Alain De Botton Turns His Philosophical Mind To Developing “Better Porn”

Open Culture readers know that, whenever Alain de Botton looks into traditional intellectual fields, he finds tools for better living. His quest for the founts of happiness has got him reinterpreting philosophy, rethinking home architecture, and repurposing religion. Retooling the physical, intellectual, and aesthetic structures and practices with which we’ve grown complacent all comes in his day’s work. But he’s found a new object of retooling that, in its sheer distance from anything like a traditional intellectual field, will surely earn him more press than practical Socrates, modern dwellings, and and atheist faith combined: pornography. Reactions came flying as soon as his School of Life issued a press release calling for “better porn,” porn “in which sexual desire would be invited to support, rather than permitted to undermine, our higher values.” In the New Statesman, Nichi Hodsgson agrees: “Right now, we may have the porn we deserve but we can make better. [ ... ] Blaming poor porn on atavistic urges is lazy and historically inaccurate. Better porn just requires letting our brains, rather than consideration for our bank balances, lead our late-night Google searches.” This all rides on a particular premise: porn is bad. Perhaps you consider porn ethically bad, and de Botton shares your concerns, diagnosing in the stuff “a threat not just to those who make it in terms of the exploitation involved, but also to those who consume it, in terms of the conflict it can set up between the values encoded in the porn and their responsibilities and values in the rest of their lives.”

But he also summons a fresher, richer critique: “The real problem with current pornography is that it’s so far removed from all the other concerns which a reasonably sensible, moral, kind and ambitious person might have [ ... ] As currently constituted, pornography asks that we leave behind our ethics, our aesthetic sense and our intelligence when we contemplate it.” Porn, put bluntly, has grown unnecessarily tacky, harsh, dumb, and disconnected from life itself. The actual form of de Botton’s “Better Porn” remains unclear — putting production into the hands of “normal” people, outside the grotesqueness of the industry? Reviving to the artistically sound yet sexually daring “foreign film” of the early sixties? — but the complaint rings familiar as one we’ve been making to for years. Hearing de Botton say publicly it must startle his more casual followers, but those of us who have read his early books as well as his later ones and closely follow his prolific media output, including the clip above on the “strange eroticism” of offices, shouldn’t feel surprised. De Botton has, in his diligent avoidance of ivory towers, always held to Terence’s famout line, “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”: “I am a man, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.”

Related content:

Socrates on TV, Courtesy of Alain de Botton (2000)

Alain de Botton Wants a Religion for Atheists: Introducing Atheism 2.0

Alain de Botton’s Quest for The Perfect Home and Architectural Happiness

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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