Perversion, the erotic form of hatred

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Psychoanalyst Robert Stoller once wrote a book called Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred. For him, perversion was an unconscious revenge-taking for traumas going way back into childhood, in which the Oedipal conflict was a focal concern. Few these days would see this Freudian theme as the single key to unlocking the psyche’s secrets, profoundly important as a child’s early relationships with its parents surely are; but Stoller’s attention to sexual hatred was well placed and should engage us too.

Discussion here recently has rightly taken misogyny very seriously. Several commentators have pointed out that women constantly face sexual provocations of a clearly hostile nature: this is true harassment, intended to humiliate and degrade. Well-intentioned minor-attracted people can easily become heartily sick of hearing the truth of this harassment because it feels as though harping on about it plays into the hands of those who wish to play up the dangers of sex to the exclusion of its connection to more positive feelings: affection, rapture, adoration.

While sharing our common longing for a more positive discourse, I believe there is a nettle that must be grasped. So, here goes. First of all, I think we should make a distinction between real misogyny – the hatred that can lead to girls being gang-raped and hanged from a mango tree, as happened in India recently – and merely giving way to a temptation to take sexual favours that have not been offered. Lord Rennard may have been guilty of the latter, but it would be grotesquely unjust to impute to him any secret wish to commit real atrocities.

Secondly, having made this distinction, there is an urgent need to understand where all the misogyny is coming from: How does it take root? In what circumstances does it flourish? Feminists have tended to think in terms of power structures, contrasting patriarchy with mythically imagined matriarchal golden ages somewhere near the dawn of time. They may be right, but we know too little about our prehistoric background to be sure, and modern remnants of hunter-gatherer societies are not a reliable guide.

The recent terrible case of mass murderer Elliot Rodger reminds us, also, that the individual psyche is as important as social structures: Rodger was violently misogynistic and also a classic troubled loner. Gang rapes and lynchings, to be sure, are the work of mobs, not individuals; but arguably it still takes psychos of one stripe or another to set the tone and lead the action in the more concerted forms of hostility: violently minded types should not be seen as ordinary guys (or not the majority of them) but as birds of a feather who gravitate towards each other, pooling their hatred and conspiring to act upon it.

This brings us back to Stoller: perversion as the erotic form of hatred. Elliot Rodger, so angered over still being a virgin at 22 that that he went on a murderous rampage, looks a classic case. We have his own very extensive account of what lay behind the killing spree that left seven people dead, including Roger himself, and thirteen injured. The 137-page document this son of a Hollywood film director wrote in the weeks before the killings discloses that his early childhood (including the Oedipal phase) was not at all troubled in terms of his family upbringing. It was at school, especially on the sports field, where he did not perform well, that he began to feel like an outsider and began to have “the first inkling of my shortcomings”. Only later would he develop a hatred of women when he believed they had slighted and ignored him. His parents’ divorce, when he was seven, is remembered as a deep wound in his own life. By 13, he was the “weird kid” at his school. He saw all girls as “mean, cruel, and heartless creatures” who took pleasure in his suffering. From that point on his misogyny became more entrenched and his personality emerges as self-centred and grandiose. He appears to have been an extreme example of narcissism. Narcissistic Personality Disorder, in the psychiatric terminology, is a condition characterised by finding it difficult to care about other people, who are valued only for what benefits they can give to the narcissist, which tends to mean indulging a wish to be uncritically admired.

Rodger fitted the bill. He could easily have afforded to pay prostitutes but that would have offended his vanity. So sex was not the problem in his case, or not the biggest one. He was good-looking and had a glamorous life. Getting laid should have been easy, but it seems he was regarded as a shallow jerk. He expected to be admired for his expensive Armani sunglasses and BMW car, but instead was despised as a self-important nonentity.

Rodger was newsworthy because his actions were so extreme. There is evidence that at a lesser level, though, his misogyny is widely shared by others who in some degree have a similar personality profile. The Rodger case opened my eyes, for instance, to misogyny expressed through “the incel community” online, “incels” being “involuntary celibates”. There was a whole lot about them in this recent Salon article by Tracy Clark-Flory. My inspection of these websites has so far been very limited but I should say at once that Clark-Flory’s piece is not the place to find a deeper understanding. To my mind her woefully superficial, one-sided effort is a hatchet job almost as nasty as the people she attacks. It’s the sort of journalism that gives feminism a bad name among reasonable people who try to put truth and humanity above crushing their enemies. For a corrective, see this alternative view, more balanced, view of incels.

For the moment, though, we need to stick with the sensational side, as per Clark-Flory. What are we to make of this, for example, from That Incel Blogger:

My mother, the murderous whore, is refusing to have sex with me when that could alleviate my sexual frustration.

Irony? Doesn’t look that way. And it would be perverse in this case to rule out the Oedipus Complex! There’s a whole lot more floridly desperate stuff on the same site, such as this:

It is over. I will stop looking for women. There is no longer any chance for me to escape loneliness and I must embrace hatred, destruction and punishment now. The girl from my previous post has rejected me. My last chance came later today when another girl answered my ad but she was just another airhead moron who wanted to talk to me on a cellphone and said I’m too quiet because I couldn’t giggle at everything like an idiot the way she did.

At another site, I see this:

Why don’t girls talk to me? Why did I not do this, because I was too NICE (big mistake), and yes, there was actually a time when I did not hate women. Women made me hate them… I would like to see which woman would not hate men if she approached 15,000 men and got rejected each time.

Wow! What this reminds me of (apart from the uncomfortable suspicion that this last guy has a point in his final sentence) is that we minor-attracted folks are not the only ones with problems. And neither, for that matter, are women who receive unwanted and sometimes hostile attention.

All these troubles and tensions are important. Sticking with harassment, which is where we began, the perspective gained by looking at the mental abnormality of individual perpetrators (relevant conditions probably include autism, schizophrenia and much else, as well as narcissism) simply has to be significant bearing in mind the potentially murderous consequences of ignoring it. But psychiatry isn’t going to fix everything, especially as some of the heartless “psychos” who commit acts of sexual aggression are in a sense normal. Yes, they may be psychopathic to the extent that they show a callous lack of empathy, but unlike the rejected narcissist they are not themselves necessarily suffering. On the contrary, the classic building site wolf-whistler may be a very confident and contented sort of bully, not in the slightest need of medical help.

Which brings us full circle back to power structures and societal solutions – with, I hope, a bit more useful stuff in our heads than when we started. This little detour into mental health has raised empathy issues beyond our own concerns as MAPs. We can deplore the selfishness of a narcissist like Rodger, who thought his problems justified slaying random strangers; but we can also notice, can we not, that a lot of the misogyny out there is more than merely gratuitous? It appears to be fed by a real sense of pain and injustice among those who are left out, especially in a culture such as ours where sexual gratification seems to be “in yer face” everywhere, from popular music videos to films, TV, etc.

Life, unfortunately, is always going to be unfair: we cannot turn every unpopular person into a socially successful one. But I do think we can soften the blow in some ways. To start with, while acknowledging the realities of sexual harassment and misogyny and the need to address them, we need a more sympathetic feminist narrative, not just endless ball-crushing. Also, while some mental conditions, such as autism, may be inborn, others are probably not. I doubt Elliot Rodger was born a narcissist, for instance: circumstances contributed – especially perhaps his parents’ divorce. Emotional security is hugely important in childhood: children’s interests are handled very badly in our culture when it comes to adult partners splitting up. Shouldn’t we be doing something about this?

I intended in this piece to go further, to look at particular social values and structures in our society with reference to children’s sexual socialisation, and how these might be improved in ways that could take the sting out of the gender wars. As so often, though, I have reached the point where I will have to leave off, and hope I will be able to pick up the threads another time.

Even creepier than the creepiest creep

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It is a good bet that anyone described as “creepy” these days has earned the unenviable epithet through suspicions he is a paedo: for lazy reviewers of novels and films it has become the go-to cliché for hinting that the scenario includes a sinister and scary perv.

Far more sinister and scary, though, is a rather different kind of creepiness: Mission Creep. In a sexual context, it is everywhere. Feminist analysis that began quite reasonably some decades ago with a long-overdue assault on entrenched “patriarchal” power structures, may have been hostile to adult-child sexual contacts but care was generally taken to emphasise that if children wanted to express themselves sexually it was fine and dandy to do it among themselves. Not anymore! Even kids are under attack now for “inappropriate” sexual behaviour, which has come to mean pretty much anything sexual at all. With anyone. Including yourself.

Nor do “normal” adults escape the ever-widening remit of the nay-sayers. The fight against grotesque abuses of male power expressed through such cultural practices as female genital mutilation, rape as a weapon of war and so forth, is a legitimate, vital and continuing one: gang rape in India is a particularly horrific phenomenon right now, as registered in Heretic TOC’s “No wonder women turn against ‘teasing’”. But the cause will not be helped by Mission Creep that extends to wiping out – or trying to – every conceivable manifestation of male sexual interest.

The viragos now conducting a vicious, vindictive campaign to oust a leading member of the minority party in Britain’s governing coalition are a case in point. Lord Rennard, formerly chief executive of the Liberal Democratic party, was accused of making passes at female party workers, touching them as he did so. One “victim” said he brushed parts of her that she “didn’t want to be brushed” (Would that be as opposed to the parts she did want to be brushed?). An internal party inquiry concluded there was credible evidence “the women’s personal space had been violated”, but not enough evidence to establish that there was a case of sexual harassment to be answered. Brendan O’Neill, in Spiked, rightly asked “who benefits from this redefinition of normal human activity as harassment. It certainly isn’t women, who come to be treated as fragile creatures ill-suited to the rough workplace – an argument I’m sure feminists might once have challenged.”

The attacks on entertainer Jimmy Savile, no longer alive to defend himself against mere allegations, are another case in point. In “Savile: The Power to Abuse” on the BBC’s Panorama programme this week we were treated to such gems as a man testifying to his horror after taking his young niece to meet Savile at a public event and seeing him kiss her. This was supposed to show that Savile, as a huge celebrity with great influence in high places, was able to offend in plain sight and get away with it. The uncle, asked whether he had tried to intervene or complain on his niece’s behalf, unwittingly and hilariously revealed the true source of Savile’s evil power. He had not felt able to intervene, he said, because there was a whole crowd of girls lining up to be kissed! The superstar’s power, in other words, was fan power. If, like James Bond, he had a licence to do what others could not, it was a licence to thrill, not kill.

Also this week we see a third kind of Mission Creep. Or rather we would see it, but this creepy beast is a monster of the shadows: I feel like shouting “Look behind you!” to the all-unseeing British public. This is the creeping mission of the security establishment. The securitocracy, as noted here recently, is now adding paedophilia to its empire of anxiety. “Paedophiles to be treated like terrorists” was Heretic TOC’s headline. It referred to a forthcoming measure against online “paedophile manuals”, a proposal sold as analogous to sanctions against terrorists who download guides to bomb-making.

This measure, it must now be solemnly reported, was duly if obscurely announced in the government’s new legislative programme, in the Queen’s Speech. Well, not quite in the Queen’s Speech. Perhaps it was thought too embarrassing for Her Majesty to utter the word “paedophile”. Instead, she said briefly “a Serious Crime Bill will be brought forward to…disrupt serious organised crime”. An official briefing note issued with the published text added, just as briefly, that the Bill would “create a new offence of possessing ‘paedophilic manuals’.” Perhaps the government found it too embarrassing to spell out how they intend to define “paedophilic manuals” in a way that will not include this blog – or maybe a disguised intention to outlaw Heretic TOC is another aspect of Mission Creep!

Finally, I would just add that I will be guilty of Mission Creep myself unless I am very careful. Heretic TOC’s mission does not include defending the indefensible, and some of Jimmy Savile’s behaviour may have gone too far. As for Chris Rennard, His Lordship was perhaps a bit free with his wandering hands and should be made to sit on the Naughty Step for 10 minutes, or perhaps offer his “victims” a decent meal out with him at a posh restaurant by way of penance. If they don’t want to kiss and make friends again (or just make friends again), well, tough: their apparent determination to crucify the guy is out of all proportion and should not be indulged.

My invocation in this context of a voguish punishment for errant toddlers (the Naughty Step) is not accidental: how to liberate childhood sexuality while maintaining reasonable sanctions against precocious liberty-taking by little Lord Rennards is a topic that needs discussion and which I hope to take up soon.

 

PS: I’ve just noticed that pageviews on Heretic TOC have now topped 100,000. Standing at 100,723 over 575 days, that comes to 175 per day since launch in November 2012. Is that good or bad? Hard to say: the top blogs in popular mainstream subjects doubtless have a vast readership, but they number only a few thousand whereas the total number of blogs in the world is now heading for the hundreds of millions, with an average of under 10 pageviews per day. What interests me more is the increasing number of comments received as time goes on and the generally extremely high quality of these contributions, especially latterly. So there is clearly an appetite for intelligent discussion. Well done all you heretics for providing it!

If cardinal sinners and lordly lotharios float your boat…

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Britain, I fear, will soon sink beneath the sea under the sheer weight of sex abuse claims made in the wake of the Savile affair. The first great tsunami, late last year, rolled across the land in the form of  hundreds of allegations against Savile himself; hard behind, a roiling tide fast engulfed fellow celebrities – singers, comedians, concert promoters – and  a major inquiry into “historic abuse”, implicating senior figures “at the heart of government”, crested the waves of excitement.

Now, in the last few weeks, new allegations in all sorts of unexpected shapes and sizes, like the crazily miscellaneous flotsam that all great floods bear along, have crashed into the chaotic melee: look there’s a lord in ermine bobbing about, his political reputation floating off to oblivion! Then, can it really be…yes, it’s one of the nation’s favourite TV soap opera stars, charged with “child rape”. Plus one, two – no it’s three – God it’s gone up to four; bloody hell it’s FIVE musical maestros from one of the most famous music academies in the land: all of them facing the music for vilely fiddling with their violin students! And to cap it all, we spot a red-capped cardinal, no less, struggling at first in the turbulent waters, then going decisively under. He’ll not be seen at the new pope’s election!

All this in the little island nation that once proudly boasted Britannia rules the waves! So, how to quell this terrible tempest? What to do? Well, if you can’t rule the waves you can try waiving the rules, which is pretty much what has been announced today by Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, the weak-kneed, lily-livered former human rights lawyer of whom great things were hoped, now just a dedicated follower of moral panic-driven fashion.

Child sex abuse investigations, Starmer pronounced, put too much focus on the victims’ credibility and not enough on the suspects. He announced a shake-up of the existing guidelines, saying “we cannot afford another Savile moment”. Hundreds of cases where there was no prosecution could be re-examined. These new guidelines will be developed, with a public consultation of the draft proposals, over the coming months.

No details yet, then, but the implications are clear, and clearly dangerous. Starmer’s earlier reaction to a dodgy police enquiry into the Savile revelations was revealing. That was the one, it may be recalled, that declared hundreds of complainants should be considered as definite victims, rather than alleged victims, even though evidence had never been heard in court. Starmer lamely backed that ghastly report, thereby grievously undermining the principle “innocent under proved guilty”. Now he threatens further to erode this cornerstone of justice in ways he as an experienced lawyer should know beyond doubt will lead to terrible injustice.

The present rules are in place for a very good reason: they came after a whole string of major miscarriages of justice in completely bogus “Satanic abuse” cases when children were needlessly dragged from their homes and taken from their parents “into care” i.e. away from care, for months on end. More recently, about a decade ago, other wrongful convictions were overturned after a great panic over alleged abuse at children’s homes turned out to be just that. Men had been wrongly jailed for years, losing their livelihoods, their marriages, their reputation, their dignity, all to secure “justice”, in those cases, for bogus compensation seekers and flaky personalities drawn to the tawdry power and glory of being able to point accusing fingers, and become lauded as “courageous survivors”.

“A new genre of miscarriages of justice has arisen from the over-enthusiastic pursuit of these allegations”. Those were the words of the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee in 2002, but now the lessons of that time are being forgotten.  Mark Newby, a solicitor who formed a panel to look at historic child abuse allegations, said today he was “gravely concerned” the balance might be shifted too far in favour of the victim. “We have to be really careful not to create a whole new genre of miscarriage because of the current atmosphere and pandemonium over these cases,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Too darned right! The perils of credulous belief in the stories of compensation hunters were highlighted vividly in a piece yesterday by the estimable blogger Anna Raccoon. Fellow heretics may recall that she was a pupil at Duncroft School, the one frequented by Jimmy Savile, and that she has blogged with admirable scepticism about the allegations.

I’d love to stop at this point, because that’s the main news right there already, in one super-compressed roll-up of many stories. The “crazily miscellaneous flotsam” does need some minimal picking and sorting, though, to note that not all of this stuff has been about child so-called sexual abuse. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, for instance, the UK’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, resigned as head of the Scottish Catholic church after being accused of “inappropriate acts” towards fellow priests. His worst crime in my book was extreme hypocrisy: in recent years, he has been highly vitriolic in his denunciations of homosexuality, but has now admitted he engaged in homosexual acts himself. No great surprise in this really: we should also suspect that many of those who are most venomous against paedophilia are struggling to deny or repress their own inclinations.

Also worth mentioning is that the alleged sins of Lord Rennard, a senior member of the Liberal Democrats, currently a governing party in coalition with the Conservatives, were confined to extremely nebulous “inappropriate” behaviour towards some female politicians – not the most obviously “vulnerable” people, one would have thought. As Zoe Williams noted in the Guardian, “Used by the women in this case, it means touching anyone, anywhere, with whom you do not have a prior touching agreement.” So, no more than an unbidden arm around the shoulder, maybe? Yet these allegations were leading the national news for days on end. Rennard was allegedly forced to resign a party position over these accusations some years ago, but only recently have the women gone public. The “scandal” nearly cost the Lib Dems one of their safest seats in parliament in a crucial by-election last week.

What does it all mean? One obvious and grim interpretation is that victim feminism is more virulent than ever, driving zero tolerance of male transgressions (if that’s what they are) to ever more demented extremes. The good news, perhaps, is that the Lib Dems survived the crisis. Maybe the electorate as a whole doesn’t really give a damn about precisely where His Lordship’s hand was placed, or whether he “inappropriately” suggested going back to his place for a bit of hanky panky, or rumpy pumpy, or whatever words lordly lotharios use for these things. Not that I am advocating “sexual harassment” here. Just a sane sense of proportion. The thought that many voters out there have not abandoned such a sense of proportion is perhaps worth hanging onto. Or is that a case of a drowning man clutching at straws in the midst of all the tsunamis!

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