Flowing from an acknowledgment of our bodily identity, we must confront our necessary dependence upon others. As bioethicist Carter Snead has argued, we humans are always characterized by dependence. As babies and children we are utterly dependent upon others. As we grow, we become less dependent to a degree, but then as we reach old age, we become more dependent once again. At no point are we ever the free-standing autonomous creatures of Rousseau’s thought experiment. And it is our bodies that are the source of this dependence, our physical constitutions that connect to others and define the nature of those connections. Acknowledging this reality should transform how we think both of ourselves and of others.
“We all exist for the sake of one another.”
“Others” do not exist for “our” satisfaction or self-actualization. Rather we all exist for the sake of one another. And that, of course, has implications for sexual morality and behavior. To those who acknowledge their bodies as who they are, not simply the raw material of self-creation, and who understand the rational, dependent nature of our life, sex can never be simply a means of personal pleasure whereby others are reduced to being mere instruments of our own satisfaction. Nor can it come to occupy a central place in how identity is understood. It is not sexual desire that defines us but the relationships of which sexual activity is a meaningful part.
None of this may make a great bumper sticker, but it has this in its favor: It is the full account of what it means to be human. Expressive individualism is a distortion, because we are not born free but rather interdependent and embodied. This may not be the modern self we want, but it’s this true self that we must ultimately confront to answer the caterpillar’s penetrating question to Alice — the question we all must confront as we look into the mirror.
— Brad Wilcox (@BradWilcoxIFS) June 2, 2021