Freedom is so important that America paradoxically conflates liberty with wage slavery and obsessive consumerism, and nobody seems to mind because FREEDOM.

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I can’t tonight. I’m actually too busy selling my labour to buy products I don’t need.

Freedom by itself, however, is merely chaos. Viktor Frankl wonders at the necessity of a Statue of Responsibility on the Pacific side of the United States to complement the well-established Statue of Liberty on the East Coast. Responsibility, and by extension morality, is not only predicated on freedom, but ought to exist in partnership. We cannot be moral unless we are free to choose, and we cannot be free to choose without understanding the moral weight of those choices. Jean-Paul Sartre based his entire ethical philosophy on the primacy of freedom, claiming that not only was morality linked to freedom, but was inextricably bound to it: recognizing the freedom of others pushes us to respect our shared humanity within it.

Today, this dyad of freedom and morality is under considerable threat. Not from radical Islamic terrorists who lurk in the shadows of political dissidence, or even from their Communist predecessors. This insidious saboteur is determinism. If the universe is primarily based on causal relationships, then all our decisions have already been preordained by the inviolable laws of the universe. We are not human beings, but an ecology. Growing like plants, we are fixed in our rigid binds, incapable of even struggling against them. Morality becomes impossible for the same reason that we don’t consider earthquakes to be capable of moral judgement.

There are those who not only accept this causal prison, but revel in it. Sam “Sam Handwich” Harris sought to illustrate how morality could still exist within a deterministic framework, and I honestly wish I had a better source for my readers here, because he failed so abysmally that I feel bad that this is my only reference. He claims that human choices can still be made, even without free will, because we feel that we are making a choice. The ontology of the universe be damned; our feelings supersede reality. This guy is supposed to be a scientist, keep in mind. Sam Handwich later goes on to say that the illusion of free will is itself an illusion, and if we really think rationally about it, we’ll realize that we don’t actually possess free will at all. This means that those feelings of choice that separate us from from the amoral grizzly bear, who kills only from biological instinct, are themselves the illusion, and Sam Handwich manages to contradict his own point a few idiotic paragraphs later. The moral solution in his determined universe is an abortion of utilitarianism which I won’t get into for the sake of avoiding a long rant. Personally I’d recommend reading John Stuart Mill or Peter Singer if you’re curious about utilitarian ethics. They at least have functioning brains.

Outside of this moron, however, people still desperately fight for freedom. Not only for the moral implications of avoiding determinism, but because freedom is simply worth having. Consider this quotation from Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

But when I see the others sacrifice pleasures, repose, wealth, power, and life itself for the preservation of this sole good which is so disdained by those who have lost it; when I see animals born free and despising captivity break their heads against the bars of their prison; when I see multitudes of entirely naked savages scorn European voluptuousness and endure hunger, fire, the sword, and death to preserve only their independence, I feel that it does not behoove slaves to reason about freedom.

I believe that is a suitable rejoinder to Sam Handwich‘s drivel.

However, I can’t say that freedom exists just because it’s nice and has a lot of cool quotations associated with it. I can say that freedom exists because causality as we understand it doesn’t. The first argument against causality is David Hume’s theory of necessary connections. A necessary connection is something we perceive as a cause. For example, there is a necessary connection between fire, gunpowder, and an explosion. Hume argues that this perceived necessity is actually a human construct, and postulates the problem of induction. Just because something has happened before, even repeatedly, does not necessarily mean it will happen again. You ever flick a light switch that doesn’t turn on right away? Maybe it’s something weird with the electricity; maybe it’s because the causal link suffered a bit of a hiccup.

This might sound like philosophical malarkey, but some theories of quantum physics prove Hume right. The quantum leap of an electron from one atomic orbit to the next is entirely unpredictable, and the minuteness of Planck’s constant is the only barrier against the chaos of the quantum universe overflowing into our experiential realm. Functions of the brain also exist outside of causality, with the opening and closing of ion channels and the release of synaptic vesicles operating randomly. Randomness is no determinate of free will, however, as every decision would become arbitrary and equally outside of our choices. On the other hand, it does exclude causality from being the defining characteristic of our universe.

I believe that if we are looking for a quantum solution to the problem of free will, then we should not be focusing on randomness but on probability. Given the indeterminate nature of electrons, as the position of an electron cannot be measured without abandoning the knowledge of its momentum, scientists are only able to make educated guesses based on probability. Adaptive mutation fortifies this argument by showing that bacteria and yeast can evolve useful mutations rather than completely random ones (as traditional Darwinian evolution theorized). Not all bacteria develop the adaptive gene in these studies, however, which shows that reacting to stimuli is neither random nor deterministic, but based on probability.

Probability when applied to human society makes sense. Statistics show a strong correlation between someone’s environment and their behaviour, but at the individual level, one cannot look at trends and predict a definite outcome. A street urchin raised by addicts will likely become an addict, but there is no way to tell with 100% certainty. It is that uncertainty that allows for choice. We can coast with the social conditioning, environmental pressures, and biological impulses that will push us along a predetermined path, allowing us the dubious honour of simply being another statistic, or we can make choices and break the mould. There is always a choice. Some scenarios will offer fewer choices than others, and fewer choices means a lesser degree of moral responsibility. A lesser degree of morality means those of us with more choice are responsible for elevating these ignoble souls to an equitable level where we can all claim access to a full spectrum of opportunities. That is the link between morality and freedom.

I believe the root of violence to be an expression of power, typically exerted as a response to some kind of challenge to it. The domestic abuser beats his wife because he believes himself to be the dominant partner, and if there is a perception of a question to that authority, then a violent response rectifies the imbalance. School shooters are almost exclusively those who feel that their power has been chipped away by the belittlement of others, and excessive violence is their attempt to regain it. A bar fight is a dick-measuring contest between apes, seeing who is the greater alpha male, or, more simply, who is the more powerful. There are of course exceptions, but most of the journals and articles I’ve read regarding violence explain it as an assertion of dominance and control. It’s not even that difficult to project the intentions behind interpersonal violence onto international conflicts, as countries vie for control over resources, subjects, or territory, seeking only to expand their stately power.

The perpetrators of violence, those who feel the greatest need to exert power, are almost all men. There have been several inquiries into the link between violence and masculinity, and one that is easily accessible, succinct, and informative is the documentary Tough Guise which I am obviously suggesting you watch due to my linking of it here. As easy as it is to dismiss violence as solely within the deficiencies of interpersonal relationships between men forcing conformity onto one another, it is critical to realize that social pressures are universally applied.

Ice T, in his infinite wisdom, imparted this gem, “If women didn’t like criminals, there would be no crime.” While charmingly naive, Ice T may well have gleaned some element of truth surrounding the desires of women impacting the nature of masculinity to a certain degree. Remember Elliot Rodgers? He committed an unforgivable act of violence, not due to excessive bullying from his male peers, but from the ostracization he suffered from the hands of women. To the horror of many feminists, message boards lit up in the aftermath saying that the tragedy could have been averted if Rodgers possessed a greater degree of “game.” Progressive conversations raged against this wash of men who sympathized with Rodgers’s rejection as they believed, correctly, that there is no excuse for targeted violence against women. However, the conversation tacitly ignored the reality to which the message boards allude: conforming to the desires of women is significant enough to male needs to a degree that violence is seen as a semi-understandable response to its lack.

It’s pretty easy to understand the muscular definition of male bodies that is often found attractive is a representation of power, but even height, which so many women demand in a partner, is also a sign of physical dominance. Watch any fight on TV, and the man who can tower over his opponent is almost intrinsically seen as the likely winner. Financial success, most commonly seen in the tradition of men paying for the first (and usually subsequent) dates, is not difficult to see as a marker of economic power in a culture driven by the necessity of wealth. Women who wish to feel “safe” with their man are expecting that he possess enough power to provide that security for her, almost as if she needs him to be able to commit violence on her behalf if a situation calls for it. Even confidence is not so benign, and the characteristic women claim to find the most desirable is really the extension of power over one’s self and one’s surrounding environment.

I do not mean to suggest that any degree of power is going to cause a firestorm of violence if left untempered, and I still maintain my Yin Yang approach to desirable human characteristics. For instance, confidence is an easy attribute to defend, but when considered among all the other desirable traits it does not stray from the general trend. If every stipulation of manhood required by both genders, either for romantic interest or peer conformity, necessitates power, then it is of no wonder that detrimental expressions of that power will be unleashed when a man is unable to meet that requirement. Even though violence is a decisively masculine problem, we are all responsible. We cannot point any fingers. Social pressures are indicative of the norms and traditions of a whole society, infused in us, regardless of gender. If we wish to make changes, we must begin with ourselves.

Imagine imagining having basic, vanilla sex. Now imagine seeing that basic, vanilla sex performed in front of you, and what the sight of that sex would create in your brain space. It’s pretty much the same mental image. If I look at a dog, it makes me think of a dog. Visual cues simply lead to thoughts that we might normally have on our own anyway if we had the time or inclination. The visuals merely help to keep focus. Broadly denouncing pornography as immoral or oppressive then essentially brands the thoughts of sex as the same. If one considers the health benefits of masturbation, such as a boosted immune system, stress relief, improved sleep, etc., then condemning pornography as the means to which most men masturbate is not only demonizing their sexuality but also creating barriers to their overall well-being (especially given the shame that can develop when confronted with a society’s hostility). That’s it, blog over, right? Wellllllllll……

Many see pornography as objectifying to women. This is a nonsensical statement, and I’ve already explained why. However, I’m going to look at it again. Why is pornography objectifying women, but sport is not objectifying men? Professional athletes create body images impossible to match through normal means with the help of drugs and hormonal supplements, and engage in impossible lifestyles given the permanent damage their bodies endure in the process. These athletes are only ever considered in relation to their sport, save when scandal strikes, in which case news coverage explodes with how this will affect their team’s season. This wouldn’t be a problem if male physical prowess wasn’t overly saturated in all other depictions of masculinity. Oh wait, it is. However, when people discuss the demerits of sport and its potentially unhealthy impact on the psyche of men, it is the zeitgeist of masculinity within sports that is addressed and not sports themselves. Sport in its purest form is the honing of skill and self using the whetstone of competition to achieve extraordinary feats of physical prowess, either for personal fulfillment or for the amazement of others. I’ve always found the Olympics to be the perfect example, as most athletes maintain unflinching respect for their competitors, knowing first-hand the hardships and sacrifices they’ve made on their own path to Olympic glory.

This leads to the logical conclusion that it is the culture that is infused in modern pornography, and not pornography itself, that is culpable for things like teenage boys seeking sex and nudes before they seek intimacy and kissing. Part of this particular problem stems from a lack of role models displaying proper intimacy in other areas of a youth’s life, and the improper teaching of sexual education, but the type of pornography a young boy is going to consume is also, quite predictably, going to lead him to make unhealthy assumptions regarding sexuality given no other determining factors. This is not new, as the media one consumes in any medium, be it explicit or otherwise, informs the worldview of the person consuming it.

So why not create a worldview espoused through pornography that is beneficial to the sexuality of everyone involved? Feminist porn is a revolutionary idea that would exemplify the women in pornography as collaborators in sexuality rather than its conquest. This practice would incorporate not only healthier social attitudes toward sex, but also toward women in general. While I do not agree with everything the linked article suggests (I disagree that being able to import one’s self into the fantasy is detrimental to that fantasy; sexual fantasy typically is an expression of that individual’s sexuality, not a voyeuristic inquiry into the sexuality of others), whereas some objections, such as violence being committed against women within the realm of dominative sexuality without explicit consent and respect, are obvious to anyone with a sense of decency. Regardless of what I think, dialogues surrounding the damage that pornography most definitely inflicts onto the minds and bodies of both men and women should centre on the distinct changes that would need to occur within porn, rather than simply and ignorantly calling for its abolition.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the end of the blog either, as how one consumes porn is now found to be as destructive as the typically misogynistic content of contemporary porn. A Nielsen study cited in The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein describes the way the majority of the population reads on the internet. In short, they don’t. Text is typically scanned with one’s eyes glossing over the page in an F shape, with headlines and keywords being the only information that is consumed. The illiteracy of web users leads to the success of listicles, as anything more difficult or complex is simply passed over. Beyond this, websites are viewed in a flow. People click in and out, back and forward, through their browsing instead of finishing a website in a single sitting. For those reading this, how many times have you clicked back into your Facebook page or some other site since you started reading this blog? A normal attention span is non-existent when browsing the web, and the same pattern carries over into porn.

Gary Wilson delivers a Ted Talk wherein he describes this phenomenon as it relates to porn, and describes how it hinders us even further than the degradation of literacy that online browsing delivers on its own. Wilson describes the biological effect of seeing potentially new genetic partners in several different windows and tabs, clicking in and out and masturbating to a flow of pornography rather than a still image or single film, consuming more beautiful women in an hour than our horny ancestors would see in several lifetimes, all in an unending search for novelty. Unending novelty, of course, creates tolerance levels, leading to a dependency on further expansion and exploration in a binging cycle akin to traditional drug addiction. Addiction never ends well for anyone, and erectile problems related to excessive porn use is becoming more and more common. Interestingly, older men who give up pornography recover their libido more quickly than their younger counterparts, and this is almost certainly due to their relatively new access to high speed internet pornography compared to the young who have grown up with it. Again though, this is not due to the intrinsic nature of pornography, but the method through which one consumes it.

Pornography by itself is not a great evil nor a threat to the moral standing of a society that allows it. It benefits the mental and physical wellness of those who consume it as it relates to masturbation, as well as contains the potential for proliferating healthier attitudes toward sex and women as an addition to the feminist revolution rather than its obstacle. That isn’t to say its current incarnation is benign, as content and practice are crucial issues that need to be addressed. Is body-positivity and consent-based analog pornography the utopian ideal to which all pornography should strive to emulate? Who’s to say. This is a conversation that is just beginning, as too often the dialogues of the past have hinged on the equally ignorant poles of the moral binary between of abolition and lascivious infatuation.