Sex & Sexism in Ancient Rome (Transcript)

Cover of John Clarke's book Roman Sex, with a big red X on it, and the backside of a marble statue of a naked woman.Following is a transcript of my Columbus talk earlier this year on Sex & Sexism in Ancient Rome (video and bibliography and backstory here). Much thanks to Jacob Aliet who did most of the work putting this together.

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Sex & Sexism in Ancient Rome (Video)

Clipped photo of an actual ancient Roman silver dinner cup depicting in elegantly realistic relief a well built man lifting a boy lover up and having anal sex with him in the air. The cup shows all genitalia and the whole act, but because the internet is a prude, I have cut the image off just above that part.My talk for PolyColumbus last month has now made it to YouTube! It is age restricted due to its sexual content. A transcript is underway. I will add a link for that to this post (and announce it in comments, so if you want, subscribe to comments below to be alerted when that happens). But you can read the bullets or a full transcript, and for those who want to study further, I have provided my bibliography. Note also that this event was co-sponsored by the Humanist Community of Central Ohio and PolyColumbus, and a talk on this subject might never have happened but for them.

The full title of the talk is “Sex and Sexism in Ancient Rome: Crossroads of Sexual Freedom & State Oppression,” and the official talk description is:
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Don’t Be Explicit in Other People’s Spaces: An Apology

This is an apology for a mistake I made. In a comment thread on Ophelia Benson’s blog about the effects of porn on unwanted violence in the bedroom, I gave as examples for my own points relating to that cases from my own personal sexual experience, which despite one content warning nevertheless got too detailed and explicit for Benson and many of her readers.

I became too defensive when attacked over that and I handled the whole matter poorly. I was too blinded by defensiveness in fact to adequately see things from other people’s perspective. Although some people appreciated what I wrote, and I value their perspective too, others who’s opinions I also respect did not, and that caused me to reexamine everything and (I hope) recognize where I went wrong and what to do about it.

I don’t want to distance myself from the people who thanked me, who included people who feel isolated from what men actually think or can think about sex and were glad to have access to it for a change, and people who deal with being attacked and demeaned and shamed for their fetishes and kinks and were thus understandably defensive about people seeming to attack and demean and shame me for the same.

But there are better ways to serve those needed ends. And I understand that now. I am always very frank and open about my sexlife. And I am often surrounded by people who are the same, and who appreciate that. So I too easily forget the world does not live in that bubble. And I didn’t realize the significance of that before now.

Explicit content is not universally wrong. It can even still serve the purposes I originally stated there and intended. And I may blog separately about that, in a better way. But content warnings are necessary for that even in your own space. And they aren’t sufficient in another’s space. You need to know it’s permitted there first, that it will be acceptable. And I now realize it’s your responsibility to check that beforehand. Because what results if you don’t can affect people badly in ways you don’t intend and wouldn’t want.

To all of those people who were harmed by my actions, I apologize. I did not want to cause harm, and regret having done so. This is another mistake in my life I shall endeavor to improve myself on and not make again. And I thank those whose remarks helped me to see that.

There are better ways to advocate for wider acceptance of sexuality and sexual diversity, and better ways to discuss the impact of porn on our lives too.

Sex & Sexism in Ancient Rome (Columbus, Ohio)

Photograph of an ancient 79 AD painting recovered from a brothel in Pompeii, which had visual menus on the wall for ordering services, this one depicts a bisexual MMF, a man having sex with a man having sex with a woman in doggystyle position on the courtesan's bed..In two weeks I’ll be speaking in Columbus, Ohio. On what you ask? Sex and Sexism in Ancient Rome: Crossroads of Sexual Freedom & State Oppression. Co-hosted by PolyColumbus and the Humanist Community of Central Ohio. This will be Tuesday, July 14 (2015), at 7pm until 9pm EDT. Location: Kafe Kerouac (2250 N High, Columbus, Ohio 43202). It will be both naughty & entertaining and illuminating & disturbing (when you realize what life was really like back then for the would-be sexually liberated). With Q&A. But probably no visuals (so the talk can be posted to the internet without incident, copyright or otherwise).

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Ergo God Maximally Enjoys Getting Gangbanged

This started as a half-serious joke I told in a bar earlier this year. It has become a running gag among some of my drinking compatriots, who, like me, agree it’s, well, let’s be honest, kidding on the square. Apart from it being funny (if rather rude…so, yeah, people offended by kinky sex-positive porny stuff should stop reading and go look at pictures of modestly clothed kittens instead), I wouldn’t normally blog about this except, reality imitating art, a serious discussion of the principle the joke plays on has been engaged recently in academic philosophy, after the release of Rob Lovering’s new book God and Evidence: Problems for Theistic Philosophers (2013), recently reviewed by Clayton Littlejohn of King’s College (London) in the Notre Dame Philosophical Review.

The Boring but Essential Backstory

Lovering’s arguments are not exactly new, but they represent an evolution of those arguments in response to the latest attempts by theists to get around them. Of the five modes he employs to show theism is untenable, the fifth pertains to kinky fun gangbangs. Oh, of course, Lovering says nothing of the kind. But his argument is only just a polite way of saying the same thing I did over a snifter of fine whisky. (And I had not then even heard of his book.)

Lovering’s other four arguments are, basically, (1) “if the evidence were good enough to warrant belief, there wouldn’t be so many nice, smart people who remain unconvinced”; (2) “a god can have no good reason to hide in the way he indisputably does”; (3) “just having faith” despite all that is immoral (by the theist’s own standards); and (4) “making excuses for why the evidence doesn’t fit what we expect from a benevolent superpower renders theism self-refuting,” because (and now I’m quoting Littlejohn) all arguments for God’s existence “assume that we can know what God would do in some situations (e.g., share evidence with us),” whereas the excuses apologists resort to all require asserting we cannot know that.

And then, Lovering’s fifth argument is “omniscience is impossible.” But he gets there in a smart way: he proves a maximally great being cannot exist (and thus all ontological arguments necessarily fail), because no being can be maximally great who fails to know something someone else really does know. This is, again, not new, but it is a good focus of the argument on a genuine problem with the kind of omniscience theism requires. One can easily dismiss arguments from incoherence by just changing your definitions (hence I’m a bit harsh on them in Sense and Goodness without God IV.2.4, pp. 275-77, although I still present some there that do work). For example, showing that there are things it is logically impossible for anyone to know (even a god) can be bypassed by simply defining omniscience as “knowing everything it is logically possible to know.” But there is a way to nix that tactic: identify something that is not logically impossible to know (because, for example, you can point to someone who actually knows it), which God should or must be able to know.

Especially if God must know it in order to be considered maximally great.

Because if there is someone who in some respect is greater than God, God cannot be the greatest being. But even apart from that. If there is something someone knows, which God cannot or does not know, then God cannot be considered omniscient in any appreciable sense. Of course, one can always bite the bullet and admit God isn’t omniscient (just as one can always bite the bullet and admit God is evil…all hail Cthulhu!), but that opens Pandora’s beautiful box of Her Majesty’s Most Unsettling Cognitive Dissonance. Wait, if God is not the greatest being, how do I know how great he is? Or that he is great at all? And how can a bodiless mind have knowledge of stuff anyway? And how did that mind come to know anything? And if God can be ignorant, doesn’t that mean he can also be evil or incompetent or pathetic, too? And if he doesn’t know some important things, doesn’t that mean he can make mistakes? And be wrong about stuff? My world is c-r-u-m-b-l-ing!!!

In short, belief in God can survive the realization that God cannot be meaningfully omniscient, that in fact he must be ignorant of things even ordinary puny humans have knowledge of. But such belief is not likely to survive long. Because once you’ve taken that step, belief in God starts to look ridiculous. Yes, yes, it looked ridiculous already. But now the believer can’t avoid admitting it.

Okay, Now to the Gangbangs

(you know that’s why you’re actually reading this)

So what does all this have to do with exhilaratingly naughty group sex? I’m getting to that. But I have to bore you a little more, first. (Technically this teasing counts as S&M; my apologies–although to those who love being ruthlessly teased, you’re welcome). [Read more…]

Sexual Objectification: An Atheist Perspective

Picture of Caroline Heldman, Ph.D.A recently excellent TED talk by Caroline Heldman about sexual objectification is a must-view. It will just take you thirteen minutes of your time, and I guarantee every minute is informative–things you should know, if you don’t already (and don’t assume you do). She correctly defines and identifies a real problem, identifies from empirical and scientific findings why it’s bad, and lays out what you can do about it, and everything she suggests is doable without much expense (the only resources required: just your attention and concern, and what it motivates you to say and think and do) except one thing, which is producing better art, advertising and media yourself (which we need not all do: that’s a recommendation for artists, marketers, and media people).

To watch that video, and read yet another disgusting example of how the women in our own movement are being treated, see Rebecca Watson’s post on it (Reminder: I Am an Object). Her post is short but to the point and she gives the evidence of what she’s talking about (in her case, something far worse than what Heldman is talking about, but on the same arc). Why so many men in our movement (and even some women) are not taking this seriously as a problem to speak out against and fight I don’t know. Anyway, the Heldman video is embedded at the end of her post, so if you don’t care about the latest harassment of Rebecca Watson, you can just skip to the end and watch Heldman (or click on her picture here above). Indeed I dare you to.

In the meantime, I have more to say on this subject as an atheist, a humanist, a feminist, and a philosopher… [Read more…]

Sexy Sex Sex!! (for Cash on the Barrel!)

A debate is flourishing on FtB over the morality of pornography and prostitution, and it illustrates some principles of political and moral philosophy that I think are important to disseminate more widely than just among the privileged West, and illustrates how easily the strange realities of the Western democratic world aren’t readily understood or even imagined by those who come from outside of it. It also touches on the philosophy of aesthetics, the metaphysics of human sexuality, and political epistemology. In other words, it spans anyone’s entire worldview, all five Aristotelian categories: semantics/epistemology, physics/metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, and politics. Which those who have read my Sense and Goodness without God will recognize completes the description of any worldview (and I use them there to describe what I believe to be the most credible and coherent atheist worldview). [Read more…]