Thursday, January 03, 2019


Struggling along to understand "The Body in the Mind" by Mark Johnson, I suddenly come upon something totally unexpected: an explanation by a man about why he wants to rape nice girls.  it's perfectly clear.  We've heard it before.  It boils down to "she makes me feel that way."  But he spells it out.

This passage is from Tim Beneke's  "Men on Rape".  Every time I googled to find a copy of the book, I got a different answer.  Maybe you'll have better luck.  Beneke is an anti-rape activist who has written several books.  I don't know why Johnson picked this example, except that sex always draws eyes.

The argument goes this way:  She's attractive ("clean and pretty," the man says).  He wants to make love to her, put his arms around her and kiss her, not rape her.  But he feels that she thinks he's not good enough for her and he gets angry.  He feels humiliated because he thinks she is making an invitation with her attraction, she is teasing him, means to do it.  Her appearance is an active force, pulling him into trouble.  He feels manipulated and this makes him "inhuman" (his word) and want to fight back by raping her to show her who has the power, which then will be a matter of revenge.  But he doesn't, because that's not civilized.

We've heard this before.  Sometimes said by someone who just slapped us (me) and other times by someone who has just beaten a woman to death.  It was all her fault.  She made him do it.  He feels this sincerely.

I read this pattern in Tweets all the time.  It's pretty scary.  Johnson says the trouble begins when the conviction is that appearance is equivalent to actual force, that it has reality in the physical world.  But this is not actual -- it's a subconscious conviction, unexamined.  It is only one of ways that innocent and unaware victims are held responsible as if their appearance is deliberate, provocative, and irresistible.  Thus today's version, more extreme, is the man who thinks he is asking for sex from a person of one gender and is surprised to discover in intimacy a disguised other, from a gender with whom encounter is stigmatized.  So he kills them.

Thus today people are willing to spend hours on body-changing through exercise, dollars on makeup and clothing, and risk on surgery.  This is what makes Trump think that using fake tan and hair color and flipping his back hair into a pony tail to disguise his scalp are part of his power in the world -- and he's right.  As long as he stays in the class of the world that is merchandizing and he's convinced that appearance has actual force in the world.

Insects and birds link appearance to sex and fighting power.  Luckily, they don't have to pay for it but unluckily they have to rely on evolution to look desirable or dangerous.  I'll come back to this when I understand better what Johnson is really talking about, which is the incredibly powerful chaos of assumptions that are underneath all words and that power our lives through a trajectory of identity -- with luck about 70 or 80 years long -- overlapping with the concatenation of others lives in other places.

It's tough to talk about concepts and raw experience without using words, but our words are already shaped by what has been unexamined.  One has to make up words, but it's not easy to escape grammar, which is also culpable because of insisting on the noun/verb axis.  What exists in the arts -- dance, paintings, music -- is often expressible there in part because they don't rely on words.

I was startled to look at the website of a nursing home where I used to work and discover that the first word in their new self-description is "spiritual."  The hospital-adjunct business has just linked into a Mormon network and I have a feeling that what they call "spiritual" is a religious belief system, an institution that still has members who believe in polygamy and marriages performed for dead people.

I just erased an article I had saved on the computer that attempted to define what "spiritual" really is, since everyone seems to be so "into it" as a good thing that it's a plus for commercial advertising.  The conclusion of the article is that "spirituality" can't be defined.  Some people conflate it with virtue, as in the virtue of not indulging in damaging behavior like smoking, eating too much, taking deranging drugs including alcohol -- and, if you're Mormon, caffeine.  Their system seems to encourage people to be good and often succeeds, but is it spiritual?

I guess one must simply make a choice about what "spiritual" is.  The pop version is emotional, which means it's non-objective/rational/mathematical or scientific.  For those bullied by the tech need for these qualities, this definition of "spiritual" is an escape.  But what are the assumptions, non-verbal and unexamined, the inchoate forces that shape dreams?  

Like sex. 

Or my dread of proselytizing religious institutions, particularly since the news is full of corruption in their midst, enjoying the aesthetic cover of presumed superiority.  Instead of trying to fit into pre-existing historical categories of institutions claiming certain assumptions, I've been trying to think in primordial enough terms to understand where the assumptions come from.  I don't mean historically, I mean in terms of how individuals understand who they are and how they got that way.

It is scientific to say that a conceptus, barely multiple cells, is beginning to record what happens to it.  We don't call that memory, but it is there and will have influence for the life of this beginning.  As the capacity to perceive broadens, the records, which are foundational, will persist.  How this particular body will gradually assume a human personality and identity, will be built on these things and more.

But this doesn't happen in isolation, for as soon as the infant is born, the culture begins to dictate what is so deeply real that it can't be expressed.  Sex is one of the most consequential categories, which must be why Johnson chose these paragraphs of a man struggling to explain in words something that has no words.

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