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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Oshira and Aliens

National Review considers the likelihood of whether Republicans will add same sex marriage to the platform. It looks inevitable since support for gay marriage has spiked pronouncedly. Those holding out against are among the very old, the very religious and the very uneducated. The GOP is likely to accept gay marriage if implemented according to the principles of federalism, separation of powers, and protection of religious expression such as exemplified by Maryland's question 6.

What difference education makes may require the specific type of pedagogy. I just saw Nagima Oshima's "Realm of the Senses" (Japan, 1976) an explicitly erotic but arguably non-pornographic tragic romance based on a true story from 1936 about a couple who had a relationship outside of social customs that became so obsessed sexually that the man was accidentally killed by the woman. The woman was caught by the police with man's severed genitalia in her possession.

The reason the film is not considered pornography is that, though the sex was very very explicit, it was not presented in a way that made the characters into objects of arousal for the viewer. Instead of objectifying the sexuality, the director shows the characters attending to each other as persons so as to bring out the audiences empathy. The point is to show the humanity of sex without arousing the audience.

Nonetheless the movie focused on the sex and though the couple is not homosexual, the couple's adventures lead to the breaking of several taboos either openly or by suggestion (such as child molestation, incest, and necrophilia). The film is still never shown in Japan, in spite of it's having it's own "pink" culture, because of the implied criticisms of Japanese culture. (I'm getting this from the notes and interviews in the Criterion Collection DvD packet.)

The point is that by empathizing with the couple, you no longer see the occasion to condemn them as obscene, in spite of the taboo breaking. What you see is a couple marginalized by society for wanting to express their sexual love for each other but unable to realize their pure sexual expression and thus led to death. The idea is very similar to western romanticism.

When I see this, I think of Thomas Nagel's paper on sexual perversion. Without taking a natural law perspective, Nagel still asks what could make sense of sex being perverted unless there was some norm that perversion departs from. The only candidate suggested by him is in the psychology of arousal. To make a longer story shorter, one is aroused by the other person, not just his or her body. More specifically one is aroused by that person's own state of being aroused and coupling happens when each is aroused by the other's being aroused by the first. And so on. This is normal sexuality for Nagel. A shoe fetish would thus be a perversion since the "other" could not be aroused. However, many normally offered candidates for perversion such homosexuality, pedophilia, and incest would not count as perverse on this view. But for Nagel sexual normality or perversity is a non-moral distinction. This is also the conclusion of Oshima. Full explicitness proves that there is no "obscenity" in the legal sense. We are supposed to think there is really none in the moral sense also. This is directly in opposition to the biblical view, illustrated by Noah's curse on Ham for revealing Noah's nakedness. For Oshima the hidden is the obscene. For the Bible, the revealed is.

Another example comes from Andrea Peyser, conservative columnist for the New York Post. She wrote (from my memory) some years ago about attending her daughter's lesbian wedding. There was nothing about the ceremony that was explicit to any greater degree than kissing the bride(s). Again, like the film and Nagel's arguments, the observer is left ambivalent with empathy toward the person's involved. As a result, according to Peyser, looking at the happiness on her daughter's face, she no longer saw any point in opposing gay marriage.

So the kind of education that unlearns the taboos against gay marriage is directly related to the emphasis on diversity as a pedagogical goal of education. It is simply by coming to know many gay friends that one becomes ambivalent to gay marriage and thus accepts it.

Yet there remains a civil point to opposing gay marriage even if there is no longer a political point for doing so, even granting the above. Admit that gay love or incest or pedophilia or good old fornication and adultery need not be the sort that objectifies the other, and that erotic love even requires the recognition that the other is a person, an autonomous rational agent that is also a sexual being with an amorphous capacity to experience sexual pleasure. Erotic love then is devotion to pleasure through devotion to the other's experience and expression of sexual pleasure. It is pleasure in the pleasure of the other which is obtained in the service to the other. This pleasure becomes larger and more secure with the addition of several other others and thus tends to be polyamorous. Erotic love thus us a candidate for one's telos and as shared teloi are the basis of bonds between people, this can potentially be the source of tight relations and an ethic of sexual care and sexual reciprocity.

However, such a community fails to make sense of all the features of family life and on particular it fails to make sense of having and raising children. It also fails to thus make sense of growing and developing a society beyond the community both geographically and in time. Thus it precludes other important purposes open to persons, many if which are arguably more important than sexual gratification, which fails to measure up to expected utility calculation in many cases. Also sexual gratification is a short term end in itself. The only way one might conceive of fulfilling such a telos is by maximizing the number and quality of orgasms. But it is also true that, due to the dependence on the human busy and it's energy, sexual gratification is a scarce quantity. Eventually the body loses it's ability to produce sexual experiences that can compete with it's earlier experiences. In short, even though sexual gratification is a possible good to rational agents, it is too narrow a good to make the focus of a relationship. You might try to adapt society to accommodate to such an ideal, but the result will look like Logan's Run or Brave New World.

Like the real life case that is the basis of Oshira's story, there is currently a case being tried now in the US prosecuting a beautiful young woman for killing her boyfriend. He was a Mormon who led a pure lifestyle until he met this woman who introduced him to "benefits". But as time went on, anytime he wanted to leave and go back to his former way life, she would up the anti on her sexual favors to more erotic services. Finally, when tried to make decisive break and return to his church, she feared fir the loss of her sexual relationship and killed him. Although she had no prior history of sociopathic behavior, toward the end, her approach to him, became sociopath-like through manipulation and objectification. What may have started as Nagel like case of arousal may have through sexual obsession become more like a classic case of objectification. The exclusive narrowness of erotic love may tend to and logically entail such obsession. (Having no other purpose to make sense of.)

For all these reasons, while there is a kind of reciprocity in erotic love, we cannot will to universalize erotic love as a sole end. In the film, the two adulterers hold a faux marriage in a brothel which clearly has no significance except as symbol of the erotic devotion to one another. But a real marriage supposes a covenant to each other for all time which has a broad scope beyond sexual cherishing. Traditional marriage has the complete well being of each partner, their commonwealth, their children, and their society in view. But we could not will such a thing for the sake of erotic love.

One reply will be that such relationships do not have such a narrow scope, as the phrase "friends with benefits" suggests. As friends or partners we do not just look to the sexual desires of the other but care for the other in toto. But neither erotic love nor friendship is the basis for marriage. We need to have an ethic of care as well as duties to one another anyway and the state has laws and rights that already cover this. Friends can become brothers by trading saki cups without the public recognition. This is because friendship is also a private affair that does not necessarily take society into its scope.

But marriage and family as traditionally conceived and practiced includes caring for the other even when they are no longer loved or befriended. They have to take you back when you come again. Marriage and family have to see if devotion can be rekindled. Free relations of friendship and erotic love are not so obliged. Not can we but we must will to universalize traditional marriage.

It is natural to be ambivalent about another's happiness at a time and to not want to do anything to harm it. But dedication to erotic love involves a self-deception by looking only to the present moment, not only for those in love but also for ambivalent spectators. We need to ask what it would be like if our devotion at the moment became the norm. Suppose Earth was invaded by a race of genderless aliens that were able to copulate with any and human at any age with perfect sentient recognition of each other's arousal and do so with perfect intensity on an asymptotically increasing scale in one continuous act. It would mean the end of the human race.