this week for splice: the magic of words
oops, last week: to redress the sex, we'd better try to address the power
one way or another, i guess i do think this is finally the end of trump. it is a crazed emergency in republican world and in trump tower right now. but...what a spectacle he has provided: enough to keep media/cultural studies profs, polisci types of various sorts, and scribblers of all varieties going for decades. i am telling you, however, that there is still time for hillary to get caught in a dispositive scandal. and then where would we be? personally i think we ought to ask fethullah gulen to emerge from his compound in the poconos and administer the us under martial law. or if that's not mercan enough for you, perhaps we could turn the country over to roger goodell.
notes: grab her by the pussy is really no smoother as vernacular bad english than is colin powell's dicking bimbos. i really think we need some sort standardized testing to make sure our young people can express themselves: we have just got to do better than that. anyway, these sound like they have been badly translated from the malay or something. or really, i picture them in an eastern european accent. let all this teach you again, one more time, why men want power and what they do with it when they get it.
i must say that one of the better developments in popular culture over the last few years, from the point of view of an ageing het dude, is that there is a lot more appreciation of the sexiness of women my age. admittedly, it's often kind of gauzy and problematic, as such things tend to be. anyway, not to butter y'all up, but women in their fifties and sixties are often very devastating. plus they know stuff.
have mercy! awww sweetie, painful sex after menopause? let's work on that.
one thing i do really see as running throughout the history of the left is an enthusiasm for collective consciousness. the idea of forging such a consciousness politically goes back at least to hobbes, though, in the modern period. but rousseau's 'general will' adds an inspiring twist and starts to frame the thing in terms of social justice. now, i am going to say that we are not fully distinct from one another, nor from the rest of the world. but the applications of this thought have been nightmarish. even in rousseau, the collective consciousness is forged by subordination (dissenters will be 'forced to be free').
we have an impulse to merge, to lose ourselves, to be at once expanded and erased. perhaps it is because we are sexual creatures. but truly, the idea is that if everyone could be fully subordinated by one set of rules or rulers - with the materiel to make it stick - we would finally be as one. we wouldn't be lonely anymore.
plato, in setting out his ideal polis, based it on the idea that the polis is analagous to the human self (it is divided into the same three parts, etc.). the dream of unity is old, so are the mechanisms used to simulate it (plato likes lies and eugenics, which is fairly par for the course).
i think we should agree on things and we should act in concert if the action is good. but we are also stuck with our irremediable distinction from one another, and any of us can dissent from any consensus, which is one reason we're not all one self/will/belief system together. and the consensus is very likely to be wrong, and very likely to be merely enforced.
it is not only the left, though, that likes or worships a merger of many into one. the very idea of the corporation as a legal person enshrines collective consciousness in law. hegel was as enthusiastic about the idea as marx, and called The Thing the nation or state. mussolini liked it as much as did pol pot.
in every candidate for collective identity - nation, class, race, corporation - listen to the high-flown rhetoric, and then watch the actual coercion and force by which the collective action and identity is actually achieved. what is supposed to be an antecedent reality that we're detecting (our 'social nature' etc.) is a fiction brought to a leering semblance of reality by violence.
what i hear when someone brings in the collective or the people or whatever: you have to agree with me, because you are me. so if you disagree with me you betray yourself. thus, by your own fiat i will constrain you: the whole idea calls you a betrayer of yourself in order to attack you. this is what modern political philosophy often means, bizarrely enough, by autonomy, citizenship, democracy and so on. it's what habermas means, for example.
i have given up on, or aged beyond, this romantic love thing, and i have placed a moratorium on sex with other people. the whole sex/love conflagration had for me its ecstatic moments, and its decades of pain, rage, obsession. i wasn't good for the women i was with (jamie, rachael, judith, marion, from when i was 15 to 50) and they weren't good for me. i have seen it work out ok; i just haven't seen it work out ok for me. indeed, with the (possible) exception of the deaths of people i loved, it has been by far the source of the greatest pain in my life. i often mutated into an asshole that i myself despised. i was both jealous or controlling and actually betrayed, sometimes for years on end both ways round. i helped produce beautiful children, but you know romantic love is not strictly necessary for reproduction, and my reproductive years are over. anyway, at 55, i am less driven pillar-to-post by sexual desire, which was always to me necessarily connected to romantic love. (i've tried semi-casual sex over the last few years, because there were no other real possibilities, but to me it just seems wrong, not for you necessarily, but for me.) it has been a great relief to me just to give up and chill, despite the fact that i still experience a hole where the love of a good woman should, in my unreality, be. i'm gonna try fill that with asphalt.
no, this is not a plea for a date!
the french are so civilized! i have often heard people admiring their sexual mores; remember mitterand's funeral, where his wife made out with his mistress or whatever? so civilized are french men that they promise to be faithful to you and are fucking someone else that afternoon. and so civilized are french women that they don't mind that at all; in fact, they like it when you lie to them, which i admit is actually a feature of civilized societies. americans are so provincial and puritanical. so what the hell is valerie trierweiler doing in a hospital for a suicide attempt or whatever it may be? it is treason to the french republic! a civilized, open-minded man acts like dominique strauss-kahn. we need to emulate these behaviors, or else we'll get fat. oh, the wine, the food, the clothes, the accent! i can hardly bear the romantic civilizedness of it all. let's go to provence and rape some maids, honey.
here are a couple of fine pieces on nsa from the wall street journal, which - remarkably - has been very aggressive in its coverage and condemnation. i'd say this has been a pretty good moment to see who the decent human beings, clear thinkers, and people who keep faith with american ideals really are, and any time you've got kucinich and noonan together in their outrage, you might want to listen up.
If you assume all the information that can and will be gleaned will be confined to NSA and national security purposes, you are not sufficiently imaginative or informed. If you believe the information will never be used wrongly or recklessly, you are touchingly innocent.
If you assume you can trust the administration on this issue you are not following the bouncing ball, from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who told Congress under oath the NSA didn't gather "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans" (he later had to apologize) to President Obama, who told Jay Leno: "We don't have a domestic program." What we do have, the president said, is "some mechanism that can track a phone number or an email address that is connected to a terrorist attack."
Oh, we have more than that.
Soon after moving into Liberace's gaudy Las Vegas mansion in 1977, Scott Thorson, then a teenage hunk in the foster care system, learned that the jewel-smitten showman could love just as extravagantly as he decorated. Touring the premises before their relationship began, Liberace pointed out some decorative highlights, which included 17 pianos, a casino, a quarry's worth of marble and a canopied bed with an ermine spread. On the ceiling was a reproduction of the Sistine Chapel with Liberace's face painted among the cherubs.
When the pair became a couple, Liberace, who was 40 years older, was just as excessive. He couldn't bear to let Thorson out of his sight.
"We were at a hotel in Florida, and Liberace had the manager give us another suite, with windows that faced the beach," said Thorson, now 54. "He knew I'd be near the water and he wanted to be able to look at me."
i guess liberace is being treated as a profoundly liberatory figure. now, was the admirable part the abuse of foster children? or maybe it was the music? it's as though we were lionizing the lifestyle of roman polanski, and also it's as though roman polanski's movies just sucked all day every day. if you make such people your heroes or aesthetic exemplars, you better face up to the fact that you could have chosen something else instead, and the fact that you didn't really says more than i need to know about your taste or decency or intelligence.
look i understand that you can get into a mode where the worse something sucks the better it is. maybe you get sick of stuff that keeps trying to mean something; maybe good taste gets oppressive. but there are many kinds of cool schlock, mindless yet amusing cant, kitsch that arises from the depths of human depravity or consumer capitalism. the liberace variety of grotesque conspicuous consumption, excruciating mediocrity, and total, fatal corruption is only one of your myriad liberatory possibilities. for god's sake try something else.
i suppose one possibility is that all the aesthetic and ethical problems are redeemed by the homosexuality. really, you might want to think about that again. or: maybe my critique is driven by homophobia. so, really, you're going to put liberace above criticism on the grounds that he had sex with men (while denying it in public)? there's nothing wrong with men having sex with men (though i do hold that there might possibly be smething wrong with men having sex with boys), but on the other hand there isn't anything heroic about it either. also it doesn't per se improve your art, if any. also, if you will excuse my saying so, it's common as dirt and just not that outstanding or interesting.
obviously, i've been working on a chart of the interplay of gender, orientation, and aesthetics. in a positive moment in my aesthetic critique of girls and gay men, i said we love y'all anyway, in part because of the differences. now let me try to say a bit more about why, and how i'm thinking about this.
first you get the disclaimer: everything is at an absurdly general level; like, for example, david halperin, i'm trying to describe a cultural imaginary; no person occupies any point in the taxonomy with perfect centrality - and that goes for male and female as well as gay and straight and the various clusters of taste. also every interstice is occupied. i'm identifying an aesthetic coalition of straight women and gay men, and i'm saying that this alliance accounts for a lot of the way things look and sound in popular culture; i suppose one could sum it up like this: a celebration of artifice, an apotheosis of appearance, an orientation toward spectacle. but then just to portray the other side, where i was trying to pair lesbians and straight men, as the wholesale outlet of reality or sincerity or something would just be begging the question in favor of what i'm calling 'our side'. because, true, the appearance/reality split itself needs all sorts of examination. but one way it needs it is precisely as a gendered and orientated pair. it's a complementary system, a yin yang. you can't have one without the other. but i could also say: we're classical, you're baroque. you're rococo, we're neo-classical. you're impressionist, we're cubist. you're pop, we're minimalist.
look i think all these things arise in a system of complements, but then you've got to put them in action in time, like art movements, which they also literally are; they merge and diverge, divide within and coalesce across; the situation at a given time is complex and it's in the middle of reconfiguration. without touching the biology or genetics at all, the way male and female and straight and gay function makes them, i think obviously, interdependent and unstable. the center can be seen in all the sexual and erotic and aesthetic pairings, all the ways people in different groups are drawn to each other and repelled by each other, all the places and ways they merge and segregate themselves from each other, and each other from themselves: psychologically, linguistically, musically, visually, sexually.
the distinction between straight women and straight men - the immense venus/mars differences that supposedly make us incomprehensible to each other - are of course also the center of heterosexual erotics. right? we want to be incomprehensible to each other, and hence be ourselves. this really is actually symbolized in the yin yang, for example: it's a fucking cosmology of difference. and within heterosexuality, the differences become more and more intense because they are the center of the erotic lives of both sorts of people: men get manlier and drive trucks and watch sports, women get girlier and wear frills and makeup and stuff. they drink chardonnay and gossip or whatever. yo we despise that. we can't stand that shit. but what it means to be heterosexual is to emphasize the differentiation and want precisely people who drink creamy lattes and have closets full of incomprehensible grooming products. we are conniving to make ourselves so different that we can't communicate, and so different that we can't not want, can't not be for one another what the other lacks. then again, precisely because of wanting, we are drawn into proximity. we get to know each other. we want to be friends. we are frustrated that we can't communicate. we try. we oscillate toward similarity, and of course we are massively the same as embodied human beings and as part of the same culture or system of identities, even if our bodies and cultures are a bit different too. we try to approach our heterosexual relationships homosocially.
but and so, i don't think there's any objective normative weight in the eroticization of difference: sameness can also be eroticized (and every nuance in between). so we might call that homonormativity or, you know, yinyin or yangyang. well, guess what: heterosexual men and women are the same in that we are heterosexuals, and gay men and women are both gay. so this dimension is not just in play within gay and lesbian groups. now, as, say, lesbians emerge into a kind of erotic solidarity, straight men are migrating to similar symbol systems and erotic configurations, and vice versa: or as the hets push out they enter into an erotics of identification with the homos of the other gender, scattering outliers throughout the journey. one thing i'm trying not to do here is make the het categories fundamental; or to define the homo categories as parasitic on the het categories: i do think in their contemporary configuration they are mutually simultaneously caused, and inconceivable except as a whole system.
the thing is almost an erotic vortex or tornado, in which people are pulled in all sorts of directions by identifications and by disidentifications or disavowals. so the fact that i'm not female, and that i signal that with an entire repertoire - the way i move, the way i dress or groom, the way i adorn my environment, and so on - just is also the fact that i'm male: a complete aesthetic arsenal, but one that only makes sense in relation to its complements. and then the fact that i'm straight: well, that makes use of the same stuff. and so does the fact that you're not a straight woman. and then, with a tilde, that you're not a lesbian; then, that you're a gay man; then, with a tilde, that i'm a straight man, and so on, on each whirl picking up more debris, the whole thing changing shape as it spins.
pretty soon, you have, for example, the diva thing and all its doubly complex longings for the same and for the different. look one thing a diva is likely to be is a sex symbol among heterosexual men: the diva manifests various flavors of extreme femininity. and gay and straight men end up appreciating beyonce from different angles, but certainly erotically both ways round. if, say, lesbians at a certain point distinguish themselves from straight women by identifying with masculinity, then part of masculintiy is precisely eroticizing femininity: voila, lipstick. or if gay men are disavowing heterosexuality by disavowing masculinity or identifying as feminine, then part of being feminine is eroticizing masculinity: pretty soon you've got muscle-bound dudes with mustaches everywhere, more masculine than me by a ways.
but then these pairs might also put the eroticization of differences at an ironic distance, might put them in play, might be too conscious of them to regard them as natural, might see them as erotic resources rather than unbridgeable gaps. and that might be something you could teach us: to stop regarding our own sexuality as natural etc, or to not regard it as only natural, to see that it too is at least in part a performance, and put us in a position where performances of straightmaleness could be critiqued by straight males from different angles, or to see even paradigmatic enactments of masculinity as vulenrable to aesthetic and other sorts of critique. a muscley straight guy with a mustache might re-think his look and come to think of it as intentional. meanwhile, the hets are yearning across the gap and trying to keep the other side's interest or loyalty, and you've got straight women in business suits and metrosexuals. even in a very simplified picture of sameness difference/sameness sameness, there is a constantly volatile swirl of possibilities within all the groups and between them.
there are many oppressions in this unfolding situation, long histories of oppressions that are also eroticized, as dominance and submission, for example. alright? but still we do not want to be without the thing, because then we'd stop wanting, and also become incomprehensible to ourselves. and there are also many liberations, many zones of liberation, many stonewalls. all sorts of loves and all sorts of beauties are opened up as possibilities in the midst of the storm; it's the longings opening up within and across that make the beauty possible or give rise to it or even are it. the het male beauty of a michael jordan or a v-8 engine, the gay beauty of a judy garland or the exact right outfit. and it would not be crazy to look at these as both homo as well as hetero-erotic, as expressing solidarity and difference at once, or the erotics of identification and the erotics of distinction. there might even be transpositions over time as an expressions of yearnings-across.
what you actually want to do with these identities is not destroy or overcome them: no one really has that power even if they are sheer or mere cultural constructions. what you want to do is play with them. we need to try to reduce some of the weight, or some of the power of these systems to configure hatreds even as we try to hold on to the ways they configure loves: hatreds of the same and hatreds of the different. for these are also systems of exclusion, of course, or that's just to say the same thing again. what you want to try to do is increase the pleasure of them and decrease the pain, and i say the best place to focus and celebrate is the art, taking art at its broadest possible sweep, from body presentation to food to music to scent to interior design to cityscape. this is where the play of differences is relatively harmless, but profound. you can't have the identities without exclusions or at least judgments of taste that more or less condemn what is in contrast. but a question is: to what extent can you have these judgments without contemplating destruction? we often actually do pretty well at that, and straight guys in particular need to do it better without abandoning ourselves.
so one thing i am not going to do is just try to disown my male straightness. rather i am actually going to celebrate its aesthetic. we have given a lot of great stuff to the world, and we are, in our own way, extremely aesthetically oriented, or if you could take the oppression out, what you'd have left would be all kinds of interesting symbols and gestures, including all these signifiers of sincerity and authenticity and simplicity, hard work and self-discipline. you might think those are oppressive ideas; you don't actually want to be without them though. that's how we want to be seen, how we dress, how we want to think, how we want to talk.
i think the oppression has been taken out of this aesthetic repertoire at least to this extent: gay male/straight female aesthetics dominates our culture, even if it's still for the most part (apparently! straight men might always be gay men passing) straight men in congress or the board room. now, i say that our various aesthetic expressions and principles constitute a contribution and that you love us for it. and we don't want to lose it partly because of course you do want it. need it, i believe. and of course these categories play out in the tornado in a complex and equivocal way: we become self-deluded in our dedication to the simple truth, and y'all come out of the closet or delight to dress fashionably as an expression of the truth that should not be hidden. bruce springsteen - dressed simply, workin hard all night - might be as much of a gender/orientation re-enactor as rupaul, but might be less conscious of it.
and then i will say, albeit with some grudgingness because i do have the aesthetics i do have, that y'all have made all sorts of contributions too. and even if they were correctly described as frivolity or play or appearance or pop or hedonism or melodrama or spectacle: well, who the hell wants to live without those things in the world, right? anyway, even if i tried to withdraw from them, the withdrawal is defined by their presence. but i don't withdraw: i distinguish myself from them and i eroticize them, see? but looking at it the other way round: hedonism is not sufficient for anyone's liberation. liberation requires hard work, and you want to liberate yourself into something true or meaningful. on the other hand, folks like me seem to be somewhat pleasure or play-deprived. you need anger, but we're perhaps too angry. sheer insulation or ever-growing polarization are unfortunate, but they also intensify the yearnings that end up in new syntheses.
in short, we should really love each other. secretly or not, we do. we certainly need each other and depend on each other and want each other. we should stay different and we should yearn and try to appreciate. we should slum in each other's bars from time to time, and smile, etc. right? i think if you let these things play with you and play with them, the system might become more liquid or improvisational or multi-dimensional. but really who knows? it might even get more extremely differentiated or simplified, which could be interesting too if it doesn't freeze. but you want to start thinking of the gender/sexuality square as an immense set of aesthetic resources, which are also ways to be.
so, y'all think you can dance. could jerome robbins or rudolf nureyev improvise a great dance while you were trying to kick his ass? didn't have the stones, baby. but my people can do that. and we go a step further too: we dance while we kick your ass. we kick your ass by dancing.
i have a funny feeling that the purpose of the whole amazing history of catholicism - the incomprehensible authoritarian hierarchy, the endless scholastic yip yap, the astonishing mysteries of the trinity and the eucharist, the clouds of choiring angels and saints, the burning of heretics, the attitude toward women and apples, the funny costumes, all that art, the confessional, 'celibacy,' 'God' - has always been buggery. it just never made any sense otherwise, putting it mildly.
the idea that science has shown that you can't change your sexual orientation is a very nice example of the fact that academic social science is often mere political ideology. really scientists of whatever sort might work at a university, but their results on this matter are exactly as empirical as lady gaga's, though infinitely less compelling and well-written. they will demonstrate to be true whatever helps their bit of the political spectrum, or whatever people like themselves say they believe this week. actually, offhand, until i have overwhelming reasons to do otherwise, i would accept anyone's account of her own sexuality, and you should think about what taking the opposite approach - though of course only with regard to people whose story is politically inconvenient - has actually done to people who are not straightforwardly, as it were, heterosexual. so you tell me you're bisexual. i have a theory according to which that's impossible, complete with brain scans or questionnaires; it really pisses me off that you can't make up your mind, etc. or: no one is really homosexual; their natural heterosexuality has gotten screwed up by their moms.
this approach, where someone is telling you what his experience is and you're waving around your diploma and telling him that that's scientifically impossible, is just exactly the same. and the evidence for it - which will appear very compelling to people who who are already entirely certain because that's what everyone they know says - is just going to be laughably inadequate.
anyway, maybe homo and hetero are going to turn out to be in your genes or your brain, though that strikes me as extremely unlikely. (but i imagine the nazi regime would have been happy to find a genetic marker, for example.) perhaps human sexuality is actually quite fluid and complex, and we won't actually know anything about it unless we listen to people, even christians. geez don't y'all remember what the scientific establishment said about these things twenty, or forty, or eighty years ago? how'd that shit turn out? twenty years ago, if anyone brought up what they said forty years ago, they just blandly believed of themselves that they had it right now. at every stage they drove a political/religious/aesthetic agenda in the baldest way, and only the next generation became aware of it, which is a pretty large failure of basic self-awareness and self-criticism, if you ask me. just because it's swung left doesn't mean it's gotten any truer. anyway, if you take seriously anyone's claim to have any science on this, you need to stop being bewildered by people's academic degrees and job titles; stop the irrational deference and show some gumption; haven't you learned anything by now?
we may eventually reach the point at which gay folks can say something better than 'it's not my fault,' and very suddenly science will reach startlingly different conclusions. indeed, many gay people say much better or much else, the reason for which, whatever his drawbacks, we need more david halperins.
perhaps today's social scientists accept a particular version of the pragmatist theory of truth? that is, whatever leads to desirable social transformations (an end to bullying, e.g.) is true. to turn this from an insane abstract theory of truth to a practically useful insane theory of truth you need the premise that what people like me think is a desirable social transformation is, beyond the possibility that a good objection might someday arise, a desirable social transformation. now, the way to create the desirable social transformation is by manipulating people into believing whatever would help, which has the added benefit of making it impossible for such objections to be raised. so, whatever sentences you produce that would serve to manipulate people into doing what you want them to do are also true. very possibly this is the most ridiculous series of thoughts that has ever occurred to a human being. also it is evil. but it is very inspiring!
i have to say that the olympics track and field competition is, among other things, an amazing celebration of black womanhood. lord that field for the 100 metres: what a magnificent group of african warrior princesses, with incredible fire in the eyes (as well as unbelievable acceleration, of course). also i'll pay tribute to the rather shocking virginity of 29-year-old lolo jones. let's just say that she's running against the tendency of the culture. that is sexy.
shelly-ann fraser-pryce (the world's fastest woman):
it's amazing how much a lot of people i know - especially the women - hate sarah palin. right. but as gleeful as her destruction might make you, you'd better think about joe mcginniss's approach. hounding her, harassing her, moving in next door to her, watching her through the windows with a pair of binoculars, going through her trash, and now publishing her alleged sexual history. without assuming this crap to be true, i would contemplate how you'd feel if someone took this approach to hillary or whomever, or to yourself. let's just say that with regard to most women i know, the 80s might look bad as a series of headlines, etc., and if everyone takes this approach to the female politicians on the other side, we'll end up ejecting all non-nuns from the political system. this would be a victory for patriarchy, which of course i warmly endorse, but i'm not sure the level of discourse is being raised by pointing and howling 'slut!' or photoshopping a red 'A' onto someone's cute outfit. before you get pissy with sarah for always attacking the media, you might want to think about what the media actually has done to her. it's frigging ridiculous.
hate to say it, but i more or less agree with this, a piece by the 'president of the national fatherhood initiative' which asks why we don't alot a bit of the blame for misbehaving men to the women they misbehave with. now, of course, if it's a rapist - a la (allegedly) dsk - then blaming the victim is out of the question. also of course, power differentials create the possibilities of one or another extent of coercion, which reduces the agency of the people coerced. but no one is forcing a young woman to undergo plastic surgery, dress in as little as possible, and try to seduce tiger woods (or, you know, musicians, actors, politician, rich persons), in order to enhance her self-esteem or professional opportunities or cashflow or to achieve some sort of notoriety. i just have to say that i'm against using sex this way. and i might say i often feel kind of...sexually manipulated by women, many of whom seem to value sexual attention above nearly anything else (i'm definitely not rich or powerful, however).
power and money and fame are aphrodisiacs, i guess, at least for many women. actually i don't think they really have an aphrodisiac effect; they just suggest that you could use sex to get power and money out of this chump. anyway, if power and money have an aphrodisiac effect on you, i suggest that this is a failure of your character, and you ought to get busy in therapy or something. the world would obviously be a better place if power and money were sexually repulsive.
though some of the 'other women' are victims to one degree or another, many are really not, and the fact that we just informally don't hold the (admittedly, usually young) women responsible at all says either that they are not moral agents, or that, having sex for power or money - or to feel the flattery of power and money - is normative for young women. since what is really normative for young women is that their whole predicament is described by themselves and their sub-culture as a self-esteem drama, and getting the governor's attention and screwing him enhances your self-esteem, it's actually a wholesome activity.
i would expect anthony weiner to appear in two years as a host on msnbc. one problem: he's lost his sense of huma, har har. seriously it's funny that she's been globetrotting with hillary; in some ways both the best and the most peculiar person to give advice in a situation like this. at any rate, if there's anything american culture is good for at this moment, it's always offering a new show to famous people after rehab (or even during). this thing was bad for his career as a congressman, but very very good for his fame. as americans, we have certain...values.
i do understand why it's important to some folks to assert that their sexuality is inborn. first off, the idea does make it nonsensical, more or less, to condemn homosexuality on moral grounds. also it is a response to the idea that heterosexuality is 'natural' and homosexuality is 'unnatural' (whatever that means, exactly; it ain't supernatural!). you can respond to religious antigayness by saying, 'god doesn't make mistakes!' it would eliminate the idea of re-education camp, or therapies to convert people gay to straight, one of the most offensive procedures ever applied. and it registers the centrality of one's sexual identity to one's human identity: one feels one's sexuality to be part of one's essence, something one could not lose without ceasing to be oneself. so there are many good results (as well as some dangers) in asserting it.
all of that, however, does not bear on, much less entail, its truth. i think it tends to minimize the struggle a lot of people have to forge a sexual identity, which has all sorts of entailments: who you're hanging out with, or what music you listen to, or how you dress (either way round, of course). i would think that (though this is a dangerous thing to say) who you happen to have early sexual experiences with could be partly dispositive, either way round. (that is, say you're a man who first had sex with a man: one would suspect that whether it was pleasurable or degrading - which depends on all sorts of things besides the gender of one's partner - could have an effect on driving you one way or the other.) and i'll say this: no one is born fabulous: homosexuality as a social identity consists partly of a whole aesthetic repertoire which just cannot be inborn.
and the 'born this way' approach seems to minimize in a disturbing way the liquidity of sexual identities, or the idea that they could shift, which seems often to happen. as well, it exonerates heterosexuals from responsibility for our own identities, or even for our problems with regard to homosexuality: we can't help our repugnance, given how we were born.
when i say that the homo/hetero taxonomy (which of course desperately needs complicating, and which is being or has long been, complicated) has only been in place for a couple of hundred years, i'm working off foucault and others. i don't mean that we've only been using that language in that time; i mean that this way of conceiving the fundamental human sexual idenities has only been in place in that time (this is complicated, and i am not saying i've done adequate research). if you look at plato, for example, it's often held that the greeks accepted homosexuality, but that's anachronistic. they certainly accepted sex between two men or two women, but they did not look at that as the basic fact of one's sexual identity; it's far more complicated than that, involving ages, friendships, social situations, sexual positions or roles (active vs receptive, etc), occasions, etc. socrates certainly appreciated the beauty of young men, but he was married to a woman, but he wasn't some closet case: he just didn't think of sexuality in terms of the homo/hetero dyad.
and no, i'm not struggling with my own heterosexual identity! i do remember it as a sort of achievement, however, and i'm not really willing on reflection to describe that exclusively as either the realization of an underlying truth or as a set of decisions.
i used to have some sympathy for this idea that there's a difference between private lives and public functions, at least within limits (like: no fair being head of the imf and also an actual rapist). and i have admired weiner from time to time, patriot act vote among them. (and really the liberal dems had no more articulate spokesman.) but i think ultimately the leadership and the rest of the person are of a piece. you have to ask yourself: why does this person want power, and ought he to be entrusted with it, and what will he do with it once he has it? it's no use pretending that people do not come whole to their jobs.
a truly great moment in american political history - replayed everywhere of course - was when wolf blitzer asked weiner, 'is that a picture of you?' and his response was, 'we've retained a firm to investigate that.' weiner has a notably high iq, and that was a complete and grammatical english sentence. but it made palin's random nonsense look brilliant. this intelligence thing is...complicated. the asshole thing is pretty simple, though. it would surprise me if he's still in congress or still living with huma 48 hours from now.
yeah you had to figure weiner was going to burn after all those evasions. and it would surprise me if there wasn't more more more. i guess what puzzles me is that people lie in circumstances in which, and in a way in which, it's just impossible for anyone to believe them. i've had people (well, kids, but also adults) tell me passionately that they didn't do what i actually just watched them do, or (in an outside case) that they never did what i saw them do every day for months. sometimes you just wonder what people think they could possibly be accomplishing. ah well. reflect, confess in full, and apologize: that's my advice. and working back: sending lewd pictures to a random 21-year-old girl? asshole, please. while you're at it, get out of congress.
just to pile on: geez, chump, what a lovely wife you have. she'd have been plenty.
one obvious thing about extreme asymmetries of power - from corporate hierarchies to armed forces to institutional religions to welfare states - is that they are typically infested with sexual predation (of various forms). one has to be a bit suspicious of almost anyone who devotes their lives to ascending these hierarchies on these grounds. that's one reason why i sometimes cringe when i hear such ascenscions described as selfless devotions to public service, especially when people are describing themselves that way. not that that is impossible as a motivation; it's just that you very frequently are confronted with the extreme dark side. i don't think one should endorse various hierarchical structures without also confronting the extremely fraught connections between sex and power.
so someone in iowa asked michelle bachmann the following question: "Congresswoman, some groups — including this one, I believe — have argued that homosexuality is a public health crisis akin to second-hand smoking. I was wondering if you agreed with that."
She responded, "Um. I — I don’t have an answer on that. I don’t have an answer. Why don’t I have another question."
jonathan capehart is offended. and i imagine if you prodded bachmann on sexual-orientation-type issues, only disturbing things would come out. however, i want to point out that this question might flummox anyone. in what way is gayness like second-hand smoke? and the idea that second-hand smoke is a public-health crisis embodies so many pseudo-ideas that it is itself a labyrinth. so i'd have responded more or less the same way, probably.
truly we're in a 'crisis' crisis.
so there have been some pretty dramatic protests at the college where i work (dickinson in carlisle, pa) concerning sexual assault of students (mostly, of course, by other students, and mostly acquaintance assaults by male on female students, again of course). hundreds of students have occupied the administration building for the last couple of days, and coverage has been kind of amazing: it led all the local newscasts and the local newspapers, and you've seen slices even on huffpost and other national outlets.
now first of all, it's actually great to see students active in this way; dickinson hasn't really in my time there been a hotbed of activism, and more students seem interested in binge-drinking (which of course you'd have to say plays a large role in this problem, which is serious) than anything that has anything to do with anything. and the demands of the protesters seem by and large reasonable: more transparency in the disciplinary process, expulsions for serious sexual offenders, and so on. but we're also back to the following, which is the kind of thing i've spoken out against at a number of the institutions where i've worked (this is from the list of demands as presented by the protesters this morning):
The college must recognize sexual violence as existing on a spectrum: cat-calling, lewd comments, and homophobic or misogynistic slurs contribute to a culture conducive to sexual assault. This is one sideof the broad spectrum of offenses that we consider sexual violence, with the most extreme end of said spectrum being rape and sexual assault. These behaviors must be dictated in the same policies thatgovern sexual violence and formally punished, though certainly not with the same severity as sexual assault and rape.
the definition of speech as violence, and the banning of certain phonemes, is just completely wrong and counter-productive and counter-educational. i and others have put forward these arguments for so long that it seems almost silly to repeat them, but i will just a bit. it matters who uses the 'slur' and when and why. a gay person throwing around 'faggot' and 'queer' (like a black rapper with 'nigger' or a feminist with 'bitch') is routine and part of the ways that words mutate and get constantly inflected and turned around. i just mentioned or quoted those words, and that is completely different for my money than hurling them at someone as a form of verbal abuse. you actually get the feeling that people are scared of certain sounds, and 'the n word' etc is just pathetic: gutless. they want to ban even talking about what words they want to ban. please.
banning certain words just leads to the spiral of useless euphemisms, and if you think people can't replace 'retarded' with 'special' or whatever you may authorize next, i will demonstrate that you are mistaken. and even if you could get teenage boys actually to stop using 'gay' as an all-around term for anything they don't like, that wouldn't keep them from feeling like they have to continually establish their heterosexuality to each other using whatever terms you might leave at their disposal.
you increase the power of any word that you brand as an act of violence or propose to delete from the language. in fact you attribute to words a literally magical power: like i can literally assault you, damage your body, by sitting here in my little house typing. and i can make you love me by writing your name on a piece of paper and folding it up just so. if it were true, i might be tempted actually to make use of this supernatural ability.
and if you can't hold out some sort of distinction between words and violence, you can't stop censorship anywhere, of anything. etc!
Assange's London attorney, Mark Stephens, told AOL News today that Swedish prosecutors told him that Assange is wanted not for allegations of rape, as previously reported, but for something called "sex by surprise," which he said involves a fine of 5,000 kronor or about $715.
"We don't even know what 'sex by surprise' even means, and they haven't told us," Stephens said.
sometimes you're running through the possible jokes and you realize that it's just not necessary. happy birthday, baby!
the stephen fry thing is pretty funny. he says women don't really like sex; they just use it to manipulate men. i like the wit with which fry makes his claim - "you don't know what it's like to have one of these in your pants' etc - and i like the opposite of wit in the response. feminists have no sense of humor: there, i just pulled a fry! "Instead of solidarity in the face of a heteronormative patriarchy that oppresses all of us, there remains a chasm of suspicion and misunderstanding that obstructs genuine solidarity between women and gay men." oppressive heteronormative patriarchy - as opposed, i guess, to liberatory heteronormative patriarchy: christ we're still producing the same sentences as we did thirty years ago. bell hooks is still out there with her english phrase-book, struggling toward perfect redundancy. but i really like the basic response: we are too horny. for fry, it's self-evidently good to "shag behind a bush." i really like the basic liberatory stance of a lot of gayness: real freedom is constantly having sex in public bathrooms. if you think that's freedom, or that it means anything at all, you are pathetically deluded. a "feminist" response that goes "i like to walk around the streets and then do it doggy-style in an alley with a stranger" is not a real good response. there's not a lot that could make heteronormative patriarchy look good, but this really actually does. it's like looking at crack cocaine as the essence of human liberation. my view would be: ok, get free. now do something meaningful or worthwhile. vice, it strikes me offhand, is the very opposite of freedom. no doubt this expresses both my misogyny and my homophobia. but this particular argument makes homophobia and misogyny look entirely rational. look, ok, take your pleasures where you find them. shag whomever wherever you want. only don't tell me you're doing this as a revolutionary act of human liberation: that's on beyond horseshit.
actually, call me a woman, but i like to associate sex with love. ok this emerges out of problematic histories of sexual oppression, human ownership or even (gasp) marriage. but i say the idea that gay bath-house scene in frisco circa 1980 was an important political site it wishful thinking: no you just wanted to have sex with lots of people cause you were hyped up and horny. ok! that's cool, even if also having a touch of compulsion, degradation, and disease. i wouldn't do it, but y'all go ahead. i'm just saying it's not really a political act and that this way lies not human freedom but simply new (actually very old) forms of unfreedom. you want to believe pleasure is liberating or revolutionary because then you have another rationalization for your vices. indeed you're trying to ennoble your vices. i don't think that's...fully honest. this, in the long run, is not even a plausible route to pleasure. i'm not sure what can save us, but a lot lot lot of sex with strangers just isn't it. if you don't believe, give it a shot!
maybe ultimately the idea that pleasure is political liberation comes from a freudian scheme on which societal repression of natural urges is reflected in each person's repression of herself (=neurosis). well i think it is a lot more complex than that, and maybe i'll throw down a post trying to explain why. asceticism or whatever is not only self-repression; it is a liberating as well as an enslaving thing.
i thought i might have a crack at some examples of what i might call strategic beliefs, which i think raise important questions in both epistemology and actual science and social policy. so here are my examples:
(1) alcoholism (or in general addiction) is a disease.
(2) people are born straight or gay.
(3) depression (or for example bipolar disorder) is a chemical imbalance in the brain.
now i am not a researcher and i haven't really had a serious crack at the evidence. but my view is that these assertions are either false, misleading, or so vague as to be unevaluable for truth value (for example: the notion of "disease" is an extremely vague, ambiguous, and problematic folk concept). but i also think that in certain situations each of these might be extremely important to believe: those circumstances are, roughly, treating addiction or depression, and making peace with one's sexual orientation and allowing people to have whatever sexual orientation they have.
each of these claims relieves the depressed, addicted, or gay person from personal responsibility for their situation: they all declare that the situation is not the result of the free decisions of the subject. now i think this actually has basically good consequences. i think this is the fundamental reason, for example, for the success of twelve-step programs, which i have experienced at first hand. it is a dogma in aa that alcoholism is a disease (or, as the big book says at one point, an allergy). if you think that your alcoholism is your fault, you will be filled with self-loathing, particularly at the point where it has destroyed your career or family. well this self-loathing will get you drinking. the typical drinking alcoholic is in a cycle where he desperately tries to exercise will power over his condition, which might work for a while, then lead to a collapse in which he succumbs. the typical addict runs through this cycle again and again. so you "turn your will over," you stop thinking that you can make yourself stop and are a horrible person because you fail. then you can stop.
so i would say that the recovering addict may need to believe that alcoholism is a disease (whatever that means, exactly). i might encourage someone to believe this - and i have - because it is more or less essential to recovery. and recovering addicts often are entirely outraged even by asking questions about this. but that does not make it true, which shows among many other things that the pragmatic theory of truth is false.
the "evidence" that depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain is kind of pathetic. i'll believe that when doctors are diagnosing depression by pet scan or urine test. depression is diagnosed on the basis of..sleep patters or energy levels, "suicidal ideation," etc. and of course even if there were chemical changes in the brain associated with depression, that would not establish direction of causation: the emotional condition could be causing the brain changes as well as the other way round. the fact that seratonin re-uptake inhibitors are (sort of) effective in treating depression no more shows that depression is a chemical imbalance than the fact that you can treat pain with morphine shows that pain just is a morphine shortage.
try saying something like this to someone who believes or needs to believe that bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance, and you will just get rejected with extreme dogmatic insistence. no it just is a fact. but that you believe it the way a christian loves jesus doesn't show it's true.
honestly i think that sexual orientation probably has extremely complex or chaotic origins, including i would think the nature of one's early sexual experiences, what sort of person one comes to associate with orgasm. but saying that is dangerous: it indicates that we could manipulate people into heterosexuality etc; it hints at a kind of genocide or something. it hints that if we want our kids to be het we should keep them away from gay people at all costs. basic acknowledgment of the full humanity and basic rights of gay people may be well-served by 'born that way.' but that doesn't make it true.
there might be a hundred-year scientific consensus that depression is a chemical imbalance. but then, one might notice that much of the research is actually paid for by people who manufacture chemicals. and after it's over it might be entirely obvious that the claim was vague, ill-formed, and...wrong. that doesn't mean science doesn't converge on it for decades. to say that scientists are subject to social consensus, economic context, peer pressure, the models under which they were educated, etc is an understatement. well, there will be a new social consensus in 2045, and science will explore and explain the useful or consensus notion as the objective truth. it's happened many times, and will happen many more.