Students of Modern Philosophy appreciate the Bon Mot that Rene Descartes’ great blunder was to put [De Cartes’]before [De Horse.]
In making thought prior to experience, this 17th century philosopher, who is alternately called the Father of Modern Philosophy and the Father of Modern Confusion, got things exactly reversed.
His famous adage, ‘I think, therefore, I am,’ did not capture what really comes first in human consciousness, since the thing that first catches our attention is not the act of thinking but what it is that we are thinking about. We feel the heat of the stove before we reflect on the fact that our finger is hot. In the time-line of events, experience always precedes reflection.
In a word, b putting the cart before the hose, Descartes did something that was, in the strictest sense of the term, preposterous. Now, the original meaning of this word has all but disappeared in our contemporary world. The Latin roots – prae (before) + posterius (after) – indicate that the original meaning of doing something ‘preposterous’ is to place before something that should really come after.
Football commentators are forever telling us that “You must catch the ball before you can run with it.” We should put our socks on before we step into our shoes, unlock the door before we open it, and so on.
The reverse process is not only impractical but often comical (Consider the man with the “drinking problem” who puts the glass to his lips before he opens his mouth.)
Pornography is preposterous because it places first what should come second, more specifically, sex before personhood. Pornography presents the human being in such a way that what is most immediately striking is the erotic and not the personal.
Psychiatrist Leslie Farber hit the nail on the head when he remarked that skin magazines transfer the fig leaf from the genitalia to the face.
The fig-leaf image is most instructive. The Genesis account of the creation of the first man and the first woman may be a source of heated debate these days, but there is a central point it makes that should be universally acceptable.
When Adam awoke from a deep sleep, we are told, and first looked upon woman, his joyous exclamation was a hymn (if we can use this word) to human equality: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
Adam did not say, “At last the opposite sex has arrived, a convenient object for the gratification of my sexual urges.” What he expressed was what he first noticed, the fact that Eve was, fundamentally and originally, another human being.
Adam also understood that a woman is first a human being and secondarily, sexual. Adam, as well as Eve, started to get preposterous after the fall.
They began to get things backwards and saw each other primarily as objects of sexual pleasure.
Hence the shame and the use of fig leaves.
Their shame had nothing to do with the reality of their sexuality. Rather, it was based on their mutual awareness that they had suddenly got things reversed, thinking that sex comes first and personality later.
Pornography is essentially shameful, not because it involves sex, but because it preposterously puts sex before personhood, lust before love, pleasure before conscience, difference before sameness. Consequently, the first obligation on the part of anyone who promotes pornography is to propagate with unremitting energy the heresy that, neither pornography or sex can ever be in any way shameful.
Feminists are, by and large, sensitive to the preposterousness of pornography. They know with sound, intuitive realism, that when it comes to encounters between the sexes, personality and friendship should precede sex.
There is a second problem with pornography, one perhaps more formidable than the first. It is this: in the moral order of things, when you put first what should be second, what should be first does not become second but is lost (and perhaps forever).
In other words, if a relationship between a man and a woman begins with the erotic, it may never get around to developing the personal. The pornographically styled relationship may never cross the barrier of lust in order to being cultivating the personal.
Pornography is essentially divisive because it begins with the part and the part does not have the wherewithal to regenerate the whole. If we being with just a part of a jig-saw puzzle, we will have no idea how it fits into the whole picture. Only by beginning with a vision of the whole is it possible for us to make the transition to the proper location of each part.
The more we tolerate pornography in our society, the more divisive will be the relationships between the sexes. Conversely, the more personal, humane and loving the relationships between the sexes become, the less need there will be for pornography.
It is simply preposterous for our society to give pornography its destructive outposts.