Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sex and Philosophy




In Andrew Marvell’s (1621-1678) poem, ‘To his coy mistress,’ the speaker makes an outlandish appeal to a beautiful young woman.  ‘Let’s have sex before we die because life is very short,’ is what he says bluntly.  If life were not so short, he would have spent a hundred years admiring her beautiful eyes and another “Two hundred to adore each Breast.”  He holds her at metaphorical gunpoint reminding her that though “the grave’s a fine and private place” nobody can make love there. 

Sex seems to have been quite an entertainment for human beings throughout history.  No wonder, our species grew in geometrical progression and put most other species in need of our compassionate protection.  Moreover, we have come to a time when contraceptive contraptions outsell political strategies.

Saint Augustine [whom I happened to quote in my last post], Immanuel Kant [philosopher] and sometimes Sigmund Freud [psychologist] thought that the sexual impulse was below the dignity of the human person.  Can’t the human being, blessed with his wonderful organ called the brain, rise above the belt?  This is what they asked.  They feared that the power and demands of the sexual impulse made it a danger to harmonious civilised life.  They considered sexuality a severe threat to our very humanity. 

Not all intelligent people thought the same way, though.  Plato, the grandpa of philosophy, did not detest sex.  Bertrand Russell apparently enjoyed it.  Freud was actually confused.  They all viewed sexuality as just another and mostly innocuous dimension of our existence as human beings who have not only the brains but also the groins. 

Russell
Russell tolerated marital infidelity so long as it was an offshoot of love.  But it shouldn’t affect the children’s welfare, he argued.  His second wife, Dora, was having an extramarital affair when he wrote that and would also have a child by that affair.  Russell was, however, particular that his children had normal married life.

Kant thought that sex made objects of human beings.  “Taken by itself it is a degradation of human nature,” he wrote in Lectures on Ethics.  This objectification of sexuality is rampant in our own times more than ever.  Women are happy to flaunt their bodies in the name of modelling.  Pornography sells more than ever in various forms and it cannot happen without women’s cooperation.  Feminists today are a different kind of sex traders.

This happens because there is something commercial about sexuality.  Sex was traded much before land was, and much, much before water was.  Sex was traded by women.   Men bought it, pimped for it, manipulated it.

Manipulation is part of all commerce.  Is manipulation an integral part of sexuality?  It seems so.  In his book, Sexual Immorality Delineated, Bernard Baumrim says that “sexual interaction is essentially manipulative – physically, psychologically, emotionally, and even intellectually.”  People go out of their way to make themselves look attractive and desirable and conceal their natural aging processes such as baldness or grey hair.  See the ways by which physical appearance is made to appear important these days and how traders as well as corporate sector [with its insistence on the dress code] make commercial use of that. 

Going beyond commerce to psychology, see how liking a person today has come to mean liking his/her lips, thighs, toes, buttocks, chest muscles (!) or any other part of the body.  Kant [1724-1804] wrote two centuries ago that “sexuality is not an inclination which one human being has for another as such, but ... her sex is the object of his desires.” [emphasis added]

Desires are driven by needs and need fulfilments.  If we don’t have food to eat, our desires will be to get food.  Then our desires will be for security and comfort.  Then it will turn towards other things according to our psychological makeup.  If you are philosophically oriented, you will look for ideas.  If you are biologically oriented, you will look below the belt. 

We have too many people with their gazes fixed below the belt.  Rapes mount.  And we call it racism, alas!

I’m not against sexuality at all.  But I don’t support the commerce of sexuality just as I don’t support the capitalism of today which converts everything into commodity.  You and I, anybody, is a commodity for today’s commerce as well as the politics that drives the commerce.  The rapes and other sexual offences that keep happening day after day are by-products of that socio-economic system.

Singer
A contemporary philosopher, Irving Singer, says, “There is nothing in the nature of sexuality as such that necessarily ... reduces persons to things.  On the contrary, sex may be seen as an instinctual agency by which persons respond to one another through their bodies.”


Responding to one another.  That is what human life should really be about.  If the mind is not fit enough for doing it, use the body.  But respond; not react, not attack.  That is the philosophy of sex for me. 


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22 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Glad to have shared them, Shashikant, and glad you enjoyed going through them.

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  2. Sex ,having its own laws for bad and good..!

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    Replies
    1. Strong passions make their own laws, right?

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  3. "Had we but world enough, and time,
    This coyness, lady, were no crime."....your reference reminds me of my 1st year class Sir , really that was somewhat a different appeal we experienced in poetry at that age..

    Coming to the point , to much of our disgust, sex was, is and will be a commodity because it is a thing that can be traded so easily...you've some interesting points in this article which have inspired me in a way to write something on this topic some day.. :-)

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    1. True, Maniparna, as a student of literature, I too enjoyed Marvell's poem at a different level.

      I think I put some random thoughts together in this post rather than organise them properly.

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  4. For quite some time I had been re-searching on Senses. I believe Sex is the first sense; it’s like asking if an egg is first or the hen. I wrote a series, one of it is ‘Senses and SenseAbility: Sex-as-a-Sense’ Link << http://remidesouza.blogspot.in/2009/03/senses-and-senseability-sex-as-sense.html >> This is a comment on your post. You need not agree with me.

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    1. I read your presentation of sex as sense... A view that I won't dispute.

      Have you ever noticed that it is people who live only for sensual delights, people who fail to rise to the brain and its faculties, that indulge in such acts as rape and molestation of women?

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    2. As a language develops with new words, defining, dividing... etc. it goes away from reality. Sensuous / sensuality etc. is merely a word game.

      In my series << Lowest Common Multiple in Arithmetic of Life >>
      I wrote “LCM-7: Propagation or Survival of the Species”
      Here is a link << http://remidesouza.blogspot.in/2009/05/lcm-7-propagation-or-survival-of.html >>

      Here I deal with 'population explosion', which again is a part of word game, invented by the managers of civilized societies, who fail to manage.

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    3. In my series << Lowest Common Multiple in Arithmetic of Life >> I deal with
      Work-Leisure-Health-Learning-Propagation : the five vital autonomous functions Mother Nature has bestowed on all the living beings for their survival.

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  5. Excellent post! Maslow's need hierarchy theory is wat U talk abt here widout mentioning it! There sex is a physiological need as much as food water is...I like the points U hv collected widely from various philosophers. Objectification of women has been der since Mahabharata times n sadly hv only turned more sinister...

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    1. Though I didn't have Maslow's hierarchy in my conscious mind while writing the post, it seems relevant, yes, since I speak about the desirability of rising from the biological needs to the intellectual ones. Thanks for the connection.

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  6. It is disturbing to note that nearly everything on television/books (esp television) today is based on the theory that "sex sells". Earlier, only women were objectified, but now women are even shown to behave like predators when a man comes out wearing a new deo! Right from underwear to toothpaste to refrigerators, nearly every ad (just taking ads as an example here) is based on the "sex sells" idea!
    As for Freud, most of his studies were based on sexuality, if I am not wrong. I don't know if he was against it or not, but he did emphasize way too much on it.

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    1. Yes, Sreesha, the media play a very significant role in the objectification of women. And the way it goes, it doesn't augur well for anybody.

      Yes, Freud focused too much on the libido. Today's psychology doesn't take that theory seriously, however.

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  7. So insightful. Reading about great philosophers's views all put together so well by you was a delight reading.

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    1. Thanks, Nima. I'm sure there are umpteen other philosophers who have so much more to enlighten us with. But who cares to listen?

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  8. Muito bom este post onde se expõe varias opiniões sobre a influencia do sexo na vida e mente do ser humano.

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    Replies
    1. Beyond me, friend. I don't know Spanish or whatever it is.

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    2. Google Translator says: Very good this post which exposes various opinions on the influence of gender on the life and mind of the human being.

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  9. In my series << Lowest Common Multiple in Arithmetic of Life >> I deal with
    Work-Leisure-Health-Learning-Propagation: the five vital autonomous functions Mother Nature has bestowed on all the living beings for their survival. Now the Five Functions are taken over by Industrialized Society for Profit and Power, such as Leisure Industry, Education Industry, Health Industry, so also Population Control Industry (production of pills and condoms).

    I wrote “LCM-7: Propagation or Survival of the Species” (Sex or Population Explosion) – I don’t consider the trends, which come and go, in civilized societies.
    Here is a link << http://remidesouza.blogspot.in/2009/05/lcm-7-propagation-or-survival-of.html >>

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  10. I read this post twice but still couldn't make sense! This proves one thing: I'm not at all philosophically inclined!!!!! :D

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    1. I'm sorry to hear that, Pankti, because I used to boast that I make anything simple enough even for a child to understand :)

      I must admit that I left this blog a little disorganised... did not do the homework properly.

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