Concerning the Legality of Human Levitation

I recently began a course called the Sociology of Sexualities, one of the books assigned for the course is Sexuality written by Jeffrey Weeks. In it, he discusses a new way of talking about sexualities.

Nothing is sexual, Plummer suggested, but the naming makes it so (Plummer 1975). If this is the case, it follows that we need to move gingerly in applying the dominant Western definitions to non-Western cultures. Both the significance attributed to sexuality and attitudes to the various manifestations of erotic life vary enormously… 

As a I free-associated for a moment, after reading that, I arrived at the notion of the legality of homosexuality in certain regions of the globe. First, I set aside my emotional response to the existence of these laws, and examined them passively for a moment. I do not believe it is too controversial an argument to say that the existence of these laws is the result of homosexuals being perceived by the general culture, and those in power, as being a deviant minority, which threaten certain aspects of the cohesive society where all members reside. I began to think about the homosexual members of this society, and how they must feel when they first exhibit desires to perform actions that they’re society considers punishable by death.

One important aspect of this class is that we are considering sexuality to be socially constructed:

…the forces that shape and mould the erotic possibilities of the body vary from society to society. ‘Sexual socialization,’ Ellen Ross and Rayner Rapp wrote in the early stages of this historicizing of sexuality, ‘is no less specific to culture than is socialization to ritual, dress, or cuisine.’ …

Weeks continues:

I do not wish to deny the importance of biology. The physiology and morphology of the body provides the preconditions for human sexuality. Biology conditions and limits what is possible. But it does not cause the patterns of sexual life. We cannot reduce human behavior to the mysterious workings of the DNA… I prefer to see biology in a set of potentialities, which are transformed and given meaning, only in social relationships.

So in returning to this hypothetical homosexual man, living in a society that punishes homosexuality by death, I began to wonder what social forces led to his homosexuality. His existence seems, in this way, to provide evidence for a biological cause for his state of being homosexual. But then in all cultures, to my understanding, all people are subject to variability, not just biologically speaking.

But I am not so much concerned with this person’s homosexuality, as much as I am with the notion of his homosexuality being illegal. This, I believe is really the heart of the issue. People may be whatever they are, inherently or otherwise, but this only becomes significant when it bumps up against the construction of our society. So, I started to think, what if something were illegal that no-one was even physically capable of. There have been a few documented cases of levitation that some monks are able to accomplish through intensive meditation, but for the most part the laws of gravity are pretty definite for the rest of us. Nevertheless, what if a state were to pass a law that banned levitation? The question is more or less rhetorical because what I really mean to point to is the idea of deviance to begin with. I think I may have had this idea in my head that laws were made for breaking, which translates to the idea that social pressures against any sort of behavior lead to the existence of those behaviors through an unconscious, almost Freudian, kind of rebellion against society.

There is also a reason the idea of making human levitation illegal is inconceivable, and that is because we all understand the purpose of laws. On the surface, it seems that they exist to regulate and organize society, but in fact all of us do that on a daily basis without need for a law-book in our back-pocket. The laws exist to collectively organize the understanding of the values held by those in power. Of course, I don’t really mean to say that with such force, I am speaking specifically of what Emile Durkheim would call Repressive Law. In other words, we can get a glimpse at the nature of society by looking at the laws the society creates. Because there is no-one in the society who levitates, there would never be any laws concerning levitation.

I guess I’m not really sure what I am arguing then. Mostly I’m just trying to combine my reading on Emile Durkheim with my reading on Sexuality, but I’m not sure where this leaves me. Does all this mean that by creating laws that outlaw homosexuality, those governments are in a way affirming the existence of homosexuality and thus participating in its continuance? Or does it mean that homosexuality is innate, and no social construct can successfully repress it? Or perhaps, rather, it means that by creating this notion of deviance, the society is actually creating rigid, categories that create a psychological profile for this hypothetical ‘homosexual’ as the result of simple variation in his biological sexual preference. In reality, the truth of his biology is probably much more complex and amorphous, or maybe it isn’t.

I guess, really, what I am left thinking is how absurd the idea of determining “deviance” truly is. It does not take the ordinary web-searcher very long to find contradictions to today’s notion of deviance in the world’s history. Was Lincoln gay? Pederasty in ancient Greece? Anal-sex between heterosexual couples in ancient Chile? When it comes to social mores, to make the “popular” opinion the gold-standard only makes sense because that’s the unfortunate fact of how power works.

I guess deviance is kind of a paradox. Nothing is really “deviant,” but, like sexuality, the naming makes it so.

Remembering what it means to be an undergrad. Yes, I’m an amateur Sociologist, sue me.

Posted in Blogging, Sociology by Preston on January 24th, 2013

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