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By Jason Michael
Anyone shocked by the revelation the British government is riddled with predatory sexual perverts really ought to turn off their television and move to a wood cabin in the Alaska wilderness.
Rarely now do the social and intellectual worlds which I inhabit collide. It would be seldom that theological ideas – my misspent youth – inform my more recent political thinking, but when such collisions and intersections happen the outcome is often quite interesting. This opening line tells me that this is set to be something of a meandering think piece, more theory than opinion. So if you are of a mind to continue reading, I suggest you settle down with a wee cuppa.
Westminster sleaze – two words which very much belong together; the whole business of British government ministers and politicians preying on their secretaries and office managers, getting them pregnant and pressuring them to have abortions, and powerful men paying young men to urinate on them, got me thinking about the thoughts of two medieval theologians. In the blue corner we have the negative anthropology of Augustine, the rather pessimistic notion that people are essentially bad but can, with some work, make good, and in the red corner Thomas Aquinas with his more compassionate positive anthropology, that people are actually good but are capable of being naughty.
Like many ideas in often dusty theological tomes, both these approaches to human nature have their merits. Truth be told, I am a bit of a fan of Augustine and Aquinas – for different reasons. Augustine famously prayed for chastity and continence, “but not yet.” How can you not like that sort of religious pragmatism? Then there was big Thomas Aquinas – by all reports more of a hippopotamus than Augustine of Hippo – who, as the father of scholasticism, determined that it was not gluttony until you got sick. Regardless of the bad rap religion has gotten itself in recent times, I still imagine a night on the beer with these two would have been magnificent.
The stench of vomit on the 2nd floor of Aquinas is ungodly.—
Andres Taborda (@AndresTaborda_) October 17, 2012
Opinions are split on much of the goings on reported in the so-called dirty dossier of Tory MPs’ antics published by Guido Fawkes – funny that I’m writing this on the 5 November. Some of it is awful, of course. There is no question that getting “handsy” or being otherwise “inappropriate” with women – especially when one is in a position of power – is disgusting. But how bad is it, really, that the Prime Minister’s deputy has been allegedly pleasuring himself to pornographic images online? He is an adult after all. With so many in the commentariat arguing on either side, the whole question of sleaze in this context quickly becomes a moral minefield.
So let’s beat out this puzzle (ahem); starting with the alleged discovery of lewd material on Damien Green’s laptop by the police back in 2008. The common and now almost entirely unchallenged assumption is that there is nothing wrong with pornography. Human beings are sexual beings, we have erotic impulses, and we do what we do. Fair enough, but this isn’t what porn is. Pornography, as part of a globalised sex industry, is a multi-billion dollar industry that trades in and profits from the commodification of frequently exploited people – most often women – for the consumption and enjoyment of paying customers.
While there are ethical pornographic productions, one can only imagine that sourcing ethical porn on the internet is like finding the vegetarian recipes on a US meat industry website. The virtual fleshambles has become so ubiquitous that it can only be assumed that even the ethical stuff fuels demand for the more nefarious. It is, as a moralist might say, a slippery slope.
Great piece on being an ethical porn consumer! Love the idea of ‘buying the porn you wish to see in the world’. twitter.com/jizlee/status/…—
Jay Freeman (@JayAlessandra) October 23, 2017
In the strictest moral sense then there is no such thing as ethical pornography. It is a fallacy, no doubt manufactured to satisfy a corner of the market. In the same moral tone we have to conclude that porn is a wrong, just as all other forms of human commodification and worker exploitation are wrongs. Yet, having said this, we are forced to accept that the desire to seek out sexual gratification is a biological imperative. This want is hardwired into us. A philosopher might add at this point that we have been set up to fail. That this material, with its instant pleasure buzz, exists but a click away makes it the ultimate moral trap.
Given the current social conditioning of boys and men, the licence modernity affords the misdemeanour of pornography, and the battle we all have over the demands of our biology, porn is one of those things that will happen. This allows us to have some sympathy with Damien Green, if indeed he was burning the midnight oil.
What, however, does this tell us of his nature, and are we sure we want a man in such a position of power who is so incontinent regarding his urges? How capable can a person be to assist in the running of the government – at such a crucial time – when he or she struggles to focus on their job when they are at work? Elsewhere employers have a zero tolerance policy on porn in the workplace. This behaviour causes offence, demoralises other employees, and costs businesses money and the time. Private industry has long since figured out that employing a party of bonobos is a less than worthless business model when it comes to getting things done, why then should we put up with it in government? What these people do in their time is up to them, but when this is happening in the Houses of Parliament we are paying for it.
Fuck me, one of today's stories is that an MP 'caught' with (adult) porn on his computer is now in trouble. GROW UP PEOPLE.—
Adi MacArtney🚀 (@Science_Hooker) November 05, 2017
After becoming a political blogger and a manic consumer of the news and all things politics my natural affection for the positive anthropology of Aquinas has been seriously challenged. I have become a cynic of the highest order. Power, I have discovered, not only corrupts, it attracts the corrupt. Politics, more especially the power politics of state government, attracts people whose ambitions are for power for its own sake. This is certainly no revelation. It is self-evident. But it informs us of the nature of the people who govern us.
When a person’s priority is achieving power or maintaining it then all other things, even people, are reduced to mere means to that end – they become subjects. Once subjectified to the ends of another people lose – in the eyes of the subjectifier – their humanity. They become mere things, objects, and instruments. It is no great leap then to see how the subjectified, instrumentalised, and dehumanised female colleague, prostituted person, or young research assistant becomes in the mind of the powerful a plaything; a sex toy to be touched, degraded, abused, and used. This is not a “sex scandal.” This is as far from mutual sexual intercourse as one can get. It is power masturbating.
So who was right, Augustine or Aquinas? The more I read of this utterly predictable and putrid mess, involving over thirty Conservative MPs – representing a government that bribed its way into power, the more I am inclined to see human beings as bad and in need of a clip around the ear. But this would be to completely rob goodness even from the victims. All I can say for sure is that the system in which these perverts operate is irredeemably bad, wicked bad. It sucks in the innocent and nurtures their darkness, while the power it offers attracts people for whom serial killer level psychopathy is for rank amateurs. Sleaze and corruption is all that it is capable of producing. It is a nest of vipers, and – quoting another figure from religion – by their fruits you will know them.
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