Sex is one of our primal metaphors, our basic models of comparison to the world as a whole, so it’s kept a surprising amount of meaning even in modern times. If there’s anything that can be taken as a universal human phenomenon, sex is a pretty good shout.
If everything else goes to shit, we can rest easy in the knowledge that at the end of the day, we’ll still be able to find someone we can let our guard down with, fall into the arms of, and just settle down for some good animal comfort. And yet, people have sexual hangups with shocking frequency, about as often as they have eating disorders. How could that be, for such a primary experience?
The answer, in both cases, is simple: it’s the porn, stupid.
Before you ask, this isn’t a diatribe against lasciviousness. I’m pretty sex-positive, in the same way I’m food-positive: I really dig the primal parts of human nature alongside the higher and more civilized components, and what I adore most is the syncretic union of the two: the well-dressed body, clothing like architecture on the earth, ornamenting and making decent the raw form – while yet under it, an ancient power still pulses, and you may see in those shadows a figure of heady potential. There are no complaints about sex here, not even about watching porn, in particular. I enjoy, ah, art as much as the next monkey. The problem is when we can’t get it out of our heads.
I should probably take a minute to say what porn is. Porn in the sexual sense, sure, because that’s the root of the metaphor, but the point of that metaphor is the structure of it, which remains constant far outside the bounds of sex. Here is a working definition: porn is an image of fetishized objects, where every word more than two letters long means “symbol over reality.” The function is abstracted fetish. Instead of a real object standing in for a real absence, now it is a representation of that object standing in. Whereas with a simple fetish one still has an object upon which one places one’s unsatisfied needs, an object which bears some superficial connection to that which is absent (consider the security blanket, which is soft and can be snuggled with, but which is still entirely unlike the parent whose embrace it imitates – yes, fetishism can start early), porn is nothing but the superficial connection. The symbol of whatever is absent here becomes the entirety of what is absent, which (to use technical lingo) really fucks you up. To loop back to sex as the model, the basic nature of sexual need isn’t “I want to fuck,” it’s “I want to fuck this specific person.” Sometimes there are multiple people that the individual wants to fuck; sometimes the person to fuck hasn’t come into the picture yet; sometimes the desire gets displaced onto a different person. No matter. This is still the basic unit, and the focus is on the individual, which explains a lot of pubescent sexuality. Porn perverts that focus and desire, presenting symbols of humans over actual humans, such that the operational principle changes from individuals to characteristics. Instead of “I want to fuck this dark-haired, sultry young person” it becomes “I want to fuck dark-haired, sultry young people.” (The model there crosses pretty well from male to female.) For someone thinking like this, they then begin to size up every potential mate in light of how well they fit this pornographic descriptor, and only take those who fit. But as they get to know the person, the reality better, there’s more and more that escapes the descriptor, the fetishized abstraction, and one is nauseated by the unseen depths of the person, “you never told me you were like this,” and the love fades with a fake betrayal. Imagine how bad it gets when the dark-haired, sultry young person gets old and their hair grays – but don’t worry, there’s Botox and dye to fix it. This is how people go crazy.
First, a disclaimer: part of this process, the abstraction, is normal and good. Early-experienced models of something, say, a potential mate, serve as templates from which a youth can draw identifiers for good examples of that thing. The natural next step is using those identifiers to find new models, and expand and refine one’s own competence to see and judge. The mind and the world are thus in communion, which is the necessary characteristic for science – intelligent learning and understanding of reality. Porn-fetishism fails at the re-adjustment step, and instead reinforces the schema as the truth. This, if you’re hip to the scene, is known as idealism.
I introduced porn as sex, but again, this is the structure and the structure can be applied to any concept. Just as porn is porn for the sexual act, so too are shitty romances porn for the romantic act, and so on. As our society has advanced, so has porn in every respect, in news and politics and literature and drama and everywhere else. We are currently saturated with porn, which is matched and identical to the spread of advertisement.
No, not basic ads like from Stan your local carpet cleaner, “you were looking to get your carpet cleaned, look no further, now watch for a little while I signal as a virtuous carpet cleaner,” that’s the standard sales pitch, as old as capitalism. The key factor to note there is that it wouldn’t be particularly strange if Stan the cleaner were delivering the pitch in-person, while it would be nutty and off-putting to see a McDonalds ad in real life. N.B.: this is the aesthetic distinction between porn and reality, which is that porn would freak you out were it real. More on that later.
Modern advertising, the real stuff, operates on the exact principle that we’ve just been going over, which is the total opposite to Stan’s carpet cleaning ad. Stan’s ad aims towards your precise need, and once you have his services, that need will be filled. His entire aim is to direct your existing need towards him, maybe rile you up a little if you’re on the fence about whether your carpets need cleaning yet, precisely like a typical seduction. Flex a little, bat eyelashes, and now you’re interested in investing in bedroom options. This is normal, and not at all a problem. Folks gotta get laid, and Stan’s gotta get paid. Modern advertising, henceforth just “advertising,” is totally unlike this.
Advertising doesn’t sell you a product, not any longer, that’s passé and totally not up to contemporary standards. Advertising follows three steps. First, it identifies something which you are lacking and which you might not even be aware you are lacking. Second, it delivers symbols of that thing, and reinforces the connection in your mind. Finally, it styles or represents its own product so that it matches with those symbols that it created, and as such makes you fetishize the product in abstract. Once again, because this is easy to miss, the psychological desire for the symbols is created first, and the product is then somehow fitted to those symbols. This last detail is essential to understanding the process. If you fetishize the product itself, then you have a single material, concrete object upon which to displace your needs. There’s no need to buy anything else once you do that, especially not if you fetishize it correctly. What the market wants is for you to fetishize abstract principles and then try to use the product to fulfill them, which the product will never fully accomplish (partly by design, partly because it can’t, reality can’t be, shouldn’t be, porn), meaning you stay vulnerable to the next ad, which will subtly shift symbols and present a new product that matches these new symbols. And you will buy it, and you won’t be fulfilled, not any more than the hopeless porn addict searching desperately for Mr. or Mrs. Right, trying out each new stranger and not realizing that the reason nobody matches their ideals is because they’re ideals.
Here’s the nasty bit: advertisements, porn, aren’t just in the commercial break. The logical next step, one currently being taken tentatively but soon aggressively, is for every piece of media to become porn, advertisement. “Like product placement?” Not even close. Remember, the point of advertising isn’t the product, it’s the symbol. The product can change to fit the symbol, but the symbol has to take for the need to be properly displaced. This means that anything that gives you symbols, anything at all, can serve as advertising for products that haven’t even been made yet. The logical conclusion: all media will become increasingly pornographic, selling itself and the symbols, and reality will follow along. New products will be made and sold to match with the existing symbols, and people, seeking to fill the gaps in their lives, will buy. Or why else do you think McDonalds started selling salads with more calories than a Big Mac? There was a market for getting fat with iceberg lettuce on the side? Okay, but why was there that market?
This is distasteful on its own, of course, and we could talk about consumerism and waste if we want to show off how much we know those symbols, but that’s all a distraction. Pay attention to the single direct and immutable consequence, which is that we are now saturated in a sea of conflicting symbols all trying to displace the real onto themselves. This makes the adult problem of judgment far, far worse. The adolescent in a traditional society has a fairly limited set of symbols they need to rebel against, and the subsequent adult has a concise set of values to use and subvert as needs be. But in our saturated and noncommittal land, the adolescent is often unable to either find anything they can truly rebel against, or something distinct to reconcile themselves to in adulthood, and if they can find anything, they must either endure a lack of a like-minded society or submit themselves to the vicissitudes of a political group whose values change every four years, both of which undercut judgment and drive a soul mad. Thus do all confusions unite into one, and our world becomes nightmare. Hold tight to the party line, the absolute of light, where all is determined and nothing is left to you, or face utter darkness, utter freedom, alone. This is how the system makes you submit.
When faced with horror, the instinctual response is “it can’t go on like this, it can’t last.” Here’s the awful truth: it can go on like this, and for quite some time. The illnesses and injuries are chronic; the unfortunate addict can stumble along for many years before hitting the grave. There is still plenty to eat, so the vicious world can’t punish adolescent narcissism and force it to choose or die. You can plug in, and society will take care of you until one breath is just unfulfilling enough that the eternity you were promised ends. Keep this in mind.
This essay has been, more or less, stating the form of the problem. The question goes: how, in a world bereft of traditional meaning, overrun by symbols and confusion, bearing the total freedom of the void and just as much firmament to lever on, how are we meant to do anything? In a simpler form: if we’re swallowed by the ideal, how can we make our way to the real?
A properly formulated question holds its own answer. The problem is bridging the gap between real and ideal, between mind and body, and there are only two channels for that: art and science. Art, the aesthetic, draws beauty from the world and reifies it in the mind as values which can then act as further methods towards beauty and the world. Science, the logic, applies truth to the world and then alters itself to the world’s reaction, drawing knowledge closer to reality. If motion-models help you understand: science starts and ends in our minds, and is entirely about the world, while art starts and ends in the world, and is entirely about our minds. We have gotten terrible at science and art in recent times, and it’s a crying shame. Science claims to be more about the world than ever, but it’s increasingly just going on inside our heads with no reference to the external, while art claims more and more to be about us, while in truth it never reaches to anything higher than the world. Want examples? Any social science for the first, and architecture for the second – although those are just the lowest-hanging fruit.
This section is in grave danger of becoming entirely too sweeping, too general, and entirely vapid, so I’ll stop it before it gets to that point. Still, I hope the point is clear: the purpose of the blog, from here, is the subject of how to attain maturity and your human needs in a society which does not support it. This is the next step of the therapy: once a disease of the mind has been diagnosed, the patient must begin seeking to cure it. A disease of the mind (not brain) is identical to poor psychic conditions, which come down to something being absent. In many cases, this absence can be traced to a cause outside of the patient, but upon their body’s full growth, they become the only one who can guarantee they get what they really need. If you are frustrated, if you are lacking, then recognize your own loss and work to reclaim it. The alternatives, and there are several, do not ever get you what you need. To get it, you must grow up.
There are some specific topics I have in mind, to that end. First and foremost is, of course, escaping the threatening eye of society and not falling into its traps. Nothing at all is possible when you’re trapped in the irrelevant circumstances of pop culture. Second is art, aesthetics, ideas for the realization of new traditions and the revitalization of old ones. It’s a beautiful world out there, and we, all of us, have a grand tradition of powerful artists. The idea there is: how can we create common ground outside of television after the death of God? Third is science, particularly the social sciences, and ways in which we can know things about topics which have eluded us. This will, it must, start with psychology. It’s impossible to know everything and predict everything about a person, but there are some grounds where we might have understanding. Last, weaving throughout all (I hope), will be at least some practical ideas. Here’s three, to start: the key to escaping Panopticon is friendship and trust, because it’s in contact with those you trust that you can be private without being alone, so find folks you jive with and chill a bunch; the best way to generate a strong moral imperative is to create a beautiful image (or set of images) of an adult and elder, because cleaving strongly to the model of a good person gives you ground to stand on, so find your role models fast and meditate on that beauty; a science of humans must be predicated on free will and habit, so all of its judgments must be categorical and open-ended, of the form “he-she will keep doing this kind of thing (insert examples) unless he-she chooses otherwise.” The judgment becomes a prediction of the type of life someone will lead, and how various types of situations play out. Wait, that’s not the advice. The advice is: apply this logic to the things you do.
This essay has gone on, and it’s rambled, but I hope some of it has spoken to you. All of it is logic I think I can stand by. I’m not so sure about the rhetoric, but I’ll have plenty of time to write the same things over again. The next essay, probably, will be about capitalism, and not in a traditional Marxist sense – more of a “here are some ideas on how to overcome the economic structure of society, so that part won’t hit you so hard, any thoughts?” The focus is practical, as in, how do we practically go about being virtuous humans. There’s been enough writing on the theory.
We have dark times ahead, slow and hollow rather than fast and dramatic, likely centuries of it, but the sun will keep on shining. All that’s asked of us is to work.
First, food and eating constitute another primal metaphor, which is why eating is such a fantastic way to bridge gaps between communities and why culinary restrictions are such a disproportionately big deal to folks, when you consider it’s just what you prefer to eat. The vegetarian/vegan concept of “look, these people are so uncomfortable with us making a moral decision they aren’t that they harass us over something that has nothing to do with them” is off the mark. The real discomfort isn’t with morality, it’s with losing a fundamental ground on which to relate to someone, “what do you mean you don’t like bacon?” Accordingly, the correct response is “C’mon, bacon isn’t everything. Here, have a donut.” Connection re-established. Enjoy your communion and your conquest. Deus vult.
Secondly, this is what’s going on with the young men who get really worked up about not having sex. It’s not something something social pressure something something toxic masculinity, although shit like that can make it worse. The root complaint is: “I am not getting to take part in a primary human experience.” It’s been said before, but feeling entitled to sex in general is different than feeling entitled to sex in specific, although to the desperate the lines start to blur. Regardless, the interesting part is what happens to young women who don’t have sex. Traditionally, the loss of human experience was supplemented by divine experience under the status of virgin, which is why you see some devout Christian women with, ah, slightly too loving of a relationship with Jesus. This is rapidly disappearing, however, preceded by the equivalent male role of the monk, and so a low-hanging prediction is that we’re likely to soon see misandry of the form “fucking shallow men, only care if a woman is blonde/busty/preppy, those bitches get all the sex, it’s not fair.” In fact, I believe it’s probably here already, only masking “sex” with “relationship” or something of that ilk. You know, for propriety. There’s a double standard for you.
Traditional high-libido situations, where a person has a surprising amount of sex with many partners, tend to be some combination of the three: there are multiple people who the person wants to fuck, or a suitable individual for receiving the Eros hasn’t yet appeared, so the desire gets displaced onto several people. Sometimes a different need entirely gets displaced onto sexual drive, and need I say this is unhealthy? I doubt this is an exhaustive list of sexual motives, though.
Incidentally, this is also a pretty good model for psychological addiction. The point of a psychological addiction is replacing something else that’s missing in your life, such as happiness, and satisfying it with a poor substitute. If you’ve been following, this is literally fetishism, which explains why going into a better environment can help with many addictions. In the case where the better environment doesn’t help, odds are it’s because the real thing is still absent or that the addiction has been truly internalized, the fetishized entity has replaced the real thing, and the unfortunate soul is going to need to completely reshape the way they interact with the world in order to do anything but die like a dog.
Worth noting, also, that addictions can be divided like fetishization can. In traditional drug addiction, and similar cases, the addiction is towards a single thing. This is object fetishism, where the object of addiction becomes the complete substitute for the missing. In more new-age addictions, like “video game addiction,” the structure and style of the games match something that’s missing. That is, the games match symbols of the absent, but never truly fulfill it. Keep this in mind for your obsessions.