Zac Alstin

The bald truth about p*rn

Zac Alstin
By Zac Alstin
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July 4, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - You’re going to think me very immature, but when I first saw the headline: “Alain de Botton to make highbrow porn” I cursed the editor responsible for such an intentionally ambiguous phrase. The part of my brain that makes sense out of words leapt to the conclusion that Alain de Botton was embarking on a career in pornography devoted to the niche audience of people who have, or are attracted to, high brows. Meanwhile the part of my brain that turns ideas into visual imagination quietly and decisively shut itself down.

De Botton, a best-selling Swiss-British essayist and pop philosopher, does have a very high brow. The prominence of the brow, with its implications of prefrontal cortical brilliance, enjoys a healthy philosophical provenance, as illustrated in this famous portrait of Immanuel Kant. The brow is high, for ‘tis where the extra brains are kept. Kant’s eyes are narrowed, no doubt in grim determination as he bears the great burden of being so much smarter than everyone else.

I’m no phrenologist, but it’s pretty clear from the shape of his head that de Botton is not aiming to lord his intellect over anyone less fortunate. It is even more clear from his work that de Botton enjoys taking neglected, unexamined, unexpected and diverse realms of life, and melding them together for the benefit of all. From his Consolations of Philosophy – making philosophy relevant to the lives of ordinary people—to his ambitious plans for a temple of atheism – making religious practice accessible to the irreligious—Alain de Botton wants his ideas to enrich your life.

So it should come as no real surprise that de Botton sees in the global saturation of pornography an opportunity to once again enrich human life.

“Ideally, porn would excite our lust in contexts which also presented other, elevated sides of human nature – in which people were being witty, for instance, or showing kindness, or working hard or being clever – so that our sexual excitement could bleed into, and enhance our respect for these other elements of a good life.”

De Botton desires:

“a pornography in which sexual desire would be invited to support, rather than permitted to undermine, our higher values.”

Any idiot will tell you that sex sells, but it takes a philosopher to suggest that sex might somehow sophisticate. Yet it’s the idiot who proves the point. Sex in advertising is a “lowest common denominator” strategy. It appeals to the masses, “gets them by the short and curlies”, so to speak. Pornography is the acme of the “sex sells” principle: it’s sex selling the selling power of sex. Can “sex selling itself” truly have a sideline in the “higher values” de Botton describes?

In “God is dead: can I have his stuff” I suggested that de Botton’s penchant for atypical ideas might stem from his being an atypical person – the kind of man who sees no contradiction in a convicted atheist eager to plunder the world’s religions in search of useful, interesting, and uplifting practices. I argued that de Botton’s religious atheism was feasible, but would prove unpopular beyond the narrow market of atheist philosophers with an interest in religion.

His plan to make “Better Porn” suggests a similar disconnect between de Botton’s intellect and the reality of human nature. It may seem obvious to him that sexual desire in the context of pornography could be made to “enhance our respect for these other elements of a good life”, and indeed there is something laudable in his hope that “No longer would sexuality have to be lumped together with stupidity, brutishness, earnestness and exploitation”.

Yet anyone with a grasp of traditional philosophy will have seen the problem already. It is the kind of problem that tends to elude modern philosophers, those who suffer in bondage to the demands of original thought, while scorning the solutions of the past. The problem is that de Botton does not appear to distinguish between sexual desire or sexuality in general, and the phenomenon of inordinate sexual desire, commonly referred to as “lust”.

The world’s religions and traditional philosophies have typically been very wary of sexual desire, in the same way that people everywhere are very wary of fire. Fire is good, fire is essential; but fire is also extremely dangerous if allowed to grow out of control. In this realm the wealth of our collective human experience is more valuable than the thoughts of an atypical philosopher, however interesting they may be. From the perspective of our collective wisdom, de Botton’s plan to use pornography in support of higher values is like wanting to teach alcoholics the refined enjoyment of cooking with brandy, or to send them on wine appreciation courses. We have learned from past generations that the inordinate consumption of alcohol ruins people physically, morally, socially, and financially. And though the present age prefers to live in ignorance, past generations have similar insights into the nature of inordinate sexual desire.

Lust tends downward. It is an indulgence and cultivation of the sexual appetite that goes beyond what is healthy for the human being in physical and moral terms, where “healthy” is defined as whole or sound, and can be understood by reference to the logic of human nature. Human beings have an appetite for food which is logically ordered toward our objective need for sustenance. Eat or die. Eating is (all things being equal) an achievement accompanied by pleasure. Eating, when it brings nourishment, draws us nearer to wholeness or health; pleasure, when associated with this greater wholeness, is an appropriate, ordered response.

What could be more ordered than to feel pleasure at the things that are good for you?

But for various reasons, human beings are liable to distort their good and ordered desires beyond the limits of reason, where pleasure becomes an end in itself. Instead of eating to become whole, and finding pleasure in wholeness, gluttony – the inordinate desire for food – has us eating for the sake of pleasure, and harming our wholeness, our health, in the process.

Lust is to sex as gluttony is to food. Our ordered sexual desire is quite literally our desire for the other sex. “Sex” being a derivation from the Latin word “secare” meaning to “divide or cut”, in reference to the division of humanity into male and female. Human beings desire the union of the sexes, and, as a further step toward wholeness, find that this union is pleasurable. But lust turns the desire for sexual union in upon itself and makes pleasure the object instead. In this context, pornography becomes a tool for pursuing sexual pleasure (the pleasure properly associated with sexual union) outside of its ordered role.

In the case of gluttony it is easy to see that we were never meant to make an idol of the pleasure found in eating. The effects of lust are not as physically obvious, but the psychology is parallel: to act for the sake of pleasure itself is to forsake the ordered relationship between desire and wholeness. Such is the experience of the addict, who finds that pleasure, when sought for its own sake, becomes increasingly difficult to obtain. Worse still, the nature of our desire is shaped and altered by the pursuit of pleasure: when eating we no longer desire nourishment or food, but the more elusive quality of the pleasure that attends eating. Likewise, lust is no longer the true desire for sexual union, but the desire for the pleasure that ought to attend sexual union.

Pleasure, though attractive, is not actually good for us. Pleasure alone cannot bring us increased health or wholeness, because pleasure comes from within us – it is our reaction to external stimuli. A person who seeks pleasure through gluttony, lust, greed, or other disordered desire, is in fact seeking self-stimulation – hence the claim that pornography is solipsist, in that it isolates the viewer in an illusion of sexual intimacy. 

Most of us choose to eat food that is pleasant. We allow our appetite to guide us in our eating habits, bearing in mind that “hunger is the best sauce”. Yet we are also aware that the purpose of eating is nourishment or sustenance, and so we make an effort to ensure that the range of food, its preparation, quantity, salt, sugar and fat content are compatible with our physical health. But when we begin to alter our food purely for the sake of pleasure, we necessarily deviate from the healthy ideal, instead putting pleasure ahead of health. I may add more salt than is good for me, because it enhances the flavour just so. I may add oil and butter, when the dish doesn’t really need it. I might have two helpings of dessert, when one is ample. Food becomes a means of self-stimulation rather than a source of nourishment.

The consumption of pornography in its many and varied forms likewise serves self-stimulation over the genuine good of sexual union. Pornography is an artifice created and consumed for the sake of the pleasure it enables.

It is admittedly hard for us as moderns to recognise the distinction between ordered sexual desire and lust. Our culture does not encourage such a distinction. By contrast, despite the Western world’s growing obesity problem, our culture does contain very strict and precise notions of the line between ordered and inordinate appetites for food.

De Botton makes the same modern mistake: he fails to distinguish between ordered and inordinate sexual desire. He therefore views the entire pornography phenomenon as a very straightforward dynamic of people acting on their sexual desires, his only lament being that pornography is insufficiently supportive of “higher values”. A Guardian columnist noted that:

“It takes a man in possession of a particularly elastic brain to make the leap from thinking ‘the world is awash with porn’ to suggesting that the solution is to create ‘better porn’ or, to put it less qualitatively, more porn.”

But it is not yet apparent that de Botton sees any problem in the consumption of pornography other than its seemingly accidental tendency to gravitate toward expressions of “stupidity, brutishness, earnestness and exploitation.”

If our traditional wisdom is correct, then the correlation between lust and the vices de Botton laments is no accident. The self-stimulating pursuit of pleasure does, after all, carry certain implications for our broader tastes and conduct. The desire for pleasure creates its own narrow world of stimulus-response from which everything else – the “higher values” included – is gradually excluded. Despite de Botton’s best efforts, I predict his attempt to create a witty, hard working, clever, kind, form of pornography is doomed to failure. Whether it ends up being “highly contrived” “smug and self-congratulatory”, “a turn off” as one columnist suggested, or something “that parents would feel comfortable with their sons or daughters accessing at a certain age without particular shame”; or if it merely amounts to “movies featuring semi-clothed nymphs being kind to Swiss philosophers” as the Guardian predicts, no amount of higher value can transmute the flawed economy of the insatiable, self-stimulating pursuit of pleasure. 

Zac Alstin works at the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute in Adelaide, South Australia. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons license from Mercatornet.com.

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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