Thursday, March 26, 2009

Perversity vs. Perversion

Never mind why, but I've been thinking about easily confused words. Among them are the words "perversity" versus "perversion." And I think I've discovered a connection between them.

Something perverted is called a perversion. On the other hand, perversity is the quality of something being perverse. This is an interesting distinction between two very similar and, one might suppose, closely related words. But they don't mean the same thing.

You may speak appreciatively of something being perverse - though your appreciation is probably a little perverse itself. But calling someone a pervert expresses the purest and deepest disapproval, without a shred of sympathy. Perversity is something we all put up with in the world of careers, politics, and popular entertainment; in the right frame of mind, we can even laugh at it. But perversion makes us shudder: something outside the bounds of our everyday expectations, something from which we want to insulate ourselves and our loved ones.

But there are desires that can be both perverse and perverted. And that is where the two words intersect. A desire is perverse when, the moment the object of desire is obtained, it becomes undesirable. Or, when gratification destroys what it desires. The same desire becomes perverted when you actually enjoy the perversity of it. In other words, perversion is the compulsive gratification of a self-defeating wish.

This particular play on words has been growing on my mind for a while. Why? Perhaps because I spend so much time on the internet. A lot of perversity is on display out here; as is every shape, size, and color of perversion. Some of both can be viewed for free. But make no mistake; there's a price tag on every page of perversion.

Is it harsh to speak in these terms? I don't think so. People who go looking for it can easily find, for example, kiddie porn online - some free, some pay-per-view. But it's always costly. Every dirty photo on those pages destroys the innocence of a child. And every viewing of it feeds an adult's addiction to a perverse desire. What attracts him is that child's innocence, but by the time his desire is gratified, the innocence has been lost, the child has become an object, and the object has lost its appeal. It is a self-defeating wish (perverse) which feeds on itself until the user is enslaved (perverted).

Kiddie porn is only the most obvious example. Few people, I think, will argue with what I have just said. But the crowd that agrees with the monster puppet from Avenue Q ("The internet is for porn!") may be less inclined to agree when I say that all pornography is perverted. It stands to reason, though.

Lusting after a porn actor or actress must be an awfully frustrating passtime. Once you see them doing what they do, it is difficult imagining them to be what you really and naturally desire. The moment the zipper goes down, he destroys the image you cherish of him being a kind and honorable lover; or she deletes herself from the cast of your deepest fantasy of the girl whose virtue and devotion you would die to protect. Even gay porn fans must come away disappointed after seeing the same-sex sex god of their dreams revealed as just another cheap trick - demeaned, debased, dehumanized.

The desire that draws viewers to internet porn is perverse. The hook that draws them back more and more frequently is perversion. The internet provides abundant, cheap (if not free), and relatively confidential opportunities to indulge in it. It's like a drug dealer passing out free samples of crack. The very medium of the internet is structured to grow a crop of perverts who, when they can no longer get the high it first gave them, seek it first through ever larger doses - increasingly long sessions, scenarios of greater and greater intensity - until it bursts out of the boundaries of "free time" and "recreation" and takes over other areas of their life. And they seek it, secondly, through other and stronger drugs. So getting off on porn leads to more overt acts, such as displays of public lewdness, peeping, stalking, possibly escalating to rape and more violent crime.

Does this necessarily happen? No. But so many habitual, violent criminals can trace the beginnings of their trouble to an addiction to porn that it has to be considered a factor. Joyfully embracing perversity can lead to perversion. Appreciating the misbehavior of others can lead to misbehavior. Squelching the voice of conscience that says, "This is wrong" - or even taking a perverse pleasure in going against that voice, engaging in titillating fantasies of a world without moral scruples while riding the high of going against one's own - ends with that voice of conscience muffled to the point of inaudibility, and one's behavior unchecked by any scruples whatever.

Perversely, this bondage, this slavery, this addiction, is promoted as a kind of freedom. Perversely, this infantile fascination with bodily functions, this childish undisciplined rush to gratify every desire without countenancing a "no" answer, is described as "adult" entertainment. Perversely, this sop to the lowest instincts of our race, this repetitive and unchanging drivel, is presented as a matter of "choice" and "expression," while any movement to oppose it is characterized as mean-spirited, close-minded, deterministic, and unenlightened.

I can prove by reason, any number of ways, that pornography is perverse. But that is not damning, in itself. The question of the hour is: Is it a perversion? And that can only be assessed in light of the harm pornography does. How has it damaged the individual dignity of those who perform in it? How has it damaged the integrity of those who deal in it? How has it damaged the health, family lives, careers, and citizenship of those who use it? How has it affected society as a whole, its attitudes towards women, their attitudes toward themselves? How has it contributed to the suffering of the victims of sex crime and other social disorders? Since the freedom of speech has been extended to protect pornography (within certain limits), has porn contributed to the erosion of our liberties? In how many ways has this form of recreation increased the stress level of our entire culture?

I'm not saying, "There oughtta be a law." I'm just pointing out a linguistic distinction. One has to appreciate the perversity of a system that protects pornography, while pornography attacks that system. But be careful! If you enjoy perversity, for its own sake, you might - just possibly - become a pervert.

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