What can we learn about the Ashley Madison attack? I’ll put all of my cards on the table: I believe that the attack on the Ashley Madison attackers and on those who applaud the attack demonstrates not that we no longer have faith in the institution of marriage (despite all that radical posturing that I am seeing on my facebook wall from colleagues and friends). Rather, it demonstrates a release of the ability to commit to any principle whatsoever. Thus, we refuse to commit to revolutionary politics. We refuse to commit to revolutionary ideals. We refuse to commit to integrity in social conduct. We refuse to commit to events that compel us to make one choice and to stick to it. All around us today neoliberal ideology screams: “I want my cake and to eat it too!”
Not only are leftists today expressing their contempt for marriage (privately and publicly): everybody is doing it. Hookup apps bring the supermarket of the flesh right to your cell phone. The great irony is that the attack upon commitment brings with it another form of pretense: that one is secular, that is, that one is atheist, neutral, free, or, to put it even more paradoxically, that one is not already committed. The fact is that one believes oneself anti-fundamentalist, anti-fanatical, and anti-dogmatic, only on the condition that one never plumb the depths of one’s own fundamental fantasy, dogmatic ideals, and so on. In the West, of course, the backdrop is precisely this: pragmatism, protestantism, anti-intellectualism, and so on. The great irony is that one wants the appearance of multiple choices in life often because one wants to avoid the real choice which provoke the most intense feelings of anxiety. Or one wants to avoid the fact that one has already made a choice and that it is a choice that one can not ever bring peace.
Recall G.K. Chesteron’s brilliant passage: “[M]arriage itself is the most sensational of departures and the most romantic of rebellions. When the couple of lovers proclaim their marriage vows, alone and somewhat fatuously fearless amid the multiple temptations to promiscuous pleasures, it does certainly serve to make us remember that it is marriage which is the original and poetic figure, while cheaters and participants in orgies are merely placid old cosmic conservatives, happy in the immemorial respectability of promiscuous apes and wolves. The marriage vow is based on the fact that marriage is the most dark and daring of sexual excesses.”
So, in the end, I maintain that the attack upon marriage is the latest of the great neoliberal ideological mechanisms to quell revolutionary change. If one is not committed, if one is not holding onto the event which brought two lovers together, if one is not made responsible for the choices already dogmatically made but disavowed or repressed, then one is not capable of radically changing the coordinates of one’s world. Psychoanalysis teaches nothing other than this most valuable lesson. I thereby maintain that marriage today is not the marriage of which Emma Goldman and others once spoke: marriage is under attack today because commitment is under attack. Marriage – not State or Church marriage, marriage as a principle of fidelity – is today more than ever, truly, revolutionary.