Saturday, August 31, 2013


Googling up a storm here -- my only prob with it is that I’ve got a bad case of TB (tired butt) from this “guaranteed comfy” office chair.  My joy with this is cross-pollinating YouTubes.  So here’s an idea that budded out of two of them seen consecutively.

I’m using Helen Fisher’s theory of the three categories of love (not the classic Christian four) to analyze the homophobia in Uganda.  The plain fact is that in Uganda homophobia is so strong that a law to kill homosexual people (usually assumed to be men) is seriously considered.  I don’t know what its current state is but it is ferociously insisted upon by forces in the country.  Individuals are forced to live underground but continue to meet and network.

Helen Fisher is not a psychologist but is interesting to them because of the present enthusiasm for technological access to brain neurology.  In her TED talk, she quickly skips through three types of love I will describe in my own way.  First, the raw lust of the sex drive which rises up from the deepest and oldest part of the brain:  the foundation of survival for the group.  If, as one man worried, 80% of Ugandans became gay, the country might wither.  (HIV-AIDS was not mentioned but surely it is the death shadow behind this idea.)

Second, romantic love is cultural, a matter of story and expectations, and though many people will share the same ideas, is often quite individual or about individuals who break society’s expectations.  A story about a gay man in Uganda struggling to maintain his love for another man would fit this.  

Third, there is attachment, which Fisher defines as the commitment that allows people to persist in raising their families or doing some kind of work or devoting themselves to a country or institution.  It’s not necessarily sexual.  Personally, I have problems managing attachment, but maybe not what you would expect.  I attach too easily, too “hard,” and in contexts that turn out not to fit.   Nor can I turn it off.  This is the opposite of the common complaint about people who never attach to anything or anyone, so they simply float.  But it would be a mistake to think that attaching to something abstract is not attachment.

Understandably, the Ugandans are attached to their lives, their country, and -- in the obvious case of some of the politicians -- their status.  The same is true of Scott Mills, the gay BBC DJ who bravely went to investigate Uganda.  The difference between Ugandans and Mills is that the Ugandans are in a defensive mental space: they live inside mental walls built by missionaries and have been taught that if they accept new ideas, they will be destroyed.  Mills is able to look at all ideas without worrying about what they will do to him as ideas -- only what physical consequences, like death, might be attached.  Both want the same thing in a way: ideas that will confirm them in their lives, but the Ugandans insist on preventing change and Mills reaches out to see what change might bring.  The greatest irony, of course, is that Ugandans are utterly changed from what they were before missionaries arrived.

Here’s where I make my “swerve.”  At a recent funeral for a friend whose world overlaps mine in a small way, I sat next to a woman who worked with delinquent girls.  There was no obvious question about them being girls, mostly sexually active (without specifics), but it’s always unclear what “delinquent” means.  Some of her girls were in an institution where she worked with groups and some were individuals who came to her in a private practice.  The difference had to do with the way the law treated them: if they were considered criminals, they were locked up.  Otherwise they were merely stigmatized and possibly not fully functional in society.  Maybe had no family or a partial or foster family.  No income, no dependable food and/or shelter.  They might have babies.  They have a lot of romantic fantasies.

I was trying to describe what I thought they might be like and suggested that they probably attached to her and each other in deep and almost desperate ways.  She agreed that this was typical, that search for a dependable and intimate human relationship, and then said, intensely, “And I attach to them as well.  In fact, I miss them very much right now, but I wanted to come up here to honor this friend who just died.”  I was impressed.

In Uganda and in the United States as well we constantly confuse two four-letter words:  Love and Fuck.  Romance and attachment get left out.  It is a cliché that women demand love in order to fuck, so men simulate love in order to fuck.  (No one has a snappy saying about “Attachment”.)  We feel that love legitimates lust; lust is the only logical consummation of love.  This excludes parent/child nurture, mentor/apprentice relationships, friends working towards a common goal, and even love of one’s country.  

Fisher was mostly talking about Romantic Love, which shows up in an MRI as desire, craving, cocaine addiction, gambling, striving, risking.  Focused mating energy, needy, specific, engulfing.  She’s looking for the underlying hormonal patterns that trigger love-at-first-sight.  She figures there are four kinds interplaying: dopamine, serotonin, estrogen and testosterone.  At this point I leave her creating computer questionnaires for a dating service.  Right. 

I’m looking at something different: for one thing, I think fear hormones (adrenaline which is by definition an arousal) or the nurturing hormone (oxytocin) will both foster attachment.  It strikes me that these are the hormones that account for reaching out to others in a way beyond self-interest.  And it seems to me that even abstract phenomena like patriotism or religious faith can also be romantic loves.  I watch Scott Mills in Uganda, becoming grateful (what hormone is that?) or terrified (oh, we recognize the adrenaline), and I see that he’s reaching out towards these Ugandans and some of them are reaching back.  

But there are some so sealed into their magic addiction to their own ideas that they can’t take in what they see right in front of them.  They say,  “I have never met a homosexual.”  Mills says, “I am one.”  They say, “No homosexual was born that way.”  Mills says, “I was.”  They are dumb-founded.  Rather than be wrong, they send the police to arrest, confine and even kill Mills.  They are in love with themselves and their own ideas and, as the saying goes, “love is blind.”   They do not know the rest of the planet and they have no intention of finding out anything about it. 

A smaller swerve.  In the romantic fiction of the West when the frontier was dangerous and full of people who thought about the world in quite different ways, there are two means by which people become intimate.  One is by surviving danger together and the other is by nurturing each other -- maybe the symbolic gunshot wound.  Attachment forms.  It might NOT involve sex, because I think Fisher is right about attachment being different from both sex and romantic love.   The expression of the attachment might not even require physical presence -- it can be in letters or memory -- but it will not be easy to shake.   In the evening I’ve been watching McMurtry’s “The Road to Laredo,” which is a web of attachments, some of them hate-based and some of them very much love-based.  Not much sex.  Lots of romance.  The usual quota of violence.  

The Ugandan use of fear and punishment, of singling out people to persecute, does nothing but romanticize gays, create stories, fill people with adrenaline and oxytocin as they try to save each other, cause them to attach to each other instead of to the country.  The bullies are defeating themselves.

1 comment:

Rebecca Clayton said...

A friend of mine worked in Uganda for a few months at a time over several years in the early 2000's. She found the people very warm and engaging. She and I share a common interest in folklore, and she was eager to learn about Ugandan folk traditions.

She was, however, repelled by what she learned about folk medicine and the strong, widespread belief in witchcraft. Evidently, in the minds of some people, all illness and misfortune is caused by individual humans who have hexed you. In this system, someone is responsible for your troubles, and killing that person will cure you or change your luck.

"Western rationality" is at best a thin veneer even for Westerners. (This sort of witchcraft cause-and-effect was still a fairly common idea in the first half of the twentieth century in Appalachia.)

I wonder if the American missionaries who have preached the evils of homosexuality in Uganda have any idea what they've tapped into?