Consent.

Okay, so, the first thing we have to get out of the way is one of the most important, I think, in a LOT of the more polarized conversations we’re having right now, so I’m going to make it big and bold:

NO ONE IS PERFECT.

Got it? You, the reader, are not perfect, nor is anyone you know, and I certainly am no exception.

Whether you’re a man, woman, left-winger, right-winger, trans, nonbinary, straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, omnisexual, your belly button is an inny or an outy, we ALL have made mistakes and we all will continue to make mistakes, because life is a confusing and messed up predicament for all of us – ESPECIALLY when it comes to sex.

Now. Let’s keep the philosophical stuff to one side, for a second, though I think those conversations are also important and interesting – I want to use this post to build bridges where before there was only confusion and fear. So if you’re a victim of sexual assault – I get it. This might feel a little like I’m extending an olive branch to the enemy. But just try and remember that the people who hurt other people do so because they’re in pain, too. So if we want to stop sexual assault, we have to start with a conversation about why people assault other people to begin with.

So let’s start here. I’ve been sexually assaulted in various ways and in varying degrees more times than I care to list here, and that isn’t the point of this blog post. But I know what it feels like to be absolutely, mind-numbingly, blindingly horny. I know, what a weird juxtaposition. But I know what that feels like in part because after being assaulted (one time in particular there was a man who actually physically damaged my clitoris for a while, and I couldn’t orgasm for months, and I was so afraid that I never would again that I’d masturbate, and masturbate, just trying to feel anything at all, down there, to prove to myself that I wasn’t permanently broken, and nothing would happen, so I’d end up rubbing myself raw and crying myself to sleep (I tell you this not because it’s fun for me, but because I think it paints a picture of the level of desperation some people get to, including the people who engage in manipulative and coercive sexual behaviors)) – anyway I know what it feels like because sexual assault takes away your ability to see sex and sexual pleasure as a good thing. And it can make you feel that if you can’t find someone else to fix the problem by making you feel loved and safe and desired, that you’ll never be able to enjoy that side of yourself in the same way again.

Which of course puts a whole lot of pressure on the people you want to have sex with, pressure they might not be aware you’re putting on them, that YOU might not even be aware you’re putting on them.

My point is, maybe my example is an extreme case, but I don’t think that feeling of desperation for someone ELSE to come in and make us feel sexually whole is uncommon. In fact, I think it’s probably one of the most universal experiences there is.

So sometimes, I think, you have to look at what’s wrong with the bigger picture before you point fingers and place blame on individuals, which I know is counterintuitive in our culture because we place so much emphasis on personal responsibility and have a concept of justice that’s fundamentally rooted in retribution. But the problem with retribution is that it doesn’t actually do much for the victim, still. It doesn’t prevent the same thing from happening to that person again, and it doesn’t prevent it from happening to other people. All it does, really, is make us feel, as a society, like we did our job, so we can continue on with clear consciences while the “bad people” receive their punishment.

But that ignores an enormous part of the conversation that we NEED to be having if we’re ever actually going to make any progress, which is that everyone – EVERYONE – is capable of doing bad things, and everyone sometimes does things they regret. Everyone sometimes uses other people, everyone sometimes hurts other people, everyone feels lonely, everyone feels insecure, everyone feels hopeless and worthless and desperate for validation and intimacy, but confused about how to get it.

No one is blameless, and no one is painless. And sometimes – (and I KNOW, fellow assault victims, trust me, I know this isn’t an easy thing to accept) – sometimes people do terrible things without meaning to, or without even knowing what they’re doing.

So, fine. That’s out of the way. But it doesn’t actually provide any direction as to what’s okay and what isn’t, and how we can avoid taking advantage of other people when there’s so much grey area to take into consideration. That’s a hard question, and I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers. But I can speak from my own experience, so this is what I’ll say:

  1. Consent requires open communication about what you want AND what the other person wants, which means taking the time to let the other person consider their options without pressure.
  2. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to have consensual sexual experiences without a gradual lead-in, but it does mean that it’s a lot easier to make sure your partner is on board if you don’t just spring the idea on them out of the blue.
  3. However, EVEN WITH a gradual lead-in (say, a textual flirtation or even pre-coital sexting), it remains possible AT ALL STAGES OF SEXUAL CONTACT for one or both parties to change their minds about the encounter, which you shouldn’t ignore, especially if it’s a person with whom you’re not romantically involved.
  4. Many people – MEN INCLUDED – have trouble establishing and committing to boundaries. If the person you’re having sex with is the kind of person who would pretend to be enjoying themselves at a party because they don’t want to kill the mood, or pretend to love a gift, etc., you probably should be paying attention to their body language to make sure they’re actually enjoying themselves, and not just trying to do what you want because they want to please others.
  5. If you have to ask the person to engage in a particular sex act multiple times, they probably don’t want to do it. Ask once, then let them take the lead. If someone really WANTS to do what you’ve suggested, they will in their own time.
  6. Consenting to kissing does not mean consenting to sex.
  7. Consenting to sex does not mean consenting to every conceivable sex act.
  8. If the person is trying to push you away from them, odds are, something is wrong and you should stop what you’re doing.
  9. If you are a man, you CANNOT push a woman’s boundaries when it comes to (a) sex without a condom or (b) ejaculating inside of her. These boundaries are not negotiable and if you don’t respect her wishes, it is a breach of consent, full stop. Pregnancy is a real danger for women and putting her in a situation she didn’t agree to is never okay.
  10. This one should be more obvious than it is to some people, but here goes: pay attention to your partner more than yourself. If your partner is truly into it, you’ll know. And I know that it sucks to be rejected, that no one really knows what the script is for intimate encounters that don’t end up the way you’d hoped they would. But you have to make a good-faith attempt to read what your partner wants and put their desires (or lack thereof) ahead of your own, because otherwise, the intimacy you’re engaging in probably isn’t worth having, anyway, and will just wind up making BOTH of you feel lonelier and emptier.

Now, what happens when you’re chronically rejected? What about dating apps where people constantly pass you over because you’re not tall enough, not handsome enough, not athletic enough, don’t have big enough boobs, and so on… Okay, bear with me. This is going to be a tough one.

I don’t know if anyone ever truly accepts this reality, and for the life of me, I will never understand why we insist on pretending that it doesn’t truly, deeply suck that life is like this, but here goes…

No one will ever change the way you feel about yourself. You are the only person who can provide love for yourself that is truly unconditional. Nothing will ever make you feel complete and valued and whole unless you can feel as complete and valued and whole without a partner as you would with one.

I know it’s rough. I can’t accept it, myself, most days. But it’s true. And if you can’t focus on your own happiness enough not to depend on someone else to make you happy, it will continue to push people away who have already learned how to do this for themselves.

The most attractive thing you can be, and trust me, this is as shitty to hear for me as it is for you, is self-sufficient. When you know who you are and what you want out of life outside of a romantic partner, it becomes a thousand times easier to find someone who can hop in your car with you, because you’ve already put yourself in the driver’s seat.

And maybe that’s what consent means, despite all its confusing weirdness. Maybe it just means that if you want to have a sexual experience that’s truly meaningful and validating for both parties (even if it’s just a one night stand), you BOTH have to be in the driver’s seat. You both have to be making your own decisions and allowing the other person to make theirs, too, even if it means stopping halfway through or not getting exactly what you want, or giving them exactly what they want. It isn’t a perfect science, but it is a kind of calculus where you can set the target and try as hard as you can to reach the limit of “absolute consent” even if you know that neither of you will ever quite get it right.

But this is a new era for sexuality, and if you’re not at least thinking about these things, it isn’t going to be easy to keep pace with the way the rest of the world communicates and negotiates within and about sexual encounters. And I think, at least for now, that’s all I have to share on my little soapbox. But I’d love some feedback, and will be going even further into the philosophy of sex in all its irritating complexity in the future on this blog. I’ll insert some links below when I’ve finished those pages.

Stay sassy,
– Dweeb

“The Society of the Spectacle”

I’m working on a video about this book, written by Guy Debord & published in 1967. The Kindle translation I have isn’t as good as the Audible translation, so I was going to type up some quotes/notes on the Audible version so I can compare the two more easily, since comparing two translations is often a lot more, uh, elucidating. I couldn’t think of a word that sounded less pretentious. Anyway. I figured, why not share it with you? So.

1. The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail, presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.

2. Images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream, and the former unity of life is lost forever. Apprehended in a partial way, reality unfolds in a new generality as a pseudo-world apart, solely as an object of contemplation. The tendency toward the specialization of images of the world finds its highest expression in the world of the autonomous image, where deceit deceives itself. The spectacle in its generality is a concrete inversion of life, and as such, the autonomous movement of non-life.

3. The Spectacle appears at once as society itself, as a part of society, and as a means of unification. As a part of society it is that sector where all attention, all consciousness, converges. Being isolated, and precisely for that reason, this sector is the locus of illusion and false consciousness. The unity it imposes is merely the official language of generalized separation.

4. The spectacle is not a collection of images. Rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.

Okay. That’s enough for now, because that’s where things start getting more complicated. This is a good place to start, because there’s already quite a bit to unpack. I had a professor once who had us rephrase philosophy passages in the simplest terms possible to help us understand them better, which I always found really helpful, so here’s my attempt with these ones:

  1. The media is at the center of modern life. Instead of living life for ourselves, we watch movies and TV shows about life.
  2. The Spectacle (media/movies/TV/books/etc) chips off a piece of many different ways/aspects of real life and presents itself as the real thing. This new homogenized reality turns us into passive viewers of the version of life it presents to us.
    1. The second two sentences here are tricky, I’m not quite sure but I’ll give it a shot..
      1. These representations of life take on a life of their own… and begin to believe in their own validity.
      2. The spectacle prioritizes the general over the individual, which turns individuals into zombies whose real lives are lived in service of the spectacle, which is imaginary.
    2. It’s kind of hard because I feel like you could write a book just about what he means by “the spectacle” exactly, but imagine, like, corporations where the real people sacrifice their actual lives to this bigger idea of the corporation that doesn’t actually exist, and so the corporation, which isn’t alive, takes on a life of its own by siphoning life from the living people who compose it.
  3. The spectacle (for simplification purposes, let’s just say the media) – presents itself as both a part of society and all there is of society – as the means by which the different veins of social life become unified. But because it isn’t really society, but rather a sort of fun-house mirror that allows society to watch itself, the unification it purports to create is a lie.
  4. The spectacle isn’t just the amalgamation of all media (it isn’t a list of all the shows on Netflix and Hulu, all the videos on YouTube, etc., it’s the means by which those things mediate our relationships to each other on both the individual and the collective levels.

So this is kind of going to be the cornerstone, I think, for me, in thinking about the philosophy of the media, and I hope you can kind of see why. Because what’s completely bananas, is this dude wrote all of this before the internet even existed. Social media wasn’t even a thing – he was JUST talking about, like, cable news and sitcoms at the time.

But NOW the things he talked about are even truer, I would argue, and more obvious and pernicious, which is why we have such a bizarrely dependent/problematic relationship to the media. It’s why there’s so much drama about facebook and twitter, it’s why people get so deeply upset now in a way they never did before about, like, cultural appropriation and media representation of minorities. These things have become more real than real life, to most people.

Consider also how the pervasiveness, the inescapableness of media in every aspect of our lives, is also why it becomes so easy to manipulate people’s media consumption and put it to your own ends *COUGH* Putin *COUGH.*

AND this isn’t a dissertation or anything, obviously, but one last point I think is interesting is this: consider how the advent of social media, and the timing of its advent affected the way we think about “generational” differences, and the way people who were born, say, after 2000, grew up in a completely different social landscape than their grandparents did – making it impossible for either group to really understand the other’s fundamental orientation towards the world.

Spooky stuff.

Now, okay. With all that said. While it is true that there’s this weird paradox of social media making us at once eternally connected and even more deeply and intractably isolated from one another, and all the other problems he talks about in this book, I don’t think that social media is inherently bad. I actually think that in the long term, it could be incredibly helpful to us, but it’s a little like fire. Fire is an incredibly powerful tool, and when used properly, it can (and did) revolutionize human life. But it’s also not easy to learn how to control it, and the same goes for social media, as we’ve been seeing with the facebook scandals, Russia interference, and so on. Even the cross-talk between political parties has been so much exacerbated by social media that we now can barely have civil conversations with each other because we’re all so deeply encapsulated in our own little political bubbles.

But social media isn’t going anywhere. The society of the spectacle is here to stay. So as a person who presumably is stuck on this earth for another few decades, my question is, how do we get it to work for us rather than having us work for it? How do we toggle the levers behind the scenes (*COUGH* YouTube algorithm *COUGH*) to make it so that we can have rational, nuanced conversations rather than allowing the natural tendency of people to be drawn to what’s flashiest and most controversial to drive the entire global discussion of what kind of world we want to live in?

Related image
Jake Paul, Master Exploiter of “The Spectacle”

I dunno. Just some food for thought as I flesh out how I’m going to relate all of this to Jake Paul in a video (although honestly, I’d really rather not have to research him, which is why I’m doing a sentence-by-sentence analysis of the book, first, because, eugh. Anybody wanna volunteer to just give me the highlights? I watched Shane Dawson’s series and I feel like I’ve kinda already seen enough…)

Our economy has subjugated…

…all values to instrumental ones. If it isn’t of value to the economy, it has no value. 

Inherent value is either not recognized or simply ignored. 

This is how it becomes possible to have a healthcare system that operates on the assumption that the lives of people with money are more valuable than the lives of people without. 

This is how it becomes possible to have a justice system that operates on the assumption that the lives of drug addicts are less moral than the lives of people who only do as many drugs they can afford. 

This is how it becomes possible to have an education system that teaches children that their worth is not in who they are but in what they can achieve. That teaches children to value a letter on a piece of paper more than the process of educating themselves and becoming individuals. 

This is how it becomes possible to have “art” that exists for the purpose of making money, of gaining views, of rocking the boat enough to get people talking about it but not so much that it turns people away. 

THIS is how it becomes possible to have a political system that is so easily co-opted by a reality television star with no real values whatsoever other than the survival of his own ego. 

And this is also how we have come to see each other. Not as ends in themselves, but as purveyors of other ends. Money. Sex. Power. Exposure. Validation. Acceptance. Companionship. 

But the saddest part, perhaps, is that this is how we have learned to see ourselves. And so we’ll continue to try to fill the hole in our hearts with all these other values in an attempt to convince ourselves that WE have value, that WE deserve to be seen as more than just the goods and services we can provide, even if we live in a world that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge it, that has trained us since we were children too see ourselves as vehicles of value, not as possessors of it. 

Let yourself be valuable just because you exist, and you become a subversive. Let yourself value others just because they exist, and you become a radical. Let yourself choose values that serve something other than the machine of production and spectacle that is the world economy, and you become a revolutionary. 

Is this the best of all possible worlds?

I frequently think about the following bit of sass from a letter that Voltaire wrote in response to Leibniz’s rebuttal to his argument that our world was the best possible world. 

What is this, YouTube? Anyway in Voltaire’s response to Liebniz’s response to his response, he says the following: 

I just think this is such a fantastically pithy response to a LITERAL BOOK that Liebniz wrote about Voltaire’s arguments against him. Imagine writing an entire book arguing against someone who disagrees with you, only to receive THIS as a response. It just… it delights me, so I think of it often. 

Anyway it also highlights something about philosophy that I find both irritating and kind of beautiful, which is this: often, philosophers spend SO MUCH TIME hashing out the minutiae of their theories and arguments, splitting hairs and giving precise definitions, refining those definitions upon further investigation, then returning to the original definition having learned something new about where we started, and so on. 

There is a lot of ink spilt in the name of “rigorous philosophical argument,” is what I’m trying to say. But quite often, when it comes down to it, it would actually take far fewer words to express the same argument in a way that was not only less pedantic and tiring, but also more grounded in reality. So what Voltaire does here is take the pages of Liebniz’s argument, which I’m sure had redeeming structural and rhetorical qualities, as most philosophical argument does, and level it all out with a single blow, grounded absolutely in the actual world of lived human experience. 

When you have shown, in verse or otherwise, why so many men cut their throats in the best of all possible worlds, I shall be exceedingly obliged to you. He could have picked anything, but he chose his example perfectly, because it contains within it all the other evils of the world, supposing the primary reason people kill themselves is that they find the world to be inhospitable. 

But I also like the line “I assure you from the bottom of my heart that neither of us knows anything about the matter,” because this cuts to core of what makes long, academic arguments like Leibniz’s seem so… silly. To be fair, I haven’t read his arguments, and I think his philosophy was probably quite compelling in ways that Voltaire doesn’t admit, here. But so much of what philosophers do – actually, forget philosophers – so much of what PEOPLE spend their time talking about ENDLESSLY, is just… pointless.

Voltaire’s point, to me, seems to be… okay, Leibniz. Let’s suppose this is the best of all possible worlds. So what? What’s next? We kick up our feet and write a few more books about it while people outside of the academic tower continue to suffer? Who gives a good goddam if God included evil in the world intentionally when GOD isn’t the one down here trying to make the world he created better? 

That, to me, is the fatal flaw of a lot of philosophy. It’s all well and good, I think, to speculate about where values come from and wonder how to define exactly what a “good life” looks like, but if you’re going to dedicate your life to talking about values, you’d better also live them. If you’re going to write several books about the problem of evil and argue that the world is perfect the way it is, and God wanted people to suffer and for evil to exist, you’d better also do your damnedest to reduce that suffering and combat the evil that causes it. Otherwise, your arguments are worse than meaningless. 

Philosophy isn’t just about filling pages for the sake of cutting down more trees and selling more copies and getting recognition from whatever authority (in Leibniz’s case, the French monarchy) – you can’t measure the value of an argument by its word count. And that, I think, is the brilliance of this response. In a sentence, Voltaire evaporated Leibniz’s illusions about the importance of his own work. And that, my friends, is how to use your words like a loaded fucking pistol.