Alan Soble Responds
I am grateful to you for bringing my books on love and sexuality and my course on the philosophy of sex and love to your readers' attention, through Constance Adler's essay, "A Question for Professor Soble" (July 23). You are to be commended for discussing in your pages topics local media usually shy away from.
I was disappointed, however, that the account of my life and scholarly work seemed hostile, rather than objective, let alone sympathetic. I fear that Ms. Adler may have been a little out of her depth, philosophically speaking, as her report about my ideas was inaccurate. I will rein in my natural impulse as a scholar to contest every disputable claim, but allow me to highlight a few key lapses and errors.
In my classes, I employ humor a good deal, because most discussions of sexuality tend to be too pious and because students need relief from material that can be frightening and cause anxiety. Ms. Adler failed to mention my use of humor in the classroom, possibly because it didn't suit her, unlike most of my students.
Ms. Adler's statement that "Pornography shows us true human sexuality that has been liberated from the illusion of love, says the twice-divorced Soble," was, face it, a cheap shot, as well as a failure of objectivity. How about this instead: "Even though Professor Soble admits to doubts about legal alliances, he thinks highly enough of marriage to have tried it twice and treasures the two daughters these relationships have produced."
My point about the lesser intimacy of heterosexual intercourse had nothing to do with the fact that during that act one's mind might wander. As anyone experienced in sex knows, one's mind can wander (to the crying baby in the next room, to the music in the background, to the article due on the editor's desk the next day) during any type of sexual act. My reflections on heterosexual intercourse have more to do with the act's biological detachedness, as opposed to, say, wet and messy oral sex, in which the face comes, well, face-to-face with the genitals.
I never "dispense" with "goodness," as Ms. Adler has it. I do dispense with notions of goodness that are not related to consent, human well-being and pleasure. She mentions that I reject religious morality, but fails to explain the morality I do accept in my book on pornography, which is utilitarianism. Failing to understand the difference between Friedrich Nietzsche and John Stuart Mill, Ms. Adler conveys to her readers the false impression that I am a moral nihilist.
When she is not busy insinuating a connection between pornography and nihilism, Ms. Adler suggests that pornography is tied to the wrong values: "Pornography gives the male sexual organ the status of personhood." This reasserts a tired stereotype about the subject, one I have gone to great lengths to refute in my book, drawing on the studies of critics, such as Berkeley film scholar Linda Williams (who has seen more pornographic films than I have), which notice that in heterosexual pornography the woman is the dramatic center and the man and his penis are merely furniture. It is not always easy to determine what images really mean. Bending over, for example, is an ambiguous act, but I never claimed that how one interprets it depends on "self-esteem." Ms. Adler's simplistic account fails to acknowledge (as I do in my book) that myriad beliefs, hopes, fears, both conscious and unconscious, help determine what an act or image means to the viewer. Ms. Adler's claim that "the logical conclusion of Soble's book is that if you don't like pornography, you don't like sex" gets it backwards (as she recognizes elsewhere in her article). I argued that if you don't like sex, you won't like pornography.
The remark at the end of the article about women's sexuality, that women are aroused by "relationships, conversation and dancing," only repeats another stereotype. Evidence in the same issue of Gambit, in the article about women who go to Natasha's CBD sex club, shows this claim to be a naive overgeneralization. My own emphasis, in class and out, has always been on the variety of sexual styles joyfully embraced by women. Just think about the promiscuity of Catherine Millet and Anka Radakovitch, who are not ashamed to admit it. And check out the research of scholars such as Mary Jane Sherfey, Meredith Small and Sarah Blaffer Hardy, who think women are promiscuous (but slyly so). Based on my own experiences socializing with women, many have convinced me that they think "relationships, conversation and dancing" is silliness. That's probably why I didn't reply directly to the student's point. I confess that I am on occasion stunned into silence by naivete.
Finally, if Ms. Adler had really wanted to know about my hobbies, instead of relying on speculation and innuendo, she could have asked me. They include chess (my USCF rating is 2120), collecting stamps (19th-century adhesives from Austria and Hungary), building pages on my Web site, and reading American and British detective novels. Pretty vanilla, huh?
University Research Professor
Professor of Philosophy
University of New Orleans
EDITOR'S NOTE: In interviews with Constance Adler, Alan Soble readily acknowledged that he does indeed count strip clubs and pornography among his hobbies.
Defending Dr. Soble
in "A Question for Dr. Soble," (July 23) Constance Adler confused the biography of the professor with the subject he teaches. Revealing Dr. Soble's marital history and his trips to clubs has the effect of making the class, his work and the subject itself seem idiosyncratic and frivolous. Had she done research (or perhaps looked at the course syllabus?) she would know that a philosophy of sex is at least as old as Plato.
Ms. Adler then digressed into her own opinions about pornography. Pornography is only one issue that might be discussed in philosophy of sex (again, a course syllabus might have increased the article's accuracy). Clearly struck by this issue, the reporter then writes some inaccurate and poorly researched truisms about pornography's place in sexual stimulus by gender.
Dr. Soble noted a universal human concern, then developed a professional forum, a curriculum, and texts to explore it. This article purports to be about philosophy and responsible scholarship on the subject of sex. Obviously, we need more reasoned discourse on sexual matters.
Who Misses the Point?
This is a response to Constance Adler's criticism of Professor Alan Soble ("A Question for Professor Soble," July 23), a teacher of philosophy at the University of New Orleans. Her criticism of Professor Soble is shallow, and it is obvious that Ms. Adler went into the article with negative, preconceived notions. I am a student of Professor Soble's, and I found the article to be rather biased and not thoughtful whatsoever. Ms. Adler's assumption that Professor Soble "misses the point" reveals to me that she may not understand the matters herself, because from taking the class the entire semester, many other classmates and I agree that he is very open-minded and knowledgeable about the topics of sex and love. Oh, and the way she made it sound like he ignored one of his students was also misrepresentative. Like a philosopher, Professor Soble likes to think about things before he jumps into an answer. Ms. Adler, I suggest you begin doing the same. I would suggest that the next time Ms. Adler does an article, she goes into it like a journalist: unbiased. I can't see how anyone can go into one of Professor Soble's classrooms and leave saying that he "misses the point" about anything.
Your publication is turning into smut! First the 976 ads in the back, then the drag queen on the cover, and now "sex ... threesome, orgy" and other trash-talk?! Don't you people think above the crotch? Don't you people have children who pick up this zine and should not have to read stomach-turning stories about losers who focus on sex more than on living a normal life?
Unfortunately, this publication is available in places where high school and younger kids congregate. Since your management doesn't have the common sense or literary respect to only publish what is respectful to its readers, I will no longer be reading this trash-mag and have pulled my organization's ad space from its pages. I am definitely not the only one to feel this way; my cool colleagues all shake our heads in shame. And, yes, we are the spenders, dancers, art lovers and drinkers of New Orleans; we just have the common sense and self respect to know that sex (whether straight or gay is not and has never been the issue) is not meant for a publication unless it's a zine that is supposed to be about sex and doesn't mix its messages! Get a grip and get your minds and pencils out of the gutter, Gambit Weakly!
Last name withheld by request
Tent City a 21st Century Concentration Camp
Katy Reckdahl is to be commended for her investigative journalism regarding the NOPD sweeps of the homeless and others in the French Quarter ("Tents Time for the Homeless?" July 23). As one who had lived for nine years off Jackson Square and still works in the area, I'm appalled at the sweeps and at City Councilmember Jackie Clarkson's admitted theft of public property (the Chartres Street Mall benches).
"Zero tolerance" truly means that those with zero will not be tolerated. Just as in her previous council term, Clarkson represents the narrow, mostly propertied interests (her real estate moniker is especially apt here!) to ensure that New Orleans' historic town square becomes the private courtyard for the few. Like her previous stint as a councilmember in the 1990s, Clarkson assumes that all residents and businesspeople endorse this massive exercise of human rights violations and exile "for those who don't fit in."
No public hearings were held to consult citizens regarding these actions. The New Orleans City Code designates the Chartres Street area on Jackson Square and its benches as an area for all of us to enjoy. Clarkson should be arrested for theft of public property and the benches should be restored to the square. Creation of "tent cities" for "the undesireables" smacks of 21st century concentration camps -- let's instead concentrate on facing the reality of homelessness and offer creative and humane enforcement of a quality of life we can be proud to call home.
Homeless Need Permanent Facility, Not Tent City
Cheers to Katy Reckdahl and Gambit Weekly for addressing in such an even-handed manner the NOPD's efforts to create a "tent city" for the homeless ("Tents Time for the Homeless?" July 23). With such a progressive city administration taking charge of our city, it is a shame to see the police undertaking a project that could be such an embarrassment to New Orleans. It is telling that no other city in America has even attempted to create a police-run campground for the homeless. Does New Orleans really want to be the first American city to create an outdoor holding pen for its neediest citizens?
I was honored to attend a recent NOPD task force meeting about the proposed tent city, and I applaud the department's enthusiasm and commitment. However, the NOPD and City Hall should listen to the experts. New Orleans needs a thoughtful solution to the lack of a 24-hour emergency shelter -- a solution that would take into account the interests of business and the proper social and medical treatment of this group of citizens.
The homeless in the French Quarter are not garbage to be swept away. Many are veterans; many are lifelong residents of our city; many are in need of our help. If the NOPD is truly interested in helping the homeless, it should do what is best for all concerned: turn this project over to a nonprofit manager and work with the nonprofit community to build a new permanent facility for the homeless.
Lamenting Morial's 'Selective Amnesia'
It is extremely disappointing, but not totally unexpected, that former Mayor Marc Morial, once confronted with the alleged improprieties of his administration, would resort to "selective amnesia" in his responses ("Morial's Surprise," July 30). He claims he is "surprised" to hear that former Office of Municipal Investigation (OMI) director Peter Munster asked for whistleblower protection before his death in automobile accident in July 1998. Morial also attempts to mitigate the degree of criticism lobbied at his administration's handling of OMI.
It is a very telling statement that a department head (e.g., the city's chief investigator) would seek whistleblower status against the heavy-handed tactics, including retaliation, utilized by the Morial administration. Morial should also know that OMI has suffered from intentional neglect and that submitting allegations of wrongdoing to a department which was severely understaffed amounted to placing information in "File 13."
What we, as classified municipal employees, should always remember is that, during Morial's eight years in office, we received a paltry 12.5 percent across-the-board pay increase, which certainly did not keep up with inflation. What we did not receive are the following: the adoption of the Mercer Pay Plan, which would have provided just, living wages; promotional opportunities for deserving employees; an incentive pay plan to reward outstanding workers; and the effective implementation of Civil Service Rule II, Section 5, entitled "Alternative Dispute Resolution." This rule, if implemented, would have expedited the process of resolving employee disciplinary appeals stemming from disciplinary actions.
For the first time in my 14 years of service within city government, I am somewhat optimistic about the future. Hopefully during Mayor Ray Nagin's term(s) in office, classified municipal employees will receive a comprehensive pay raise for our many years of loyalty and dedication to our fair city. (The last competitive pay raise that was received by city workers was in 1983.)
As far as Morial is concerned, since he was denied a third term in office, perhaps we will receive a true assessment of what his mayoral legacy should be.
Pamela M. Davis
Employee, Civil Service Commission
Questioning Nagin's Anti-Corruption Actions
I have observed, with increasing abhorrence, the actions of Mayor Ray Nagin and his Chief Administrative Officer, Kimberly Williamson. These two, who have served in public office for less than six months and have not by any means proven their worth to the citizens of New Orleans, have attempted to tarnish and discredit the exemplary records of two of our city's most productive and irreproachable officials.
Not only am I offended by Nagin and Williamson's groundless insinuations against Mayor Marc Morial and Councilman Marlin Gusman, but as a former member of Morial's administration, I am personally offended. It is not only irresponsible to directly, and indirectly, implicate these gentlemen and persons such as myself in any type of corrupt activity based on innuendo and hearsay, but it is also slanderous and insulting. I find it terribly curious that if, according to Nagin's way of thinking, the previous administration should have known about these actions and should have acted against them, then it would stand to reason that so should have Nagin's political allies, Councilman Oliver Thomas and former Councilman Jim Singleton. Where is his outcry against them? Would Nagin and his task force have us believe that these same individuals -- who allegedly reported with such fervor their knowledge of "widespread" corruption -- would not have reported such crimes to their Council representatives as well? It simply does not make sense.
As Mayor Morial's executive secretary for over five years, it was my responsibility to review and disseminate all correspondence directed to the mayor. I can assure you I never received one letter addressed to Mayor Morial regarding bribery or corruption by the staff of either the Taxicab Bureau or the brake tag stations. I did receive miscellaneous complaints of misconduct and questionable activity in other departments that were dealt with accordingly. A couple of those instances were even dealt with publicly, but without Nagin's flair for theatrics.
I challenge Mayor Nagin and his aide, task force or whomever, to show me concrete and irrefutable proof that would warrant these allegations. Show me documented evidence of when, where, how, by whom and to whom these reports were made. I contend -- and am completely certain of the fact -- that such proof does not exist.
Both Nagin and Williamson owe me and every other member of the previous administration who served with diligence and integrity an apology. Their implications that the former administration was generally corrupt or consistently complied with corrupt activity are both deceptive and derogatory. Am I perturbed? Absolutely. Did I vote for Mayor Nagin? Unfortunately. Will I keep a close eye on his activities throughout this term? Positively.
Charlotte L. Jarreau
Nagin Should Learn from Guiliani
As a citizen of New Orleans, I watched with excitement as Mayor Ray Nagin and his team began cleaning up the corrupted city bureaucracy. But as I watched people being fired or handcuffed on camera, I was reminded of the schism that is said to have developed in the Reagan Justice Department between Assistant Attorney General Lowell Jensen and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani.
In the 1980s, Giuliani authorized the arrest of Wall Street traders at their workplaces and often gave the news media advance notice of the event. Judge Jensen is said to have taken issue with this public humiliation of people who were presumed innocent under the Constitution and laws that Giuliani had sworn to uphold. Notably, many of those persons were either acquited at trial or later had their convictions overturned.
Nagin's administration deserves praise for striking a "zero tolerance" policy against the corruption that has strangled our city's economy. And the dramatic nature of last week's events undoubtedly contributed to the nationwide reporting of the story -- a story that will help to rehabilitate our city's soiled image.
But the intersection of law, politics and public relations is perilous. I hope that in our excitement over a "new" New Orleans, none of us lose sight of the fact that people are sometimes accused of crimes they did not commit. And even a "not guilty" verdict or a disimssal of charges cannot undo the harm done by a very public accusation.
Shaun G. Clarke