Re: [OPE-L] Sexuality, Rationality & Irrationality under Capitalism

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Mon Apr 03 2006 - 21:19:05 EDT

Hi Jurriaan,

Previously I asked:

> How is it that you were able to arrive at this generalization?

You replied, in part:

> It's just my experience of life, that is all. I don't deny that we can do
> some pretty whacky things in sexual relations, but usually people rather
> quickly find out what their limits and abilities are, in that area.

Your (or my) individual experience can not serve as a basis for a
critical understanding of sexuality in late capitalism any more than your
(or my) consumption habits can serve as a basis for comprehending
patterns of consumption under late capitalism.  This is a _social_ question
which can not be reduced to individual experience (in part, but only in
part,  because of the fallacy of composition).

The marginal utility theory of consumer choice assumes that consumers have
perfect information about the prices and qualities of commodities
which they might purchase (and, hence, there is no advertising and
marketing) and, on that basis, make rational choices about what to purchase
and at what prices.  In that theory, *consumers are simply assumed
to have preferences -- there is no critical interrogation into the social
processes which create, reinforce and change preferences*.    Once these
assumption are made then consumer choices appear to be merely private,
individual choices by rational agents pursuing self-interest.

A critical theory of consumer behavior must *challenge* these assumptions.
It must, for example, not simply consider consumer preferences to be
exogenous.  It must consider the ways in which preferences are

A  necessary but not sufficient condition for a critical analysis of
sexuality under capitalism requires that we do the same.  I.e. that rather
than simply accepting that individuals have their own preferences and leave
it at that,  we consider the _social_ forces which help to create,
perpetuate, and shape our preferences.  Just as we are little aware of
the extent to which advertising has shaped our preferences for
consumer goods,  so too we are little aware of all of the myriad ways in
which social forces helped to shape our ideas about sexuality.  The
reason for this is simple -- from the time we were born, advertising has
impacted our lives (indeed, long before we had any conscious memories
of _anything_ we were exposed to corporate advertising in a variety
of forms).  So too with sexuality --  from the moment of birth we
were exposed to and taught conceptions of gender.  Every social
institution, from our parents and (patriarchal) family to the state,
corporations (and hence advertising),  educational institutions,
religious institutions, the media, etc. has had a hand in our socialization
to gender roles and ideas about sexuality.  How can we _possibly_
make rational choices about sexuality when we are not fully aware of
the extent to which those social forces created our preferences?
Of course, each of us _have_ preferences and we make choices based
on those preferences which we consider to be rational, but rational behavior
assumes that we have more information about ourselves than we
have.  If we are rational about sexuality, then it is the rationality of
the hearing- and sight- and knowledge- and GENDER-impaired.   We can not
legitimately assume away the critical ways in which gendered conceptions
of sexuality and "beauty" and romantic "love" shape our own sexual
(not only for gender, but for many other physical characteristics and social
appearances). It's little wonder that psychologists and therapists do such a
booming business in the advanced capitalist nations.

See what I'm saying?

Imagine a world in which human beings have full knowledge about
themselves.  Imagine a world in which "our" beliefs weren't shaped by
patriarchy, capital, and the state.  What would sexual behavior be
like then?  I don't know.  I _really_ don't know.  I _do_ know that our
choices _now_ about sexuality do not take place in that setting.  The
process of  creating communism is -- to no small extent! -- a process
of liberating ourselves from the straightjackets of gender.  So long as
patriarchy exists neither men nor women can be truly and fully rational.
Sexual rationality presupposes the liberation of women.  Jut as the
English can not be free so long as the Irish are oppressed, so too men
can not be free so long as women are not.

Oh well, it's time for me to get off of the soapbox ....

In solidarity, Jerry

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