The small 'f' fascism is in us all

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Edmund White's quasi-autobiographical novel of 1982 [A Boy's Own Story London: Picador (1983)] virtually opens (page 14) with a scene of 'underage' sex between two boys - one fifteen, the other twelve. What is extraordinary, scandalous even, about this scene is not merely that it quite obviously isn't a 'one-off' experiment - the boys are at it every night for the remainder of the younger boy's stay (he is the son of the fifteen-year old's father's business acquaintance who, with his wife and two boys, has been invited for a short vacation). It isn't even that the older boy is having anal intercourse with a younger boy: this scenario can be (and just about everywhere else, is) rendered as a depiction of sexual abuse.

Our culture presently insists that this is the only form in which sexual activity between minors can be represented - a bigger older person, invariably male, using his superior strength to sexually dominate a smaller, younger person. It is rather that the abuse narrative is conspicuously and joyously absent from the boys' sexual encounters with each other: the sex is initiated by the younger boy. It is a scene of simple, innocent sexual enjoyment, mutual pleasure-sharing, in which the boys make no demands on one another other than to experiment with reciprocally thrilling penile fun together. They do not become lovers, they do not enter a long-term monogamous relationship, and they do not renounce or denounce their sexual experiments later in life in favour of compulsory chastity and abstinence for the young. Against the grain of our culture's symptomatically coercive scripting, they are not subsequently destroyed as adults as a result of their 'under-age' sex. They do not self-harm, develop eating disorders, or become alcoholics. Clearly, this is not meant to happen. In other words, these boys cannot be truthfully represented in mainstream narratives of love and morality. Their innocent intimacy can only be represented as a sexual crime; if they were to be discovered during their libidinal explorations, even more so now in our age of near-psychotic sexual paranoia about children, one or both of them would be placed on the Sex Offenders Register and forced to undergo compulsory 'treatment programmes', which are indistinguishable in fact from the psychological bullying and vulgar brainwashing that dissidents from Stalinist ideology were subjected to in the Soviet Union. It would come as little surprise to find one, at least, of them yielding to the overwhelming institutional pressure they would inevitably be subject to (couched, of course, in terms of adult 'concern' to 'protect' children); quite possibly, the younger of the two, despite actually being the initiator, would feel impelled to adopt the abuse narrative being offered to him as his only escape route, and impugn the older boy.

White's novel is enlightening largely because, insofar as 'abuse' features at all, it appears in the form of pre-emptively disgusted and narrow-minded adults, from horrified parents to deeply worried mental health professionals, rigorously suppressing non-normative expressions of erotic pleasure in the young. In Normotopia, the world of sexual normalcy, deviance is a disease contracted from an external source (invariably, a pervert/paedophile). But in Freud's intelligent analysis of the sexual status quo, normality itself is a tyrannising regime aimed at coercing a universal, originary pleasure-seeking, innocent and experimental, into the straight-jacketed, joyless world of conventional moralism. [...]



True scientists, at least ideally, seek intelligent, informed efforts to disprove their discoveries; only then, when such efforts fail, can the provisional label 'truth' be applied. Ideally in science, truth is never above contestation and even revolution; it is, or ought to be, a radically democratic and reasoned project. But fascists - ideological and moral fascists, fascists with a small 'f', not merely jackbooted neo-Hitlerites (as Foucault, I think, would concur) - seek only agreement with preconceived credos and received wisdom, no matter how injurious and murderous these belief systems turn out to be in practise. It is perhaps superfluous to add that these two perspectives - true, open scientific enquiry and fascism (with a small 'f') - constitute radically irreconcilable perspectives. [...]

The British psychoanalyst, Christopher Bollas, once wrote an intriguing essay called 'The Fascist State of Mind', which directly addresses the small 'f' fascism in us all. Bollas believes that this 'little f' fascist, the parts of ourselves which hold that (social/racial/sexual) purity and innocence is always being threatened by diseased or perverted outsiders (Jews, blacks, immigrants, paedophiles, in chronological order), can be recruited by charismatic demagogues in times of social dislocation to make mass fascism, the kind that carries a capital 'F', not only possible but inevitable.

source: From the online book 'Notes from Another Country' not by Brian Rothery; www.inquisition21.com/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=20&MMN_position=19:17; Inquisition 21st century; 2009