Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Another Interview

Yes, there was a little spurt of them recently -- which is nice. This one was done by Craig Gidney and has just been posted over at The New Gay. I'm always most chuffed to do interviews within the sf scene, natch, but it's well cool that these last two have given us a wee bit of exposure in the wider world. Yay! as they say!

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8 Comments:

Blogger S Johnson said...

Hal Duncan:"...I’m sort of exploring where pacifism and socialism come into conflict. How do you reconcile a passionate rejection of might and violence with an attitude of “nil paseran” — “none shall pass” — in the face of fascism?"

Pacifists reconcile themselves by surrendering. Pacifism says the individual's moral purity is the only thing that matters. Pacifism has nothing to say about justice within a society or between states, much less that peace is a state of justice.

This kind of rugged individualism may fit well with the social decay of advanced capitalism or with the crazed apologetics of the libertarians but it is a false view of people. All people are part of society as well as individuals. Some problems are socially caused. Saying otherwise is an inadvertent excuse for not addressing those problems.

"...wherever you have a marker of deviance — skin colour, gender, gender identity, disability — you get the same mechanisms of prejudice, with the abject being rejected...In that mentality, it seems, difference inspires disgust which is seen as a recognition of inherent wrongness. Prejudice validates itself as righteous abhorrence of the criminally deviant."

The mechanisms of prejudice are more than a mentality. Historically, the disgust which allegedly impels prejudice comes after the oppression of the so-called abjected. In the US, the enactment of laws to prevent solidarity between indentured whites and African slaves preceded widespread racism. Indeed racism as an ideology formed and matured as slavery became both more and more the foundation of antebellum southern US society and the peculiar institution distinguishing it from the rest of the country.

Focusing on some mental abjection as the cause of racism is psychological determinism. You may not excuse human nature but when you blame human nature for abjection then many will draw the logical conclusion that there is no cure.

"...All it takes is one neurotic control freak with an irrational disgust at some arbitrary marker of deviance, and they have an imperative to enforce, propagate and defend this “moral” judgement. They get a reward of self-righteous pride for doing so."

Combining libertarian individualism with psychological determinism gives you the result above, that social evils are caused by one neurotic individual. In general, evils are caused an individual's evil thoughts. The reform is to change their thinking, but how do you do that?

"...Pentheus is the embodiment of that unreason masked as Order. It’s the queer of any flavour against, I guess, morality itself — against the authoritarian personality and the institutions it shapes. The conflict between pacifism and socialism ultimately reflects a greater quandary of how one engages with such a system."

We find therefore, it is not by deceptive reason that one defeats the personality responsible for evil. That leaves us, as history teaches us, only a few grams of lead to change wrong thinking brains.

Now I'm pretty sure that's not really a position you want to argue, if only because you're in a minority.

7:24 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Pacifism says the individual's moral purity is the only thing that matters.

Which would be why there's a conflict with socialism. Like, "Hey, my ethics tell me from each according to ability, to each according to need. But they also tell me that to fight the Empire is to become it. But passive resistance isn't an option with fascists. Damn, this sucks."

Focusing on some mental abjection as the cause of racism is psychological determinism.

Which would be relevant if I actually said abjection is "the cause of racism." Actually, what I said was (basically) that racism is a form of abjection. Like Rottweilers are a breed of dog.

Historically, the disgust which allegedly impels prejudice comes after the oppression of the so-called abjected.

Yes, markers of deviance emerge in the course of political history. A system of subjugation is very good grounds for a system of abjection designed to validate subjugation.

You may not excuse human nature but when you blame human nature for abjection then many will draw the logical conclusion that there is no cure.

Heh. If we were talking about depression as a pathology of the human psyche, I guess that would be "blaming human nature for depression." So I guess no one should ever talk about that pathology either, its mechanisms or its effects. Shit, then many people will just draw the logical conclusion that there's no cure! Cause, yeah, identifying a specific pathological affect-logic and the behaviours that are symptomatic of it, figuring out how that pathology works... that's why such pathologies go untreated, as everyone just throws their hands up in the air and says, "Well, that means it's just human nature!"

Combining libertarian individualism with psychological determinism gives you the result above, that social evils are caused by one neurotic individual.

Please to read more closely. What that sentence actually says is that one neurotic individual is sufficient to get the ball of abjection rolling. This is not about "libertarian individualism." It's about... the index case, in epidemiological terms.

12:28 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

The reform is to change their thinking, but how do you do that?

The studies, as I understand, show that positive exposure is a pretty good way to reduce homophobia. I seem to recall this coming out on top (no pun intended) compared to psychotherapy, CBT and suchlike. Actually dealing with someone queer as a work colleague or family member, the homophobes tend to slowly realise that -- shock! horror! -- faggots are people too. Go figure. I hazard this is applicable to other prejudices.

Me, I think it might also help the process along if we, generally speaking, understood how pathological abjection is, that it is a pathology. I mean, generally speaking, recognising a problem as a problem is the first step to solving it.

Oh, no, wait. Pointing out the pathology is blaming it on human nature, right? And many people are just going to write it off on that basis. So we should totally just accept that "logical" mindset, make like they're right and not tell anyone what we think the actual problem might be... in case they then don't do anything to solve that problem... the one we're not pointing to and saying, "Look! Look! Here's the problem."

They're so much more likely to act on the problem, those "many people," when we're not trying to trace it out for them.

Yes, having established our theory of how the pathology functions, we should disavow what we believe to be the truth. We should limit our articulation of reality as we understand it. Lay out a claim that the moral disgust of prejudice is a neurosis and those "many people" will just treat this as grounds for washing their hands of the whole problem. That's the "logical conclusion." So we should totally tell those people something other than the truth as we understand it.

2:01 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

What to tell them though?

We could just make up whatever shit we think will galvanise them into action. No, that won't backfire at all, when they find out we're lying about homophobia causing haemorrhoids, racism causing rickets. Or maybe we could just tell them whatever they want to hear, whatever doesn't lead to that "Oh, noes!" reaction of fatalism. Like, we could tell them there's no problem at all! I reckon those "many people" would love that.

I mean, "logical conclusion"? Seriously? Man, hearing "This is the problem, detailed so you may recognise and engage with it," as, "This is the problem, detailed so you can claim it's impossible to solve," is not remotely logical in my book. That's like saying that when Laveran identified malaria as a disease rather than some miasmatic effect of "bad air," the "logical conclusion" for "many people" would be that there is no cure. No. The logical conclusion is, "Now we actually have something we can try to cure. Or treat. Or vaccinate against."

The logical conclusion when faced with a notion of prejudice as pathology is, "Oh, hey! So maybe if we know how it works, we can deal with it better!"

Those most likely to find a validation of inaction in a notion of abjection are those most likely to be looking for a validation of inaction. Most likely because they're at best uncomfortable with the notion of their own complicity through inaction, or at worst abjecting fucks who resent the social pressure on them to not be abjecting fucks.

These are the "many people" who'll jump to that "logical conclusion." They're the very ones who most need to be persuaded that there's a problem there at all, that it's not just the abject's "over-sensitivity". If you want to see the face of those "many people" look in the comments on the New Sodom column dealing with The Last Airbender. That mindset will jump through any hoop of illogic in order to validate their desperate denials.

But, hey, if those "many people" are being "logical" in your book, clearly what we present as the truth should be modified to fit their mindset.

How do you suggest I lie in future?

We find therefore, it is not by deceptive reason that one defeats the personality responsible for evil. That leaves us, as history teaches us, only a few grams of lead to change wrong thinking brains.

And kittens. There are always kittens.

2:17 am  
Blogger S Johnson said...

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough. The psychological process of abjection is not the cause of homophobia or racism or the exploitation of labor. The psychology of abjection is an adaptation to social institutions that exploit workers or doubly exploit women or want their farmhands to breed more farmhands.

As a result, there are processes of abjection at work in people who do not display pathological excesses. They merely display the normal functioning expected of individuals in a repressive social system.

Therapeutizing the normal majority is a crazy proposition. Worse, defining the problem as a psychopathology immediately invests the normal majority, with their socially acceptable abjection, with a scapegoat. You aren't a racist unless you're a Nazi, don't you know?

Changing the repressive system is by far the most effective way to obliterate systems of abjection. Personal quarrels over symbols are inevitable with people, but what matters is what people do. Their mentalities are rotten, even the abjected. Why else do gay men sometimes call themselves queers?

"A system of subjugation is very good grounds for a system of abjection designed to validate subjugation." Usually good grounds means "are reason for." Again, social prejudices are to validate subjugation.

"It's about... the index case, in epidemiological terms." There are no index cases for these ideologies. The metaphor is so strained as to be misleading.

12:22 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

The psychology of abjection is an adaptation to social institutions that exploit workers or doubly exploit women or want their farmhands to breed more farmhands.

No, it's not. It's a basic psychological mechanism born in the distinction between self and other, subject and object.

...there are processes of abjection at work in people who do not display pathological excesses.

Abjection is pathological excess, disgust incommensurate with grounds for disgust.

They merely display the normal functioning expected of individuals in a repressive social system.

That normal functioning is the repressive social system.

Therapeutizing the normal majority is a crazy proposition.

Some of us like those crazy propositions. Like TB shots for all kids in school. For all that normal majority of kids who are all equally susceptible.

Worse, defining the problem as a psychopathology immediately invests the normal majority, with their socially acceptable abjection, with a scapegoat.

Again then: So how do you suggest I lie? To avoid them using this gambit of denial, I mean. How do you suggest I lie?

Changing the repressive system is by far the most effective way to obliterate systems of abjection.

Dismantling systems of abjection is pretty much required for that change to be effective. Otherwise the subjugation will just be reconfigured as privilege.

Personal quarrels over symbols are inevitable with people, but what matters is what people do.

Semiosis is a major part of what people do. It's the activity which sets limits on the activity of thought which in turn sets limits on physical activity. If the symbols are screwed, reason is screwed. If reason is screwed... but hey, what matters is what people do, right? That's why we should just lie to them to stop them using those gambits of denial.

Their mentalities are rotten, even the abjected. Why else do gay men sometimes call themselves queers?

I identify as queer because my sexuality is, in fact, non-normative, unusual. This is a simple empirical truth; I'm at the far end of the Kinsey Scale, not really attracted to the opposite sex at all. I refuse to recognise a negative valuation inherent in mere difference from the normative.

The fact that you would class this a "rotten" mentality -- a metaphor of disgust-inspiring corruption -- is why I think you really need some kittens in your life. Seriously. Kittens. That's one of those abjecting symbols right there, the metaphor of corruption as applied to a mentality.

Remind me again what's amenable to a cure -- the diseased or the rotten?

8:29 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Here's some details on an interesting study:

http://mentalhealth.about.com/library/sci/0602/blhomo602.htm

You'll probably like the fact that the researchers findings "suggest a social, attitudinal basis for homophobia rather than a psychopathological one, as the term itself implies." As the end paragraph has it:

"If contempt and disgust drive homophobia, then it seems more of a moral or social problem than a psychopathological one," Lohr said. "If we start to consider negative attitudes pathological -- implying that there's something medically wrong with prejudiced people, that they're somehow sick with their own attitudes -- that seems to me misguided."

But note the connection he draws to other forms of abjection, and the idea of treatment in a social context, the latter being what I'm talking about in terms of "dealing with someone queer as a work colleague or family member" and via the metaphor of TB inoculation:

Lohr suspects that the type of disgust associated with homophobia arises from social conditions rather than psychological ones -- that it represents a prejudicial attitude more akin to racism than to phobia. If that's the case, any attempt to treat or reduce homophobia would have to be conducted through a process of attitude reformation, which could occur in a social context such as homes or schools rather than in a clinical setting.

Since you clearly didn't detect the "well, that's obvious" tone in my "shock! horror!" comment, I'll spell it out. The idea of tackling abjection via psychotherapy and CBT seems fairly daffy to me when studies suggest what you want is either natural positive exposure or, if you want to be proactive, organised exposure informed by social contact theory.

5:34 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Note also that the actual scientific findings -- that homophobia is not a phobia -- have been extended into a spurious conclusion, based on the logic that if it's not a fear-based phobia, it's not a pathology. This requires an implicit assumption that all pathologies are fear-based, proven wrong by the existence of pathologies like depression which are not fear-based. The logic is flawed. "Not B" does not follow from "If A then B" and "Not A," where A = "X is a pathology" and B = "X is a phobia."

An alternative conclusion is simply that this is a disgust-based disorder which constitutes a different type of pathology or neurosis. This simply requires us to consider it as irrational and sufficiently dysfunctional.

The first I consider fairly justified by the latter two of the three features identified as linked to homophobia:

However, results from the Index of Attitudes toward Homosexuals was positively correlated with results from the Sexual Attitude Scale, the Disgust Emotion Scale and the Padua Inventory. In other words, subjects who showed homophobic tendencies on the IAH also displayed conservative sexual attitudes, elevated levels of disgust and dread of contamination.

I do not consider conservative attitudes as evidence of irrationality in and of themselves, to be clear. But the dread of contamination is particularly compelling, speaking to the role of metaphoric notions of "ritual purity" in the construction of morality -- c.f. the "stain" of sin. This is the rhetoric of abjection. The study thus links prejudice, disgust and the boundaries of self/other, perfectly in line with Kristeva's notion of abjection. It says that homophobia is irrational, but abjecting rather than phobic.

In terms of dysfunction then, does this mindset impede the functioning of the individual sufficient that it can be considered pathological? Certainly homophobia does not, like a proper phobia, cause the individual crises of anxiety that mess with their ability to live normal lives. Unfortunately it leads to crises of aggression:

Fear causes immediate physiological arousal, leading to elevated respiration and heart rate, and it inspires a flight reaction. Disgust, however, triggers a bi-phasic physiological reaction, with heart rate and respiration initially rising but plummeting shortly thereafter. While fear causes a "get me away from that" reaction, disgust manifests as "get that away from me." These different emotional reactions can lead to very different behaviors, according to Lohr.

So the individual is driven by an imperative to "get that away from me," an imperative to render the abject absent -- at best to exclude, at worst to exterminate. Irrationally excluding/exterminating a subset of the population messes with their ability to live their lives. Indirectly it's harmful to everyone else who would have benefited from the contribution made by the absented abject. The homophobe able to function in society at large is thus comparable (not equivalent, but comparable,) to a psychopath who can function in society at large but whose psychology is nevertheless considered pathological due to the effects he has on others.

But I guess we should not admit of the existence of psychopathy, since it's "logical" for everyone who ever did something mean to simply use that notion as an excuse/scapegoat.

5:38 pm  

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