Friday, January 17, 2014


Sex (undefined) has become dominated and commodified by commerce and the law -- both of which are written formulations that have been devised by people in the ten millennia since agriculture, towns, and writing were invented. As soon as everything could be made into marketing, bookkeeping and religious institutions, as soon as sex could be codified and subjected to policing, sex became entirely different from what it was in the hunting/gathering days.  The family became different as well.  Lock up your daughters, own your sons.

Sex when desired has become the very definition of freedom, power, and survival.  But in some ways it has remained the same as in the Old Testament walled towns and on their chariot plains of war -- maybe deformed or disguised, but still essentially instincts that lead either towards or away from survival.  Of course the drive to produce babies has to continue, and the same force can be transfigured into art, science, war and loving relationships, as well as tumultuous partnerships and rivalries as in “Game of Thrones.”  It takes a whole lot more than conception, gestation, and delivery to produce a human being.  It takes all the art, science, and loving relationships we can muster.  But those may not be attributes that will help survival of individual or family.

In the past decades we’ve been slowly and sometimes secretly sifting the debris from Sixties experiments.  Some of it works and some of it doesn’t.  The taboo against acting out bits of hippiedom -- like long hair, pot, free love or going nude -- has weakened, sometimes with bad results.  Reaching into the Asian or African or otherwise Empire-gripped corners of the world means becoming aware of child trafficking, slave labor, torture to the point of mutilation and death.  They’re also here in the United States if only as tourism and images. War and economic hardship mean that the most destructive aspects of what might have been positive freedom instead leaps up in conflagrations like school shootings, mass unemployment, pandemic, riots.

A big part of the puzzle has been gender roles (as distinguished from sexuality).  Male and female have been assigned opposite ends of a binary system:  men are hunters, women are gatherers; men are warriors, women are prostitutes; men want sex without love, women want love without sex; men are about equipment, women are about technique; both want money and power (or NOT), both want children (or NOT), both want security mixed with adventure (or NOT).  But these are generalizations and they aren’t true of everyone.  It is not true of everyone that they are either male or female or some mix.  Some are entirely other, maybe in ways that cannot be seen.

A recent political movement claimed all humans are alike, regardless of gender/sex.  That was provably wrong, but overlapping bell curves can be defended in most dimensions: size, different kinds of intelligence, different kinds of physical ability, different kinds of temperament and so on.  Some things negotiable or trainable, but other things decidedly NOT.  The goal was to prove that men and women were just as good as each other, but saying they are identical is not the same as equal.

A hunting/gathering culture was not romantically happy and pain-free, the jolly world of Tarzan and Jane.  Nor are hunter/gatherers extinct, and I don’t mean they persist in the Amazon or African jungles.  Hunting/gathering is like economic water, flooding under and trickling through the built environments, whether skyscrapers or highways.  The hunting/gathering environments -- dark, secluded, beneath, wet -- must often be shared with creatures other than humans: cottonmouth snakes, raccoons, possums, rats and bats, and the feral domestics.  Bugs.  Therefore, sex in such places is likely to be the kind excluded from orderly, prosperous, accumulating houses with lots of light and plumbing that never fail.  (There is no such thing -- it’s the ILLUSION of plumbing that never fails, electricity that never goes out.)  We come to associate the darkness with desire, even willingly mix pain with ecstasy.

This is the compost of society, the fecund manure that feeds the limit-imposing law-and-order world.  The flooding Nile that renews fertility.  Mutation is just another word for creativity.  Stigma is just another name for fear and ostracism.  The stability-mongers, who hope to maintain their domination, are caught in another paradox:  they need the energy, but they fear high voltage.  They don’t believe that disorder and order can meet in synergy, with wonderful results.

What does “wonderful” mean?  It’s a glib word.  I mean it will be pleasing to humans who don’t have something selfish at stake, it will improve the lives and sustainability of most creatures, it will not destroy valued elements of life or the deep sources of their existence, it will open new realms of possibility and exploration, it will weight honesty and openness over secrecy and deception, and will be activist without simply imposing new rules over the old ones.

I think we’re getting closer to these values.  When I watch a TEDtalk about some simple but vital improvement like an infant warming bunting or a patch drug delivery system that doesn't have to be refrigerated, I see it.  But at the same time we’re getting farther away: withdrawing support from the small, weak, young, old, crippled, and so on.  It takes a cold heart to see that as a good evolutionary strategy, but it is the most common interpretation of survival of the fittest.  Let them die.  Thin the herd. 

This is supposed to be about sex and about the emotions relating to sex.  Mostly the emotions conflict.  Rape is considered to be the worst thing that can happen to anyone, male or female, and yet we continue to order our society in a way that causes a third of people to be raped, usually when vulnerable: the young, old, drunk, weak, scorned, subordinate, and so on.  In the back of our species-consciousness is that constant prompt that the weak should be used and culled, discarded, recycled.  But also we have the idea that sex with the exceptional, the desirable, the powerful will signify that the lesser person will have gained in prestige, will be more respected.  “I slept with JFK.”

A Banksy graffiti image

Hunting and gathering are skill-based, rooted in results.  The book-keeping institutions attribute value according to a mythical concept called “ownership,” the mechanism of accumulation.  It’s true enough that a potent male achiever can have many lovers, but he can keep them all only if there are walls where can he imprison them.  Otherwise, fuck-based relationships must be catch-and-release.  But carrying that over to children -- creating them but not protecting and attaching to them in relationship -- doesn’t work.  It only produces monsters.  (“Game of Thrones.”)  Certainly not in a walled and hoarding city.  Maybe in a tribe of extended families where adults protect instead of exploit.

Applying the concept of “ownership” -- which was invented for the division of crops, land, domestic animals and houses -- to human beings, whether members of family, employees, or lovers is wrong to the point of being evil.  One human being cannot own another.  Forces of order, whether written law or individually responding morality, should oppose and intervene whenever one human tries to “own” another.  It’s a little fine-haired to say the behavior can be the point of a contract, but not the body of the person, but I think it moves the greater good for the better.  

The question is whether a nation can own a soldier.  Do voters own a president?  Can they force obedience?  Can the Supreme Court?  Can a president own a country?  A doctored photo of Obama made it look as though he were winking at a blonde model.  Did this make him seem MORE powerful, or LESS powerful?   More like a sexy football player or less like a sexy football player?  JFK?


Anonymous said...

Not connected to sex per se, but connected to commodification and art, this is an interesting series you might like to read:

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

an interesting "walk" through the sexual landscape,as usual so skilled described and just inviting to read on. often i wonder,well,think,the ones who should read this,don't; the ones reading this,also already know and were interested in the first place. a "void-theorema",or anathema......politicians,fascists,right-wing decisionists,church magistrates,should read this.
(but are much too involved in their own S&M practices and economist (sexualized or cocainized on wallstreet fleetstreet faubourg saint honorĂ© and roppongi hills tokyo etc) profitist stratagems...…

Aad de Gide via Mary Scriver