In this paper we seek to perform a dialectical analysis of the recent popular phenomenon of OnlyFans.com. OnlyFans is a website on which content creators, typically behind a paywall, post exclusive content for their “fans.” However, OnlyFans is most notably known for revolutionizing the pornography industry. A quick google search will verify that the primary commodity produced on OnlyFans is pornography. However, this direct link between pornographic performers and their pornographic products is functionally novel to mainstream society. While previous to this point things like webcamming have already enjoyed immense popularity, the seemingly inescapable phenomenon of OnlyFans has presented a genuine shift of power in the porn industry. That is not to say that OnlyFans is not exploitative of sex workers—of course it is. The company takes a cut from every subscription and generates massive revenue. But how are we, as philosophers (do not fret here dear reader—anyone reading this I hereby deem a philosopher!), to view this problem?
We will approach the issue of OnlyFans by first examining the ontology of pornography. Next, we will discuss the relationship of what is really occurring when a person is engaging in the consumption of pornography. Once we have established the nature of the relationship between pornography as a purely mental “object” and the relationship of the viewer to this “object,” we will discuss the moral implications of this relationship. However, we needn’t commit ourselves to a strict deontology or consequentialism.
After we address the moral relationship between the phenomenon of pornography to the viewer, we will address the moral relationship between the act of creating pornography to the creator. I hope to show that even if we remove the consideration of specifically industrial pornographic exploitation—viz., in imagining a phenomenon like OnlyFans in which the “company” would serve as essentially a free posting service for the creator and consumer— there still exists exploitation, and, thus, alienation, for both the creator and consumer of pornography. We will end with some considerations of what we might want to do about this exploitation, or if we even want to do anything at all.
Is Pornography Real?
Offhand this may seem like an absurd question. Surely pornography is real? I can pull up a video, or a picture, and see the pornography. But is it really the pornography itself that is being interpreted by my visual sense? Of course not—all that is actually interacting with my eyes in that moment are photons (either produced digitally, or reflecting off of a printed image, or what have you). It only becomes pornography after the photons have been sensed. This would seem to hold true for any given viewer of pornography. Thus, any given pornographic material only is, or only exists, in the mind of a person whose eyes are processing the photons. That is to say, the statement “This piece of pornography X exists” can only be true insofar as a mind constructs the pornography out of the varied sense-perception presented to it by the visual sense. Absent a mind to construct pornography out of the photons, it cannot be said that “on screen Y there exists some piece of pornography X,” or that “in magazine V there exists some piece of pornography W.” All that will exist in such cases are the photons, either produced by pixels or reflecting off of a configuration of ink and paper molecules, for pornography can only exist as a mental object.
So as to not scare away anyone not fully committed to a materialist metaphysic we will speak as if mental objects themselves can exist. The strict materialist, myself included, deny that they exist independently from a direct physical correlate in the brain (or perhaps elsewhere in the nervous system, depending on the sense of “mental object”). For the purposes of clarity, we shall treat mental objects as real enough for our discussion.
Now it seems we are in a position to say that a pornographic product can only exist as a pornographic product within the minds of the viewers of that product (whatever the implications of “to exist” might turn out to be). It is useful to point out that this is also true for the creator of the pornography--properly speaking, the pornography they create doesn’t exist as pornography until their mind constructs it as such. Up until that point, the creator was simply performing sex acts in front of a camera, but we must be clear that all that is actually real in their act of “creating pornography” are the physical motions which they performed while filming, the molecules composing the camera itself, the photons, etc.
Let us now give an answer to our question, “Is pornography real?” The materialist answer is no—so long as “real” is understood to mean “real independent of experience” or “physically real.” If one is comfortable with the idea of subjective “realities,” then one might quite be comfortable calling pornography “real.” I do not share this comfort, but even to such a thinker I would respond that even if mental objects are fully real--that is, even if the apparent dichotomy of the terms “objective reality” and “subjective reality” is an illusion of sorts— mental objects nonetheless still only exist when they are constructed by minds. So even for one who wants to call pornography “real,” it seems they cannot deny that its supposed reality nonetheless only is obtained within the confines of individual minds.
I hope the reader will forgive me for using the term “masturbation”—it is not a word I favor, but it is necessary here. We will define “masturbation” here as sexual self-stimulation. To be clear, what we are talking about here is physical sexual self-stimulation. While in some sense something like imagining a sexual scenario without physically stimulating oneself is certainly self-stimulation, that is not the sense in which we will use the term here. Additionally, we know the obvious ways in which sexual self-stimulation occurs, but our broad definition here could include innocuous, even subconscious behaviors. So long as the behavior is self-stimulation of an area of the body which produces the physical sensation of sexual pleasure, the behavior is masturbation on this account.
It seems extraordinarily obvious that the primary purpose for the commodity of pornography is the facilitation of masturbation by its consumers. But as we have seen, a grouping of visual data only becomes pornography in the mind of the viewer. What then is the masturbator masturbating to? What is the object of their sexual desire? What is the cause of their self-stimulation?
The answer is, unavoidably, themself. The masturbator arouses themself, perhaps to the extent of orgasm, with themself as their own object. The supposed relationship with the Other, the creator of the pornography—the unattainable, beautiful whoever—is subsumed within the relationship of the masturbator with their own Self. I capitalize these terms to bring to mind the Hegelian tone with which I mean to use them. The masturbator, unable or unwilling to pursue an actual Other with whom to have sex, settles for the artificial “Other” contained within the pornography. To be clear, by “actual Other” I mean an Other that is perceived by some Self as being self-conscious. In Hegel’s final analysis, of course, even that distinction dissipates through the dialectical development of consciousness, but that is somewhat beside the point. By the “artificial ‘Other’” I mean the representation of the particular creator of a given piece of pornography as constructed in the mind of the masturbator. If the masturbator’s own Self is only a construct of their mind, why should the construct of the artificial “Other” be fundamentally different from itself?
It seems to me that every act of masturbation (using pornography or otherwise) is somewhat akin to Narcissus looking in the pool, admiring himself—the main difference, however, is that the viewer of pornography is not admiring the image of their particular self as Narcissus does. But there is a sense in which he is relevant here. If the masturbator is really only self-stimulating with their object of sexual desire as themself, then they are self-stimulating to their own reflection in a similar way. It seems to follow intuitively that the frequent masturbator makes a practice of making their own Self the object of their stimulation. But let us hone back in on masturbation with the use of pornography.
Anyone who knows someone addicted to pornography could confidently say that addiction to pornography certainly seems to cause feelings of alienations in the addicts, and we may not need to get very technical to make sense of how this is alienating. If the enjoyment of pornography is predicated, so to speak, on the perception of the Other as Other, but the phenomenological reality of the enjoyment is actually enjoyment of the “Other” as a construction of the Self, it seems there is an unavoidable cognitive dissonance in the enjoyment of pornography.
We must now draw an important distinction between masturbation without pornography, or M1, and masturbation with pornography, or M2. The essential problem with M2, as stated above, is the cognitive dissonance which necessarily arises in the viewer (either consciously or subconsciously), in causing them to mistake what is really a part of their Self (the phenomenon of pornography) as a part of the Other (the creator of pornography). This tension is alienating simply because it causes the viewer to alienate a part of themself from themself in precisely this fashion. The vital distinction to draw here is that M1 does not in any way present the sexual representations constructed in the mind of the masturbator as external to themself, or as belonging to some Other. We can see, then, that we have no reason to believe that M1 causes any sort of alienation; in fact, I think we can quite plausibly say that M1 allows the masturbator to become more in tune with themself—the precise opposite of alienation. We can say of Narcissus, then, that he isn’t really wrong to admire himself so much, though he may be quite conceited. It seems on any moral analysis of masturbation and pornography; we must draw this sharp line between M1 and M2 as they have clearly different implications.
Enough Hegelian mumbo-jumbo! Where’s the Marxism in all of this?
Now that we have (painstakingly) undertaken our phenomenological analysis of pornography as a mental object let’s bring ourselves back down to earth. We will now ask some more concrete questions: What are the material conditions which may or may not justify or even necessitate the production and/or consumption of pornography? Is the pornographic creator exploiting their viewer? If so, to what extent? Is the statement “one should not view pornography” true? Is the statement “pornography should be illegal” true? We will answer these questions in turn.
Clearly the material conditions which have produced the phenomenon of OnlyFans are precisely the conditions of “late-stage” capitalism; i.e., the conditions of the fully globally imperial United States solidifying after the second world war. The United States has increasingly exploited workers, both domestically and especially abroad, and has caused the most acute disparities in wealth distribution in all of human history. Such a fundamentally unjust distribution of wealth is directly related to the increasing feelings of alienation by workers in the United States and worldwide. It is not surprising that, in a world of ever-increasing hyper-sexuality in mainstream culture (itself largely a development of capitalism —“Sex sells,” as the saying goes), paired with exponentially increasing levels of alienation, both the production and consumption of pornography are incentivized.
The creator (speaking strictly in terms of services like OnlyFans) has an incentive to create pornography as a way to reclaim their labor. Those who end up making a lot of money can tell themselves a narrative of their own life in which they have (somewhat) closed that gap. Clearly in some ways this is pure delusion. Making several hundred thousand dollars a year hardly bridges the gap between making $40,000 a year and the personal wealth of Jeff Bezos, for instance. However, it seems clear that if one’s perception of one’s own alienation is reduced, then one’s own subjective alienation is thereby reduced—regardless of whether or not their objective state of alienation carries much significance in social reality.
The consumer, on the other hand, is incentivized to consume pornography simply because it is a very easy way to make oneself feel good. In a crushing capitalist system that drains us of our energy, time, happiness, love, etc., it makes perfect sense that, as a society, we are becoming increasingly attached to what J.S. Mill would call the “lower pleasures;” i.e., the pleasures in direct connection to sense-perception come to dominate in a capitalist system. The domination of workers’ time is largely responsible for this. The cultivation of the so-called “higher pleasures”—art, music, dance, philosophy, etc.—simply take time to really cultivate. In a go-go-go nonstop capitalist society one is largely forced into the lower pleasures or else give up pleasure entirely! Certainly, I do not want to argue here that asceticism is the reasonable response. We are left then with being often forced into the lower pleasures.
Pornography and masturbation are clearly lower pleasures on this model. Keep in mind that there is not a moral connotation attached to “lower” here—it just means directly connected to the senses. Something like eating a delicious meal is a lower pleasure, but surely is not immoral. Not to say that pornography and masturbation are nearly as innocuous as a delicious meal, but I hope the reader appreciates the emphasis here that any moral considerations of the former phenomena are entirely separate from their classification as lower pleasures.
We hopefully can now see that both the creator and the consumer of pornography are, at least somewhat, forced into their positions as creator and consumer. The former is forced by economic need, or the impulse to the close the gap between themself and the hyper-wealthy. The latter is forced by psychological need, in that having pleasure in life is so clearly important (even on a pluralistic account of value!) that no consumer could be called irrational or immoral for using pornography as a source of pleasure. For the consumer, rather, the concern is the cognitive dissonance which we saw earlier, but it is hardly credible that we, as moral philosophers, can make any moral claims on behalf of someone else trying to rectify their cognitive dissonances.
We are on much less secure footing for the creator. It is implausible that creators of pornography on sites such as OnlyFans are entirely unaware that their work is exploitative. The sale of pornography through OnlyFans is a capitalist act, the success of which is predicated upon the actual or perceived alienation of the consumer (as, again, incapable or unwilling to engage sexually with another actual person). If the creator of pornography is capitalizing on another’s state of and/or feelings of alienation, then the creator is exploiting that person. There really is no way around it.
The question, then, is to what extent is this exploitation justified? Creators have to eat, pay rent, take care of their families, buy prescriptions medications, and all the rest any of us have to do. While the creation of pornography for profit is certainly unethical in a vacuum, given the material conditions of our society, as well as the seemingly permanent popular consumption of pornography, it does not seem fair to call a creator immoral for choosing to engage in this type of work. Sex work is work. At the end of the day, the creator is exploited themself, and if one could aggregate the ways in which people are exploited, it might well be that, in the final analysis, the creator is far more exploited than some given consumer the creator is exploiting in that particular transaction/interaction. It seems fundamentally unfair, then, to say of any individual pornographic creator (again, not speaking of pornographic studios or other such productions, which are almost always, if not actually always, horrendously immoral organizations) that they are irrational or immoral for producing pornography. Given the options people are given, the creation of pornography is far, far, indeed, incredibly far from the potential for exploitation than many other occupations (e.g., corporate executive, career politician, insurance agent, etc).
It seems, then, that, while we should recognize the tensions present in the phenomenon and should not pretend that the whole business is fully morally permissible, there is absolutely no basis for making pornography illegal or even pushing for it to be less accessible. In terms of our earlier question of is the proposition “One should not watch pornography” true? we should see now that the answer seems to be a definitive “no.” In our capitalist world we are constrained so brutally that for many people the cultivation of higher pleasures is not materially and/or consistently possible in their lives, and we will not condemn people for choosing to engage in the consumption of pornography if that is a relatively harmless way for them to find pleasure in a world filled to the brim with pain.
Jared Yackley is an undergraduate student of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. With his primary focuses in epistemology, history, and political philosophy, Yackley hopes to apply the principles of dialectical materialism to contemporary issues both philosophical and political.
This essay will be dealing with the concept of the economy, the affects that these concepts have on both society at large and on the average person, the economy as an abstract thought, how it has been treated with reverence, and how the powers that be manipulate it for their own gain. In 2020 we have seen a massive focus on ‘the economy’ as a concept, and the stock market has been used as a basis, particularly in the United States, of measuring the economy.
I would first, however, look to examine the very real human cost of neoliberalism, which is the dominant ideology across the west and has been since the 1980’s. This essay will deal with many numbers, and figures, but there within lie striking amounts of human suffering. This will focus on the European champion of neoliberalism, Thatcher, who’s attempts to control inflation cost human lives. While we should rightfully critique all Empires, in doing so we must not forget that at the heart of each of them is a proletariat, one who may not be suffering as poorly as those in the colonial possessions, but one who is suffering nonetheless. In order to reduce inflation, one must naturally increase unemployment and vice-versa. This obviously had major repercussions for the British people, the main victims being the miners in 1984-85. This ploy to destroy the Miner’s Union was foretold by Sir Howe in the last of the four points that were set forth for a growth in government, as Thatcher shut down the mines, the Miners Union, the collective bargaining institution faced the consequences of their actions, they were sent back to work, disgraced, with one miner even commenting:
‘She planned it very very clever – you’ve got to admire her…it all fit in, in that ten year from ’74 to 84…she was determined that, at any cost…she wasn’t going to be defeated and humiliated the same way Ted Heath was…it was all geared up for her to smash the National Union of Mine Workers – and by God it worked, it’s hard to say it, but it worked.’
These words are a stark reminder of the human cost of Thatcherism, the men and women whose livelihoods were erased due to the dismantling of the public sector to end subsidies, and the complete dismantling of a faith in strike action, with some area’s support for strikes falling by as much as 22% from 1983-84.
Looking forward to our contemporary world, we can see much of the same language being used today in relation to the economy, and more recently the stock market. Despite the economy and the stock market generally working in tandem, i.e. rising and falling together, they are not firmly linked. Unfortunately, due to their apparent relation, we were able to see people like Former-President Trump utilise this relationship to his advantage. When the US Fed pumped $1.5 trillion into the stock market to stop it from freezing up, Trump hailed this as the economy getting back on track, despite 58 million people filing for unemployment benefits in the five months following, which does not include those who were previously on it or on welfare. [See figure 1.1] The rising stock market was also held in high esteem when Trump claimed that the ‘sacred number’ of 30,000 had been hit, even though this number was surpassed in 1999 under President Clinton. The fact of the matter is, the stock market will always rise, it has done for centuries ever since the first Dutch merchants established the first markets. What won’t always rise, however, is the standard of living, we have seen a massive stagnation in it in the West over the past few decades, as wages have decreased in relation to their value, in Fig. 1.2 we can see that the top line (the minimum wage in relation to the purchasing power of the dollar) has in fact decreased to a level of poverty wage, in some cases a starvation wage.
This use of ecclesiastical language in relation to the economy highlights just how important the ever-rising stock market and the ever-rising consolidation of wealth is for these corporate entities. The economy is an abstract concept, created by humanity, one that is both all judging God and spoilt child. One that is both untamed beast and mouldable clay. Economic growth is almost inevitable, and the economy will never cease to exist, it will always be there, but it need not always be there to take. It can be there to give also, for the economy itself is not an inherently bad idea, it is just what it is made to be, if the growth of the economy could be funnelled out equally to all those who needed it, then it would be a force for good, not evil.
This is something that we see present in China, for example, as sustained economic growth over the past decades has rapidly brought the standard of living up for the average Chinese citizen, despite some shortcomings in the early establishment of the new State. We can see the same in Cuba, despite crippling sanctions imposed by the United States, who would no doubt wat to reacquire Cuba as an imperial holding.
The main ‘criticism’ on the attempted ‘control’ of the economy is to equate it to socialism, a scare tactic that works extremely well in the United States, yet when we use their own logic, is Former President Trumps pumping of trillions of tax-payer dollars into the economy to give it the illusion of stability and growth not socialism? They would say no, because they blindly support Trump and the Republican party, much like liberals will blindly support Biden and the Democratic party. I would say no because, as Irish Socialist Scholar and Revolutionary James Connolly said:
‘State ownership and control is not necessarily socialism – if it were then the Army, the Navy, the Police, the Judges, the Jailers, the Informers, and the Hangmen, all would be Socialist functionaries, as they are state officials – but the ownership by the State of all the land and materials for labour, combined with the cooperative control of the workers of such land and material, would be Socialism.’
So, the question must be asked, how can we make sure that the economy serves the people?
You may have seen the phrase ‘Adaptive Marxism’ in the title of this essay, and this is where this term comes into play. I have coined the phrase and theory of Adaptive Marxism because it is vital that we properly propel Marxist thought into a more robust and efficient model for the 21st Century, we first must admit that it has faults and successes in each of its iterations. We must champion any small improvement to the working class, as every step forward makes each leftist policy more mainstream, and gives the working class an opportunity to gain more free time in which they can assess their situation. There is no one perfect school of Marxist thought or text, Anarchists such as Kropotkin highlight that all property on earth is common:
‘Millions of human beings have laboured to create this civilisation on which we pride ourselves today. Other millions scattered across the globe labour to maintain it. Without them, nothing would be left in fifty years but ruins. There is not even a thought, nor invention, which is not common property, born of the past and the present. Thousands of inventors, known and unknown, who have died in poverty, have co-operated in the invention of each of these machines which embody the genius of man.’
Here we see an anarchist making an incredibly vital point which may prove to stir the lumpenproletariat, should a Marxist-Leninist not utilise this form of anarchist thought as it would help in establishing a more equal society? Likewise, Lenin made worthy cases for a strong state that would later come to fruition:
‘History has now confronted us with an immediate task which is the most revolutionary of all the immediate tasks confronting the proletariat of any country. The fulfilment of this task, the destruction of the most powerful bulwark, not only of European, but (it may now be said) of Asiatic reaction, would make the Russian proletariat the vanguard of the international revolutionary proletariat.’
We can see the importance of this as the USSR went on to help deter America from intervention in Cuba, and it also kept strong diplomatic ties with the non-aligned, yet socialist, Burkina Faso under Sankara. Sankara was a man who studied Marx and Lenin, a man who brought mass inoculation to his homeland, who vastly improved gender equality, and ended the tribal practice of slavery in his home. Can an anarchist not admit that this mighty statist had a greatly positive impact on the proletariat and peasantry of his nation? Of course he can, and as adaptive Marxism evolves to encompass the undeniably positive aspects of all Marxist schools of thought, it too can then debate the more controversial assertions of each political faction such as decentralization vs centralization, or how to appropriately combat wage slavery, all while keeping a fundamental principle of Adaptive Marxism.
Through this theory, we can bend the economy to our will, taking the Chinese markets that provide economic growth, combine them with the Cuban healthcare system which is vastly underappreciated due to US propaganda and implement the inoculation and gender equality theories and efforts of Burkina Faso and we truly can create a Non-Western, Non-Eastern, and Non-Afro-Centric Marxism that will truly be one for all proletariat of the world. We must also step outside of the Western views of 19th Century Marxists, the world of old is not the same as it is today, Pan-African scholars are too often side lined by Western Philosophers who are centuries passed. Further essays will explore the intricacies of Adaptive Marxism.
 Richard Vinen, Thatcher’s Britain, Politics and Social Upheaval of the 1980’s, (London, 2009)
 Ben Jackson, and Robert Saunders (eds.), Making Thatcher’s Britain, (Cambridge, 2012), pp. 150-53
 Jolly, Jasper, Partington, Richard, US Fed injects $1.5tn to markets as Dow and FTSE suffer worst day since 1987, (March 12th, 2020)
 O’Mahony, Proinsias, Stocktake: Trump talks bull as Dow tops 30,000, (December 1st, 2020)
 Harkin, Shaun, The James Connolly Reader, (Chicago, 2018), p. 23
 Kropotkin, Peter, The Conquest of Bread, (Norwich, 1913), p. 13
 Lenin, V.I., The Immediate Task of the Soviet Government
Cormac Kavanagh is a history student in his final year of University. His main subject of interest is the history of Empire building in relation to Ireland and how it is historically used as a blueprint for later colonies. He is also interested in dissecting the role of the US in the world and how their efforts to thwart unionization and socialism both at home and abroad can be combatted. He is hoping to shine a light on Irish history in relation to Empire and on socialist movements in Europe, both in the past and present.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
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