excerpted from caro's journal: topic: pornography

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2000-11-09:19:27

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Bad news! I met Rion on Tuesday for Splendid Frizbee and a Murderous Uphill Ride at Black's Beach, and saw an official sign that said "No Nudity." Although I had no intention of becoming nude that day, or most days even , I found that very disappointing for the neighborhood. I do have some preferences against nudity in certain places, but these have nothing to do with sex and everything to do with sanitary conditions. Buses and theaters, for example, would be asking for a lot more janitorial work, if people were invited to use them without clothing. One can barely count on people to wash their hands before handling food in restaurants or to bring a towel with them to the gym; I certainly wouldn't trust people to be clean enough to sit in my theater! But on the beach? Why should anyone care?

Revisiting my list of objections to pornography: This is a pretty easy one, I think: That the people who model for pornography a re desperate, and don't have any good reason for doing it.

Since I don't personally know people who model for porn, I can't say anything about any model's motives for doing it. However, I can say a lot generally about people's motives for engagin g in money-making activities.

1. What is the motive most people have for engaging in money-making activities? Most people do it because they need the money. If you consider the number of people there are in the US, say, as compared to the number of kinds of ways there currently are to make money, you'll see that most people are not doing their jobs because they love them and can't imagine wasting their time with anything else. From my point of view, my going to work in a cubicle somewhere would b e an act of desperation: I would have to need money so badly and be so at a loss to think of anything better, that I would be willing to do again one of the most awful things I've ever done. It could happen, too! The mere fact that some people work this way for extended periods and don't know anything else, doesn't make it any better, if they'd really like something else more. So then the question arises: how many jobs and professions will we question on the basis of the fact that some or many of the people who partake of them, are just desperate for money and have no better motivation than that?

This is not to say that we shouldn't question them. I'm merely suggesting that we try to use consistent standards across professions.

2. Now I'm tempted to say something about degradation of women in other professions and jobs, given the above. But nothing detailed today. Only this: degradation is in the heart of the sufferer. I can recommend that someone get out of the cubicle and find a better, less degrading way to make a living, based on the way I would feel if I worked in a cubicle. That says nothing about the way the cubicled person feels. Similarly, there's not much point in declaring that porn just is degrading to women, if the particular woman doesn't feel degraded. And if other women feel "metaphysically degraded" knowing that she's doing it, that is really none of her business. True, she might simply not understand the psychological effects it has on her. But maybe she really does have a different attitude toward it than onlookers.
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2001_07_31:00: More Leg, Less Personality

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How do boys in this culture find out what women are for?

Some people say it's by reading pornography, much of which is degrading to women. That's why pornography has to be limited: so boys don't grow up with the wrong idea of what to do with women, and girls don't grow up with the wrong idea of what they should tolerate.

Degrading pornography may reinforce already-terrible ideas, but I don't think that's the source of them for most kids.

Open the daily newspaper. Full-page ads depict women in their underwear. That is what women are for: to parade around naked through a man's day, through his political news, his accident reports. Everpresent naked statues, lifeless, opinionless, but mostly naked.

Watch television for an hour. One commercial after another depicts harried housewives preparing less-than-satisfactory dinners for their men who then complain bitterly until they women buy a particular brand of food-augmentation. This year, the orange juice council even made one in which the obese, unattractive husband moans childishly at the table, while his wife does the dishes, because the breakfast she's just cooked and served to him includes only a six-ounce glass of orange juice: "It's not like I'm asking for cable tv; just bigger glasses." He points out that orange juice is useful for reducing his cholesterol level, and suggests that it is her responsibility to see to it that he gets the right dosage for his overweight health. Apparently, if he walked to the dish cabinet and then to the refrigerator himself it would constitute an unjustifiable expenditure of precious calories. That's what a woman is for: to cook him breakfast, serve it, wash the dishes while he eats, then listen to him complain because he didn't get it served in the glass he wanted.

A woman's job is to make sure that the coffee is made the way her man likes it, to choose the right kind of macaroni, to get the floor as clean as humanly possible, and to figure out what's best for the children and give it to them. Her job is definitely to be in the home.

According to television, it's OK that men don't learn how to change a diaper, cook a meal, or wash the dishes. It's funny, in fact. Boys will be boys! Whadderya gonna do? [amused shrug]

It might be objected that all these images degrade men too. The suggestion that they can't cook, clean, or diaper worth a damn is degrading to their intelligence, humanity, sensitivity. I think that is true. Most men I've met aren't nearly that stupid, paralyzed, or spoiled. But if you asked me to choose whether I'd rather be degraded by having it suggested that I'm incapable of performing menial, boring tasks and that it's ok for me to run off to sporting events or my demanding job and leave someone else to do them for me, or degraded by having it suggested that it's OK for some man to demand and then criticize all the menial tasks that he can't be bothered to even try to learn to do and that it would be best if I did them naked and didn't obtrude too much on his important and world-moving day--well, which one do you think I'd prefer?

Where do boys find out what women are for? Look around. Pornographic images are just expressions of what the culture presents as unshakable truth.
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2000-11-06:02:43

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Public nudity: I've never really understood the fuss about public nudity. I was explaining to some friends recently that I thought it was a bit strange that I could go to the beach practically naked and no one w ould make any comment, while if I walked off the beach and onto the street, my almost-nudity became cause for loud and obnoxious comment from men in cars driving by.

I continued by saying that I thought it was silly that on Black's Beach, one cou ld be completely naked, while on the adjacent La Jolla Shores beach, this was unacceptable.

The idea was then put forth that there were certain contexts in which nudity is ok, because the sexual organs are sacred (in some secular sense) an d should be hidden from view except in limited contexts. Not much of an argument was forthcoming at the time, but in view of the definitions I looked up and reported here last night, pornography and public nudity would seem to be related in the sense tha t, if one is morally wrong, maybe the other is too.

The intent may be different, but I'm usually suspicious of judgments that must be based on intent. In particular, I can say that the intent of an action was immoral, without committing m yself to the judgment thatthe act itself was immoral. For example, I could praise someone's unusual attributes with the intent of exposing them, hoping to embarrass the person whose attributes they are, while seeming to admire. The intent is evil; but pra ising someone's attributes is not. I can also do terrible things without intending to: if I kill someone in my car because I wasn't able to break fast enough, the killing of the person was evil, but the intent was not. I have done evil, by accident.

So, back to pornography. Last night's definition said that pornography's intent was to create sexual excitement. Leaving aside the question of whether that is evil, or evil in certain contexts, that may or may not be the intent of walking naked on Bla ck's Beach. One may only intend to experience freedom from clothing in the outdoors, or to get an even tan, or any of a number of other things. Whereas pornography doesn't seem to have any other intent.
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2001-04-05:02: Porn, Dogs, and Seduction.html

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More notes for developing essay.

Pro: Hooray for the internet! Pornography on the web allows for honesty and information that has never before been possible.

People who create porn sites are telling us exactly what they want. That's good information for the rest of us, if we dare to look at it. What we find is that there are a LOT more desires, and kinds of desires, than any one person could possibly have imagined. And these sites get traffic. What does that mean, and where will it lead?

It's a new outlet that just wasn't there before. However strange someone's desires may seem to others (or to that person), generally people like to share their values with other people. Since only the very narrowest form of activity is officially considered sex, just think how hard it must be for people with even slightly off-beat interests to share. You can't bring it up in polite company, and in impolite company you're only allowed to make rude jokes about it. How do you find reflections of yourself? And what do you do, if you can't?

Human beings have always tried to put themselves and each other into such a small number of strictly-defined boxes, that this must always have been the case.

Some of us didn't want to learn these truths about each other, so every non-male-female-missionary thought was forced underground. But like Catholicism, and Objectivism, if you force something underground, you can't see it, and if you can't see it you can't control it. And then when it explodes onto the surface it's bigger than anyone expected.

And suddenly, people can be more honest. Catholicism becomes a commonplace; you used to get killed for it, and now you can talk about it casually and no one even listens. Objectivism was forced out of more conventional venues...and onto the internet, of all the worst places you could possibly force something that you wished would go away. And so it is with pornography in all its (currently) amazing and horrifying and degrading forms.

In a way, this is an argument for the internet. But it is also an argument for pornography. Porn is a catch-all term for a seemingly endless variety of desires that individuals have. With the ability to self-publish for very little money, and to make money from the expression of desires that may have seemed one-of-a-kind before, people are free to be more honest. That has to be good for the people expressing themselves, and I think it's good for the people who never wanted to know it but stumbled on it anyway. These desires are real, they are out there. I've seen a few documentaries that recount the horror people experience when they find out after a year or two (or more) of marriage that their lovers would like to engage in behavior they find revolting. Given the kinds of stuff you can find on the internet, this must happen an awful lot, and there must be a huge potential for it to happen where it hasn't yet. It seems that this has got to become less and less common, as it becomes more and more common for people to openly express what they want.

One might object that nice, missionary-type people are more likely to do weird things if they see that other people are doing them, that it would have been better if they just thought they were all alone with their weird desires and they kept it to themselves. But why? Why isn't it better for people to find people to share with, instead of being alone, and dishonest? One might fear that the weirdoes would be more likely to force their interests on unsuspecting persons. But that's rape, of course, and doesn't really have anything to do with having desires. Desires are about what you would like to do, not about what you're going to force someone else to do.
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2000-11-04:22:26

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Interesting! The perennial subject of words that we use without definition was floating around in my mind today, because of a submission to the Dictionary list (on the concept ACHIEVEMENT). And having posted an analysis of that concept and trying to comprehend the kinds of examples that people say are clearly not instances of productive work (such as child-rearing and relationships), it occurred to me that I have never even looked up the word 'pornography' in the dictio nary. We all just know what it is, don't we? You know, dirty pixchers 'n' stuff.

So I made amends just now and looked in Random House, my first source for all words (much more portable and visible than the OED). Here's what it said for the deriva tion:


1840-50; < Gk pornograph(os) writing about harlots (porno-, comb. form of porne harlot + -graphos -GRAPH) + -Y]


I didn't know that! (I say this a lot, don't I. I guess I don't know very much.) Writing about harlots. Of course, now I have to look up 'harlot', which turns out to be very interesting too, in its derivation:


harlot, n. a prostitute; whore. [1175-1225]; ME: young idler, rogue < OF < i>herlot, of obscure orig.]


So pornography is writing, intended to create sexual excitement, about people who expose themselves for money. At least, according to hacked-together definitions from this dictionary.

Wha t is sometimes termed erotica then falls squarely under this concept, if we cut out the bit about "exposing themselves for money". A lot of people, I think, would object to that, saying that there is a difference between pornography and erotica. I' ll have to look on the web for this difference, I suppose. This dictionary says that erotic is writing about sexual love, while it says that pornography is writing intended to create sexual excitement. I suppose the difference is supposed to be that one t ype involves love (i.e., minds), while the other might involve bodies only. But people use 'love' in a very loose way when it comes to sex: does it mean deep desire? Satisfying desire? This is a standard dictionary: does 'love' mean something selfl ess? Pornography is selfish, while erotica is selfless? I'm sure some people think of it that way!

Can't face the OED on this tonight.
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2001_07_17:17: Physical Things

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According to my theory of propositions, meaning is not in linguistic entities, and so it is not in books.

If this is the case, then artifacts are not in and of themselves pornography. There must be someone who looks at it and interprets it as erotic. There must be someone who eroticizes.

This explains why a piece that might be considered important, sophisticated art by one person is just something to masterbate to, for another. It explains how ordinary objects and events like keys fitting into keyholes and trains going into tunnels can stimulate someone to think about sex.

This is good news for libertarians, and bad news for the religious right.
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2001_04_10:18: Irrational Man

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Let's play "Tease the Libertarian Parent"!

How old do your kids have to be before you think it's OK for them to view porn on the web? On tv? At the movies? Would you want to be with them while they viewed it, or would it be ok for them to do that by themselves at least some of the time? Would you want to be the first to introduce them to it, so that they'd be ready for their friends' editorial commentary?

One libertarian parent I spoke to this week said that his 9-year-old doesn't have the physiological capacity to understand sex, so he wouldn't want him looking at it. Is that really important? It seems to me that a child's whole day is full of things he cannot understand yet, things that just fade into the background as The Uninteresting. Gradual exposure to confusing things is what determines when they are ready to understand written language, music, billboards that employ puns, The Constitution, and computers.

A child of nine may not be able to have adult-like sex; but why does that mean that they can't understand something useful and interesting about it? Children at that age can't drive, either, but no one is hesitant to show them cars or let them watch a driver in action. What is the difference?

And why are parents usually about 3 years too late to be the first to tell them anything? (Maybe Being Late with Information is strongly selected-for in the evolutionary process. :-)
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2000-10-26:07:10

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Real dolls: should I add this to the paper? Or are sex toys not closely-related enough to porn?

They seem to me to bring up the same issue: one of the objections is that people should be having sex with real people, and porn makes it possible for them not to (or actually prevents them from doing so). Real dolls should fall under the same objection. Have to see how the arguments develop.

Add to Benefits: Practice, not just physically, but in habits of thought and feeling.

Interestingly, this benefit, too, can be interpretted as a drawback. It looks like a lot of the points are going this way, which seems to indicate that the morality of pornography is a derivative issue. It is often said that the real issue behind controversy over porn is freedom of speech, and, therefore, rights. But that seems too simplistic to me at this stage in my thoughts. For one thing, one can grant that there is a right to make and consume porn, without granting that it is moral to make and consume it; and so the problem reappears as soon as we've done the rights analysis.

Nevertheless, there seems to be something broader that stands behind the issue. I mentioned information last time. Information leads to knowledge; it also leads to mistakes if the information is faulty or if the information is given out of context or to someone incapable of interpreting it correctly--thus we worry about children consuming porn, as their context and capacities are at various stages of development. We can worry about adults too, if their context has been limited--and whose hasn't? A sheltered geek may have no real experience with sex, but have a world of internet porn to bathe in, and yet only choose whatever he happens to come to like first.

But why would we assume that limiting the information further would be better? Expectations are dependent on many variables, one of which is information. So if information is low, expectations will be low--and that will lead to a lower disappointment rate? Hm. Unfortunately for this take, the drive for physical sexual pleasure is built in pretty firmly. You may not know exactly what you're missing, or even know that you're missing something, but you will probably still feel the lack. People can't always say exactly what is making them unhappy or feeling unfulfilled, and certainly we wouldn't expect them to be able to say, if they had never even heard of anything better than what they are getting.

And so, to psychologize a bit, limiting information on these grounds looks very bad, in terms of results and motivations. The motivation doesn't have to be "evil" or meanness to be bad simply because it is unencumbered by the thought process.
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2001_07_20:18: Social Considerations

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Wrote 20 questions for a selector today, involving pornography and rights, then read it to Tom on the phone. It made him laugh so it must be good.
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2001_06_20:16: Testing

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Will respond to Jamie Mellway's journal entry as soon as I can.