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 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.
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.”