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General Public Busybody Theory

I was idly thinking about the GIFT (explained here), which comes up often for me because I not only surf the net, I also play networked games, where the theory plays out so often and so emphatically. I was also thinking about the things that people think are weird and foolish in other people, because I happen to be traveling this week, and those things vary somewhat from one place to another.

It occurred to me when I thought about those things at the same time that they suggest a reason for the generally widespread hatred of gay people.

Personally, I'm male and, sexually speaking, I like women. But I don't particularly care whether another person prefers men or women or both, regardless of their gender. It's a little hard for me to see why anyone would care about such a thing, much less why they would hold demonstrations or pass laws about it. It doesn't seem to me to be a lot different from passing laws about what flavors of ice cream you're allowed to like.

But when I was thinking about things today, a couple of things occurred to me. First, I've observed that there is a tendency sort of similar to the GIFT, which I might call the "general public busybody theory", which is that, first of all, the majority of people are inclined to be busybodies, and the inclination increases as it gets easier and more anonymous. In other words, the cheaper and easier it is to say that somebody ought to do something, and the less well you know them, the more likely you are to tell them what to do.

In general, I mean. Not everyone seems to have this impulse to boss people around, but it does seem to be very common, and it seems like a majority of people have it to some degree, some more than others.

The second piece of the puzzle is that if you have a sexual preference--any sexual preference--then it's pretty likely to gross another person out if he or she doesn't share it. I imagine that's one reason that talking about sex is sort of impolite. That's a tacit acknowledgement that people like different things, and what is appealing to one person is upsetting to another.

This is not too surprising, really. If you're dispassionate about it, all sex is at least a little bit gross and ridiculous. Being aroused, of course, tends to obliterate any sense of embarrassment or distaste, so we never get much chance to notice that the things we like are weird or icky. But if you could somehow switch off all arousal, then I think most people would notice that their own sexual tastes involve things that are a little bit messy and undignified. It's pretty much just the nature of mammalian reproduction to be that way.

But of course, people can't just turn off their sexual feelings, and they're strong feelings. Accidentally discovering that someone is turned on by something you are not can be very awkward. There's a sort of "EEEEEEWWWWW!!!" moment that some folks in kinky-sex communities call being "squicked". You are "squicked" when you are repelled by something that sexually appeals to someone else. The kinky-sex folks run into it kind of a lot, of course, and talk about it and joke about it, and have sort of social conventions for taking the sting out of it, so it doesn't interfere with their hobbies or friendships. Less promiscuous folks don't really have those conventions, because they don't really have the need or occasion to develop them, so their only experience of being "squicked" is generally the thing itself--the experience of stumbling upon someone with a sexual appetite that makes them go "EEEEEEWWWWW!!!"

Well, nobody likes that, of course.

When you combine that with the general public busybody theory, you have a situation that seems like it's almost tailor-made for creating prejudice against gay people. An average heterosexual person (who is fairly likely to be a busybody, because they seem to be in the majority) encounters a random gay couple holding hands or otherwise acting like they care for one another. This suggests the thought that this couple might be sexually involved. That creates the opportunity to imagine a sexual situation that makes our random busybody go "EEEEEEWWWWW!!!", which, by the general public busybody theory, immediately creates a desire to say that they shouldn't be allowed to do that.

Once I think of it that way, the prejudice, demonstrations, and legislation seem almost inevitable.

Comments

I don't think the internet contributes that much to the problem. A lot of the worst oppression (the Holocaust, the slave trade, Rwanda) are pre- or non-internet.

Oppression doesn't need anonymity if it's socially and/or politically supported.

For that matter, I may be annoyed if someone on the internet hears me talk about my girlfriend and calls us names, but it's a lot less of a threat, and a smaller hassle, than the same thing if someone at work were to react that way, or someone seeing us holding hands. Yes, the internet can amplify all sorts of things, good and bad: but my physical safety isn't at risk here, and I can log off or click away from a website more easily than, say, a teenager can walk away from bullies at school, or anyone can shut down a bigoted relative.
I think the general condition is perceived freedom from consequences, and there are a bunch of ways to get it-- anonymity online is only one. Social support, being in a large organization, and being in a mob all have the same effect, and I may well have left something important off the list.

The internet contributes to busybodying to the extent that there's social pressure against being blatantly abusive.
You aren't objecting to anything I said; the internet has nothing to do with it. The word "internet" enters the conversation only because I drew an analogy to the GIFT (which of course does involve the internet).

Try reading it again, keeping in mind that nothing I'm saying has anything to do with the internet.
Seems like a decent theory!

BTW, are you sure you meant to say that all kinky folks are promiscuous? Doesn't seem to fit with your general level of understanding and tolerance.
I don't know about Mike (just visiting, by way of Andrewdrucker & Supergee), but it makes sense to me. However... I don't think of generalized statements as implying "all", don't consider myself emotionally promiscuous, and don't see anything wrong with being kinky (within some vaguely-defined & thoroughly-subjective limits, of course). Oh, and I do really dislike busybodies of the type that tries to impose their standards on others.

So, yeah, this strikes me as a more than just decent Theory, and I'll print it out for future reference & probable quoting.

Maybe you are interpreting "promiscuous" to mean something bad? I guess I know some people think promiscuity is bad, but I don't get that either, and would have to think about why someone might think it's bad.

In any case, I'm not saying that all of anyone is anything. But people who share their sex lives less readily (how's that?) are less likely to need to develop social conventions for dealing with squickiness.
I'm interpreting "promiscuous" in this context to mean "sleeps with a lot of people". I'm pretty value-neutral on it, but it's a dodgy value to assign to a group on basis of non-standard sexual preference. Saying "most kinky people are promiscuous" is rather similar to saying "most gay people are promiscuous" -

a) inaccurate (there are quite a lot of stably monogamous gay people and quite a lot of stably monogamous kinky people)

b) conflating a couple of values that are often brought together by people who oppose tolerance of either (one of the common arguments against tolerance for gay lifestyles is that gay people are more promiscuous and less likely to provide a stable environment. This is bullshit.).

c) Likely to offend. For a lot of people, saying "I believe you are promiscuous" is very similar to saying "I believe you are a slut". And whilst I know people who are happy to use that term about themselves, a lot of people aren't.

I'm afraid I think, judging from your proposed correction, that I've not communicated why I think it's inaccurate. First, just to check we're on the same page, by "kinky" I mean "enjoy non-standard sexual activity usually but not always incorporating Dom/Sub or sadism/masochism play".

Per se, I can't see how that definition leads to them being the opposite of "people who share their sex lives less readily". I know people who are kinky, from that definition, who also sleep with a lot of people, have casual sex, enjoy sex parties, and certainly could be said to share their sex lives readily. I know people who blog about their sex lives and talk about them openly, and they too could be said to share their sex lives. But I also know quite a lot of people who enjoy kinky sex, perhaps even extremely kinky sex, who are very private about their sex lives, strictly monogamous, often married, and would certainly not take kindly to being defined as people who readily share their sex lives in any way. (I've just polled one of them on the topic now, and her response to your definition was "he can fuck off".)

Hope that clarifies my point. I'm very twitchy about any writing which, however well-intentioned, conflates such emotive words as "kinky" and "promiscuous", particularly when, as I've said, those terms are often conflated to hostile ends by people who dislike both behaviours.

However, I agree with your main point. People who explore non-standard sex are likely to have had to confront and find ways to deal with sexual practises that don't turn them on. That's a very valid point to make.
Incidentally, with reference to

Maybe you are interpreting "promiscuous" to mean something bad?

I'd steer away from using "promiscuous" in a context intended to positively or value-neutrally refer to someone having a lot of sexual partners, by choice. The word carries a strong connotation of indiscriminacy - it's derived from the Latin promiscuus, meaning "indiscriminate" amongst other things, and is defined as such in at least one major dictionary.

See this excellent essay from a pro-sex, kinky person who likes sleeping with a lot of people on why she doesn't like the word.

Sadly I don't have a better alternative other than "person who likes sleeping with new people".

(Anonymous)

What I'm saying is that if your hobbies include getting together with various people to try new things sexually, then you've likely encountered being squicked, and you've probably worked out some etiquette about it; at least that's been my experience of people who are forthcoming enough about their sex lives to talk about such things.

(As for people who aren't forthcoming in that way, I wouldn't include them in a "kinky sex community" because we don't know enough about them to know whether they have kinky hobbies or not, which is sort of the point.)

Feel free to substitute that formulation, if the original one contains juxtapositions of words that suggest something else offensive. Or, if this rewrite is also offensive in some way, we could talk about that; it might be interesting.
That formulation works well, yep.

Just out of interest, do you see why your original language was potentially offensive to kinky people?
Sure, it's not complicated. If you happen to think you're kinky, and you happen to think promiscuity is bad, then I might have offended you by arguably implying that non-kinky people are less promiscuous than you are. It's an interesting possibility that didn't occur to me before you brought it up.

February 2010

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