Use Your Words
It seems we haven't visited in a while and I'd like to apologize for that. I've been buried under piles of books and travel schedules with long layovers and summer vacations that you most definitely will need a vacation from.
I've also been diving deeper into the perspectives of Foucault and how they shape our perception and I think I'd like to share a little bit more about that today, with you, if you will have it.
Because you are here I think it safe to assume that you live in a modern country, probably westernized, probably democratic, probably "secular". I say "secular" because I have spent the last few hours talking about the repackaging of Christian morals into the secular context and used as an excuse to outgroup other religions and legalize behaviors that do not fit into this very clinically "secular" agenda. The concept of making polygamous marriage invalid, all the while allowing companies like Chick-fil-a and Hobby Lobby to deny spousal benefits to gay couples, and excusing the exception of death benefits left to a legally married LGBTQIAX+ person by an insurance company... those things are not coincidences and they do not speak to the term "secular" in the way it implies.
But my writing today is not about religious imposition in this arena, though admittedly, there is. The story for me, begins in the narrative of The History of Sexuality and it's sometimes direct opposition to Freudian perspectives on sex. A tiny bit of background, as we have to understand more about Foucault's ideas before I can explain how sex and sexual behavior become integrated.
In our world- yours and mine- we teach children to communicate. The sit in the high chair and we exaggeratedly mouth "MAH-MAH" three hundred times until one day it comes out! As orchestrated by fairies, the child's first word is your made-up name and you taught it to them and all you want is to show-and-tell everyone around you. MAMA. MAMA. MAMA. There is power to those words. Once tiny Tim is toddling but doesn't know the use of language, tantrums start and there you are again: "Use your words". Maybe the word was "fuck you" but we don't teach that, either. In preschool when a tiny hits another tiny we say "we don't do that to our friends", we say, "we ask them to give the toy back". And we frame the idea that words have power. Because they do.
Words have so much power that we built an entire political system out of speeches, debates and arguments, and the people get the ultimate word.
They have so much power that when someone posts an angry post on the internet, even one that offends people, their instinct is to protect their right to "free speech" more than to apologize to those they hurt. In fact, SO MUCH power that there are millions of people across the globe right now writing. a. blog. post. just. like. this. about. their. opinions.
Well Foucault says, that's a very convenient thing to teach people. Imagine a world where you look at your child in the eyes and ask if they broke the thing they broke and they bow their head down in shame. Then they say yes, because you have already told them how disappointed lies make you. A world where over 80% of convictions are linked to an admission of guilt.
We frame confession as a means to lightness, that when we are hiding something it weighs on us- we teach our kids that self expression comes and can only come in and through our truths: we are nothing if not the naming of our actions- you are not gay unless you call yourself gay, you are not artistic unless you claim your art. After all, how could anyone know if we don't tell them? (I WANT TO BE SEEEEEN)
How else to get your entire population to spew every perspective, opinion, alliance, fear, hope, anger; what better way to monitor them, than to make them responsible for their own confession. And where does the concept of confession for salvation ultimately come from? You see how the "secular" world we live in is entirely not so?
When it comes to sex, Freud discussed that the subconscious, and subconscious sexual desires, naturally wanted to make their way to the surface. He warned that repressed sexuality would bubble up from the depths and make itself seen. Foucault, instead, says that the concept of "hidden" was made up all along. Sexuality is not hidden. It has never been hidden. It is nuanced, implied, it is graphic. It is and has always been a major focus. And we have maintained it a major focus by naming it hidden.
In calling it taboo, we have not only ensured it has more attention, we have also secured that said focus feels transgressive and motivated. Safekept and protected. We have created an entire market that came from the idea that sex was not meant to be had, by the very people selling bodies on the street corner. We have made up hidden sexual desires and their need to come out and put a magnifying glass in everyone's hand and forced them to take a long hard look at themselves. Find what is wrong. Find what is sinful.
It is in this way that this specific intellectual has made me wonder every way I tell my kids to tell me what they are thinking if it is me asking them or the centuries of biblical, patriarchal tyranny that we continue to fold into our lives and self-replicate. In the same way that I see my blog with a little less joy and a little more irony. In my search for self-reflection, that seems to flow better in front of a keyboard than inside the tunnels of thoughts, I have maybe contributed a little more to the fabrication
of who I am and why. I have forged myself into iron when I dream of being a could, and of existing in whatever direction I get pulled in and out of.
I understand that this may be a bit too abstract... but I leave you with this: Words have power. But so does silence.