Skepticism

Sex, shame, and the Tea Party

We tend to stay away from explicitly political topics here, but I think there are some alarming trends bubbling to the surface of American politics that warrant a thorough, skeptical examination.

There’s been a bit of an uproar recently in socially progressive circles over the Delaware Republican primary win by Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell, and rightly so. She’s a Christian fundamentalist, Sarah Palin-style, self professed feminist (what?!) whose views on sexuality would not be out of place in Saudi Arabia. In fact, she has stated publicly that she enjoyed her time in the Middle East, because she was not “constantly bombarded with smut all the time”. Her record reads like satire, but she’s not joking. And she’s not alone in her views.

We live in fearful times. The Tea Party seems to be capitalizing on the economic and cultural fears of the working class in order to win elections. The two main ways in which this is manifest are the mythos of the “plight” of the white American working man (this recent essay by Bill Maher is especially poignant, and hilarious), and all sorts of fearmongering about what other people are doing in their bedrooms. I’d like to focus on the latter.

I find it incomprehensible how politicians like O’Donnell talk a big game about freedom and liberty, while out the other sides of their mouths seem to be calling for the imposition of medieval sexual morality, if not in law, in what is to be seen as proper behavior for “good people”. Even more incomprehensible to me is the fact that people buy into it. If we truly live in a free country, then as consenting adults, we are free to do as we will with regard to our own bodies. Perhaps sensing this internal inconsistency, they will often attempt to frame these moralizations into arguments about how “sexual deviance” is the root of all our social and political problems; thus making public problems out of our private lives.

This is, of course, nothing new. I recently watched the film Milk, and was a bit taken aback with how little the arguments against sexual freedom have changed over the past 30 years. (It was a wonderful and poignant film, and I highly recommend it.) The main argument against gay marriage these days, as it was in the 70s, is that of the supposed harm it would do to the institution of straight marriage. I fail to see how this is possible. The only way it makes sense is if you conflate civil marriage with religious marriage, and read attempts to widen the availability of civil marriage as infringements thereon. The problem is, people who do this tend to do it selectively. My parents made it very clear to me that they did not view my civil marriage as a true marriage, yet they’ve been protesting with a prominent anti-gay marriage group to prevent marriages that they’ve said they don’t view as real marriages, in another context. Are you dizzy yet?

Forgive me for being a bit all over the place. This is a big topic, and it’s all still sort of swimming around in my mind, fomenting into a semblance of organization as I write this. I sort of like the idea of letting it come out how it will. Bear with me.

I grew up being taught a lot of this kind of morality. Most of my family still hold these views. For some reason, they never really stuck for me. Ultimately, I think it’s because I lack fear. The fear of the corruption of the “material” world that my religious education tried to inculcate in me just never took. I had (and have) such an intense curiosity and sense of wonder at all aspects of the world that I could never truly fear the unknown. I look at the small, enclosed, bubble worlds some of those close to me have created for themselves, and I marvel at the idea that anyone could live that way. That’s not to say I think they’re stupid for doing so; they seem happy and fulfilled; I just know I couldn’t do it.

I tend to avoid these topics with my loved ones, because it’s nearly impossible to have a reasonable argument when we are working from completely different sets of facts. To much of my family, it is unassailably true that condoms don’t stop AIDS and that the acceptance of gay people brought down the Roman Empire. Try to bring up scientific studies and they will tell you that there is an evil liberal conspiracy on the part of the godless scientists to create a world in which they can do anything they wish without consequence, and that anyone who accepts said science must be brainwashed. I hate that.

Because of this basic lack of agreement on what constitutes factual information, it may be impossible to argue with the people on the fringes, but I think it’s important for skeptics to address and point out, for the benefit of the general population, the fallacies in these arguments. We need to explain how and why we know that condoms do prevent HIV, and discuss the reasons why the acceptance of gay people is not, in fact, ruining our society. We need to argue against those who wish to curtail our individual freedoms, and to point out the hypocrisy of conservative politician after conservative politician who very publicly fails to live up to the strict moral system which they would seek to impose on all of us, despite rampant evidence that such a system has been shown again and again not to work.

All this seems to me to be intimately tied to sexual shame. It’s a feedback loop, really. People believe that sex is shameful, so they repress their desires, only to have unhealthy sex to fulfill their needs, which feeds into their belief that sex is shameful, etc. Or more specifically, sex outside of their narrow morally acceptable norm is shameful. Problem is, few of us would really be satisfied with that kind of a constrained sex life (hence all of the ridiculous scandals these politicians get themselves into). And they want us to feel bad about that. Well, I, for one, flat out refuse to be ashamed.

I’ve recently embarked on something of a new adventure. Having split from my husband of nearly 10 years, and wishing to meet my needs while enjoying my newfound freedom, I’ve discovered casual sex. I wasn’t sure how it would work for me, given my upbringing, and the years of being told that sex without commitment was necessarily soul destroying and could lead to nothing but ruin. I’ve found completely the opposite to be true. This endeavor has been beautiful, respectful, joyful, and life-affirming in ways I couldn’t possibly have fathomed.

I can’t help wondering if some of these Teabaggers might change their tune if they experienced some good, shame-free sex.

Thanks to Kink on Tap for inspiring me to finally write about this.

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38 Comments

  1. I find it incomprehensible how politicians like O’Donnell talk a big game about freedom and liberty, while out the other sides of their mouths seem to be calling for the imposition of medieval sexual morality, if not in law, in what is to be seen as proper behavior for “good people”.

    That’s why I like the Political Compass because it makes a difference between economic and social liberty.

  2. Rome fell because of teh gayz?

    That one really leaves me scratching my head. It’s like the reverse of the underpants-stealing gnome argument.

    1) Social acceptance of teh gayz.
    2) ???
    3) Ruination! Damnation! Bad things!

    Good question for those who follow that line of thought would be: What happens in step 2, exactly?

    I always understood the fall of Rome was mostly due to a combination of two factors:

    1) Rome’s economic model relied on a regular injection of plunder via conquest. Go out, conquer some people, steal their stuff. Use their stuff to pay your soldiers, send some in tribute to whoever’s in charge back at Rome to keep the military career strong, and pocket the rest yourself. Nice.

    Problem is that as Rome grew, this method of conquest became more and more expensive. Eventually it stopped making money. Then it started to cost money. And that was the beginning of the end for Rome, because of:

    2) Government corruption. As Rome became larger and larger and larger, the political arena became more and more anonymous. Anonymity + Power = seeding ground for corruption, that simple. Corruption sapped public funds and redirected them into private pockets.

    Despite its great wealth, Rome failed to provide itself with the infrastructure it needed to become self-sufficient – right when it needed it most. As a result, Rome remained reliant on conquest to keep the wheels of its economy turning.

    So when conquest stopped making money and actually started to cost money, the whole house of cards fell apart.

    That’s the impression I got from my (limited) understanding of classical history. Anyone care to chime in? Confirmation/correction is welcome.

    Also, there’s an analogy in there for Malaysia and Petronus – probably other countries/companies too. But I’m too lazy to make it explicit.

  3. Excellent article. I enjoyed it.

    I too find the Tea Party scary, but ultimately might be a win for free-thinkers. The GOP has always been very good at keeping moderate conservatives and extreme conservatives and everyone in between under the same tent. The emergence of the Tea Party is peeling off the more extreme wing of the party. What I think/hope will happen is TPers (Kochsuckers, whatever) are too extreme to win many races or have much of a voice if they do, and what is left of the GOP will be the more reasonable, old-school conservatives who will enter more civilized and productive debates with the Democrats.


    This reminds me of a short argument I had with some Libertarians last week. One guy was praising Ron Paul as being “scholarly”. Without debating the pros and cons of libertarianism, and knowing my friend is a skeptic, I asked how scholarly can this guy be if he doesn’t accept the science of evolution or global climate change? There was some to and fro, but my friend ended with, “There is no function I want the federal government to perform that is aided by an understanding of science.” I was gobsmacked and speechless.

  4. I love this! It’s so true. I think this is truly one of those issues that needs to be fought at the grassroots level, because part of the problem with many of these politicians is not just that their own sexuality is skewed and unhealthy, but that people have bizarre expectations about how someone’s personal sexuality qualifies them for leadership.

    For example, how many ridiculous sexual scandals would not have been scandals if we didn’t need our politicians to be married to their college sweetheart and have 2.3 kids? Am I the only one who thinks Bill Clinton’s legacy would have been completely different if we didn’t think that divorce (or even never having been married) somehow automatically disqualified someone from being president? Likewise Elliot Spitzer. It’s pretty bizarre that in a country with such a high divorce rate, people think anyone who is divorced and running for office (unless they’ve remarried, then it’s ok?) must have something wrong with them.

    I hope that by raising people’s general awareness that their own sexuality is healthy and ok (even if it’s just casual sex), that tolerance can be broadened to our potential leaders, whose sex lives are none of our damn business, just as ours are none of theirs.

    And Carrie, I had a similar experience after leaving my husband of 12 years. Casual sex helped me feel stable and grounded and sexy. It was very liberating. It also helped me develop a sense of self, independent of a relationship, that is invaluable. And not that being in a monogamous relationship should ever be an end goal, I am now in the happiest, most fulfilling relationship I have ever been in, and I don’t think I would have been able to be this happy if it weren’t for the perspective that a year of hooking up gave me. Plus, FREE SEX! ;)

    P.S. These Tea Party “feminists” scare the hell out of me. Seriously.

  5. @Daniel Schealler: That’s the impression I got from my (limited) understanding of classical history.

    This matches my understanding. As much as people gas on about immoral behavior and lead pipes causing the downfall, in college we learned this more prosaic explanation.

  6. I am quite unable to understand how anyone anywhere can actually believe the kinds of things that the O’Donnell s, Becks, Palins, et al say, and the manifest hypocrisy, dishonesty, and deception they practice.

    I really do not get it.

    We, up here in cheesey Canadaland, are not yet harboured, belaboured, and bewitched with such utter lunantics as the aforementioned, but we’re getting there.

    And I see we have a growing group of citizens up here who also fall for that amazingly silly sillyness.

    Nope. I just don’t get it.

    I understand that some people on the old bell curve are stupid, but this isn’t that. This is clearly some kind of panic stricken, fully willfull idiocy. And the right-wing nutbars are consciously, intentionally, and with full knowledge stirring all this fear up.

    Madness. Sheer madness.

    Scares the bejeebles out of me.

  7. “This is, of course, nothing new. I recently watched the film Milk, and was a bit taken aback with how little the arguments against sexual freedom have changed over the past 30 years.”

    My wife and I were among the thousands of unpaid extras for that movie. One of the observations we made was that the anti-gay statements they were making back then (Anita Bryant, etc) and even the very signs the gay rights activists were holding, had changed so little. We were in 70s clothes but everything else looked and sounded the same. Even the patterns were the same–gay people win one small battle and the anti-gays impose two or three new harsh laws eradicating our rights. One step forward two back. It was pretty daunting to realize how little had actually changed despite the 30 year time span and illusion of progress.

  8. I don’t think the tea baggers have the capacity to see people they don’t agree with as human beings. I am sorry that this is so harsh, but I think it is true. They hate Obama so much that to justify their hatred of him they feel his is analogous to Hitler. It is pure delusional transference on their part.

    WTF is it with Palin’s “death panels”. That was a blood libel completely made up out of her own delusional fantasies. Not the tiniest shred of truth or substance to it.

    I have written on xenophobia

    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2010/03/physiology-behind-xenophobia.html

    The problem is how people who are not skeptics think about finding stuff out.

    Skeptics try to find facts and build up a conceptualization of reality from reliable facts using valid logic.

    Non-skeptics listen to what someone they “trust” says and then believe it, hook, line and sinker. Usually “trust” comes from social status, is a woman attractive, is a man wealthy, do they have a lot of social status? If so, then maybe some of their social status will rub off on me and I will become more important and my life will get better because all I have to go on is my social status.

    People like Palin hate first and make up something to justify why they hate later. Palin’s “death panels” meme didn’t cause her to hate Obama. The “death panel” meme is false. It can’t be the reason for anything. Her hatred came first and then she made up the “death panel” meme.

    It is like the homophobia of Palidino. He says he hates gays because they rape children. That happens to be a false because gays do not tend to be pedophiles. His hate came first and then he latched onto the lie that gays are pedophiles.

    The Tea baggers and the GOP are playing the xenophobia card. They are trying to stir up a hornets nest of racial, religious, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic, and political bigotry, so they can gain power.

  9. @Daniel Schealler: see? you’re just brainwashed. too much edumatation. those commie profs sucked your brains right out and replaced them with pinko propaganda :p

    @daedalus2u: well, to be perfectly fair, this is not just a problem of the right. people on the left did the exact same thing to bush. our species is very good at picking and choosing who we care to see as human. we’re tribal animals.

  10. Hi!

    Let me share a non-American point of view. Christine O’Donnell’s views on masturbation and basically anything else provide a good amount of opportunity for laugh, and an occasion for European liberals to (unjustly) feel superior to those stupid Americans.
    For the record: I am not liberal, and I sympathise with the idea of small government, but I can’t really stand the religious fundamentalists who are too common among the tea partiers.

    You mention the fall of Rome attributed to the acceptance of gays. Well, I am rather sure it was not gays that brought down Rome, nevertheless Silphium might have had a tiny role in it by enabling aristocratic women to live a decadent life without offspring.So sexual mores could have affected the Roman empire.
    Regarding gay parents and their offsprings: I would certainly be careful and skeptical about such studies. To put it bluntly most of such studies are pure junk. For example in this one there was no correction for SES and many other things. Generally such studies avoid correcting for the eugenic choice of mothers who use sperm donors.

    You apparently do not understand where the shaming of sexual acts came from. Actually i think its origin is understandable though i also consider it (mostly) obsolete. Many people think it was the pill that made the sexual revolution possible. I share the opinion of some other people who think that another pill is to be blamed/cherished. I mean antibiotics. Before antibiotics there were many STDs that could lead to sever miscarriages, infertility and even death. So it was reasonable to not engage in free and shameless sex, especially with many partners. Homosexual (male) sex seems to be especially dangerous in this regard. Even these days STD prevalence among gay is pretty high. (e.g. HIV: 20-80 x as high as non-gay male population according to the CDC)

    I certainly agree with your assertion about the hypocrisy of conservative politicians. But you write: “despite rampant evidence that such a system has been shown again and again not to work.” The US is a country that became rich and successful while having those moral values (of course not always living up to them), so it seems rather strange to say they were proven not working.

    “The two main ways in which this is manifest are the mythos of the “plight” of the white American working man” Well, i do not live in the US, so what do i know. Nevertheless affirmative action resembles numerus clausus against Jews pretty well. It does in fact hurt white and east-Asian people. Now, nobody would dare to say it was correct to decline many Jews from universities because of their over-representation. Why is it fine to similarly discriminate against white and Asian students for their over-representation?

    Regarding the destruction of marriage by gay marriage is share your sentiment. It is hard to understand how gays could destroy marriage for others. Though i have to add i find it hard to believe that any sane person would dare to marry in the US considering the legal environment and the track record of family courts.

  11. @Daniel Schealler: “Rome’s economic model relied on a regular injection of plunder via conquest. Go out, conquer some people, steal their stuff. Use their stuff to pay your soldiers, send some in tribute to whoever’s in charge back at Rome to keep the military career strong, and pocket the rest yourself. Nice.”

    That’s part of it, but you forgot: Make the previous owners of the loot carry it back home for you, and then sell them into slavery.

  12. @daedalus2u: You haven’t spent much time in D.C., have you? Or around black churches? However, equating homophobia and xenophobia is nonsense. They are two distinct and unrelated things. Barack Obama, when he talks about companies shipping jobs overseas and blames illegal immigration on corporate greed is a xenophobe.

  13. @rnoyfb: why don’t you read my blog on xenophobia. I lay out my arguments pretty clearly. Homophobia is one type of xenophobia. Homophobes see gay people as “the other”, as objects incapable of things like human feelings like love, so denying them things like marriage doesn’t hurt anyone.

    The whole point of the patriarchal religions like Christianity is to “other” those who are non believers, those who are different.

  14. @daedalus2u: Xenophobia is mostly defined as an irrational, deep-rooted fear of or antipathy towards foreigners, which is clearly not homophobia. You might argue that these two things have a common root, but that doesn’t make homophobia a type of xenophobia.
    Besides even as an atheist i have to object to your description of Christianity and similar religions as a device with the single purpose of demarcating others from us. People normally make “us” and “other” distinctions, even without the help of a religion. You might not like this fact about human nature, nevertheless it is to remain with us, as it seems to be evolutionarily adaptive.
    As for how homophobes think about homosexuals my experience is that they mostly consider homosexuals somewhat disgusting and to some extent defective humans. Sure, one can find extreme homophobes, but most of them just prefer some distance from homosexuals.

  15. @Nador: Look at what I wrote on the physiology of xenophobia. They very much are the same. Xenophobia is about “the other”, not necessarily someone from a foreign land. Racism is a form of xenophobia.

    The whole point of the patriarchal religions is to set up a social power hierarchy with God at the top, followed by His Prophets, priests, followers, believers. At the bottom are the non-believers. Social power comes with position on the social hierarchy. People lower in the hierarchy have to obey people higher. At the top, is God, and the people just under Him do His Work and so must be obeyed implicitly. The point of the social power hierarchy is to “other” those at the bottom so much that they can be maltreated, enslaved and even killed if they don’t “know their place”.

    If most homophobes merely wanted to avoid gay people, gay marriage would already be legal everywhere. It isn’t wanting to avoid gay people that drives the anti-gay marriage movement, it is hatred and the visceral feeling that gays are not fully human and so are incapable of expressing human-type emotions such as love. The “kill the gays” bill in Uganda isn’t about wanting to avoid gay people, it is about wanting them dead. I know it is an irrational feeling, but that is what drives all xenophobia, it is a feeling, not a reasoned idea.

  16. A thought just occurred to me:

    99% of talk about the sexual behavior of other people is most likely a reflection of the speaker, and has little or nothing to do with those other people. I’ve never understood why people care about the sex lives of other people, and I just realized that they really don’t care. They are focused on their own desires and fantasies, and project their concerns and fears outward onto other people.

    In general, I don’t particularly care if you’re gay, straight, bi, trans, or whatever… so long as you’re engaging in consensual behavior with other adults, knock yourself out. In the specific, it should only matter to me in cases where I would like to have sex with a person, I’m in a position to do so without violating some other previous relationship, and the object of my desire is fundamentally opposed to having a sexual relationship with me. Otherwise, none of my effing business.

  17. @daedalus2u: If you want to redefine xenophobia, fine. But do not expect the rest of mankind to automatically follow.
    And yes, most homophobes just want to avoid gay people. They are not the homophobes who will beat up gays at a pride parade, nonetheless they distinct themselves from gays and consider gays disgusting. I was certainly not talking about Uganda though, as I haven’t got the slightest idea how they think.
    As for gay marriage, people can oppose it even if they are not homophobic. Many people i know consider marriage an institution for reproduction, and as gays can not have children from/by each other, it renders marriage pointless for them. I personally do not share this sentiment, as i find marriage in most western societies a rather significant liability, especially for men, and can hardly understand why anyone would like to marry, but i can understand the reasoning why some people reject gay marriage.

    Regarding patriarchal societies and religions: the most patriarchal, feudal societies were in east Asia. And they lacked the monotheistic patriarchal religion you seem to hate so much. Any kind of organisation will have hierarchy, and i fail to see why religious organisations would be different.
    You claim that the point of social hierarchy is to “other” those at the bottom, which i find wrong. The point of any kind of hierarchy is to extract rent from the subjugated, and to make them do what the elite wants. “Othering” them would clearly be counter-productive. if i use your terms, non-believers are not at the bottom, but outside of the power structure. Hence the incentive to proselytize, since that way one can bring in more subjugated.
    You might also ask, why do patriarchal societies have more rigid social hierarchy (and why are they successful). The reason probably is that male hierarchy and social institutions scale better than female ones. That is men tend to increase their power by gathering more followers, clients and so on, while women tend to increase their social position by excluding others. Male hierarchies also tend to be more rule based. This can be easily observed among schoolchildren and everywhere else. By the way your way of thinking about hierarchy and social structures seems to be rather feministic (for a man at least, and i do not intend it as a compliment).

  18. @Nador: The purpose of a patriarchal religion is to create a specific hierarchy with the creators of the religion at the tippy top, just below the God they have created, the God that (they say) delegates to them the authority to rule over everyone else.

    The reason they can extract “rent” from them is because they have been “othered”.

    If marriage is “pointless” to gays, why bar them from having it? Gay people don’t consider it to be “pointless”, or they would not want the ability to participate in it. What basis do you presume for telling two gay people that their marriage is “pointless”? Would you tell an infertile heterosexual couple that their marriage was “pointless”? What about a gay couple that wants to adopt? Is their marriage “pointless”?

    The reason you feel that gay marriage is “pointless” is because you are unable to conceive that gay people have the ability to have the same feelings toward a romantic partner that heterosexual people can have. You have “othered” them to the point where you discount their ability to feel romantic love sufficient to want to marry someone.

    Feeling disgust toward gays is homophobia. Just like feeling disgust toward blacks, hispanics, or asians is racism. Just like feeling disgust toward Jews is antisemitism.

  19. @ carr2d2:

    I’m never sure at the end of someone’s relationship whether to congratulate them or sympathize with them, but since your tweets suggest that the relationship was no longer working for you, I guess moving on was more-or-less good. As for casual sex, I’m glad that you are enjoying it. It never worked for me, but that’s probably because I’m so shy that my first girlfriend had to drag me into bed before I even realized she liked me. :-)

    The tea-baggers and their influence scare me because their whole program seems to be about feeling without thinking:

    I hate big government and its programs (especially when the federal government threatens to take over Medicare), so we should limit government to its essential roles of protecting private property and keeping the borders closed. Oh, and I’m offended by your lifestyle, so one of those essential roles for government is to suppress deviant behavior like yours.

  20. @davew:
    The Tea party is a major point of contention in libertarian circles at the moment, while many libertarians have similar feelings to the ones you spoke to, other see it as little more than an attempt by conservatives to appropriate the label libertarian because their own brand is damaged.

    In fact, Nick Gillespie (editor of Reason.com) posted something on that subject just today.

  21. @daedalus2u: Please read more carefully. I feel marriage is pointless generally, not just for gays. But one can certainly consider an act of some people pointless without dehumanizing them. Please do not claim such nonsense, that considering gay marriage pointless must be because of considering them other.
    I wrote: Many people i know consider marriage an institution for reproduction, and as gays can not have children from/by each other, it renders marriage pointless for them.
    You asked:What basis do you presume for telling two gay people that their marriage is “pointless”? I would only add: do you actually read? And you could also find the answer for your other question: yes, the marriage of an infertile couple is pointless if you accept that the purpose of marriage is procreation.

    You still do not understand, that “others” are outside the hierarchy and that is not helpful at extracting rent. You wrote: The reason they can extract “rent” from them is because they have been “othered”. I presume you do pay taxes. Then if you are right, you are certainly “othered”, as you compulsorily contribute to the elite of your country. By your logic most (90%+) people would be in the set of “others”.

  22. @Nador: I thought we were talking about “rent” in a feudal society. In such a society, people below pay “rent” to people above, just for being allowed to stay alive. Who does the king/emperor/god pay rent to? No one because the king/emperor/god is at the top of the hierarchy.

    If you are outside the social hierarchy, you have no rights and value within it. You are below the bottom person that is inside the social hierarchy.

    Yes, 90% of the population can be “othered”. “Othering” means to be considered sufficiently different that exploitation is acceptable. To the sociopath with no capacity for empathy, everyone is “othered”.

    If you are unable to understand and consider someone else’s feelings on their terms, then you have “othered” them, or don’t have the capacity to understand those feelings (which in this context is the same thing).

    If you think marriage is pointless, what that tells me is that you don’t understand marriage. It is ok for you to not understand marriage, but don’t presume that anyone else shares your feelings. It is not ok for you to project your feelings onto anyone else and tell them that their marriage, or their wish to have a marriage is pointless.

  23. “I find it incomprehensible… ”

    That’s because you’re trying to apply logic to emotional arguments. Their arguments are all meant to push emotional buttons, not make more than a rudimentary and superficial sense.

    This is all about power and who gets to wield it in our country. About 25% of the US is damed near certifiable as far as their opinions about government, immigration, terrorism and such. They are proto-theofascists and I fear that things will get worse after the election, no matter who wins.

  24. @daedalus2u: First, I certainly was not only talking about feudal societies. While nowadays people are usually not killed for tax evasion, you can easily get in prison for it.

    If you are outside the social hierarchy, you have no rights and value within it. Right. Nevertheless it also means that those outside the hierarchy won’t automatically obey it. So while it is fairly easy to extract goods from members of the social structure, it requires constant coercion to extract goods from those outside of it. Generally it is thus costly and inconvenient to deal with complete outcasts. By the way feudal peasants were definitely not outside the social hierarchy – of course they were at the bottom. You can not rule if 90% of the population is outside the hierarchy, so rulers are usually keen on not outcasting so many people.
    Being exploited is definitely not equivalent of being outside the hierarchy. If you like the feudal example, nobles were obliged to military service, which could be indeed costly. [A troublesome war could bankrupt many nobles.] So the nobility could be exploited as well e. g. by the king, and sometimes even kings were forced to give up many things. Briefly I think your definition of “other” and “othering” is pretty much useless. And I really fail to see why one could not exploit someone whom he considers equal.
    I might not understand marriage, nevertheless i am capable of understanding different views on it. I offered one understanding of marriage of other people – namely viewing it as an institution for reproduction. Apparently you didn’t like this interpretation, so accused me of projection. Do you think there are no people who view marriage as an institution for reproduction? If no, isn’t it logical to assume they would consider marriage pointless without at least attempting to have children? Where the hell did i project my feelings. I did not even talk about feelings.

  25. @Nador: One more word. It is also possible to exploit someone higher in the hierarchy – though of course it is not as frequent as in the other direction. A modern example: in many wealthy western societies not only the elite exploits the middle class, but apparently even the poor. [That is: the poor are poor, nevertheless they would be even poorer in a fair system without the transfer of goods towards them.]

  26. @Garbledina: Or, for that matter, be in monogamous marriages? I’m aware of a number of marriages that have rules like “Don’t bring anything home” or “TDY (Temporary DutY, away from home; used in the military for short-term deployments) doesn’t count.” Not being a partner to the Clintons, or privy to their relationship, it may well be that Bill and Hillary had an understanding that allowed him (and/or her) some foolin’ around, and that they were ok with that.

  27. @Daniel Schealler: Add to that a series of devastating plagues that reduced the population by 40%. This in turn reduced the amount of land under cultivation in Italy by almost half. The abandoned land mainly reverted to swamp, attracting mosquitoes and increasing the incidence of malaria.

    The silphium idea is pseudoscientific nonsense. Silphium was a flavouring agent that was overharvested and became extinct over 400 years before Rome fell. The crackpot who associated it with birth control did so because infant survival rates rose at about the same time the plant went extinct. But there are two very good reasons why that happened that have nothing to do with some magical, perfect herb: soap and Christianity, both of which arrived in Rome at the same time.

  28. Welcome to the wonderful world of casual sex! I am reading a book called “The Ethical Slut” by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, which is turning out to be a marvelous read. (and yes, it is supposed to be a guide to open relationships, but there are so many gems in there about love and sex in general that I think many people would enjoy reading it, monogamous or not.) One of the authors, Dossie Easton, wrote her thesis called “Sex is nice and pleasure is good for you” in 1970.

    A few gems:
    “If you walk to a randomly selected individual and propose that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you, you will probably hear a lot of spluttering, argument, and “yahbuts” – STDs, unwanted pregnancies, rape, the commodification of sexual desire, and so on. None of which changes the core idea.

    “There is nothing in the world so terrific that it can’t be abused if you’re determined to do so: Familial connections can be violated, sexual desire can be manipulated. Even chocolate can be abused. Abuse doesn’t change the basic wonderfulness of any of these things: the danger lies in the motivation of the abuser, not the nature of the item.

    “If there were no such thing as sexually transmitted disease, if nobody got pregnant unless she wanted to, if all sex were consensual and pleasurable, how would the world feel about it then? How would you feel? If you look deep inside yourself, you may find bits and pieces of sex-negativism, often hiding behind judgmental words like ‘promiscuous’, ‘hedonistic’, ‘decadent’, and ‘nonproductive’.”

    They also talk about how our “culture places a very high value on self-denial, which is fine when there is hard work to be done. But all too often, those who unapologetically satisfy their desire for pleasure in their utterly free time are seen as immature, disgusting, and even sinful.”

    Anyways, it’s a wonderful read, imo. Certainly has my lingering sex-negativism nipped in the bud.

  29. @Blurgle

    Didn’t know about the plague thing. Thanks for that!

    Heh. I learned something today.

    Well two things.

    The other one is “Indexing a database really, really thoroughly is always more important than delivery deadlines.” But that’s probably boring for most of you.

    The Rome thing is much cooler. ^_^

  30. @SkepticalWooBot: Turning something good and that people like to do into something bad and shameful is a common approach to “othering”.

    If sex is bad, then people who like sex are bad and it is good to treat them badly. Since everyone who is even partially “normal” does like sex, then those who pretend sex is bad have an excuse to treat everyone who is even partially “normal” badly.

  31. @daedalus2u: It does not follow that it is good to treat someone who does something bad badly. It’s an excuse, perhaps, but it is not necessarily considered a good action to mistreat the “bad” person because of a “bad” action. This might be an appeal to my personal opinion, but I don’t think it’s a “good” action to mistreat (or beat the living shit out of) someone who votes to increase the alcohol tax, which I would consider a “bad” action, seeing as I have a vested interest in being able to afford beer and scotch for my alcoholic imaginary badger.

    Summarizing, by your logic (and correct me if I’m taking this out of context): If reducing my access to alcohol is bad, then those who reduce my access to alcohol are bad and it is good to treat them badly.

    So I can just be a dick to someone who votes no on Prop 1 in the state elections?

  32. @Gabriel: You are completely correct, it is not good to treat someone badly for any reason. I was using sarcasm, but maybe not artfully enough for it to be understood.

    What doing something “bad” accomplishes is designating someone as a “bad” person. “Bad” people are “bad” because they have done “bad” things, but they are also “bad” because they are not like us (who are “good”). It is the confusion of the two different kinds of “bad” that is the problem. Those who would use someone being “bad” as an excuse to beat the crap out of them, deliberately make that confusion.

    For example, there are those who are members of patriarchal religions, and believe that the only reason anyone is “good” is because they adhere to the teachings of their God. To them, being “good” and “following their religion” are synonymous terms. Being “bad” and “not following their religion” are synonyms too.

    This relates to being unable to understand someone on their terms. The believer who thinks that the only way to being “good” is a belief in and following the teachings of their particular God, is only capable of understanding the motivations for being “good” that derive from those religious teachings. If someone does not believe in those teachings, then the believer has no idea how the non-believer will behave and so defaults to believing the non-believer is “bad” because that is how they would be if they didn’t have the belief system that makes them “good”.

    That a non-believer sometimes acts in ways that appear to be “good”, is just an artifact, a coincidence. The non-believer doesn’t have the belief system that allows him/her to actually know what behavior is “good”, (the religious teachings), and certainly doesn’t have the motivation to be “good” (believe in those teaching sufficiently to act on them), so the non-believer must be “bad”. That the non-believer has not been observed doing “bad” things is irrelevant. Because he/she is “bad”, either he/she already has done “bad” things, or will do “bad” things in the future, so killing them is either justified punishment for them doing “bad” things, or a “good” preventative to prevent them from doing “bad” things (which they will do because they are “bad”).

    In short, yes, you can be a dick to who ever votes yes because raising taxes is “bad”. You can also be a dick to whoever votes no, because alcohol is “bad” and whoever doesn’t restrict access to alcohol is bad. You can also be a dick to who ever doesn’t vote because voting is “good”, so people who don’t vote are “bad”. You can also be a dick to who ever isn’t registered to vote because not registering to vote is “bad”.

    Or you can just do what most people do and listen to someone you think is “good”, and they will tell you who is “bad”, so you can be a dick to that “bad” person. That way you don’t have to think because thinking is “bad”, and you wouldn’t want to be a “bad” person for doing something like thinking.

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