Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Blindness of Me

So, I read this brief article on NPR, reviewing or previewing a new book out by a porn star. It's a memoir of sorts, subtitled: "Porn - a love story," which is an intriguing enough title. According to the article, the author recognizes that there's a lot of trouble in the porn industry, that lots of women get used and abused and a lot of people have a bad experience, but she's always been fascinated with the idea and has thoroughly enjoyed her career.

Now, we could get caught up in judgment - claiming she's lying or fooling herself - and really there's no way to even begin to make those sorts of assertions without reading the book. Based on the description given here, while I'd like to know more about the psychology involved in this position, it doesn't seem like the kind of thing that I'd read.

What's more fascinating to me is the way in which this perfectly illustrates our societal obsession with hyper-individualism.

What this woman is essentially saying is that she recognizes the vast majority of people who get involved with the adult film industry are objectified, taken advantage of, bullied, abused, hurt, and degraded - but it's ok for her to be a part because she's doing it "for the right reasons."

Again I'm not even going to question her opinion. It is her opinion to have. Perhaps her friends and family know her well enough to judge its veracity - I don't. I do, however, question the ability to say what she's said.

Maybe the book goes into more detail and this was left out of the NPR piece, but it strikes me odd that one could divorce their own participation (no matter how pure it is judged) in something so admittedly harmful to so many people, from the reality of such harm. There's really no other way to look at this situation than that she's participating in the abuse and objectification of lots and lots of people.

Well, there is a way to look at things differently - that's the radical hyper-individualism so prevalent in our society. I'm ok, so it doesn't matter what anybody else does.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for radical freedom. I think people need to be respected enough to let them make their own choices, no matter how much we disagree with them (at least in general, things are certainly different in more intimate relationships). But I do think individuals have the responsibility to take into consideration the way their own actions affect others.

This seems very similar to the way many pro football players talk these days. Yes, we all recognize that, in general, playing football is terrible for your health and well-being. There is documented evidence of head trauma leading to a real brain disorder (CTE), not to mention all the regular long-term effects of hurtling your large body at other large bodies every day for a decade or more.

Yet, despite this near-universally admitted reality, most players willingly accept the risk and play the sport - for a variety of reasons. I have seen a few, but not many, players think about how their individual actions effect the lives of others. Is their willingness to take risks having a negative impact on fellow players or kids who may aspire to be professional football players someday? I know I, as a fan, have considered whether its appropriate to even watch a sport with such detrimental side-effects.

We tend to avoid these conversations because we've been shaped to believe we're only responsible for ourselves, when that's just not true.

We're responsible for everyone. It's why we have all these people out there trying to tell everyone else how to live. They may be annoying, but their a step closer to reality that the "live and let live" crowd.

As I said, I'm all for freedom. I think people need to make their own decisions. Me telling them how to live or act or think without a real relationship of trust and permission between us is just disrespectful. At the same time, I don't think live and let live makes any sense.

More and more I think the sad reality is we need to be responsible for people even as we watch them make bad decisions. There is no room for "I told you so" in life. We may have the freedom to make whatever choices we want to make, but we also have the responsibility to celebrate or suffer through the consequences of those decisions together.

You can't play football without also accepting responsibility to look after those who emerge less lucky than you. That's part of the reason why the NFL's settlement with former players has been overturned in court. This is not a business litigation expense to be written off the bottom line. It's a shared responsibility.

You can't be part of a corrupt industry - whether its porn or banking or tulip production - without taking ownership of that corruption. There is such a thing as guilt by association - although I think its described better by another name: responsibility.

Sometimes we're allowed to shirk those responsibilities. Sometimes we're given a choice whether to step into them or walk away. A society shaped by hyper-individualism doesn't want to punish one person for the choices of another - and it really shouldn't be forced. What it should be is voluntary.

We have to look beyond ourselves and our own choices to the world in which we live. Our choices have consequences not just for ourselves, but for others. Many of us never take those connection into consideration - and it leaves the people who do holding the bag of responsibility for all of us. We can't make people care for one another - and I wouldn't want to - but we can do more to encourage it, incentivize it, and make it part of the fabric of social consciousness.

Let us never say, "my motives are pure, therefore I have no responsibility for the the problems that arise from my actions." Life is bigger than ourselves - a mantra we need now more than ever.

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