September 20th, 2007

ease the downward spiral

The Biblical Corruption of Lust

From the Online Etymology Dictionary

O.E. lust "desire, pleasure," from P.Gmc. *lustuz (cf. O.S., O.Fris., Du., Ger. lust, O.N. lyst, Goth. lustus "pleasure, desire, lust"), from PIE *las- "to be eager, wanton, or unruly" (cf. L. lascivus "wanton, playful, lustful;" see lascivious). In M.E., "any source of pleasure or delight," also "an appetite," also "a liking for a person," also "fertility" (of soil). Sense of "sinful sexual desire, degrading animal passion" (now the main meaning) developed in late O.E. from the word's use in Bible translations. In other Gmc. languages, the cognates of lust tend to still mean simply "pleasure." The verb is first attested c.1230, "to please, delight;" sense of "to have a strong sexual desire (for or after)" is first attested 1526 in biblical use. Lusty (c.1225) mostly has escaped the Christianization of the word; the original usage was "joyful, merry," later "full of healthy vigor" (c.1374). The sense of "full of desire" is attested from c.1400.

That's a pretty dense block of text, so let me point out a really interesting bit: apparently the word "lust" originally just meant "pleasure" (or "to delight"), and still does in most Germanic languages. The connotation of "degrading", or even "sexual", comes because that's the word they used in the early translations of the Bible to English...

So now you know who corrupted lust. It was the Bible ;-)

That would also suggest that, as of the first Biblical translations to English, the phrase "the sin of lust" would mean simply "the sin of pleasure". Which means that phrase was already so clear that they didn't have to elaborate for everybody to figure out, "ah, okay, they mean sex" :-)

I'd go check the uses of "lust", but apparently this was noticeably before the King James -- that wasn't published until 1611, and uses "lust" pretty unquestionably as meaning sex or rape, at least according to me ogling a quick online search.
steal my dreams / shatter my heart

Long post on routine and things feeling right

A first draft, stuff that's drifting through my head.


So hey, let's talk about things feeling right to people. Because I think that's important, and because I think there's some pretty basic stuff going unsaid. I'm going to leave this post public -- feel free to link to it.

As a crunchy-granola California liberal, with most of the groupthink that entails, I usually think about people's decisions in terms of "what, rationally, could cause them to do that or care about that?" It's a very comforting way for me to think about people's decisions, but it's not right, of course. Not about me, not about other people. Some people will *change* a decision because it's obviously irrational, but I'm pretty sure such people are in the minority. Mostly, people do stuff for completely irrational reasons. And y'know, that's okay. People have been doing that for millenia, so presumably there's something to it.

When things "just feel right" to people, it might be instinct. Doesn't sleeping when you're tired, or eating fatty food after hard exercise just feel right to you? I know it does to me. But it can also be that the situation is like another time when things were good, or just worked. That's not rational, but there's nothing wrong with it. It works just fine most of the time.

But it means that unfamiliar situations, even harmless or beneficial ones, usually feel wrong. Going to an unfamiliar place is usually negative. Not always -- enough good cancels out the bad. But unfamiliar is a little tinge of "feels wrong", even when things are good. And then once you're used to the place, the bad goes away and it's familiar. Again, works fine by and large.

If you look at this country about a generation ago, people had very, very predictable lives. If you lived in a small town as, say, a farmer, you did a lot of the same things day in and day out, year in and year out. There were big changes (getting old enough to start working, marriage, having kids, slowly getting weak with age) but they were expected as well, and you heard a lot about them in advance, and more importantly, they were *big deals*. Change came rarely, and with a lot of warning.

An awful lot of people are still in that mindset, and more power to them. It's comforting, in a way that a lot of our fast-lane high-tech individual rat-race "ideal" modern lifestyle can't ever be. There are generations of folks who are basically waiting to see if that "everything at high speed" thing works out for us or not, and that's also a good thing -- it might not. Honestly, my money's on "not", though we may find a variation that works okay.

But folks who are slow to change and strongly prefer the familiar have an extra little oddity... They tend to really dislike weirdness, even when it's harmless. That may be hard for us liberal Californians to fathom, and that's okay -- we are what we are, culturally. So here's my favorite example.

In a small town in Iowa, about a generation ago, you'd have to be absolutely insane to wear, say, a red foam rubber clown nose around all the time. Because people would not only look at you askance, they'd also take it as basically a personal affront unless you had some really good reason for it. Because it disrupts the routine.

It doesn't really, of course. Their routine is the same as ever, and the red clown nose doesn't cause them any direct problems. But it's unfamiliar, and that means it feels wrong. That's what Conservatives tend to mean when they use the word "unnatural" -- that something feels wrong. We liberals like to make fun of people like that. It's why we go to such lengths to do things like prove that homosexuality occurs in nature all the time -- because we're taking the word "unnatural" too literally. Infanticide is also perfectly natural, and you don't see Conservatives standing up for that one, either. "Unnatural" translates to "it feels wrong to me", which usually means "it's unfamiliar" or "it disrupts my routine."

We don't have a lot of respect for the sanctity of the familiar or the routine here. Not if it imposes limits on our behavior. And *that* is a lot of what we don't get about vague, euphemistic phrases like "family values" and "traditional values" and "conservative values", none of which are actually values in the dictionary sense. What they boil down to is "we had a perfectly good way of doing this before you showed up. Stop messing it up."

That's a bit of a fiction. They don't act that way. That's okay. We have a number of fun fictions as well -- that our way is more rational, that we're basically fair, and that we're acting on principle instead of what feels good. Really both sides are acting on what feels good rather than reasoning it out, and again, that's okay. But we need to understand that what feels good to us isn't what feels good to them. Almost by definition, we prefer having the right to do what we damn well please, while they prefer "don't mess up my routine."

That's also why liberals and conservatives suck at talking about freedom. To liberals it means "freedom to do what I want as long as it doesn't screw up somebody else", while to conservatives it means "freedom to continue living the way we have been." In other words, freedom translates to "what feels right" for both sides. Convenient, no?

So -- when you're a liberal trying to figure out how in the world a conservative got to a particular place, it's worth considering... Which position is a larger change from the American lifestyle that the folks in question think they're living? Because that's a lot of what feels right to them.
creepy men / suggestive manner

All about deviance and sinning

There's something I've observed and I'm gonna try to explain it. It's basically the difference, socially, between a deviant lifestyle and good old-fashioned sinfulness.

So why is it that Las Vegas isn't San Francisco? Las Vegas has gambling, prostitution, vast amounts of sinful money changing hands and an ever-growing stream of people from all over the world coming in to be corrupted. Yet San Francisco, which has no gambling, no organized crime, no huge tourist industry based on sinning, is still the preferred city to string on the end of a conservative religious "oh my God the country's going to Hell in a handbasket, lock up your sons and daughters" rant.

Seems weird, doesn't it? Is being gay really that much worse than prostitution, gambling, adultery plus avarice?

No, but being gay isn't really why San Francisco's so offensive. Lemme 'splain.

Las Vegas gets called Sin City. If you were to add gambling to SF, it still wouldn't be called Sin City. We don't really believe in sin.

Las Vegas is all about sin. Show up, drink, smoke, gamble, fuck, and what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. From the conservative religious point of view, they're the loyal opposition.

You know that phrase? "Loyal opposition"? It means that they act the part of the enemy in order to reinforce the system and keep the whole thing going. It's like Mardi Gras -- you show up, do all the stuff you're not allowed to do, blow off some steam, and then you're ready to go back to work on Monday, hangover or no. Without a pressure relief valve, societies fall apart. The Japanese get sloppy drunk in public then say embarrassing things to their bosses and piss in the gutters. We have outlets like Las Vegas.

So here's where SF really gets their goat -- there are very few deviants here that don't think they should be allowed to be deviants, right out in public, all the time. A lot of old-time conservatives are okay with gay people existing as long as they stay in the damn closet where they belong, as it were. The problem is Gay Pride, and Gay Marriage, and recognized Gay Civil Unions and all of these things that say, "hey, it's just fine to be gay."

Las Vegas may not have a bathhouse for cruising for gay sex (well, that I know of), but if it did you know it'd be filthy and full of people who would rather set themselves on fire than ever admit they'd set foot in the place. San Francisco had some of that, but moved on to doing the same thing proudly, right out in the open. And that's what really pisses off the religious right and their many comrades in idealism.

When you talk about disrupting the natural order of things, threatening family values and so on, that's what you're looking at. You're looking at altering the traditional situations and the traditional choices and changing things up. Las Vegas may be chock-full of sin, but it's not interested in making *every* place Las Vegas. The fact that it's exotic, scummy and far away is why it's safe for the common man, and why it's so profitable. Think of it as the red-light district to the world.

San Francisco doesn't want to be the red-light district to the world. They want to turn the whole world into a place with a little bit of red-light district mixed in. That's why a lot of the SF folk love it, and why it's so frightening to the conservatives. And given just how much the governmental stance on gay rights has changed in the last twenty years, apparently they're right to be afraid.

And at the risk of a little more empathy than is comfortable -- that's what the really extreme folks mean when they talk about "our kind" (hello, fellow Bay Areans!) being in league with the terrorists. Not that we're specifically allied with that group of Arabs. That's ridiculous and everybody involved knows it. What they mean is, we're attempting to be a threat to their way of life.

And you know what? We are. We want to do what we want to do, and if that means they see things in the street they don't like, screw 'em. That's what we're okay with, and that's what they're afraid of.

I wonder if either side is especially right or wrong. As far as I can tell, neither is. I selfishly like the side that allows freaks, though. Go freak rights!