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