why porn may be the safety valve the surveillance state needs

Yesterday I curiously compared one of my favourite activities, proofreading, to what I described as “good sex” – ie voyeuristic sex:

But if truth be told, proofreading is like good sex – or voyeuristic sex, anyway. Unlike the role of writer, when everything unspools, when a handle on the work’s direction does not entirely belong to the author, when the characters themselves take on lives of their own … unlike the writer or the thinker or the salesperson, the proofreader sees everything – but everything – at a single glance.

Two things I’d observe with these lines: one, I never realised I might personally define good sex as voyeurism – though living in a world where everyone watches everyone, it’s perhaps hardly surprising that this has become the case.  From the state and its intelligence arms to neighbours on Facebook, taking in readers and their journalists along the way, all of us are fascinated by everything the rest of us do.

My second observation focusses, however, specifically on the question of the state.  In yesterday’s post, I go on to say the following (the bold is mine today):

Networks are popular things these days: everything, as you can see, can be interpreted as a network.  There is, of course, in all our lives a real place for love and attachment, with all its happy and sad complications.  But surely there is also a place for where we can feel in charge: something which briefly reassures our sense of being; of emotion; of character; of simple existence.

I wonder, then, in a society and civilisation where the levels of permanent, dragnet surveillance are increasing frighteningly, exponentially, in most anti-liberal ways, whether it’s an altogether intelligent thing to pursue – as the British do at least – those who consume online porn.  I would argue, at least today, and in the absence of any feedback which indicates otherwise, that the purpose of online porn – politically incorrectly of course, and something my inner sense and sensibility will automatically (maybe knee-jerkingly!) disagree with – is primarily to feed its users’ desire to be in sexually charge of the landscape they view.

This is probably a definition of bad sex in most people’s books.  So why do I think I may have described the instinct as good?  Maybe, for starters, I’m a bad person.  Maybe that’s the reality out there.  I don’t think it is: I think I’m just a normal person.  But the possibility must always be contemplated.

There is another explanation we could consider, however: as our inability to control our lives spreads to all parts of our existences, as large companies track and stalk our every online expression using big data, as governments watch our every intimacy, as even our friends and family gather in chat rooms, so our need (as I suggest above) to “feel in charge”, to have “something which briefly reassures our sense of being; of emotion; of character; of simple existence” … this all becomes so very important – and yet, simultaneously beyond us.

I’m not saying the surveillance state makes porn a physical necessity.  I’m being rather more complex (as is my wont) than that: rather, I would suggest that it – or something analogous – is needed to allow us to feel we still control our destinies.

There is nothing worse, nor more final for a thinking psyche, than to wonder if life is a set of aggressively trammelled tracks, out of which no being can step.

We need the tracks; of course we do.  Society needs structure to survive.  But as human beings, as social beings, we also thirst for freedom of choice.

And an intelligent society and civilisation, which doesn’t want to see itself self-consumed, should understand that before it’s too late.

I don’t think it is yet.

But one day it may be.

So just to make it clear and ultimately manifest: I’m not saying we need online porn to stick together as a species.  I am, however, suggesting that the temporary sense of control over what we are that online porn clearly provides is an instinct and impulse that any government worth its people would be well advised to study, assess and comprehend.

Finally, I’d be interested on your thoughts on this one.  Anything I’ve missed out, or got wrong, in particular.

Until the next time …

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