Friday, August 23, 2013

The Brahmavihāras as Applied to Life

The brahmavihāras (the "divine abodes") are core ethical principles in Buddhism that are meant to shape the way a Buddhist navigates the world. Buddhists cultivate these principles as a matter of answering that age old question, "who ought I to be, what ought I to do?"

In simple form, the brahmavihāras are:

  1. loving-kindness (maitrī)—the sincere wish for (and thus dedication to) others having all that they need for happiness
  2. compassion (karuṇā)—the sincere wish (and thus dedication to) others being free from causes of suffering
  3. empathetic joy (muditā)—the sincere reveling in the happiness, success, and good fortune of others
  4. equanimity (upekṣā)—embracing life, the world, and being for just what it is

If one is committed to the brahmavihāras, is it not necessary to renounce at least the following things?

  1. objectifying practices (monogamy, pornography, neo-liberalism)
  2. harmful rituals of habit (environmental destruction, animal torture, corporeal self-destructiveness through refined sugar, alcohol, etc.)
  3. realism, nihilism, relativism (attitudes fundamental to the propagation of various social harms)

Objectification (treating people like objects) and instrumentalization (treating people like tools) are incompatible with the brahmavihāras because the brahmavihāras take as the object of their activity sentient beings (and certainly, at the least, other human beings). Objectification and instrumentalization proceed on the basis of a category error whereby one mistakes one type of thing in the world with a fundamentally different type. A sentient being is a type of thing in the world who can suffer and/or flourish, who can act and react to its environment, and who we can vicariously relate to and/or emulate. A non-sentient thing is a material, a resource, or an object. This type of thing is freely available for manipulation and implementation, and cannot suffer, flourish, react reflexively to its environment, nor serve as a mirror, as a basis for vicarious experience. And from a Buddhist perspective, objectification and instrumentalization are incompatible with the brahmavihāras because, at the least, should such a category error be permitted, one could then take materials, objects, and resources as objects of karuṇā or maitrī and/or otherwise exclude certain beings as appropriate objects of brahmavihāra activity.

Harmful rituals of habit are, by definition, harmful and thus incompatible with the brahmavihāras. The costs incurred in capitulating to the impulses of appetite, to the routines of cultural coining, or to the proclivities of an unsustainable self are costs that many others, both present and future, will incur. The brahmavihāras preclude the possibility of forcing others to subsidize one’s own harmful rituals of habit.

In this postmodern milieu, it is undeniable that knowledge and power are inextricably co-imbricated. Do not, then, the brahmavihāras preclude the possibility of functioning in blanket deference to reified identities? Does not such strong attachment entail an ineluctable form of epistemic violence? However, mistaking the absence of an essential identity for the non-existence of a self is nihilism, a perspective that comes with its own forms of epistemic violence (e.g. fascism). And vicious relativism asymptotically approaches nihilism.

The question for Buddhist moderns is one of how to engage with life in ways that participate wholly in the spirit of the brahmavihāras. For example, if the standard courtship, dating, and marriage model in the USA is one that objectifies and instrumentalizes others, how can one engage in intimate, caring, and erotic relations with others in a manner that leaves aside objectification and instrumentalization? Can erotic cinema, even films that depict explicit sex, be created and consumed in ways that do not feed objectification? If so, how is it possible to foment a massive conscientious demand for such? Can one eat foods and get around town in ways that conscientiously avoid the horrors of factory farming and carbon monoxide poisoning? These are but a sliver of a fraction of the self-destructive habits that are likely to force hardship on future others, habits that are unambiguously diametric to the commitments one makes when shaping oneself according to the brahmavihāras.

Buddhist moderns: to what extent are each of the various widespread attitudes and habits that you participate in (and therefore bolster/proliferate) transgressions of samaya? To what extent is this aspect or that of your lifestyle an infraction, breach, or violation? And your ongoing, willful indulgence despite insights and understanding gleaned from the dharma, is that not a complete break?

Friday, June 21, 2013

You, Her/Him, and Another: A Thought Experiment

Following is a thought experiment designed to illuminate how monogamy compels us to wield mere information as a weapon against both ourselves and others, inflicting deep and long lasting harm. The thought experiment makes use of four nearly identical scenarios. Each scenario involves three individuals: You, Him/Her, and Another. You, is you dear reader. Him/Her is somebody that you are dating or have dated and Another is someone with whom Him/Her has, at some point, a one-night stand. In each of the four scenarios that follows the individuals and the one-night stand itself are identical.


Scenario #1—Once Upon a Time

You have been dating Him/Her for about five months when the question of past experiences arises. Your lover tells you that they’ve only had one one-night stand in their life. The one-stand in question is, of course, the same one that features in all four scenarios. Your lover tells you that it was about two months before the two of you met, that it took place between Him/Her and Another after meeting at a pub, and that both of them really enjoyed the experience. Nevertheless, they did not get close and only maintained casual contact. After hearing of this interesting but innocuous past experience, you file it away as a mere piece of trivia, a matter of getting to know your partner better.

Scenario #2—Devastating Overlap

Scenarios #1 and #2 are identical with the exception of timing. You have been dating the same individual as in #1, only this time for about a year. In this scenario too your lover divulges the self-same information: the exact same one-night stand with the same sex took place between Him/Her and Another after they met at the same pub. It was, as with #1, a good experience but there remained only minimal contact (and no physical relationship) between them. In this scenario too the one-night stand took place seven months ago. In other words, it took place while you were dating. You are devastated, crushed, broken-hearted. Your emotions shoot up to level 10 and you careen forth and back between despair, fury, regret, vengeance, self-doubt, self-righteousness, and more. You are equally physically impacted: shaking, crying, yelling, destroying things, binge eating or not eating at all, returning to old vices, etc. Despite Him/Her’s assurances that there is genuine and deep love for you—and despite ample evidence over the past year in support of these assurances—you terminate the relationship.

Scenario #3—The New-Love Shield

Scenario #3 has the same three individuals with the exact same one-night stand. In this scenario, you had been dating Him/Her for one year. After a year or so, however, the relationship was dissolved with more than mild drama and hurt feelings on both sides. Whatever contact you have had since has quickly devolved into fighting. But it’s been four months since the breakup and you have a new lover that you are enthralled with. Him/Her, of course, does not know this. To spite you, your ex sends an email detailing a one-night stand—the very same one-night stand as in the other two scenarios above—that evidently happened between Him/Her and Another the night just prior to this email after they met at a pub. It was, as the email tells it, an altogether enjoyable experience for both Him and Her. You are ecstatic about your new relationship and are more or less unaffected by the email. You write it off as a juvenile attempt to wound you and you have no trouble putting it out of mind.

Scenario #4—The Vulnerability Lens

Scenario #4 is identical to #3 with the exception that, in the four months since the break up, you haven’t been dating. There is no one new in your life. There is no new lover that makes you feel special and who is a source of ongoing happiness. This time when you receive the email detailing the one-night stand between Him/Her and Another that took place only one night prior it cuts to the bone. It hurts deeply and your emotions careen forth and back between despair, fury, regret, vengeance, self-doubt, self-righteousness, and more.


1. two wildly different interpretations of the same data

In all four scenarios, you were dating someone who gave you some information about him- or herself: at some point there was a one-night stand with Another. In each case the one-night stand is exactly the same: Him/Her met at the same place, had the same sex, enjoyed it to the same degree, and maintained the same minimal level of Platonic contact afterwards. In the first scenario, hearing of the one-night stand had little effect. In this first case, hearing of the event and hearing that it was a fulfilling experience caused no hurt. You were perhaps even a little happy for your lover. The second scenario, however, is radically different from the first. Even though, in both scenarios, the exact same one-night stand took place seven months before your lover tells you about it, the information is a mere curiosity in the first case and the source of excruciating pain in the second. What is the difference? The difference, of course, is not in the material conditions. Those are identical in both scenarios. The difference is in how you interpret the meaning, value, and significance of the information. The same amount of time has passed, the same people are involved, and you came to learn about it in the same way. Nevertheless, in the first scenario you interpret the data, the new information, as largely irrelevant and you simply file it away in your brain under “facts about my lover.” In the second scenario you interpret the same data as not only relevant but of paramount importance. In fact, given the overwhelming evidence that points to Him/Her’s genuine love for you—a love that is unquestionably felt in return—you make the single most important thing in determining the destiny of the relationship NOT any of the myriad things shared and exchanged between You and Him/Her, but instead something between Him/Her and Another. Let's be clear: once the monogamous contract/ultimatum is in place, once exclusivity has become the wellspring of meaning, value, and significance, then betrayal of that agreement is a heinous act and cannot be other than devastating. The point here is not that, given a monogamous relationship, You could interpret the information about Him/Her and Another in some benign fashion. The point is that the mutual bind itself—that mutual contract You and Him/Her force upon one another in the standard monogamous relationship—forces this interpretation and prohibits any others; it thus skews the relationship heavily toward the resulting devastation. But this mutual bind is not natural, necessary, or even beneficial. The core agreement in monogamy is mutual control over each other’s body. As such, one of the most severely defective characteristics of monogamy is that it makes the most important thing about love a matter of what each person does outside of the relationship. This, of course, automatically breeds paranoia, insecurity, and possessiveness. What’s worse, it makes physical contact with any others trump all else in meaning, value, and significance: an interpretation that makes an event that lasted less than three hours trump all that has been shared and exchanged in your relationship over the course of a year.

2. mistaken identity in the chain of cause and effect

It is common for us to lament our situation when we’ve been cheated on and ask, “how could he/she do this to me?” And, again, let’s be clear: in the case of monogamy where the very heart of the relationship is a promise of exclusivity, there is little in this world more fucked up than stepping all over your relationship and your lover/spouse’s very emotional/social/physical well being (sometimes irreparably) by betraying someone’s trust to satisfy carnal cravings. This thought experiment is NOT a defense of infidelity. This exercise in hypotheticals is designed to show the incoherence of monogamy.* Digressions about how heinous cheating is aside, the sentiment “how could he/she do this to me?,” contains a fundamental error in its logic. The actual sex act that constitutes the one-night stand in each of the four scenarios may be the direct cause of many things (such as an STD) but it is NOT the direct cause of the pain and suffering endured in scenarios #2 and #4. The erotic contact between the two bodies did not yield the woe. This is clear in #2 owing to the fact that you felt nothing at all when the one-night stand was actually unfolding. While Him/Her and Another were having sex, you were at home cuddled up with an engrossing book, or you were with friends playing cards, or you were at the movies with your mom… or, more than likely, you have no idea exactly what you happened to be doing while they were having sex. It wasn’t the material conditions of the one-night stand that caused hurt, pain, and suffering. It was the mere information itself. It is the sheer idea of Him/Her having sex with another. Now, some might want to object and say that the duplicity that kept the one-night stand a secret for seven months does not mean that it wasn’t the one-night stand itself that caused the harm. As soon as you were aware of the betrayal the damage was done: if there was no act of infidelity, there would be no damage. Therefore, you might want to say, it must be a primary cause of the hurt. But this is clearly not true. If we consider yet another scenario, one in which there NEVER WAS a one-night stand but, owing to the paranoia, possessiveness, and insecurity mentioned above, you somehow become erroneously yet utterly convinced that, while dating you, Him/Her had a one-night stand with Another after meeting at a pub, then the same insufferable consequences follow. The mere idea of this one-night stand, even without any basis in reality, can still cause the exact same outcome. It is you who, in the first scenario, fold up this information like a scrap of paper and stick it in the back pocket of your mind. And it is also you who, in the second scenario, wield this same information against yourself as a knife to make a thousand cuts.

3. underlining the main point

The third and fourth scenarios are helpful in underlining the main point. The main point is that the attachment and insecurity at the heart of monogamy compel us to interpret events in self-damaging ways. Between the third and the fourth scenarios it is clear that the determining factor in making the information we receive harmless or harmful is our own state of mind. When we feel secure and cared for as in scenario #3 it is easy to simply dismiss the information and perhaps even feel compassion (or else pity) for our ex. When we feel self-doubt and insecurity as in scenario #4 it is easy to turn this information into a bludgeon with which to beat ourselves mercilessly. It is the way that monogamy orients us with respect to ourselves and others that drives us to interpret the simple fact of two other people having enjoyable and healthy consensual sex as something so terrible that the mere idea of it alone inflicts endless torment. It is owing to the way we connect to and prioritize our own selfish needs and wants—and it is therefore not at all love—that makes us set each other up for failure and set ourselves up for self-abuse.

*This incoherence is part of the explanation as to why, despite nearly universal consensus that infidelity is a repulsive act, it still is universal enough to transcend language and culture, political views, age, race, gender, etc.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Eros as Sexual Anarchism

anarchism—non-centralized social organization by virtue of free association of individuals instead of by compulsion

While our sexuality has been subject to complex ecosystems of governance that function through microeconomies of power that are most highly condensed when intersecting within institutions such as the state and the church/synagogue/mosque—and in its condensation as it flows to and from those other "institutions" such as the family and medicine—eros would be something else.  In promulgating eros, I seek not the reconfiguration of institutional controls but instead a sort of fecund sexual anarchism.  

Eros seeks not to include yet one more group within the dysfunctional morass of the heteronormal domestic model.  Instead it seeks to make this standard model unfamiliar, strange, and undesirable.  It seeks to shed this model like dead skin.  In lieu of this model it seeks: not any single thing.  To render the standard model defunct by virtue of making it alien, archaic, barbaric to our sensibilities will open up the ground of possibility for eros: as of yet unknown practices of bodily intimacy that are permeated as much by an unreason created/permitted anew as by a nonce reason that makes use of organizational principles and conceptual structures but which takes nothing for granted as natural, necessary, primary, foundational, or essential.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Weber, the prophet

Western rationalism is constantly inventing newer and better means; it has, however, ever less to say about goals and ends. This is not the only reason that Weber looks upon [so-called] development with ambivalence. Advisedly, he invariably places the word "progress" in quotation marks. Part of Weber’s diagnosis of modernity is an unmistakable pessimism about the possibilities of individual freedom. The "fateful forces" of modern life, [scientism], bureaucratization and capitalism, seem more to threaten than to promote human freedom and autonomy. Weber’s somber words in his book The Protestant Ethic are famous:

"No one yet knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals; or, if neither of these, then mechanized petrifaction, embellished by a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the 'last men' of this final stage of cultural development, it might well be truly said: ‘Narrow specialists without minds, pleasure seekers without heart; in their conceit, these nullities imagine they have climbed to a level of humanity never before attained."

(Christian Schwaabe of the Goethe Institute; translation by Jonathan Uhlaner)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

What is it that you experience when looking in a mirror?  Do you see yourself?  Do you see yourself in a virtual room behind the wall?  Do you see yourself in this room behind the wall looking back at yourself?  Would you consider the space of the mirror a utopia: an unreal place full of ideal forms?  Would you consider it a heterotopia: a space "different" (hetero-) from but related to virtually all other spaces; a sort of enacted utopia outside of, yet in tension with, all other spaces?

The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal,virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent: such is the utopia of the mirror. But it is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy. From the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there. Starting from this gaze that is, as it were, directed toward me, from the ground of this virtual space that is on the other side of the glass, I come back toward myself; I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am. The mirror functions as a heterotopia in this respect: it makes this place that I occupy at the moment when I look at myself in the glass at once absolutely real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is over there. (Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces")

Sexuality is that mixed-topos of the mirror: both u-topic and hetero-topic: both a “non-place” place populated by ideal forms and an “other-place” place that is “a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real site, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.” Objectifying myself, taking myself as an object that will offer itself to me to be known, I myself know myself reflexively by making use of a third-party surface that can reflect me back to me. So I objectify knowable, and indeed already-known, others. 

What’s more, knowing these others knows them as having an essential worth. I thus place myself into a moral relation of other-cherishing and/or other-loathing so that, within or against these others, I might “see myself [over] there where I am not.” In knowing the other, in other-cherishing and/or other-loathing, I can know myself and thus cherish or loathe myself in kind. In knowing myself as within, as of, the other I cherish myself if I cherish this other and loathe myself if I loathe this other. In knowing myself over and against the other, I can cherish, loathe, be ambivalent, or be indifferent to my sense of difference or exclusion. 

Of course, in these self-reflexive epistemological methods of self-knowing/valuation, I am not seeing any particular other in his or her singularity. The others that I draft into my processes of self-making are all instances of some idealized other, a reflective surface that shows me to me as though in a mirror: “in an unreal virtual space that opens up behind the surface.” My sexual self that appears in a virtual room that stretches out behind the wall is thus “a sort of shadow [a doppelgänger] that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent.” This is sexuality as utopia.

Of course, the ideals that the singular other instantiates are hardly products of my fancy.  These ideals are the deeply entrenched and rather recalcitrant grids of intelligibility, the dispositif, against which I make sense of my world and within which my life is enmeshed.  Thus, the mirror that is this other is not utterly ideal, it “does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I [actually] occupy.”  This is sexuality as heterotopia.  

Through sexuality, functioning heterotopically, I discover my absence from “the place where I am,” viz. in the utopic space of the mirror, as I see myself in an “over there” that is “back here,” in the real space of my room, facing a mirror.  “Starting from this gaze that is, as it were, directed toward me, from the ground of this virtual space that is on the other side of the glass, I come back toward myself” and “I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am.”  Thus sexuality, as a mirror is a mixed-topos experience.  It “makes this place that I occupy at the moment when I look at myself in the glass at once real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is over there.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Two Cats, Two Kō'ans

So you're familiar with Schrödinger's cat, right?  In brief, Schrödinger uses a cat to illustrate a bizarre reality that quantum mechanics points to.  He places the cat in a box-like trunk with a vile of poison that is connected to a timer.  Once the timer runs out of time, the vile is shattered and the cat will die.  He closes the lid of the trunk and starts the timer.  Here's the thing: the amount of time on the timer is determined randomly by a computer and nobody, including Schrödinger knows what it is.  It could be 1 second or it could be 100 years.

With the lid closed and with no clue how much time is on the timer, there is no way to know whether the cat is dead or alive inside the trunk.  According to quantum mechanics, however, the question of the cat's state—alive or dead (mutually exclusive states, mind you)—is not a valid question, the situation is indeterminate until an observation is made.  While the trunk remains closed and we remain outside speculating and placing bets, the cat is not alive.  It is not dead.  It is not both alive and dead.  It is not neither alive nor dead. This four-fold indeterminacy is the case, is the fact of the matter according to quantum mechanics, up until such a time that an observation is made.  Making an observation forces the state of the cat to resolve itself into one of the two mutually exclusive conditions.  Then and only then is the cat found to be either alive or dead.  As long as the box remains closed, however, the cat is literally not alive, not dead, not both, and not neither.

Thus quantum mechanics provides an actual answer to the age-old question: if a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to witness it, does it make a sound?  The answer from the perspective of QM?  Your question is bogus.  Until there is an observation there is no sound.  But that is not because sound is only sound if someone hears it.  Instead that is because, until an observation is made, the forest, the tree, the falling, and the physical properties of all of these (such as sounds) are all in an indeterminate state as long as there has been no observation.  The fallen tree does not exist.  It does not not-exist.  It does not both exist and not-exist.  It does not not-exist and does not not-not-exist.

I think that Schrödinger's cat makes a fine Zen kō'an.

Today I read these fascinating kō’ans in Jin Y. Park’s book Buddhism and Postmodernity.  The first one also involves the tragic fate of a cat [translation modified slightly for effect]:

Nanquan saw monks of the Eastern and Western halls quarreling over a cat. He held up the cat and said, “If you can give me an answer, one genuine truth, you will save the cat. If not, I will kill it.” No one answered. Without hesitating, Nanquan cut the cat in two.

In my mind, this kō’an is fascinating for myriad reasons.  But there's two in particular that caught my attention: (1) the violence to the cat and (2) the use of and impact of indirect discourse (assuming that the monks have just received an extraordinary teaching). The two, of course, are intertwined.

Here’s my take on the kō'an:

1. By virtue of the force with which they were employing words, it was clear that each side in the argument believed their words were right and true. Further, since the words of the opposing contingent of monks were spoken in opposition, each side was asserting the additional belief in a dualistic truth and falsity that these words were vehicles for. Yet when called to give a truly correct or right word, they both failed. When the stakes were minimal, they bought into the veracity of their own conceptions with gusto and quarreled, creating a problem. When the stakes were high (and only so as a consequence of the situation the monks themselves created), their conceptions and verbalizations thereof were completely impotent.

2. Each had mistaken the presence of the cat as a source of suffering, as a source of angst, as the source of a problem. In fact, each of the monks themselves were sources of a faux misery blown out of proportion and treated as though “part of the world.” They had been affecting distress with each other over the cat. When the cat, a source of possible joy and a proper object of compassion, is killed they are exposed to genuine misery, to real distress. By inadvertently killing the cat and by seeing the cat killed, the monks experience true distress.

Interestingly, a different source gives an extended version whereby a monk named Zhaozhou returns to the monastery shortly after the cat is killed. When he returns Nanquan recounts the incident. When Nanquan gets to the part where he himself gives the monks the ultimatum, where he says, “If you can give me an answer, one genuine truth, you will save the cat...” Zhaozhou immediately takes off one of his grass-made sandals and puts it on top of his head and walks away. Nanquan sighs to himself, “ah... if you’d been here you would have saved the cat.”

This seems to support my hypothesis. In response to the teaching that was making use of indirect discourse to convey its message Zhaozhou offers indirect discourse as a means of providing a viable answer without falling into the trap set by Nanquan:

3. The master, having asked for even one genuinely true word or genuinely correct statement, had asked for the impossible. Truth is not conveyed by language which necessarily operates by virtue of treating as identical that which is clearly singular. But even some sort of statement such as, “master, genuine truth cannot be conveyed by words,” would not have saved the cat. For that assertion too is so much language drawing on a mammoth epistemological framework for its coherence and cogency. What would’ve saved the cat would’ve been a response that, while not invoking language, nevertheless carried with it the force of the inadequacy of language to convey genuine truths. Zhaozhou’s response was just such a response.

4. In thinking about this kō’an, it strikes me that the power of indirect discourse is in what it illuminates, highlights, conveys, exposes, and ‘opens up’ by way of the choices and exclusions that it makes and in the communicative forms that it attempts and resists. A similar such ko’an is one wherein a master replies to a question with a forceful yet indirect answer [modified slightly for effect]:

A monk asks Zhaozhou: “Ten thousand things return to one. To where does this one thing return?”
Zhaozhou replies: “When I stayed in Qinzhou, I washed my robes, which when wet weighed seven pounds.”

The monk in this case seems to be asking about ultimate reality. This kind of metaphysical speculation is a snare. So the much more enlightened Zhaozhou embarrasses the monk’s investment in this kind of question by offering as an answer, as a legitimate answer and not a redirect or distraction or irrationalist response, an account of an everyday experience he had in a specific location at a specific time. This strikes me as potent indirect discourse and an incredible lesson in ethical praxis. What do you think? And what about the poor cat?!?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

on an instance of collusion between knowledge and power

*On Facebook today I shared a story about a Georgia Federal District Court ruling against a woman named Jennifer Keeton who, in her personal and professional life (as a counselor-to-be) refused to pretend that she didn't believe that homosexuality was a disorder that required treatment (reparative therapy).  Her refusal got her kicked out of her master's program at Augusta State University.
My good friend Sean Lemson asked how I felt about "it."  Whether he meant the ruling, the story, the nature versus nurture debate or otherwise, I decided to post here and answer a question that Sean didn't really ask.
Sean, here is a quick and dirty response to the question of what I think about it.  My feelings on the matter are more complicated and harder to put words to.  ;)

power-knowledge in the news

Sean, I think it is an interesting collusion between “medical specialists” and “legal power.” This woman has been told that she is not to bring her moral prejudices into her work when, in reality, her field (psychology) is nothing other than moral prejudice. It just so happens that her moral position conflicts with the most recent authorized positions. Of course, the psychologist’s bible, the DSM, considered homosexuality a mental disorder up until 1980. An interesting question is this: to what extent is Keeton’s position truly conflicting with that of psycho-science?

At the precise moment that “homosexuality” was removed from the DSM, “gender identity disorder” was added. An authority on this “disorder” for a long time was a psychiatrist named Richard Green, whose book The Sissy Boy Syndrome was considered gospel, or at the least it commanded a good deal of respect. The point is, the current edition of the DSM-IV considers “sissy boys” to be mentally disordered. As Green insists that sissyhood is key to boys growing up to be gay men, it is hard not to see “gender identity disorder” as, at least in part, a strategic shift away from reparative therapy (too little, too late) to preemptive therapy.

It seems to me that the judge did not rule against Keeton because she was bringing moral judgments based on faulty metaphysics into her work in counseling people. He ruled against her because, in his opinion, the moral judgments based on faulty metaphysics that are brought into counseling sessions should be tightly controlled by the self-appointed self-governing authorities of psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis (such as that of the credential-conferring institution that took punitive measures in response to her defiance). However capricious, flawed, or even dangerous the governing bodies of psychology/counseling/clinical therapy might be, the judge made it clear that it is nevertheless enforced by the power of the state. Shiver inducing, no?