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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Dr. Miriam Grossman speaks to large audience in Mississauga, Ontario Steve Jalsevac/LifeSite
Lianne Laurence

VIDEO: How DO you to talk to kids about sex? US sex-ed critic gives practical tips

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

MISSISSAUGA, ON, August 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Talking to their children about sex is “anxiety provoking to say the least,” for parents, says American sex-ed expert, Dr. Miriam Grossman.

“Some people just can’t even do it, and that’s okay,” the New York-based psychiatrist told the crowd of 1,000 who packed a Mississauga conference hall August 18 to hear her critique of the Ontario Liberal government’s controversial sex-ed curriculum.

After Grossman explained how the Liberal sex-ed curriculum is dangerously flawed and ideologically driven, she used the question-and-answer session to give parents much appreciated and sometimes humorous practical advice on how to teach their children about “the birds and the bees.”

“If you feel you can’t do it, maybe there’s someone else in the family or in the constellation of people that you know you can trust that could do it,” said Grossman, author of “You’re teaching my child WHAT?” and an internationally sought-after speaker on sex education.

A child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with 12 years’ clinical experience treating students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) clinic, Grossman said explaining sexuality and procreation to children is “a process,” that “shouldn’t ideally happen all at once. A child is not a miniature adult, and absorbs…new information differently than adults do.”

And parents need to be sure just what their child wants to know.

To illustrate this, Grossman referred to her earlier story about a father who gave his son every detail on human procreation after the boy asked him, “Dad, where do I come from?”

After the father finished, his son replied, “Well, that’s funny, because Johnny told me that he came from Montreal.”

“Try to find out what your child is really getting at, and, don’t give it all at once,” Grossman said. “You start with a little bit at a time…and you know, there’s so many variables here, and people have their own traditions and their own ways of explaining things, and something that might be right for my family might not be right for your family.”

She also advised that, when confronted with a four, five, six or seven-year-old asking about a pregnant woman, or where babies come, a parent can ask, “What a good question that is. What do you think?”

And parents can also legitimately put off the discussion when appropriate, telling the child, “That’s really not something you need to know about right now.”

“Wow, what a novel idea: Telling a child that they could wait until they’re older to discuss that subject,” Grossman said, adding that parents wouldn’t brook a six- or even fifteen-year-old child asking how much money they made or had in the bank. “Excuse me? Not every subject has to be an open book.”

However, the time will come when a child needs to know “about how her body’s going to change, about reproduction, about how a new life is created.”

That time, Grossman advised, is puberty, or “as puberty is beginning,” and this is especially so for girls, who, if unprepared for the surprise onset of menstruation “might think [they’re] dying.”

“The actual nitty-gritty about the birds and the bees and intercourse” can “be told in bits and pieces, or it can be told all at once, if you feel it’s necessary,” she said, adding that it’s beneficial if the parent acknowledges his or her awkwardness, because the child will think: “This must be such an important subject that my mother or my father is sitting there squirming, but he’s doing it anyway. I’m really loved.”

“And the children need to understand that as you grow up, you change a lot, not only physically but emotionally,” Grossman said, “and what may seem odd or disgusting when you’re ten years old, or whatever age, it becomes something very special and beautiful when you’re older and you’ll understand it later. You don’t have to understand it now.”


Know your child and guard your home

But as an essential foundation for this discussion, parents must both know their children and guard their home from the encroachments of a culture that Grossman described as “very, very sexualized” and “really horrible.”

“Children need parents who are loving but are also firm and authoritative,” she asserted.  “They don’t need best friends. They need us to guide them, to know what they’re doing, to be on top of what they’re doing.

So parents need to be aware of whom their child is “hanging around with, and what kind of movies are they watching…what’s going on with your child.”

“You need to know that anyway, even if it’s not about sex education,” she pointed out. “Try and know your child. Every child is different.”

And Grossman emphasized that it is “extremely important to be careful about what your child is exposed to in the home, in terms of television and Internet, obviously.”

Children need to understand that “just like you have garbage you take out of the house, you put it in the garbage bin, it’s dirty, it smells…there are other things that also don’t belong in the house.”

And children learn quickly what is, and is not, permissible inside the home, Grossman said. “Me, I keep kosher…If I go into a store, my kids know from a very young age, we don’t eat that.”

So they are used to the idea of “the world outside and the inside world, of inside your home, and inside your heart as well.”

Parents can also convey this by telling their children that “the world is an upside-down place, and sometimes the most special, holy subjects are…just thrown in the gutter. And that’s a bad thing. In our family, in our tradition, we don’t do that.”

“Sexuality is one of the subjects that in this upside-down world, it is sometimes just in the gutter,” she said. “And so I want you to tell your child to come to me when you have questions, I will give you the straight story about it.”

Grossman herself is “not even sure,” as she stated in her seminar, that sex education should be in the schools: “I believe sex education should be at home for those parents that want to do it.”

She also noted that parents “can make mistakes. We all make lots of mistakes but it’s okay, you can always come back and do it differently,” adding that this is “another wonderful message for your child. You know what, it’s okay to make mistakes, you can always go back and try and fix it.”

Grossman urged parents to visit her Facebook page, website and blog. “I have so much information you can get there that you’ll find useful,” and added that she will be publishing books for children, and has posted her critique of New York City’s sex-ed curriculum, which is similar to Ontario’s.

The parental backlash to that sex-ed curriculum, set to roll out in the province’s publicly funded schools this September, has been “amazing” Grossman noted.

Grossman’s seminar was sponsored by Mississauga-based HOWA Voice of Change along with the Canadian Families Alliance, an umbrella group representing more than 25 associations and 200,000 Ontarians opposed to the curriculum. The report on her devastating critique of the sex-ed curriculum can be found here, and the video here.

Ontario readers may find information and sign up for a September 2 province-wide protests at MPPs offices here. So far, there are protests planned for 92 of Ontario’s 107 constituencies. The parents’ movement seeking removal of the curriculum is urging all concerned citizens to join this special effort to influence individual Ontario legislators.

See related reports:

Ontario’s dangerous sex-ed is indoctrination not science says U.S. psychiatrist to large audience

Videos: US psychiatrist tells parents “stand firm” against dangerous sex-ed

See the LifeSiteNews feature page on the Ontario sex-ed curriculum containing nearly 100 LifeSite articles related to the issue

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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Did the pope just endorse a gay children’s book? Of course not, says Vatican

Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete
By Pete Baklinski

ROME, August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- While mainstream media is gushing with news today that Pope Francis allegedly praised a children’s book that promotes gender theory, the Vatican is decrying what they called the "manipulation" of a cordial letter from an official in the Secretariat of State to suggest that the Vatican is promoting teachings contrary to the Gospel.

Italian children’s author Francesca Pardi was reported by The Guardian to have submitted a parcel of children’s books promoting the acceptance of homosexuality and gender theory to Pope Francis in June after Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro publicly banned the author’s newest book, Piccolo Uovo (Little Egg), from children’s schools. The book was criticized by pro-family leaders for promoting non-natural family structures of two men and two women.

In a letter accompanying the books, Pardi wrote: “Many parishes across the country are in this period sullying our name and telling falsehoods about our work which deeply offends us. We have respect for Catholics. ... A lot of Catholics give back the same respect, why can’t we have the whole hierarchy of the church behind us?”

The Guardian is reporting that Pardi has now “found an unlikely supporter in Pope Francis,” who through his staff has responded to the author and is presented as “praising her work.” It quotes the following from a July 9 letter to Pardi from the Vatican.

“His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values,” wrote Peter B. Wells, a senior official at the Vatican Secretariat of State, in a the letter The Guardian is reporting it has seen.  

While the letter gently calls the author to use her talents to spread “genuine human and Christian values,” The Guardian takes it as the pope’s endorsement of gender theory.

“Pope Francis sends letter praising gay children's book,” the paper’s headline states. “Italian book that explores different family types including same sex was banned by mayor of Venice, but pontiff becomes unlikely supporter,” reads the subtitle.

In a press release that Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi sent to LifeSiteNews on Friday, the vice speaker of the Vatican, Ciro Benedettini, made clear that the friendly reply letter to the author in no way approves of attitudes or positions that are contrary to Catholic teaching and the Gospels.

The Vatican's statement also says that in the original letter from the secretariat of state Wells merely "acknowledged receipt" of the materials sent by Pardi, and also made clear that the letter was private and not meant for publication. 

"In no way does a letter from the Secretary of State intend to endorse behaviors and teachings not in keeping with the Gospel," says the statement, decrying the "manipulation" of the letter.

Benedettini said the blessing of the pope at the end of the letter was meant to be for the author herself, and not to affirm positions concerning gender theory that are contrary to the Church's teaching. Using the letter to this end is erroneous, he said.

Pope Francis has strongly condemned the notion of “gender theory” on numerous occasions, saying that it is an “error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion.”

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Poll suggests most US Catholics wrongly believe Pope Francis backs gay ‘marriage’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- A considerable majority of U.S. Catholics are in conflict with Church teaching on abortion and marriage, a new study says, and a startling number of those also believe Pope Francis backs homosexual “marriage.”

Despite Church teachings, Catholics in America also closely parallel the general populace in their support for abortion and homosexual “marriage,” falling short in the Biblical call to be “in the world but not of the world.”

The findings suggest what many Catholics have said is a climate of confusion in the midst of the Francis pontificate. Concerns over that confusion prompted a coalition of pro-family groups to respond with an international petition effort asking the pope to reaffirm Church teaching, drawing more than a half-million signatures.

The survey, conducted by Public Religions Research Institute, found that 60 percent of all U.S. Catholics favor legalized homosexual “marriage,” compared to 55 percent of all Americans. Likewise, 51 percent of Catholics think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 53 percent of the general population holding this view.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a sacramental union between one man and one woman, mirroring Christ and the Church respectively as bridegroom and bride.

The Church also teaches that life begins at conception, that each human life possesses dignity as a child of God and is to be afforded protection, making abortion an intrinsic evil.

Catholics, accounting for 22 percent of adults in the U.S. population, have a favorable view of Pope Francis, the study said, but they are very confused about his take on homosexual “marriage.”

Of the Catholics who back homosexual “marriage,” 49-percent also think the leader of the Catholic Church backs it along with them. Fifteen percent of those Catholics who oppose homosexual “marriage” also mistakenly believe Pope Francis supports it.

Pope Francis has made numerous statements in support of life, marriage and family, but the confusion remains.

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"After Ireland and the U.S. Supreme Court both approved same-sex 'marriage,' a strong reaffirmation of Church teaching could save the sacred institution of marriage, strengthen the family and dispel the lies of the homosexual revolution," TFP Student Action Director John Ritchie stated.  "Young Catholics -- even non-Catholics -- look to the Church as a beacon of morality and stability in our Godless culture, but some of our shepherds have issued confusing statements."

TFP Student Action is a part of the lay Catholic organization American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, and is part of the alliance behind the Filial Appeal, the petition asking the Holy Father to reinforce Catholic teaching at the Vatican’s upcoming Synod on the Family in October.

Ritchie explained how the confusion was aiding the Church’s enemies, and warned of the potential consequences.

"This prayerful petition asks Pope Francis to clear up the moral confusion that's been spreading against Natural and Divine Law," he said. "If the enemies of the family continue to chip away at holy matrimony, the future of the family and civilization itself will be in even more serious peril."

At press time more than 500,000 signature had been gathered for the appeal, including five cardinals, 117 bishops and hundreds of well-known civic leaders.

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