December 18, 2007
Turning to the second regime....
As I stated in class, my paper topic turned into a monster that was much more complicated than I originally thought. One of the branches of my paper that had to be "pruned," (yey for representational anecdotes that compare academic papers to shrubbery) was a line of argument that looked at technology and "seeing" gayness. The above video does a good demonstration of looking to biological science to explain social events. Latour writes about science as a second (the first being religious organizations/themes) regime of representation, one that seeks to maintain the ratios and scales in the recreation of new images. When we were talking in class, we discussed how Creation Science is a kind of blending between the two regimes, and speaks to certain kinds of Christianity making sense of itself through scientific ways of seeing and understanding. While the above video is campy, to say the least, it does bring to light the more complicated issues of biological/social causality debate in the social sciences. However, like most binaries, it creates more problematic understandings then solving. First, it puts one category against the other, setting up an either-or relationship. It is much more difficult to establish a dialectical relationship (especially in science, where it is concerned with "root causes"), thus the nature vs. nurture, or biology vs. society debates are problematic because they relate the terms to one another with a versus rather than an "and."
Looking at biological science, the symbol rules are precise and interesting. In this regime, a "gene" or section of a gene becomes a signifier for two things, what is "real" and whatever that gene supposedly controls. For some genes, this is relatively simple. For instance, the "x" and "y" chromosomes become symbols for female and male sex, respectively. Research studies that have looked at biological structures as determining sexuality run into this issue as well. When these studies take brain structure or genes as causal, the gene or brain structure itself becomes symbolically linked to the social behaviors associated with whatever the gene supposedly controls for.
Jonathan Kaplan, in his book The Lies and Limits of Genetic Research, makes a pointed argument at the use of science to "discover" sexuality. He mainly argues that sexual orientation, at least how we treat it culturally, are artificial categories. By thoroughly looking at the studies on sexual orientation, he points out that this research is ultimately like looking for genetic causes for personal tastes--like looking for a "chocolate lovers" gene. Similarly, he also notes that any gene that would contribute to homosexuality would, most likely, have other biological functions as well. He notes that the environment plays a large part in gene activation, for instance, fruit flies that have genes making them resistant to DDT lived in environments where DDT didn't exist. What did those DDT genes do before the environment presented them with the chemical DDT? Similarly, what did genes that led to homosexuality do before placed into the cultural contexts necessary for the expression of that gene? Kaplan's addition of this question to the puzzle, however, still privileges the biological explanation of human behavior.
Both regimes of representation are modes of understanding the world and making sense of it. When turned to the human body and sexual desire, then, both are different approaches to making sense of the sensations our bodies experience in our human experiences of sexuality and desire. Through language, visual symbols, and simple motion (in this case, I mean Burke's concept of motion, meaning that which is there when human symbol use isn't), our existences are rife with misunderstandings and misattributions, especially when it comes to our own bodies. When it comes to human sexuality, we will always come up against the question as to what genes actually do under different cultural contexts, and the polysemic nature even of our genetic code. Keep in mind that all genetics have potential multiple meanings in an environment, the same genetic codes that give sickle cell anemia also resist malaria. It seems, however, science is failing as a representational regime for dealing with the multiple meanings of biological structure as it relates to human sexuality--it would perhaps be more significant to look at how genes for particular biological structures (ie. genes that control for nerve sensitivity in genitalia for instance), how those genes relate to the actual proteins created and used in the body, and what those proteins are able to do in relation to other proteins and genetic codes, what sensations that creates in the body, how people interpret those sensations via cultural symbol systems, etc. Good luck finding the funding for such an extensive project. But it does not , and will not, stop science from looking for visual markers for social identities. The video, as it shows the search for a Christian gene, is comparable in this respect. It is looking for a biological, bodily marker for a social identity. Nevermind that such a genetic marker may actually exist (perhaps there really is a fundamentalism gene? or perhaps a gene for cultural conformity? but why don't we search for those types of genes? is such a search even possible?), so much as it becomes constitutive of future questions, representations, and translations of our understanding of human sociality. In the case of the video, the search for and finding of a Christian gene becomes constitutive of what it then means to be Christian. Similarly, the finding of a gay gene, lo, even the search for a gay gene, is constitutive of the social meanings for being gay. Interpretation of these discourses is always a large part of meaning-making as well, and scientists become hard pressed to provide explanations necessary for how messy and complicated identity formation and sexual practices really are. I propose the following "recipe" that reflects an example of the complexity science would need in order to truly address, and frame as passive, human experience. It should be noted, however, that human choice is ALWAYS a factor, and that choice is always made in reference to or as a part of bodily experience. Humans could not choose to fly before the invention of flying devices, we made travel choices in light of that experience of our bodies. Thus, acting on sexual desire is ALWAYS a set of choices made in light of experiences of the body, and it is the interpretations of these past and current choices that are deeply constitutive of how we identify ourselves. Thus, the following is a schematic for a conception of sexual identity.
George's Crazy-Complicated representation of the processes leading up to homosexual identity.
Genes a, b, c, d, etc.
+ Exposure to chemical a, b, c, etc. (including hormones in and out of the womb)
+ presence of cultural practice a, b, c, d, etc.
+ interpretation of cultural practice a, b, c, d, etc.
+ interpretation of bodily experience a, b, c, etc.
+ human making choice a, b, c. etc.
+ presence of bodily structure (the genes are one thing, but the actual presence of a organ or tissue is just as important as the coding leading up to it--if a person is, hypothetically, attracted to the color blue via genetic codes, what does that matter if the person is born blind?) a, b, c, d, etc.
+ interpretation of previous choices
+ other factors (I'm sure there's more, there always seems to be)
= acceptance of sexual identity of homosexual.