People are angry with Comrade Arundhati Roy, and think she must be tried for her seditious remarks. I disagree. I believe that people whose behaviors evoke widespread revulsion need help. Perhaps psychiatric help.
Consider, for example, pedophilia. Pedophiles are a tiny minority of the sexually active adult population. The non-pedophile majority is revolted by the actions of the pedophiles, and demands strict punishment for them. Of course, pedophiles must be kept at harm’s length from children, but let us pause to ask: why the heck do pedophiles — almost always (adult) males — find 5-year old boys sexually attractive? Why!? It seems so bizarre. We cannot fathom why pedophiles are such jerks in the first place — setting aside for argument’s sake the fact that they can be criminals — that they feel sexually stimulated by targets that the overwhelming majority of us do not see as sexual beings at all!
There are some scientific theories explaining this puzzle. Some psychologists believe that in the pedophiles’ warped worldview, children are indeed sexual beings. Infact, some pedophiles see themselves as helping children fulfill their sexuality. In other words, pedophiles do not accept that their pedophilic inclinations constitute sociopathic behavior. The Wikipedia says:
Studying child sex offenders, a review of qualitative research studies published between 1982 and 2001 concluded that pedophiles use cognitive distortions to meet personal needs, justifying abuse by making excuses, redefining their actions as love and mutuality… Other cognitive distortions include the idea of “children as sexual beings,” “uncontrollability of sexuality,” and “sexual entitlement-bias.”
I happen to think that what is true of pedophilia is also true of other behaviors that their practitioners persist in in the face of widespread social revulsion. Note that I am not claiming that all actions that meet with social disapproval are necessarily deviant behaviors. Disapproval is different from disgust, and dominant social norms/values dictate whether we merely disapprove of something or also feel revolted by it. For example, fewer and fewer people today consider homosexuality as a deviant or “disgusting” practice, though they may disapprove of gay marriages. Values regarding homosexuality have changed over the years. They have vis-a-vis pedophilia as well, but in the opposite direction. Likewise, we are seeing a shift of values in favor of secularism and away from theoracy.
Indians who believe in territorial integrity of India would normally be angered by Comrade Roy’s cheerleadership for yet another vivisection of the country, but what makes them also feel disgusted is perhaps her brazen preference for an Islamic theocracy over a secular democracy. Remember: where the rest of us see “children”, pedophiles see “sexual beings”. Likewise, where we see the horrors of an ethnic-chauvinistic Islamic theocracy — one in which women are put under veil, men can legally have four wives, the minorities are eliminated, marriage with under-age girls is legal — comrade sees an acceptable form of social organization. This perception gap, and the fact that Roy persists and delights in her bizarre preferences in the face of social revulsion, is not easily explained, much the same way that pedophilia is not easily explained. To understand it, we may need the help of psychology.
It is best, therefore, to assume for the moment that psychopathology explains Roy’s behavior, much the same way that it explains pedophilia. Arundhati Roy perhaps needs the gentle care of professionals in white overalls, not the rough treatment of prison wardens. The latter could even inadvertantly end up fetishizing whatever disorder she is suffering from.