A few notes I took while reading Michel Houellebecq’s Submission. There can be spoilers. There will be strong opinions.
Houellebecq is the man to describe a man’s conversion to Islam
First of all, he is a card-carrying misogynist. I have enjoyed all his previous books – with their amusing undertone of despising women while simultaneously yearning for sex. His protagonists evaluate the body and the cooking of every female character – and are contented that female body parts sag but older men always find young women to fuck. He didn’t disappoint this time either.
But this time he uses his familiar protagonist to describe the conversion of an intellectual (a French lit prof, no less) to Islam. And his conversion was seamless, thanks to this exact attitude. Houellebecq wrote a character who finds a new young woman every year, but the average French woman would probably not put up with him. Someone, who tells his girlfriend that she is dispensable – and she lets it pass. He describes her sexual largesse on one occasion as an attentive blowjob, followed by taking anal and licking his asshole, then going to sleep – in exchange for a quickie that he bestows upon her while she’s still asleep. Thankfully, that is exactly what makes her wet and immediately orgasm. Too bad she cannot cook well.
He wanted a good little cook who could also turn herself into a whore, and he wanted this on a fixed schedule.
As a stroke of brilliance, Houellebecq’s protagonist is a Huysmans scholar. He finds parallels between their lives. Like wishing to find a wife that is naturally bent to serve him in bed and kitchen alike. And their conversion to Catholicism and Islam respectively.
You will immediately see how this guy would not be appalled by the services of an Islamic matchmaker and finds the prospect of three to four wives genius. When he sees his mentor’s 14-year-old wife in a Hello Kitty shirt, then gets served good food by the 40-year-old wife, he finally finds the answer to the pressing question as to where to find a cook/whore on schedule. Those smart guys in the middle ages had that one figured out: it’s not a schedule, it is polygamy.
I am not against multilateral relationships. But whatever he does with a 14-year-old is neither a relationship nor marriage. And it never will be.
For men, love is nothing more than gratitude for the gift of pleasure
And whatever love means in this context is depressing: he would truly “love” all his future wives for what they have no choice but to give him. The same way he loves his bank account and right hand.
How long can European men be trusted to withstand the lure of misogyny in religious fundamentalism?
Especially now that it may well take the form of a political ideology, which can be adopted without losing face.
And given that their own misogyny will pale in comparison of that of Islam. Heroically ‘protecting women’ against it will well justify demand for gratitude. Hero’s syndrome doesn’t only affect arsonist firefighters and law enforcement officials, it can also be found among less obvious ‘saviours’ such as social workers and nurses. Anyone, who feels that he or she is working for others, is exposed to the feeling that these people are not grateful enough. Take all those guys loudly protecting ‘their women’ (as in women of the same nationality) verbally or online and imagine how generous they will feel.
Houellebecq is an authentic, atheist, French intellectual and splendidly describes how (Russia-backed) nativists and Islam actually have a lot in common. Their similarity sets them against each other, not their differences. Traditionalists of Europe would organically adapt to an even more fundamentalist society. It only means they get to do the same – but with four wives. And legally. Kinda weird that they fear Islam the most. Atheists and enlightenment-based folks have a lot more to lose.
Just hear the lure of weird logic. And this is not even the lowest example of pseudo-evolutionary, science-looking argument supporting submission from the book:
‘Incidentally,’ Rediger went on, ‘if the human species has any ability to adapt, this is due entirely to the intellectual plasticity of women. Man is completely ineducable. I don’t care if he’s a language philosopher, a mathematician or a twelve-tone composer, he will always, inexorably, base his reproductive choices on purely physical criteria, criteria that have gone unchanged for thousands of years. Originally, of course, women were attracted by physical advantages, just like men; but with the right education, they can be convinced that looks aren’t what matters. They already find rich men attractive – and after all, getting rich tends to require above-average intelligence and cunning. To a certain degree, women can even learn to find a high erotic value in academics …’ He gave me his most beautiful smile. For a second I thought maybe he was being ironic, but no, I don’t think he was. ‘On the other hand, we can always just pay teachers more, which simplifies things.’
As an atheist I always had a beef with the way fundies treat women. Religions are inherently misogynistic and yes, religious women are misogynistic too. It hasn’t been PC to blame Islam, but it is OK to bash the local Christian Democrats, who routinely submit laws to limit women’s rights. Because family. I also look in horror at the Haredi Jews and their medieval birth rates and the Quiverfull cult, the most despicable Christian group I had the misfortune to learn about. Having a TV show dedicated to their fertility porn is probably the lowest point reality TV has ever sunk to. Breeding like rabbits is the hallmark of a society/culture/civilisation stuck in its self-inflicted childhood. Majoritism may make them the winner – which is the misunderstanding of what democracy should be. It is probably cheaper to refine our definitions than trying to outbreed the barbarians. But if there will ever be a legal enforcement of higher fertility in Europe, this will be the justification. And it will be wrong, but collectivism-minded people will find it impossible to argue.
Speaking of which…
Finally, a cause for feminism!
Whatever feminism means, it seems to have sunk into first world offence seeking. So much so that today even their arch-enemies, the meninists do exactly that. It is turning into an embarrassing first world problem, even though equality of women as full human beings is far from settled in much of the world.
By all means, do let people know that mansplaining is annoying and do tell women (and men) to stop undervaluing themselves. Insecure people are dangerous. They need to hear that message. But don’t waste too much resources on it. Get a worthy cause instead of ironing out the last wrinkles in gender relations in the first world. Like, I don’t know, paying some attention to the plight of women in the third one.
Go spread the news that humans are equal and there is twice as much talent on the planet than medieval fundamentalism lets us believe. Go stop the practice that shuns women to household and sex slavery when they are still children, don’t even let it be called marriage. Go and demand equal right to both sexes in the decision to have children. Like double opt-in contraception. (By the way, the first world needs that too.)
Do something risky for a change. I rarely see feminists confronting some real risk. You moved towards the least resistance and take on people who don’t mean to offend – with legal means. Yes, it takes time to move away from strict gender dichotomy and it cannot come soon enough if you ask me. But even I am tired of the pronoun-battles you wage. (By the way, I can totally recommend you a language without any gendered words, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, anything. Sadly, it has failed to produce a gender-blind society yet.)
Make some real change. Some 90% of the world’s population still doesn’t get it. Donald Fucking Trump wouldn’t dare to speak poorly of feminists (and women in general) if they were fighting for a cause of this magnitude. (Not that I care what he says and neither should anyone else.)
Dear feminist men and women, get the most out of your time and don’t waste it on marginal improvements. Stop seeking out the dumbest of the meninist to be put on memes. They are doing the same thing to you and you too think they are missing the point. Offend someone, who willfully and systematically harms women with the power of the law. Takes some courage I know. But feminists used to get imprisoned and institutionalised, laughed at and beaten up, and still kept fighting the excesses of the law against them. Now you’re creating excesses of legislation against your enemies. Excuse me if I’m unimpressed.
A political dystopia is a poor excuse for an author to write political commentary
It is always a bit sad when artists comment on daily politics – without taking a healthy distance from it. Not because they are necessarily wrong, but because if not them, then who will? It should be artists’ job to take the broader perspective when we, the common folks are too lost in comment-battles. When revved up to the extreme, political satire becomes a piece of art of its own. Take 1984 or A Modest Proposal. But Houellebecq described the current French political scene in detail, showing what makes the victory of a Muslim party possible (the Socialists too afraid to say something that is not multiculturalist, Sarkozy, the saviour, withdrawn, Le Pen being the only hope, etc). And all that in the not-far-enough future.
Yes, it is amusing how “the left” is gagged by its multiculturalism and is practically helpless to stand up against the Muslims. Yes, it is eye-opening (if a bit simplistic) how they see eye to eye on pretty much every policy apart from education, where French socialists are known to want even more – while Islamists demand less and less. Lowering the school leaving age to 12 for women and radically reducing the education budget is something Boko Haram would approve of. Dumb assumptions such as banning women from the workforce would magically make unemployment disappear are more alarming because they cannot be denied in an equally short and simplistic sentence. Go ahead, stifle the economy, wait till it dies and blame it on someone else. Worked for the Soviet Union.
Also, what they call “distributionism” is a dark-green wet dream. Family enterprises passing from father to son are supposed to be the answer to economic challenges? Well I guess after pirates destroyed international trade routes and politicians destroyed international trade, it might seem like a good idea. Also, please cut off the phone lines as well while you’re at it. It is easier to stomach that way.
The description of a de facto civil war between Russia-backed nationalists and Islamists that goes strictly unreported in the media is, however, an eerie prophecy – especially after the Cologne-events.
Who watches the watchmen?
On a number of levels:
- Governments that gain extra surveillance power to sort out terrorists among the migrants and refugees will use it on us. And it will never go back to the way it was before, surveillance can only grow.
- Guys who feel that they have ‘protected their women’ though street fights or online shouting matches will feel entitled to some gratitude.
- Anti-Islamist parties are not famous for their understanding of privacy and the rule of law. But they are famous for being bankrolled by the Russian taxpayer.
- Not to mention that nothing stops the wrong kind of humans from infiltrating law enforcement.
Forecasting is a hard business
Even when it’s political satire.
For anyone in the business of forecasting the future, one thing is painfully clear: Forecasting it is not a ceteris paribus extrapolation of the factors that we are seeing right now.
For an obvious example, Houellebecq’s take on the role of Saudi money in the Islamisation of Sorbonne in his dystopian near future lives or dies with the state of the energy markets, innovation, and politics around it. What made sense at high energy prices (when the novel was written) is suddenly questionable when prices go south. Of course, it can bounce back and probably will, even if for a short time. But the economic strength of some of Houellebecq’s antagonists is derivative and dependent on the donors’ willingness and ability to keep paying for fossil fuels.
And this is where the strength and influence of the entire medieval revival comes from. Middle Eastern countries are prime examples of how no amount of money can make a faulty system successful. When you pour extra resources on a dysfunctional, medieval society, it doesn’t have the incentives to fix itself. Instead it entrenches its faulty routines and reflexes. As a religion, Islam seems to be right before its Thirty Years War, when leaders use religious arguments to make their raw lust for power seem like a holy cause. But it’s a power struggle nonetheless, leading nowhere, decimating the population, stifling the economy. And when the inevitable collapse finally comes, Enlightenment makes an appearance. If nothing else, for the sheer appeal of its economic success and soft power. Secularism is badly missing from these parts, so are human rights, women’s rights, critical thinking and individualism. And that is what makes for economic success, not the subjugation of various parts of the population in the name of effectiveness, not warlording, not looting, not terrorism.
Gifted with a resource curse these countries have not fixed their productivity issues. Quite the opposite. They have developed a chronic case of Dutch disease, and used the extra money to entrench old social habits. (The rare examples of business paradises like Dubai live or die with their neighbours’ incentives to avoid war.)
Religion is the ideology of the middle ages
Going back is neither brave nor inevitable. It is suicidal self-loathing.
It is OK to be spiritual individually. It is not OK to let those strings pulled for political purposes. By all means, go and seek purpose in something that is bigger than you as long as you don’t just adopt someone else’s purpose and get manipulated. Be very-very skeptical whenever someone offers a purpose for you. He isn’t god’s messenger. He is not even your friend.
Just look at historical trends. Religions used to be the ideologies before actual ideologies were born. And what made ideologies necessary is that people demanded a human-focused justification for power, as opposed to a big, fat “because”. Those who instrumentalise religion to pull the political strings of people clearly want us back in the middle ages, when it was enough to refer to a god to get what you wanted. Then it had to be something more real, like referring to a king. Then to the people. Slowly, and finally, it will settle where it belongs: on the individual.
Oh, and stop pampering religious sensitivity. It pays way too well already.
Why are religious sensitivities so respected and pampered? It is tempting to fake a religious sensitivity because it pays better and it is comfortable in a dumb, PC debate. It’s a safe space for the irrational and unjustified.
If you want to know who your rulers are just look at who owns the right not to be offended. I could point out that non-religious sensitivities and fears are completely ignored, I could demand to be taken as seriously as the religious delicacy of mind, but that’s not what I want. I want religion to be treated like every other opinion, and challenged with reason. Not courted and cajoled like princesses.
Returning to Christianity is as wrong as returning to Islam. And it works the same way, just as the book beautifully describes. Is is when you say “Why not?” where a “Why?” should be in order.
The book is not even Islamophobic. It frets the spineless French political elite and people in general giving way to an alluring excuse to mediocrity. The only reasonably competent characters who know what they want and methodically work for it are the Muslim Brotherhood. You have no reason to fear this version of France, unless you are female. The Islam theocracy of this book is the wet dream of every unaccomplished male on the planet. Submission is not scary. People who condone it are.
Submission by Michel Houellebecq
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