Sunday, March 12, 2006

Mental Masturbation

Mental Masturbation… a phrase that I came upon yesterday, for the first time, in the Lebanese Political Journal. The person who penned it so eloquently, Marie, described it to me in the following manner:

Mental Masturbation is an expression frequently used by some mathematicians and scientists to describe those who elaborate fancy, but useless and complex theories or strategies that are entirely based on false premises and/or illusions. They keep going further and further in their fake and baseless theory until they ejaculate and make a splash.

I like it. In fact, I think I like it so much that I will adopt it, and scatter it in my posts whenever I deem it suitable to use. Marie... if you ever read this blog, I'd like extend my gratitude to you. You have just enriched my lexicon.

The question now is, when do I use it? Marie says that it is used to describe "fancy, but useless and complex theories or strategies...." But, can I extend its use in the realm of politics a little further?

Like, how about this: A good example of mental masturbation is when "an academic, or any individual, elaborates fancy solutions to political and social problems that are entirely based on the false premise or illusion that these solutions can actually make a difference on the ground." How does that sound?

In marketing, they teach students that a product is only as good as the quantity of dollars it rakes in, not what the scientist or inventor thinks of it. In politics, they should teach students that an idea is only as good as the number of people who will die and kill for it if necessary, not what the philosopher or professor thinks of it.

Why do people listen so avidly to the political and philosophical proclamations of Nasrallah and Jumblatt? Is it because they are such brilliant thinkers and articulate communicators? Probably. But we all know that the main reason these two individuals' "ideas" are so relevant is because however moronic their ideas are, you will have equally moronic individuals willing to die for them. Hence the wonderful relationship between power and ideas.

Allow me to pose another question. Why has the movement towards secularism, individual rights, and freedom of conscience failed to even dent the sectarian nature of Lebanon's political and social institutions? Could it be because the main propagators of those ideas have been Lebanon's "enlightened" middle class and elite, who flee the country at the drop of a pin? I say yes. I also say that the major failure of academics who propagate those ideas is that they fail to either recognize the need for alternative power structures that may adopt their ideas, or they simply do not know how to go about creating such structures in Lebanon.

Words are cheap. Political ideas are only as relevant as they are powerful. If we (as the “enlightened” middle class and elite) cannot recognize that the problem we face is not a dearth of words or ideas, but rather a dearth of structures and institutions that can genuinely adopt and promote these ideas, then we will continue to fail. The university is not enough. The mind is necessary but insufficient. Ideas need bodies as well as minds. If such conditions fail to materialize, I am afraid we will mentally masturbate for the rest of our lives.


Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

I think the expression was actually coined by Woody Allen in a 1977 movie called « Annie Hall ».
Basically, you have a highly sophisticated Jewish comedian (Alvy Singer/Woody Allen) who falls in love with a semi-literate WASP girl (Annie Hall/Diane Keaton). They date and he then urges her to take evening courses at Columbia so she can crawl out of her crass ignorance and learn about the subtle beauty of “Sartrian existentialist critique of 19th century Russian literature”...a course which he eventually describes as “intellectual masturbation” once he learns Annie has an affair with the literature professor!

Another great Annie Hall one-liner is “don’t put down masturbation…it’s sex with someone I love”...

Walid said...

The above post is an excellent example of "mental masterbation"; the need for instant personal gratification :-)

Anonymous said...

Ladies and gentlemen, Raja is back.

acrobat said...

Ladies and gentlemen, Raja is back.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure if the "based on a false premise" is a necessary part.
Imo, "elaborate, fancy, complex but useless" part seem enough to qualify any discussion, even if it is not based on a false premise.


Oh an welcome back.

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Anna said...

but in contrast with "usual" masturbation, mental one doesn't lead to satisfaction.