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For you, you pervert: a review of Perv

Havelock

Mayor
“You are a sexual deviant. A pervert, through and through.” So begins Jesse Bering's latest book, Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us. Yes, he means you – and you too – but don't fret. Bering isn't necessarily accusing anyone of being a degenerate monster. No, he he simply wants us all to acknowledge that at one time or another in our lives we have sexual thoughts and desires that fall outside our culture's definition of “proper” and “normal”; thoughts that we'd just as soon others not know about.

I've written about Bering and linked to various of his works several times here and elsewhere. Fair warning: I'm a Bering fan. That being the case, it's probably impossible for me not to inject some of my own thinking into Bering's words. Thus, if you read the book, you may come away with some different impressions that I did. I offer that in the interest of full disclosure.

Back to the book. It's hard to argue with Bering's opening claim about our private sexual lives, for most of us anyway. In any case, one of the key points that Bering wants to make in Perv is that the line that separates any of us from the weird and deviant others that lurk in society's shadows is finer and less fixed than most of us would prefer to think. Moreover, Bering points out, the latest research suggest that there may be more “deviants” among us than many might have guessed. I think all of that is true, but then the question is, what if anything should we do with this information?

Bering's answer to that question involves asking us – all of us – to reconsider our reflexive judgments. Bering believes we ought to do this for good ethical reasons. First, he observes that we continue to see individuals who are punished and have their lives ruined to one degree or another for “crimes” that don't actually hurt anyone. Second, as he points out, we've learned from the gay rights movement that life “in the closet” can be brutally stressful, damaging, and limiting. Now that we know that, Bering says, it's simply wrong to subject anyone to such an existence needlessly. (And, as a gay man himself, he notes that gays and lesbians haven't been as sensitive to these issues in connection with other sexual minorities as they could and should have been. Bering neglects, or declines, to mention that it was not always so and that the gay rights movement has become strikingly more narrowly focused as it has gained ground, but maybe that's another book.) Past that, he argues, society is changing in myriad ways that are making it harder, and perhaps one day in the not too distant future virtually impossible, for a person to conceal his or her predilections. As a practical matter, Bering suggests, we as a society are going to be forced to respond one way or another as that day approaches. We'll all be better off if we respond deliberately and rationally, he says.

Bering suggests early on in Perv that our first instinct when it comes to judging whether or not any given sexual behavior is ethical is usually strongly influenced either consciously or unconsciously by disgust. That's normal, he says, and easily explainable in terms of evolutionary psychology. But that yardstick doesn't always measure true because our disgust reactions tend to be learned, hence culturally specific, and not necessarily well suited to a modern society in which we are required to make judgments about people we don't know personally. In other words, judgments based primarily on disgust are apt to be inconsistent, irrational, and hence unjust. Thus, Bering says, we'd do better to judge by evaluating harm. And, he makes tolerably clear, “harm” ought to mean physical or psychological harm to the individuals involved; “harm” shouldn't include nebulous notions of social outrage or violated traditions.

Okay, so far, so good...

Bering doesn't talk much in this book about evaluating “harm” apart from pointing out, reasonably enough, that sometimes harm is objective and sometimes it's quite subjective. Neither does he suggest much about how we ought to calibrate our responses or quantify “harm.” I guess those issues were beyond the scope of what he wanted to discuss. That's fine, but I think his book would make a stronger statement if he acknowledged its limits a bit more explicitly and pointed toward further discussion a bit more than he does. But it's pretty clear that Bering didn't mean for Perv to be a detailed prescriptive treatise on sexual ethics and morals; he's no moral philosopher in this book. Fair enough.

In Perv Beringdoesincorporate and discuss a fair amount of carefully-footnoted literature, but his book clearly isn't meant to be a meticulous survey of scientific thinking relating to variant human sexuality any more that it's meant to be a comprehensive primer on sexual morality. Perv is a serious book, but it's not a weighty academic tome by any means. Bering's goal is to be a chronicler, a popularizer, and a pretty good storyteller at least much as to be an advocate. His style is characteristically light and conversational, chock full of descriptive passages that only very rarely cross the line from flowery to florid. He brings a light touch to a touchy subject and for the most part it serves him well. The tone throughout is informative but not didactic. It's a book written for a general audience, mercifully free of jargon and technical argot.

In part because of its tone, Perv is a fairly quick read at just under 250 pages of text. Even so, Bering covers a lot of ground in those pages. His book is in part a history of sexual psychology, in part a light survey of current thinking in the fields of evolutionary biology and psychology regarding sexual variation, in part an introduction to breadth and range of human sexuality across cultures both now and throughout our history (and prehistory, for that matter), as well as in part a plea and a recommendation for greater understanding and rationality.

Although Bering doesn't say so, the structure of his book is, I suspect, a bit of an homage to some of the classic sexology texts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that Bering quotes. Like those books, Perv contains a compendium of case studies that serve as a springboard for discussion and observation. Unlike most of those older works, this book uses the results of quite a few scientific studies to inform and bolster the discussion. Also unlike most of those older works, Bering is much less interested in comprehensively categorizing deviation than he is in telling a story and drawing his readers along with him.

And draw us along he does. The ride isn't always pleasant, as Bering necessarily touches upon some difficult and disturbing topics. But it is unfailingly interesting and is chock full of information. Bering is quite candid in detailing what we don't know about how our sexual identities are formed – and we don't know a lot – but he highlights what we do know and what we think might be true in an engaging manner.

(Part 2 continues below)
 
Last edited:

Havelock

Mayor
Continued from part 1 above.
Toward the end of Perv, Bering suggests that we can think any person's sexual orientation as the product of a slot machine with four spinning reels. He breaks down the reels as follows: one reel determines the sex of one's preferred partner – the options here are male, female, both male and female (bisexual), or none (asexual); one reel determines the type of one's preferred partner – the options here are human, non-human, inanimate object, or none (and obviously there are a number of possibilities within the non-human and inanimate object options); one reel determines one's preferred sexual activity or activities – the options here are, well, multitudinous; and the final reel determines the age of one's preferred partner – the options here are roughly prepubescent, of reproductive age, and past normal reproductive age. No one knows exactly what combination of genetics, environment, and pure chance determines the odds of one outcome versus another, but we do know the odds are slanted in favor of “normal”, that is most of us prefer to have sexual intercourse with human partners of the opposite sex and of reproductive age. But every child gets a pull and every child takes his or her chances, so to speak. No one knows how the wheels will spin for any particular individual.

Bering doesn't spend much time in Perv examining what might influence one combination of numbers to come up versus another on the slot machine of sexual orientation. He justifies this by noting that we don't know yet much about the niceties of the mechanism and that we can't really influence the outcome in any case. Therefore, he suggest, its more productive to think about our ethical responses to the less common combinations than to worry about how those combinations arise. He does take time to skewer the idea that simplistic notions of normality or evolutionary fitness can help us judge our ethical responses, but past that he's content to describe more than to explain.

Nevertheless, Bering's descriptions and citations include fascinating details that point to the complexities involved in forming a sexual orientation. In other words he shows that the reels on the slot machine are most likely not all controlled in the same way or spun at the same time. For example, there are typical differences seen between men and women (surprise!); one is that men tend to be much more “locked in” to a very specific orientation from an early age. Also, men are in general much, much more likely that women to develop strong sexual fetishes, and this seems most often to stem from more or less readily identifiable “imprinting” episodes in early childhood. Men are more likely to be into S&M, but whereas men with “imprint” variations may outnumber women with similar variations by a factor of 10 or 100 to 1, the numbers are more balanced for those who like to give or receive a little pain. Psychopathic sadists, on the other hand, and those who are primarily aroused by non-consenting partners are almost exclusively men. True pedophiles and gerontophiles (those primarily or exclusively attracted to the elderly) are relatively rare and much more likely to be men than women. More men that women identify as being exclusively or mainly attracted to the same sex, but overall there doesn't seem to be a huge difference in the numbers of women and men who experience a significant degree of same-sex attraction. The same pattern appears to hold true for zoophiles.

And so on... Clearly there are a number of mental mechanisms at work here, mechanisms that work in different ways at different stages of development. Bering's slot machine visualization is an oversimplification to be sure; no doubt he would say the same. But it's conceptually useful all the same.

Speaking of fetishes, by the way, Bering identifies these as a result of the reel on the slot machine that controls one's preferred sexual activity, not the type of one's preferred partner. That's because for fetishists the object of affection is generally pretty clearly a mental stand-in for a preferred type of partner. However, there are also so-called “objectophiles” who fall in love with inanimate objects. For those with this rare orientation, research suggests that they genuinely believe that the objects of their affections possess some kind of consciousness and are capable of communicating with them on some non-verbal level. They perceive themselves as being in a mutual relationship with their objects, and in this case the object isn't a stand-in for anything else. Think of these folks as having a theory of mind amplifier turned up to 11. Interestingly, there seem to be just about as many female “objectophiles” as there are male.

So there's a taste of the smörgåsbord of sexual variation that Bering lays out in Perv. It's quite a feast, if you've a taste for that sort of thing.

One other issue that Bering touches upon – one that we've dealt with here on PJ several times – is the distinction between a person's basic orientation and what he or she is willing or capable of doing in pursuit of sexual satisfaction. It's hardly news, but Bering points out that quite a few individuals, especially men, are more than capable when aroused of making use of whomever or whatever happens to be available and using their imagination. In other words, even though they may be normal or average in terms of a preferred partner, these individuals can respond sexually to someone or something well outside their normal preference. If their actions are legally or ethically problematic, it may be that they have an issue with impulse control, or perhaps they're inclined by circumstance rather than preference to exploit a vulnerable partner. Whatever the specific reason, it's likely going to be counterproductive to treat these individuals in the same way as someone who has a primary preference for legally or ethically problematic partners, and of course the reverse is true as well. That's a point worth keeping in mind.

Bering wraps up Perv more or less where he began: by challenging us to think about a new sexual value system to replace the decaying, outdated, needlessly cruel and exclusionary mess we've inherited. He calls for this new value system to be based on honest self-examination, self-knowledge, and a fearless embrace of scientific study. And he admits that moving forward will be difficult and uncomfortable, even frightening. “You go first,” he concludes with a wink.

But of course in authoring Perv Jesse Bering has already stepped out in front of most of us. He's written an accessible, light-hearted, wide-ranging examination of sexual variation. In so doing, he's shone a light on subjects usually left in the dark and invited people to take a look. Its a good, and important, step down a path I'd argue we're already walking.

Cheers.
 

Jen

Trump 2020
I don't mind homosexuals coming out of the closet. I agree that we might need to review the guilt blanket that religion has laid on us through the ages and ask whether it really belongs there. I don't expect that to happen any time soon.
 

Havelock

Mayor
I don't mind homosexuals coming out of the closet. I agree that we might need to review the guilt blanket that religion has laid on us through the ages and ask whether it really belongs there. I don't expect that to happen any time soon.
We'll see, eh? Forty years ago the idea that anyone then alive would see same-sex marriage as the law of the land would've seem preposterous to most. Now...? Between brain scans and Facebook, who will have any secrets at all in 20 years? ;)

One way or another, things will be different. The only question is which path we'll choose: ever-more-efficient enforcement of comfortable but exclusionary norms or a greater understanding and acceptance of real human diversity.

Cheers.
 

Jen

Trump 2020
We'll see, eh? Forty years ago the idea that anyone then alive would see same-sex marriage as the law of the land would've seem preposterous to most. Now...? Between brain scans and Facebook, who will have any secrets at all in 20 years? ;)

One way or another, things will be different. The only question is which path we'll choose: ever-more-efficient enforcement of comfortable but exclusionary norms or a greater understanding and acceptance of real human diversity.

Cheers.
Of course I would rather see human diversity embraced, but for some reason that seem to be difficult for many people to do.
 

BobbyT

Governor
I haven’t read Bering, so I’m responding to your review and apologize if I get the gist of his writing wrong, as necessarily you are summarizing.
Bering claims that there is sexual deviancy in all of us, based on having had deviant thoughts and desires. That’s like saying there is murder in all of us based on our having had murderous thoughts and desires. Of course murder is easier to define than deviancy, but one is not a murderer unless one has murdered; therefore, one is not a sexual deviant unless one has behaved in a deviant manner.
I get from your review that Bering is using the provocative title, and I assume clinical or other examples, to establish that sexually deviant thoughts and desires exist in everyone; and then once this point is established, uses it to argue for a less strident or exacting definition of deviancy to make way for acceptance of such common ‘deviancies’ as homosexuality. But unless one is inclined to not define homosexuality as sexually deviant behavior, Bering’s argument won’t wash. Because those who are anti-gay will simply fall back on ‘love the sinner not the sin,’ and reject being defined as sexual deviants themselves because they haven’t acted on their deviant thoughts or desires.
A better discussion to have, and one you alluded to him having next, is how to define deviant behavior. I agree that rather than defining sexually deviant behavior in terms of ‘disgust,’ that doing harm is the better metric. There can be societal declarations of the fact of harm to a specific individual(s) (e.g., one partner being too young or not mentally competent); other definitions of harm would have to be ironed out (e.g., power differentials).
The four-roll slot machine of sexual preferences is interesting. For example is Bering saying that those who develop fetishes are inclined toward developing a fetish due to ‘nature,’ but that the object of the fetish is the result of trigger encountered through ‘nurture’? That is, there are those who, given a set of circumstances, will develop some sort of fetish when others who’ve encountered the very same set of circumstances will develop no fetish at all? Hmmmmm….to introduce another controversial topic, this is like saying those who are born into poverty and pull themselves out by their bootstraps are ‘programmed’ to do so, and those who experience the exact same conditions and do not pull themselves out by their bootstraps are ‘programmed’ not to, due to the results from spinning wheels on a cosmic slot machine. Therefore all behaviors are the result of a set of slot machine reel spins over which we have no control and by which we are ruled. Thus we only think we are deciding how to behave and we are no better than animals behaving instinctively. I like that.
 

Havelock

Mayor
I haven’t read Bering, so I’m responding to your review and apologize if I get the gist of his writing wrong, as necessarily you are summarizing.
No worries...! I can't claim I've summarized Bering's thoughts accurately in every respect, but that won't deter me from keeping on. ;)

BobbyT said:
Bering claims that there is sexual deviancy in all of us, based on having had deviant thoughts and desires. That’s like saying there is murder in all of us based on our having had murderous thoughts and desires. Of course murder is easier to define than deviancy, but one is not a murderer unless one has murdered; therefore, one is not a sexual deviant unless one has behaved in a deviant manner.
Sure. But let's keep in mind that Bering is being mostly tongue in cheek with his “accusation.” I think he does have a deeper point, though, which I'll get to below.

BobbyT said:
I get from your review that Bering is using the provocative title, and I assume clinical or other examples, to establish that sexually deviant thoughts and desires exist in everyone; and then once this point is established, uses it to argue for a less strident or exacting definition of deviancy to make way for acceptance of such common ‘deviancies’ as homosexuality. But unless one is inclined to not define homosexuality as sexually deviant behavior, Bering’s argument won’t wash. Because those who are anti-gay will simply fall back on ‘love the sinner not the sin,’ and reject being defined as sexual deviants themselves because they haven’t acted on their deviant thoughts or desires.
I both agree and disagree with the above. I agree that Bering's arguments – and his approach – isn't likely to have a huge impact on folks who are anti-gay in particular or anti-deviance in general. As a matter of fact, one of the criticisms of Bering's work in this area is that he risks alienating the very people who most need to hear his message because he doesn't take care not to offend their sensibilities -- on several levels.

That's a fair criticism in the sense that I think it's true. Bering doesn't ease into much of anything or attempt to shield his audiences from fairly graphic realities. He doesn't offend gratuitously, in my opinion, but he's not afraid to offend to get his point across. And even though he maintains a breezy, humorous style, he doesn't tiptoe tenderly around other people's moral beliefs or feelings. So yes, he can turn people off and/or piss them off, and he has. I suspect his response to that would be something along the lines of, “That's too bad but it's their problem, not mine. I'm trying to be a gadfly, not a diplomat.”

I don't think you've quite nailed Bering's intentions in labeling everyone a deviant, though. I don't think he's saying, “Look, whether you know it or not, statistics show that you probably know at least 25 gays and lesbians and half a dozen folks who are into BDSM. And let's be honest, you were a little bi-curious too that one time too, right? So who's to judge?” At least that's not all he's saying. No, I don't think Bering is trying to encourage people to me more accepting of various deviancies as much as he's suggesting that the whole concept of “sexual deviant” isn't terribly useful, at least as it relates to formulating ethics.

One point that Bering makes in Perv is that sexual thoughts or desires by themselves cannot harm anyone if they are never acted upon. Everyone understands this on some level. And yet, because our culture has traditionally judged “perversion” so harshly – in thought as well as in deed – a lot of people put a lot of energy into repressing their own “deviant” thoughts and feelings. In some cases they're consciously aware of this and in some cases not. Either way, that process leads people toward investing a lot of mental and emotional effort into defending lines that are necessarily somewhat arbitrary, and that makes it much more likely that they'll respond irrationally and harshly when someone steps over a line.

We see plenty of evidence of that, don't we?

Thus, I think Bering would argue, we won't be able to deal with sexual variation rationally until we deal with our own feelings honestly. And a big part of that involves changing not what we judge as acceptable versus deviant, but how we judge healthy versus unhealthy sexuality.

BobbyT said:
A better discussion to have, and one you alluded to him having next, is how to define deviant behavior. I agree that rather than defining sexually deviant behavior in terms of ‘disgust,’ that doing harm is the better metric. There can be societal declarations of the fact of harm to a specific individual(s) (e.g., one partner being too young or not mentally competent); other definitions of harm would have to be ironed out (e.g., power differentials).
No arguments there... Whether Bering will go there or not in future works, I don't know. He may not feel comfortable or competent to try to help lead that particular discussion. But he pretty much says that's exactly the direction in which we should be heading.

BobbyT said:
The four-roll slot machine of sexual preferences is interesting. For example is Bering saying that those who develop fetishes are inclined toward developing a fetish due to ‘nature,’ but that the object of the fetish is the result of trigger encountered through ‘nurture’? That is, there are those who, given a set of circumstances, will develop some sort of fetish when others who’ve encountered the very same set of circumstances will develop no fetish at all?
Yes, that's almost certainly the case, but we don't know the details of how nature conditions an individual with respect to nurture. With fetishism it certainly seems probable that some individuals are predisposed to developing a fetishistic imprint more so than others. But the details are murky. Would a given boy develop a fetish for, say, gloves if a different event hadn't already turned him on to shoes? Was he more or less bound to imprint on something, in other words, and only circumstance make it one thing versus another? Or, if he hadn't experienced the event or events that caused shoes to be objects of arousal, would he simply have developed without any kind of fetish at all? Nobody knows.

In his book Bering briefly discusses a study that found that the historical incidence of fetishism in the societies they studied was positively correlated with the incidence of sexually transmitted disease, both being quantified by the number of times they were mentioned in that society's then-current literature. The researchers speculated that fetishism may tend to develop as an unconscious response to the message that sex is dangerous; Bering speculates that this response may represent a evolutionary adaptation, a response that could in particular help boost a man's overall reproductive success by helping him to avoid or delay contracting a sexually-transmitted disease.

That hypothesis is interesting, but rather speculative... If it were true, we'd expect to see significant differences among different societies in the incidence of fetishism based on their attitudes toward sex. That'd again contrast fetishism with some other sexual proclivities that seem to be fairly uniform across cultures, and would again point to different developmental processes for different orientations. But as Bering notes, we've only really just begun to do those sorts of cross-cultural comparisons in a systematic way. We've a lot to learn yet, clearly.

It'd be fascinating and extraordinarily informative, from a scientific point of view, to expose different children to different stimuli at different stages of development and monitor the effects on later sexual orientation. Bering mentions this in the book, then of course immediately notes that such experiments are simply impossible from a practical standpoint and would be completely unethical in any case. So, most likely, we're always going to have to infer a lot from relatively scant data.

BobbyT said:
Hmmmmm….to introduce another controversial topic, this is like saying those who are born into poverty and pull themselves out by their bootstraps are ‘programmed’ to do so, and those who experience the exact same conditions and do not pull themselves out by their bootstraps are ‘programmed’ not to, due to the results from spinning wheels on a cosmic slot machine. Therefore all behaviors are the result of a set of slot machine reel spins over which we have no control and by which we are ruled. Thus we only think we are deciding how to behave and we are no better than animals behaving instinctively. I like that.
There are some very interesting neuro-biological studies that support the idea that at least some of our decision making occurs kind of like that. That is, we think we're making a conscious choice but the neurological data indicate that we've initiated a response before the parts of our brain associated with consciousness are active. In other words, we're really only assigning conscious motivation to a “choice” that was made unconsciously.

I suppose the whole “free will” question becomes rather philosophical at some point – it seems to me that if it feels as if we have free will then we might as well assume that we do have it for most practical purposes. Having said that, I think we'd all be a lot better off in terms of maximizing individual potential and having a resilient, functional society if we were more aware of and objective about the “programming” we all embody.

Cheers.
 

BobbyT

Governor
I had a whole treatise here, but by the time I finished, this was the essence: We have free will or we are subject to influences outside our control. We judge others as if they have free will or we judge them as having been subject to influences outside their control.
 
Toward the end of Perv, Bering suggests that we can think any person's sexual orientation as the product of a slot machine with four spinning reels. He breaks down the reels as follows: one reel determines the sex of one's preferred partner – the options here are male, female, both male and female (bisexual), or none (asexual); one reel determines the type of one's preferred partner – the options here are human, non-human, inanimate object, or none (and obviously there are a number of possibilities within the non-human and inanimate object options); one reel determines one's preferred sexual activity or activities – the options here are, well, multitudinous; and the final reel determines the age of one's preferred partner – the options here are roughly prepubescent, of reproductive age, and past normal reproductive age. No one knows exactly what combination of genetics, environment, and pure chance determines the odds of one outcome versus another, but we do know the odds are slanted in favor of “normal”, that is most of us prefer to have sexual intercourse with human partners of the opposite sex and of reproductive age. But every child gets a pull and every child takes his or her chances, so to speak. No one knows how the wheels will spin for any particular individual.

Bering doesn't spend much time in Perv examining what might influence one combination of numbers to come up versus another on the slot machine of sexual orientation. He justifies this by noting that we don't know yet much about the niceties of the mechanism and that we can't really influence the outcome in any case. Therefore, he suggest, its more productive to think about our ethical responses to the less common combinations than to worry about how those combinations arise. He does take time to skewer the idea that simplistic notions of normality or evolutionary fitness can help us judge our ethical responses, but past that he's content to describe more than to explain.

Nevertheless, Bering's descriptions and citations include fascinating details that point to the complexities involved in forming a sexual orientation. In other words he shows that the reels on the slot machine are most likely not all controlled in the same way or spun at the same time. For example, there are typical differences seen between men and women (surprise!); one is that men tend to be much more “locked in” to a very specific orientation from an early age. Also, men are in general much, much more likely that women to develop strong sexual fetishes, and this seems most often to stem from more or less readily identifiable “imprinting” episodes in early childhood. Men are more likely to be into S&M, but whereas men with “imprint” variations may outnumber women with similar variations by a factor of 10 or 100 to 1, the numbers are more balanced for those who like to give or receive a little pain. Psychopathic sadists, on the other hand, and those who are primarily aroused by non-consenting partners are almost exclusively men. True pedophiles and gerontophiles (those primarily or exclusively attracted to the elderly) are relatively rare and much more likely to be men than women. More men that women identify as being exclusively or mainly attracted to the same sex, but overall there doesn't seem to be a huge difference in the numbers of women and men who experience a significant degree of same-sex attraction. The same pattern appears to hold true for zoophiles.

And so on... Clearly there are a number of mental mechanisms at work here, mechanisms that work in different ways at different stages of development. Bering's slot machine visualization is an oversimplification to be sure; no doubt he would say the same. But it's conceptually useful all the same.

Speaking of fetishes, by the way, Bering identifies these as a result of the reel on the slot machine that controls one's preferred sexual activity, not the type of one's preferred partner. That's because for fetishists the object of affection is generally pretty clearly a mental stand-in for a preferred type of partner. However, there are also so-called “objectophiles” who fall in love with inanimate objects. For those with this rare orientation, research suggests that they genuinely believe that the objects of their affections possess some kind of consciousness and are capable of communicating with them on some non-verbal level. They perceive themselves as being in a mutual relationship with their objects, and in this case the object isn't a stand-in for anything else. Think of these folks as having a theory of mind amplifier turned up to 11. Interestingly, there seem to be just about as many female “objectophiles” as there are male.

So there's a taste of the smörgåsbord of sexual variation that Bering lays out in Perv. It's quite a feast, if you've a taste for that sort of thing.

One other issue that Bering touches upon – one that we've dealt with here on PJ several times – is the distinction between a person's basic orientation and what he or she is willing or capable of doing in pursuit of sexual satisfaction. It's hardly news, but Bering points out that quite a few individuals, especially men, are more than capable when aroused of making use of whomever or whatever happens to be available and using their imagination. In other words, even though they may be normal or average in terms of a preferred partner, these individuals can respond sexually to someone or something well outside their normal preference. If their actions are legally or ethically problematic, it may be that they have an issue with impulse control, or perhaps they're inclined by circumstance rather than preference to exploit a vulnerable partner. Whatever the specific reason, it's likely going to be counterproductive to treat these individuals in the same way as someone who has a primary preference for legally or ethically problematic partners, and of course the reverse is true as well. That's a point worth keeping in mind.

Bering wraps up Perv more or less where he began: by challenging us to think about a new sexual value system to replace the decaying, outdated, needlessly cruel and exclusionary mess we've inherited. He calls for this new value system to be based on honest self-examination, self-knowledge, and a fearless embrace of scientific study. And he admits that moving forward will be difficult and uncomfortable, even frightening. “You go first,” he concludes with a wink.

But of course in authoring Perv Jesse Bering has already stepped out in front of most of us. He's written an accessible, light-hearted, wide-ranging examination of sexual variation. In so doing, he's shone a light on subjects usually left in the dark and invited people to take a look. Its a good, and important, step down a path I'd argue we're already walking.

Cheers.
Damn, that is the two longest threads I've ever seen to call someone a pervert. How about the cleft notes version the next time?

ORR
 

Havelock

Mayor
I had a whole treatise here, but by the time I finished, this was the essence: We have free will or we are subject to influences outside our control. We judge others as if they have free will or we judge them as having been subject to influences outside their control.
Well, sure... Just to be clear, my main point with respect to free will is that whether we have it or not in some absolute, rather esoteric sense, we should act as if we do as a practical matter. To give a simple example, in the final analysis it doesn't much matter whether or not a serial murderer has absolute free will when it comes to his murderous actions. We can't have folks running around murdering other willy nilly, can we? So we hold the murderer responsible in the sense that we take action to prevent him from murdering again. What else could we do? In that sense how and why and even the extent to which our murderer was “programmed” to kill is more or less irrelevant.

Knowing as much as we can about our murder's “programming” might be pretty darned useful in preventing other folks from committing murder in the future, though. And similarly, for much less extreme behavior, the more we know about our motivations and what we do and don't control, the better we'll be able to cultivate adaptive behavior and minimize harmful behavior.

And, to bring the argument back home, the more we know about our “programming”, the better we'll be able to separate harmful from non-harmful behavior. As it is, we're still saddled with what we now know are erroneous notions of unfettered choice and simplistic ideas about virtue versus vice.

Cheers.
 

fairsheet

Senator
On there way up to my house, my brother and his wife stayed at my sister's house down in Portland, OR. My sister wasn't feeling well, so my brother and sister-in-law chose out a nearby sports bar so's to eat and watch the football game.

They tell me the bar's clientele was pretty much 50/50. Half were older guys - the type we used to call "hard hats". The other half were cross dressers - not "drag queens" per se, but obviously-men, dressed in women's clothes. for what it's worth according to my brother, everyone got along just fine.

Anyway...I got to musing that I can't figure out WHAT the hell's up with cross dressing? What's the appeal? Why does ANY man do it? Clearly, it's a function of some pretty strong urges that are incomprehensible to me.

But then...what the hell difference does it make? Those cross dressers have zero impact on my life and cause me no harm whatsoever. In order for me to "hate on" them, I have to be going WAY out of my way - for whatever reason - to be looking for someone, anyone, to hate on.
 

Havelock

Mayor
On there way up to my house, my brother and his wife stayed at my sister's house down in Portland, OR. My sister wasn't feeling well, so my brother and sister-in-law chose out a nearby sports bar so's to eat and watch the football game.

They tell me the bar's clientele was pretty much 50/50. Half were older guys - the type we used to call "hard hats". The other half were cross dressers - not "drag queens" per se, but obviously-men, dressed in women's clothes. for what it's worth according to my brother, everyone got along just fine.

Anyway...I got to musing that I can't figure out WHAT the hell's up with cross dressing? What's the appeal? Why does ANY man do it? Clearly, it's a function of some pretty strong urges that are incomprehensible to me.
Just FYI, the current thinking on cross dressing is that there are most likely several different "types" so to speak. Different folks may have very different motivations depending on a number of factors related to their basic orientation and various nuances associated with it. So there's no single easy answer to "what's the appeal?"

fairsheet said:
But then...what the hell difference does it make? Those cross dressers have zero impact on my life and cause me no harm whatsoever. In order for me to "hate on" them, I have to be going WAY out of my way - for whatever reason - to be looking for someone, anyone, to hate on.
Yes, exactly. And that's actually a pretty decent synopsis of one of Bering's larger points in Perv. We can talk about why some folks go out of their way to hate on sexual deviants; Bering lays some of this out in his book. And there are very understandable reasons that can be advanced based on the interplay between our most basic evolved "moral impulses" and our particular cultural heritage. But at the end of the day, we really ought to confront that question: what the hell difference does it make?

Cheers.
 

fairsheet

Senator
Just FYI, the current thinking on cross dressing is that there are most likely several different "types" so to speak. Different folks may have very different motivations depending on a number of factors related to their basic orientation and various nuances associated with it. So there's no single easy answer to "what's the appeal?"



Yes, exactly. And that's actually a pretty decent synopsis of one of Bering's larger points in Perv. We can talk about why some folks go out of their way to hate on sexual deviants; Bering lays some of this out in his book. And there are very understandable reasons that can be advanced based on the interplay between our most basic evolved "moral impulses" and our particular cultural heritage. But at the end of the day, we really ought to confront that question: what the hell difference does it make?

Cheers.
The coolest part of my brother's story - for me anyway - was the fact that the hardhats and the cross-dressers looked to have absolutely no problem with one another. It wasn't all that long ago, that you never would've encountered that sort of thing in a bar.
 

Havelock

Mayor
The coolest part of my brother's story - for me anyway - was the fact that the hardhats and the cross-dressers looked to have absolutely no problem with one another. It wasn't all that long ago, that you never would've encountered that sort of thing in a bar.
Yep, times are changing. And the pace seems to be picking up. And of course as noted previously, Bering alludes to this in his book.

Just think, it looks as if we're going to go from Stonewall to nationwide same-sex marriage in just about 50 years. It took more than 100 years to go from freeing the slaves to permitting inter-racial marriage nationwide. Now, to be sure the two issues are not identical in terms of the factors that influenced legal and public opinion. But it sure looks to me as if we're moving faster and farther than we have in the past, even so.

Cheers.
 

BobbyT

Governor
......
And, to bring the argument back home, the more we know about our “programming”, the better we'll be able to separate harmful from non-harmful behavior. As it is, we're still saddled with what we now know are erroneous notions of unfettered choice and simplistic ideas about virtue versus vice.

Cheers.
I don't see why knowing about our 'programming' would have any influence on separating harmful from non-harmful behavior. I can see that it could be an argument for non-assignment of blame for behavior, but harmful v non-harmful is in the eye of the beholder (society).

Taking your serial murderer example down another lane, rather than just using understanding of programming to help forestall future potential serial murderers from murdering (a laudable goal), I believe it would be put to even better use as a mechanism for productive rehabilitation - and as a reason for eliminating the death penalty. But even at that, the idea of using the means to understanding an individuals' slot wheel spin results means that we necessarily have to discount environmental factors (because who could know all of them?) and stick with what can be seen - e.g., genetics - which means we could be proactively rehabilitating a potential future serial murderer (or anyone else who's wiring predicts for maladaptive behavior) who never would have murdered at all.
 

fairsheet

Senator
I don't see why knowing about our 'programming' would have any influence on separating harmful from non-harmful behavior. I can see that it could be an argument for non-assignment of blame for behavior, but harmful v non-harmful is in the eye of the beholder (society).

Taking your serial murderer example down another lane, rather than just using understanding of programming to help forestall future potential serial murderers from murdering (a laudable goal), I believe it would be put to even better use as a mechanism for productive rehabilitation - and as a reason for eliminating the death penalty. But even at that, the idea of using the means to understanding an individuals' slot wheel spin results means that we necessarily have to discount environmental factors (because who could know all of them?) and stick with what can be seen - e.g., genetics - which means we could be proactively rehabilitating a potential future serial murderer (or anyone else who's wiring predicts for maladaptive behavior) who never would have murdered at all.
IF in fact, the writer's "4-reel slot machine" allusion is valid, I guess I'd suggest that there's no way in hell we could make any productive use of our presumed insight into programming. The math of 4 reels, simply makes for way to many variables.
 

Havelock

Mayor
IF in fact, the writer's "4-reel slot machine" allusion is valid, I guess I'd suggest that there's no way in hell we could make any productive use of our presumed insight into programming. The math of 4 reels, simply makes for way to many variables.
Well, let's not get too literal. The slot machine analogy is intentionally simple. And to continue that analogy, we know that the reels are not independent of each other and don't really stop at random. And they certainly don't all have the same number of possible results.

Anyway, I don't think the number of possible outcomes significantly affects our ability to make use a greater understanding of how the machine works, so to speak. Please see my latest reply to BobbyT for additional thoughts on that.

Cheers.
 

Havelock

Mayor
I don't see why knowing about our 'programming' would have any influence on separating harmful from non-harmful behavior. I can see that it could be an argument for non-assignment of blame for behavior, but harmful v non-harmful is in the eye of the beholder (society).
Okay. I guess I'm guilty of engaging in a little rhetorical shorthand here. Sorry. Let me try to explain.

First of all, we've some work to do yet to decide on the metrics we want to use to quantify “harm”, yes? Bering talks in his book about measurable harm to the individuals involved in any given act, but as I mentioned, he doesn't go really discuss how we ought to measure that harm and he doesn't really deal at all with any notion of harm that might affect more than just the individuals involved in any given act. As I said, I understand that a discussion of more comprehensive definition of harm was probably beyond what Bering wanted to tackle in his book. Still, it's got to be tackled, eh?

There are a number of approaches we can take to evaluate harm. In some cases, it's a simple enough task, as in the case of our hypothetical murderer. An easy case in the realm of sexual behavior would be rape – non-consensual sex imposed by force. In other cases it's not so clear cut. Take, for example, a consensual sexual encounter between a 30 year-old woman and a 15 year-old boy. Is anyone being harmed in that scenario? How do we make that judgment?

We could take a purely atomistic approach that looks only at the well being and subjective experiences of the individuals involved. That would mainly involve evaluating the elements of consent in this particular case. Was the boy coerced in any way? Does the woman have some undue influence or authority over the boy? Does the boy give sufficient indication of being mentally mature enough to offer meaningful consent? Those are the sorts of questions we'd ask and we'd evaluate harm based on the answers we find.

On the other hand, we could take a purely social/cultural approach that looks only at whether or not we believe that such relationships are in general harmful or not based on their likely impact on society. Our concern with this approach almost exclusively lies in the objective facts of the case; we're essentially unconcerned with the participant's subjective experiences, although those experiences might mitigate our judgment around the margins. This approach is much more straightforward than the one above. To pass judgment, in this case we really only need to look at age of consent laws and the basic facts of the case. Do we think 15 should be below the age of consent? Was the minor partner below the age of consent? If so, then by that standard harm has occurred.

I think in general we naturally use both approaches to judge harm – and we should use both approaches. I'd also argue that at least in the somewhat recent past we've tended to lean more heavily on the social/cultural approach. It's easier, after all, “safer” in a way, and it fits well with our legal traditions. However, the balance does seem to be shifting overall, as I think it should for a lot of "grey area" cases. Finding that proper balance is key, and I submit that knowing more about our “programming” helps us do that.

Let's suppose, just for example, that we found that there are individuals who are “programmed” to strongly prefer young adolescent partners (a topic of rather heated debate in some psychology circles, actually). We might want to strike a different balance in evaluating harm in our scenario above in that case as opposed to what we might choose to do if we knew that no one really had such "programming" and instead adult/minor relationships were more or less always about power imbalances and targets of opportunity.

Okay, that probably got some people riled up, so let's look at a less controversial example.

A recently-departed (at least for now) poster loved to point out that the incidence of sexually-transmitted diseases was significantly higher among men who have sex with men than among exclusively heterosexual men. And he was right as a matter of fact. One message he wanted us to take from that was that men having sex with men was more harmful than men having sex with women, and therefore it was justifiable to have the government take steps to discourage men from having sex with men, such as disallowing same sex marriage and, perhaps, other steps to de-legitimize and discourage such activity.

Now, if it were true that no one was “programmed” to prefer same-sex sexual intimacy, then one could argue on public health grounds that everyone should be strongly encouraged to seek out an opposite-sex relationship simply because such relationships are statistically less likely to spread disease and because, after all, no one is necessarily being deprived of any fundamentally satisfying type of relationship by being denied a same-sex liaison.

Of course we now understand that some people are oriented toward same-sex sexual relationships and thus we've re-evaluated our judgments about harm accordingly. We weigh the subjective experiences of the individuals involved much more heavily than we did previously. As a matter of fact, we're much better able to weigh the subjective experiences of those involved because we better understand their basic motivations.

The same basic logic can be extended to other orientations. That's what I mean when I say that knowing more about our "programming" can help us evaluate harm.

BobbyT said:
Taking your serial murderer example down another lane, rather than just using understanding of programming to help forestall future potential serial murderers from murdering (a laudable goal), I believe it would be put to even better use as a mechanism for productive rehabilitation - and as a reason for eliminating the death penalty. But even at that, the idea of using the means to understanding an individuals' slot wheel spin results means that we necessarily have to discount environmental factors (because who could know all of them?) and stick with what can be seen - e.g., genetics - which means we could be proactively rehabilitating a potential future serial murderer (or anyone else who's wiring predicts for maladaptive behavior) who never would have murdered at all.
In theory, sure, if we could understand the nature part of the equation in sufficient detail and if we could establish a strong enough (however we define that) correlation between some constellation of genetic factors and some harmful behavior traits, we could get into the proactive rehabilitation business. Whether we ever reach that point or not, the more we learn about the neurological bases for our thoughts, emotions, and actions, the more power we'll likely have to tinker with those things. As you suggest, there'll be all sorts of thorny ethical questions that are going to arise as a result. It's a huge challenge that we as a species are going to face in the decades ahead. I try to stay optimistic that we'll generally choose smartly. :)

Cheers.
 
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fairsheet

Senator
Well, let's not get too literal. The slot machine analogy is intentionally simple. And to continue that analogy, we know that the reels are not independent of each other and don't really stop at random. And they certainly don't all have the same number of possible results.

Anyway, I don't think the number of possible outcomes significantly affects our ability to make use a greater understanding of how the machine works, so to speak. Please see my latest reply to BobbyT for additional thoughts on that.

Cheers.
Uh oh...now you're talking predestination!....as the outcome of any slot machine roll, is determined at the outset, by a random number generator. -:)
 
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