Totemism has one final explanatory value, which Freud did not foresee: it helps to explain why, in the age of sexual-expressionism-as-identity that Alvaré diagnosed, so few people are having sex. We casually say that our world is sex-saturated and pornified, and indeed it is. Yet not only has the birthrate been plunging across the developed world, but so too has the rate of marriage. Even more mysterious is the decrease in sexual relationships in general. There is a flight from intimacy across the board.
Why is the body’s totemic value explanatory in this case? The analogy with religion shows us what happens when religions are demythologized. The inflation of the powers of sexual expressionism to bestow identity and contentment has led to a kind of sexual agnosticism. For every sexuality-fundamentalist who still promotes the rite of carefree hookups, and for every incel who is a bitter co-religionist abandoned by the god of orgasm, there are those who are opting out.
For some, the mystical power of the body for human happiness has been called into question, and they have become relationship-cynics. For others, the relationship-part of sexual relationships has been discarded, the better to pursue virtual gratification via technology. And, most tragically, for many others, the desire for intimacy and marriage remains strong, but too many possible spouses have deserted the field.
The way forward is to elevate the body by relativizing it. The body is both less and more than sexual totemism would have us believe. It is less: it is not the locus of human happiness and desire. It is not even explicable on its own, by the terms of pure materialism. And it is more: it is something much better than an orgasm-machine, a site of spiritual energy, or a means to herculean fitness. It is an icon.
Aristotle saw something profound when he allied matter with potency. Matter is not a vacuum needing the colonization of form; rather, matter brings something to the hylomorphic table, namely, the ability to be formed. This poverty of matter is its wealth. The liminal state of the body makes it poor, because it expresses nothing on its own, but only the interior depths of the person. Yet this very truth means matter is pregnant with form and thereby very rich indeed. The body is, in fact, a Marian reality, rich precisely because it is so poor. Our task is to relearn how to rejoice over the body’s poverty.
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