Yesterday, the FDA decided that gay men (or any men who have sex with men) are allowed to donate blood IF they have not had sex with a man in the last 12 months. I guess this is a step in the right direction, but given that tests can screen out any sort of STI’s (which not only men who have sex with men have, obviously), this is still a pretty thin attack on men who have sex with men.
I’ve posted about it before, but some of my friends are doing a web-series about the realities of gay dating today. This episode touches on pegging, which as you know I’ve written about before at length (On Pegging & On Pegging 2). I have it on good authority that I may even have had an influence on this particular episode. Anyway, check out the episode and, if you’re interested, my essays on the subject.
I’m writing with an update on my forthcoming book Eros and Ethos: A New Theory and Practice of Sexual Ethics. Eros and Ethos is completely written and is in editing now. I’m making great progress with my editors and we hope to have everything ready for publication in the Spring. As we get a little closer, we’ll be setting up a website for the book launch at www.ErosandEthos.com (it’s not live yet). We’ll also announce a firmer publication date and set up a pre-order system.
I’m also planning on doing a limited print of 50 or 100 books that are numbered and signed. They will be available through the Eros and Ethos website. The print version will follow the digital by a couple of weeks. The only way to get one of the limited edition numbered and signed copies will be to get one early. After the initial batch, they’ll be gone forever.
I’m really excited that things are moving so well along! I really can’t wait to share it with you all.
Note: This is a (probably short) story I started writing to see where it would go. If it sounds interesting, let me know and maybe I’ll finish it.
Delta Airlines Flight 8432 to Toronto, departing at 5:15, will begin boarding momentarily. Please verify your ticket and group assignments…
“I can’t believe we’re finally going!” She looked up at him with her big green eyes. She looked so out of place in her heavy coat in sweater in LAX, but he knew they’d need them as soon as they got off the plane in Toronto. “We haven’t seen my parents in two years now!”
“Yeah, we really should have made the effort and braved the holiday travel last year.” He looked around at all of the people already lining up to get on the plane and those rushing past him down the terminal to other flights. “If only they didn’t live in a foreign country, eh?”
She smiled and hit him in the arm.
“I thought Canadians were always nice!” he protested.
“Only when we’ve had our dose of maple syrup. Once it runs out, we’re downright deadly.” Ever since they met in college, it had been their running joke that she was from a distant land and was merely with him to stay in a civilized country.
“Ugh, I knew we forgot something! I’ll run over to the giftstore…” She cut him off.
“We’re about to board. Why don’t you run your happy ass to the bathroom so you don’t have to get up so many times on the flight.”
He got up and flopped his bag into the chair. “Okay, watch my stuff. I’ll be right back.” She blew him a big dramatic kiss and turned back to her phone. He looked around, spotted the bathrooms across the way, and headed over to them. On his way over, he noticed some sort of commotion with the TSA and police by one of the gates. He hoped it wouldn’t affect their flight and that they’d be able to leave on time. The last thing he wanted to spend the night in LAX, of all places.
There was a steady stream of men coming out of the bathroom as he made his way in. He felt a little out of place in his long pants and fleece when everyone else was wearing summery clothes. As he rounded the corner into the bathroom, he noticed a strange man was just standing in the middle of the bathroom looking confused. No one seemed to be paying any attention to him and one man seemed to almost…he must have just walked behind him, he decided. It must have been a trick of the light or something that made it looked like he had walked through him.
“Are you okay, buddy?” He said, approaching the strange man.
The man opened his mouth and it looked like he was talking, but no sound was coming up.
“I’m sorry, I can’t read lips. I know a couple of signs from ASL, if it helps.” He made the sign for help and raised his eyebrows. The man grew agitated and started gesturing wildly. His lips kept moving, but no sounds came out.
“What’s with that guy talking to himself?” he heard one man say to another as they were walking out. He looked around and realized it had to be him they were talking about, but he wasn’t talking to himself, he was talking to the weirdo who wouldn’t talk back to him. That’s when he noticed that he was alone in the mirror. There was just the stall doors and him staring back at himself with a dumbfounded look. He whipped his head around and, sure enough, the man was still there.
“What the hell??” He started, but the man, having grown increasingly agitated, pushed him. He fell backwards, catching himself on the sinks behind him.
“I can’t fucking believe no one can see me and now this asshole can’t even hear me.”
“What?” He realized he could hear the man now. “Who the hell are you and what’s going on?”
The man realized he was addressing him directly. “Wait, you can hear me now?”
“Yeah, I can. What the hell is going on and why did you shove me?”
“Huh, I didn’t think that would work.” He looked at the device in his hand, which was glowing a faint blue. “Well, you better put this on so you don’t slip out.” He said, extending a bracelet he had taken out of his pocket.
“Uh, I don’t mean to be rude, but what the hell is going on?” He demanded.
“Look, I’m not even sure I understand it myself. Just take the bracelet and put it on before you slip out and die.”
He snatched the bracelet and put it on his wrist. “What do you mean ‘slip out and die’?” He demanded again.
“I don’t really know. Look, I didn’t invent it. I’m just trying to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.”
“Whatever. We’re done weirdo.” He turned and marched out of the bathroom. Jenn would be a little annoyed that he hadn’t gone to the bathroom, but that guy was just too weird. He’d just have to go on the plane. As he exited the bathroom, he realized something was incredibly wrong. There were no people in the terminal. None. At LAX. During the holidays. Did the police clear everyone out? What was going on?
“You can’t see them, unless you’re holding this. Even then, they can’t see you. Well, I mean you saw me, but you were the first.”
He spun around. The weirdo was holding out the device. “Put your hand on it and you’ll see what I mean.”
Incredulous, he extended his hand and rested it on the device. It felt like he was thrown sideways, even though he didn’t move. Suddenly, the people around him were visible. They were walking everywhere, just like before he had gone into the bathroom. Jenn was still sitting there, with their stuff, waiting for him. The plane was nearly boarded, he needed to hurry if he didn’t want to miss it. He let go of the device to rush over to her, but the moment he did, they all disappeared again.
“What. The. Fuck.” He turned to the guy again. “Explain, right this second, what’s going on.”
Aporia(ἀπορɛία): an impasse, puzzlement, doubt, or confusion; a difficulty encountered in establishing the theoretical truth of a proposition, created by the presence of evidence both for and against it.
In this Aporia, I want to inquire into the nature of pleasure. In Eros and Ethos, I made the claim that:
Now, I want to explicitly make the controversial claim that all pleasure operates as an emotion and in response to our antecedent beliefs. By this I mean that our beliefs determine whether we will find any particular action pleasurable. I think that this particular claim must be tempered by the recognition that some things are common to us across all cultures, like comfort, although the particular actions that qualify as “comforting” will vary, sometimes widely, between cultures and so the action that might cause comfort in one culture might not in another. For this reason, I have to insist that pleasure is not innate and that we determine what things will be pleasurable, even if this determination is made culturally and only accepted by us as individuals implicitly through the culture. Human life is so imbued with meaning and that meaning comes from our values, that there is no aspect of this that is not affected, all the way down to our core. Now, of course, I do not mean our sense faculties themselves are affected. Sight is common for us, as long as our faculties are working normally, as is hearing, smell, touch, and taste. But our emotional response to these things after we have identified what we are experiencing will depend on us and our beliefs and values. When we move from pure perception to the conceptual level, we bring our values to bear and we do this immediately, automatically, and whether we wish it or not. And our values determine how we will appraise the thing and how we will respond to it.
This was challenged by my philosophic editor who said that I was conflating our conceptual understanding of pleasure with the physical experience of pleasure. I think he was right to challenge it. But, I’m not sure where to go now.
Consider a case that, a priori, is obviously pleasurable: sex. Sex is pleasurable. I don’t think many people would deny this. Yet, the very same actions that might be pleasurable during consensual sex would not be pleasurable during rape. Or, the exact same action on an unaroused clitoris will feel markedly different than on an aroused clitoris. So, sex is not necessarily or innately pleasurable.
What about warmth in the cold? That’s a pretty simple pleasure that we can all enjoy, right? What about if that warmth comes from the funeral pyre of your child? Is it still going to be a “simple pleasure” then? I have strong doubts that it would.
For every simple pleasure that I consider, I can pretty quickly imagine a case that destroys the pleasure of it.
Now, you might reasonably object that the pleasure is a sensation and that what is happening here is that we feel a sensation which can be innately pleasurable, but then our conceptual and emotional framework comes to bear and that ex post facto changes the simple pleasure: that our emotional or conceptual framework is overwriting the simple pleasure or editing it.
I’m not sure that this works. The woman being raped in the dark alley isn’t feeling first pleasure, but then thinking that she would rather not be raped right now. Her terror and pain are experienced immediately and without any intervening experience. She does not experience pleasure and then it changes to pain: she experiences pain and terror.
This is part of the rub: emotions are experienced immediately and as primaries. If there is such a thing as a simple pleasure, then how can we reconcile this with our knowledge that some things can be pleasurable in one context, but not another?
This all is not to say that I don’t, too, feel the pull of the idea of a simple pleasure: warmth when I’m cold, food when I’m hungry, or comfort when I hurt. But, even so, I can’t reconcile this with the knowledge that it matters quite a bit how these things are given to me: I wouldn’t seek solace for my wife’s murder from her murderer and I damned sure wouldn’t feel pleasure at any comfort he might try to give me.
So, where do we go from here?
We could create an account of “natural pleasures” that are common to all humans…except those who have had certain experiences or hold certain beliefs or are in certain contexts. But, that’s a pretty weird sense of “natural.”
Or, we could acknowledge that pleasure is an emotion and responds to our context, our beliefs, and the totality of our experience: that the idea of a simple pleasure is simply illusory.
I really don’t know. But, I’m leaning towards a more complex conception of pleasure that captures the way it seems to work in the real world.
After some more thinking about this issue and discussions about it with various people, I think I’m getting a better grasp of it (not that I would say I have it completely figured out).
A friend on facebook pointed out that infants probably do have this kind of unmitigated pleasure and I think that’s probably right. These “simple pleasures” might be something we share with all other animals as infants, but once our minds start to develop, then we no longer have them. This may also be the way that instincts work: we have them as children, but we do not as adults (adults frequently override “instincts” from childhood and erase them). There seems to be some sort of transition from the pre-conceptual mental framework that has merely pleasure and pain to the fully conceptual framework that also includes the emotions and the like. During the transition, our ability to experience pleasure without our conceptual apparatus entirely disappears.
I don’t believe that a normally constituted adult can experience pleasure without his conceptual framework. Let’s look at a couple of examples that I think might help.
Case 1: Let us say that a man takes a sip out of a glass marked “ethylene glycol” and finds that it takes sweet and feels pleasure at this. Now, let us imagine that someone rushes to him and says: “You fool! That’s anti-freeze and it’s very poisonous! We need to get you to a hospital at once or you’re going to die.” Will the man still feel pleasure? Assuredly not. The pleasure will be instantly gone and it will be replaced with disgust and fear.
Case 2: Let us imagine the same man sees a glass and it’s marked “anti-freeze (DANGER! POISON!).” Will he be likely to pick it up and drink it? No. Let us say that he is forced to drink it in order to save the life of his family. Will be feel pleasure drinking it? No, he will not. Even though it will still be sweet, it will not be pleasurable.
Case 3: Let us imagine a man who’s grown up in a place where he never had anything sweet. His diet has consisted of nothing but meat, vegetables, tubers, and the like. He has never had sugar or sweets. Now, imagine you find this man and you hold out to him a hard candy made entirely of sugar. Let us say that you tell him nothing at all about it (perhaps he doesn’t have language), but you mime putting it in your mouth and he does so. We might expect him to feel pleasure at tasting the sweetness of the sugar, but that’s not likely. Because this man would never have experienced anything like the hard candy, his mind will not know how to process it and won’t know how to respond to it: it would be a cognitive blank to him. In all likelihood, he would spit it out and be concerned about what it was. Now, instead, let us say that you had been able to communicate that it was food and it tasted good to set his expectations. He will then likely experience it as sweet and maybe feel pleasure at it. However, in this case, you primed his response with the fore-knowledge you gave him.
When we don’t have any frame of reference for a thing, when we experience something completely novel as an adult, we do not experience simple pleasures. Rather, we are cautious and try to find out more information about what it is and what it does. Our brains and bodies are simply not constituted such that we have any affective experiences outside of our conceptual framework.
The governor of California, Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown, has recently made the right choice to sign into law a bill that makes it legal for physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs for people who are terminally ill and still mentally competent to make the choice to die (LA Times). This is a great step forward for advocates of individual liberty, because there are few crueler fates than being forced to stay alive to suffer before death merely to appease someone else’s religious preferences.
This bill was made possible by Brittany Maynard, who advocated for physician assisted suicide and made headlines as she made this choice herself. Her death was a catalyst for the debate and her struggle really made it possible.
I’m very pleased in this positive movement for individual liberty and autonomy.
On the other hand, the governor also vetoed a bill that would have allowed patients to try experimental medications that have not received governmental approval yet in a bid to try to prevent their death. This is a tragedy and shows a deep lack of principle of Brown’s part. What difference does it make to the man who is dying of a terminal disease if a drug that may save his life may also kill him? The man will die anyway, he should be given the chance to fight for his life if he wishes to. Moreover, these brave people would also help to move forward medical science and help others who may be in the same position later.
So, while there was a significant win for individual liberty, there was also a setback. Overall, if we keep pushing these issues on the underlying principles, we shall keep seeing victories (like my friend Alex Epstein shows).