Justin Thacker

The Selfie and Self-abuse


The Spectator reported this week that the NHS has recently started distributing a leaflet to schools which encourages young people to ‘masturbate at least twice a week’ in the interests of cardiovascular health. Long gone, it would seem, is the risk of blindness; instead, it’s good for the heart. It is also, according to Marie Stopes International, the safest form of sex. Now, you might think that The Spectator would be in favour of such Onanistic freedom, but instead the author of the article rightly points out that to champion self-sex in this way is to miss the whole point of sex – that it’s risky and relational: physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially. He writes, “the sanctification of self-abuse is in keeping with today’s general fear and distrust of Other People…the moral rehabilitation of masturbation is fuelled by…an urge to withdraw from the world.”

It strikes me that we can see the same force at work in our obsession with the selfie, which, whatever the intention of the subject, in reality communicates the following:

1. I’m important – at least enough to share a photo of me with the world

2. I think I’m important – which is why I have shared it with you

3. It matters that you, my pseudo friends, know that I think I’m important – which is why I’ve shared the photo. Pseudo friends because real ones know your significance without the photo

And most disconcerting of all:

4. I don’t need anyone else – which is why I’ve taken it rather than asked someone else to

As a society, we have long since abandoned the idea that value resides in the transcendent (though the inconsistencies of that remain troublesome, see my last post on Meriam Ibrahim). For a while, we may have flirted with the idea that value resides in the community or in relationships, but with the advent of the transcendent narcissist we now place all value in the self, the transcendent self. Our contemporary idols are literally me!

In such a climate, no wonder self-sex is seen as ‘healthy’. It is, after all, sex with the one you love and cherish the most – yourself. But as everyone married for more than 5 minutes knows, the things that ultimately are of worth are things that cost, that require effort, that involve sacrificing the self for the sake of the Other. We are fundamentally persons by means of our relationships rather than persons first who go on to relate. If we cut ourselves off from the world, either in self-love or by projecting an image, we don’t become more, we in fact become less. All of which suggests that self-abuse is a rather apt description for our current (anti)social malaise.


26/06/2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , ,

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