Friday, November 4, 2011

Embarrassment by Sexual Ecstasy

There's a paradox of human sexuality. On the one hand, wealthy, modern, secular countries are obsessed with sexuality in public places, meaning that references to sex are found in most messages carried in all forms of media, including books, magazines, movies, news reports, and advertisements. The obvious explanation is that sexuality is central to human nature, and so naturally sex is much discussed in open societies. But on the other hand, even in these liberal places, people are averse to divulging the concrete, personal details of their sex lives. Again, on the one hand, romantic love and sexual intimacy are ideals praised literally in most songs, poems, and paintings ever produced, and the marriage industry celebrates monogamous unions which are considered legally void without sexual “consummation.” On the other hand, while the value of romantic love in general is publicly affirmed, only arid signs of affection between partners are tolerated in public places. Even public kissing is scorned. You can hold hands or dance with your partner, but actual sex in public is, of course, typically illegal. You can carry a picture of your spouse in your wallet and wear a wedding ring to symbolize the exclusivity of your romantic love for your partner, but were a stranger to approach you and inquire about your spouse’s favourite sexual position, you would probably punch that stranger in the nose. So we praise sexuality and romantic love in the abstract, but we hide the actual sex. Why the discrepancy?

Before I come to my explanation, I’ll note some complications. First, some societies have arranged rather than romantic unions, and to the extent that these are less intimate or sexual, they fall outside the purview of this rant. Second, some cultures are less prudish than others. Ancient Egypt, Rome, and India were more open to public nudity and representations of sex, featuring statues of phalluses and pornographic paintings. Even in ancient Rome and India, however, people’s sex lives were usually kept private. Third, although Judeo-Christian and Islamic societies are currently the most prudish, superficially because of the influence of the Eden myth, pornography is rampant in secularized Christian societies, largely because of those people’s relative wealth which enables them to access the internet. The stigma on porn, though, shows that the openness towards sex in porn is the exception that proves the rule that we fear there might be something amiss with sexuality, which is why we keep sex itself hidden and private. Also, porn is a substitute for actual sex, and so the widespread use of porn provides additional evidence of qualms about sexuality.

The Paradox of Human Sexuality

At first glance, the conflict between the two attitudes towards sexuality shows only that sex and romantic love are highly valued and thus not to be trivialized by public boasting or other outward displays. This sets up a false dichotomy, though, since there’s a third possibility, between trivializing a highly valued sex life by making it public, and reinforcing a taboo on revealing intimate details by publicly honouring your romantic love only with euphemisms and politically correct signs. Indeed, just as the public rituals of secularized, civic religion mock the presumed depth of modern people’s commitment to traditional religions, so too the expression of romantic love through relatively stale conventional channels, like the wedding ceremony or the rituals of dancing or hand-holding, indicates, if anything, a willingness to sell-out that love. In the archetypal romantic story of Romeo and Juliet, the strength of the characters’ bond is demonstrated by their defiance of cultural convention. Their tragedy is that their romantic love has no home in public and must be kept secret. But that’s true with regard to virtually every sexual relationship.

The deeper reason for the conflict, I think, is that although romantic love is highly valued, this love is also dangerous because it entails secrets which can be entrusted only to the partners in the relationship who form an emotional bond of trust between them. This raises the question of what sort of secret is at issue. In many cases, spouses alone become aware of business and financial secrets which must be kept private, and so the prospect of publicly displaying the inner workings of the relationship becomes a touchy subject. That is, the intimate relationship becomes tainted by an awareness of wrongdoing, and so while sexual intimacy in general may be praised, in practice these close relationships can become corrupted and shameful. Divulging what transpires behind closed doors would require the breaking of confidence and the revealing of personally-damaging information.

This point, however, doesn’t distinguish between sexually-intimate bonds and other relationships that require the keeping of such secrets. Lawyers, coworkers, and Catholic priests are also entrusted with dangerous information and so interactions with them are often kept private. The distinguishing feature of romantic love, of course, is its sexual dimension, and so the relevant secrets between lovers must be secrets about their sex life. A person can be blackmailed just with photographic evidence of that person’s sexual infidelity or of his or her preference for some embarrassing, kinky sex act. A politician can be shamed out of office or his legacy can be tarnished by a public sex scandal. These are secrets that people kill or die for. Those who are given access to these pieces of life-threatening information are, ideally, just the romantic partners who are complicit in the risky acts. How can lovers live without tearing their hair out in panic, knowing that someone else walks around with private information which would ruin the other person if revealed, breaking up friendships, making the person a public disgrace or a pariah? I’ve already suggested a two-part answer. First, the select persons who are privy to that information tend to be those who have as much to lose by revealing it, since they themselves are partners in the sex life which is the source of the threat. Second, those select persons tend also to be just those who develop an emotional, romantic bond, and the feelings of love for the sex partner counteract any fear of vulnerability as a result of the potential for public disclosure of what they do in private.

This still leaves the question of what exactly is so dangerous about sex so that only impersonal, insipid or saccharine references to sex are tolerated in what are superficially highly-sexualized public places. Clearly, Western cultures are influenced by biblical myths, including the myth of the Fall, according to which disobedience to God distances the creature from God, which leads the creature into shameful sin. Members of most animal species know nothing of God and they sexually reproduce. In so far as we perpetuate our species in the same biological manner, we’re animals and thus distanced from God. Thus, our sexual nature reflects our original sin. But this theological explanation deals with a mere symptom of the perceived problem with sex, not with that problem’s cause. Just as Plato’s Euthyphro Dilemma shows that at best religions express our deeper, nonreligious concerns with morality, so too the biblical myths merely report on and exacerbate some deeper cause of our guilt about our sexuality.

The question is what that deeper cause might be. Why does the myth of the Fall resonate and thus why has it been so influential? The reason seems clear: sexuality is the largest thorn in our side, the starkest and most unwelcome reminder that despite our pretensions to our unique value and to our transcendent stature as godlike beings, owing to our consciousness, rationality, and freedom, we are instead embodied animals whose behaviour is largely genetically determined, who live for some decades and inevitably die, to be forgotten in time in an inhumane, pointless, alienating universe. In short, our conflicting attitudes toward sex speak to what I call the horror of Our Existential Situation (see Happiness). We delude ourselves, pretending not just that we can be happy in this world, nor even that we ought to be, but that happiness is our highest ideal. On the contrary, rational, conscious, free beings ought to be the most miserable, renouncing pleasures that are spoiled by knowledge of their natural source.

Sexuality is clearly the greatest such pleasure and thus it’s the cause of our greatest confusion. We can feel happy to some extent, because we’re only imperfectly conscious, rational, and free: we have the capacities for self-delusion, for sloppy thinking, and for being socially pressured or otherwise coerced, capacities that keep us sane and productive despite the angst that lies always under the surface of our life experience. And so we can give free rein to our delusions about the magnificence of romantic love and our innocence in sexual play--but only so far before the facts of the matter overwhelm us, our lies catch up to us and we’re confronted with the horrible truth about ourselves. We can tolerate superficial images of, or whitewashed references to, sexuality in public affairs, but come too close to publicly revealing the secret of what actually happens in our own sex acts and we feel threatened by guilt and shame which are preludes to existential horror and awe at the bleakness of our tragedy.

Sexuality’s Awful Secret

What is that awful secret of sexuality? The secret is actually not so secret. Philosophers and scientists routinely speak about it, since the secret is implied by the secularist’s naturalistic worldview. This secret has at least three aspects which I’ll touch on, but generally the dark truth of sexuality is that we’re not as noble, unique, moral, elevated, rational, free, or as godlike as we prefer and need to think we are to live with what are nevertheless our evolutionary, booby-trapped gifts of sentience and intelligence. We are sentient and highly intelligent, but we like to think we’re thereby removed from the natural world, that we belong in heaven thanks to our true, immaterial nature, or that we’re not held hostage by natural forces since we can exploit them as masters of our own destiny. The secret is that we’re special only in the way that any distinguished animal species is special; indeed, the attributes that distinguish us merely adapt us to one niche rather than another, namely the niche of life in environments we create for ourselves from the raw material of ideas we instinctively generate. Likewise, spiders spin webs and excel in their way of life, and every species under the sun is special in the sense that it’s adapted to its form of survival.

The secret, then, is that we’re part of nature after all, not outsiders as the Gnostics, Hindus, and other theists say, with fragments of transcendent god-stuff in our innermost being, longing to be returned to our true home beyond the cosmos. We’re part of nature in that we’re animals: our bodies are naturally selected and our behaviour is largely genetically determined. Our traits of reason and consciousness give us knowledge and control over some natural forces, but the fact that we’re nonetheless, first and foremost, animals, living and dying alongside the insects, fishes, birds, and beasts in the wild, means that that control must ultimately be futile and otherwise absurd. We struggle to transcend our natural limitations, to push the envelope of human achievement, to pursue our goals and to judge by our standards, but the traits that enable us to appear to be so supernaturally heroic are those that prove we’re mere animals after all since those traits, we now know, are fruits of natural selection or are illusory.

Sexuality is a startling reminder that our self-delusions are there to be deflated by natural facts. The pleasure from sex throws us into our own private world, literally shutting off our perception of anything outside itself. In that solipsistic world, we’re free to entertain one fantasy after another, taking our life partner into our confidence so that our emotional and intellectual backdrop, to which we prefer to return in our private moments, is empathically expanded to include the thoughts and feelings shared by that partner. Sexual ecstasy, then, reinforces the illusion that we’re supernaturally divorced from the cycles of nature, that like gods we create our worlds of culture to inhabit. While we do create those worlds, that creativity is just what makes us animals in the greater wilderness. Spiders spin webs and humans have ideas.

Far from separating us from the animals, sexual ecstasy reduces us to their status since they have sex too! Sexual intercourse is the strategy that birds, reptiles, insects, and even one-celled organisms have evolved to survive and to spread their genes, despite the threat from coevolving parasites. For example, by mixing the gene pool, we put our eggs in multiple baskets, so that an expert at destroying one particular basket can’t wipe us out all at once. Sex is what we cherish the most, what we can’t live without, what we kill or die for. But sex reminds us of what we least want to dwell on, which is the fact that we’re animals, that we’re driven to spread our genes, to use our reason and our social skills to succeed in the way of life to which those traits adapt us. We’re created not by God but by proteins that build our bodies, cell by cell, using the self-replicating code in a sequence of DNA molecules. Even the orgasmic pleasure that seems to shut off the outside world and present us to ourselves as disembodied Cartesian egos is actually, of course, a step in the algorithm of natural selection. The pleasure is caused by the flooding of the brain with endorphin and other love hormones that bond us to our partner and encourage us to reproduce, to help shuffle the gene pool, immunizing us against parasitic attack and allowing for the future genetic assembly of our descendant species in altered environments.

Our real objective on Earth isn’t to be happy, to write a great novel, to travel here or there, or even to fall in love. We may prefer to pursue those goals, but they’re objectively meaningless and in so far as they blind us to our actual, primary mission, they’re delusions. That real mission is just the one we share with the other animals, which is to participate in the cycle of natural selection, by surviving long enough to help mix the gene pool, sexually reproducing with a mate and raising the child so that it too can one day do the same. Of course, to call this a “mission” is still to anthropomorphize the cycle and thus to flee from the dread of contemplating the Lovecraftian reality. Animals have no objective mission, since in so far as they’re considered as complex physical objects, they have no minds nor anything as commonsensical as values, goals, or even delusions. In physics, nothing has a mission, a purpose, or a value, and the same is true in biology and in psychology in so far as they’re objective, reductive, “hard” sciences.

Granted, most people have sex not just to satisfy their primitive evolutionary impulse, but to explore the possibilities of pleasure for its own sake. Thus, we bend our hardware to our will, creatively adapting our instrumental reason to invent all manner of sexual games. We sexualize absolutely anything, so that there are potentially infinite kinks, fetishes, and other perversions of biologically normal, “vanilla” sexuality. But sex reminds us that our dream of freedom from nature is a delusion. Just as we’re misled by the orgasm to deem ourselves free-floating lords of Creation, we take our sexual creativity as evidence of that freedom and of our elevated, unique status. Actually, the genes hold other species on what cognitive scientists call a similarly “long leash,” which is to say that they too toy with their bodies with no regard for their genes, playing sexual games including masturbation.

But more importantly, these games are empty and ridiculous, which is surely why they’re kept secret and why their exposure threatens their participants’ social status. The former American senator Anthony Weiner sent lewd pictures of himself to his groupies, a game facilitated by recent technological developments, and when his game was exposed he was mocked and he lost his job. President Clinton was caught playing sexual games with cigars, overweight women, and blue dresses in the Oval Office, and conservatives impeached him, holding him up for national derision. The hypocrisy on the part of Clinton’s political enemies was, of course, stupendous, since those who most loudly proclaim the imperative of godliness protest too much: the deviant antics of conservative politicians who thrive on theological fantasies of angels and demons are likely quite beyond the pale. The point, though, is that everyone is tempted to creatively sexualize their lives, just as we’re tempted to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, over-extending the use of our talents. But we’re also ashamed to do so, not because of any biblical myth, but because we can easily perceive the idleness of those games.

Sexual perversions are meaningless because they’re accidental: perverts sexualize everything from feet to black leather to the smearing of food on skin, using flimsy analogies between the primary sex act and anything else. Sure, these perversions can be aesthetically or morally evaluated, but because they’re purely for fun they’re also objectively pointless, which is why they really are games, with artificial, arbitrary rules. A sexual perversion is like a roller coaster ride: at some level, the thrill is embarrassing because of its uselessness. Just as we feel proudest when seen at work, we’re loath for anyone of substance to catch us at our leisure. Riders of roller coasters are sometimes automatically photographed so that when the ride is over they can mock each other’s grimaces, but I surmise that the true reason for the mockery is that the grimace substitutes for the rider’s orgasmic face. And what’s ridiculous is the rider’s suspected choice of indulging in some sexual version of the roller coaster, some perversion or other that serves no useful purpose and that’s creatively divorced from evolutionary reality. Perverts are “turned on” by this or that sexual analogy or overextension, but the attractions are arbitrary, whimsical, and thus empty. This is why perverts, which is to say all who succumb to the temptation to creatively adapt the sexual instinct for the sake of personal pleasure rather than sexual reproduction--that is, just about all people who ever lived--often veer from one game to the next in a downward spiral of boredom until they’re thankful that their sexual lusts subside when Mother Nature is through with them and lowers her puppet strings. (For a dramatization of this futility of sexual creativity, see the film Bitter Moon.)

I said there are at least three aspects of sexuality’s awful secret. The first, then, is the existential emptiness of sex. Reproductive sex perpetuates genetic information and as far as anyone can tell, that reproduction serves no purpose, just as there’s no purpose of the sun’s shining or the wind’s blowing. Those phenomena are naturally caused and causes are forced with no meaning or value of their own. We’re desperate to find meaning in what we can rationally comprehend, and so we latch onto theistic and other myths that glorify sexual reproduction and the continuation of our species, but scientists have amassed mountains of evidence that were a comet to lower the final curtain on the sex lives of our planet’s animals, the cosmos would be forced to proceed along its tracks as laid out by natural laws. We are all insignificant except to ourselves and to each other. And reproductive sex is a link in the chain that binds us to the natural world of meaningless causes and effects in which our ideals and dreams are alien.

As for playful, perverted sex, this is meaningless and frivolous as a deviation from the evolutionary force we serve as animals on genetic leashes. Indeed, most of what we civilized people do in our cultures is deviational in that regard, and so we’re the most alienated of animals in our state as emancipated slaves; we're free to pass the time playing fruitless games to distract us from our existential discomfort. We’re secretly ashamed of nonreproductive sex, though, and not just of any frivolous cultural expression, because this sex is a much more daring attempt to break free from natural forces. Perverted sex flouts the genes right on their doorstep, as it were, whereas painting, baseball, opera, or any other nonsexual cultural expression doesn’t tease the forces that run our natural cycle, by approaching an act of sexual reproduction.

The secret’s second aspect is the way sex makes us all hypocrites: in public we play the role of serious, rational, civil adults, while in private we routinely shrug off that role to wallow in our juices like the most mindless of animals. Etiquette evidently consists of rules for a mere charade we play to pretend that we’re not slaves to natural forces. But because we maintain the delusion of our godhood, or to use the euphemism, the delusion of being creatures made in the “image” of God, we’re nonetheless ashamed of ourselves when we run afoul of those rules. Thus, the guilt we feel for our inevitable private betrayal of public norms is another reason we keep the details of our sex life secret.

The third aspect is the way sex reveals that we’re soulless biological machines. After all, sex requires a focus on the body, the very body we now know is built from the ground-up by natural processes. One of our main evolutionary gifts or curses is our ability to imagine what’s in each other minds, and we’re so fond of this ability that we overuse it, seeing minds where there are none such as in the clouds, the stars, or the artifacts we create. The fact that the fate of our minds depends on the state of our bodies is most unwelcome to us, especially in economically-advanced societies in which people have to compete against computers whose minds, in the form of their programming, can be laid bare as separate from their hardware. For hyper-intellectual creatures with platonic aspirations of leaving our bodies altogether in an ethereal paradise after physical death, sexuality is an awkward reminder of our embodiment and of its ramifications. In an orgasm, for example, biomechanical stimulation causes pleasure that temporarily shuts down all other mental functions. Even lovers who are romantically bonded are forced to objectify their partner in the act of having sex, to manipulate the body for lack of any more direct access to that person’s mind, besides communicating with it. Indeed, there are only so many sexual positions, so many ways in which bodies can pleasurably interact, often leading couples to fall into anticlimactic sexual routines, and that also reminds us that while our imagination seems boundless, in dreams or in philosophical speculation, for example, our bodies obviously limit us. To take just the most depressing consequence of our embodiment, physical death amounts to the mind’s death as well. This in turn means that justice is imperfect and that morality is for the weak. In short, sexuality supports atheistic naturalism rather than monotheistic religions, which is a politically incorrect fact and itself a reason to pretend in public, on some level at least, that sexuality doesn’t exist.  

The Existential Horror of Sex

In summary, the paradox of sexuality is explained by the fact that sex is existentially perilous. We’re biologically compelled to uphold sexuality and the attendant conventions of romantic love, and to enjoy the love hormones, which is why sex and romantic love are publicly praised in general. But we’re also potentially horrified by what sex reminds us of, which is that our self-image as civilized, godlike, supernatural masters of the natural order is deluded. When we engage in the primary sex act, for reproduction, we behave as puppets on strings of DNA. When we go our own way, freely sexualizing this or that for our personal pleasure regardless of the genetic consequences, we waste time playing meaningless games that distract us with arbitrary and thus ridiculous perversions. Either way, we’re secretly ashamed of our sexuality, because we’re embarrassed and terrified to learn that we’re animals, not the fantastic heroes in our delusions of grandeur.

Now, I’m not so na├»ve as to assume that most people are actually horrified by sex. Were there so much horror, there would be a lot less sex. My point about the disquieting secret of sex is that while having it, we’re obviously preoccupied by pleasure to think about what’s happening, but that were we to speak of the details of our sex life in public, in the cold light of reason, those details would threaten us with horror. We therefore keep those details private to avoid that confrontation with our tragic existential situation.

Moreover, we’re so addicted to sexual pleasure that we dare not bite the hand that feeds us. If you asked a person in the street whether he or she thinks sex is a source of horror as well as of pleasure or reproduction, that person would probably be mystified as to the question’s meaning. But in so far as sex is just a means of pleasuring each other, this is a most peculiar pleasure, one that must be hidden from view and kept secret at all costs. Perhaps pleasure can be so intense that it becomes embarrassing; in particular, our orgasmic faces might best be kept private. But what gives facial or bodily gestures some emotional impact is their meaning, so an orgasmic face would have to be embarrassing because of what it represents, namely ecstasy that reduces the mighty human to a quivering, mindless receptacle for love hormones. Then again, perhaps we’re ashamed of our naked bodies because we’re not as beautiful as celebrities. But even celebrities keep their sex lives secret. The rich and powerful too would sooner be caught dead than in the middle of a sex act. Again, there’s a small, ostracized minority of exhibitionists or porn stars, but the greater mass of deluded primates denies the obvious, that we’re potentially horrified by what we love the most. And that’s the irony of human sexuality.


  1. again, emergence. The motivations for sex and intelligent thought reduce to the same thing.

  2. Sex also disproves physicalism: Existence is shown to be about emotion/sensation; the physical is revealed as a subset of psychology.

    1. There's a line in the too-broad comedy Big Bang Theory, in which the autistic physicist, Sheldon Cooper, says to someone who makes just that point, about physics and psychology, that that's the rankest psychologism which was refuted by Frege.

      Does sex show that existence is about having experiences? If by "about" you mean this is the biological function of sex, that's not so, since its function is to preserve the genes. We're just the vessels that are discarded from one generation to the next, while the genes carry on. On the contrary, we may have an existential obligation to hold back on sex, to preserve our dignity by revolting against our more humiliating instincts.

    2. I would like to point out that it seems you confuse function with purpose. There are many functions of sex. From a non-teleological point of view, you cannot say that the function of sex is anything than what you see it doing (i.e result). But from a teleological point of view, you could say that the function (i.e. purpose) of sex is to carry the genes (though you may be able to say far more than this). Ateleologically, it does far more than that, though. For example, it gives physical pleasure; it can be part of building a certain type of relationship. Why do we do it? Because we want the pleasure, the relationship, or the kids. Why do we want these things? Our biological mechanisms create desires that push us on to that. Why do they do that? Because the genes have programmed it. What cause that? Purposeless evolution (naturalism rules out purposed evolution). There is no teleological function in such a scheme. We are alive because sex "happened" to function in such a way that the genes continued. But it would have still functioned, even if it did not have that result. In fact, sex cannot malfunction in any meaningful way unless you assume a purpose.

    3. If we're talking about biological functions, we're not talking about teleology or about theistic ones (intelligently designed purpose). Biological functions are naturally selected effects. You're right that sex has multiple effects. It causes pleasure, but that pleasure is an indirect means of preserving the genes since the pleasure causes animals to keep having sex, which normally leads to successful conception of offspring. So the ultimate function is to preserve the genes from one generation to the next, and sex does this, as you say, by producing pleasure, emotional bonds, and so on.

      The point of my article is that one of the reasons people are ashamed of their sexuality is that sex reminds us of something we'd dearly like to forget, which is our biological, animalistic nature.

  3. I can't believe that you would use such sloppy thinking to say: "In short, sexuality supports atheistic naturalism rather than monotheistic religions, which is a politically incorrect fact and itself a reason to pretend in public, on some level at least, that sexuality doesn’t exist." I mean, that for a Christian, the body is not something to be embarrassed about, nor sexuality. Traditional Christianity is not dualistic, and the hope of a traditional Christian is not transcending the body, but resurrection of the body. The physical that is fallen gets redeemed (the whole cosmos will be redeemed). Sexuality may be embarrassing, but naturalism certainly does not provide a reason why (for consciousness in particular). Christianity has explanations that are rooted in its tradition - but of course you have to accept the tradition before the reasons seem compelling. Anyways, none of what you've said shows that naturalistic atheism makes more sense than theism, because you are assuming your conclusion: "We now know that humans came about naturally [without a God] . . . therefore naturalistic atheism is better than theism." !!! :)

    1. Thanks for these comments. I entirely agree that I only assume rather than argue for atheism in this article on sex. I argue for atheism elsewhere. See, for example, "Theism: Does its Irrationality Matter?" and "From Theism to Cosmicism" (links below). There's a whole section on religion in the "Map of the Rants," which you can find at the top right of this blog.

      I'm not sure what you mean by "traditional" Christianity. Christianity has been dualistic since Augustine was influenced by Neo-Platonism and Manicheanism in the 4th C. This isn't the black-and-white dualism of Descartes or the Manicheans, though, since Plato says there's a hierarchy that should be ascended, from the material world up to the Forms and the Good. This allows Christianity to encompass both Judaism (transcendent otherworldliness) and Pagan religions (idolatry).

      So you're right that Christians envision the redemption of nature. The saved will have resurrected bodies, but those bodies will be perfected as opposed to being corrupted like our material ones. The distaste with matter and finitude is still present, then, in this view of resurrection. For example, Jesus's resurrected body was supposed to be physical enough for Thomas to touch his wounds, and yet that body was strange enough that people couldn't recognize him and Jesus could somehow ascend to heaven with that body, presumably disappearing into thin air. Is that the sort of body that would sweat or leak juices during sex? I don't think so. So yes, traditional Christians do want to transcend not all bodies, but our present material ones. And the sense in which the ghostly resurrected body is still a body is dubious.

      You say naturalism doesn't explain why sex is embarrassing, whereas Christianity does (the Garden of Eden story). But here's the naturalistic reason: we suffer cognitive dissonance, because we're intelligent enough to know that we're merely natural beings that suffer and die, that are vessels for our genes, puppets controlled by larger forced like evolution; but we're horrified by those natural facts, because we're also vain and anthropocentric, and since sex reminds us of them we prefer to keep sex a secret. We're humiliated by sex, because sex so clearly shows us that we're animals, not supernatural beings destined for immortality. That's what I argue in this article.

  4. Thank you for your lucid reply. I have not gotten to your other links yet, but I would like to reply to your comments on "traditional Christianity."

    I think that there are several reasons why Christianity and Judaism cannot be regarded as dualistic. The doctrine of creation, for one. I have already mentioned the resurrection of the body. Redemption is not seen as a redemption from original creation as it was, but from the corruption that came into the world through sin - that is, death. It is not clear that bodily fluids will cease with the resurrected body. Certainly the resurrected body can eat. Sex (or at least marriage and reproduction) will cease. But the image of this is not a less real body (as though "spirit" were less real than "physical"), but a more real body. The New Testament speaks of it in terms of what we have now being a seed and the resurrection body the plant. There are going to be differences between the two, but that doesn't negate the former. Christianity affirms that what replaces sex (and all bodily functions) will be even grander than sex itself, just as the plant is grander than the seed. C.S. Lewis (I believe), in discussing Jesus walking through walls, addresses his apparent ghostliness by emphasizing that the reason he could walk through walls was not because he had become less substantial, but that the world was less substantial than what he was. It (the wall) was what passed through him.

    This idea of the physical, even now, being good is reinforced by the fact that traditional Christianity is sacramental. God uses ordinary matter to convey himself (and/or his grace). This can be as simple as the fact that he uses human beings. Traditionally he is also said to use simple elements, like water, bread, wine, oil, laying on of hands, marriage (which is a sacrament that conveys grace!). In fact, in Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox theology, there is no limit to the sacraments, though there is something particularly special in the seven (or two, depending on the tradition). Christianity affirms that sex is good in the context which it was created for - marriage. There should be no shame in that. But one point that the Christians would be quick to point out is that the body was made for the Lord, not for immorality. So whatever we do as human beings, we are only using our bodies and this world properly if we are using them for the Lord. The sacramental nature of the world (according to Christianity) is one of the reasons Christians in the early centuries fought so hard against the various gnostic idealogies which either condemned the use of the body or excused all bodily behavior. They did not have a sense of the goodness of creation nor the fact that to be human was to act in the body (i.e. bodily actions have moral significance). Oh, and did I forget to mention the Christian doctrine of the incarnation? The belief that the transcendent uncreated God would come and become a creature, including participating in all the excretions, is a clear affirmation of the goodness of the physical world. It is sacramentalism par excellence.

  5. As for Augustine, he has influenced the west greatly. Three cautions: 1) though the greatest western church father, his ideas were not fully accepted by the Catholic church. 2) Most of his ideas were not accepted at all by the Eastern Orthodox Churches which were in communion with the Catholic Church for six hundred years after Augustine. 3) Protestants have often reacted in opposite directions regarding Augustine as well as dualism. Some have frankly become gnostic. Others have lost touch with the non-physical claims of Christianity. Of course others have remained more traditional. You cannot mine one church father for the teaching of the church.

    I admit, there is a dualism in Christianity which most people (even Christians) tend to miss: created vs. uncreated. The real dualism is not between spirit and matter, but between what is created and what is uncreated. God is uncreated. Everything else is created. That is why the sacramental involves both material and spiritual ways to convey God's grace (and God himself). God works through both created realms (material and spiritual). Ultimately, though, all that is created is good. So there should be no strict dichotomy between material and spiritual in traditional Christianity. That there are Christians, and even influential ones that have been strongly dualistic in the traditional sense should be no surprise. However, that does not mean Christianity itself is traditionally dualistic anymore than, say, Hawking's influential scientism means that materialists / naturalists all engage in scientism. Just as Hawking is a straw man for atheism, traditional dualists are straw man for theism. [Clarification: traditional dualism = spiritual vs. material; the correct dualism of Christians = created vs. uncreated.]

  6. You say: "here's the naturalistic reason: we suffer cognitive dissonance, because we're intelligent enough to know that we're merely natural beings that suffer and die, that are vessels for our genes, puppets controlled by larger forced like evolution; but we're horrified by those natural facts, because we're also vain and anthropocentric, and since sex reminds us of them we prefer to keep sex a secret. We're humiliated by sex, because sex so clearly shows us that we're animals, not supernatural beings destined for immortality. That's what I argue in this article."

    I do not see an explanation for why we have a cognitive dissonance here. There are so many logical jumps, it is hard to know where to begin. It seems that you assume that it is only natural for self-conscious beings to feel the way we do. But I don't see any naturalistic reason to assume that cognitive dissonance would exist. And even if there is dissonance, why would sex remind us of that? But what we see is that the vast majority of people don't think that genes are everything. As a result, such dissonance should not be at play for the vast majority. I think that there are much better naturalistic explanations for why sexual mores, if they came into existence, would be selected for by evolution. Cognitive dissonance is not an explanation, but just a "fact" if anything at all. That is not to say that naturalism is not true. And you would probably point out that the Genesis account could just be a "just so" story. I grant that. I think that most honest Christians have admitted that one does not come to faith merely through apologetics, because we believe that God himself has a role in conversion. Since he is supernatural, natural sciences could never detect him unless he revealed himself . . . which is precisely what we believe. However, the litmus test would be if the way the world works comports with the Christian vision. That is another question, and I'm sure you have addressed that in the links I have not yet read.

    [Sorry this response is so long!]

    1. I'm less interested in traditional (orthodox) Christianity than in the Gnostic kind and in Essene Judaism, because I think (1) the character Jesus's radical ethics and behaviour are best explained by assuming he was influenced most by Gnosticism and by Essene Judaism, and (2) traditional Christianity betrayed Jesus for the sake of the Church's worldly power. The longer time went on without Jesus's second coming, to punish the world for killing the Son of God, the more Jesus's radical dualism and otherworldly focus were detrimental to the Church's more pressing need of rationalizing its earthly ambitions. The Church had to exist in the material world and so the Church had to bless that world. The centuries of compromises that followed were littered with grotesque betrayals of Jesus--not of "traditional" Christianity, but of the authentic message that gave birth to the abomination that became what I call the world's worst religion (in aesthetic terms).

      Is Christianity dualistic in a Platonic if not in a Cartesian sense? Of course it is. All we have to do is ask the majority of Christians in any time period the following questions: "Where's God? Where's the risen Jesus? Where's heaven? Where do miracles come from?" None of those things are in the material world. Christians are supernaturalists. There's no continuity between natural law and supernatural events. God may understand how they connect, but that's an appeal to mystery. Christians believe there are miracles, which means they assume there's a break between nature and God's interventions.

      This dualism/Platonism is all over Gnosticism and Essenism. The Gnostics understood Jesus as a messenger from a transcendent realm, as someone who came to remind us that we don't belong in this world that's ruled by evil powers and principalities and that must have been created by an imperfect deity, to explain all the suffering (the freewill defense notwithstanding).

      You say, "Ultimately, though, all that is created is good. So there should be no strict dichotomy between material and spiritual in traditional Christianity." I think this Panglossian optimism puts you badly at odds with the character Jesus who was said to have lived as a Jew under Roman occupation. Sure, after two thousand years of Christian compromises with worldly empires, allowing Christians to live as secularists and not at all like the hippie Jesus, Christians can say the world is a fabulous place, sanctified by God. Try saying that if you're impoverished and brutalized by a tyrannical regime. The Jews hated the occupation so much that they violently rebelled and the Romans crushed them in 70 CE.

      Traditional Christianity has made its peace with sex, just as it has with war, with financial wealth, with political Machiavellianism, and with most other sins that can be committed, because traditional, successful and orthodox Christianity is anti-Jesus, a monstrous betrayal of Jesus's otherworldly message and itself a full proof of atheism. But authentic Christianity, like most forms of religious mysticism and esoteric traditions are opposed to sexuality, because those folks set their sights on something supernatural (God, heaven, moral ideals, etc). Those religious people who are not dualists but naturalists are best thought of as atheists or pantheists.

      I elaborate on these points in my articles, "Christian Chutzpah" and "Christian Crudities."

  7. Excellent post Mr. Cain.

    The science-centric ontology espoused by Bakker is not as strong considered from Brandom's inferentialist position. For, if we define tthe business of formalising systems of 'taking true', evaluating their validity, and algorithmically elaborating the rational decomposition of the facts and predications 'taken true' by the system as 'Reason', then, science as such would collapse into the former's functional scope.
    Rational representation, as Brandom qualifies it, requires sentences on the syntactic level, propositional contentfulness on the semantic level, and the actions of inferring and asserting on the pragmatic level (2009, p. 10); what he calls the “iron triangle of discursiveness”.
    If BBT were true then this fact could not itself be scientifically verified; that's because science depends in the first instance on the business of formalising systems of 'taking true', evaluating their validity, and algorithmically elaborating the rational decomposition of the facts and predications 'taken true' by the system. This sort of circularity is quite obviously unacceptable.

    1. Thanks, Nouthesia, but are you sure you're commenting on the right post? Your points about science and Brandom's theory of inference have little to do with the humiliating aspects of sex.

      I think RSB recently discussed Brandom in "Leaving it Implicit." Have you had a look at that? I don't know the details of Brandom's view, but the formal aspects strike me as Platonistic and hard to naturalize. Certainly, RSB won't care much for the notion that we can stipulate things like truth and meaning, as formal matters. What are they, naturally speaking? That's the question for him. Still, to the extent that Brandom's a pragmatist, I think some sort of pragmatism might work as a middle ground between BBT and my view.

  8. Interesting. I can see how the sexual act is a reminder to the anthropocentrist that human nature toils with that of the rest of the animal world and think you've approached this subject effectively. I am not entirely convinced, though, that this explains why humankind is reticent to reveal the personal aspects of its sexuality openly as a matter of routine.

    As it relates to the pervasive superficial presentations of sexuality in the commercial venue, the answer is easy: Sex sells.

    But I think this issue is entirely more complicated than to be able to chalk it up to our embarrassment at being so earthly. I mean, if sexual desire is enough to overcome that fear in order to copulate in so many different ways, why would it suppress the expression of the putative perversions thereof outside the confines of the bedroom of the mind?

    I think the short answer is "it doesn't". Not entirely, anyway. The expression of our human sexuality is found everywhere and is uniquely human in two ways: 1) the form of perversions take on fetishes unlike any other species and the discussions thereof are found in fora everywhere and 2) sexual activity is for the most part restricted to certain times and places.

    The reason behind number 2 has less to do with the shame at being animals and more to do with rules and regulations of efficiency and sanitation. How are we to get any work done if we are having sex in the cubicle and do I want to sit in that chair?

    But we have sex in the office anyway and, far from keeping it a secret, we, men and women, choose with whom we share this information and with whom we do not. Paramount in that decision is the desire not to lose one's job for having violated the rules.

    It could be, as is often said, that the perversion arises because of this repression. Nothing more titillating that breaking taboos, after all. At least, that explains why sex in public is such a common fantasy.

    Another approach to this question reveals why certain other fantasies prevail: Why are we serial monogamists in the first place? The fact that the "rule is coupling" would naturally lead to extramarital activity's taboo. Here, your thesis is most strongly supported, in that there is no small amount of shame attached to having committed adultery, and the extent to which someone will try to keep that a secret from one's partner often rises to murder. But that doesn't keep people from sharing their adultery with close friends with whom they have no sexual relationship.

    But then there are the "real perversions": homosexuality, in spite of the biggest wave of professed tolerance thereof, paedophilia in spite of its longstanding tradition, and too various and sundry fetishes to list. People will do a limited hangout of their adulterous affairs it it will provide cover to keep these secret. But, again, these, are uniquely human, so it doesn't support your idea that they are kept private out of shame at being one of the natural order of things, for so much on that list of fetishes is so incredibly not part of the natural order of things, one might even say they belong in the realm of the ubermensch.

    No, as far as those go, I think the answer is, indeed, in human psychology. It may be that both the uniquely human perversion and the secret-at-all-cost thereof serve each other like chicken and egg.

    I believe you are right to some extent that human society does not succumb to its every urge in public out of a kind of latent desire not to belittle its would be superior nature. But I think this has attachments to a perceived sanitary quality, like humans are better than animals because they don't defecate in front of each other - yet in spite of all knowledge to the contrary, the human being will go to great lengths to decorate the ruse that its own shit doesn't stink.

    Keeping personal perversions secret is something else entirely. I think.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Davidly. In the article I talk about perversions as evidence of our freedom from the animal world. Even if we're the most creative species, which we seem to be, the problem with our attempt to liberate ourselves from the genetic imperative to procreate is that sexual games are so obviously ridiculous, which is why they're generally kept secret. They could literally be used for blackmail purposes.

      We have to distinguish between being open about sex in the abstract and telling the world about our personal sex lives. It's much easier to do the former than the latter. Sex in the abstract can be used to sell anything, as you say. But openness about what each of us does in the bedroom? That's something else. And this is the paradox, that Western culture, for example, is highly sexual in one sense but puritanical in another.

      I wrote this article a few years ago, so I might put the points differently now. But I stand by the thesis that the implications of sex are fundamentally horrifying, so we have to play various games to avoid facing up to that fact.

    2. And thank you for your reply, Benjamin. Not long after commenting, a thought occurred to me that contradicted my reaction in support your main point, which you allude to here again. Namely, the "attempt to liberate ourselves from the genetic imperative", which would seem to be evidence of an unconscious desire not to allow oneself to be so roundly classified as part & parcel of the beastly kingdom.

      At any rate, as I said, I found your approach thought provoking enough to be a constructive analysis either way.

    3. I'm not sure I see the point of the objection. Sex reminds us we're animals. We'd rather be something more. Hence the religious fantasies, for example. Sexual perversions are games played as we pretend we're not fundamentally machines for transmitting genes.

      Now, as I argue in "Can we Transcend the World's Monstrousness?" we do have a special kind of freedom from nature, which leads to enlightenment and angst and horror, as well as to the creation of our artificial (virtually supernatural worlds). But that transcendence is ultimately doomed to fail and is thus tragic.

    4. No objection. I think I inadvertently twisted the syntax of my second sentence. I meant that my subsequent thought (prior to your first reply) was in support of your point and contradicted my initial reaction. My final sentence is just my way of saying that I appreciated your piece and the thinking it inspired even had it not been for that subsequent thought. Indeed, it is what led me to my second comment. Thanks again.

  9. I have often wondered the same and your argument is quite convincing Benjamin and I suspect that you're on the money here. However I do wonder whether there are multiple and interacting causes for the secrecy and embarrassment surrounding sex.

    There are other animals that exhibit a reticence to mating openly and some in specific contexts. I wonder what - if anything, this can contribute to our understanding of the human secrecy around sexual matters. Furtive mating has been observed in baboons, chimpanzees and Rhesus monkeys. I haven't looked into it in all that much detail, but it does seem that out-group liaisons and trysts with subordinate males are involved here. Then there do seem to be endless documentaries where scientists search for the 'secret mating place' of some animal or the other. Whether this is anthropocentric projection or just a consequence the statistical rarity of capturing a sexual act in said animal I'm not sure.

    But us humans been such social social creatures, with intricately social relations that hang in a delicate balance, it seems quite possible that sexual act concealment may serve some pragmatic social function. Copulation is after all at its core, a high stakes, highly charged, status linked, highly vulnerable making event. Or at least that’s what it used to be before contraception make sex for the sake of sex more routine. The ‘audience effects’ are not to be underestimated. One can imagine a number of undesirable knock on effects from jealousy, to envy, to arousing the lust of competing mates with the threat this brings with it. Not to mentioned other far more subtle consequences that could arise from these. The effects of discussing one’s sex life in detail, except in certain prescribed avenues - may have similar effects.

    1. Thanks for this fortuitous comment. I'm just in the middle of writing "Clash of Worldviews: Sex and Love Edition" in which I again take up this argument.

      I think physical vulnerability is a factor, since animals will seek shelter if their means of sexually reproducing make them vulnerable to predators. Some insects, I believe, take days to complete the act. This isn't entirely relevant to my argument, though, for two reasons. I'm speaking of embarrassment even after the act is completed. Also, although we may have a vestigial impulse to seek shelter during the sex act, we now have houses which we can lock so that we can indeed feel entirely secure, in which case the fear would be misplaced.

      Certainly, if we're talking about an illicit affair, there would be fear of reprisal from the alpha male or the authorities or whomever, but that would be an exception since the embarrassment holds in humans even for happily married couples that aren't cheating.

      I agree that copulation is "high stakes, highly charged, status linked" and so forth, but that's more or less my point. Sex reminds us we're animals with such fears and preoccupations. Sex is dangerous, which reminds us we're embodied. It's the conflict between these existential facts and our delusions of incorporeality and civility that I'm trying to get at here.

      Still, these complications you've pointed out are well worth knowing and I'm going to add them to the discussion in the article I'm working on.

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    1. Awesome, I look forward to reading that! It may be hard to boil sexual embarrassment to a single and potent cause. But if there were to be such a cause then your contention i.e. sex reminding us that we are animals, would be a good one. I would like to add some riders though.

      I do wonder if your view-point which seems so persuasive is also situated within a ubiquitous narrow, Western, colonial, monotheistic discourse that is thoroughly pervasive. It lives and breathes even remote Amazonian tribes to some extent. I wonder then if your nod in this general direction is quite enough. Sure you mention murky facts about ancient India, Rome etc. But you do it in a passing way which perhaps conflates the similarities in sexual culture in a way that is artificial.

      Doing a post-colonial and psychoanalytical reading therefore I could situate the seemingly universal existential predicament you speak of, as a very contingent process of racialised identity making of 'self' and ‘other’. The ultimate horror then is not about being an animal per se, but what the animal represents in our post-colonial existence. The barbarian. The outcaste. Does this lead all the way to 'a horror of the animal'. I'm not so sure.

      Some have said that it was not modesty that led to covering up by clothing, but that clothing led to the development of modesty. And with that invention, whatever was covered became taboo - a nether region or a hell. There is evidence that many tribes around the world living in warm countries don't share the same moral topology of body parts we take for granted. Again I myself don't have a whole lot of anthropological material on the sexual practises of 'primitives' but my understanding is that while numerous taboo's and prohibitions existed around sex, they often didn't take a form we would easily recognise. Some practises would easily scandalise us - semen drinking, ritual orgies, sexual sacrifice, open coupling etc. Others would bore us. The boundary wall for acceptable sexual behaviour sure looked way different in some cultures.

      The civilising process does seem to have given a strong revulsion for the body that didn't exist before. I remember reading that when Satyajit Ray's films were screened in Canne in the 1950's, a French woman left the film outraged as she felt sickened by looking at Indian people eating with their hands. Again I wonder to what extent the invention of cutlery, separate rooms, outhouses, of modern drainage systems created a certain emergent netherworld morality of orifices with a built in feedback loop. A ghost that makes it seem like the chicken came first.

      Perhaps the same can be said for pornography. Privacy, rooms, atomisation and personal laptops create taboo through distance. The morality that emerges is shot through and reinforced by new-old monotheistic morals, social pragmatics, post-colonial identity and aspirations to an elite that has now become synonymous with sterility. In medieval Europe when poverty reigned, families were large and private fucking space was at a premium - fornicating, shitting and hand eating peasants were a common sight. That isn’t the case now for the reasons I mentioned.

      I realise what I’ve written above does not invalidate your premise. But I think it does constrain it a lot and casts doubts on its centrality and existential universality.

    2. You're right that I brought up the historical relativism objection only to give it short shrift. The most important division for me is between the paleolithic and the neolithic periods, or between the nomadic hunter-gatherers and the settled, hierarchical folks we think of as more civilized. They're both biologically human, but psychologically the prehistoric hunter-gatherers would have had a very alien, mythopoeic perspective. They represent a link between the nonhuman animals and the "modern," domesticated humans. I talk a lot about this in my articles in the History section of the Map of the Rants.

      I think my argument is consistent with there being different sex taboos across cultures, since the existential distinction is between some such taboos and none. As long as it's pretty universal for each neolithic culture to have some taboo about sex and nudity, that calls for an explanation. I'm fine with different cultures having different ideas about what's titillating. In Victorian England, the dresses were so long that men would have been sexually aroused by even a woman's displayed ankle.

      I don't see how "postcolonialism" is relevant here, but I've heard that word bandied about in some postmodern discussions.

      The idea that the enclosing of space is the origin of certain taboos is interesting. This might tie in with what I say elsewhere about the satanic enterprise of artificialization, the replacing of the undead wilderness with artificial forms (which would tend to be enclosures, even as language encloses by drawing conceptual limits). The Neolithic revolution allowed us to transcend some of our animalistic tendencies, since the artificial, settled habitats trained us to be godlike; more specifically, it led the top one percent to live as psychopathic gods while the betas who toil in what Lewis Mumford calls the megamachines worship those gods and strive to be godlike.

    3. As for the chicken and the egg, I think that circularity should be expected since we're talking about self-organizing complexity. The environment does indeed have an effect on our prospects, since it serves as a niche that opens up certain opportunities and selects social arrangements that fit the zeitgeist. Again, I like to speak broadly about the division between the wilderness and any artificial rearrangement of undead structures. The wilderness would train us to be animalistic, while artificial worlds train us to be godlike, to transcend those impulses--even if that transcendence often proceeds by way of delusion, a point that's reinforced by my discussions with Scott Bakker.

      Your point about the elites vs peasants is interesting. I assume you're right that peasants might have more tolerance for public nudity and fornication, out of necessity, since their space and time are limited. I'd want to explain this in terms of an analogy between the slum and the wilderness. The slum approximates the lawless wilderness and so trains the lower social class to be more animalistic than godlike (where godlike is defined in terms of personhood: consciousness, rational self-control, creativity, etc).

      Your main challenge to the forgoing argument seems to be where you say, "The ultimate horror then is not about being an animal per se, but what the animal represents in our post-colonial existence. The barbarian. The outcaste." I'd rather not go that far with relativism, since I think there is an existential predicament that unites all Neolithic humans, which are those humans domesticated by artificial enclosures, as opposed to the nomadic hunter-gatherers. Cultures may interpret and label those facts differently, but they're universal since they stem from the process of higher-order (rather than holistic, mythopoeic) thought which leads to the modern, individualistic kind of personhood. I elaborate on the latter point in "How Horror Begets Mind from Matter."

      Thanks again for these comments. I'll have to think about them more and I'll address the historicist objection near the end of my upcoming Clash of Worldviews dialogue.

  11. Congratulations, Benjamin, on eliciting so many comments and inciting so many digressions in others' responses and so readily responding to the many creative interpretations, often vagaries, to your central thesis. I question the validity of your title "Embarrassed by Sexual Ecstasy," however, and I wonder if your biological/atheitistic complex thesis is beside the point--totally irrelevant--for anyone who has experienced sexual ecstasy? As Prometheus stated very early on in his blog comment, sex is pleasure, intense pleasure, and if done well it is the greatest pleasure possible. Secrecy in sex is frankly a non-fact in our post-modern internet world. "Make Love Not Porn" website is one example of hundreds of couples who parade their "intimate" sex lives in front of a camera, and that website is one of a plethora where there are no secrets, no shame, and no shaming. For those of us, who find meaning and delight in what Norman Mailer (who outclassed Frege any day as a writer and I read German) called "apocalyptic fucks," sex's biological reality, its locus and its function, are ever present, never forgotten, and must always be dealt with--for the male a decided downer if he has to use a condom. And today being prepared with a condom is a badge of honor, respect, consideration for one's partner, especially because it so limits one's ecstasy, and is never a secret! I conclude by committing the cardinal indiscretion here and that is stating obvious, the non-secret: sex is one of many human forms of communication--as such it is non-verbal, non-discursive, aesthetic.

    1. I don't think sex is just about intense pleasure. Biologically, of course, it's also about reproduction, but more importantly, in psychological terms it's about reversion and the shame-based cover-up for that reversion to preserve our delusional pride of being something called "persons" rather than animals.

      As I say in the article, there are exceptions such as exhibitionists and porn actors. Maybe technological advances will continue to force its users to be open about themselves and even to have no secrets at all, as depicted in the sf novel The Light of Other Days. That would involve a psychological shift in our species. We'd be posthumans, which means that most of us are still defined by our embarrassing intermediate position between animals and angels.

      Just take the F-word, for example. Why is it taboo in North American cultures in which violence and the irrationality of religious faith are celebrated? Sex is embarrassing, but so is religion (gross irrationality is dysfunctional and even illegal in almost all secular contexts), so why do Americans and Canadians freely name their religions but not their sex acts in public? I address this in "Sex is Violent: Why the F-Word is Taboo." The reason is because the F-word calls to mind the forbidden essence of sexual activity, namely the fact that it involves a wholesale reversion, a subversion of civility and paradoxically a sanctioned de-domestication of the human herd. We're brought up to behave as persons, not as animals, but there we go routinely violating that norm and humping like any of the animals we hunt for sport or for sustenance. So you speak of "apocalyptic fucks," but that feeds into my thesis.

      Is sex a form of communication? The intimacy and love that would be communicated, as well as the power games and the kinkiness would nevertheless be so many distractions and consolation prizes. Sex is fundamentally and hideously absurd: autonomous agents (potential persons or existentially/spiritually enlightened beings) are used and degraded by their genes and the rest of their biological makeup, as we're forced to copulate (or to desire to do so) to transmit genetic information for no reason whatsoever but just because the underlying process is robotically undead. Most "people," however, who are called normal are existentially inauthentic, because they take the cultural obfuscations of sex's philosophical meaning for granted. In Jungian terms, they haven't reckoned with their shadow, with their oneness with horrifically undead nature. Sex is a locus in which these psychological and social games and paradoxes play out.

  12. "I don't think" is how you begin your reply. Your rant is not thinking. It is interpretation and personal opinion, and even as such should have some referentiality that applies to what we commonly call reality, or since you prefer some kind of pseudo-science, to facts. Unfortunately in the United States, the word "fuck" is used repeatedly and frequently in conversation, always in Hollywood movies and ever present in pay-for channels, and all-too-often overheard in public places. That is a fact which belies your interpretation that it is taboo. Not elevated language, perhaps, but certainly not taboo. "Sex is fundamentally and hideously absurd." That statement does not refer to the phenomenological and thus existential experience of the overwhelming majority of seven to eight billion humans who inhabit this planet. It is your opinion and your interpretation. I urge caution in using terms such as "existentially inauthentic," or terms like "existential," which originate in Heidegger's monumental Sein und Zeit of 1929 (written during and published shortly after his four year love affair with the brilliant Hannah Arendt). The word Heidegger uses in German for "authentic" is eigentlich. That word has several meanings, and as always, Heidegger never uses a word without deliberately calling into play the entire field of its various meanings. "Eigentlich" can also mean "actual" and of course that is the play on authentic. Your screeds tout your opinions as actual facts. They are not facts. Ancient cultures, apart from the classical Greeks and nomadic Hebrews, revered their kinship to animals. And today, the entire environmental movement in the West works tirelessly also to preserve our fellow inhabitants of this planet, the animals and the plants. There is no delusional pride in this effort. Rant on--that is a democratic right of your Canada--but as we have observed with our Donald Trump in the United States, rants have little use for facts.

    1. To be clear, I write philosophical rants which combine logic and science (via philosophical naturalism) with emotion, rhetoric, speculation, and art.

      You say I’m not taking into account the fact that the F-word is found all over the place in American mass media. Not so. You’re confusing the homonym, when a vulgar character will say “Pass me the fucking salt,” with the relevant sense of the F-word, when “fuck” is used explicitly in reference to a sex act as in “I’m going to fuck you tonight.” The former, utterly vacuous use of the F-word is indeed ubiquitous, but it’s like the proverbial case of protesting too much. The word is used in a way that empties its meaning to deprive the word of its power when it’s used in its proper sense. That is, the word is overused precisely to inure us to its proper use, which attests to the fact that the proper use of the word is taboo. The politically correct way of speaking of sex isn’t to say, “We’re going to fuck,” but rather to say “We’re going to make love.” “Make love” is a clumsy euphemism. The proper use of the F-word mixes love with violence, our potential for angelic posthumanity with our animal nature. It’s taboo to do so, because it threatens our delusional self-image.

      In support of this, type “fuck” into and you get this rare Usage Alert: “For many people, the word fuck is extremely vulgar, considered improper and TABOO in all of its senses. Yet various forms of the word, primarily in its NONLITERAL, slang senses, have increasingly crept into casual use, not only as spontaneous expletives of shock, horror, or anger, but also as verbal tics and common intensifiers, mere indices of annoyance or impatience or even pleasant surprise.”

      You say that “the phenomenological and thus existential experience of the overwhelming majority” of people would be opposed to my statement that sex is absurd. First of all, you’re begging the question when you equate the phenomenological with the existential, that is, with the fundamental. Heidegger may have called his philosophy phenomenological, as though it dealt only with appearances in Husserl’s sense, but Heidegger’s method was to analyze appearances and behaviours, drawing out convoluted chains of meaning back to a pre-platonic form of experience. So that which lies right on the surface isn’t necessarily the same as that which is profound, basic, or essential. It depends on whether our vision is clouded by obsolete myths or untoward propaganda, or whether instead, as Heidegger would say, Being has unconcealed itself to us.

      Thus, what most people would say about their sex life, based on their immediate impression of it, isn’t necessarily decisive in the existential context. Obviously, this depends on whether the majority are clear about how they reconcile their animalism with their potential for personhood, that is, for their independence from nature. So I agree that most people wouldn’t come out and say that sex is monstrously absurd. But deeds often speak louder than words. (That’s what’s written on the side of police cars in Toronto: “Deeds speak.”) And what do people love laughing about the most? What’s the most prolific source of comedy in actual stand-up comedy? Sex. It’s the easiest way to get a laugh, to joke about the foolishness that goes on between the sexes, which is always traced to conditions of the sex act. At the same time, what horrifies people more than the thought of being caught in the sex act, aside from the fear of being victims of extreme violence? Most of us are loathe to make our sex life public because we’re ashamed of it. We can’t easily reconcile the backwardness of the sex act with the modern self-image that props up our pride, according to which the enlightened individual replaces the God that died along with the other medieval superstitions.

    2. You say I tout my screeds as facts. Apparently you haven’t read my numerous articles on how I see the relation between philosophy and science, or the centrality of aesthetics and thus of creativity. See, for example, “The Virtue of Speculation,” “Life as Art,” and “Humanization and Objectification.” To cut to the chase, I don’t say I’m laying out the bare facts. I say I’m exploring esoteric philosophy, which is an art form of making sense of the facts supplied by science. That’s not to say, with postmodernists, that all philosophical opinions are equally valid because they’re entirely subjective. Some tastes in art are better, more ennobling and heroic than others.

      You suggest that most ancient cultures revered their kinship to animals. Here’s another case in which the existential truth is deeper than what lies on the surface, in the exoteric, “phenomenological” impression. I refute your suggestion by pointing you to Harari’s chapters in his book, Sapiens, about how the ancients caused massive, unnatural extinctions. What we say isn’t necessarily in line with what we do. Can we be said to revere what we slaughter? See also Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction.

      You say environmentalists show no “delusional pride.” Really? No delusion in being optimistic about the chances that the deadliest species by far, that’s already committed one holocaust after another, including the termination of all our fellow hominids, will change its stripes? That we’ll wrestle with our greed which commits us to mythical “free market” capitalism, restructure our plutocracies, and save the planet merely by personally being sure to recycle the little bits and pieces left over from our orgy of consumption? No delusion in being optimistic about the Canadian Green Party’s chances of influencing national policy, even though all the seats go to the parties run by the far phonier leaders of the PC, Liberals, and NDP? No delusion in rooting for Bernie Sanders even though, if he did miraculously become president, he’d be even more hamstrung than neoliberal Obama has been? He’d be assassinated long before he could make the American economy safe for environmentalists.

      Sorry, but pessimism is called for. If anything, our role isn’t to preserve life as stewards of the earth, but to extinguish it as the great executioners. Our enterprise is to replace the natural with the artificial. That’s what the facts of history and of prehistory indicate. Our species has engaged in unnatural, virtually miraculous levels of slaughter and we’re still doing it even after our alleged modern enlightenment. We delude ourselves when we assume we’re superior to the animals, whereas ultimately we may turn out to have been much worse. Once again, human sexuality is a locus of these tensions, which is why it rewards philosophical reflection.