Edit: My thoughts on this have changed dramatically since writing this, so what you read here are much older, and less developed thoughts on pornography. If you’re interested in what I think now, you can send me a contact form about it!
My recent post on pornography has sparked some interesting discussion both in my DMs and in the comment section, but I’ll be responding specifically to the comment laid out in the post from kjsav, who also has a YouTube channel if anyone has interest.
The comment he left was quite a good one and very thought provoking – and it also solidifies my own thoughts after writing the blog post as simply not being long enough to accommodate such a complicated topic. Re-reading your own work is a very healthy and productive method of learning, as it can help you recognize potential areas for improvement that didn’t cross your mind when writing it out, hence why editors are pretty great to have, too! But I digress, let’s dig into and properly respond. The comment will be in bold and italics to distinguish between it and my response.
I don’t think you are wrong (although maybe you are). I don’t have a settled opinion on this topic. But I do think there is something going wrong with how some Objectivists are framing the issue of the morality of porn.
“Is porn immoral?” is a loaded question. You don’t ask this question, but I think you might be assuming some of the premises of the question that I would consider “loaded in.”
From the perspective of Objectivism, it doesn’t make sense to ask if specific actions, generally, are moral or immoral. Because we always evaluate the morality of a specific action in its context. “Is killing immoral?” “Is lying immoral?” These questions aren’t good. One would always answer, “It depends on the context.” We can say, in an overwhelming majority of contexts that people find themselves in, killing someone in those contexts would be immoral. But the killing isn’t the essential. Say, desiring the unearned is. And, probably and ultimately, some kind of evasion. When people ask, “Is killing immoral?” they are presupposing an intrinsicist morality. They are assuming that certain actions, “in and of themselves,” are immoral. That is, the action is “intrinsically” or “inherently” immoral. I believe this language was thrown around in the DDV podcast from this weekend.
The better question to ask oneself is, “In my context now, is porn watching moral?” Or, to get at the principle, “What is the line between moral porn watching and immoral porn watching?” And finding that line would be finding the principle that guides you in deciding when it’s beneficial for you to watch porn or not (and this principle probably guides more action than just porn watching).
I’m glad that “Objectivists” is written in, because it pertains to specific individuals who adhere to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, and not necessarily an issue with the philosophy itself – this is called precision in writing! Granted this applies to all people as a whole, too. Lots of people load their questions, and they may not even realize it. In this context specifically, I think many Objectivists often just echo what Rand thought about things, ie with porn, which she called “Unspeakably disgusting”. I think there’s much more to it.
The overall summary behind the above quoted paragraph is that some people base their conclusions on presupposed value judgements, rather than examining the topics in question objectively. I agree that “Is X immoral?” is not a great question, because it essentially traps the topic into an ultimatum – it is either good or bad. This level of absolutism is useful in very specific contexts, but generally with high level abstractions it cannot be summarised with an absolute answer until it’s thoroughly examined and its context is elaborated upon. Knowledge is heirarchical and concepts have antecedents that we need to make sure are accounted for prior to making a proper judgement.
Now, examining things from the aforementioned question framework can be done, but framing is important – it is better to ask “What value does X bring to human life?” or “What gave rise to X to be considered of value to individuals?” These questions specifically refer to the concept, its relationship to an individual, and how it can (or cannot) be of value to their life.
When asking questions, it needs to start from looking at reality. You build from strong, ostensive foundations. This is also why I’m careful with my words – there are a lot of package deals behind the words we use. Nothing is intrinsic. Next part!
Again, I don’t think you are making this mistake in any obvious way in the post. But I do see some evidence of it. For example, you say, “When one masturbates to porn, they’re implicitly sanctioning the act of sex as being fine just on the material realm. . .” And, later, “. . . they are implicitly telling themselves that being a spectator and watching others pleasure each other in a purely materialistic way is ‘good enough.’ I see these statements as perhaps implying some intrinsicism because it’s not clear to me that watching porn necessarily involves implying these things. If someone masturbates, they aren’t implying that “I don’t need sex; self-stimulation is enough.” Similarly, if they watch porn, they don’t need to be implying, “sex is just fine on the material realm.” That this isn’t implied is most obvious when you consider animated porn. It depends on what you are doing with the porn, and why you are watching it.
This is a good point, and goes back to my thought that the post was not long enough to encapsulate everything about porn.
As mentioned in my previous post, I do think there is validity to pornography, but specific types. I think that me being more specific was necessary here – I consider the realm of animated porn as something akin to eroticism as it is an imagined scenario of sex rather than the explicit act in reality. This refers back to maintaining context – it depends!
When I was referring to masturbation to porn and implicitly suggesting pure materialism is fine, my intention was ultimately that sanctioning the performers and enjoying it implies that it is fine to be this way. An example to concretise the context: hardcore pornography where it’s simply actors and actresses taking money to have sex. There’s no love or spiritual connection, but rather just the physical act for the sake of monetary gain, and the spectator enjoying that. That, to me, is sanctioning materialism and devaluing your sexuality and body.
As mentioned as well, I think that a rational couple who are in love and are exhibitionists enjoying themselves by sharing their sexual acts online is fine. As the comment has mentioned, the context really matters, and I’m glad that he has pointed it out, because it highlights the importance of rigorous, focused thought.
Or consider what you say about earning sex. Yes, sex is something to be earned (good sex). But porn is just masturbation. You have to earn masturbation too, and people with low self-esteem don’t enjoy masturbation as much as people with high self-esteem (this has been my observation, and it integrates well). So, enjoying porn is also something to be earned. But it depends on what you are doing with it.
Consider this analogy. “Money is something to be earned. When you automate your farming business, you aren’t doing any work. You didn’t earn the money, unlike someone who put in all the manual labor. Therefore, automatization is wrong.” Automatization can be wrong, if someone just copies someone else’s brilliant invention, and employs it unthinkingly. They won’t be happy running that business (although they will make money in this economy probably). The automatization is a technology, that reduces labor cost and allows for the farmer to spend his time on other things. Similarly, porn can be conceived of as a “psychological technology.” It can facilitate the imagination, making it so less effort is spent on the creation of the visual/auditory elements, and more imagination can be spent on the backstory and the context of the sex. So, porn can be used for this purpose (I’m ignoring at this point, the ‘immorality’ of the actors. Which, I think, can be looked at apart from the, say, psycho-epistemology of porn watching).
A very good analogy was used here regarding automation, and highlights an aspect of earned and unearned wealth – second handedness.
It’s precisely this reason that a man who copies or “earns” his wealth by relying on another’s mind that leads to said unhappiness. Automation is valid and good but in relation to an individual. However, taking that automation from another and not applying your mind leads to dissatisfaction and low self esteem. You never got there because you’re capable, but rather because others are.
But right, I’m in agreement with sex and masturbation both being earned, and the context matters. This is something that I wanted to actually delve into more during my write up, which is the nature of online porn and old school, hide in a bush with your friends and a magazine porn.
Online porn is free. Separate to the psycho-epistemological evaluation of the performer’s, when one takes their product and uses it for their own purposes for free, that was never an earned reward. I think that this part, specifically, is behind much of the negative effects and conditioning that porn can have on an individual – there’s no effort to acquire the porn, it’s just there. Someone has worked to automate (autoplay vids!) and produce the porn on a website, and the viewer is taking that and using it without application of their mind.
On the other hand, purchasing porn or working to acquire it requires effort on the part of the individual. It requires financial investment and evaluating choices based on what they like. Thought is applied, and earned. What type of porn is a different variable which I think we’ve now established is important, but the earning of it is also another variable that I think has lots of merit.
It is an interesting observation where individuals raised in the age of snail mail had the same curiosity and desire for pornographic material just as individuals of today, but the way it was acquired was different, and the effects – at least according to studies and anecdotal observation – are quite different. This is a question not on the value of porn, but rather how one acquires their values and what effects it has.
Again, I’m not saying you are wrong about porn, but I don’t think I agree with the thrust of your argument. I don’t think your argument considers what porn makes possible with respect to masturbation. But I don’t “totally” disagree with you.
I enjoy thrusting, however I think that you’re correct in that my thrust was not as detailed as it needed to be, and hopefully this response has provided much more insight. It has certainly sparked some new ideas and thoughts into my own position on it all!
Have a Merry Christmas, readers.