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Value and availability

In a capitalist, consumer-driven society like ours, you would think people would understand the basic rules of market economics, such as the law of supply-and-demand.  This law states, simply, that the price of a good increases with increase in demand and decreases with increase in supply.  So if you have a highly-demanded item that is in short supply (e.g. the iPhone or Wii when they were first released) the price (i.e. the value placed on it by others) can be quite high; in contrast something with high supply and low demand (say, a box of lead-laced toys) practically can’t even be given away.

This law extends outside of the market as well.  I’ve been reading Josef Pieper: An Anthology in an attempt to get to know this philosopher of whom I’ve read so much.  It’s a collection of short snips of his writing which he selected and collated himself.  The below extended quote really seems to sum up the reality of the situation of the on-demand sex culture we find ourselves mired in the middle of.

There is no need to declare the preset “sexualization of all aspects of public life as simply our fateful destiny; for too much in it is media hyperbole and commercial manipulation.

What makes this consumer sex without eros so ugly and so inhuman is essentially this:  it empties the love encounter of its inner significance within the larger framework of human existence, its essence of stepping out from self-centered limitation by opening up to – and becoming one with – another person. As a mere partner in sex, however, the other is not looked upon as a person, a living human being with an individual human face.  An American author has described this reality with the tongue-in-cheek yet accurate observation that from a playboy’s point of view the fig leaf has simply been transferred – it not conceals the human face.  The man who merely lusts after a woman does not, indeed, really desire “a woman”, in spite of his words.  True yearning for the beloved, for togetherness with the beloved, springs from what philosophy calls the eros.  Mere sex, in contrast, desires something impersonal, an object; not a Thou but a thing:  “Just the thing in itself”, as the partners in George Orwell’s 1984 explicitly assure each other.  “Let’s do that thing”, they say in one of Heinrich Boll’s novels.  Some speak right to the point of the “deception” in the encounter whose object is only sex.  True, for a moment the illusion of “becoming one” may arise; but such an outward union, without love, leaves the two more thoroughly strangers to each other than before.  No wonder, then, that “in a society where love is based on sex, where love is not the prerequisite for the gift of physical union”, sexuality is paradoxically “separating rather than uniting man and woman, abandoning them to more loneliness and isolation at the very moment when they thought to have surely found the other.”  The surprise, or better, the disappointment inherent in this paradox – it only seems a paradox, of course – is intensified as sex becomes more and more a commodity available at any time.

Such a result, remarks Paul Ricoeur – loss of value by being readily available – was certainly not anticipated by the generation of Sigmund Freud when those sexual taboos were smashed.  “Whatever facilitates the sexual encounter also helps it sink into irrelevance.”  This should come as no surprise at all.  It may well be an absolute principle that anything available “on demand” at almost no cost, and instantly to boot (the Americans use the rugged expression “short-order sex”) will necessarilly lose not only its value but its attraction as well.  The director of a health center at an American state university, a psychiatrist by profession, relates this experience; promiscuous female students, when questioned, would answer, “It’s just too much trouble to say ‘no.”  At first this may bespeak enormous freedom, but what it really means is more like, “I don’t care, it’s all the same, it doesn’t matter.”  This premise already contains its inevitable consequence:  a sexuality not only lacking joy, but lacking pleasure as well.  “So much sex and so little meaning or even fun in it!”

The whole rest of the book is stuffed full of other well-packed insights, although thankfully mostly on other topics.  Pieper is, indeed, a very interesting study thus far.

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