Andrew L. Pincus: The reality and role of lust

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LENOX — Does anybody remember how, as candidate for president in 1976, Jimmy Carter scandalized people when he confessed that he had felt lust in his heart?

He didn't say he had groped, raped, abused — any of those things so commonplace in our time. In an interview with Playboy magazine, he merely said that he had "looked on a lot of women with lust" and "committed adultery in my heart many times."

Never mind that he cited Christ's words in Matthew 5:28: " whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already in his heart." He said these things not to preach a sermon but to confess his human fallibility. Guardians of public morals were shocked — oh, so shocked. Time magazine declared Carter's statement one of the "Top 10 Unfortunate Political One-liners."

Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, who three years later died in the company of his 22-year-old mistress, scoffed to a Cleveland audience, "I never thought I'd see the day when Christ's teachings were discussed in Playboy and I'm a Baptist, ladies and gentleman."

How quaint it all seems in the age of Harvey Weinstein, MeToo and Donald Trump's roving hands. How like a pair of grandma's lace undies.

Your honor, I rise to the defense of the male of the species, or at least that class of men who have felt lust in their hearts but never groped, raped or abused. How would the human race, for better or worse, have survived if men had not felt lust in their hearts? Women, too, though I can't speak for them.

Lust is a basic biological drive, along with hunger, fear and the rest. If a man sees an attractive woman on the street or across the room, he looks — discreetly if possible, so as not to be a jerk. If he finds her more than simply attractive, he feels — guess what — lust in his heart.

My sister put it well when, in her 60s, I caught her ogling a man at a bus stop. When I kidded her about being too old for that sort of thing, she said she was like a dog that chases a bus. He knows he'll never catch it (and what would he do if he did?) but instinct makes him pant in pursuit anyway.

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There's another element at work here, one that's almost never mentioned. Think of a fine painting — maybe of a beautiful woman — in a museum. You stop to look and admire. If your admiration is great enough, you buy a reproduction for your wall at home. In effect, you want to own the subject. You want it there for your dalliance.

Or a recording of a piece of music — let's say a Beethoven symphony. Record collectors — those with enough wallet for it — boast of owning five, ten or more recordings of a single symphony. Each recording, of course, yields a different take on the music. But behind the quest is a sense of wanting to possess music.

It's like the reproduction on the wall. Or like Plato's shadows on the cave wall. You can never possess the real thing, so you settle for a representation.

Nor can you own a person. Granted, sadists try. But the woman they ogle on the street can never be theirs. You can romance her, you can make love with her, you can marry her or force yourself on her. But if you try to possess her, you're in for trouble, mister.

So mock Jimmy Carter if you think he's a joke. But if, like many of us, you've ever felt lust in your heart, you become like Nelson Rockefeller: a hypocrite. In the next phase, like Donald Trump you believe that every woman is just waiting for you to grope her.

And where is Jimmy Carter in all this? At 94, he's doing just what he aspired to do as president. He was not a great president — his was a time of widespread gas shortage and failed rescue of American hostages in Iran — but since leaving office he has been a great humanitarian, active in the cause of world peace and friendship among peoples and nations.

Goethe concluded his "Faust" with the famous line "The eternal feminine draws us on." This is not an invitation to sex. It's a promise of redemption. Hardly anybody reads "Faust" today. It's old-fashioned. But so is the notion of redemption through love. Now, the eternal feminine draws us on to online romance, porn and hookups.

          It's enough to make granny's undies seem lovable.

Andrew L. Pincus covers classical music for The Eagle and is an occasional op-ed page contributor.


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