Slut, Misunderstood

I watched an Opera, La Traviata, about a courtesan (let's call her 'Girl') in the 18th century.

Spoilers Ahead

The story is straightforward.
  • Girl is "with" Man A while simultaneously flitting from "pleasure to pleasure".
  • Man B convinces her that true love exists.
  • Girl and Man B are very happy, but Man B's father, Father, wants Girl to abandon Man B.
  • Father has a daughter whose potential husband will not marry her as Man B is immorally with a slut, and immorality is contagious.
  • Girl agrees to leave Man B out of compassion.
  • She goes back to Man A, despite truly being in love with Man B.
The rest of the opera is more driving home the point that Girl is not really a slut. Quite the contrary, she is pious. This post is about exploring her piety and why the story is relatable even in the 21st century.

Pleasure and Morality

  • "I like chocolate and I like vegetables."
  • "I like dancing at parties and I like deep, prolonged conversations."
    "I wish I could like both too."
  • "I like Man A and I like Man B."
Why is that?

Most people would agree that liking the hypothetical Man A and Man B, ceteris paribus, is pleasurable. However, something should not feel right. You should feel bad that somebody's feelings are hurt, or love should guide you to only one of the men. Most people would also agree that liking only one man makes way for something greater than pleasure. If not, well, the man isn't Neo from the Matrix.

Pleasure in liking two men is easy to understand. We like sex. It is pure animal instinct. It makes sense that we like sex, because our ancestors liked it. If our ancestors had not like it, we would not have been born. The more an ancestor liked sex, the more children he/she had. We inherited their genes, hence we like sex.

Things got interesting when we discovered that multiplying like rabbits did not yield the best offspring. The smartest kids were nurtured by their parents till their brains grew quite large. This smart kid now got all the girls. Our ancestors liked nurturing kids. If they had not liked it, we would not have been so smart. We would have died much sooner. The more an ancestor nurtured his/her kids, the better the family turned out to be. We inherited their genes, hence we like nurturing kids. Kids are bothersome, so we needed an even greater force to stick to nurturing. This force is obviously, love.


How does a truly innocent, pleasure-seeking, moral person behave? As a kid, he eats both chocolate and vegetables. He grows up to dance like nobody is watching and his conversations are scintillating. He meets puberty not with fear and shame, like the rest of us, but with equanimity. When he is attracted to two girls, he does not doubt his motives or actions, but carries on. (By some circumstance like orphanhood, the boy does not have someone telling him what society deems wrong.)

Recall that he has the nurturing-related genes too. When he sees a girl unusually devoted to him, he reciprocates. Unfortunately, the girl's mother is sure he is using her. She threatens to kill herself unless the boy leaves. Meanwhile, the boy's friends know he is a kind gentleman! The mother too becomes convinced of the boy's good intentions, by witnessing some sacrifice made by him. Still, she worries about society abandoning their family from their association with the boy.

She lashes out in some weird way. The permutations and ironies that become possible from this blind spot of morality and pleasure go on to spawn the Opera, Bollywood and Hollywood. The hipsters reject some of these permutations and create French cinema.