Tuesday, 3 March 2009

On Asking (And Not) Asking Why

This comment from McStar deserved its own post (bolding and some paragraph breaks mine):
Wow, it feels like I had to leave the party just as I was getting involved, and now I've missed out on all the interesting stuff ;) I'll see if I can catch up...

I think the real problem with the whole 'question/examine your desires' trope is that it's suggested for the wrong reasons, done by the wrong people and done in the wrong ways. I completely agree that our society shapes the sorts of questions we ask and the ways in which we ask them. The whole thing is very reminiscent of all those appalling pop-psychology 'scientific studies' on male/female behaviour which SOMEHOW always seem to produce results that support the gender-biases of the scientists and their culture-at-large.

In an ideal world, we would be able to wonder where aspects of our sexualities might have 'come from' without being expected to reach certain conclusions, or having our personal conclusions disregarded (like when some kinky types say that we regard kinkiness as a natural/inborn aspect of our personality), or feeling uncomfortably aligned with bigots. Take for example the question of whether sexual orientation (speaking purely in terms of which gender/s a person is attracted to) can be discovered to be caused by nature or the family or society as a whole or whatever combination of factors. That could theoretically be a fascinating line of enquiry into the workings of human sexuality which could teach us a huge amount about how our minds and personalities are formed. What it usually is in actuality is various groups of people picking the position that fits best with their own personal prejudices, finding or creating supposedly unbiased research to back up that position, and then trying to yell their position louder than everyone else. And sadly the loudest yellers are often the homophobes.

In a mature and unbigoted society, it wouldn't work that way - we would be able to think and talk about sexualities and potential effects of society/nurture/nature on sexualities without our own stupidity and bigotry getting in the way. If everyone worked a bit harder at disregarding their own stupidities and biases, maybe these discussions would be productive and interesting. Maybe we'd come up with some new and fascinating hypotheses about society and sexuality. Sadly, the whole idea of 'questioning your desires' has been hijacked by bigots and fuckwits like the internet radical feminist gang. Leaving other (hopefully) more open-minded people thinking but hang on... why can't we think about why people are kinky without all this ignorance and these preconceived notions of what kinkiness equals? why can't we think about why people are kinky because we personally find it interesting? why is a random internet person demanding to know why we're kinky and then informing us that whatever we may personally think, it's actually because the patriarchy is being evil in our heads? *flail*


Alcibiades said...

Yo, Trin:

You said something interesting over at ND's that leads me somewhere off topic, so I thought I'd ask it here. How do you think consequentialism leads to something like ableism? What is your personal philosophy, and how does it deal with those objections?

If you want to take the discussion another place, either your blog or mine, or to e-mail, because this will distract from discussion of this post, feel free.

Trinity said...


In short, I think it because it leads directly to the whole sets of assumptions about people with disabilities having a poor "quality of life" and living "lives of suffering" that lead to ill-thought-out selective abortions, murders by exasperated parents that get written off as "mercy killings" to "spare people suffering," etc.

As well as allowed the Nazis to begin their extermination projects. Think of the propaganda: Ballastexistenz.Lebensunwertes Leben.

Not that I think every consequentialist is a Nazi -- far from it -- but for me, knowing those sorts of lines of thinking were used to justify and excuse things like Aktion T4 makes it impossible for me to be anything less than profoundly uneasy with someone adopting an ethical system that fundamentally relies on quantifying others' suffering for them.

My suffering is mine just as my rights are mine, and none of anyone else's business unless I make it so.

Trinity said...

(Throw in the standard bits and bobs about Singer and newborns here, too, though I don't think most consequentialists are nearly so... lacking in good sense.)

Alcibiades said...

Do you think that there's room for a consequentialism that allows the level of suffering or happiness to be subjectively defined by the individual without imposing a hierarchy of goods that Mill outlines?

Trinity said...

Alci: That's the sticking point. I'm not sure. I'm just not at all comfortable with a lot of the consequentialist reasoning I see people use out there.

I mean, I've been told to my face (OK, to my type) that the fetus that became me should have been aborted... so yeah, makes things look a little mmmmm *interesting* to me, I guess.

Alcibiades said...

Hwy, Trin, could you explain to me why the "bad theory from the 80s" comment got Jenn so riled up? I've got a feeling I'm missing something here.

Trinity said...

Alci: I'm not sure what got Jenn riled up where, as I'm having trouble following the half threaded and half unthreaded discussion.

What I was referring to, if that's what you're asking, was the anti-SM feminist writings from the '80s like the articles in _Against Sadomasochism_, which were even more "this is obviously patriarchy" and "consent is necessarily vitiated in a bad society" as most of the stuff anti-SM feminists come up with nowadays.

I was basically saying I haven't seen substantial changes in the theory in thirty years, and I tend to think that worthwhile analyses get expanded or revised over time.

Not knowing what she actually said, though, I'm not sure if this helps or not. Does it?

Anonymous said...

Excellent points made. Thanks for reposting it. That's the promlem with any politicized research. The researcher comes back with the client's conclusions almost invariably.

zenoida said...

Hello Trinity,
I'm really enjoying reading your blog, the first on this topic that I have ever seen. I actually just wrote my master thesis (psychology) about the identity development of homosexual, and I sorta stumbled in to some of the same "issues" that you have. In psychological litterature, there is, more or less, no raised fingers about the ethics of being gay, but there's a lot of shouting from different rooftops about the naturalness of the thing. You know, "It's all genes!" "No! it's all created through discourse!" basically. I actually seem to be the only one to have considered both points of views (and many others, such as Freud). It's funny how simple it seems, to simply not consider one view the view of GOD, but to look at more than one side of the elephant. The positive thing to come of it all, is that I have been asked to do a ph.d. (if I can find support elsewhere) because of this (I know, it really does seem rather banal, but there you go), and I'm hoping to be able to do it on BDSM (my own kink).. so there's hope, at least, if they will grate me so high, just for not being onesided.
It's also nice not to be alone and kinky :)
I'm looking forward to following your blog

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