Archive for January, 2009

Aporia: Prostitution

by Jason Stotts

I’ve been thinking about prostitution a fair amount recently and I must admit that I’m baffled by it.  On the one hand, people have sex all the time for free, so why is it different when money is involved?  On the other hand, aren’t there some things that should just not be sold?

Then again, is selling sex any different than selling any other kind of labor?  In a retail environment, you sell your time and energy for money in the same way a prostitute does, the only difference is in the activity you are doing.  However, it does seem that sex is more personal and involves opening up more of our true selves to others than retail does.

I think that one thing that obscures discussions of prostitution is the term “sell yourself.”  It seems to me that all one is selling is one’s labor.  Prostitution is not the same as slavery (selling yourself) as long as it’s voluntary.  On the other hand, involuntary prostitution could easily be considered “selling yourself.”

For a writer, writing is a very intimate activity.  When I write, I give up a part of who I am to the page, I reveal my deepest ideas and give them to others to consider.  In some ways, writing seems almost to be giving more of yourself away than does prostitution, as in prostitution you are only selling sex, you are not revealing your deepest ideas and beliefs.  Then again, sex does involve necessary connections to our emotions and beliefs, to the very core of who we are.

Let me end this little aporia by saying that while I do not yet know whether prostitution is moral or not, it should certainly be legal.  The government has no role where there is no violation of rights.  I shall be writing more on prostitution in the future and will present formal arguments either for or against it at that point.

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Your God

by Jason Stotts

Recently, I’ve been trying to do my part for reason by engaging in random spontaneous acts of activism (RSAA).  One of the most effective that I’ve found, in terms of getting people to stop and think about their ideas, is to say “your god.”

Now, you might be wondering how that is possibly activism or when one would ever have the opportunity to say this.  Let me explain.

There are many times throughout the day when someone will make an offhand comment regarding god.  “Oh god! (something scary)”  “I guess it’s god’s will”  etc, etc.  Now, this is where “your god” comes in.

The next time you hear someone make a reference to god, just say “your god” and nothing else.  It doesn’t matter what they say, just say “your god” and wait.  Inevitably, they will pause, try to figure out what you could possibly be saying about “the one and only true god who is the same for all people” and be consternated.  If they ask you about it, just say that “well, it’s not my god, I’m godless, so it must be your god.”  At this point, the person will have a mental epiphany and realize that not everyone believes as they do – that there really are atheists out there.

It’s a small step to be sure, but it actually opens people up for a more serious conversation if you want to have a serious conversation.  But, even if not, you still give the person a “consciousness raising experience.”

It takes two seconds of your time and can help clean up the world for reason.

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A Brighter Day for Illinois

by Jason Stotts

A federal judge has just ruled the “Illinois Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act” unconstitutional on the grounds that it is an attempt to violate the separation of church and state.  (link)

This is a great move forward for freedom from religion and a major step back for the Religious Reich.

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What Causes Sexual Attraction?

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. In order to do so, we must begin in the only place possible to us, the brute fact of sexual attraction.

Let us say, for example, 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 attraction? What if instead of having a deadly disease this woman was the mother of three children; would you be more or less attracted to her than you were initially? Has anything changed about the woman?

Let us say that now you see a rather nondescript man and you feel no attraction to him. Would your attraction to him change 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 misrepresented 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 connection, but one that has historically been vehemently denied. 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.

The judgments underlying attraction 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 considered either values or disvalues to the judge: consequently, they are either pursued or avoided. Thus, attraction is the product of a special kind of judgment: evaluation.

Evaluation, as etymology would suggest, is the particular type of judgment that deals with values. 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. Indeed, evaluation is so important in life that it is a major focus of Ethics.

Evaluation can be performed either consciously or sub-consciously. 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. However, in our fast-paced lives we do not always have the time to analyze every situation sufficiently to render a conscious judgment. Consequently, by the time that we are adults, we become adept at quick sub-conscious value judgments so that we rarely evaluate consciously.

Subconscious evaluation is based entirely on prior conscious value judgments. As we grow and mature, we make many conscious judgments and choices: both great and small. If there is any truth in the myth of a great judge who records everything, it is to be found in our subconscious, which records all of our choices and judgments. Our sub-conscious then uses this information to form the basis for subconscious evaluation. Our subconscious does not, itself, have the power of judgment per se (which is a conscious faculty). Rather, our subconscious compares our current situation with all of the information it has gathered in the past to see if any of these past judgments are relevant. By making a comparison to relevant past judgments, our subconscious can give us an immediate evaluation of the situation at hand. The existential experience of this process of subconscious evaluation is known as emotions.

Emotions are a class of existential experience. Specifically: emotions are the existential experience of our antecedent value judgments. When we experience an emotion, we are experiencing an instantaneous response to prior value judgments. In terms of the emotion being experienced, there is no conscious control. I cannot cause myself to feel a particular emotion at a particular time, nor can I stop myself from feeling an emotion. Even in the case of emotional repression, I can merely deny that I should be having an emotion and try to force it away: I cannot cause it to stop by an act of will.

Emotions can range from very particular emotions with a definite object like Love, to broader emotions without a direct object like Joy, to emotions that sum up the entirety of our view of ourselves and existence itself like Sense of Life. In general, the broader the emotion, the more complex its operation; however, even simple emotions can be quite complex in their underlying operation. Because of the immediacy of our emotions, it is easy to think of them as unanalyzable primaries and just accept them as they come to us. However, it is important to remember that our emotions are based on prior value judgments and since they are the results of antecedent value judgments, we can analyze them in terms of these judgments.

Now, we digressed into emotions and their operation in order to better understand sexual attraction, since sexual attraction is in the genus of emotions. Sexual attraction is properly classified as an emotion because it shares the same underlying operation. However, sexual attraction is differentiated from other emotions given its very specific object and its close connection to sexual arousal. It is important to note here that attraction and arousal are two different things: attraction creates a desire for a specific person or activity, whereas arousal is a physiological response that puts one’s body into a state necessary for sexual activity.

We also must distinguish sexual attraction from more general forms of desire. In general, desire operates with a value judgment giving rise to a strong inclination to attain the object of the judgment. One can desire any object that one thinks will be a value in one’s life: that is, it operates on perceived value and not on objective value. Conversely, one cannot desire that which one thinks would be detrimental to one’s life. This is not to say that one cannot be mistaken about whether a thing is or is not detrimental to one’s life, but to point out that value judgments operate on one’s evaluation and not the facts of the matter. While general desire can be for any object that can be valued, sexual attraction is limited to people and actions.

Sexual attraction, along with love, forms the foundation of intimate relationships. When looking for someone for a relationship, a person usually operates through his explicit ideas about what he wants in a lover. Most people, in order to do this create for themselves a mental list of traits that they want a person to have. The list could be long or short, detailed or general. Regardless of its specificity, everyone is looking for certain characteristics. In order to make the process easier, most people look for a certain “type” of person instead trying to hold a complete mental list. So, for example, a man may be looking for the type of girl who is intelligent and witty, but leaves open issues of her physical appearance, or his type could be “buxom brunettes who are into skiing.”

Now, the other major component of finding a lover is what is now called “chemistry,” or that indefinable feeling of: this is the right person for me. In order to do full justice to the issue of chemistry, we would have to delve into the subject of sense of life, which is rather outside the scope of our current endeavor. However, in the realm of chemistry between lovers, we are in a position to understand it: chemistry is sexual attraction. When one feels that sudden rush of desire, the quickening of pulse, one’s mind racing with possibilities, one is feeling attraction. (Remember, sexual attraction is not only sexual arousal.)

Sexual attraction is a desire to be with someone, to have them as part of your life in a very specific way. Sexual attraction is the desire to unify with a lover: to become one with each other. The spiritual manifestation of this is romantic love and a shared identity; the existential reality of this is sex. Thus, sexual attraction has two primary components: love and sex.

Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, was the first to identify and elaborate the idea of unity with another person and the resulting shared identity. When two lovers open themselves completely to each other and internalize each other’s ends as their own, the good for one becomes the good of both. These lovers will constantly strive for perfection in order to be the best they can for their lover and will push their lover to be better as well. They will see the reflections of their actions in their lover’s and will be better able to judge their own actions through the eyes of their lover.

It is the complete openness to each other and the internalization of each other’s ends that comprises unity. In this kind of relationship, one’s self-identity necessarily involves his lover and her ends. That is, I cannot define who I am as a person without reference to my fiancée and her ends. In a very real sense, in this kind of unity there ceases to be a “me and you” and there becomes an “us.” This is not to say that there ceases to be two distinct persons, but rather that each of these persons incorporates the other into their identity and that this description of identity would be fundamentally incomplete without reference to their lover.

Let us conclude by noting that this sense of unity or completeness fulfills a real human need that is well illustrated in an ancient allegory. In Plato’s Symposium, the character Aristophanes tells the story of how humans of old, complete beings in themselves possessing four legs, four arms, and two heads, attacked Mt. Olympus through their hubris and how Zeus split them in half. The result is human in its present state: two legs, two arms, one head, and a longing to rejoin with the other half of itself in order to be complete again. Now, while we can obviously discard the mythology, let us not deny the truth that it seeks to express: there is a fundamental yearning in people to find another with whom to share their life and spend their time.

Thus, we can now explain what causes sexual attraction in two different senses: sexual attraction operates through unconscious antecedent value judgments in order achieve human completion through the unification with a good lover.

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Thoughts of the Day

by Jason Stotts

1. Only atheists can truly not believe in magic.
2. The only difference between prostitution and pornography is a camera.
3. Bad writers make good agents necessary.

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Memento Mori!

by Jason Stotts

Memento Mori (Latin): “Remember you must die”

While the phrase memento mori may appear to some as a morbid proclamation of the inevitable, I see it differently.

As a human, I am necessarily going to die.  It is important to realize that my time is finite, that every moment I have is precious.  Memento mori serves to remind me not to waste my time, not to let it slip through my fingers, to never take my life for granted.

I think that far too often people forget the simple fact that they will die.  Perhaps, rather, it would be more appropriate to say that they anxiously attempt to evade the knowledge of their own death.  For many people, reflecting on the fact that they will die would show how empty their lives really are.  It is unfortunately true that most people spend their days trying to keep themselves entertained or sedated.  They view thought and purposeful activity as anathema to life.  It is, however, the essence of human life!

For me, memento mori serves to help me focus on what is important in life and helps me to cut out the inessential.

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The True Publishing Process

by Jason Stotts

For someone who is trying to sell his first book and break into the publishing industry, knowledge of how the industry actually works is nearly invaluable.  Luckily for me, Macmillan USA was kind enough to put together a handy YouTube video explaining the whole process.

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQ78WHpGZ1o)

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FA/RMing

by Jason Stotts

For anyone interested in Farming subsidies, take a look at this article at the FA/RM website.  FA/RM is an organization dedicated to ending governmental interference in the agricultural market.

(In case you have a problem with the link: http://www.fa-rm.org/blog/2009/01/subsidies-for-billionaires-and.html)

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