Friday, September 30, 2011

Pleasure in Procreating

Why does sex feel good?

I suppose it's because our bodies are designed to respond with pleasure when our sexual organs are stimulated.

But why is this so? If you believe in intelligent design, then I guess your creator has a few questions to answer (and I'm afraid it looks like he's not talking). I, however, am of the opinion that evolution is the most reasonable hypothesis currently on the market.

So what is the key to evolution? Survival. This sounds like a tautology, but that which is adapted to survive will survive, and that which is not will die off.

What forms does survival take? One is immortality - indefinite survival of the self. Unfortunately, this poses certain physical problems (see the Law of Entropy), and I don't believe any living organism we know of has figured it out...yet.

Another form is renewal. Though the individual must eventually die, his species can live on through his progeny. Enter the cycle of life. Those that wither and die are replaced by new generations, created through sexual reproduction.

As we can see, procreation is important for survival. So what kind of mechanism is necessary for organisms to procreate enthusiastically, in order to encourage the continued propagation of the species?

Logical thought is one possibility. An organism may procreate because he understands the need to procreate. However, many organisms have not developed an intellectual faculty for logical thought (as far as we can discern). Furthermore, an individual may decide that survival is not his goal.

The species with the best chance for survival is the one that has an overwhelming compulsion to reproduce. An organism that enjoys sex is more likely to fuck - and fuck often. Since we are the product of many years of evolution, it may very well be the case that sex feels good because it has enabled us to survive.

Now, an amoeba or a fruit fly's primary concern may be to reproduce before it dies, but we as humans are highly advanced organisms. Beyond survival (of the self, and the species), there is a little thing called "quality of life", that we can afford to concern ourselves with. And though happiness is very complex, in general, pleasurable activities are desirable - including sex.

Of course, procreation - while both important and rewarding - carries a large burden, and is not the desirable end result of every individual sex act, for organisms intelligent enough to understand the process and make that decision. Reproduction is fundamentally important for the species, but pleasure is an even more basic desire for the individual. And while an individual may desire to reproduce only a handful of times throughout his life, he wants to experience pleasure as much as possible.

Sex fulfills a very unique and strong desire. It is unlike any other. A man can pursue all sorts of alternative pleasures in life, but none will equal the pleasure that sex brings. Perhaps in some transhumanist future, we will be able to displace the need for sex and replace it with something decidedly less risky, that also doesn't involve the complications of interpersonal relations. Perhaps we will become the engineers of our own evolution, and be able to separate completely the pleasure of sex from the need to procreate.

But for now, we have to deal with the potential complications of sex (transfer of disease, unplanned pregnancy, complicated relationships), while understanding that sex is both pleasurable, and fulfills a fundamental human need. I think we are intelligent and sophisticated enough to engage in recreational sex responsibly. Shaming people out of having sex too freely is no longer helpful (if it ever was). It negatively affects the quality of too many people's lives, with minimal benefit (it does not encourage people to fuck responsibly). People should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to engage in sexual activity, after being properly educated about both the pros and cons, how to minimize risk and act responsibly, as well as how best to enjoy oneself (and one's partner(s)).

And aside from that, whether in addition or as an alternative, people should be encouraged to pursue the erotic arts and seek out the sensual pleasures in life, and develop a rich fantasy life, for those times when sex with another is not convenient. Life is a sensual experience, and there is no excuse for shaming people out of being able to enjoy those pleasures.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The old may not admire the young?

I was just reading some comments on a random thread about convention photography, looking for some advice about good lenses to use in that environment, and I came across a comment which is not particularly uncommon. The poster of that comment was remarking at how "gross" it is that at conventions s/he often sees "old" men shamelessly snapping photos of all the young girls in skimpy costumes, and oh my god, isn't that creepy? And I can kind of see where that comment is coming from, because I'm not blind to the prudish attitudes that pervade modern sexual politics. And it's not simply a matter of 'guy attracted to girl' - which is, after all, natural - but it's a matter of 'older guy attracted to younger girl' that so often grosses people out.

Like I said, I can see where that's coming from. But that doesn't mean it's a justified reaction. It's no more natural for a young man to be attracted to a girl his age than it is for an older man to be attracted to a girl of that age. I'm hesitant to make a generalization about how all men are interested in young, virile women, but you do see it a lot. And I suspect it's part of biology. But why is it creepy? If the young girl represents a man's ideal of beauty, then why is it gross for him to recognize that, and admire it, regardless of his age? We have this expectation that people only be attracted to other people close to their age, but time and again, experience bears out that this is not always the way that sexual attraction works.

Now I suppose there are reasons why it's easier to date within one's age bracket. Social institutions often tend to be geared toward a generational segregation. You grow up in a system where you spend most of your time in classes with people within a year of your age. You make friends with those people, and often some of those people stay your friends throughout life. But even beyond that, people within a generation share quite a bit, in terms of interests and cultural experiences, so they're often easier to socialize with than people of disparate ages whose life experiences are vastly different from yours.

But you know what? A lot of good can come out of spending time with people who have had different life experiences than you. And a lot of value can be shared between older persons and younger persons (going in both directions), if their minds are opened. I am of the opinion that age is just a number, and I have had a lot of friends throughout my life that have been significantly older than me. I've always expressed a bit of a maturity beyond my years, so I suppose that's not all that unexpected. But as unique as I am, I'm not the only one who can benefit from those sorts of friendships.

Generally, these kinds of platonic friendships are respected, but as soon as the question of love and sex and romance come into play, people get uncomfortable. Anyone who dares to defy the "half-age plus seven" rule is bound to draw suspicious looks and hushed whispers. After all, age-peer relationships are the rule, and we live in a conformity-loving society. It is the popular belief that freaks who flout convention deserve ridicule. As far as condoning age-disparate relationships, it would be worthwhile to discuss the difficulties that such relationships might pose compared to age-peer relationships, but there have been more than enough examples in practice to demonstrate that such relationships can be entirely sincere and positive. Ultimately, the responsibility of choice rests on those engaged in the relationship, and not on society to either condone or prohibit such relationships en masse.

And yet, the greater the disparity, the greater our concern. But neither are age-peer relationships always free of concern and complication. A person is not good (or bad) for you based solely (nor even primarily) on their age. Personality is a much better predictor of character and motivation. I ask you, is there reason to condemn a man's appreciation for the beauty of a young girl, based purely on his age? Does acceptable behavior at 20 become unacceptable at 40? At 60? At 80? Should people in those upper ages be forced to suppress their admiration and appreciation for youth? And if so, on what grounds? Because it looks "creepy"?

Viewing the appreciation of erotic beauty as "creepy" can only come from a sex negative mindset. What harm does appreciation do? Who is harmed by being appreciated? And is it because we love to shame people both for expressing their sexuality, and for being the target of sexual attention (yes, that's right, we just love to blame the victim)? And if so, are we justified in condemning these people when we should be pointing the finger back at ourselves?

As Oscar Wilde once wrote, "those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt." And yet the cultural paradigm is to regard anyone who responds to beauty (if there is any erotic context whatsoever) as a creepy pervert. We inject creepiness and perversion into our conception of beauty. Like as if beauty must exist pure and independent, that it is somehow spoiled if it is recognized, viewed. Or, perhaps, there is something wrong with beauty in itself - that it is some kind of evil, a taunting, sinful lure. If there is anyone at fault here, it is those who view the appreciation of beauty as something ugly. It is their twisted and confused attitudes about the nature of sexuality that need remedying. If we are to be honest, the truth is that these young girls are beautiful and sexy, and I can see no reason why anyone should be criticized for recognizing that fact.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lens Talk

It took me a matter of hours to learn how to shop for a lens, and what all those numbers mean, but it took me years to work up the motivation to actually learn it, on account of my chronic laziness. I bought my digital SLR camera (a Canon XSi) just before Christmas 2008, which was almost three years ago now. At the time, I had recently lost the point-and-shoot camera I had been using for my 365 Daily Nudes project (at the Burning Man festival, along with all the amazing pictures I took at the festival). A few months after losing it, and being forced to fall back on the even crappier point-and-shoot camera I had been using before that one, I rekindled my fading desire to shoot photography. I decided that it was time to upgrade to "prosumer" level (somewhere between mindless consumer and sophisticated professional) and purchase a dSLR camera.

It's one of the best decisions I've ever made (certainly in terms of my photography hobby).

Thanks to the guidance of a tech-savvy friend, I got a good deal on a Canon XSi. The kit lens included in the package was the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS zoom lens. As far as I can tell, it's a fantastic multi-purpose beginner's lens. I was upgrading from point-and-shoot quality photography, so the fact that it's not a high-end high-quality lens failed to affect me. Over time, I've begun to desire even better quality optics, but the flip side of that is that the technical quality of my photography has increased by leaps and bounds since my point-and-shoot days - as well as my knowledge and experience, especially after I made the daring move to start shooting in manual (versus auto) mode, and learn how to manipulate exposure.

Meanwhile, my tech-savvy friend, who's always been at least one step ahead of me (my first two digital cameras were old cameras of his that he was trying to get rid of), started recommending the EF 50mm f/1.8 II [prime] lens, which is a good quality lens for its really low price. I spent several months deliberating, and then finally bought it, lured by the promise of better quality pictures, and faster exposures, thanks to the larger aperture (f/1.8 versus the kit lens' f/3.5-5.6). The latter is of particular importance to me, considering that I shoot a lot of medium to low light photography, and I abhor using a flash. (I want a quick exposure to reduce motion blur, but to do that in situations where there's not a lot of light, you need a larger aperture to suck in as much light as possible).

The 50mm lens delivered on its promises. It's fast, and I really like how much better the pictures look compared to those taken with my kit lens. However, the one significant drawback is that with a 50mm focal length, the angle of view is very narrow - close to the upper range of the 18-55mm zoom that my kit lens sports. So it's like using that lens with it stuck in the "zoomed-in" position (except, of course, with faster exposures and better quality pictures). But for my photography needs, the tight angle of view is hard to deal with. I don't shoot a lot of small objects, and I probably shoot most of my photos indoors, where there's not a lot of room to back up and get everything in the frame.

So, I actually use my kit lens more often, switching in the 50mm only when I can get away with it - like if I'm shooting outdoors, where there's more space - although, ironically, there's usually more light, too, which kind of negates the need for faster exposures. And if I think about it, most of my photography is self-portraiture, where I'm using a tripod anyway, so I can afford to deal with slightly longer exposures. With a tripod, hand-shake from holding the camera isn't an issue, and I've become pretty good at holding still for poses. Hence, my kit lens is usually adequate, although there's still the desire to have a better quality lens - one without the drawback of having a tight angle of view like the 50mm has.

However, there's one other area in which I've felt my photography equipment has been considerably lacking, and that's in shooting convention photography. Most convention photography is indoors, where there's not a huge amount of natural light; and since it's not really practical to set up your tripod, you have to shoot hand-held, so quick exposures are important. But in the middle of a crowd, especially when the hallways are narrow and cramped, there's not a lot of room to back up, so you need to shoot fairly close to your subject. Plus, rather than head-and-shoulders portraits (which have never interested me much), you usually want to take full-body portraits to get the whole costume in the shot (and that's not to mention some of the long props congoing cosplayers sometimes wield). So you have to have a lens with a wide angle of view.

As it stands, I have two lenses. One of them has a wide enough angle of view for this type of photography, but it's too slow, and I've been consistently getting pictures that are way too blurry for my standards. The other lens I have is fast enough, but the angle of view is too tight, so I can't get the kind of pictures with it that I want. So now I'm studying the lenses that Canon has available, looking to see if there's something affordable I might be able to get my hands on. What I need is something with a focal length close to the lower range of my zoom lens, which is 18mm, but with an aperture size closer to my 50mm lens, which is f/1.8. Something fast, with a wide angle. But it also has to be cheap...

In an ideal world, I'd get a super expensive lens that is really high quality - for example, something in the luxury series, like the EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM perhaps (and I might as well get a better camera, too, while I'm at it). But those lenses run for upwards of a thousand dollars, and are completely outside of my price range. I'm looking at the EF 28mm f/2.8, which is one of the cheapest Canon lenses on the market (other than the two I already own). It looks to be a reasonable compromise between the lenses I have: faster than my zoom, but wider than my prime. Although I would really like to try it out first before buying, to see if it's wide enough and fast enough, rather than risk being disappointed.

It's tempting to consider either the EF 24mm f/2.8, which is a bit wider than the 28mm f/2.8, or the EF 28mm f/1.8 USM, which is a bit faster, but the former is a hundred dollars more expensive, and the latter is almost double the price of the 28mm f/2.8. I've never been a technical snob, and as long as I can get the pictures I need, with as much or better quality than the equipment I have (which doesn't allow me to get those pictures), I think I'll be satisfied. After all, the pictures you get with the cheap lens you own are going to be better quality than the pictures you don't get with the lens you don't have (because you can't afford it). Right?

Still, though, it'd be nice to try before I buy. Also, I haven't considered the used market (nor third-party lenses), where prices might be more affordable.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Abstinence vs. Sexual Purity

Sex - as in sexual intercourse, and various forms of sexual activity - carries some risks, and should be engaged in responsibly. There are reasons to abstain from those activities. Maybe you're not ready for the responsibility. Maybe you don't want to deal with the risks. Or maybe you simply don't have access to a partner you trust. But even if this is the case, it doesn't mean you have to remain sexually pure. There are other methods to sate your erotic desires.

Think about it. I don't go out and have sex with somebody every time I get horny. Most people probably don't. Some people are in committed relationships where they can have sex pretty much anytime they want it. I think this is probably the exception to the rule, as most people are not in such relationships, or their partners are not horny and available all day, every day (and even if they were, they'd probably be complaining about how you're not!).

So when I'm not with a person I want to have sex with (and who wants to have sex with me), do I restrain myself from entertaining any erotic thoughts? Do I abstain from pleasuring myself in any way? No. Whether I'm stimulating my body, or just my mind, there are plenty of ways I can indulge my erotic fantasies and desires - and one that I have great interest in is the art of eroticism - the creation and sharing of erotic pictures.

The point of this discussion is that when people think about sex, they think about all the risks of sex, and then they judge sexually-related activities based on those risks. But there are different forms of sex, and not all sex involves the risks of sexual intercourse. We shouldn't judge non-sexually-explicit erotic art as if its creation involved sexual intercourse. We shouldn't treat fantasies as if the activities they describe were being acted out in reality. And we shouldn't react to expressions of attraction as if they were a form of sexual assault.

If you're not having sex, you can still be sexy, and if you're sexy, it doesn't mean you're having sex.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Difference Between Fantasy and Reality

I think we really need to understand what the difference between fantasy and reality is. Because restricting fantasies on the basis of their merits when practiced in reality is insane.

Imagine this fantasy. You're sitting on the subway, and a naked girl (or guy, depending on your orientation) walks up to you. She (or he) is really hot, and she immediately unzips your pants and begins to manually and orally pleasure you. You then take her home and fuck her hard all day long, again and again, until you're both exhausted. Then she leaves and you never see each other again.

That fantasy is really fucking hot, right? You know why it's hot? It's hot because you don't have to worry about getting arrested for indecent exposure on the subway. You don't have to worry whether this girl (or guy) has any sexually transmitted diseases. And if it is a girl, you don't have to worry about getting her pregnant (you don't even have to concern yourself with whether or not the sex is safe). You also don't have to worry about the repercussions of skipping out on a day of work to have an all-day sex orgy. And you don't have to worry about seeing this person again in case you don't get along very well, either. There are no laws, no responsibilities, no consequences, none of the shit that so frequently gets in the way of having a good time in real life. It's just imagination.

Having these fantasies doesn't make you want to go out and perform them in the real world. Well, you might want to perform them, but you don't perform them just because you're thinking about them. You refrain from performing them for exactly the reasons why they shouldn't be performed (unless it's a fantasy that can be performed in reality without any problems - and there are plenty of those, too). There's no reason why you should be barred from thinking about (and enjoying) those fantasies in the safety of your own mind. And there's no reason why those fantasies should be restricted topics in the realm of creative fiction (audio, visual, literary - whatever).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sabotaging Sexuality

How to sabotage a person's sexuality:

Preach the belief that sex is an immoral act perpetrated by an aggressor (the one who desires sex) against a victim (who is incapable of either desiring or enjoying sex), where the aggressor derives sexual satisfaction by degrading the victim.

Note that this is essentially the script put forth by anti-sex "feminists" describing men's sexual attraction to women (especially as applied to pornography).

Then, when a person experiences sexual feelings, he will interpret those feelings as a desire to degrade the target of his attraction, and will feel guilty about it.

Supposedly, shame will encourage sexual repression. But you can't eliminate sexual desire, and people are bound to continue acting on their sexual urges, while merely feeling bad about it. And god knows how they'll begin to act once they've been convinced that degradation is the key to satisfaction. You may as well be short-circuiting their moral fuse. See, you can't really control people's sexuality, you just end up fucking with their heads. And that's totally humane.

Meanwhile, the lucky ones among us see the trick for what it is, and recognize that our sexuality, which is wholesome and natural, is simply a desire to seek and pursue pleasure, and not a need to parasitically feed off of the humiliation and degradation of others (although you have to wonder about the desires of the people who insist that that's what sex is all about).

We think of sex in terms of who is getting off. The only time it is ethical to get off on the stimulus of another person is if that person is also getting off (i.e., is a knowing, consenting partner). Otherwise, we view the stimulant as if she were being used, inhumanely, as a sexual object, against her will. Degraded, if you will.

Well, here's another way to think about it. If somebody experiences sexual release, it means they're feeling good. That's better than feeling bad, right? Why are we so tied to our sexual modesty and purity, that we value them above the pleasure of others? Why would we rather maintain those vapid qualities, at the cost of allowing others to suffer through life? If you have contributed to another person's orgasm (knowingly or not, willingly or not), you should feel honored to have had a part in increasing the amount of happiness experienced in the world, to balance out all the pain.

None of this is to suggest that we throw out our concept of sexual ethics. There is polite sexuality, and there is rude sexuality. But don't assume that all sexuality is rude. And don't feel like you have to police your image, both digitally and in the real world, lest some pervert drool over you. If you don't know about it, then how is it inconveniencing you? And meanwhile, you're helping somebody to feel better in their life, if only for a brief moment. By contributing to sexual shame you are only encouraging people to feel miserable.

And perhaps it's because you already feel miserable, and misery loves company. But you know what? I bet you would feel a lot better if you began treating yourself to the occasional orgasm. But even better than that, revel in your sexuality. When you're able to appreciate the sensuality of simply living, when you allow yourself to respond to the erotic triggers you experience daily, you will then be more receptive to the transcendent joy that is inherent in life. And maybe that will better prepare you to deal with the hardships that life inevitably brings. No doubt life is hard. There ought to be a balance, after all. Don't be afraid to let yourself enjoy the good things in life. And don't punish others for having the ability to enjoy those good things, even when you can't.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Public Nudity in the News

According to a recent news article, there is currently some debate over the status of public nudity in San Francisco - specifically in the neighborhood known as the Castro. They are discussing drafting a new law requiring nudists to put a towel down on seats before sitting down, and to put some clothes on before entering restaurants. While the issue stirs up the usual intolerant attitudes about public nudity, it's kind of exciting to hear that the city actually recognizes a person's right to be nude in public - even if it does so reluctantly, and potentially only in this specific location.

But about those intolerant attitudes...

"They are unabashed in their brazenness, setting off a robust debate about how far San Francisco's legendary penchant for tolerance should be stretched."

I hate this sort of thinking. The idea that public nudity stretches the boundaries of reasonable tolerance. Oh lordy, lordy, of all things, we cannot allow naked people to roam our streets! There are much harder things to tolerate. Drugs, prostitution, hate groups picketing in the streets. In what twisted world view is public nudity a cardinal sin? The only thing offensive about naked people in public is that we're conditioned to view the naked body as disgusting (except when it's sexy). But the naked body is natural, and our aversion to it is what is sick. Luckily, there's a cure: exposure.

"the city's elected leaders have largely stayed out of the debate over public nudity, not wanting to run counter to San Francisco's storied reputation as an anything-goes culture where individual rights and freedom of expression are embraced."

This is just an extension of those beliefs. I'm bothered by the idea that embracing individual rights and freedoms is tied to this notion that "anything-goes". People seem inclined to believe that if we give people one freedom (that they deserve), then they will go off and take every liberty they want. If we let people roam the streets naked, they're not going to initiate public orgies. And if we celebrate people's freedom to roam the streets naked, we don't have to also celebrate their right to initiate public orgies (a right they haven't been given, whether you think they deserve it or not).

This sort of "anything-goes" language is just a form of scare-mongering that conservative-minded folk use to scare us out of giving people any more freedoms than they already have - not just the freedoms that would be detrimental to civilized society (which they cite to prop up their argument), but also the freedoms they deserve, that would contribute to a more civilized society. Make no mistake, this is exactly the same kind of thinking that conceptualizes gay pride as a threat to the social order, and evidence of the decline of modern civilization.

"'I'm all for live and let live, but this has gotten out of hand,' said Jonathan Mills, who lives in the Castro and has complained to police about the naked guys. 'This is not hip or cool or an asset to San Francisco. These people make other people avoid our neighborhood at a time when it is struggling.'"

Actually, nudism is totally hip and cool - or, it could be, if it weren't for its image being represented by old, lumpy people.

What's more, if you actually advertised the city's tolerance for public nudity, you would get tons of tourists. Imagine the boost to your neighborhood's economy! But you resist this simple solution because either a) you think the shape God created us in is ugly, or b) you have unfounded fears about people having sex in public or something similar. I get that you don't want people having sex on the streets (although I don't understand why that's a problem), but what about that leads you to the conclusion that people shouldn't be naked on the streets either? Are you really equating nudity with sexual activity? I hear about that a lot, but I didn't think anyone was ignorant enough to actually make that mistake.

"Karla Zeitz, who lives in the neighborhood with her children, ages 4 and 5, said she usually avoids the areas where the naked guys congregate. Still, she moved into the Castro knowing it was not Kansas. 'Frankly I'm more disturbed by the meth heads, the drugs and the panhandling than I am by seeing a couple of naked guys,' she said."

Finally, some sense. A couple naked guys (and I wish it weren't restricted only to guys) in the streets is not a serious problem.

But if there is any good in this article, it's that having a law requiring nudists to put a towel down before they sit down, and to dress before entering restaurants, implies pretty directly that it is not against the law to be nude outside, as long as you put a towel down before you sit down (which is pretty standard nudist practice, in my experience).

I'm wondering if there's any affordable property up for sale in that neighborhood. ;-)

Interestingly, the poll attached to the news article, which asks your opinion of what should be done about public nudity in San Francisco, doesn't offer the option, "legalize it explicitly". The most positive choice is to "keep tacitly allowing it". I don't want it to be allowed tacitly. I want it to be allowed EXPLICITLY!

In other news, a body painting artist working in Times Square is advised by police to cover up his topless model. This story caught my attention because, to my understanding, women are allowed to go topless in public in New York City. But apparently, the reason the model was asked to cover up is because she was creating a commotion, and the authorities wanted to nip it in the bud before it "got out of hand".

I wonder, how exactly would it have gotten out of hand? Were they expecting some kind of orgy to break out? Or were they afraid people in the crowd would get into fights for some reason? I don't understand. Unless it's simply a matter of crowding - you know, causing a traffic hazard or something.

But we hide nudity under our clothes, and in seedy strip clubs behind velvet curtains; if you put a nude right out there on the street, of course people are going to be intrigued and want to look. My question is this: if there were more nudes in public, would it be a problem? Would people be as shocked if they'd seen half a dozen nudes on their walk already? Would they stop and crowd around if they knew they would encounter a dozen more nudes if only they would keep on their way?

It bugs me that if a woman takes her top off in public, we, as respectable citizens, can't "handle" it properly. What's more, it's pretty offensive to suggest that a woman's topfreedom can be rescinded if enough men take a prurient (or any) interest in her breasts. I guess men and women aren't equal after all. But I think the solution is not covering the nudity up. The solution is exposing more of it. It's the only way to get over the titillation factor of nudity, on account of it being rare and exciting.

P.S. I just came across a blog written by a guy who lives in the Castro district, who is regularly nude in public. It is fascinating to hear about his experiences, and the kind of reactions he gets from people - some positive, many negative. I suggest you start here, where he describes how the neighborhood has changed over the years, and has succumbed to mainstream conformism. But be sure to check out the rest of the blog, too.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pluralistic Politics

In a society of many members, which believes in basic human rights, and the fundamental equality of its citizens, it is necessary that unlimited freedom be restricted, under the understanding that one man's freedom can only extend as far as the point at which it begins to infringe on the rights of another. I cannot do just anything I want, because some things would harm others, and that would not be fair to the other person's right not to be harmed - just as I would not want to allow others the freedom to do things that would harm me. This is a perfectly reasonable basis for society. But recently I've been seeing a lot of expression of a very disturbing trend, based on the concept of building a uniform social policy to be applied across the board of society.

Dealing with individuals enables scrutiny of individual circumstances. We can see just whose freedoms are being exercised, and just whose rights are being infringed. The purpose of the courts is to look at every accusation of criminal conduct (which should be defined as a rights infringement), and to judge on it, individually, by a jury of peers, taking individual circumstances into account. Yet this philosophy seems to be at odds with the popular mindset that the law is an imperfect, blunt instrument, that can only be applied to citizens equally across the board, without consideration to individual circumstances.

What I'm seeing is people actually submitting to the inevitability of the imperfect law model, wherein people are judged by the standards of the majority. Policy is dictated by what caters to most of the concerns of most of the people, with the concerns of the minority sacrificed for the good of the statistical majority. This is a gross injustice. People have come to believe that it is right that a person's freedoms be unreasonably restricted because the democratic majority has argued that exercising those freedoms causes rights to be infringed in a statistically significant proportion of instances, without concern for the fact that exercising the freedom in a particular instance may not have that effect. It's like outlawing the use of scissors because too many scissor mishaps have occurred - in some cases even to the point of absolutely forbidding anyone to use scissors, even with the proper training and safety precautions. And if a scissor expert can't use scissors safely for a good purpose, most of the rest of society will be eager to say, "that's a good thing, because unleashing the power of scissors on the populace is way too dangerous, we can't afford to even let one careful person use them, because then how do we stop them from getting into the hands of the reckless?"

This is absurd. I have the strangely uncommon belief that the law should serve the citizen, and not the other way around. The law exists to protect people - specific people - who are being wronged. It does not exist to oppress freedom for the good of the statistical majority, applying measures where they don't belong, because it takes too much effort to scrutinize which people or circumstances those measures should specifically apply to. It's a brainless, pro-conformist belief in the inherent supremacy of the majority, to the detriment of diversity and minorities everywhere. Infringing the rights of an individual is never justified by a call to statistics, much of which are frequently built on lies and stereotypes. Have I mentioned how much of a gross injustice this is? Do people not believe in the worth of the individual anymore? That the bodiless entity called "society" is not more important than your basic human rights? "For the people" doesn't mean "for the faceless mob", it means "for the individuals that make up that faceless mob". For the individuals, each of them, individually.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Pornography Stereotype

It occurs to me that when I make arguments about pornography, I'm usually thinking about the term in a way that is probably different than how most people think when they talk about pornography. In the popular lexicon, especially "informed" by certain branches of feminist thought, pornography is a highly profitable industry wherein perverted men force women to humiliate themselves for the gratification of other perverted men. This is not what I mean, at all, when I refer to pornography. I have never been involved in "commercial" or big industry pornography. I don't particularly have any desire to. And as a consumer, it doesn't even interest me very much, compared to the aesthetic discipline that concerns itself with erotic beauty. But when I think about pornography, I think about sexually explicit speech (since much, though not all, erotic art is not sexually explicit), usually in the context of a person celebrating their sexual agency in a way that, unlike private sex acts, can be shared with a mass of people. It's not about women being coerced and degraded, but about women (and men) celebrating their sexuality.

See, the difference is between looking at porn from the sex negative mindset - that porn is a tool of sex, which is a vice, that harms everyone that comes in contact with it - and looking at porn from a sex positive mindset - that it is a celebration of life and the sharing of pleasure, engaged in consensually and with positive feelings. Unfortunately, the pervasive nature of the sex negative mindset throughout society informs the way we think about these issues, and porn (and sex in general) is far more commonly associated with the "evils" that sex may bring, than with the good that it can inspire. It's hard to argue about the positive effects of porn, when the popular discourse is concerned with how porn degrades women, how most women are forced into it, probably at dangerously young ages, and how people in the sex industry are stigmatized and at risk for any number of other vices - particularly drugs and disease.

But what it also does is marginalize positive sexual expression - which, I'll admit, may be in the minority. But what do we accomplish my marginalizing that minority, and repressing it in an attempt to stamp out the more common (arguably) negative sexual expression? The approach of most anti-porn crusaders is full-on sexual repression, not a replacement of negative sexual expression with more positive sexual expression. Supporters of the latter are your pro-porn crusaders, whom the anti-porn camp would love to fool you into believing are actually apologists, defending negative sexual expression for selfish reasons. It's the same way the pro-life camp would love to smear the pro-choice as anti-life activists. It's all propaganda. No reasonable person would argue that coercing and degrading women for a profit and the sexual gratification of perverts is a good thing for society. But when people argue in favor of porn and sexual expression, it's the good kind they're arguing for. And I caution you about the danger of total sexual repression. Stamping out the good in an attempt to eliminate the bad (even if there is more bad than good) doesn't end well. The best approach is to focus on the good, identify what makes it good, and then promote it above and beyond the bad stuff. If you think a lot of porn is bad for society, then start advocating for people to produce more positive sexual expression - the kind of sexual expression I talk about when I use the term "pornography", the kind of sexual expression people use to express themselves to the world, with a positive sexual mindset that encourages pleasure and more happiness in the world, not more suffering.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Couple of Excerpts

I stumbled across a rather interesting essay on erotica and aesthetics while surfing the web, and I wanted to reproduce a couple of brief passages here, since they are well-written, and happen to align with my own position on sexual expression and fantasy. The title of the essay is "The Erotic as an Aesthetic Category", and you can read it in full here. The website also has a number of other interesting philosophical essays on a variety of topics, so if you've got a large block of time to kill, you might like to check it out.

"Erotic literature is thus bound to explore every possibility, even those possibilities that someone might regard as appalling, morally, socially, or psychologically, but that curiously contain the power to arouse. If this reveals something about the unconscious and about the natural terms of the erotic response, it would be wise to be aware of it and deal with it. Or, as Jung might say, the unconscious can become too energized with it, and acting out an irrational response becomes more possible.

"Whether or not this is a real danger, it still behooves human curiosity to see what is going on and represent truths, however disturbing. The erotic as an aesthetic category does mean that, like other aesthetic categories, the requirements of morality, although independent, are not otherwise suspended. Art, literature, and fantasy are one thing, action is another. Some people confuse them, both that fantasy spills over into action, and that the limitations of action are thought to require the suppression of fantasy." (my italics)

"The truth is that Greeks and Romans found human bodies and sexual intercourse beautiful, interesting, and wonderful -- and funny. And if its representation effects an erotic response, so much the better -- a divine gift. This may not be agreeable to religions that mandate tightly circumscribed sexual expression, but, for better or worse, modern life has broken through such restrictions. Promiscuity and disease are not good effects of this, but then one discovers that the Greeks and Romans thought no better of promiscuity than we might. Their sexual explicitness did not imply sexual license, an accommodation and a balance that has not yet been struck anew in popular or elite culture. Mere disapproval or alarm at erotic representations will not do this job. An anhedonic moralism that would suppress them instead would contribute nothing to the richness of human life." (my italics)