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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Opposing gay ‘marriage’ may demand civil disobedience: Louisiana bishop

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By Lisa Bourne

LAFAYETTE, LA, June 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The bishop of the Catholic diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, is one of the nation’s Church leaders to come out strongly against the Supreme Court decision forcing all 50 states to recognize homosexual “marriage.”

Bishop Michael Jarrell reminded Catholics in a statement that the judiciary does not have the power to redefine marriage, and he opened the door to civil disobedience as a possible response to the June 26 Supreme Court ruling.

“Let me state very plainly that no human court has the authority to change what God has written into the law of creation,” Bishop Jarrell wrote in his statement. “This ruling is irreconcilable with the nature and definition of marriage as established by Divine Law.”

Urge Congress to pass a marriage protection amendment now. Sign the petition!

“The marital covenant was established by God with its own proper nature and laws,” he continued.

Recognizing the tide of religious persecution across the country against those who hold the Biblical view of marriage, Bishop Jarrell addressed the issue of living one’s Catholic faith in light of the Supreme Court decision, and gave the green light to refuse to comply, even if it means breaking the law.

“I realize that this ruling will create conscience problems for many Catholics, especially those in public office,” Bishop Jarrell said. “In some cases civil disobedience may be a proper response.”

In an exercise of episcopal authority, the Lafayette prelate also issued a mandate that no representative of the diocese would enable homosexual “marriage” in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.

“No priest or deacon of this Diocese may participate in the civil solemnization or celebration of same-sex marriage,” he declared. “No Catholic facility or property, including but not limited to parishes, missions, chapels, meeting halls, Catholic educational, health or charitable institutions, or facilities belonging to benevolent orders may be used for the solemnization of same-sex marriage.”

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The bishop also cautioned against Catholics showing support for homosexual “marriage” by their presence at same-sex “wedding.”

“All Catholics are urged not to attend same-sex ceremonies,” he said.

The bishop said he hoped this October’s Ordinary Synod on the Family at the Vatican would address issues brought about by “the alteration of the traditional law about marriage.”

Bishop Jarrell also expressed deep sadness at the Supreme Court ruling, and said while Catholics have great respect for everyone as children of God, the justices’ decision had no legal or moral foundation.

“As Catholics we have a profound respect for the dignity of all God’s children,” he stated. “Nevertheless there is no basis in law or in nature for altering the traditional definition of marriage, established by God from the beginning.”

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Catholic News Service gives platform to head of union that gave hundreds of millions to pro-abort politicians

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By Lisa Bourne

June 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The news service of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has published an article by the head of an organization that has given hundreds of millions of dollars to elect pro-abortion politicians.

Americans should listen to Pope Francis, at least when it comes to his message on poverty and economics, according to Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, an organization that has done arguably more to elect pro-abortion politicians than any other group in the last 50 years.

The union chief made his case in a June 22 guest column for Catholic News Service (CNS).

The AFL-CIO donated $200 million to Democratic politicians in 2008 alone.

LifeSiteNews contacted Catholic News Service about Trumka’s column in light of the AFL-CIO’s support for abortion, contraception, and homosexual “marriage," but CNS declined to comment.

On his way in the piece to pronouncing unity between the Church and big labor, Trumka touts Pope Francis’s recently reported high approval rating and the “newfound vigor” the Roman Catholic Church has added to its “traditional social doctrine” since his election.

“For much of the last century and more, the labor movement and the Catholic Church have stood together in solidarity for people who labor for a living,” he wrote in the CNS column. “Pope Francis lives and breathes this tradition.”

“Together, the Catholic Church and the labor movement stand for a new moral and political order,” he said.

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In his June 22 piece for Catholic News Service he wrote about helping to ease the pain and suffering for others as his reasons for praising Pope Francis.

“We believe in the duty to ease pain and to offer comfort to those who are suffering -- and not just with kind words, but with action,” Trumka opined. “That is why I am so heartened by our Holy Father Pope Francis.

Trumka, raised Catholic, writes his column for CNS with a Catholic voice, but the union he heads up supports contraception and homosexual “marriage,” along with abortion.
 

While the Church today holds The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers among its themes of Catholic Social Teaching, giving voice in the Bishops’ own news agency to the representative of an organization which has given hundreds of millions of dollars to pro-abortion politicians contradicts the USCCB’s very own document teaching on the need for Catholics to act in support of Catholic principles and policies in public life.

 

“The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles,” the USCCB’s Catholics in Political Life states. “They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

 

The nation’s top union also supports the so-called “free” birth control imposed as part of the HHS mandate, something many groups – including the USCCB itself – resisted being forced to provide.

“Women have fought hard for the right to safe, legal reproductive health services and the freedom to exercise that right,” the AFL-CIO Statement on Women's Access to Quality and Affordable Reproductive Health Care says. “The Affordable Care Act provides that women will receive preventative health care benefits, including FDA-approved methods of birth control, without co-pays or deductibles.”

Many of those forms of “birth control” may act as abortifacients.

The AFL-CIO’s support for abortion and birth control isn’t where the union’s advocacy for anti-Catholic initiatives stops. It encompasses homosexual activism as well.

Pride At Work is a nonprofit organization that represents LGBT union members and their “allies,” that “organizes mutual support between the organized Labor Movement and the LGBT Community to further social and economic justice.”

Pride at Work is an officially recognized constituency group of the AFL-CIO

The deeds of the AFL-CIO as an organization are not the sole illustration of how Trumka’s CNS appearance sends a conflicting message with regard to Church principles, but also statements embracing and advocating principles in direct contrast to the faith by the man himself.

“Working people believe in equality and fairness and that’s why we are happy to stand with millions of Americans and with President Obama in supporting marriage equality,” Trumka said in a statement supporting homosexual “marriage.”

When the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 defending marriage were overturned, he said they never should have been adopted in the first place.

“The Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 were radical and divisive laws that never should have been,” Trumka said. “Now, we can begin to fully clear the dark legal cloud that has hung over our nation.”

Trumka employs a childhood anecdote to frame his article complete with violence against his grandfather on the part of the profit-focused mining company that “owned everything,” in his Pennsylvania hometown.

“Pope Francis speaks for the church I grew up in when he calls for an organized moral response to the injustices of modern capitalism,” stated Trumka, whose salary level is around $300,000 per year according to unionfacts.com.

Trumka has been implicated in encouraging intimidation and deception to advance union goals, according to a report from the National Legal and Policy Center.

Trumka has also been accused of legitimizing violence. During a multi-state coal miners’ strike organized by the United Mine Workers in 1993, Trumka, as union president, ordered more than 17,000 miners to walk off the job, and explicitly told strikers to "kick the s--- out of" employees and mine operators defying union demands.

Homes were vandalized, shots were fired at a mine office, and power was cut to one mine, temporarily trapping 93 miners underground.

A non-union contractor, Eddie York, was murdered by a union member, shot in the back of the head as he drove past strikers at a West Virginia work site. Those trying to rescue the victim were attacked by a group of union members. The union member who shot the contractor went to jail, but no one else was disciplined for what took place.

Trumka told Virginian-Pilot in September 1993 regarding the incident, “I’m saying if you strike a match and you put your finger in it, you’re likely to get burned.”

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Supreme Court suspends Texas law that would have closed half of its abortion facilities

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By Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – About half of the abortion facilities in Texas got a reprieve from the Supreme Court on its last day in session.

Justices ruled 5-4 that, right now, the state of Texas may not enforce health protection laws that would have put all but nine of the state's abortion offices out of business. The court's conservative bloc – Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito – objected, but Anthony Kennedy cast the decisive vote with the court's liberals.

At issue is whether the state may require abortionists to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and require abortion facilities to meet the same health and safety codes as other ambulatory surgical centers.

The temporary stay of Senate Bill 5 lasts until the justices decide whether they will hear an appeal from the abortion industry, which argues the law's provisions would unduly restrict a woman's access to abortion-on-demand.

“The U.S. Supreme Court was swayed, not for the first time in a week, by illogical arguments,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “By actively lobbying against common sense regulations that would make sure women have access to ‘safe, legal and rare’ abortions, Planned Parenthood and their allies are making a mockery of women’s health care.”

“The abortion industry cares only for their bottom line, and women and their prenatal children are merely dollar signs in their business cycle,” Hawkins said.

"Women and babies are being denied protections with the Supreme Court blocking pro-life legislation,” said Lila Rose of Live Action. “Contrary to what big abortion organizations would have us believe, the possible closure of abortion facilities is due to the refusal of these corporations to adhere to sensible and ordinary medical precautions. We look forward to the day that both the legislature and the Courts use their power to protect the most vulnerable among us."

State pro-life leaders regret the loopholes that they say put women's health at risk.

“Unfortunately, women who do not have abortions at any of the nine operating ambulatory surgical centers that perform abortions will continue to be subjected to substandard medical care,” said Joe Pojman, Ph.D., executive director of Texas Alliance for Life.

The ruling does not permanently enjoin the state. It does not even guarantee justices will hear the case.

Should they decline, the law will go into effect in its entirety.

Last October, the Supreme Court allowed Texas to implement these measures while the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals considered its decision in a 6-3 verdict. However, it added that the state must allow abortion facilities in El Paso and McAllen to operate subpar operations, defying greater protections for women, because closing those facilities would require women to drive a great distance to the next nearest abortion facility.

Earlier this month, a three-panel judge of the appeals court, based in New Orleans, upheld the health regulations. All three judges had been appointed by President George W. Bush.

Had the full requirements gone into effect, half of all the remaining abortion facilities in Texas would have closed.

The left-wing website ThinkProgress worried, if the High Court upheld the decision, it would mean that “Roe v. Wade is almost entirely dead.”

Today, representatives of the abortion lobby felt relief. "Our Constitution rightly protects women from laws that would create barriers to safe and legal abortion care, but Texas politicians have tried to sneak around the Constitution with sham regulations designed to close clinics’ doors," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a pro-life Republican, vowed to “continue to fight for higher-quality health care standards for women while protecting our most vulnerable – the unborn.”

“I’m confident the Supreme Court will ultimately uphold this law,” he added.

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