Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Fetishization and fear

Most people seem to know a guy who rails against same-sex marriage but loves lesbian porn. The hypocrisy is pointed out, and it’s accurate. That type of attitude is hypocritical and wrong, although I’d say it’s not surprising.

For humans, the disgust and arousal impulses are very similar. It sounds counterintuitive because those feelings seem like opposites, but they stimulate the same part of the brain. That’s why a lot of people do things during sex that they might otherwise think of as “gross.” That’s why fetishes and phobias are often flip sides of the same coin. I learned that when a person has a fetish, it often used to be a phobia. It just happened to transform from a fear into something that intensely arouses the person, either by chance or as a coping method.

When someone is homophobic but also really into watching two women have sex, it’s both a fear and a fetish. Fetishes are usually applied to inanimate objects, whereas lesbians are obviously people, but a homophobe doesn’t see them as people. He sees them as objects he watches and fantasizes about and then rejects in disgust. (Women can definitely be homophobic too, but I’m using a straight man in this example because so many people have aptly brought up the fact that homophobic men who like lesbian porn are hypocrites.)

This can also be seen in politicians who draft anti-gay and anti-trans policies but are then caught having sex with gay and transgender people. If they’re sleeping with someone of the same gender, many people will respond by saying that homophobes are secretly gay. While it’s true that some are closeted and overcompensating, I’d say that it’s more than a matter of just being gay and not wanting the public to know. It’s a combination of fetishization and fear. If they are hostile toward the LGBT community, they are probably not respectful toward the person of the same gender whom they’re involved with. They most likely dehumanize them. And when a homophobic person is immediately assumed to be gay, that can reinforce the idea that gay people are their own worst enemies and that they’re the ones who are really oppressing each other, which absolves straight homophobes of responsibility.

How Ben Carson Inspires Anti-Choice Terrorists

In light of the act of terrorism committed at a Planned Parenthood clinic last month in Colorado Springs, many have brought up the fact that mainstream anti-choice rhetoric often galvanizes the extremists. This rhetoric is frequently expressed by Republican political candidates, notably including Ben Carson. His stance is especially alarming when considering the fact that he’s lauded as the “reasonable” and “moderate” conservative option.
Carson is against same sex marriage, but enthusiastically supports the sanctity of marriage between church and state. He has also been consistently vocal about his anti-choice position. In an October interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he stated that he believes abortion should be illegal even in the cases of rape and incest. Carson presents himself as guided by even-handed logic and reason, but look at this quote from the interview: “I’m a reasonable person and if people can come up with a reasonable explanation of why they would like to kill a baby, I’ll listen.”
The above quote is a prime example of begging the question (although it’s a statement, not a question). He frames it in a way that already assumes certain factors—that abortion is “killing a baby”, and that people seeking abortions are doing so because they “like” to terminate pregnancies. As if they derive joy and fun from the experience. This is the type of assumption that inflames anti-abortion fanatics to the point of wanting to murder doctors and patients, because they see it as a genuine battle between good and evil.
As a person who has worked many years in the field of medicine and science, Carson should be well aware that an early-stage embryo is not a baby. Before it has a brain, it has no consciousness or subjective experience. Before it has nerves, it cannot feel pain. It makes no sense to personify such a pre-developed life form and to talk about it as if it experiences suffering. Because doctors are aware of this, their only reasoning for defining an embryo as a baby can be religious. This applies in Ben Carson’s case.
His religious ilk defends this rhetoric by citing Bible verses from Psalms saying “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.” Even purely within the context of that belief system, it can be argued that this isn't defining embryos as babies. It's King David talking about himself, not about all people. Additionally, Numbers 5:26-28 advises its readers to carry out a procedure that will cause their wives to miscarry if they suspect them of being pregnant with another man's offspring (“...If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse.”) This is from a recipe to deliberately induce abortion. There are Old Testament passages in which “God” threatens to slice open the bellies of pregnant women (Hosea 13:16). Thus people can't accurately argue that the Bible forbids or even frowns upon ending the life of fetuses. Some might respond to the passages about cutting open pregnant women with, “Well, that's only under specific circumstances and only if ordered by God,” but that sounds like obvious straw-grasping. Going on to say “thou shalt not kill” is just talking in circles because no passage defines abortion as murder. Also, how many Christians take that to its absolute literal and all-encompassing conclusion? How many are vegetarians, for example? How many refuse to kill animals under any circumstance (if “all life is sacred”)?
The above argument aside, there is no reason a President or hypothetical President should be invoking religious rationale for laws in a country that is supposed to operate on separation of church and state. Ben Carson himself has acknowledged this in his explanation of why a theocratic Muslim is not fit to be president. For this issue, though, he doesn't seem to apply it to Christians.
The “Christian nation” he envisions may not include zealots opening fire at Planned Parenthood clinics, but his rationale packs the weight of their bullets. It’s time we start acknowledging the role that such viewpoints play in these acts of violence.

Passivity vs. Kindness

         Alongside the avenue of "women only date jerks," there's a common complaint that "She said she's not into him because he's 'too nice.'" I have heard people describe others as "too nice," although I've never heard a woman say she was disinterested in a man for that reason. Because it's such a commonly quoted basis for rejection, though, it's worth examining.
        Every time I have ever heard anybody described as "too nice," the person making the criticism was not saying the other was overly good-hearted, too considerate, or had too much integrity. An excess of those traits is impossible. What they were expressing was that the person was overly passive. And, while many use the word "nice" when they really mean "passive," saying someone is too passive is not just another way of saying "nice." While the traits can overlap, there is a distinction between kindness and passivity. And, for that reason, "Don't be too passive" doesn't mean "Be an asshole." It's not a spectrum; it's a whole different thing.
        "Too nice" is meant to convey that someone echoes everything you say without ever voicing a differing point of view, even when they disagree. It means they constantly apologize for things that are not their fault and they don't speak up for themselves or for others who are being mistreated, out of fear of confrontation. It means they might welcome harmful people into their own lives, or into the lives of those close to them, because they think it's "mean" to establish boundaries—which can end up causing others' boundaries to be violated as well. It means they follow another person around without seeming to have any interests, beliefs, or passions of their own. Being bland, overly meek, or clingy isn't the same as being "nice." Sometimes those qualities are actually motivated by self-interest, rather than a pure desire to please others.
         It's similar to the way that self-abasement is sometimes a defense mechanism, rather than a lack of ego (and a complete absence of ego is not something I would recommend trying to achieve, anyway). If you castigate yourself first, it can insulate you from being criticized by others. If you preemptively decide you're going to fail, it can exempt you from having to try. This is not true for everyone who has low self-esteem, but I have seen self-chastisement used defensively many times, and have caught myself doing it for those same reasons.
         You can be a good person who also happens to be passive, but passivity doesn't equate to goodness. And most people who call someone "too nice" are referring to the former quality, not the latter. Additionally, I've noticed that excessive passivity tends to be discouraged in men but praised in women, when every person should be encouraged to stand up for themselves and to have their own identity.