Heaven in Other People: Against Sex Dolls, Solipsism and Sartre

By Jim Tonkowich Published on July 15, 2017

Nearly twenty years ago a friend who worked at a company doing cutting-edge virtual reality called it: The Holy Grail of virtual reality, he told me, is virtual sex.

Enter the sexbot: life-sized, verbal, anatomically correct and increasingly controlled by artificial intelligence. 

Priced in the neighborhood of $16,000 to $20,000, the dolls are nonetheless selling. An article in the U.K.’s Daily Mail highlighted a married man “who takes his doll on dates in a wheelchair and dresses her in wigs, sexy clothes and jewelry.” He sleeps with the doll, not his wife. In Dublin a sex doll brothel has opened. Closer to home, a major manufacturer of the high-tech dolls is in California.

Not to leave women out, there are male sex dolls as well.

Is Solipsism the Epitome of Bliss or Torture?

Like many who get hooked on pornography, men attached to sex dolls admit “to being turned off by human relationships.”

Creepy? You bet it is, but somehow it seems a fit image for the world we live in.

Many seem to believe, as Jean Paul Sartre wrote in No Exit, “Hell is other people.” Better to be left alone with our chosen vices.

Solipsism is the belief that only one being exists in the entire universe: me. Everything and everyone else comes from my imagination.

While few people hold to philosophical solipsism, sex dolls are a reminder that practical solipsism is alive and well, and has become a way of life. Other people exist. But except insofar as they supply my needs, their existence is not relevant. Many seem to believe as Jean Paul Sartre wrote in No Exit, “Hell is other people.” Better to be left alone with our chosen vices.

Dante in his Divine Comedy portrays Hell as the gated community where relationships are few and spoiled. In the Inferno, people are private. Many refuse to reveal their names or their stories. And the deeper Dante journeys into Hell, the colder, more private and more solitary it becomes.

He employs contrapasso, the notion that the punishments of Hell are chosen in life. Thus at the bottom of the pit of Hell where Dante finds the traitors, those who betrayed their relationships. They along with Satan the great traitor, exist utterly alone, silent and immobile frozen in a river of ice forever.

Hell, in short, is the place where the practical solipsism enjoyed in life becomes a harsh reality for eternity. Those who love being alone, according to Dante, will unless they repent have their wish.

Dante’s Heaven is Found in Good Community

In Purgatorio, the second canticle of the Comedy, practical solipsism is healed. There love becomes reoriented toward God and neighbor. It is the story of sanctification, of being made holy. It’s also quite naturally the story of relationships restored.

The envious, for example — practical solipsists to the core — pray, weep and meditate on generosity together. “In humble horsehair they were covered all, / propped back-to-back to bear each other up” (Purgatorio 13.58-59). Their eyes sewn shut, they are forced to rely on one another in every way. Thus they grow in generosity and love.

When he reaches Heaven, Dante discovers, contra Sartre, that Heaven is other people. In Hell there are rocks and walls, trenches and cliffs, fire and ice. It is cold, hard, dark and dead. Heaven, by contrast, is alive with the bright glory of saints and angels.

When the great Eagle of Justice rises to address Dante (Paradise 18-20), Dante notices that he is not a single being, but comprises thousands acting in perfect love and harmony. Heaven is “free of care and filled with joy, / crowded with citizens of the Old and New” (Canto 31.25-26).

After all, the grand story that begins in the solitude of the Garden (Genesis 1, 2) ends in the vast New Jerusalem, a city crowded with multitudes of angels and saints (Revelation 21-22). Relationships abound.

Today, people interact just enough to get what they want and go back to the solipsism of their smartphones.

In the 21st Century: Choosing Dante’s Inferno

My wife and I went out to breakfast recently and met a newcomer to our little town of Lander, Wyoming. I like it here, he told us, it reminds me of San Francisco fifty years ago. People are friendly. They talk to you. They care about their neighbors.

In cities, he complained, no one even knows how to say “Hello” anymore. They interact just enough to get what they want and go back to the solipsism of their smartphones.

Dante would say it’s a foretaste of freely chosen, unending, hellish isolation.

In ages past, a wealthy man had more friends, more servants, more retainers, more children and in some places more wives. Hospitality for many and huge dinner parties were the norm.

Today we use wealth to buy us more solitude. Wealth buys gated communities, little time for friends, the one perfect child or better yet no children and maybe no spouse either. Houseguests are a bother. And dinner parties? Who has dinner parties anymore? We eat in the company of the TV, computer, or some other silicon-based companion.

And if we didn’t already know we were on a ruinous path, we now have inanimate sex dolls to remind us.

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  • Howard Rosenbaum

    Community has not always been my strong suit as I tend to be somewhat introspective & usually prefer my own company over those of some others that I may have the dubious pleasure of being acquainted with. Obviously thats a partially flawed perspective. One thats derived from something less than the compassion God affords us , His children to enjoy one w/another. On the other hand there is also so much of the superficial among some who seek to be almost always in the company of others. As if their discomfit away from a collective amounts to a pain comparable to that of solitary confinement. Some of our most intimate & rewarding fellowship is that which we can only enjoy singularly w/God.
    Likewise some of our most exhilarating & vibrant times w/God are those that are experienced w/in the context of the fellowship of others of like minded faith & passion, relatively speaking. So until God provides me w/a “Jesus doll” , it must be then that His intention for me is community as well as times of private communion w/He whose intention it is to be always central to all w/which I have to do. Though there is little doubt that those who purchase such “sex dolls” are as removed from the highest application of sexual pleasure in marriage as is the hermit Christian who isolates himself from the pleasures of not forsaking the fellowship of others. As for the rest of the world , well ….?

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