Saturday, November 17, 2007

Alternet Leads with Porn Tease.

One thing I've learned over the years is that when there's a slug about porn or sex in the title, the odds of there being something I don't need for sale is inversely proportional to the distance between the tease and the payoff.

In this particular case, it takes three pages of this Alternet book excerpt to get to the point:

We think of the call of pornography as crass, like a carnival barker's. Like the neon lights of Times Square in its pornographic heyday. Men go to buy pornography in the "red-light" district, the "combat zone." Pornography seems to shout out at us, crudely.

But in reality, pornography speaks to men in a whisper. We pretend to listen to the barker shouting about women, but that is not the draw. What brings us back, over and over, is the voice in our ears, the soft voice that says, "It's OK, you really are a man, you really can be a man, and if you come into my world, it will all be there, and it will all be easy."

Pornography knows men's weakness. It speaks to that weakness, softly. Pornography ends up being about men's domination of women and about the ugly ways that men will take pleasure. But for most men, it starts with the soft voice that speaks to our deepest fear: That we aren't man enough.

Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity,
This is supposed to get you to cough up 12.95 for the promise of more insights into sex, porn and masculinity. And perhaps the author promises new insights, or at least a new viewpoint on an amazingly ancient and tediously commonplace reality. Perhaps you should chalk my reaction up to sheer annoyance at the thought that this fellow seems to have every reason to expect to be paid for things I've been saying for free.

Actually, I think that may have a great deal of truth to it. I find it both annoying and baffling, because for most of my life, I've been trying to figure out what possible reward there could be for "being a man" that would make it worth the depths of stupidity men seem willing to plumb - and women encourage - in order to convince themselves and others of it.

But certainly sexuality and pornography are deeply involved in this effort - and porn is very much involved in maintaining this paradigm as being both normal and unquestionable.

If you read Graphictruth, then you will have been exposed to this idea rather a lot - that pornography is an instrument and reflection of our culture, no better understood than when you examine what sorts of porn and pornographic entrepreneurs are ruthlessly oppressed - and which sorts are tolerated, or even encouraged by strangely-crafted government regulation.

Anyway, the observation that porn in general and the sex industry in particular has a great deal to do with encouraging heteronormative sexual behavior is - to an aspie blogger living in America's Great State of White Heterosexual Sin - a blinding glimpse of the blatantly obvious.

This is underlined by the fact that I spent a long stint as a reviewer of porn sites on my own pornographic link site. Why did I stop?

Well, when you get up in the morning, looking forward to another day of blatant sex and tentacle porn and realize that you'd really just rather play Sims and watch cooking shows on cable, it's time for a change. Hell, one glimpse of Ron Jeremy's ass is enough to make you question your entire life path. It wasn't JUST Ron Jeremy's ass that made me switch to politics, but it serves as a fundamental symbol of everything that did.

So, speaking as someone who has put on their hip waders and gone shoveling, there's far less that is truly depraved in the world of porn than you may fear, and far less of interest than curiosity, temptation and hype may lead you to expect.

The greater irony is this; I've found that in exploring the ethics of politics, I have not managed to avoid any significant downside of my previous concentration on the ethics of sex and porn, and as a great karmic punchline, Ron Jeremy's ass has been replaced with Dick Cheney's face. It's not an improvement.

But in comparing the two, and finding no significant distinction other than how metaphorical the nonconsentual cornholing of the underdog of the storyline may be, I have, I think, stumbled across a few useful insights along the way.

Pornography exists for the same reason as any other form of communication - to persuade you that some idea or another is worth your time, attention and donation of power and approval.

Porn is no more an end in itself than my writing this blog is. Both exist to convince you of something, and it's up to you to discern whether or not you should be convinced, and if you are, to who's benifit it is that you are convinced, and what exactly the price of that conversion will be.

Most American porn exists to convince you that you do NOT have to think about the moral and ethical consequences of living and acting like a stereotypical asshole, uncaring of the consequences of one's desires upon others. Indeed, it exists to sexualize those consequences, to validate the harm done as both just and due those who are not heterosexual white protestant assholes.

That kink is not just out there, it's out there with corporate sponsors, jumping up and down with it's fake boobs bouncing, along with single-click access to army.com.

Now, despite my obvious contempt for unthinking assholes and my lack of sympathy for the inevitable consequences to those who insist on acting as if they have a right to fuck up and fuck over anything that disputes their self-image as King o' da World, it should be intuitively obvious to the casual observer that asshole upon asshole fratricide is so commonplace that it's no longer news.

I have absolutely no problem with genuine sociopaths removing themselves from the gene pool, and to the extent that they can be encouraged by sex or adreneline to make some contribution along the way, I can only applaud. But, alas, the sociopaths have taken over the asylum and have convinced a lot of people that sociopathy is synonymous with masculinity; even with Christianity.

Well, the only cure for such offensive pornography is, as the saying goes, "more and better pornography." We must not abandon the most reliable handle upon the future behavior of our youth to those who would wank them to destruction.

Me, I much prefer lesbian porn. And I don't mean two hot chicks making it while each keep an eye on my designated representative, the camera, to see if their artful antics please their vicarious master. Not that I'm immune to that, or even feel particularly embarrassed about not being immune to hot theatrical simulated sex between professionals. It's like a corn dog at the fair - you know it's not very good for you, and you know that it has no place in a regular diet, but hell, it's fair food and it doesn't count.

The economy of my entire state rests upon this whole premise, and as I enjoy our attractively low tax rate, I will not sneer - save at those Californians who are far too Liberal to approve of such things, except for one or two weekends a year.

But I have seen real lesbian porn, and not a corn dog - it's an entirely different and far healthier cuisine. It's only "lesbian porn" by virtue of the fact that lesbians were the first (that I'm aware of) to seriously explore the idea of "what would porn that didn't automaticly validade a partiachal, heteronormative, white ethnocentric worldview look like?" Another term that you might run across is "alternaporn" or "alt-porn;" it's all pornography with explicit counter-cultural themes.

Some pioneering women - like Ducky Doolittle, for one - found that it was a lot more interesting and fun to create good porn that demonstrated good sexual ethics and views toward other women than stridently against bad porn that perpetuates destructive ideas and the oppression of women, and along the way, the idea that it was possible to have hot recreational sex with the persons of agreeable sexuality and gender without feeling like you needed a shower and a shriving afterwards.

Or in other words, if sexual shame is an essential part of what you think is "hot" about sex - maybe you should think about that in terms of it's moral and ethical implications.

Andraea Dwarkin and Cynthia Makinnon may well have revealed a great deal that was wrong with heteornormative porn, society and men accultured by it, but they offered little or nothing nothing other than "just keep your legs crossed" as an alternative vision. I wager neither was any fun at parties. The Catholic church has long advocated a militant asexuality as the alternative to approved sexual behavior - I don't really see a feminist restatement of the same dramatically futile and destructive moralism as a great contribution to the ethical evolution of humanity.

Anyway, to get to the point that the book is trying to get you to absorb by luring you in with the potential of possible vicarious tittiliation; "King of the Hill" mentality has not served our culture, our society or our planet well. It has not even well-served the interests of those who would be good kings capable of holding a hill wisely and well.

You see, one of the great surprises and ironies of my life was finding out that I am something of a patriarch.

I suppose none of us can really evade our childhoods, or the necessity to at least try to make things work out better now than they did then. I'm neither the typical patriarch nor am I much interested in expanding my sphere of influence beyond my household, because I lack the required kink almost entirely. The lust for power over the lives of others has no attraction for me, but in some curious way, I'm able to provide security for those who are compatible with my other twitches. Indeed, I think that having those twitches and flaws to a cater to is part of my attraction. It's possible to make a positive difference in my life, validating those who do it. But I know my limitations and am unwilling to be such a living example of the Peter Principle as so many of those who are briefly showcased upon the cover of Forbes. And, given the insight into State Mandaded patriarchalism as recently demonstrated by Saudi Arabian "justice" - I would never stoop to benefit from such a culture.

If I were born Saudi or Wahabi, at this point I'd feel honor bound to publicly renounce both citizenship and sect - for whatever government, religion or culture that exists solely to blow smoke up my ass and tell me what a big strong manlyman I am does me no great service in my role as safekeeper and guardian for those who need it - while forcing upon me the distractions who do not need me in the slightest.

In sexuality and life, it's far better to trade upon who you really are than try to claim to be what you are not, if for no other reason that you will lose out to those who either do not have to fake it at all, or who can fake it more convincingly.

Those who seek power over others - sexually, in politics, in commerce, in life - do it because that is a visceral need for them. It's not because they deserve it, or because they can be assumed to be able or willing to do anything useful with that power when they have it. Using power wisely and well is a skill, as well as an under-acknowledged responsibility. Understanding and acceptance that there IS a price to power is, sadly, almost never something that comes with the kink itself. And yes, folks, the need to hold power over others is a psycho-sexual kink, to the point of being a disastrous character flaw if not admitted. (CF. George W. Bush; Hillary Clinton, Wahabism.)

If those who need power like vampires need blood are not trained and guided to seek power wisely and use it well, they will fail - and it will almost by definition be a cascade failure of catastrophic proportions. (CF. George W. Bush; Hillary Clinton, Saudi Arabian Justice)

But most people do not have that kink, and it's both foolish and self-deceptive for us to accept that it is the definition of a "real man" to seek dominance over others and to be fulfilled by expressing that domination - without any question of "why, and to what end?"

In football, there can be only one quarterback - and a quarterback without a defensive line is what you call "roadkill." To extend the metaphor, a QB who calls stupid plays and embarrasses his team will be without his defensive line for every single play until he either gets a plan, or gets the hell off the field.

The fact is, those who think they "clawed their way to the top" by virtue of their own efforts, who define themselves not by what they have won, but how many others lost out to them are fools. Fools, and very often useful tools. (CF George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Conservative Muslim Clerics and domestic Dominionist Christian Clerics.)

The real secret to gaining and holding the hill is building a consensus that you look good up there, and accepting the quid pro quo that you must serve the ends of those who feel that way in order to remain there. That's true of Patriarchs, Presidents and all those entrusted with power and influence. The MOMENT you start believing that you have the right to the power you havem or at least argue to that effect based on a presumption of Divine Right, you deserve, at the very least, the derisive mockery of those you would exploit with negative responses up to and including a shotgun blast to the testicles in degrees measured according to your unwillingness or inability to deliver on your obligations.

Life is a power exchange - you will be given this power to use by those who judge you able to use it to their benefit for just so long as you do that. They can take it away at any time - and they don't have to climb the hill themselves. All they have to do is politely step out of the way of the next ambitious tool who wants to take everything you have away from you - not realizing that it was never yours and will never actually be theirs.

Dear King Abdullah - do you think it wise to allow a situation in your nation, your culture and faith where it would be to the benefit of half your population to seek the support and protection of men and women of another faith and more just culture? Do you think the Prophet would be sympathetic to your plight, or would he dryly observe that in getting in the car with Wahbiists, your kingdom deserves whatever it gets?

One thing I know about the Prophet - aside from any religious teachings - is that he was a man of profound ethics, one who believed in justice. So, what would he have to say about a religion based upon his good name being used to commit injustice?

Just a little rhetorical question. I'd ask the same of any Christian, sir; indeed, I often do.

I'll tell you a little secret about me and my particular kink. I find no romance in the tale of King Author; I find nothing attractive at all about sitting anywhere on the outside of the Round Table.

My archetype is Merlin - and like Merlin, I will continue whether or not Aurthur succeeds or fails. Because, well, there's an Aurthur born every minute.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Anarchy, Ethics and Idiots


You know, the more time I spend in Second Life, the more I realize that this "escape from reality" isn't. It's all too real, some days.

I bought the guns for a favored role-play environment - but as the only land we can afford is in something of a rough-and ready area with no security, guns with the capacity to punish idiots are a necessity.

More to the point, dealing with the non-fun economic and social necessities has taken a huge chunk out of discretionary funds and discretionary fun, but it has definitely provoked some useful thought as I've been forced to consider things that there's little or no reason to think of in "Real Life." Or at least, we have been told there's little reason to think of them. But the incident that provoked this essay was in fact all too common in reality; a common, garden-variety asshole acting as inept sociopaths always do, as if there could be no legitimate personal consequences to them from actions that are obvious causes for offense.

And at it's most basic level, all civilization derives from answering the schoolyard taunt: "Oh, yeah, whaddya gonna do about it, sissy?"

Yesterday I answered that question myself; confronted with such a situation of offense, I calculated the costs of doing something against the costs of not doing something and decided that it was both honorable and affordable to answer a bully's rhetorical question, along with the other, even more telling one: "Who do you think you are?"

My answer is that I'm someone willing and able to say no. I simply do not tolerate behavior around me that should, in justice, get someone harmed, because if it IS tolerated, there's no predicting who will be harmed or the ultimate extent. On the other hand, the bad behavior of one person and an appropriate response is easily calculated.

And, while you may not be able to teach a sociopath to care about others, or honestly believe they deserve the consequences imposed upon them, you CAN illustrate cause and effect.

So, I liberated my inner Cindy Sheehan; that wonderful person that no political movement seems to understand, because the desire for justice and accountability is in many ways antithetical to the bastard compromises that comprise our US domestic political process.

And in doing so, I realized that somehow during the course of my life - or possibly even earlier, that most of my encounters with our particular form of government involve some degree of, "who do YOU think YOU are" compounded with "And whatcha gonna do about it, sissy?"

We have an arrogant, inefficient, unresponsive and obviously incompetant government, one that makes us as an obvious target of opportunity as the late and unlamented Ottoman Empire.

In hindsight, I find it amusing that Europe preferred to go to war to determine who would impose order, rather than risk any outbreak of anarchy. I think that now, in hindsight, Europeans in general find such concerns rather quaint, and oddly, spend rather less time governing the choices of their citizens in matters irrelevant to functional concerns than we do.

But the problem with anarchy is not Anarchists. It's those what see unprotected individuals, assets, resources and power as their just and due reward for a life of conscious piracy and predation.

In practice, the necessity to spend huge amounts of money and time to "secure the benefits of liberty" is a persuasive argument for the value of wholesale security arrangements. Anyone so unfortunate to live in such a first life society - and there are many - where civilization is fairly much an urban phenomenon and not to be taken for granted even there, the urge to trade a theoretical liberty for some practical security is probably pretty compelling.

But it's generally a false bargain; for those who claim to be the champions of civilization tend to confuse civilized behavior with compliance. The two concepts are not really interchangeable at all, as can be easily discerned by comparing our culture to those where citizens obey laws because they agree with them, rather than out of fear of getting caught.

In Second Life there are very few offenses indeed that bear any greater penalty than having to find a different online context. And in fact - that is not so different from real life, if we do as the Buddha suggests and divest ourselves of attachment to material things. This is the great secret to all of life - ultimately, nobody can make you participate in their reality for their profit. They may extract a price, there may be consequences for not "going along to get along," but ultimately, there is always a choice. Sometimes the choice is very stark indeed, but usually that comes after a long series of unwise donations of liberty and conscience to "the greater good."

But we are raised in this country, nearly from birth, with the idea that without government - and without our particular form of two party government, we would be no better than any other nation.

I find the presumption that we are better than all other nations amusing, since unlike the majority of American citizens, I have actually lived in another nation. We are most assuredly not "better" by definition, and in those particular places where we happen to be better than most or even all, it's due to reasons that have nothing to do with patriotism or propaganda - it's due to good old fashioned hard work and dedication by individual citizens working in and out of government. As often as not, such results come about at cross-purposes with government.

Because - if you take out the attraction of holding power over the lives and choices of other people and dismiss the childish delight of "getting away with things" as being just that, a childish delight - you start to realize that there is as much profit to be had in magnifying the effective liberty of others as there is in controlling them to provide security. Furthermore, it's an open-ended log curve, with residual benefits, rather than a one time gain from a donation of individual freedom.

There is only so much security that can be provided. There are only so many threats to be dealt with, and only so many compromises that can be made in the name of "security" before society ceases to function. But there is no potential end to the number of wise and profitable individual choices that can be made possible, and the more choices there are, the more synergies arise, the more profit is had by all.

Of course, if you are in the business of providing the illusion of security, the numbers may seem different, but then that's true of all frauds and schemes where nothing is made to appear to be something. So let us not speak of fears and panics; let us speak only of concrete realities, such as Visigoths, Viruses and variable interest rates compounded by modified bankruptcy laws; genuine, tangible threats to security and liberty. For, real or metaphorical, the politics of personal liberty are as local as it's possible to get and as easily definable as an axe transecting the skull.

Death is the end of all choice, in this perceptual reality, at least. But it is also impossible to violate the rights of the dead. You cannot exploit the dead in any greatly useful way, and ultimately, any social structure that depended on wholesale death to maintain order, or power has disappeared from history, generally after rather brief spans. For when rulers turn on their people they turn on their own source of power and authority.

Short of death, it seems to me that the fewer choices the typical individual has within a society, the less life there is in that society. The fewer options, the fewer choices there are, whether these deficits are brought by poverty, ignorance, superstition, custom or political oppression, the poorer that society is overall, and the less competitive it is in what is more obviously becoming a global marketplace of competing ideas.

The products, services, policies, wars, conflicts, migrations and social phenomena that follow those ideas are not the causes - they are the effects, to the point where it's becoming more and more practical to look at the world as a whole as neither material, nor economic, nor political, but rather a completely non-physical matrix of potential energy.

I'm not saying that it is, I'm saying that's a useful mental construct, one that helps you see the profit potential in empowering others, rather than in attempting to corner the market in power. The greater profit is in the more ethical direction not because it's "good" to be ethical, but because ethics - the philosophy of maximizing the good outcomes and minimizing the bad outcomes of all human activity - is really the art of minimalistic intervention in the lives of others.

That is to say that in order to avoid blowback, to experience the least personal harm and the greatest personal benefit, to achieve the greatest amount of good in the shortest amount of time, one must first accept one very simple and very personal restriction that is both very simple and the core of every single moral and philosophical system on the planet. "Harm none." Do not impinge upon, take advantage of, exploit, harass, oppress, harm, threaten or kill others for fun or profit. Do not force them to limit their choices simply to frustrate or resist you.

Not so much because it's wrong, but because the more you do that, the more unfavorable outcomes you create, the more compensatory structures you must erect to limit the blowback, the more friction and conflict arises - and sooner or later, you have a complicated mass of conflicting, often delusional agendas, justifications, excuses and lies that become an impediment to coping with a suddenly emergent situation.

Global warming, for an example of an extremely unpleasant reality that will change the face of the globe and every single power structure within society.

Life is like that - the universe has a way of shaking the table every once in a while, and if those running the society for their own enjoyment and profit have wandered away from the path of ethics - those who compose the vast majority of all societies - the apparently powerless - often suddenly realize that there is no personal advantage in putting any more energy into the system and structure than is absolutely needful.

You see, despite the wet-dreams of facists and all others who worship at the altar of order and predictability, life itself is unsustainable without chaos and life-forms (which include planets, governments, families and even religious philosophies) that cannot cope with, adapt to and exploit sudden change have a sharply limited horizon of viability.

Ask any dinosaur.

Or indeed, the human race prior to the near extinction recorded in our mitochondrial DNA.

You see, we are facing a triple crisis - increasingly rapid environmental change, increasingly rapid socio-economic change and a HUGE crisis of imagination.

The first two - well, humanity has dealt with both, and on occasion, both at once with various degrees of success. But it has always been the third that determined whether or not any particular subset of "humanity" - corporate, institutional or particular - survived. And it seems to me that the greatest impediment to comprehending the potentials of a new roll of the dice is having a great deal invested in things as they are.

And nowhere is this more true than in the leadership of any human endeavor. Those in power have the most to gain from the status quo, the most to fear if things do not continue as they are, so no matter how bad things become for most, they always tend to delude themselves that it's better to force things to continue as they are against increasing resistance, rather than simply taking their chips from the table and waiting for a new game to start.

So the question for you and for me is far more radical than whether or not we are Progressives or Liberals or Conservatives, or indeed, whether or not we support a generally libertarian or a generally authoritarian philosophy of governance.

The question is, are we individuals going to remember that ultimately ANY government is merely a means to an end - and that end is brutally simple. It either promotes our own personal and general safety and advantage more than we could ourselves, or it does not. If it does not, indeed, if it actively obstructs us in those ends - it's not at all unreasonable for individuals so affected to ignore it when possible and resist it when not. This is already true in wide swaths of America, particularly poor and black areas. And those swaths are growing - to the point where you can also choose to see that both legitimate and practical influence of government (short of the use of overwhelming force) is narrowing to the point where it's demands on the populace as a whole are unsustainable.

If that comes to pass, it matters little what such people are called by members of that government, for the fact that large numbers of those kept outside of the comforts of a narrowing circle of law, order and comfortable complacency exist at all is a critical failure. That government, that society is doomed, and whatever history says about it and those that supplant it, it IS history.

Meanwhile, individual humans will assert their inarguable right to survive as best they can in arrangements that work as well as they can manage, and they will do this with or without the assent of "Those Anointed By God To Rule."

I, for one, am not waiting for an increasingly irrelevant government to solve problems for me. Not that I'll complain if they do, but I'm not betting on it, nor am I going to be calling their attentions to what are, in my judgment, good solutions for me and mine. Seems to me that post Katrina, post 9/11, there's not a lot to convince me that they have the judgment to be trusted with important things like my precious pink butt.

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