Why I'm quitting pleasure activism

An Analogy

Imagine that you're on a spaceship. All of your ancestors have always lived on this ship. All life you have ever known has lived on this ship. There is nowhere else to go. On the ship with you are a bunch of very diverse people forced to live in the small confines of the ship. The people are always fighting with one another, establishing unjust rules, increasing inequality, and enacting violence to one another. Sometimes over the past few hundreds of years, this violence impacts the space ship. People on the ship have only recently started to acknowledge and fear the impact the violence has on the ship, but not all the ship's inhabitants believe that the people in the ship impact the ship. Ironically, it's the people whose violence impacts the ship the most who either don't believe that it's happening or refuse to stop the violence.

More recently, the majority of the ship's scientists have stated that the violence impacted upon the ship is now impacting the inhabitants of the ship. Some are far more impacted than others, but the ship's scientists say that everyone will feel or at least witness the impacts. Many of the inhabitants will die as a result of the violence; those who will die are disproportionately impacted by the unjust rules that the ship's inhabitants enforce. Those who won't die will still face extreme food shortages and much of the ship will become uninhabitable. A massive rise in social unrest (rioting, migration, suicide, war) has been predicted by the ship's scientists. They say all of these things are already starting to happen but that they will get much, much worse over the next fifty years.

Meanwhile, the ship's inhabitants are caught up in micro solutions to macro politics. They focus on anything but the impending situation with the spaceship because that's overwhelming and scary and seems inevitable. They distract themselves with pleasure like Nero fiddling as Rome burned. They have given up on the future so they try to practice mindfulness in the present, savoring what they have left to enjoy.

In Reality

I can't live like with my back turned on impending disaster. The argument of "I'm just one person, my actions don't matter" rings only half true to me. There's an awful lot of us who would implement personal change if we thought it meant anything to the greater good of humanity. An awful lot of people, together, can have a big impact. Community and coalition building are important tools in making our arguments against those in power carry more weight. But we have to stop thinking as individuals and start thinking for the better good of humanity if we're going to keep from killing the planet. Within a generation, we are likely to see a drastic elevation of the 1%'s quality of life compared to the rest of us. And the only way to stop that or even reduce it is to work en masse.

The time for passive attitudes and pacifism needed to be over many, many yesterdays ago. But we're still dawdling, distracted by the cult of the individual as perpetuated by neoliberalism. We've "come together" about as much as the hippies managed in the 1960s, and look at the good that did us. Baby Boomers have elevated multinational billion and trillion dollar corporations above the lives of people; they are the very same individuals who are responsible for the majority of our unjust rules and damage to our ship -- I mean planet.

"Liberals Can We Riot Now?"

I'm done asking for permission and I'm done playing nice. Pleasure isn't a right when it comes at a cost. Pleasure is far from a priority when facing housing and food security. At the start of the pandemic in 2020, 1 out of 3 people in the world faced food insecurity (and reports are saying it's quickly and drastically increasing). According to Habitat, as of 2015, 1.6 billion people lacked adequate housing in the world, and again, reports are that this is quickly and drastically increasing. What good is sexual pleasure when aspects of what you need to survive (food and shelter) aren't reliable?

Considering pleasure to be a human right is third wave white feminism at its most privileged; if only some people have the time, money, and energy to enjoy their individual rights, that’s bullshit. Sexual pleasure is a Band-Aid when a tourniquet is needed: it might help in the moment, but what would help a hell of a lot more is long-term and long-reaching systemic change. (H/T to Karen Whyte for the framing of this paragraph.)

The so-called sexual revolution largely failed to take into account systemic injustice. While there are a few educators today who are discussing such topics, what are they actually doing about it? Are they making their classes sliding scale and then discussing toys which cost more than a meal? Sounds right.

I want better for pleasure educators. I want more of a focus on the things that need changing: environmental justice (this impacts sexual pleasure more than people realize), racial justice, disability justice, reproductive justice, trans and queer justice, food justice, migrant justice, did I mention justice? Because without justice, pleasure is an ineffective placebo. Orgasms can’t solve the sort of systemic injustices which shorten people's lives.