doctors and sex bureaucrats, that is, not prostitutes), as well as by the influential historians Foucault is making fun of in this book. It says that, thanks to habits and methods codified in Victorian times and then revived and intensified in the conformist years of the Fifties, we are heirs to a culture of sexual repression. Even today we struggle to cultivate open, authentic relationships with our own sexuality. Queen Victoria came to eponymise the themes and methods of this culture, indeed to embody them as the sovereign frump of a mighty empire. But she didn’t found this culture. Rather, the story goes, it began to take form a century and a half before her reign. And this — the dating of this culture to the 17th century by influential historians — is powerfully convenient. Foucault writes: “By placing the advent of the age of repression in the seventeenth century
, one adjusts it to coincide with the development of capitalism: it becomes an integral part of the bourgeois order.”

With a droll professional insult — “one adjusts it” — Foucault places conventional histories of sexuality and repression within their own inherently comic narrative of desire. Unconsciously but earnestly and systematically, the historian makes certain pleasures available to himself by “adjusting” the history of repression to coincide with the history of capitalism. With this concurrence in place, he can cloak himself in “the honour of a political cause” simply in doing his job. If sexual repression emerged to serve capitalism, then merely talking or writing about sex “has the appearance of a deliberate transgression”. Such transgressions add up to a piquantly rewarding political programme — sex and sexual frankness as resistance to capitalism — that “combines the fervour of knowledge, the determination to change the laws, and the longing for a garden of earthly delights”.

Attached now to a political programme, this erotic longing provides both the inner drive and the highest goal in a total vision of historical progress, which bears certain comic similarities to religious conviction. Conspicuous within the historians’ “discourse of sexual oppression”, Foucault writes, is “something that smacks of revolt, of promised freedom, of the coming age of a different law”. In this discourse, “some of the ancient functions of prophecy are reactivated”. The rousing lesson of this prophecy, its final message or promise about the future, is: “Tomorrow sex will be good again.”

Within this hopeful vision of liberation through sexiness and sexual frankness, however, Foucault locates a darker motive, a hint of puritanical loathing familiar to students of both religious enthusiasm and revolution. He asks: “Why do we say, with so much passion and so much resentment against our past, against our present and against ourselves, that we are repressed?” This resentment is also semi-conscious at best, fraught with irony and cognitive dissonance, and so Foucault can treat it in a comic register as well. Indeed, for almost a page he repeats his question in forms so overt in their jokey wordplay it’s like he’s doing — as comedians call it — “material”. “By what spiral did we come to affirm that sex is negated? What led us to show, ostentatiously, that sex is something we hide?” “[W]hy [do we] burden ourselves with so much guilt for having once made sex a sin?” “How have we come to be a civilisation” that prudishly judges itself for having “sinned against sex?”

The received histories of sex deserve this comic summary because their story of repression is not just errant or wayward, a little off in its critical heading, but diametrically wrong. The real story as Foucault tells it points in the exact opposite direction. The 300 years that the historians circumscribe as a time of repression actually saw an “explosion” of talk about sex. This time is marked by the furious, incessant creation and multiplication of sexual discourses, as an intensifying scientific spirit of observation and classification discovered people’s hidden sexual worlds in their infinite potential as objects of study. Far from being silenced or repressed over this period, people were increasingly prompted and prodded and harassed to name and describe the sexual truths they bore in their souls, by priests, doctors, psychologists, government bureaucrats, and employers, whose power grew with the sexual details they collected and collated. After you read The History of Sexuality, the classic scene in which a repressed person is freed into psychosexual hygiene — “empowering” herself against the forces of shame and repression by divulging her sexual secrets to a professional psychotherapist — appears in a very different light. You’re newly inclined to see empowerment happening not in the speaking — as our melodrama of psychotherapy would have it — but in the listening.

This reversal of the political valence of sexual discourse and sexual silence, and Foucault’s killing mockery of the sexual ideology of the New Left, have recently won him admiring readers outside his original fan club of literary academics and other postmodern Leftists. But a deeper affinity between him and his new readers owes to the fact that Foucault was 50 years ahead of his time in emphasising the deep moral power of administrators and bureaucrats, doctors and psychologists deputised by sovereign and corporate authority to burrow inside people’s minds and bodies, extracting secrets and implanting helpful suggestions. He showed how institutions deploy a sort of relentless inquisitorial energy that remakes their charges into new and more pliant types of institutional subject, more agreeable to administrative power precisely because they’ve been rendered more open about their inner selves.

Diversity training is a telling recent example of this sort of power, a vivid analog of the forms of sexual study and discipline Foucault describes, resting as it does on a pageantry of confession, of redemption into moral fitness through acts of self-narration and self-description. It would be simpler and cheaper, and almost certainly more effective, for employers to minimise racial offence among their white employees by simply telling them what their non-white co-workers are likely to find offensive or racist, and perhaps why. But the idea of piercing the understandable reticence on racial matters of their nervous employees, goading them to “open up” about the racism they hide inside themselves, is simply too attractive to pass up. These records of racial resistance and confession are a source of immediate pleasure and value and power for the department of human resources and its partners in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) consulting world.

For my part, I came to a curious realisation two decades ago, while researching the politicised, dim-bulb scholarship prominent in teacher-training programmes in the US. The more an educational approach bore the influence of supposedly Foucault-inspired postmodernism, the more “critical” or “constructivist” it was, the more its retail methods resembled the models of institutional power that Foucault describes in History of Sexuality and Discipline and Punish. Educational relativism reverses the flow of language in a classroom. Instead of receiving agreed-upon knowledge from a stable authority (an arrangement that, let’s be clear, is not without its disciplinary potentials), prone students are induced to produce discursive performances for an authority who, instead of lecturing and overtly prescribing, is now observing, listening, notating, patiently waiting through awkward pauses, prodding the student to keep talking when useless silence threatens to dominate.

When content and curriculum are demoted as teachers’ duties, what tends to replace them is a therapist’s probing interest in inner states, attitudes, and dispositions. This is the direction of virtually every faddish innovation in education. Instead of students learning about the outside world from teachers, it is teachers learning about the inner selves of students, from the students’ own confessional output. I always imagine Foucault hearing the popular slogan from teacher-training programmes, “the child-centred classroom”, and shuddering.

The growing centrality of this psychotherapeutic outlook to our moral culture and the perpetual, self-fuelling revolution of sexual expression and identity continue to make Foucault look like a visionary 40 years after his death. As I note above, therapy-minded young people now commonly perform — upon themselves, often for a public audience of social media followers — the main psychological operations, the patient’s confession as well as the clinician’s diagnosis. They (and we) have internalised not only the expressive imperatives of the clinical setting but also the analytical biases, the drive for identifying and classifying and subdividing human types, that marks the human sciences to which psychology belongs. In this analytical process, the ambiguous, changeable matter of human behaviour is translated into legible categories of human person.

Like the institutions that observe and nurture and mould us as we pass our days within them, we are impatient to specify what human type we belong to. We are keen to nestle into a nice category, match ourselves with a diagnosis, map ourselves on the great taxonomy. This is a lot of things besides funny, but it’s also funny. Foucault is taken to be a great inspiration for the sort of “queer theory” that informed, or at least provides a stockpile of quasi-academic jargon for, the ongoing revolution in sexual and gender identity. To its ideologists, I imagine this revolution appears in dialectical terms, suppressed or hidden “subjectivities” pushing against the harm and violence of outdated understandings, emerging into the light of dignity and recognition, properly seen, finally, for example, as asexual.

But Foucault didn’t buy into the dialectic of history. Anyone truly inspired by him would watch as another pastel strip is added to the gender flag, as the quivering “+” at the end of the list of initials invites a new identity into the official fold, and see something very different from history being steered toward ultimate justice by ever-freer self-expression. They would see the techniques of the human sciences — now devolved to us, internalised by our suggestible selves — doing the unending work of analysis and classification and discipline. Remembering their reading of Foucault, they would find this all so absurdly familiar they’d have to laugh.


Matt Feeney is an writer based in California and the author of Little Platoons: A defense of family in a competitive age


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Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
10 months ago

I really enjoyed this essay. As a teacher I’ve come to loathe student-centered approaches to learning. There’s something fraudulent about them, especially towards the students themselves. Essentially it tells them that I, as a teacher, have nothing to teach them, and that they must decide what they need to learn. Teachers graduating today have learnt very little in the way of subject-matter. Much of their teaching is extremely self-referential which is why many of them end up inserting unrelated and irrelevant gender or racial theories into their curricula.

polidori redux
polidori redux
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

“As a teacher I’ve come to loathe student-centered approaches to learning. There’s something fraudulent about them, especially towards the students themselves.”
Yeah. I tried the student-centred blag on my mother when I was five. Her response left me traumatised.

Lisa Hurley
Lisa Hurley
10 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

What was her response?

polidori redux
polidori redux
10 months ago
Reply to  Lisa Hurley

She gave me fourpence for my bus fare.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Hilarious riposte!

Leanne Glascott
Leanne Glascott
10 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

That is so hilarious – it nearly burst my insides.
Comment of the week.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
10 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

That made me inhale my coffee. Worth it tho : )

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Hilarious riposte!

Leanne Glascott
Leanne Glascott
10 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

That is so hilarious – it nearly burst my insides.
Comment of the week.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
10 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

That made me inhale my coffee. Worth it tho : )

polidori redux
polidori redux
10 months ago
Reply to  Lisa Hurley

She gave me fourpence for my bus fare.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
10 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

hilarious!

Last edited 10 months ago by Cathy Carron
Lisa Hurley
Lisa Hurley
10 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

What was her response?

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
10 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

hilarious!

Last edited 10 months ago by Cathy Carron
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

As a teacher, I never thought ‘student centered’ meant student led. It is more about placing the student, their understanding and their progress at the center of the lesson plan rather than providing a block of information and ticking a box when it has been delivered.

Ruth Sharratt
Ruth Sharratt
10 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Yes many people including teachers really don’t understanding constructivism. It’s not a theory of teaching, it’s a theory of learning. It’s certainly not about putting the students in charge. Grossly oversimplifying it says that in order to learn something you need to make sense of it ie construct meaning. Which means simply telling isn’t enough. it doesn’t mean that the student is the authority. They’re not. The teacher is, or should be, the knowledgable person whose job is to enable the student to become a knowledgeable person. The master/apprenticeship model is a good one.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago
Reply to  Ruth Sharratt

If only they’d tried constructivism at St Trinians.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago
Reply to  Ruth Sharratt

If only they’d tried constructivism at St Trinians.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
10 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The problem is not so much the teachers, but the administrators who don’t know the difference and believe students receiving low grades are due to a teacher-centered approach.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Exactly.

Ruth Sharratt
Ruth Sharratt
10 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Yes many people including teachers really don’t understanding constructivism. It’s not a theory of teaching, it’s a theory of learning. It’s certainly not about putting the students in charge. Grossly oversimplifying it says that in order to learn something you need to make sense of it ie construct meaning. Which means simply telling isn’t enough. it doesn’t mean that the student is the authority. They’re not. The teacher is, or should be, the knowledgable person whose job is to enable the student to become a knowledgeable person. The master/apprenticeship model is a good one.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
10 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The problem is not so much the teachers, but the administrators who don’t know the difference and believe students receiving low grades are due to a teacher-centered approach.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Exactly.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

“Teachers graduating today have learnt very little in the way of subject-matter.”
And in the USA, that thought is confirmed by the abysmal test scores of students overall and the climb in the illiteracy rate.

Samantha Stevens
Samantha Stevens
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Yes, yes, yes, as a teacher of 25 years, I am weary of listening to my younger peers wax poetic about all the self-discovery in their classrooms as they avoid teaching actual writing. My poor students still write essays and learn about antiquated concepts like paragraphing. LOL

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
10 months ago

Paragraphing… gulp…good lord!

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
10 months ago

Paragraphing… gulp…good lord!

Shrunken Genepool
Shrunken Genepool
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

If I object to the notion that students should be setting the curriculum at university, I will be sanctioned. I know this.

po go
po go
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Teacher here too- I learned that same theory and promptly left it in the bin.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

As someone who has taught quite a lot, there is no doubt that actually thinking about whether your students are understanding and learning is kind of important. Not sure whether this is student-centred but it is good teaching.

polidori redux
polidori redux
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

“As a teacher I’ve come to loathe student-centered approaches to learning. There’s something fraudulent about them, especially towards the students themselves.”
Yeah. I tried the student-centred blag on my mother when I was five. Her response left me traumatised.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

As a teacher, I never thought ‘student centered’ meant student led. It is more about placing the student, their understanding and their progress at the center of the lesson plan rather than providing a block of information and ticking a box when it has been delivered.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

“Teachers graduating today have learnt very little in the way of subject-matter.”
And in the USA, that thought is confirmed by the abysmal test scores of students overall and the climb in the illiteracy rate.

Samantha Stevens
Samantha Stevens
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Yes, yes, yes, as a teacher of 25 years, I am weary of listening to my younger peers wax poetic about all the self-discovery in their classrooms as they avoid teaching actual writing. My poor students still write essays and learn about antiquated concepts like paragraphing. LOL

Shrunken Genepool
Shrunken Genepool
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

If I object to the notion that students should be setting the curriculum at university, I will be sanctioned. I know this.

po go
po go
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Teacher here too- I learned that same theory and promptly left it in the bin.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

As someone who has taught quite a lot, there is no doubt that actually thinking about whether your students are understanding and learning is kind of important. Not sure whether this is student-centred but it is good teaching.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
10 months ago

I really enjoyed this essay. As a teacher I’ve come to loathe student-centered approaches to learning. There’s something fraudulent about them, especially towards the students themselves. Essentially it tells them that I, as a teacher, have nothing to teach them, and that they must decide what they need to learn. Teachers graduating today have learnt very little in the way of subject-matter. Much of their teaching is extremely self-referential which is why many of them end up inserting unrelated and irrelevant gender or racial theories into their curricula.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
10 months ago

Oh FFS! How many millions of words of absolute nonsense have been written on this subject in absolute defiance of common sense.
‘Sexual repression’ is a defence against disease. Wait till the antibiotics stop working and then see how quickly it comes back

Dominic A
Dominic A
10 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Indeed. It puts me in mind of something I heard Jonathan Haidt say, the gist of which was, ‘As a young student interested in people, morality etc, I was initially drawn to philosophy in search of answers, but thankfully switched to psychology’.

Dominic A
Dominic A
10 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Indeed. It puts me in mind of something I heard Jonathan Haidt say, the gist of which was, ‘As a young student interested in people, morality etc, I was initially drawn to philosophy in search of answers, but thankfully switched to psychology’.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
10 months ago

Oh FFS! How many millions of words of absolute nonsense have been written on this subject in absolute defiance of common sense.
‘Sexual repression’ is a defence against disease. Wait till the antibiotics stop working and then see how quickly it comes back

Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith
10 months ago

I’ve read more about Foucault’s work than any direct reading of the actual works although The History of Sexuality has been sitting on my bookshelves gathering dust for thirty years barely consulted. This is the first essay that makes me want to read it.

Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith
10 months ago

I’ve read more about Foucault’s work than any direct reading of the actual works although The History of Sexuality has been sitting on my bookshelves gathering dust for thirty years barely consulted. This is the first essay that makes me want to read it.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
10 months ago

I believe we have moved our locus of control overwhelmingly externally. Increasingly I experience people as “disassociated”, their attention external, seeking solutions from ” out there”. Until people are prepared to to be more embodied, to take responsibility for their embodiment, and the implicatiions (including pain and death), we will be psychological flotsam in a disregarded carcass. We need to come home to ourselves. When we have internal locus, the issues raised in this article are greatly addressed.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
10 months ago

I believe we have moved our locus of control overwhelmingly externally. Increasingly I experience people as “disassociated”, their attention external, seeking solutions from ” out there”. Until people are prepared to to be more embodied, to take responsibility for their embodiment, and the implicatiions (including pain and death), we will be psychological flotsam in a disregarded carcass. We need to come home to ourselves. When we have internal locus, the issues raised in this article are greatly addressed.

Samantha Stevens
Samantha Stevens
10 months ago

Oh, the numerous ways it is impossible to be a teacher today. I love the section about how teaching has become yet another form of psychotherapy. When I asked an administrator in exasperation at a faculty meeting didn’t students actually have to learn about history and facts, she replied, “they have the internet for that; everything is at their fingertips.” I countered, “They have no context for anything, nor judgment about what sources are reliable!” The groans from my colleagues made me feel like a bitter old crone librarian.
My poor students love to diagnose themselves with any variety of ills from bipolar disorder to autism to the ever-popular trans via TikTok. As the mother of an autistic daughter, I find the growing self-diagnoses of people as autistic who clearly are not incredibly offensive. My daughter will never marry, live independently, drive. I know there are autistic people who do all those things, but they still struggle. My students just want a reason to be seen as suffering and different than the average, middle class, white people they are.
As for Foucault, any article about him should really mention his tremendous deviance. He was by very credible accounts a pedophile who pushed to abolish the age of consent in France. He traveled to Tunisia where he abused poor boys. His views on sex, while cloaked in academia, were a subterfuge for his own perversion. He is to blame for much of the current state of debauchery today.
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/french-philosopher-michel-foucault-abused-boys-in-tunisia-6t5sj7jvw

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
10 months ago

We really need to go back to calling high functioning autism Asperger’s Syndrome. With the latter I have married and raised children, passing it on to one of my sons, but affecting all of them by my social and emotional issues. I was bullied in school by teachers and students alike, often for sharing arcane information or correcting the teacher. I have long not needed to hold a job, but remember how difficult it was when I did, and I have never made and kept a friend besides my husband. I believe my problems in life, while real, pale compared to someone with actual autism and it is a disgrace for people to claim to be “on the spectrum” who are perfectly normal because it is a status marker, unless of course you actually display the despised traits.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago
Reply to  Suzanne C.

I’m surprised you would have had children.

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
10 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

That implies that a life with Asperger’s isn’t worth living. Mine has been, and my children seem to feel the same. The most affected one has a wife and daughter. His wife comes from a culture where his strong points count for more than his social weaknesses.It was in finding out when he was 16 what was wrong with him that I found out what was wrong with me. Ironically he diagnoses autism and works with autistic children.
I found out at 47 that I also had a hereditary neuromuscular disease that I passed on to him and his brother. Had I known both of these things I would still have had children. No one is guaranteed a perfect life, isn’t that one of the most obvious problems with our current society, the sense of entitlement to the reality of your choice?

Samantha Stevens
Samantha Stevens
10 months ago
Reply to  Suzanne C.

Exactly. I’m sure you and your family are perfectly lovely.

Samantha Stevens
Samantha Stevens
10 months ago
Reply to  Suzanne C.

Exactly. I’m sure you and your family are perfectly lovely.

Samantha Stevens
Samantha Stevens
10 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

What a perfectly horrible thing to say. My daughter is perfect as she is – a sacred person full of inherent value imbued by her creator. I wish I could change the world for her, but I wouldn’t change her for the world.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
10 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

I’d hate to be a citizen of any country you might be in charge of.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
10 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Good grief.

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
10 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

That implies that a life with Asperger’s isn’t worth living. Mine has been, and my children seem to feel the same. The most affected one has a wife and daughter. His wife comes from a culture where his strong points count for more than his social weaknesses.It was in finding out when he was 16 what was wrong with him that I found out what was wrong with me. Ironically he diagnoses autism and works with autistic children.
I found out at 47 that I also had a hereditary neuromuscular disease that I passed on to him and his brother. Had I known both of these things I would still have had children. No one is guaranteed a perfect life, isn’t that one of the most obvious problems with our current society, the sense of entitlement to the reality of your choice?

Samantha Stevens
Samantha Stevens
10 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

What a perfectly horrible thing to say. My daughter is perfect as she is – a sacred person full of inherent value imbued by her creator. I wish I could change the world for her, but I wouldn’t change her for the world.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
10 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

I’d hate to be a citizen of any country you might be in charge of.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
10 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Good grief.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
10 months ago
Reply to  Suzanne C.

I could not agree more.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago
Reply to  Suzanne C.

I’m surprised you would have had children.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
10 months ago
Reply to  Suzanne C.

I could not agree more.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
10 months ago

Thank you for this excellent post. The author of this piece tied himself in knots in order to frame Foucault’s theories on sex and repression without at any point mentioning his paedophilia. Instead he’s drawn as a laugh a minute, eg the ‘funny’ quoted passages. Oh my sides.
I think this is an attempt to paint Foucault as a witty liberationist on the side of humankind. He had some interesting things to say about power. He also had some supremely dodgy theories about power and authority based on his own deviance.
Last but not least, I feel as strongly as you do about the way what we used to call personality is now being self-diagnosed as a collection of pathologies. You don’t need a diagnosis unless you’re ill. Being a social misfit is not being ill. (I should know, I’ve been one all my life.)
Being a person seriously disabled by e.g. autism, is being seriously ill. We’ve always been lousy at providing the help those people need (see the ongoing scandal about the places that essentially imprison them in isolation.) The last thing we need is a bunch of self-regarding twerps – see the ‘comedian’ Stewart Lee in the Grauniad last week – self-diagnosing autism on the basis of an online questionnaire and telling us all how great it is.

Last edited 10 months ago by Coralie Palmer
Dominic A
Dominic A
10 months ago

Oh, the numerous ways it is impossible to be a teacher today
I think you’ll appreciate this –
https://condenaststore.com/featured/hey-kids-ward-sutton.html

Suzanne C.
Suzanne C.
10 months ago

We really need to go back to calling high functioning autism Asperger’s Syndrome. With the latter I have married and raised children, passing it on to one of my sons, but affecting all of them by my social and emotional issues. I was bullied in school by teachers and students alike, often for sharing arcane information or correcting the teacher. I have long not needed to hold a job, but remember how difficult it was when I did, and I have never made and kept a friend besides my husband. I believe my problems in life, while real, pale compared to someone with actual autism and it is a disgrace for people to claim to be “on the spectrum” who are perfectly normal because it is a status marker, unless of course you actually display the despised traits.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
10 months ago

Thank you for this excellent post. The author of this piece tied himself in knots in order to frame Foucault’s theories on sex and repression without at any point mentioning his paedophilia. Instead he’s drawn as a laugh a minute, eg the ‘funny’ quoted passages. Oh my sides.
I think this is an attempt to paint Foucault as a witty liberationist on the side of humankind. He had some interesting things to say about power. He also had some supremely dodgy theories about power and authority based on his own deviance.
Last but not least, I feel as strongly as you do about the way what we used to call personality is now being self-diagnosed as a collection of pathologies. You don’t need a diagnosis unless you’re ill. Being a social misfit is not being ill. (I should know, I’ve been one all my life.)
Being a person seriously disabled by e.g. autism, is being seriously ill. We’ve always been lousy at providing the help those people need (see the ongoing scandal about the places that essentially imprison them in isolation.) The last thing we need is a bunch of self-regarding twerps – see the ‘comedian’ Stewart Lee in the Grauniad last week – self-diagnosing autism on the basis of an online questionnaire and telling us all how great it is.

Last edited 10 months ago by Coralie Palmer
Dominic A
Dominic A
10 months ago

Oh, the numerous ways it is impossible to be a teacher today
I think you’ll appreciate this –
https://condenaststore.com/featured/hey-kids-ward-sutton.html

Samantha Stevens
Samantha Stevens
10 months ago

Oh, the numerous ways it is impossible to be a teacher today. I love the section about how teaching has become yet another form of psychotherapy. When I asked an administrator in exasperation at a faculty meeting didn’t students actually have to learn about history and facts, she replied, “they have the internet for that; everything is at their fingertips.” I countered, “They have no context for anything, nor judgment about what sources are reliable!” The groans from my colleagues made me feel like a bitter old crone librarian.
My poor students love to diagnose themselves with any variety of ills from bipolar disorder to autism to the ever-popular trans via TikTok. As the mother of an autistic daughter, I find the growing self-diagnoses of people as autistic who clearly are not incredibly offensive. My daughter will never marry, live independently, drive. I know there are autistic people who do all those things, but they still struggle. My students just want a reason to be seen as suffering and different than the average, middle class, white people they are.
As for Foucault, any article about him should really mention his tremendous deviance. He was by very credible accounts a pedophile who pushed to abolish the age of consent in France. He traveled to Tunisia where he abused poor boys. His views on sex, while cloaked in academia, were a subterfuge for his own perversion. He is to blame for much of the current state of debauchery today.
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/french-philosopher-michel-foucault-abused-boys-in-tunisia-6t5sj7jvw

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
10 months ago

I prefer the first volume of Foucault’s History of Sexuality to all his books. Aside from his novel look at Victorian prisons and institutes for the mentally ill, his other tomes seem to be histories of the organisation of knowledge in ‘long centures’ often involving endless taxonomies of simple data. Dry, over-theorising and by the 2nd and 3rd volume of the ‘sex books’ he is largely treating his own preference for young men and sadomasochistic kink by looking at sexual practices in Ancient Greece and Rome.
At least in that first book MF presents the amusing thesis that rather than hushing-up sex, we have been speaking about it endless in the last 150 years, documented every kind of sexuality and institutionalisng a whole school of knowledge about sexual practices. It suggest that the likes of McKinsey, Money and finally the deconstructed gender phenomenology of Judith Butler comes from the mainstream organisation of our cultures rather than any postmodern philosophical fixation on knowledge-power complexes.
Much of these issues are for treatment by psychoanalysis which is greatly required to unpack what modern pathologies are doing with human identities. For a new epich of hysteria is upon is which is converting itself into the psychotics who populate the internet – responsible for the Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria riddling the teenage population – and the QT ideologues behind them who are mobilising perversion to change society forever.

Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson
10 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Not just a “preference for young men”, but for boys too – for whom he would exploitatively throw a few coins.

Lena Bloch
Lena Bloch
10 months ago
Reply to  Jane Anderson

Did you mean the “Tunisian boys” hoax? Here is how it was made. I did not write the investigation. I translated it from French. MICHEL FOUCAULT AND PEDOPHILIA: THE HOAX OF “TUNISIAN BOYS” https://lenabloch.medium.com/michel-foucault-and-the-hoax-of-tunisian-boys-35e3035ea693

Last edited 10 months ago by Lena Bloch
Andrew H
Andrew H
10 months ago
Reply to  Lena Bloch

Do you mean the Foucault who argued for the removal of all age of consent laws down to infants? I hope he’s burning in hell.

Last edited 10 months ago by Andrew H
Andrew H
Andrew H
10 months ago
Reply to  Lena Bloch

Do you mean the Foucault who signed this letter – written by none other than self-confessed paedophile Gabriel Matzneff – defending three men accused of the sexual abuse of a brother and sister aged 12 and 13 and arguing for children’s “right” to consent to sex with adults?
https://www.dolto.fr/fd-code-penal-crp.html

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew H

Spot on. It’s an entirely consistent expression of just where his views on sexual repression wanted to go.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew H

Spot on. It’s an entirely consistent expression of just where his views on sexual repression wanted to go.

Andrew H
Andrew H
10 months ago
Reply to  Lena Bloch

Do you mean the Foucault who argued for the removal of all age of consent laws down to infants? I hope he’s burning in hell.

Last edited 10 months ago by Andrew H
Andrew H
Andrew H
10 months ago
Reply to  Lena Bloch

Do you mean the Foucault who signed this letter – written by none other than self-confessed paedophile Gabriel Matzneff – defending three men accused of the sexual abuse of a brother and sister aged 12 and 13 and arguing for children’s “right” to consent to sex with adults?
https://www.dolto.fr/fd-code-penal-crp.html

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
10 months ago
Reply to  Jane Anderson

Four pence?

Lena Bloch
Lena Bloch
10 months ago
Reply to  Jane Anderson

Did you mean the “Tunisian boys” hoax? Here is how it was made. I did not write the investigation. I translated it from French. MICHEL FOUCAULT AND PEDOPHILIA: THE HOAX OF “TUNISIAN BOYS” https://lenabloch.medium.com/michel-foucault-and-the-hoax-of-tunisian-boys-35e3035ea693

Last edited 10 months ago by Lena Bloch
Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
10 months ago
Reply to  Jane Anderson

Four pence?

Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson
10 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Not just a “preference for young men”, but for boys too – for whom he would exploitatively throw a few coins.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
10 months ago

I prefer the first volume of Foucault’s History of Sexuality to all his books. Aside from his novel look at Victorian prisons and institutes for the mentally ill, his other tomes seem to be histories of the organisation of knowledge in ‘long centures’ often involving endless taxonomies of simple data. Dry, over-theorising and by the 2nd and 3rd volume of the ‘sex books’ he is largely treating his own preference for young men and sadomasochistic kink by looking at sexual practices in Ancient Greece and Rome.
At least in that first book MF presents the amusing thesis that rather than hushing-up sex, we have been speaking about it endless in the last 150 years, documented every kind of sexuality and institutionalisng a whole school of knowledge about sexual practices. It suggest that the likes of McKinsey, Money and finally the deconstructed gender phenomenology of Judith Butler comes from the mainstream organisation of our cultures rather than any postmodern philosophical fixation on knowledge-power complexes.
Much of these issues are for treatment by psychoanalysis which is greatly required to unpack what modern pathologies are doing with human identities. For a new epich of hysteria is upon is which is converting itself into the psychotics who populate the internet – responsible for the Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria riddling the teenage population – and the QT ideologues behind them who are mobilising perversion to change society forever.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago

“It would be simpler and cheaper, and almost certainly more effective, for employers to minimise racial offence among their white employees by simply telling them what their non-white co-workers are likely to find offensive or racist, and perhaps why.”
*It would be simpler and cheaper, and almost certainly more effective, for employers to minimise racial offence among their non-White employees by simply telling them what their White co-workers are likely to find offensive or racist, and perhaps why. 

Terry Raby
Terry Raby
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Perhaps training in resilience rather than eggshell walking.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago
Reply to  Terry Raby

Thanks for saying in one sentence what took me two paragraphs.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago
Reply to  Terry Raby

Thanks for saying in one sentence what took me two paragraphs.

Terry Raby
Terry Raby
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Perhaps training in resilience rather than eggshell walking.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago

“It would be simpler and cheaper, and almost certainly more effective, for employers to minimise racial offence among their white employees by simply telling them what their non-white co-workers are likely to find offensive or racist, and perhaps why.”
*It would be simpler and cheaper, and almost certainly more effective, for employers to minimise racial offence among their non-White employees by simply telling them what their White co-workers are likely to find offensive or racist, and perhaps why. 

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
10 months ago

A common experience these days is being told that people don’t talk about things that people are constantly talking about.

“The love that dare not speak its name”.
(Lord Alfred Douglas)

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
10 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

THE LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME, YOU MEAN ?!!??

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Yes!

Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbot

OR

John Major and Edwina Currie.

Philip Phillips
Philip Phillips
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Barf!

Last edited 10 months ago by Philip Phillips
Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

John Major was a dark horse. If you get a reputation for being dull, you can get away with a lot.

Philip Phillips
Philip Phillips
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Barf!

Last edited 10 months ago by Philip Phillips
Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

John Major was a dark horse. If you get a reputation for being dull, you can get away with a lot.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Yes!

Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbot

OR

John Major and Edwina Currie.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
10 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

THE LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME, YOU MEAN ?!!??

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
10 months ago

A common experience these days is being told that people don’t talk about things that people are constantly talking about.

“The love that dare not speak its name”.
(Lord Alfred Douglas)

Niels Georg Bach Christensen
Niels Georg Bach Christensen
10 months ago

I like this essay. In Denmark we discuss ‘childrens’ identity problems og self identifying their ‘psychic problems. Mainly girls. The child centric learning approach makes the the child its own enemy , th enemy should be the subject and the school, they should fight this to learn something.

Niels Georg Bach Christensen
Niels Georg Bach Christensen
10 months ago

I like this essay. In Denmark we discuss ‘childrens’ identity problems og self identifying their ‘psychic problems. Mainly girls. The child centric learning approach makes the the child its own enemy , th enemy should be the subject and the school, they should fight this to learn something.

Lisa Hurley
Lisa Hurley
10 months ago

I had ‘Discipline and Punish’ as a student, perhaps now I should read beyond the first chapter about quartering. My contemporaries all acknowledge their mental health labels (usually adhd), it helps us navigate life and it now seems dangerous not to, that would show a lack of self awareness.

Lisa Hurley
Lisa Hurley
10 months ago

I had ‘Discipline and Punish’ as a student, perhaps now I should read beyond the first chapter about quartering. My contemporaries all acknowledge their mental health labels (usually adhd), it helps us navigate life and it now seems dangerous not to, that would show a lack of self awareness.

Frank Carney
Frank Carney
10 months ago

It’s articles like this that keep me reading UnHerd.

“She’d be amazed and maybe depressed at how avidly people diagnose (and how eagerly they invent) their own mental troubles”

On a recent return visit to UK I was forcefully struck by this very phenomenon, and just how ubiquitous it has become. And not just among the teen TikTokers either: the middle aged frequently make much of their mental health “issues”, and if they don’t have them they make sure that you know that a close relative does!

Frank Carney
Frank Carney
10 months ago

It’s articles like this that keep me reading UnHerd.

“She’d be amazed and maybe depressed at how avidly people diagnose (and how eagerly they invent) their own mental troubles”

On a recent return visit to UK I was forcefully struck by this very phenomenon, and just how ubiquitous it has become. And not just among the teen TikTokers either: the middle aged frequently make much of their mental health “issues”, and if they don’t have them they make sure that you know that a close relative does!

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
10 months ago

Have seen Sylvia Plath’s grave.
It was covered with rusty tins of mouldy lesbian pens.
If she was revived, she might quickly ask to be un-revived.

Last edited 10 months ago by Dumetrius
Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

How can you tell if a pen is lesbian ?
Coz it hasn’t evulved.

Is this even a joke ?

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Yes, and a good one!

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

LOL

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Yes, and a good one!

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

LOL

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Get with the program (ask Kathleen Stock);

A lesbian can’t have a pen and doesn’t know what a pen is.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

lol

Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

No, she doesn’t….. and yes she does: but she’s just not interested.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

lol

Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

No, she doesn’t….. and yes she does: but she’s just not interested.

Jon Morrow
Jon Morrow
10 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

What’s a lesbian pen? Or am I better off not knowing?

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Morrow

You’re not allowed to say that lesbians don’t like pens.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

I hate to admit it but I’m just not getting the joke.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

During last year’s Pride b0110cks some lesbians were attacked by transvestite fetishists and removed from a parade by the police for the heinous sin of waving a banner stating the banal truth that lesbians don’t like penises.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

Because it’s just not funny. Adolescent humor.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

During last year’s Pride b0110cks some lesbians were attacked by transvestite fetishists and removed from a parade by the police for the heinous sin of waving a banner stating the banal truth that lesbians don’t like penises.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

Because it’s just not funny. Adolescent humor.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

I hate to admit it but I’m just not getting the joke.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Morrow

You’re not allowed to say that lesbians don’t like pens.

Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith
10 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Chisel wielding feminists have been chipping off the “Hughes” part of the surname for years. It’s been reinstated so many times it stands out vividly.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan Smith

I think some of Ted Hughes ‘Birthday Letters’ poems are beautiful and for him quite accessible.

Obviously, as he’s pale, male and stale he’s not entitled to voice any opinion.

Dear Sylvia was borderline bonkers but that won’t matter to the dykes in the Calder Valley, a veritable queer hotspot. The last time I went for a walk there, there was an amazon in purple dungarees mournfully playing the bongos on the riverbank (I’m not making this up) so nothing would surprise me.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan Smith

My last reply was deleted by the censors so let’s try again.

Nothing would surprise me in the Calder Valley, a veritable hotspot for those of an alternative bent.

On my last walk there I was serenaded on the river bank by a purple-haired amazon in dungarees who was playing the bongos (a true story).

Now what could possibly be amiss with that dear censor ?

PS: as one of the alphabet brigade myself, it beggars belief that a comment would be wiped in the misguided belief that you are ‘protecting my community ‘. Or is it just the Betjeman curse of niceness at work I
wonder?

PPS Don’t ask me what I was doing on the river bank

At midnight

In full leathers

But my love must not speak its name.

Last edited 10 months ago by Mike Downing
Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

On my last walk there I was serenaded on the river bank by a purple-haired amazon in dungarees who was playing the bongos (a true story).
Sorry, but what’s notable about that? Why wouldn’t amazons wear dungarees or play bongos by the river bank? What’s the take-away?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

I find it offensive either way you try it.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

On my last walk there I was serenaded on the river bank by a purple-haired amazon in dungarees who was playing the bongos (a true story).
Sorry, but what’s notable about that? Why wouldn’t amazons wear dungarees or play bongos by the river bank? What’s the take-away?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

I find it offensive either way you try it.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan Smith

I think some of Ted Hughes ‘Birthday Letters’ poems are beautiful and for him quite accessible.

Obviously, as he’s pale, male and stale he’s not entitled to voice any opinion.

Dear Sylvia was borderline bonkers but that won’t matter to the dykes in the Calder Valley, a veritable queer hotspot. The last time I went for a walk there, there was an amazon in purple dungarees mournfully playing the bongos on the riverbank (I’m not making this up) so nothing would surprise me.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan Smith

My last reply was deleted by the censors so let’s try again.

Nothing would surprise me in the Calder Valley, a veritable hotspot for those of an alternative bent.

On my last walk there I was serenaded on the river bank by a purple-haired amazon in dungarees who was playing the bongos (a true story).

Now what could possibly be amiss with that dear censor ?

PS: as one of the alphabet brigade myself, it beggars belief that a comment would be wiped in the misguided belief that you are ‘protecting my community ‘. Or is it just the Betjeman curse of niceness at work I
wonder?

PPS Don’t ask me what I was doing on the river bank

At midnight

In full leathers

But my love must not speak its name.

Last edited 10 months ago by Mike Downing
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

I met her daughter Frieda about 40 years ago at a party in Clerkenwell. I thought she was nice.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

How can you tell if a pen is lesbian ?
Coz it hasn’t evulved.

Is this even a joke ?

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
10 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Get with the program (ask Kathleen Stock);

A lesbian can’t have a pen and doesn’t know what a pen is.

Jon Morrow
Jon Morrow
10 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

What’s a lesbian pen? Or am I better off not knowing?

Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith
10 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Chisel wielding feminists have been chipping off the “Hughes” part of the surname for years. It’s been reinstated so many times it stands out vividly.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

I met her daughter Frieda about 40 years ago at a party in Clerkenwell. I thought she was nice.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
10 months ago

Have seen Sylvia Plath’s grave.
It was covered with rusty tins of mouldy lesbian pens.
If she was revived, she might quickly ask to be un-revived.

Last edited 10 months ago by Dumetrius
Dumetrius
Dumetrius
10 months ago

This could be less down to repression than just lacking unambiguous words to describe some acts.
In some cases that could be fear of scandalising sensitive souls , ie repression
But in other cases, common names for sex acts don’t tell you what is going on physically. eg, Foucault’s favourite, ‘fisting’ – that doesn’t emerge as a term till the mid-fifties. Or ‘handball’ which emerges about the same time ?
Effectively making it impossible to research origins – what word are you going to hunt for, if you look back before that time?
First person on record who we know sought to unambiguously describe it – a confidant of a McKinsey researcher – called it ‘putting the arm up.’

Last edited 10 months ago by Dumetrius
Dumetrius
Dumetrius
10 months ago

This could be less down to repression than just lacking unambiguous words to describe some acts.
In some cases that could be fear of scandalising sensitive souls , ie repression
But in other cases, common names for sex acts don’t tell you what is going on physically. eg, Foucault’s favourite, ‘fisting’ – that doesn’t emerge as a term till the mid-fifties. Or ‘handball’ which emerges about the same time ?
Effectively making it impossible to research origins – what word are you going to hunt for, if you look back before that time?
First person on record who we know sought to unambiguously describe it – a confidant of a McKinsey researcher – called it ‘putting the arm up.’

Last edited 10 months ago by Dumetrius
Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
10 months ago

4 decades ago, as a kid at school, I remember being intrigued by a dictionary definition of insanity. Roughly paraphrased, it spoke of a disorder “characterised by acting against the legal or social demands of society”. Something like that. It struck me as deeply partisan. I recall then thinking, what if you were a decent person in a corrupt society? Thus framed, so-called “insanity” seemed to be infinitely mutable, and ripe for exploitation by anyone with a totalitarian mindset. Some years later, as an undergrad in the 1980s, I remember being impressed by Thomas Szasz’ book, “The Myth of Mental Illness”. Short of actual physical brain damage, I’ve always agreed with him. Unhappiness is merely a rational response to a negative life event – ill-health, poverty, relationship break-up etc; just as happiness is a rational response to a positive life event. The idea that we should be medicalised for “failing” to live in a permanent state of near-euphoria is deranged (and profoundly materialistic-atheistic to boot, though that’s a whole new line of thought).
As Szasz remarks:
“Freedom gives you the opportunity to be unhappy – and not to be molested for it 
 I look upon the mental health profession as a gigantic apparatus of molestation 
”
See short interview with Dr Szasz here:
https://youtu.be/KH8drK8AgPE
The article is right about today’s lamentable enthusiasm for pathologising normality. In a related vein, Brooke Allen is a 60-something American academic. Writing in The Hudson Review, she noted the deleterious effects of the rise of woke group-think on young people in education:
“Then I took a job teaching literature … When I arrived there in early 2011 the place was wonderfully refreshing after Columbia. Instead of earnest pedants imbibing and regurgitating rigid doctrines, I found a campus full of open, intellectually curious, enthusiastic, charming young people. Everyone participated in class discussions; they all studied what they loved.
By 2015, it had completely changed. Students were restless, easily offended, whiny. They were also passive and helpless. Everyone, for reasons I couldn’t understand, was always accusing everyone else of being racist. (Some faculty members indulged in this activity too.) People became unreasonably prickly if you called them by the wrong gender pronoun. It seemed that every single one of the female students was a survivor of rape or sexual assault (very loosely defined). Many students claimed to suffer from PTSD, though so far as I knew, no one had been on a battlefield. Plenty of others complained of anxiety and seemed to think this was a sufficient reason to skip classes and written assignments.“
Her article is here:
https://hudsonreview.com/2021/05/social-justice-groupthink/ – it’s worth reading. She joins the cultural dots between the likes of the Foucker, Derrida and Lacan and today’s woke warriors – how the fashion for absolute ethical relativism facilitated, ironically, the new intolerance, and how it ushered in:
“... a left-wing moral community, rather than a purely academic one: an intellectual organ more interested in advocating a particular ought than attempting a detached assessment of is—an attitude we usually associate with churches, rather than universities.”

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
10 months ago

It’s a dilemma — one wants to eat one’s cake but still have it. For the wokie, the righteous tears of their martyrdom at the hands of whitey — the eternal Oppressor — are sweet. But! … there is also the sweet pleasure of Smashing the Patriarchy — the pleasure of victory! So, one wants to Smash and to be victorious over the burned bodies of whitey, and yet keep the ongoing saintly Victimhood.

In the same way, the modern progressive is in fact free to Identify as anything and to engage in just about any possible sexual behavior — tho heterosex is deeply suspect, it’s almost always rape. And yet, one must feel Oppressed to be happy. Thus the chains of sexual repression will always be being thrown off, but will always be there too. DEI will rule the world, and yet never be complete. As Orwell showed, the war with Eurasia — it has always been Eurasia — will deliver one Victory after another and yet it will never end.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
10 months ago

It’s a dilemma — one wants to eat one’s cake but still have it. For the wokie, the righteous tears of their martyrdom at the hands of whitey — the eternal Oppressor — are sweet. But! … there is also the sweet pleasure of Smashing the Patriarchy — the pleasure of victory! So, one wants to Smash and to be victorious over the burned bodies of whitey, and yet keep the ongoing saintly Victimhood.

In the same way, the modern progressive is in fact free to Identify as anything and to engage in just about any possible sexual behavior — tho heterosex is deeply suspect, it’s almost always rape. And yet, one must feel Oppressed to be happy. Thus the chains of sexual repression will always be being thrown off, but will always be there too. DEI will rule the world, and yet never be complete. As Orwell showed, the war with Eurasia — it has always been Eurasia — will deliver one Victory after another and yet it will never end.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
10 months ago

Is it possible to be notified of a response to a comment? I scan the comments and see that sometimes there’s a response to something I said, but I get no notification. There seems to be nothing is ‘My Account’ to change that.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
10 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

If you got notifications of responses to your comments it would greatly facilitate ‘conversations’ on Unherd. I noted this to the Unherd powers that be and was told ‘too bad’, more or less.

Last edited 10 months ago by Kirk Susong
Max Rottersman
Max Rottersman
10 months ago

I sometimes think of cancelling my Unherd subscription (because the essays are unimaginative) then I read something like this and I’m all-in again. Thanks!

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
10 months ago

Let’s do a bit of editing:
“By placing the advent of the age of repression in the seventeenth century
, one adjusts it to coincide with” the emergence of the educated class.
Back in the day, people didn’t get married unless they had money from both families. Why? Because otherwise they would die.
The whole point about the modern playing with sex is that we can afford to, and our educated class makes a cult out of “creativity.” I say that the least creative way to be creative is to be creative with sex.
Age of repression? In Pride and Prejudice we have Lydia running off with an officer. In Adam Bede we have a silly teenager getting pregnant by the local landowner. I tell you; those 19th century damsels were up to no good!
What would Queen Victoria have thought of that? Actually, the royal family was delighted to go visit George Eliot at her weekly open house with George Lewes — to whom she was not married.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
10 months ago

Let’s do a bit of editing:
“By placing the advent of the age of repression in the seventeenth century
, one adjusts it to coincide with” the emergence of the educated class.
Back in the day, people didn’t get married unless they had money from both families. Why? Because otherwise they would die.
The whole point about the modern playing with sex is that we can afford to, and our educated class makes a cult out of “creativity.” I say that the least creative way to be creative is to be creative with sex.
Age of repression? In Pride and Prejudice we have Lydia running off with an officer. In Adam Bede we have a silly teenager getting pregnant by the local landowner. I tell you; those 19th century damsels were up to no good!
What would Queen Victoria have thought of that? Actually, the royal family was delighted to go visit George Eliot at her weekly open house with George Lewes — to whom she was not married.

Chris Hayes
Chris Hayes
10 months ago

Isn’t he largely to blame? Asking for a sociologist friend who can’t afford the subscription….

Michael Bond
Michael Bond
10 months ago

The student-centered approach is a direct application of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which begins with the assumption the binary of oppressed and oppressor is evident in the student teacher relationship.
But this essay reveals another more troubling dynamic. Does Foucault’s fascination with sex have anything to do with his p***s and his desire to engage in sexual behavior with minor boys? Why else would he want to deconstruct such relations?

Michael Bond
Michael Bond
10 months ago

The student-centered approach is a direct application of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which begins with the assumption the binary of oppressed and oppressor is evident in the student teacher relationship.
But this essay reveals another more troubling dynamic. Does Foucault’s fascination with sex have anything to do with his p***s and his desire to engage in sexual behavior with minor boys? Why else would he want to deconstruct such relations?

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
10 months ago

What a smart article. Wish we saw more like it.

Paul MacDonnell
Paul MacDonnell
10 months ago

This essay badly needed to be written. Foucault belongs to those modern French philosophers who have been misunderstood and misused by the Anglosphere academic establishment. Carrying a message of the dangers of the administrative state he has been shot by conservatives.

po go
po go
10 months ago

The Triumph of the TherapeuticThe Rise and Triumph of the Modern SelfBoth books correspond very well to this article.