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So I’ve been deluged by (two) requests to post the Mad Men stuff from my Furman talk:

From our view, people not so long ago lived somewhere between contemptible self-indulgence and inexplicable insanity. That’s the message, for example, of the excellent—if highly politically correct—TV series MAD MEN. Advertising executives in Manhattan around 1960 really did give themselves the cool nickname Mad Men. But for the screenwriters the true, barely concealed message is that they really were mad. The big point of the show is to display that madness for our horror.

The Mad Men smoked like chimneys and almost routinely got drunk on multiple martinis. They ate huge pieces of red meat together with lots of refined carbs. They even had those martinis at lunch, right in the middle of the work day. So they got back to their offices sick, sleepy, and moody. Occasionally they didn’t even return at all. They exercised rarely or only for fun and never scientifically. Rather than have sensible, emotionless, safe, and deeply consensual hook ups, they had complicated, emotionally sloppy, and altogether needlessly dangerous affairs. They found it almost impossible to think of women as autonomous individuals, and so they were guilty of all kinds of double standards and the cause of more than one unplanned pregnancy. Really smart wives were stuck frustrated at home with multiple kids, and so they ending up abusing substances and having dangerous liasions too.

So it’s altogether too easy for us to see that the lives of these men and women were needlessly risky and obsessive. Sometimes we just want to scream at the screen that you guys just got to get control of yourselves and be more responsible. To be fair to the screenwriters, we can also see that the Mad Men were, compared to us, pretty classy and creative, weren’t afraid to let themselves go and have those multiple kids, and generally knew how to handle themselves as ladies and gentlemen better than we do. We’re sort of reminded sometimes that there might be some connection between a romantic and even obsessive indifference to risk and the liberated creative imagination and the highest levels of real productivity. But in general we learn that we should be happy to live in a time when even those artistic types live more sensibly and responsibly. Let’s face it: Nobody can deny that sophisticated Americans, at least, have made lots of progress when it comes to health, safety, and personal consent since the time displayed on MAD MEN.

So in general we believe that even the kindest and most gentle of the chivalric customs and conventions of the past were dangerous compared to our new and unashamed moral focus on safety and consent. Contraceptive technology has allowed us to detach the bare acts from birth and death. The new morality protects you from the natural effects of me, and more importantly ME from the natural effects of you. The virtue required saves ME from the natural consequences of natural impulses.

We techno-persons want to be autonomous, that is, free from natural determination by birth, love, and death. Autonomous beings prefer safe sex to genuinely uninhibited or unprotected sex; they prefer safety in freedom to soaring to erotic heights or falling deeply in love. The safe hook up, from this view, is deeply pro-life, that is, pro- my life.

The morality of safe sex, strangely enough, is one piece of evidence that we, unlike the dolphins, are stuck with virtue. In some ways more than ever, we alone among the species consciously deny that we can do whatever we want whenever we want. That’s because we alone among the species can experience our natural environment as that hostile.

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