Gore Vidal…a great one gone »« Is this cannibal week and no one told me?

Oh god oh god oh god

Alain de Botton has written a book about sex! I’m almost tempted to buy it for the hilarity — de Botton is the kind of upper-class twit lampooned by Monty Python, and I’m sure it would be full of insights about how such a person could accidentally reproduce themselves.

You must read the whole review to get the full brunt of the absurdity. As Stephanie says, the book tells us much more about de Botton’s narrow view of sex than it tells us about sex itself.

For example…

Joking aside, de Botton goes on to extend Worringer’s [an art historian who wrote an essay in 1907] ideas to human attraction, posing that we are attracted to other people because we see in them what we are missing in ourselves. Not content to reinforce the unhealthy (if slightly romantic) notion that we need another human to be “complete,” de Botton pens an ode to the virgin/whore construct by comparing Scarlett Johansson’s features to those of Natalie Portman, giving each a completely subjective meaning (“her cheeknoes indicate a capacity for self-involvement,” he says of Johansson). “We end up favoring Natalie, who is objectively no more beautiful than Scarlett, because her eyes reflect just the sort of calm that we long for and never got enough of from our hypochondriacal mother (p. 56).”

Damn it. My mother wasn’t hypochondriacal at all. No wonder I can’t get jazzed about the thought of sex with Natalie Portman!

It’s something that he’s using an obscure source from 1907 for his ideas — citing old sources isn’t a trump card for erudition, I’m afraid — but the rest of that goes back further: it’s the 19th century fascination with physiognomy. No, the shape of your nose or your cheekbones or your earlobes may tell you something about genes and embryonic influences on development, but it isn’t an indicator of the way your mind works. What next, will de Botton cite iridology?

Actually, we get some ignorant zoology.

The early humanoids … may have had a hard time finding food, evading dangerous animals, sewing underpants and communicating with faraway relatives, but having sex was a simple matter for them, because the one question that almost certainly never ran through the minds of male hunters as they lifted themselves up on their hirsute limbs was whether their partners were going to be in the mood that night — or whether they might instead feel revolted or bored by the sight of a penis, or just keen to spend a quiet evening tending to the fire.

Uh, the fact that they’re not Homo sapiens does not imply that they didn’t have elaborate courtship procedures and complex social mores. I suspect that human ancestors, at least since they were primates, have had quite a few rules for negotiating sex, and that there has never been a phase in our evolution where you could just tap any female on the shoulder and she’d willingly spread her legs for you…and that he thinks such a condition would be a simpler state of affairs tells us a lot about his ideals. So women submitting to sex without concern for their interests or who their partner is is a simpler condition? Only for the males.

As usual, de Botton has little consideration of actual science.

In fact, according to de Botton, porn is bad for science, since it takes up the time researchers could be using to find the cure for cancer (p. 96).

Oh, so that’s why I haven’t won a Nobel!

He also has a very 19th century attitude towards common sexual practices. Masturbation is bad for you! And most interestingly, his annoying affection for religion surfaces here: all praise for the godly who favor repression. Special praise for religions that support his sexist biases.

Masturbation and fantasy are in complete opposition to virtue, he argues, and porn is the terrible catalyst. No, not just porn — the entire internet is at fault (p. 102)! The answer, de Botton suggests, is “a bit” of censorship, “if only for the sake of our own well-being and our capacity to flourish.”

If you don’t see how helpful “a bit” of censorship might be, it is because you “have never been obliterated by the full force of sex” (help! We’ve fallen into a Philip Roth novel and we can’t get out!). Religions get this, de Botton reminds us. “Only religions see [sex] as something potentially dangerous and needing to be guarded against. (p 103)” There is a paragraph somewhere in there that seems to obliquely suggest that hijabs and burkas make sense by pointing out the excitement aroused in men by “half-naked teenage girls sauntering provocatively down the beachfront.” Indeed, “a degree of repression is necessary both for the mental health of our species and for the adequate functioning of a decently ordered and loving society.”

Pause here for a moment and consider this carefully: earlier in the book, de Botton offered an example of a woman who pretended that she wanted a relationship just so she could have sex. That was a nice example because it showed that he was aware that women, too, have desires and women, too, want sex. Unfortunately, his considerations for women began and ended in the same place. While he suggests an award for impotence to applaud men’s “depth of spirit,” he completely ignores any sexual issues women face. You caught that, right? Now look at the above paragraph again. See how the discussion of censorship targets women specifically? There is no mention anywhere about men’s audacity to cavort on the beach. It is women who must be covered. It’s the female body that must be censored.

The most depressing news here is that apparently I have a shallow spirit and don’t get a prize.

Wait…a little saltpeter* and maybe I could win an award for “depth of spirit” and a Nobel prize!

*Actually, saltpeter is really ineffective. I should instead consult this list.

Comments

  1. eric says

    [I suspect...] that there has never been a phase in our evolution where you could just tap any female on the shoulder and she’d willingly spread her legs for you…

    I’d be a lot less surprised, however, if the opposite turned out to be true…

    He also has a very 19th century attitude towards common sexual practices. Masturbation is bad for you!

    Well…remember it was part of a 19th century doctor’s job to give women “pelvic massages” to relieve hysteria. My guess is that de Botton would have a very standard 20th century attitude towards the ethics of that practice (i.e., its wrongity wrong wrong for a doctor to do that!)

  2. says

    Charles Dickens was quite the physiognomist, especially in his early novels, and even today it’s tempting to judge a book by its cover. I have long admired Terry Pratchett’s clever riff on the foolishness of physiognomists and phrenologists. Remember “retro-phrenology”?

    It works like this: Phrenology, as everyone knows, is a way of reading someone’s character, aptitude and abilities by examining the bumps and hollows on their head. Therefore—according to the kind of logical thinking that characterizes the Ankh-Morpork mind—it should be possible to mould someone’s character by giving them carefully graded bumps in all the right places.

  3. says

    I would like to think that somewhere, in this day and age, I can find examples of a philosopher who doesn’t bollocks up everything he comes across in life with pretentious windbaggery. Examples welcome and appreciated.

  4. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    We MUST censor all of the naughty bits! If only for the sake of our own well-being and our capacity to flourish.

    *snort*

    As Stephanie says, the book tells us much more about de Botton’s narrow view of sex than it tells us about sex itself.

    QFT

  5. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    We end up favoring Natalie, who is objectively no more beautiful than Scarlett, because her eyes reflect just the sort of calm that we long for and never got enough of from our hypochondriacal mother

    Wrong! We* end up favoring Natalie because the lumps on her skull indicate that she is bodacious.

    /Phrenology

    *Where the fuck did this “we” come from?

  6. ChasCPeterson says

    the fact that they’re not Homo sapiens does not imply that they didn’t have elaborate courtship procedures and complex social mores. I suspect that human ancestors, at least since they were primates, have had quite a few rules for negotiating sex, and that there has never been a phase in our evolution where you could just tap any female on the shoulder and she’d willingly spread her legs for you

    Bonk em on the head wit a club, drag em to the cave by the hair.
    I’m pretty sure there’s evidence for this. Cave paintings, or cartoons, or something.

    [preemptively, I hope nobody thinks that was a 'rape joke'. It was non-magically intended as a making-fun-of-stupid-tropes joke. If I'm wrong and it is a rape joke, I apologize for it.]

  7. Matt Penfold says

    I would like to think that somewhere, in this day and age, I can find examples of a philosopher who doesn’t bollocks up everything he comes across in life with pretentious windbaggery. Examples welcome and appreciated.

    Pretty much anything by AC Grayling is readable, and very often eminently sensible. But then has does think too many of his fellow philosophers go in for mental masturbation.

  8. says

    Oh my. Yes, this is hilarious…

    But I actually feel kinda bad for laughing at the guy now. This is a little past the good fun stage, and well into the ‘man, you will never live this down’ area.

    Has he no friends who know him well enough, and to whom he would listen? No one who could have told him: ‘Dude… Umm… I don’t think you want to write this book’?

    I bet his agent put him up to it. Realized people reading it purely for the lulz might just make him rich, figured somethin’ like: ‘What the hell, I’m in… Just a matter of not smirking too widely when we’re discussing the project… I can keep a straight face that long for this kinda money… Sure I can…’

  9. Paul says

    I’m pretty sure there’s evidence for this. Cave paintings, or cartoons, or something.

    It was very clearly documented in the great documentary History of the World, Part One, if you need a citation. Of course, it wasn’t limited to female targets.

  10. fastlane says

    What is that man smoking? I think Scarlett is much more attractive than Natalie. I would have to get to know them, though, to know whether there’s any real attraction.

    So, does Botton, at any point, do the same sort of personal projection of his tastes to why women supposedly prefer some men over others?

  11. otrame says

    Okay. So de Botton is a profoundly neurotic man. Not terribly surprised.

    But I keep thinking of the publisher. Was it only that they figured they would make money from it, or did they get some pleasure from thinking about how revealing the book is of de Botton’s “issues” because he is such an annoying twit?

  12. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    So, does Botton, at any point, do the same sort of personal projection of his tastes to why women supposedly prefer some men over others?

    Women have sexual preferences? Other than for Botoon, that is?

  13. Brownian says

    I’m not even going to touch the Portman vs. Johansson bullshit, but his fetishisation and complete acceptance of antiquated tropes about ‘cavemen’ demonstrates what a complete and utter dilettante this pretender is.

    If his next treatise was on the type and condition of the cheese that makes up the moon, and how Martian canals were elaborate alien nacho dipping apparati, I would hardly be surprised.

    What a fool.

  14. eleutheria says

    Does anyone know de Botton’s stated religion? If I had to bet, I’d put it on him being a Catholic. His view of the vileness of sex is either derived from the Catholic or fundamentalist Protestant schools. And since he doesn’t seem lahk a backwoods Baptist type, I’m leaning towards the mastubation=sin Catholic type.

    It is endlessly fascinating when someone takes their own (usually prudish) personal sexual mores and trying to generalize them onto the rest of the human race.

    It’s a dazzling display of narcissism and a complete lack of empathy. “You mean you don’t think of the Virgin Mother when you orgasm? But that’s so odd!”

  15. says

    …but having sex was a simple matter for them…

    Someone needs to remind this twit that there’s more to reproduction than sex. Early humans didn’t just need to crank out babies, they needed to provide for them, train them, and socialize them, otherwise all those babies would just freeze or starve or get eaten and the tribe would just die. So you don’t just need sex, you need a committed relationship between whoever is raising the kids.

    So no, “having sex” may have been simple in itself — but sex doesn’t enhance species survival in itself; it’s part of something a bit more complicated than upper-class twits like DiBottom seem to understand.

  16. David Marjanović says

    It’s a dazzling display of narcissism and a complete lack of empathy. “You mean you don’t think of the Virgin Mother when you orgasm? But that’s so odd!”

    Exactly. As I said on Almost Diamonds and TET:

    “lolwut

    Looks like de Botton writes about sex the exact same way he writes about atheism: he projects, not knowing that not everyone is exactly like him in experience, knowledge, personality and so on… or anywhere near similar to him for that matter.”

    atheist.

    No really.

    He wants to turn atheism into some kind of religion, though, and is completely baffled that not every other atheist immediately and enthusiastically agrees. There have been one or two threads about this here on Pharyngula.

  17. says

    Alain de Botton is from a Jewish background, but does not appear to have practiced his ancestral faith. His background is quite secular.

  18. says

    We end up favoring Natalie…

    And who the fuck is this “we?” I always favored Scarlett, because she had more meat on her bones and a much more pleasing smile (and she never played a sexually twisted trainwreck in ballet shoes).

    I gotta echo the question that was asked earlier: what kind of people does DiBottom hang with, to think this kind of shit is worth writing?

  19. says

    Yeah, the wrong kind of masturbation. If he dropped all this rubbish and concentrated on the other kind, he’d be doing himself and his readers a favor.

  20. says

    If this guy put his heart and soul into it he could, after years of arduous effort and bone crushing donkey labor, just miss graduating from moron to imbecile by the slimmest of margins. You know, if he really reached for the stars.

  21. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Masturbation and fantasy are in complete opposition to virtue, he argues, and porn is the terrible catalyst. No, not just porn — the entire internet is at fault (p. 102)! The answer, de Botton suggests, is “a bit” of censorship, “if only for the sake of our own well-being and our capacity to flourish.”

    WOW, THIS SOUNDS FAMILIAR… *facepalm*

  22. says

    he projects, not knowing that not everyone is exactly like him in experience, knowledge, personality and so on… or anywhere near similar to him for that matter.”

    Maybe he has Asperger’s syndrome… Though, I think it’s more likely he’s just a self absorbed narcissist that seems to plague the uppity-ups of western society.

  23. stonyground says

    Now I’m a bit worried. If masturbation is harmful, how long does it take for this harm to manifest itself? After about forty years, I fear that I might be on borrowed time.

  24. lcaution says

    Touches on one of my pet peeves: the way evolutionary “sociologists” look at common stereotypes about men and women and, surprise, surprise, surprise, explain how they are true because there were obvious evolutionary advantages to such differences – when we haven’t the faintest bit of knowledge* about male/female or social relationships of the early hominids.

    *yes, I know they extrapolate from modern primitive tribes but I certainly wouldn’t assert that tribal practices haven’t changed in a 100,000 years.

  25. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Maybe he has Asperger’s syndrome…

    Fuck you.

  26. says

    We end up favoring Natalie, who is objectively no more beautiful than Scarlett, because her eyes reflect just the sort of calm that we long for and never got enough of from our hypochondriacal mother

    My “hypochondriacal” mother was diabetic and had emphysema, and died 25 years ago at the age of 56. Yeah, she really was sick. So that’s a fuck you, speak for yourself.
    Or maybe let me speak for you, de Botton.

    “We end up favoring Natalie, who is objectively no more beautiful than Scarlett, because her eyes reflect just the sort of calm that we long for and never got enough of from our mother, who dressed us in sailor suits until we were 23, and sent us to school with our shirts tucked into our underwear.”

  27. John Kruger says

    When a Catholic nun is giving better sex advice, it really brings de Botton’s experience and expertise into question.

  28. says

    Ouch! I’m feeling the pain of regret for those few moments in the past when I ever took De Botton to be a serious commentator.

  29. davec says

    alright, after a couple of votes for Ms. Johansson, I’ll give Ms. Portman my vote. Just not for any of the stupid reasons that wanker gave. Of course, I did not see her turn as a sexually twisted trainwreck in ballet shoes, although that description hardly sounds likely to change my mind.

  30. Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says

    When a Catholic nun is giving better sex advice, it really brings de Botton’s experience and expertise into question.

    You imply* that Botton had some amount of expertise in the subject matter in the first place. Citation needed.

    *I realize you aren’t actually implying this, but are just mocking De Botton. Just as I am not actually asking for a citation for his expertise.

  31. David Marjanović says

    Maybe he has Asperger’s syndrome…

    I do.* I keep constantly noticing how different everyone else is from me. It’s a lifelong experience.

    So, I think, that can’t be it…

    * Haven’t been diagnosed, but I have a long list of the symptoms…

    You imply* that Botton had some amount of expertise in the subject matter in the first place. Citation needed.

    You mean he’s a virgin? That can’t be it either. I know so few people that I’m a 30-year-old virgin. I can still tell he’s serving us a load of crap; apparently he has kept his eyes firmly shut and not read anything outside a few narrow topics.

  32. GodotIsWaiting4U says

    I’d be more annoyed with him if “obliterated by the full force of sex” didn’t sound so HOT.

  33. truthspeaker says

    Has this guy seriously never observed an animal courtship ritual?

    Dude, invest an hour of your time and watch a David Attenborough special.

  34. Rob in Memphis says

    …“her cheeknoes [sic] indicate a capacity for self-involvement,” he says of Johansson…

    The hell? That’s one of the most laugh-out-loud stupid things I’ve ever read, even including some of the other things de Botton has written. (FTR, I think they’re both lovely, with a slight edge to Natalie Portman.)

  35. says

    Not sure if I should be amused or squicked.

    “half-naked teenage girls sauntering provocatively down the beachfront.”

    Sauntering provocatively? Pretty sure the word he’s looking for is “walking”. Eeech, this is the only attitude that can make me want to be explicitly conservative when I dress.

    Also, uh, I’m relatively sure based on my minimal knowledge of animals that women just giving up sex no matter if they felt like it and not caring puts us behind… most mammals I can think of. Pretty sure the females of most species will snap or kick or bite if they don’t want sex.

  36. says

    Masturbation is bad for you!

    Does he explain how? Is he a follower of Happeh Theory?

    I mean, other than dilution of my body essences, that is.

  37. slothrop1905 says

    lcaution:
    Touches on one of my pet peeves: the way evolutionary “sociologists” look at common stereotypes about men and women and, surprise, surprise, surprise, explain how they are true because there were obvious evolutionary advantages to such differences – when we haven’t the faintest bit of knowledge* about male/female or social relationships of the early hominids.

    I’ve been curious about this for a while now…evo psych people say things, make predictions and such. Is there no way to test this? For instance, I’ve always been curious about sex clubs in the West (US and Europe). In just about every instance I’ve ‘studied’, there are strict limits on the number of men that can join unless accompanied by a woman. Talking to the various leaders of these types (there are many many types, of course…I’m talking about hetero ones, of which there are varying types as well, but the constant I am talking about is casual sex between men and women) of clubs (there are a few websites that have similar services), the various ratios I hear are anywhere from 10:1 to 100:1. Is this really culturally conditioned? and once women have less behavioral restrictions placed upon them, those ratios will get closer to 1:1? I’d appreciate any studies done in this area, because while some studies I’ve seen claim otherwise, the way people actually behave under conditions of anonymity seems to me to speak otherwise.

  38. Fickle Ibis says

    No one who could have told him: ‘Dude… Umm… I don’t think you want to write this book’?

    Quite possibly his friends gave up saying anything years ago and decided to kick back with popcorn when they heard about this book. I know I would.

    I’d do it now, but I’m out of popcorn.

  39. eleutheria says

    [Oops. Sorry about my question few comments back. I forgot that De Botton The Pornographophile is also De Botton The Atheist Two Point Duh Guy.]

    I wish we could throw him back. His muddled Atheism 2.0 crap has nothing to do with Atheism and his up-tight prudery has everything to do with theism.

  40. Die Anyway says

    stonyground says: After about forty years, I fear that I might be on borrowed time.

    Ease up on the fears. I can tell you that you’ve got at least 12 years to go, but you’ll have to ask Fred Willard about anything further out than that. Although, if you’ve started needing glasses, it might be time to slow down. :-)

  41. vaiyt says

    What is the difference between De Botton and the average religionist at this point?

  42. Gregory Greenwood says

    her cheeknoes indicate a capacity for self-involvement

    Phrenology? Seriously? There is no clearer indication that you are dealing with a kook who is completely divorced from reality than this.

    Masturbation and fantasy are in complete opposition to virtue, he argues, and porn is the terrible catalyst.

    While I agree that the harmful character of much pornography is pretty clear, I fail to see how masturbabtion and fantasy harm anyone. Indeed, most psychologists would agree that masturbation is not, in and of itself, harmful at all (unless taken to extremes), and is in fact actually rather beneficial.

    Also, I fail to see how this prating, ludicrously sex-negative pseudo-morality fits with his idea that;

    The early humanoids … may have had a hard time finding food, evading dangerous animals, sewing underpants and communicating with faraway relatives, but having sex was a simple matter for them, because the one question that almost certainly never ran through the minds of male hunters as they lifted themselves up on their hirsute limbs was whether their partners were going to be in the mood that night — or whether they might instead feel revolted or bored by the sight of a penis, or just keen to spend a quiet evening tending to the fire.

    So – masturbation and personal sex fantasies, that harm no one = bad, but a society where the very idea of women actually needing to consent to sex, instead of simply being available for the enjoyment of any passing bloke like an inanimate toy = some kind of idealised ‘simpler age’?

    That is simultaneously so many different shades of wrong it is hard to know where to start. De Botton seems to be seriously arguing that a society where women are universally treated as sex toys – some kind of MRA utopia – is preferable to a situation where *Gasp! Clutch pearls* people might masturbate and fantasise in the privacy of their own homes, activities that cause awful harm to… precisely nobody.

    The answer, de Botton suggests, is “a bit” of censorship, “if only for the sake of our own well-being and our capacity to flourish.”

    And who would get to determine what things require “a bit” of consorship in the name of de Botton’s notional greater good? It wouldn’t be de Botton himself, perchance? Surely not…

    This idiot really does want to turn atheism into his own little religion, irrational prudery and all.

    In fact, according to de Botton, porn is bad for science, since it takes up the time researchers could be using to find the cure for cancer (p. 96).

    So that is why we don’t have off-world colonies, upload tech and interstellar travel yet – it is not a question of immense technical complexity, it is simply that all the scientists are too busy watching porn to do the research. It makes one wonder how they got around to crunching all that data from CERN…

    If you don’t see how helpful “a bit” of censorship might be, it is because you “have never been obliterated by the full force of sex” (help! We’ve fallen into a Philip Roth novel and we can’t get out!). Religions get this, de Botton reminds us. “Only religions see [sex] as something potentially dangerous and needing to be guarded against. (p 103)”

    So now he wants to import religion’s toxic fear of sexuality as well – the attitude that leads to ignorance only sex education and tries to inculcate a poisonous fear of their own bodies and sexuality into young people. Studies have shown how harmful such attitudes are – the lives they ruin, the diseases they help spread, the unwanted pregnancies they cause – and de Botton’s solution to society’s sexual ills is yet more of that self same toxic repression that helped cause the problem in the first place?

    It is like a Doctor finding out that a patient has ingested arsenic, and saying “quick, hand me a fatal dose of potassium cyanide!”

    There is a paragraph somewhere in there that seems to obliquely suggest that hijabs and burkas make sense by pointing out the excitement aroused in men by “half-naked teenage girls sauntering provocatively down the beachfront.”

    So, the standard misogynist trope of woman as corrupt Delilah seductress that fragile, self-control-free men ‘society’ must be protected from? It really is just more of the same we have come to expect from De Botton – he is scraping the theist barrel for all the nastiest aspects of religion that he can enthusiastically embrace as a moral good.

    I don’t know why he doesn’t just convert and abandon all pretence of atheism, other than his apparent narcissistic desire to be pope of his own little godless religion.

  43. arakasi says

    He might have a point there… If I took all the time I’ve spent masturbating in my life and spent it doing something constructive, I might just have a book or two written by now.

    Of course, it is probably more likely that I would have exploded by now, so maybe I chose wisely

  44. nms says

    never really heard of de Botton before, but based on this post I’m assuming he is an obscure Victorian-era belletrist who travelled here in a time machine built by his manservants?

  45. says

    Keep an eye out for de Botton’s forthcoming treatise on phrenology – coming soon to a bestseller list near you!

  46. falstaff says

    I’m beginning to think de Botton is an atheist in much the same way that S.E. Cupp is an atheist.

  47. Sili says

    Are we sure de Bottom isn’t a fifth columnist put there to make atheists look bad?

  48. Randomfactor says

    Masturbation is bad for you!

    For males, it may protect somewhat against prostate cancer.

  49. theresenoren says

    de Botton pens an ode to the virgin/whore construct by comparing Scarlett Johansson’s features to those of Natalie Portman

    After reading that disgusting piece of sex negativity, I need some Natasha Romanoff/Jane Foster femmeslash fanfic. (A surprisingly rare pairing.)

  50. Sili says

    alright, after a couple of votes for Ms. Johansson, I’ll give Ms. Portman my vote. Just not for any of the stupid reasons that wanker gave.

    She is a very cute elephant, yes.

  51. nohellbelowus says

    Those cum stains are from masturbation! Ewwwww yuck.

    Those cum stains are from a wet dream! That’s okay. It’s natural.

    *snort*

  52. Tony •King of the Hellmouth• says

    Hey de Botton, you’re being a fuckwad.
    (this message was not approved by Dan Fincke).
    You’re still using religious beliefs as a basis for guidelines on human sexuality as if religion has some special knowledge of sex.
    Stop.
    Now.
    (I hope this was sufficient argument to justify my use of fuckwad).

  53. Matt Penfold says

    de Botton is example of what happens when a person with no need to earn a living is given to much encouragement to pursue a subject in which he has insufficient talent.

    If there was a Pop Idol for peusdo-thinkers, de Botton would win with ease.

  54. genshed says

    This sort of well-dressed, avuncular pseudoscience often reminds me of a paragraph I read decades ago, regarding the nature of male homosexuality. The bulk of the paragraph explained, in excruciating detail, why male homosexuals are effeminate. Last sentence: ‘I have not discussed the phenomenon of masculine male homosexuals, as I have no theory explaining how they could exist.’

    Seriously, though, I worked for a living for two and a half decades when I could have been writing stuff like THIS? I feel cheated.

  55. Matt Penfold says

    Seriously, though, I worked for a living for two and a half decades when I could have been writing stuff like THIS? I feel cheated.

    Well de Botton comes from a seriously wealthy family of Swiss bankers, and does not need to earn a living. He may or may not earn enough from his writing and media appearances to live off.

  56. Stevarious says

    I dunno. I’m starting to feel like de Botton is just some sort of odd satire. He had me going for a while but that bit about the ‘hypochondriac mother’ was just plain over-the-top. He’s GOT to be like a really subtle anti-Colbert, he can’t possibly be for realzies. All the fundies are sniggering behind their hands at us for not catching on quicker, I know it!

    Also, I find Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman to be equally attractive for entirely different reasons. However, if Portman is sitting in the ‘Madonna’ seat of his complex he must have written that passage before her absolutely hilarious skit on SNL where she ruthlessly mocks the ‘good girl’ image she has garnered. (NSFW!!)
    (I think I’ve coded it properly so the video won’t plop down here in the comments. If I am wrong I apologize in advance.)

  57. jamessweet says

    Heh, so, this is pretty cool. You see, sometimes this thing happens to me, where there’s somebody that I disagree with, but they are also clearly a very sharp person, and they have a pretty elaborately constructed argument for their position, some of which seems at least partially plausible to me, while other parts seem pretty wrong. And I have to wonder… I think I’m in the right, but maybe this other person has got it right, and I just don’t grasp the whole thing yet. Maybe I should pay more attention to them, even though their conclusion seems all wrong-headed to me. (All this is was how I felt about de Botton’s religion-for-atheists prattling before today.)

    Then that person goes and says something so incredibly fucking outrageous about a topic where I am sure I’m, well, if not right, at least in the right ballpark. You know, like masturbation being not evil. And its SUCH a fucking relief, let me tell you, because now I’m like, “Oh, cool, now I don’t have to think hard about that other argument this person makes. He’s just a loony.”

    I know, I know, there’s a fallacy in there. But it makes me sleep better at night :)

  58. says

    Jamessweet: yes, there is, congratulations, that is actually a true instance of the rarely sighted “ad hominem fallacy”!

    Logical fallacy it may be, but I do think that in this case one may legitimately resort to empiricism rather than pure logic. It’s the problem of induction. “Everything he’s said so far is tosh, therefore the next thing he says will be tosh” – this is not logically sound, but empirically totally plausible.

  59. madscientist says

    deBottom’s got it upside down again. In my imaginary world, Scarlett trumps Natalie. Now I feel like an asshole for saying that. Why the hell is deBottom even comparing them in such a mysogynistic fashion?

  60. susans says

    Obliteration sounds very much like death, which is a permanent condition of nothingness, very much unlike sex. Perhaps de Botton has not actually done it.

    @#4, I introduce you John Wilkins, a philosopher not windy. http://evolvingthoughts.net/

  61. Feats of Cats says

    The early humanoids … may have had a hard time finding food, evading dangerous animals, sewing underpants and communicating with faraway relatives, but having sex was a simple matter for them, because the one question that almost certainly never ran through the minds of male hunters as they lifted themselves up on their hirsute limbs was whether their partners were going to be in the mood that night — or whether they might instead feel revolted or bored by the sight of a penis, or just keen to spend a quiet evening tending to the fire.

    I do not get the impression he’s talking about the female participant just up and spreading her legs for him. This sounds like evolutionary psychology rape justification right here.

  62. Amblebury says

    Why the hell is deBottom even comparing them in such a misogynistic fashion?

    ^^THAT. And by that specific selection, to the omission of others, just about every other ‘ist’ that I can think of. Obviously I’ve not read the book, and perceptions of attractiveness from the perspective of people who don’t happen to cis white males may well be given equal thought and discussion. However what I perceive to be the outright inanity of the Johansson/Portman quote doesn’t fill me with hope.

  63. Manu of Deche says

    christophermoss @ 65

    But is he a Top or a Botton?

    Doesn’t matter. By writing this drivel, he definitely has hit rock Botton (sorry, couldn’t resist).

    madscientist @ 72

    Now I feel like an asshole for saying that. Why the hell is deBottom even comparing them in such a mysogynistic fashion?

    I know exactly how you feel. I used to be a fan of “100 hottest babes” lists (or whatever they call them) myself, especially when you could vote for your favourites. For me, it was something neat, like making a to-do-list (no ambiguities intended), or a checklist for your luggage. I just like sorting thing into lists (yes, I’m an Excel-fetishist). But after I realized what a misogynist scumbag I had been most of my life, I also came to the conclusion that listing people is utterly objectifying, and I want nothing to do with it anymore. I also refuse to play the “who’s hotter/prettier/sexier/more attractive” games with my friends. I realized that I cannot make qualified statements about the attractiveness of people I have never (and will most likely never) met.

  64. andyo says

    Uh-oh, now Alain will hate you till the day he dies and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. He will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.

  65. Hairhead, whose head is entirely filled with Too Much Stuff says

    de Botton’s view of sex is simplistic and childish, among other things.

    On a related note, I surfed to the Rationalia site. I decided to poke around in their back rooms and looky what I found: http://rationalia.com/z/NSFW.html

    What you find there is entirely consistent with the rapey/sleazy/juvenile nature of the site and all who sail in her.

  66. Ogvorbis says

    This idiot is about as current as a pair of bell-Botton jeans with paisley inserts.

  67. Ray, rude-ass yankee says

    Randomfactor@58,

    Masturbation is bad for you!
    For males, it may protect somewhat against prostate cancer

    I guess I’m safe from ever getting it then, Yay!

  68. Tony •King of the Hellmouth• says

    John:

    Informative thread for me, this.

    Does this mean you’re going to give up your sinful lifestyle of masturbatory orgies?

  69. kc9oq says

    I looked up de Botton on Wikipedia (ok maybe not teh best authority) and his blood isn’t quite as blue as PZ leads me to believe. However this book makes me recall a quote attributed to Lord Chesterfield re sex: “The posture is undignified, the pleasure momentary, the cost prohibitive and the consequences damnable.”

  70. says

    Hairhead, #79; no, I will not look at what you have found. I’m in the middle of doing some Lotus Notes formatting and I do not need any more existential despair right now.

  71. Suido says

    Haha! Alain de Botton is an anagram of ‘a bet on not laid’. I think that solves everything satisfactorily, even if David Marjanović disagrees.

    +1 vote for Portman, simply because I almost invariably prefer brunettes over blondes.

    Also, I facepalmed so hard I developed a better sense of humour. Phrenology ftw.

  72. John Morales says

    [meta + OT]

    Tony, nah, it was a way to express that I found this thread informative.

    (In passing, I note [TMI] that masturbation might be good, but as I age and my libido diminishes, I save the effort for my partner — it satisfies me more)

  73. says

    I really cannot reply to anything de Botton says, it is just so clueless and ludicrous. I recently saw one of his books in a bookstore. I am sure most people will be unsurprised to know that it was on the discount pile for $5. Still not worth picking up.

    Though I do agree with him on the Portman issue. I do not pay much attention to film stars and am often confused about who is who, but I notice whenever she is in something. I really like her as she seems to be intelligent, has a decent education and an Erdős-Bacon number and I really find her to be attractive. I must be weird as I have to admit I really liked her as that “sexually twisted trainwreck in ballet shoes”.

    +1 vote for Portman, simply because I almost invariably prefer brunettes over blondes.

    Same here. Dark hair nearly always wins out for me. Though in Portman’s case I really prefer pink.

  74. vaiyt says

    This isn’t even on the level of pseudoscience. This is dudescience; you know, the kind of analysis you make when hanging out with your dude friends and everyone has had their share of beer.

  75. McC2lhu does not have gerseberms says

    I see the glaring error of de Botton immediately when he writes Natalie “or” Scarlett instead of the much more obvious Natalie AND Scarlett. If we’re frolicking in the realm of fantasizing about the cute celebrities he should know the motto is “Go big or go home!”

  76. opposablethumbs says

    This idiot is about as current as a pair of bell-Botton jeans with paisley inserts.

    :D

    I’m with those who conclude de Botton (understandably) has no friends – just acquaintances enjoying the Schadenfreude (while he presumably lumbers on, blindly and blithely unaware of the fact that he is hanging his own arse out to dry).

  77. birgerjohansson says

    “Wait…a little saltpeter* and maybe I could win an award for “depth of spirit” and a Nobel prize!”
    (Excerpt from link above)
    “Other substances or drugs that can cause or lead to ED include recreational and frequently abused drugs, such as:
    Alcohol
    Amphetamines
    Barbiturates
    Cocaine
    Marijuana
    Methadone
    Nicotine
    Opiates”

    So use this stuff and you get really deep instead of high?
    — — — — — —
    “This is dudescience”
    All my deep thinking is dudescience.
    — — — — — —

    Maybe he is an alien infiltration unit trying to emulate human emotions.
    As his species reproduce through a complex process requiring 3 genders (and occasional cloning) he was briefed about human sexuality using material derived from radio plays intercepted 50 light years away.

  78. bortedwards says

    So, as what I would like to consider a relatively intelligent rationally minded person (or as fundamentalist religeos zealots would call me “someone who is going to burn in the fire of hell”) living in a relatively well adjusted society (Australia), I am struggling to imagine who IS going to read this book with a straight face? It seems as though earning a living through sales is unlikely to be de Bottom’s (love a good hackneyed ad homonym) motivating force, but someone must think there is a market for it!? Anyone living a less sheltered life care to comment?

    Also, as fun as consensual rape is, can I suggest an alternative meaning behind his passage:

    “… but having sex was a simple matter for them, because the one question that almost certainly never ran through the minds of male hunters as they lifted themselves up on their hirsute limbs was whether their partners were going to be in the mood that night — or whether they might instead feel revolted or bored by the sight of a penis, or just keen to spend a quiet evening tending to the fire.”

    Maybe he was not suggesting that the female would be happy to be set upon, but that the (presumable ‘primitive’) mind of our male forebear was I’ll equipped think existentially about the result of his actions, or empathetically about how a female might respond to his actions….
    Not necessarily any better logic mind you, but maybe a little less warped.

  79. bortedwards says

    Ps. In order to test de Botton’s Portman vs Johansson scenario I propose an equally scientific method related to phrenology to establish their attractiveness rank. It requires manipulation of the bumps and lumps NOT found on the skulls. I, of course, will be willing to conduct the required tests for no fee…

  80. David Marjanović says

    She is a very cute elephant, yes.

    …Elephant? Please do explain. ~:-|

    Haha! Alain de Botton is an anagram of ‘a bet on not laid’.

    :-D :-D :-D

    Also, I facepalmed so hard I developed a better sense of humour. Phrenology ftw.

    Thread won.

    So use this stuff and you get really deep instead of high?

    :-)

  81. Midnight Rambler says

    Well de Botton comes from a seriously wealthy family of Swiss bankers, and does not need to earn a living. He may or may not earn enough from his writing and media appearances to live off.

    So basically, de Botton is a real-life Hen3ry? That would make a lot of sense.

    Also, Scarlett vs. Natalie – not to put down Natalie Portman, but I’d go with Scarlett too, even though I also generally prefer brunettes (or at least, don’t have any special preference for blondes). Anyone who can look sexier clothed than naked (see the Vanity Fair shoot from last year) wins in my book.

  82. gravityisjustatheory says

    genshed
    31 July 2012 at 4:46 pm

    This sort of well-dressed, avuncular pseudoscience often reminds me of a paragraph I read decades ago, regarding the nature of male homosexuality. The bulk of the paragraph explained, in excruciating detail, why male homosexuals are effeminate. Last sentence: ‘I have not discussed the phenomenon of masculine male homosexuals, as I have no theory explaining how they could exist.’

    o_O

    “Based on my observations of the cats living in my neighbourhood, I can conclude that all cats are ginger. I will not discuss the other colours of cats living there, as I have no theory explaining how they could exist.”

  83. says

    “half-naked teenage girls sauntering provocatively down the beachfront.”

    I read that as: “Evil, dirty thoughts, and erections are something that these evil women are doing to me. They have absolutely nothing to do with me or my state of mind. We must stop those women from ‘provoking’ me by having the nerve to walk while wearing a bathing suit.”

  84. wanderfound says

    I would like to think that somewhere, in this day and age, I can find examples of a philosopher who doesn’t bollocks up everything he comes across in life with pretentious windbaggery. Examples welcome and appreciated.

    They do exist.

    Have a look at Patricia Churchland: she specialises in taking philosophical speculations on the nature of mind etc., comparing these speculations which what we know from modern neuroscience and psychology and seeing if they still stand up. See here for a quick sample.

    Helen Longino is worth a read if you’re into epistemology, the demarcation question (“where do you draw the line between science and non-science?”) and the nature of scientific objectivity. Good ammunition for knocking down the po-mo idiocy of people like Feyerabend, although her writing might be a bit dry for someone who isn’t actively studying the topic.

    Speaking of postmodern idiocy: absolutely everyone should read Sokal & Bricmont’s “Fashionable Nonsense” (AKA “Intellectual Impostures”). Sokal’s “Beyond the Hoax” is good, too.

  85. firefly says

    This just makes me sad. I really like his early work but De Botton has just so completely lost the plot, seemingly because of his need to speak positively of religion every chance he gets. It seems to me he’s reacting against something but I can’t figure it out. The rise of atheist/skeptical intellectuals in the UK?

    Many years ago, he did a BBC radio interview in which he said he felt there was too much snobbery in intellectualism, and that people shouldn’t be condemned for preferring an evening watching their favorite soap to going to the opera. Now, he’s all about telling us we need to be into more ‘elevated pursuits’ than enjoying our, and other people’s, capacity for pleasure.

    Sad.