Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Sex with Someone You Love

Since writing the last post, it's been pointed out to me by a couple of people that I’ve neglected to mention that some members of society are unfortunate enough not to have a fair opportunity for the realisation of either rapacious or reciprocal desire. I'd originally intended to address this point but decided not to complicate the discussion any further than was already the case. However, it’s an important issue which needs to be addressed.

Michael Sandel's assertion, also quoted in the last post, pointed to the need to keep the discussion both ongoing as well as open for citizens to collectively debate and define the common good. I would certainly support this approach. However, the position I would put forward would emphasise that we need to be highly vigilant about how and why we might wish to cater to rapacious desire. This would need to underpin all of the principles and narratives which guide our understanding and management of rapacious desire. For example, the story of Little Red Riding Hood is a very familiar archetype of rapacious desire in common circulation but whilst such characterisations have the power to represent our urges in instructive form, I think it's also very important to emphasise that rapacious desire is a natural desire, just a desire that needs to be understood, managed and wherever possible, replaced by reciprocal desire. This isn't to say that rapacious desire deserves to be repressed. Repressing things only causes problems, but as a selfish urge, rapacious desire should be satisfied by means of the self alone: through masturbation and we need to be absolutely unabashed about this - as Woody Allen famously said: "don't knock masturbation - it's sex with someone I love."

But the fact remains that there are many people unable to satisfy either reciprocal or rapacious desire due to disability or awkwardness etc. Should these people be denied expression and access to such experiences? As I've already explained, I believe that the expression of rapacious desire should be carefully limited to avoid the objectification and therefore degradation of others. Nonetheless there are things that can be done to facilitate the fulfilment of this desire in the same way that we facilitate many other needs; through the use of technology for example. This should not be seen as disgusting but as a free expression of a perfectly natural impulse.

Finally and most importantly there’s the question of the “right” of everyone to reciprocal sexual experiences, or at least, the closest approximation of them possible for people in disadvantageous circumstances. Is this a right? Is love a right? I don't claim to have an easy answer to these questions but I would argue that in a society that has the imagination and vision to accommodate all of the aforementioned changes that it would certainly be far more probable and possible to achieve a solution to this difficulty than is currently the case.


Anonymous said...

It seems that the likes of the Buddhists throw down the ultimate gauntlet in this regard; inasmuch as they take your argument - which, at last, must be one that seeks the greatest good for the greatest number i.e. is in the interests of the collectivity - and see it through to its logical conclusions: a seeing through of the self.

Perhaps we could see this as the ultimate civic act?

Gandhi is an interesting person to look at here as well; he struggled to keep his sexual desires under control for a long time, and only after many years of striving did he manage what he saw as the logical answer: complete abstainence. In this perhaps he is at one with the Buddhists.

I don't think either Gandhi or the Buddhists would hold reciprocal love as the highest ideal. Its danger is that it holds love within the confines of the couple, and as such deprives the community of a potentially important energy. Reciprocal love, in this sense at least, could be considered selfish; a rose-tinted movie-ideal. So the image of the happy family becomes just as dangerous to the life of the collectivity as does the image of the sexy dolly-bird.

Perhaps they would argue that true reciprocal love is not love for the (one true) other, but love for all. Love, then, is not a right, but an unavoidable condition. The grass loves you, the birds love you, the table loves you; and so on.

But of course, this is all very idealistic talk; and a conversation that seems totally ill-fitted to our current Western way of things. But we are talking ideals here, right Jim? That's why you wrote your piece in the first place? That's why any social commentator writes anything?

Masturbation seems like a good answer for those who are too immature to take the Buddhists route (i.e. most of us). There are problems when its images are taken too literally; when the society says, "wait there: jerking off is a failure! You should be actually having sex with him/her!" When the culture prompts its members into literalization; into taking the game too seriously. This is symptomatic of the lottery-culture; everyone is one stroke away from being a millionaire: all our dreams suddenly become what they never should have been: attainable.

But if we're talking ideals, then masturbation (i.e. sating those desires) is only ever a half-way house for the weak. That's what the strong (Buddhists, Gandhi, etc) show us.

J. Hamlyn said...

Thanks for your comments Anonymous. You’ve raised some really interesting points. You've also spotted the Utilitarianism (maximising the greatest good for the greatest number) at the heart of my argument too it seems. However, I was also trying to apply a little bit of John Rawles' "veil of ignorance" too, but I understand what you mean about the discussion being idealistic. But then again, where would we be without ideals?

I’m not sure that I agree with you about abstention though. I’m inclined to side with Dyske from the comments in my last post where he says:

“Buddhists do not see abstinence as a virtue. It just so happens that it allows them to understand how their mind works.”

In certain circumstances I’m sure abstention can be liberating or enlightening but like many things it probably depends on context and the disposition of the individual. For some people abstention would probably be perceived as not far removed from repression and I’m sure don’t need to tell you how problematic that can be.

I’m trying hard (but probably need to try harder) not to create a hierarchy between reciprocal and rapacious desire - though, at the same time, I’m aware that society exploits mercilessly our general ignorance about these forms of desire and how best to satisfy them. If I seem to disparage rapacious desire it’s mainly because I’m attempting to counter it’s artificial elevation through male oriented representations.

I have no problem with rapacious desire or with people satisfying it by themselves. I only have a problem with the idea that it’s ok, or worse still a triumph, to satisfy this desire by the objectification or commodification of others.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps whether abstinence is a virtue or not is beyond the point, here at least. I certainly didn't mean to attach a value judgement to it. In my understanding, Buddhists (and Gandhi, and other such "mature" people - I'll come back to "mature" later on) practice abstinence as a matter of discipline; an act that is ultimately done in service to the collectivity. Victory over this strongest of urges leads to victories elsewhere. Control that, and you can control most things.

There is a fine line between this and repression, but it is an important one to see and to recognize. Repression implies an unconsciousness; you repress because you cannot, for whatever reason, face the thing head on. The Buddhist approach is categorically different, in its most ideal, because it is a form of crafting. You face the self head on, see it, and craft it. The difference is between consciousness and unconsciousness.

Buddhists craft themselves in service to the whole. If a Buddhists is repressing things, then he is not attaining the ideal laid out by Buddhe - nominally a Buddhist, yes; but I thought we were talking ideals!

Abstinence, then, is not about the self - whether it is liberating or enlightening for the individual is beyond the point. It is about the whole. And this is where maturity comes into it; the "mature" individual is, in the way I use the word here, the one who is able to extend his borders to include the greatest number. To think and act, both in terms of the individual and the collectivity. That is what I mean by maturity, sorry about the lack of clarity.

Buddhists are always, in the last, turning out towards the world. They may seek to understand themselves, and astinence may or may not help in this; but at root, self-understanding is sought in the interests of the whole (ergo abstinence also, if thought of in this context).

If you don't have a problem with the idea of rapacious desire, then it seems an inconsistency to restrict it to the individual; especially if we are talking about the greater good. The heart of the socialist (a mature system if ever there was one) ideal is the self flourishing through the other; we find our happiness through the collectivity. What, then, would this ideal have to say about the confining of "rapacious desire" to the individual?

Please! Objectify me! Remind me I have a body! A good dance performance objectifies me, and I am grateful! Karate objectifies me! You need to explain your beef with objectification (sorry!)

Finally, the phrase "rapacious desire". I think this is misleading; or rather, it takes something quite natural and leads us to think of it in a certain way. What lies beneath rapacious desire? What is it really? A love of objects? The Will at its most apparent? It seems like it is something else; as if there is a flipside to it that we aren't seeing or discussing. An importance, a vital importance.


J. Hamlyn said...

When I said that I have no problem with rapacious desire I hoped it would be understood that I consider it to be a singular instance of our many perfectly natural impulses such as hunger, thirst etc. The problem comes when social assumptions are developed, promoted or perpetuated as ideal ways to satisfy such impulses. Though I’m aware that, in a sense, I’m also promoting such an ideal too , just one that I believe to be more favourable to the greatest good for the greatest number.

“Please! Objectify me! Remind me I have a body! A good dance performance objectifies me, and I am grateful! Karate objectifies me! You need to explain your beef with objectification (sorry!)”

I think we might be in danger of going in circles here (though I like to dance!). I don’t believe people should be able to sell their bodies for others to abuse, which is to say that I don’t believe that people should be able to pay to abuse others. The examples you give do not fit this criterion. If someone went to karate but only engaged to the extent that they allowed themselves to be kicked and punched I think we would be remiss not to intervene. Similarly if someone went to karate simply to kick and punch people but not to participate in the exchange then once again I think there would be a need to step in.

In answer to your last question about what lies behind rapacious desire - I’d say Dawkin’s selfish gene.

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