Consider the infamous Internet axiom: “There is porn of it. No exceptions.”1 When it comes to radical thought, rule 34 just barely holds. Only one result pops up when you search “marxist” on PornHub, though you may be interested to know that you can find a nude model to read you the first 5 chapters of Petr Kropotkin’s Bread Book.
Let me acknowledge that this search is self-defeating. Radical porn exists, of course, but it’s not on PornHub, and for good reason. Most marxists would probably argue that today’s mainstream pornography is inherently exploitative, a commodification of human sexual relationships that should not be allowed to exist. You won’t find me disagreeing.
The reason I’m thinking about marxist porn is not due to what would be a very particular kink indeed, or out of some quest to disprove the rule. No, I’m interested in that search because it neatly illustrates just how well our society has squeezed radical thought out of even its most permissive mainstream spaces.
The thought process that lead me here began a few weeks ago when I re-read The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin’s masterwork that vividly imagines a working anarcho-syndicalist society. As its famous subtitle, “an ambiguous utopia,” hints at, the book’s genius is that it functions simultaneously as a scathing critique of our capitalist society, a vision of a better world, and a thorough exploration of that same vision’s shortcomings. I last read the book when I was in my early teens, and I don’t think I was quite able to appreciate it. This time, the novel completely consumed me, allowing me to live for a few precious days in Le Guin’s ambiguous utopia, and emerging from it, to imagine versions of our own world that look more like the one she described on the fictional “moon” of Annares. Needless to say, I’ll be sharing more thoughts on it in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, though, in sharing these nascent ideas and prototypes with others, I’ve been struck by just how difficult it is for anyone, myself included, to allow themselves even to imagine the possibility of a society on Earth that looks like the anarcho-syndicalist Odonians from The Dispossessed. The book, like Le Guin, is well known and widely celebrated. It is also, for lack of a better word, non-memetic. Unlike, say, any of Ayn Rand’s rubbish, Le Guin’s ideas and ideologies for organizing society, inspired by anarchist literature and the workers’ movements of the 20s and 30s, seem to hit some kind of psychic barrier in our digital information environment that stops them from spreading, at least in mainstream spaces.
Of course, we all know why that’s the case. Complex socioeconomic systems go to great lengths to protect themselves from destabilizing radical thought. Le Guin depicts these mechanisms to great effect in the book, and we see it at play daily in our own world in the prevailing algorithms’ preference for right-wing thought.
And so I find myself wondering if even pornography, the mainstream digital space that supposedly makes room for anything and everything, can abide radicalism. I’ll save you the embarrassing search history: unless there’s a deeper meaning to rubbing one’s genitals on a Karl Marx pillow that I’m failing to comprehend, the answer is no.