I get a lot of interesting questions at Erosophia and I try to answer as many of them as I can. When I think the question and answer is particularly interesting, I usually publish an anonymized version of it. This is one of those.
What is your basic advice on using pornography and why do you think Ayn Rand was opposed to it? How is connected to mental health from your point of view?
I think that fantasy is a very important part of the masturbatory experience. While it’s possible to masturbate merely through self-simulation without fantasy, it is much more common for masturbation to include fantasy. Our imaginations, however, are not unlimited. We are limited by the things that we have seen and already know. To this end, pornography functions as a form of external fantasy. Through pornography, we can expand our sexual horizons to include new and exciting things that we may have never yet experienced. This leads to a much richer and more interesting masturbatory life (pornography can also enhance a couple’s sex life).
Now, I think that this can have drawbacks. For example, some people become so fixated on pornography, that they don’t enjoy sex with another person as well because they have conditioned themselves to need more variety or things that their real partner is not willing to do. This is a problem because pornography can create a very false picture about what sex is, what it looks like, and also what human bodies look like. For example, in porn the average penis size is around 8”, but in real life its around 5.5”. I think the other danger of pornography is that it can also create dispositions in a person to negative behaviors. Some people come to be too fixated on variety and difference and so start to watch pornography of things they wouldn’t want to do in real life. This is fine, as long as it doesn’t create a disposition to action in the person to do these things. It’s not fine if they create in themselves a disposition to action for something that would be actually wrong; for example, if they start to watch realistic rape fantasy porn and start to want to rape someone in real life. If pornography is used to create a negative disposition for action, then this is immoral (studies actually show that more porn equals less rape, for the record).
Ayn Rand was opposed to it, as far as I can tell, because she thought sex was intensely personal and private and that it would have been inappropriate to share any aspect of this. This would mean that both the creation and consumption of pornography was illicit. She was also worried that pornography, being focussed only on the physical side of sex, would drive a wedge between the spiritual side of sex and the physical side of sex, which would lead people to engage in dualism:
I want to state, for the record, my own view of what is called “hard-core” pornography. I regard it as unspeakably disgusting. I have not read any of the books or seen any of the current movies belonging to that category, and I do not intend ever to read or see them. The descriptions provided in legal cases, as well as the “modern” touches in “soft-core” productions, are sufficient grounds on which to form an opinion. The reason of my opinion is the opposite of the usual one: I do not regard sex as evil—I regard it as good, as one of the most important aspects of human life, too important to be made the subject of public anatomical display.
I think it’s clear that her concern was the disconnect of sexuality from values. She thought that pornography was evil (disgust is a moral emotion), because it would do this.
As a writer, I spend a lot of time in coffeeshops. I love coffee and getting out of the house and into a new environment can also really help to get going with writing. As I was sitting in Starbucks the other day, I was thinking that they should create a formal program to support local writers. I was also thinking that this program would be good media exposure for them and would generate much more positive buzz than it would cost to run. So, I put together a quick pitch and some ideas. I worked out even more of how the program would actually run, if Starbucks decides to do it.
Coffeehouses have long been associated with writers and other creative people. Starbucks is in a unique position to leverage this historic relationship in a way that benefits both the writing community and Starbucks itself. I’ve devised a program that will lead to: 1. A widespread positive media campaign for Starbucks, 2. Increased goodwill among Starbucks regulars and the writing community, and 3. An optional potentially lucrative publishing program. The best part? The program can be run by a small functional team and would have very little cost. Moreover, the cost would be fair outweighed by publicity and goodwill.
Great publicity for Starbucks.
Writers are a big part of Starbucks’ regular customers and would increase goodwill with that community.
Potential to monetize program through profit sharing with publishers and selling advertising space.
Potential for profit from selling books inside stores (only the “select” books that make the cut).
Very little needed to create program, no infrastructure or logistics changes needed.
Program can be overseen by a very small functional team.
Starbucks would “sponsor” writers for 1-6 month blocks where they would offer them unlimited drinks and a reserved table (drinks could be limited to low cost drinks, making cost nearly zero).
Starbucks could also offer cash stipends, if the program is monetized through affiliation with a publisher.
Would give out special “Writer-in-Residence” cups that would have to be used to keep down environmental impact and further reduce cost, while highlighting program.
Starbucks would have option to publish books at the end of sponsored period or work with publisher for program. Starbucks would retain percentage of profits.
I think the program has a lot of potential and would be great for both Starbucks and the writers they sponsored, not to mention everyone else who got to enjoy the books and stories produced through the program.
Most people have heard the term “pedophilia,” but few people know what it actually means. What about hebephilia? What about eppebophilia? Is it ever okay for an adult to have sex with a minor? How do we go about setting reasonable age of consent laws? All of this and more is in this episode!
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Not long ago I came across a picture with a quote on it that stopped me cold.
In case you can’t read the picture, it says:
“You,” he said, “are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe, is why you are in so much pain.”
In fact, even reading it now, knowing exactly what it says, makes my breath stop in my throat and makes me feel like I’ve been hit in the stomach. I can’t look at it for very long without feeling shaken by it. It’s really having an impact on me.
When I first saw it, I was too taken off guard to know what to think about it. But I knew that I had to know. I knew that there was something desperately true here. Something that I needed to know and had overlooked or ignored. As I thought about it, I realized that the thing I had ignored (well, not exactly ignored, but, perhaps, overlooked), was the idea of authenticity. The world is full of people living lives they don’t like, acting as people who they really aren’t, and who are giving up their lives in myriad ways that they don’t even realize. They’re doing it to “conform” or to “not rock the boat” or to “be part of the team” or because it is what’s expected of them by others. They never ask what they really want out of life. They simply go through the motions of living without ever really doing it.
This is why that quote struck me so deeply, because I feel like I am a real person in a world that is constantly struggling not to be real. A world that has become viciously inauthentic. A world that no longer works for anyone in it. And we all recognize this. We all recognize that women who have children face systemic challenges, yet none of us would want our own mother to suffer. We recognize that many jobs pay workers the bare minimum they can afford to get away with, even when the position warrants more, as though labor were merely a cost and not also what constitutes a company, not truly the soul of the company.
We deny our humanity and the very facts that keep us alive. We hide ourselves from knowledge and ideas that challenge us. For example: although children are sexual, we try to deny this and viciously shame them for it. Although meat is just dead animals, we don’t countenance our food looking anything like animals. Our meat must look like meat, and certainly not like the flesh of animals. We erect walls around ourselves in order not to feel vulnerable, but we shut ourselves away from feeling any of the good feelings as well. We construct desperate walls of unwanted isolation around ourselves. We want to feel connected and be loved and have friends, but we can’t imagine showing our true selves to these people, we thus create fictions of ourselves and base our friendships on this emptiness.
A large part of this inauthenticity that is making the world bad happens because people are afraid to die. Sadly, they feel that if they never quite live, then this will somehow prevent their ultimate death…somehow. The world is bad because people make the world worse through their actions and inactions. From not respecting other people’s rights and property (theft, graffiti), to outright trying to get others to live for them: those who feel entitled to a life they haven’t earned.
The world is not yet lost. In fact, even if it were, as long as life remains, we can always begin again. But how? We must be purposeful in our commitments. We must not just accept our humanity, but embrace it. Even the parts we wish were different. Students of ancient philosophy have probably heard this story, but most people have not. A student of Heraclitus’ went to his house to learn from him, since he was one of the greatest philosopher’s of his time. The student goes in and finds Heraclitus taking a shit. The student is stunned and tries to apologize and leave. Heraclitus stops him and tells him “there are gods here too.” Heraclitus meant that all aspects of our humanity are good. That there is something magical about being able to take in food, to live off it, and then get rid of the parts we don’t want. Heraclitus meant that life itself is the divine in the world and pooping is an important part of life.
We must also embrace death as that great gift that gives our lives meaning. An immortal life necessarily loses all meaning. If we cannot die, then we cannot truly live. Without death, there is not ultimate answer to “why?” Why are you going to work? Because I need money. Why do you need money? To eat. Why do you need to eat? To live. Without life, there could be no meaning for any action. Without death, a meaningful life is impossible. Without death, life loses all meaning.
I guess, at the end of this, I want people to wake up and engage with their lives. I want you to really live for a change. Show your real self to people. If they hate it, find better people. Don’t let your life slip away from you. It’s the only one you have. This reminds me of one of the most powerful quotes I’ve ever read, which is from Ayn Rand:
“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in the lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists…it is real…it is possible…it is yours.”
Even if you haven’t been living authentically, it’s not too late. Make the choice to take control of your life. It’s the only one you get, you might as well make it awesome.