Monday, March 23, 2015

Commentary on Sex

A friend pointed me to this article, which inspired a small rant on sex.

Good grief. I simply don't understand the "sex is violence" meme. That is not how I see it--and I find those experiences, all vicarious for me since I have never been party to violent sex, the opposite of inspiring. Unless the point was to make me want to avoid intercourse (and maybe fight someone, or least punch something).

The idea that one could have sex without any emotional hang-ups is similarly ludicrous to me. I just don't get it. There is no way I find myself in the position of not caring what happens to someone I know that way. So I don't understand the "sex is meaningless fun" meme, either. I do not think of myself as particularly prudish (though I certainly was that way at one point in my life). Even when I was a prude, that prudishness was something I aspired to apply primarily to myself (sometimes pretty harshly) rather than to others (whom it was never my place to judge). Getting married was very helpful when it came to defeating the negative aspects of this prudishness where these existed (primarily as reflections of self-loathing on my part); but that did not make sex meaningless for me, something that didn't particularly matter or connect me with other people (as people). More like the opposite: I became more acutely aware that people matter, that one cannot relate effectively to caricatures or stereotypes, that real love-making is about building people rather than breaking them.

Breaking people isn't even fun, from my perspective. If I were offered the chance to have sex without natural consequences, without emotions--I would not want it. The same way I wouldn't want to eat 'food products' deprived of all their nutritious value. The prospect of being allowed to eat meals of empty foodstuffs constantly (or ingest endless rounds of cheap alcohol or another 'fun' drug) would not make me happy. I would not choose it. In the same way, I would not choose to have sex without any emotional consequences, without any kind of relationship existing outside the particular expression of love that sex is. Eating one breakfast means not eating another one, at some point. Making love with one person means not making love to someone else. We cannot relate equally to all human beings. We cannot love all alike (unless we deliberately isolate ourselves from the kind of particular relationships that are familial, becoming monks and nuns, who are often celibate--not because they are prudes, but because they recognize the consequences of sex and seek to avoid them, to cultivate goods that sex obviates or negates). I think there are people for whom non-monogamy works better than it will work for others. But even these folks must recognize some limits, some boundaries beyond which they do not pass--unless they want to dissolve their relationships (and that will be hard, often really devastating, even if the relationship in question is a bad one).

We used to advise people to "think of the children" when letting their romantic fancies roam. We might also advise them to think of their spouse(s), who will always have (strong) feelings about the integrity of their relationship. We might even advise them to think of themselves, as beings incapable of transcending the need for human companionship that is more than momentary, that has more than sex to sustain it. To me it seems that the fetishization of sex, its reduction to the most important activity in romantic relationships, has impaired our ability (collectively anyway) to recognize that other things are at least as important, that sex without those things is not really worth much.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why Do Wealth and Peace Exist?

A friend asked this question, and I wrote an answer.

Wealth exists because we invented agriculture, which gave us year-round access to stores of food from which some people can exclude others. This is why poverty exists, too, incidentally. I see wealth and poverty as two aspects of the same thing: scarcity. Foraging societies (like the Hadza in Africa) don't have the artificial scarcity that we civilized folk have, because every individual (including even fairly small children) knows how to go out into the bush and get food, shelter, and friendship (the basics we all need for survival: they don't call this wealth; it is simply life).

Peace exists when depopulation (from disease, famine, or war) gives agricultural societies breathing space to grow their wealth without having to protect it from other people. I see peace and war as fundamentally the same thing, complementary expressions of agricultural demographics. When foraging societies settle down to live in villages and cities, they become more fertile (producing more people in less time: this is peace--e.g. the Ara Pacis in ancient Rome, with pictures of motherhood on it). More humans (the outcome of greater fertility) means we need more stuff (wealth). Since we are sedentary and can only get wealth by access to land that we own (fence and work extensively)--we have to go out of our native habitat (overcrowded and overworked as it is) and occupy other land (virgin land). Eventually, we encounter other people--and the outcome of that meeting becomes war (not just the feuds of individual hunters and clans, which transcend agricultural society, but the organized genocide that is civilized war: we don't want mere revenge or justice or whatever; we want your land, and its wealth).

Mercantilism and colonialism (or in their latest guise, globalization) allow us to enjoy peace and war, poverty and wealth, simultaneously. I send troops to Peter's land to take it or its wealth for me, and then sell that wealth on a "free" market to Paul, who has no idea that his diamonds come from the death of child-soldiers abroad. Poverty and war are outsourced to the frontier of civilization, so that the rich urban center can enjoy wealth and peace. To quote one of my favorite historians on the essence of peace: Auferre, trucidare, rapere falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.  

In sum: wealth and peace exist because somewhere someone died (often miserably and involuntarily, sometimes voluntarily or otherwise nobly).