January 31, 2002
4:01 AM   Subscribe

Is a technology of ecstasy worth the risk? My favourite critic Barbara Ehrenreich writes a real thought-provoker for Forbes.

"We don't need ecstasy, of course. For that matter, we don't need plain old genitally driven orgasms either; humans can get along just fine and even reproduce without them. But we are, for unknown evolutionary reasons, wired for ecstatic experience--never mind that our current social arrangements do not encourage it. Since ancient techniques of ecstasy like the danced ritual are no longer easily applicable, why not develop new ones, more congenial to an overpopulated and urbanized world?" Well, why not? Aldous Huxley's Soma is way overdue anyway.
posted by theplayethic (18 comments total)
Not to mention Woody Allen's Orgasmatron.
posted by luser at 4:46 AM on January 31, 2002

I bring my tangled knot of bias to my reading of the article, but to immediately come across:
Leaving out orgasm, which is too brief anyway and oddly devoid of memorable content....
gives me pause. It's apparent her experience is so markedly different from mine that I'm going to have to mentally stretch to make sense of her. Certainly that's not a bad thing; a wholly different point of view is always welcome, where I'm concerned. However, I immediately doubt I'm going to agree with her.

Further down, I find:
In the worst-case scenario, the entire species will abandon its striving as each of us withdraws, larvalike, into our own customized, machine-assisted, masturbatory bliss.
Okay, so we're talking about a pretty much brute-force neural stimulation, here. That's mainly non-interesting for me -- one of the great things about ecstatic pleasure is sharing the experience through rapport. Shattering my brain alone doesn't hold a lot of appeal.

Regardless, I seriously doubt the invention of the "wire" will make us a species of electrical masturbators incapable of seeking anything but the next hit. With every new techological wonder there will always be edge cases who fall prey to its allure, and many more who don't.

Will current-induced masturbation become a reality? Sure. Will it significantly alter human society? That's doubtful, to put it politely. If anything, any substantial changes to the quality of life are likely to come as side effects from organized [corportate, religious, governmental, criminal] efforts to suppress or control availability. Even that isn't likely to introduce dramatic change in American society, at least. c.f. "War on Drugs," war on porn, war on rock and roll.
posted by majick at 6:47 AM on January 31, 2002

Part of the experience of making love, or, to put it bluntly, having an orgasm, is having it with the person that you love, appreciate, or just want to get it on with.

For me, though, it's mostly a relationship thing... love turns me on... which means that a machine would never be able to replace hat experience.
posted by SpecialK at 7:18 AM on January 31, 2002

i saw this story on yahoo about the orgasm centers of the brain. i was just thinking we're one step closer to that orgasm gun in orgazmo.
posted by kliuless at 7:24 AM on January 31, 2002

I thought it was an interesting article. The author didn't discuss much the role of an ecstatic experience as a social one. When one has such a moment of bliss or inspiration, we want to share it with someone. Whether it be a new idea, seeing God, dancing with friends to a great band, or having an orgasm, humans want to share and express the feelings of that experience. I dont think any Orgazmitron that allows us to retreat further from others, not allowing us to share the bliss, would be very society-changing, there seems to be enough people who want to live a more interactive life.

Although, it makes me wonder what the world would be like if less people watched TV for six hours a day...
posted by MJoachim at 7:44 AM on January 31, 2002

"unknown reasons"? it seems to me that from an evolutionary standpoint, creatures need to *want* to reproduce. orgasm is damn good bait.
posted by o2b at 7:49 AM on January 31, 2002

I'm always puzzled by stuff like this-- if this state of bliss becomes the norm, don't we then have to find something else to elevate us?

Life isn't constant thrills-- it's sometimes boring and sometimes a trial. Sometimes it's rewarding, and that's what you live for. If that's not enough for someone, s/he should either take up drinking exciting soft drinks like I see on TV or just kill him/herself. I'd prefer s/he take the second route so that I'll never again have to hear him/her complain. Please don't be inconsiderate and make a mess.
posted by Harry Hopkins' Hat at 7:52 AM on January 31, 2002

we want to share it with someone

Interesting, because that hasn't been my reaction to certain opiates. Ecstatic, certainly. Something I'd want to share? Hell no. Any I gave you would be less for me.

One might argue that's the distinction between "good" ecstatic experiences and "bad" ones.
posted by aramaic at 7:55 AM on January 31, 2002

We're getting closer and closer, in other words, to Niven's wirehead scenarios (in various of his stories, characters would have an electro-stimulus plug -- a droud -- connected to their brain; addicts could then just sit in their room plugged in).

This idea having been around since the 70s, there's already a good bit of philosophizing aroudn the point.
posted by dhartung at 8:52 AM on January 31, 2002

I was reminded of this article in Granta a few months back, wherein the writer extols the virtues of taking Ecstasy as a life-altering experience.

Given her recent adventures in the food service and house cleaning industries for her last book, I'm a bit surprised she didn't try Ecstasy just so she could write from that informed perspective.

I took her point to be less about how we get to ecstatic places, but why we seem so intent on denying it as a normal part of life that we have to invent potentially harmful ways to get at it.
posted by briank at 9:39 AM on January 31, 2002

"Almost all other routes to ecstatic experience have been effectively blocked."

Nothing has been blocked from my block and I have a feeling that it never will be.
posted by Taco at 9:45 AM on January 31, 2002

From the Granta article:

And it is not without enormous anxiety, nor an absence of insomniac nights, that I have, at last, reached the decision to do so however constrained I am to remain anonymous in the doing.

I present this as evidence that MDMA has negative consequences-- it makes your prose awful.
posted by Harry Hopkins' Hat at 9:49 AM on January 31, 2002

I'm impressed that Forbes, that super-pro-capitalism magazine, would print something of this sort.
posted by 4midori at 9:54 AM on January 31, 2002

just cuz i think john brunner never gets his due :) stand on zanzibar, 1968:

Bennie Noakes, perpetually tripping on Triptine, staring at the boob tube and frequently heard to say "Christ, what an imagination I've got!"
posted by kliuless at 12:18 PM on January 31, 2002

Since ancient techniques of ecstasy like the danced ritual are no longer easily applicable...

Huh? and likewise Whuh?

Glad I don't have to go to any of her parties.
posted by rdc at 1:15 PM on January 31, 2002

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust

Something tells me that Barbara would trade all control over her life to become a wirehead so give her some soma or send her off with the lotus eaters! If she hasn't learned to glean the little moments of joy out of life and appreceate them there's not much the world can do for her. The only reason ecstatic experiences in my life mean what they do to me is because they are so rare and beautiful. Make them an everyday occurence and they will fade into the woodwork.

And as for the comment "we don't need plain old genitally driven orgasms either", if she still thinks that orgasms are a completely physical occurance we may have some insight as to why hers suck so bad. She can speak for herself on that subject, I'm more than pleased with my orgasms!
posted by RevGreg at 5:15 PM on January 31, 2002

But we are, for unknown evolutionary reasons, wired for ecstatic experience--

Speak for your self, Barbara. I am wired for utter mundanity, myself. Mudanity, of course, is far wierder than anything ecstatic devices could ever produce, if you look at it right.
posted by jonmc at 6:09 PM on January 31, 2002

I think she ignores old fashioned orgasms too quickly.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:03 AM on February 1, 2002

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