The paranoid imagination seeks itself: it constantly projects its unacceptable fantasies outward. This is the only way some people can see (and potentially know) themselves: in the image of the demonized Other. In such a world of repressed desire, this is the only avenue open to healing.
Seventeenth-Century Protestants believed that both salvation and perdition fell on them as individuals. Yet paradoxically, the entire community might suffer for one person’s sins. So each person was responsible for upholding group morality. Individual sin polluted, with consequences for all New England. Ministers addressed condemned criminals (and by implication everyone else) with “execution sermons”:
You must be cut off by a violent and dreadful death. For indeed the anger of the Lord would fall upon this whole Country where your sin hath been committed, if you should be suffered to live.
They expressed their unending anxiety with this question: What will happen to us all if we allowed them to sin? What did the Puritans repress? How do we know our contemporary Puritans? As far back as 403 B.C., the Greek tragedian Euripides was already considering these themes in The Bacchae, where the hyper-puritan King Pentheus admits to his fantasy:
… if I climbed that towering fir…then I could see their shameless orgies better.
He climbs the tree, high up in the air of detached observation, far from the ground of being, the ground of the body, the humus; and so he calls forth his own humiliation, indeed, the destruction of his judgmental, puritan identity.
The most extreme of these gatekeepers of public morality take the voyeurism one important step further. It is not simply desire, but images of desire, that they project upon the Other. We find so many examples of such bizarre and intimately detailed moralizing that we must ask, what are they so afraid of? Indeed, what do they actually desire? Don’t those images come from their own fevered imaginations?
The clues to the real issues are in the Puritan’s own fantasies. In 1889, one firebrand ranted against babysitters who allegedly allowed children to masturbate: “…the crime could hardly have been worse had the nurse…cut the throats of those innocent children…” This person didn’t find that image; he invented it.
Why are we so obsessed not simply with defining smut and sin, but with describing it? And what are we so afraid of? James Hillman answers: “The free-flow of fantasy images. We don’t know where the fantasy might go.” It might take us out of our comfort zone, the zone of control. “After all,” writes John Jervis, “…sex represents the opposite of mastery of the body: an irrational subordination to the body…”
But the more images are controlled, the more we are obsessed with them and the more they demand recognition (“to think about again”). In 1991 the Supreme Court agreed that Indiana could close a private club that advertised nude dancing. Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion:
The purpose of Indiana’s nudity law would be violated…if sixty thousand fully consenting adults crowded into the Hoosier Dome to display their genitals to one another, even if there were not an offended innocent in the crowd.
Would Puritans be so disturbed by naked dancing if the act didn’t already exist in their imagination? Nobody prodded Scalia to visualize sixty thousand adults displaying their genitals. His imagination produced them. Similarly, Presidential contender Rick Santorum (don’t google “Santorum”!) muses:
If the Supreme Court says that you have a right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy…to polygamy… to incest…to adultery. You have the right to anything!..That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog…
Santorum doesn’t approve of gays in the military either, because “They’re in close quarters, they live with people, they obviously shower with people.”
Indeed. Don’t they care so deeply about these images because they can’t stop thinking about them? But here is their dilemma: they can’t allow their desires into awareness with a clean conscience unless they have demonized them and displaced them onto someone else. Once they have done this, they can feel entitled to communicate them in public and invite the Grand Inquisitor back.
Now I’m not so innocent as to assume that such salesmen actually thought up these images. Very likely, their speechwriters and handlers invented them. But the principle remains: these rants go out, daily, to audiences of millions who willingly consume them. The real political issue – and the real target – is the huge swath of flyover state white males who share those fantasies, and the white females who succumb to the fear of rape. And I’m not so insensitive as to imply that more than a few women – or men – secretly fantasize about being raped. Still, it’s curious that “rape,” “raptor” and “rapture” share the same etymology.
I don’t think Antonin Scalia had a speechwriter. He may have been less a charlatan than a true believer. In another Supreme Court debate in which he defended hyper-violent video games (while simultaneously condemning sex in those same video games), he argued:
So what if children’s active minds are engaged in decisions in which people are…dismembered, decapitated, disemboweled, set on fire and chopped into little pieces…Disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression.
Unless, of course, that disgust is about nudity. And – whoever actually writes this stuff – the paranoid imagination that secretly desires what it outwardly condemns appears to be nearly infinite.
How about Texas politician Cynthia Dunbar, who writes that that sending children to public schools would be like “throwing them into the enemy’s flames, even as the children of Israel threw their children to Moloch.”
The best of the fantasies coincide with the broader agenda of fear-mongering. Ted Cruz warns that Iran could set off an “Electro Magnetic Pulse” over the east coast, killing tens of millions. Mike Huckabee garnered more publicity with this one: Obama is “marching Israelis to the door of the oven” by agreeing to the Iran nuclear deal. (American Jewish supporters of Israel would do well to remember that Huckabee’s fantasy is absolutely consistent with the hugely popular “Christian Zionist” view that, come the Apocalypse, all Jews will either convert or be killed).
By 2015, as traditional forms and expressions of masculinity and white supremacy were being questioned as never before (think Caitlyn Jenner), the question of same-sex marriage was provoking both a profound fear and a major fundraising opportunity for those who troll those white males who feel powerless in this new world.
Texas senator John Cornyn argues, “It does not affect your daily life…if your neighbor marries a box turtle. But that does not mean it is right…” Cornyn’s imagination conjured pictures of inter-species marriage.
Pat Robertson wonders if a man who “likes to have sex with ducks” should be protected by hate crime legislation. Not to be outdone, Bill O’Reilly has mused about marrying ducks, goats and dolphins. Or threesomes:
Not only Lenny, but Squiggy too. All right? Or I walk in with the O’Brien twins from South Boston and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to marry me, because you’re allowing gays to get married.’
In a broken political system where most elected Democrats are too timid to criticize Israel, stand up for real gun control or defend the shrinking welfare state, the Republicans can run wild with hyperbole; their choir loves this stuff – for more reasons than they may suspect.
We could go on, and, since this is America, I will.
A disgusted South Dakota county clerk threatens to marry her dog if gay marriage passes. Arizona congressman J.D. Hayworth: “I don’t mean to be absurd about it, but I guess I can make the point of absurdity with an absurd point — I guess that would mean if you really had affection for your horse, I guess you could marry your horse.” Mike Huckabee again:
Now I wish that someone told me when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE,” Huckabee said. “I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.’
Remember Anita Bryant? “If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters.” Even non-politician celebrities get involved. Actor Jeremy Irons regrets that same-sex marriage will lead to “fathers marrying sons.”
I will grant (thank God!) that the paranoid imagination can sometimes intend to be humorous. Pastor David Vaughn writes:
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that everyone has a constitutional right to marry anyone (or anything), I have come to a huge decision. I have decided to marry bacon… don’t criticize me or be intolerant. That would be ‘ham’aphobic!
The comments about interspecies marriage are jokes, and they potentially carry a sense of good-natured debating points. But when they evoke that old question of therapeutic coercion, it gets much darker, because now they twist the idea (or the fantasy) until they claim to be the victims. Michele Bachmann:
…the public school system, they will be required to learn that homosexuality is normal, equal and perhaps you should try it. And that will occur immediately, that all schools will begin teaching homosexuality.
Theologian (and lawyer) Mat Staver accuses Obama of backing “Forced Homosexuality,” while former Texas Congressman Tom DeLay “Knows Of Secret DOJ Memo To Legalize 12 New Perversions, Including Bestiality And Pedophilia.” Alex Jones: “I’m not anti-marriage equality, but it’s a plan to make us ‘asexual humanoids.’” Conservative blogger Erick Erickson: “We can’t stop ‘Real Evil’ if we accept transgender people.”
Chris Christie: “A women’s Viagra pill will only increase lesbianism.” Glenn Beck: Hillary Clinton will be “having sex with a woman on the White House desk if it becomes popular”.
Pat Robertson accuses gays of wearing special rings to intentionally spread HIV:
There are laws…that prohibit people from discussing this particular affliction, you can tell somebody you had a heart attack, you can tell them they’ve got high blood pressure, but you can’t tell anybody you’ve got AIDS. You know what they do in San Francisco, some in the gay community there they want to get people so if they got the stuff they’ll have a ring, you shake hands, and the ring’s got a little thing where you cut your finger. Really. It’s that kind of vicious stuff, which would be the equivalent of murder.
Pastor Kevin Swanson, on what he’d do if his son married a man:
What would you do if that was the case? Here is what I would do: Sackcloth and ashes at the entrance to the church and I’d sit in cow manure and I’d spread it all over my body!…These are the people with the sores! The gaping sores! The sores that are pussy (sic) and gross and people are coming in and carving happy faces on the sores! That’s not a nice thing to do! Don’t you dare carve happy faces on open, pussy (sic) sores!
John Hagee (whose programs are broadcast on 50 radio stations and 160 TV stations) calls For “Prosecuting women who say God’s name during intercourse” and suggests that “God made all lesbians flat so they could be identified by normal people easily.”
Pastor Rick Scarborough offers a unique theory: “God would cure breast cancer if our women stopped having dirty fantasies.” A leaked Mormon guidebook explains how masturbation leads to homosexuality and crime. Reverend James David Manning asserts that “…sodomites will carry babies in their testicles for nine months and then gestate them out of their assholes before this church is closed.”
Lest I be accused of hating exclusively on America, a prominent Iranian cleric teaches that men who fantasize about other women while impregnating their wives will cause their children to be gay. It’s an interesting example, because as I have written elsewhere, there is a clear resemblance between the far-right warmongers and puritans in both Iran and the U.S.
Moving on: “Christians are being taken off the face of the earth,” radio host Rick Wiles warns. Michael Savage rants, “As they start throwing pastors in prison, you’ll see who’ll cheer them. Next we’ll get the arena and the lions…” Preacher Jack Graham says that 16 million Baptists are “prepared to go to jail” to fight the ruling. Sylvia Thompson blogs:
More and more Americans will be persecuted, prosecuted, and imprisoned as this Court ruling goes into effect…All of America will then grasp what homofascism truly means.
Another radio pastor, Tim Barton: “Yes, come out and have sex with us — have to participate. They’re going to force participation and that’s what we’re seeing around the country.”
Homofacism? Forced Homosexuality? Perhaps, in displacing leather-jacketed authoritarianism onto gays, these people (or their scriptwriters) are getting down to the real fantasies. Given half a chance, wouldn’t such men, and they are mostly men, enact the role of an angry, Old-Testament God who, unique in all of the world’s mythologies, created the entire world without a wife?
The ironies deepen: As recently as ten years ago, bestiality was legal in most of the states that banned same-sex marriage. Both the ignorance and the consequences deepen as well, writes Jordan Smith:
The federal government began funding so-called Abstinence-Only Until Marriage programs in 1981 as a way to encourage “chastity” and “self-discipline.” Since then, the feds have poured more than $2 billion into this strategy — commonly known as “ab-only” — without any proven positive effects, like delaying sexual activity or avoiding unintended pregnancy. In recent years, that funding had been in decline, in part because research…shows that the programs do not work. But in an ironic twist, they’re now making a comeback. Trump…has asked that abstinence funding be increased. And…he got his wish, enough to bring total spending on abstinence up to $100 million for 2018.
Abstaining or not, residents of the Bible Belt consistently lean the nation in consumption of gay porn.
What are they so afraid of? In 2002, Congress considered a bill to suppress the all-night dance parties, or raves, in which MDMA (“ecstasy”) is consumed. It was called – wait for it – the RAVE bill: “Reducing America’s Vulnerability to Ecstasy.” This is a long way from tribal cultures that consider ecstasy both a fundamental right as well as insurance against violence, or from the rites of Dionysus, in which, writes Christine Downing, “Ritually sanctioned ‘raving’ protected against true insanity.”
All literalists of both the right (Christian, Jewish or Muslim) or left (feminist or communist) assume no difference between fantasy and action and believe that having “lust in one’s heart,” as Jimmy Carter confessed, is the same as enacting it. But the more we recognize the reality of the psyche, the less need we have for acting out; and the less need we have to project Aphroditic or Dionysian qualities onto others.
Hillman concluded that our fundamental liberty should be the right to fantasize (ideally, through producing one’s own images, but if not, by viewing or hearing those produced by others). And that right can potentially ignite an insurrection of the imagination “…for fomenting curiosity to pry into what is concealed.” That curiosity could in time disentangle our obscene violence from bodily images, because violence is the enemy, not sexuality.
Eventually, the Paranoid Imagination may dissolve itself back into its ancestral source, what I have called the Creative Imagination. Read the myth: Psyche marries Eros. He is Aphrodite’s favorite son, the beautiful, winged youth. The story tells us that the soul, Psyche, cannot mature without union with the erotic imagination, and their daughter, the product of their union, is Voluptos (voluptuousness). Here is Paganism’s alternative to Puritanism: The end-result of soul-making is not asceticism but voluptuousness!