Archive for November, 2007

What Causes Sexual Attraction? (Revised)

by Jason Stotts

The issue of sexual desire is one of the great mysteries of the ages; it is a phenomenon that has persisted since before the Greeks, a phenomenon as old as sexuality itself. The issue, at first, seems as though it should be painfully obvious: have not all of us experienced sexual desire? Yet, for most, introspection becomes revelation: few can explain why they are attracted to some and not to others. This, then, is our purpose here – to explain the nature of sexual attraction and its causes. We must begin in the only place possible to us, the brute fact of sexual attraction.

Let us say that you see a beautiful woman and you are instantly sexually attracted to her. Now, what if you were told that this same woman had a deadly disease that is easily sexually transmitted, would you feel the same? What if, instead of having a deadly disease, this woman were the mother of three children; would you be more or less attracted to her than you were initially? What has changed about the woman?

Let us say that now you see a rather nondescript man and you feel no attraction to him. Would you suddenly find yourself attracted to him if you found out he was an extremely popular musician? What if you were dying of cancer and found out that this man had just found the cure that would save you and countless others; would you find him arousing then? Did anything change about the man?

What if you meet a person through correspondence, whether by letter or online, and you are very attracted to his intelligence, his wit, and his ability to see the best in every situation, but find out (upon meeting him in person) that he is also hideous in appearance, would this affect your attraction? What if, instead of being hideous, he instead lied about his gender, would this affect your attraction? What changed about the person?

It’s clear that there is something strange going on here: attractions that appear at first to be solely physical are either heightened or destroyed by intellectual judgments, while attractions that appear at first to be solely intellectual are either heightened or destroyed by physical considerations. The issue is not whether, your personal attraction actually changed, but the fact that such change is possible based on different kinds of judgments. Clearly, there is some connection between judgments and sexual attraction.

One should carefully note that I have just shown that there is a connection between judgments and sexual attraction: an obvious, but historically vehemently denied, connection. Perhaps it’s due to the immediacy of the response or perhaps it’s due to poor introspective skills; either way, few people recognize the element of judgment in sexual attraction until it is pointed out for them. Thankfully, once the aspect of judgment is elucidated, most people are able to introspect on their own situations and see that it is indeed operative in their own lives. To say that judgment is operative in sexual attraction is merely to find a starting point – the apparent profundity of the position lasts until one realizes that judgments are not irreducible.

It’s clear that judgments can be based on different things: above we saw judgments based on beauty, on intelligence, on gender, on fame, et cetera. In each judgment, an individual is judged according to his possession, or lack, of certain characteristics. These characteristics are either values or disvalues to the judge – consequently, they are either pursued or avoided. Clearly attraction is based primarily on a specific kind of judgment: value judgments.

A value is that which promotes our lives; a disvalue is that which retards our lives. Given that we are mortal agents, we must identify values and act to acquire and secure them for ourselves; failing in this endeavor is literally deadly. Evaluation is the particular type of judgment that deals with values; it can be performed either consciously (explicitly) or sub-consciously (implicitly). Conscious evaluation is done by identifying an existent or state of existence, judging whether this thing would improve or retard one’s life, and then acting to either pursue it as a value or avoid it as a disvalue. Yet in our fast-paced, dynamic lives, we do not always have the leisure to analyze the situation sufficiently to render a conscious judgment. Consequently, by the time that we are adults, we have become so adept at quick value judgments that we rarely need to perform this process consciously. This subconscious evaluation is based on prior value judgments that we have made and is experienced instantaneously as an emotion.

All emotions are the existential experience of our automatic value judgments. When we experience an emotion, we are experiencing an instantaneous result of prior value judgments. We are judging, albeit implicitly and instantly, that the object of our emotion would either be a value or disvalue in our lives. Because of the immediacy of our emotions, it is easy to think of them as unanalyzable primaries. However, we can analyze them in terms of the antecedent value judgments upon which they are based. For instance, if a dog attacks a child when young and injures him, then the child will fear dogs when he gets older. Clearly this emotion can be changed by rational reflection, i.e. if this person realizes that not all dogs are hostile, but this person will grow up to be afraid of dogs, unless he consciously changes this judgment. While this example is of a simple emotion resulting from the judgment of only one experience, most emotions are more complex than this and have many antecedent judgments. Indeed, even an emotion as complex as sexual attraction can be understood in terms of antecedent judgment.

To whom a particular person is attracted will depend upon his particular antecedent judgments, but we can easily show some general ways in which attraction operates. Let us say that we find a woman who is attracted to the sight of a man’s muscular back. Were we to ask her why she was attracted to this, she might be able to tell us or, more likely, she would not know. This attraction could be based on her thinking that a muscular back means that her lover can protect her. Alternatively, she might think that a strong back reflects a strong work ethic. It could also be that a strong back reminds her of her first lover who was the first male in her life to treat her as a woman and not as a child. The point here is not to determine why our example is attracted to muscular backs, but rather to show that all of us already think about attraction in terms of antecedent judgments. If our friend expresses attraction to a person to whom we do not feel attracted, our first response is always “what do you see in her?” We want an explanation in terms of value judgments.

However, sexual attraction is rarely so simple as to be based on a single feature. Most people have a collection of physical characteristics that they find aesthetically pleasing, certain character traits they desire, and a certain similar way of viewing life. If asked to explain why a particular man is arousing, a woman might not be able to tell us, but with careful questioning we would see that her attraction is based on a very large set of criteria. Indeed, sexual attraction is rarely based on either physical or psychological characteristics alone, but some combination of the two. Of course, a person’s attraction to certain individuals will be entirely based on his past experience and judgments, and we do not have direct access to these things. This, however, does not concern us because we are not trying to understand why person A finds person B arousing, but rather we are seeking to understand the operation of sexual desire itself.

Thus we have seen that sexual desire is the result of a person’s antecedent value judgments and it reflects characteristics that the person judges to be desirable. Yet, we have not come to the limit of inquiry quite yet. Although we cannot make exact claims about who will desire whom, we can make very precise claims about whom certain types of people will desire based on their underlying philosophy.

Airport Epiphany

by Jason Stotts

I was at Port Columbus Airport (CMH) last night and realized something interesting: there is no reason to ever put up a broken escalator sign, it’s more appropriate to just say “currently stairs”.

Review: Crosspoints

by Jason Stotts

Crosspoints: A Novel of Choice
by Alexandra York

In Crosspoints, Alexandra York weaves the story of three people whose passion for their work may or may not be the result of unacknowledged premises: Leon, whose artistic fame is rivaled only by the price of his commissions; Tara, whose passion for archaeology is driven by her need to find gods to look up to; and Dimitrios, world famous archeologist, and Tara’s mentor, whose interest in the past is being eclipsed by his desire for the present. The novel revolves around the events that will change the lives of all three people and will introduce each to himself.

I found the book to be a dramatic portrayal of the consequences of ideas. York’s characterization is superb and I couldn’t help but feel anguish for mistakes, anticipation for resolution, and joy at achievement. York has achieved the all too rare distinction of having written a true novel, with characters I’d actually be interested in meeting in real life.

I strongly recommend this book.

Holidays: Altruism’s Corruption of the Holy

by Jason Stotts

Recently I made a surprising discovery: my friend Karen’s favorite holiday is the Fourth of July. This rather astonished me as I had never before heard anyone identify the Fourth as her favorite holiday. It’s not that I’m stunned by the choice of days – the Fourth is a most deserving day for celebration: a secular celebration of freedom, rationality, and the greatest country in the world. No, it’s not that I thought her choice unworthy; rather I was surprised that a religious person would identify this secular holiday as her favorite.

This discovery surprised me because I knew that Karen is a Christian; I would have thought that she would pick a favorite holiday that was more consistent with her religious convictions. Realistically, the only people I would have expected to declare the Fourth as their favorite holiday would be Objectivists – people who understand the value of our country and what it represents in the course of human development.

Intrigued, I questioned her about her choice and was gratified when she paused and gave the question serious consideration. She told me that the reason why she likes the Fourth so much is because she is not obligated to get gifts for people that she does not want to and she only has to spend time with the people she loves and wants to be with. In effect, she told me that self-interest was the proper modus operandi and that she was only happy when she was acting in her own rational self-interest – which was why she hated the other holidays, they all entailed sacrifice.

This is perhaps one of the most poignant cases I’ve seen of the dire necessity of philosophy in life and the consequences of its absence or perversion. Through something as simple as holidays, Karen was starting to recognize the evil of Altruism and the good of Egoism. Her religion, accepted at an age before she had even gained control of her rational and cognitive faculties, had crippled her mind by corrupting her most fundamental premises. Left in a position where one knows that something is not as it should be because he feels that something is wrong that he thinks should be right is a deadly position for many.

Instead of questioning their contradictory premises, many people would instead begin to question themselves – since they “know” that it is wrong to act in their own self-interest and yet they only feel happy when they do, they began to regard themselves as evil. However, the trap is composed of nothing more than mistaken beliefs. Instead of starting with the premise that acting self-sacrificially is right, ask yourself why it is right. If you can’t answer the question of why it is right, then you’re certainly not justified in believing that it is right. Floating abstractions are worse than ignorance because ignorance is at least honest.

Through most of the history of the Philosophy it was taken as a given that man had to act self-sacrificially – it was only the beneficiary that was contested. The simple fact that man could live for himself seemed to escape the notice of these purveyors of death. Holidays, however, are supposed to be celebrations – and celebrations are life-affirming: no one would celebrate the fact that he had a debilitating disease. We do, however, celebrate the good things in life like graduations, weddings, new jobs, etc.

It’s through the perversion of morality via Altruism and the destruction of legitimate concepts such as “holiday” that this situation has arisen. By turning words that should be employed to praise the nobility of Man into words that are reserved for otherworldly father figures, Altruism has taken reverence for life and tried to substitute its antithesis. Why do we hate buying gifts for people whom we don’t really like and don’t want to be around? Clearly this is against our self-interest. If I do not like someone, I am not going to want to give him a gift – I either don’t value him or I value him less than the value of the gift. Yet Altruism would require us to sacrifice our self-interest and give the gift anyway – but this only causes ill feelings all around as everyone senses that acting contrary to their self-interest is wrong, while at the same time they feel that they are trapped and have no choice but to act self-sacrificially anyway.

In order to fix the seeming paradox of holidays we have to remind ourselves that if we want to be happy we must identify what this means and work to achieve it. We must question our premises and challenge our most basic assumptions – “why?” must become our credo. We must reclaim the words that have been stolen and perverted. We have to overcome the privation left to us by the betrayal of our philosophic forefathers and seek guidance from ourselves.

In order to live a moral life we must learn that Egoism is the path to Happiness: our lives are our responsibility and if we want to be happy we must concern ourselves with our own interests. We must be self-reliant and never ask another to sacrifice for us and never sacrifice ourselves for another.

In order to live a moral life we must throw off the chains of Altruism. All of our actions either further our life or diminish it – there are no other choices. If we want to live and be happy, we must recognize that Altruism is decadence. Self-sacrifice is clearly decadent; it asks us to renounce our judgment and our life. Duty demands that we purposefully act decadently; it asks us to willing and jovially relinquish our lives. Do you now see the monstrosity of Altruism, lauded as the supposed salvation of man? Sure, it can save us – from life.

There are so many ways in which we can take our lives back from the black pit of death; the most important is to merely recognize the nature of the struggle and what’s at stake. After this, all we need to do is recognize small changes we can make in our lives – such as with holidays.

Reclaiming holidays would require no more than for all of us to sever them from their religious basis and celebrate the values in our lives. Instead of sacrificing ourselves at the holidays, let us instead celebrate them with the people we love and want to see. Instead of getting gifts for everyone, let us get them for those we value. Let us turn holidays back into celebrations of life.