Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pornography and the End of Masculinity

I just caught the last bit of a CBC interview with Robert Jensen, author of Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. There was a great deal in this man’s ideas that resonated very strongly with me. Indeed, the words with which he ends his book verbalize one aspect of my own core concept very clearly: “I renounce masculinity and choose instead to be a human being.”

Commenting on this statement, Jensen says that the model of masculinity that is the norm in our society, and is promoted in pornography (“a window to the sexual imaginations of our culture”) is toxic. It is based on ideas of conquest and control and hence leads directly to aggression and violence. It perpetuates and enhances sexual and racial stereotypes that have well-known negative consequences for both men and women.

The increasingly pornographic culture of the West, and the predatory corporate capitalist system behind it, promote a cruel and misogynistic vision of women. It undermines the essential feminine quality, which is empathy. One of the interesting tidbits I picked up was that American pilots in Iraq were shown pornography in order to get them pumped up before their bombing runs. This shows exactly which synapses of the brain are being triggered by such forms of "entertainment." And it also shows the connections of rajo-guna and tamo-guna sexuality to other kinds of behavior.

Has the pornography industry won? It certainly seems that way when we see the kinds of images that run through the mass media, from soft to hard core. There are important systems of power and privilege that use patriarchy and pornography to perpetuate themselves. This is partially why, as recently observed on this blog, the rise of capitalism in China is developing side by side with a sexual revolution.

The question Jensen asks is: Though men and women have their differences, are they really all that different on the deeper moral and psychological platform? The answer is no. So the real question we should be asking ourselves is not what it means to be a man or woman, but what does it mean to be a human being. Only by framing the question in this way can we heal the wounds within ourselves and imagine a human culture for the future.

He finishes on a high note, though, rather than simply lamenting the situation. Pornography is just another symptom of the imperfect nature of our world, like poverty and injustice. If we want to build a just and sustainable world, we have to struggle. Not for the sake of victory as an end in itself, but simply because it is the right thing to do. It is the way that we construct meaningful lives. Men should struggle to resist pornography and the values that underly it.

Just to make it clear to those who accuse me of being in favor of anything remotedly connected to pornography: The belief system that I support is totally in agreement with Mr. Jensen. There is much more to be said here, but the intuitive beginning for me lies in manjari bhava, which takes a slightly differentiated position from direct identification as either man or woman, while being fundamentally sympathetic and favorable to the idealized feminine stance, which may be summarized as "empathy."

However, I must say that I agree with Jensen when he says that there are no models in the past or present that necessarily represent an absolute standard of behavior that is to be emulated--as if such a thing were possible. We have to apply the rules of fundamental humanity to questions of sexuality and not think uncritically that there is some kind of traditional "Christian" or "Vedic" model that has all the answers.

For instance, it may be necessary for us to critique even the model of sexuality found in Radha and Krishna lila and the poetic literature of India on which this bhakti erotic literature is based. It is important to be able to separate latent sexist images that are present in this literature (after all it was written by men, mostly for men, in a culture dominated by men) and to distill the essential spiritual or transcendental vision that underlies it or was inspired by it (accepting that even if they were men, they were blessed with powerful and important insights: they are our gurus). The mistake we tend to make is that we think of such historical moments in the past as the END of a process, rather than as the BEGINNING of one, an evolutionary process in which we are actively involved.

This beginning point is the Dual Deity, Yugala Kishor (i.e., not a purely male or female deity), and the prioritizing of the feminine in Srimati Radharani and the jiva herself, and not necessarily the culturally anchored depictions found in the literature.

That is not (as anyone who has read this site will know) to say that we reject all aspects of this traditional literature: it is the best thing that we have to go on for the time being, but it simply means that we have to be able to bracket elements that are unselfconsciously culturally-based and may thus have an alienating effect on us in our very different present-day conditions. By which I mean, do not meet the standards of evolving human spirituality. I think that it is possible to do this without losing the beauty and spiritual power that lies at the core of the tradition. It means, in short, that the symbols themselves (Radha-Krishna, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) are more important in their essential and universal meaning than any accidental representations of them.

But it is my position that "heroic" masculine renunciation of sexuality and woman, even in those who are repulsed by the pornographic mindset, is just the flip side of the coin. Bhoga-tyaga. It throws the baby out with the bathwater and therefore cannot be the solution.

All the above shows once again how every idea unavoidably has a political dimension, my friends. But please understand, when I talk about a sexual revolution, I am talking about a personalist, sacralized sexuality.

Jai Sri Radhe !

Listen to another interview with Jensen from WORT Community radio in Madison, Wisconsin: HERE


Steve / Subal said...

Dear Jagat,

Thank you once again for your clear insights into things which resonate with my own. I hope that when you go to India you will continue to post here. It is good to know there is someone else out there who sees things somewhat akin to myself. Jai Radhe! and best wishes.


Jagat said...

Jai Radhe, Subalji. I thought that my comments here might elicit a response from you.

Some time ago, you attracted a great deal of attention with some remarks you made about Radharani's age and behavior that received strong criticism from more traditional adherents of the tradition.

I am not really as radical as I may sound, as I quite like Radha and Krishna the way I have received them from Rupa Goswami and the rest of the Mahajanas. When I wrote about Jayadeva a few days ago, I was emphasizing the primal nature of the lila he describes. In this sense, there is a transcendental element about it that cannot be reduced.

Anyway, thanks for your encouragement. I expect I will be posting from India. It should be an adventure. I hope everything is going well for you and your wife in Hawaii.


shiva said...

Hi Jagat.

I've noticed in a few places you have referred to the jiva using a feminine personal pronoun e.g.

"This beginning point is the Dual Deity, Yugala Kishor (i.e., not a purely male or female deity), and the prioritizing of the feminine in Srimati Radharani and the jiva herself, and not necessarily the culturally anchored depictions found in the literature.'

I have never seen that done in any book by any acarya, have you? I have seen the jiva referred to using the masculine personal pronoun e.g his or him, but never the feminine.

You quoted and agreed with this by Robert Jensen:

"I renounce masculinity and choose instead to be a human being."

Well, I can only chuckle at such stuff. You can say you renounce masculinity all you want, and women can say they renounce femininity all they want, but reality has a funny way of imposing itself on us regardless of what we want. What Jensen regards as bad traits which he defines as masculine e.g. dominance, control, etc, is in reality beyond our control to renounce or support, it's (in a certain sense) karmically connected to how our lives will play out. What did Krishna tell Arjuna when Arjuna opted to renounce his masculine role as a fighter for the dominance of his familiy? Did he tell him that it was alright? Until we understand God in reality (as opposed to what we think God is and what God is like) then we will not really truly understand the purpose of many things, especially the masculine supposedly "bad" traits of men or feminine traits of women.

Being a believer in evolution and therefore unaware of God's role in creating human interpersonal relationships and their concomitant gender displays and roles, Jensen sees a combination of genetic and even more so a political angle as being the cause of the "unwanted" masculine or even feminine archtypes he believes people are being forced into by an ignorant, or at the least uncontrolled, social system.

In reality God created and is in control...of everything. Therefore masculine and feminine attitudes and attributes are not being caused by social nor biological forces or imperatives. You cannot renounce masculinity any more then you can renounce being who you are. It is out of your control. We are what God wants us to be at any given time. That is reality. Eveything else is some form of unreality.

Jagat said...

Well, since it is stated that the one purusha is Krishna, and all else are prakriti, we may as well use the feminine pronoun. In several European languages, "soul" is a feminine noun.

By renouncing masculinity, I am not talking about renouncing the physical masculinity of this body. I am associating masculinity with the attitude of competing with God to be the purusha. I identify, like Jensen, excessive masculine posturing as a kind of psychic sickness that needs to be overcome.

This is primarily an internal process that can be independent of external dharmas, but it is true that certain external dharmas, such as those in passion and ignorance, may make it difficult.

As to your philosophy of absolute divine control or fatalism, I do not buy it. These things have validity on some level, but not in an absolute sense. Bhakti has, as I have said before, no meaning without free will.

And if what you say is true, then there is really no point to anything, as far as I can see.

shiva said...

Prakriti is not feminine. The idea of using gender analogies for describing god and god's shakti is just to help people understand that god controls and shakti is controlled. So because the masculine attributes are usually seen as dominant and the feminine as submissive, therefore the use of gender analogies in these words are used. But in fact prakriti is not actually female e.g. is this keyboard I am typing on female? No, it has no gender. So using the gender analogies only make sense within context. Would you call all the males in the spiritual world she or her? Then why call the jiva generically her or she? I've never seen that done by any acarya.

As for your claim that God doesn't control everything all of the time, well I am always surprised when vaisnavas say that. The Bhagavtam and countless other sastra makes that very clear. Nowhere are we told that the jiva is in any way independent and lives a life uncontrolled by God. Where do you get this idea that free will somehow makes the jiva not under gods control? It certainly isn't in any sastra, just the opposite in fact.

As for your claim in not seeing any point to reality if god was in absolute control, well maybe that's why you are separated from god at this point in time (as in not having direct rasa with god), you do not accept god for what god is and does. You are saying "I don't see any point in living if I am not in control". It's really the basic cause of and mentality of a conditioned soul i.e. the refusal to accept god for what god is and does and the desire to control and be the god of our reality. God cannot help being in total control over everything, we simply cannot do anything by ourselves. Everything we do is through the mind, using thought and memory, which we do not know how they function and have no control over. God controls everything because god has to, otherwise we could not exist as intelligent people, we cannot think for ourselves. Krishna tries to tell us

sarvasya caham hrdi sannivisto
mattah smrtir jnanam apohanam ca
vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyo
vedanta-krd veda-vid eva caham

I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness

prakrtyaiva ca karmani
kriyamanani sarvasah
yah pasyati tathatmanam
akartaram sa pasyati

anaditvan nirgunatvat
paramatmayam avyayah
sarira-stho 'pi kaunteya
na karoti na lipyate

One who can see that all activities are performed by the body, which is created of material nature, and sees that the self does nothing, actually sees.

Those with the vision of eternity can see that the soul is transcendental, eternal, and beyond the modes of nature. Despite contact with the material body, O Arjuna, the soul neither does anything nor is entangled.

muktāśrayaḿ yarhi nirviṣayaḿ viraktam
nirvāṇam ṛcchati manaḥ sahasā yathārcih
ātmānam atra puruṣo 'vyavadhānam ekam
anvīkṣate pratinivṛtta-guṇa-pravāhah

When the mind is thus completely freed from all material contamination and detached from material objectives, it is just like the flame of a lamp. At that time the mind is actually dovetailed with that of the Supreme Lord and is experienced as one with Him because it is freed from the interactive flow of the material qualities.

manasā vacasā dṛṣṭyā
gṛhyate 'nyair apīndriyaih
aham eva na matto 'nyad
iti budhyadhvam añjasā

Within this world, whatever is perceived by the mind, speech, eyes or other senses is Me alone and nothing besides Me. All of you please understand this by a straightforward analysis of the facts.

Until you come to understnad reality, as it really is, as opposed to what you think it should be, you will be unable to relate directly with Radha Krishna. You can continue with your (pretty but mostly wrong) various dissertations and interpretations on rasa and the "love" between Radha and Krishna, (which have almost zero relation to the real thing), but until you accept god on god's terms you won't get it right and you will not know god personally.

Jagat said...

Yes, it is indeed pretty.