[OPE-L] Sexuality, Rationality & Irrationality under Capitalism

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Thu Mar 30 2006 - 09:00:33 EST

Hi Jurriaan,

Responding to the following:

> I agree with the last sentence but think it rather undercuts your claim
> that "people are normally pretty rational about the most important
> practical issues in their lives, and very resistant to propaganda which
> does not accord with their real experience of life ....".

You replied:

> With due respect, I don't think I am being inconsistent here. It's
> perfectly possible to be pretty rational about the most important
> practical issues of  your life (e.g. food, sex, a home, a job), and
> be ignorant about things  happening far away.

I strongly  disagree with the claim that "people are normally pretty
rational about the most important practical  practical issues in their

To begin with -- so that we don't lose focus --  this is a _social_ issue
rather than a topic which can be analyzed through the life experiences
of any one individual -- you, I, or any 1 individual.

All of the practical issues you list have _institutional_ aspects of
_irrationality_ associated with them.

Let us take the question of sex.

Is there any progressive (let alone Marxian) psychologist who would
say that the practical decisions being made about sex  in a capitalist
society are generally rational?

I think not.

Marx may have thought otherwise, but he was a writer from
another time -- a time in which the subject of psychology was
basically unknown and undeveloped.

The analysis of mind and behavior is complex and can not be
analyzed effectively by emphasizing the concept of rationality
-- as bourgeois economists do.  Gary Becker long ago tried
to analyze marriage using marginalism -- but no progressive
psychologist (or specialist in gender studies) takes such an belief
seriously (except as a subject of critique).

While it is true that one can not entirely divorce (no pun
intended) the subject of sexual behavior from material reality,
the former can not be deduced from the latter.  While it
is also true that one could probably think of some aspects
of sexual behavior which are rational, the subject of sexuality
under capitalism can not be grasped in general by reference to
rationality.  Nor can the subject of sexuality be thought of
as being entirely individual -- indeed, there are whole branches
of production under capitalism that have arisen which help
to produce and reproduce particular images and conceptions
of sexuality: pornography, for instance, isn't  just about some
isolated man in a room -- it is a _huge_ industry internationally.

Relatedly,  gender roles can not be grasped generally with
reference to rationality alone!   Irrationality rules!  BUT, this
doesn't mean that there isn't a twisted, distorted _logic_ to
irrational behavior.  Indeed, one needs to grasp how the
irrational forms of behavior are rooted in social relations and
material privileges.

In any event, to believe that most people are normally pretty
rational about sex  is not a very enlightened perspective, imo.

Nor do I think that most people are normally pretty rational
about food.  Most people don't think like dieticians -- their
decisions are heavily influenced by culture: cultures in which
firm advertising and marketing plays a significant and expanding

In solidarity, Jerry

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