An Instruction Manual for the Radical Transformation of Identity
Published on: September 26, 2012
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  • John Barker

    I have found that being fixated on race or gender in dealing with people can dim one’s perception of ability and character. Give me honesty and integrity before identity.

  • Jim.

    Whether or not homosexuality is curable, apparently Berger’s Lutheranism is. Does he even know what the Bible’s teaching on this subject is?

    Again, I would like to put forward the idea that homosexuality can actually be imposed — in the lower animals, bullying can lead to exactly this condition.

    It would follow that restoring someone’s sense of self-respect and dignity would be a large part of the therapeutic process.

    The idea that we should not look to the lower animals for insight into human nature is right in that we should not look to it as a positive example; but looking to it as an example of how humans can go wrong (i.e., against God’s will) is very useful.

  • Jim.

    It’s surprising that, considering the author’s realizations about what kind of impact authority figures and socialization have on transmitting “identity”, he does not realize the justification for making sodomy a crime.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Dr. Berger points out: modern technological society is conducive to choice. What should be the modern “Biblical” injunction in a world of choice is more problematic because the Biblical world was based more on fate and tradition. If we take choice of sexual partner or behavior away then we take choice of conventional heterosexual marriage partner away too and go back to arranged marriages. As Berger might put it: modernity is a package and certain elements in the package can’t be easily rejected or embraced without taking away the whole package.

    It is interesting to note that a famous female economist was previously a male before undergoing a sex change. It seems the sex change may have been motivated by affirmative action rules. Female economists have greater advantages for advancement under affirmative action. And if you are an economist who is not mathematically inclined, a sex change would provide a way to offset such an educational deficit in an occupational world where quantitative skills are rewarded.

    Here in California, if you are lesbian or gay identity you have a greater likelihood of being selected as a manager in civil service bureaucracies that have quotas for such categories. Once again, some social identities have legal and economic incentives.

    This may be seen in the American politician Elizabeth Warren who purported to be of American Indian heritage for academic advancement. And now it comes to light that she practiced law without passing the bar exam.

    There are several cases where persons have been caught successfully practicing medicine, including as surgeons, without a medical degree or credentials. Some of these cases of impostor doctors are discussed in the book “What If Medicine Disappeard” by sociologists Gerald Markle and Frances McRae.

    There is an institutional component to social identity more than there is a biological component in a modern society.

  • WigWag

    “But I don’t mind voicing a hunch, based on everything I know about human behavior: Some of it is biologically determined, most of it is not, but is rather the result of various processes of socialization” (Peter Berger)

    I am curious why Professor Berger has concluded that most human behavior is bases on “various processes of socialization” as opposed to being “biologically determined.” As distressing as it may be to contemplate, the evidence, especially the recent evidence, suggests precisely the opposite. The recent data from the fields of neuroscience and genetics suggests that biology trumps environmental factors as the most important vector of human behavior. Yes, human behavior is determined by a complex interaction of nature and nurture but the nature side of the question predominates.

    It is natural for modern Americans inculcated with Enlightenment values to find this reality troubling; I find it troubling too. It must be especially difficult for a sociologist to confront this reality, but the evidence is the evidence.

    Everything from the proclivity towards religion to individual personality traits to differences between individuals in intelligence, empathy and compassion are rooted in biology. These biological traits can be traced to brain circuits and how these circuits are connected. Ultimately both biology and the environment shape these phenomena but it is increasingly apparent that biology is far more consequential than the environment.

    With a little sentence, Professor Berger has made a large claim. It would be interesting to know how he defends it.

  • Anthony

    “Many people casually use the word evolution to refer both to cultural change and to biological change.” Cultural change and biological change are different processes; yet environment (nurture) and biology (nature) certainly interact. In a society that has undergone socialization vis-a-vis cultural identities, identity may become an absorption of the cultural trend (Lamarckian) – in the ethos of modernity: more questions for both behavioral geneticists and ecumenical intellectuals I presume.

  • David Taylor, MD

    @4 Wayne Lusvardi offers the defamatory statement:

    “This may be seen in the American politician Elizabeth Warren who purported to be of American Indian heritage for academic advancement. And now it comes to light that she practiced law without passing the bar exam.”

    Mr. Lusvardi may be wrong on both counts, and is certainly wrong on one.

    First, there is no specific evidence that Prof. Warren’s claim to have Native American ancestry is false — she reported it as simply a part of her family’s shared heritage stories, and she may indeed possess enough Cherokee ancestry to qualify — and there is no evidence that she intended to use a claim to such status to gain any advantage in hiring, promotion, etc., or indeed that her status was ever a factor in her academic advancement.

    Second, Prof. Warren passed the Bar Exam in New Jersey, and is in fact licensed to practice law. Mr. Lusvardi confuses two separate and distinct issues. Prof. Warren is not licensed to practice law in the state of Massachusetts, but she is certainly licensed, and certainly did pass the Bar Exam, and she is licensed to practice before Federal courts, in Massachusetts or anywhere else. Moreover, a statement reported two days ago from the General Counsel of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, notes that the level of practice that many law professors engage in — including Prof. Warren — does not require that they be specifically licensed by the state of Massachusetts. My wife, who is a practicing lawyer, assures me that there is a grey area here, with merit to both sides of the argument (a good lawyerly dodge!), but that Mr. Lusvardi’s claim that Prof. Warren practiced law without passing the Bar Exam is false.

  • Gary Novak

    Berger gives us a good idea of how one could use sociological principles to write an instruction manual for the radical transformation of identity. But a “reparative therapy” based on such a manual could hardly be called “religiously mediated” (as Jones and Yarhouse describe theirs). Religion, of course, is capable of radically transforming identities in the conversion experience—indeed, Berger only used the term “alternation” rather than conversion because he also wished to apply the idea to non-religious “conversions” to, say, Marxism or psychoanalysis. But to the extent that a radical transformation of identity is genuinely religious in nature, it would seem to have nothing to do with “therapy,” which is typically used in the medical realm. Perhaps that is why Berger seems to have little interest in establishing the true Spitzer “success rate.” Success at what?—brainwashing? And, of course, the suggestion that the “therapy” could work in either direction means that we are not necessarily talking about restoration to health but simply change.

    “Reparative therapy,” then, begins to look like an ideological attempt to re-stigmatize homosexuality after its removal from the DSM list of mental illness in the 1970s—which was, itself, widely viewed as an ideological move rather than a medical advance. It is hard to disagree with what may be called Berger’s “barbarism reduction” approach to social policy regarding homosexuality. In a situation where we do not have enough good science on the origins of sexual orientation, the consequences of gay parenting, etc., there is much to be said “in praise of doubt” (the title of a recent Berger book), including doubt about the desirability of gay marriage, opposition to which is not necessarily evidence of homophobia. Concern for the institution of marriage and the welfare of children are good reasons for taking a cautious approach to gay marriage—as discussed by Berger in the earlier post (Feb 9, 2011), referenced in the current post. In a debate with “traditional marriage” defender Maggie Gallagher, gay journalist Jonathan Rauch made the striking statement that, if he thought gay marriage would harm the institution of marriage, he would opposite it: gay rights do not include the right to destroy marriage. But, like Andrew Sullivan, he believes that, in fact, gay marriage would be good for “bourgeois marriage.” Like Berger, I believe that we don’t know enough to say that. (Rauch suggests testing gay marriage in Massachusetts, where it could win the hearts and minds of the public instead of being imposed by the federal judiciary.)

    But barbarism reduction does not obviate further consideration of the meaning of homosexuality. After describing his experience in the North Carolina sodomy trial, Berger notes that “in some early writings, I wrote against the persecution of homosexuals as based on the fanatic’s fear of freedom, including the fear of desiring a man instead of a woman.” Whether Berger is psychoanalyzing the fanatic or “intuiting the essence” of fanatic persecution, he is clearly going beyond the reflection required simply to oppose the persecution of homosexuals. In a similar manner, Roger Scruton (“Sexual Desire”) attempts a philosophical assessment of the meaning of homosexuality, which he regards as the disposition to desire those who are of the same GENDER as oneself. “The masculine and the feminine denote two distinct kinds of persons, and the experience of gender plays a significant part in determining the intentional object of desire.” Human sexuality is not fundamentally about meat. (Scruton does not view these distinct kinds of persons as simply social constructions arbitrarily assigned on the basis of sex.)

    Berger notes the irony of gays now claiming that homosexuality should be respected because it is innate. What happened to the right to choose one’s sexual “destiny”? If Scruton is right, there is a similar irony in the postmodern celebration of the homosexual’s “otherness.” The homosexual is certainly “other” than heterosexual, but his desire intends the same gender. “The opening of the self to the mystery of another gender, thereby taking responsibility for an experience which one does not wholly understand, is a feature of sexual maturity, and one of the fundamental motives tending towards commitment.” Scruton is not trying to lay an ideological foundation for the persecution of immature gays. But if, while respecting the rights of gays as they are, he notices a deficit in homosexuality, his saying so might very well assist a distressed gay in making a voluntary, philosophically-mediated alternation.

  • Robert F

    Wig Wag,
    Just ignore Professor Berger’s “little sentence.” It is just the result of the interaction of his biology with his environment (soma heavily weighted, of course)and he was unable to prevent himself. There is no ghost in the machine: the evidence is, after all, the evidence.

  • John Wood
  • WigWag

    “There is no ghost in the machine…” (Robert F)

    Speaking of the ghost in the machine, Robert F., I thought you might enjoy this little ditty from Andrew Marvel entitled “A Dialog Between the Soul and the Body.”


    Soul.   O, WHO shall from this dungeon raise
    A soul enslaved so many ways ?
    With bolts of bones, that fettered stands
    In feet, and manacled in hands ;
    Here blinded with an eye, and there
    Deaf with the drumming of an ear ;
    A soul hung up, as ’twere, in chains
    Of nerves, and arteries, and veins ;
    Tortured, besides each other part,
    In a vain head, and double heart ? 

    O, who shall me deliver whole,
    From bonds of this tyrannic soul ?
    Which, stretched upright, impales me so
    That mine own precipice I go ;
    And warms and moves this needless frame,
    (A fever could but do the same),
    And, wanting where its spite to try,
    Has made me live to let me die
    A body that could never rest,
    Since this ill spirit it possessed. 

    What magic could me thus confine
    Within another’s grief to pine ?
    Where, whatsoever it complain,
    I feel, that cannot feel, the pain ;
    And all my care itself employs,
    That to preserve which me destroys ;
    Constrained not only to endure
    Diseases, but, what’s worse, the cure ;
    And, ready oft the port to gain,
    Am shipwrecked into health again.

    But Physic yet could never reach
    The maladies thou me dost teach ;
    Whom first the cramp of hope does tear,
    And then the palsy shakes of fear ;
    The pestilence of love does heat,
    Or hatred’s hidden ulcer eat ;
    Joy’s cheerful madness does perplex,
    Or sorrow’s other madness vex ;
    Which knowledge forces me to know,
    And memory will not forego ;
    What but a soul could have the wit
    To build me up for sin so fit ?
    So architects do square and hew
    Green trees that in the forest grew.

  • Robert F

    Wig Wag,
    Is then the body nature and the soul nurture? Wherein lies that “Impartial Spectator”? We are more than the sum of our genetics and environment. Its impossible for one sentient consciousness to explain away all other sentient consciousness as mere material mechanism for self-evident reasons. Such a reduction can only be made on the basis of a hidden metaphysical assertion of the observers transcendence of the situation, an assertion which, once deflated by a little hermeneutic suspicion, reveals the argument to be merely a clandestine power manipulation. The observer is hoist by his/her own petard. Read Alvin Plantinga.

  • R.C.

    Lemme help you out here.

    Nobody’s gay, nobody’s straight, in a biologically deterministic kind of way. Human sexuality does not work like that.

    Given any particular human organism with a any given set of human DNA, there are prenatal hormones (or the lack thereof), pre-pubescent experiences, puberty hormones (or the lack thereof), puberty experiences, and adult experiences capable of producing a person who, at age 25, will self-identify as “gay” or “straight.” The DNA upon which these factors exert influence can be either more or less susceptible to influencing. And the “experiences,” pre-pubescent, pubescent, and in adulthood, will be a mix of some which are chosen by the individual, and others which are accidental or chosen by those around him, beyond his control.

    So, yes: You, with your DNA, could have been straight. Or gay. Or “bi,” which is much closer to your actual reality.

    But, of course, sexuality “hardens” over time. The concrete, initially quite plastic, begins to dry out and firm up.

    It has to be that way for procreative reasons: Human sexuality is optimized to produce offspring raised by mate-pairs who remain together long-term in the interests of the flourishing of the offspring. In other words, human sexuality as a whole, when functioning at peak performance, produces not just children but children raised in intact families: Not just fathered and mothered but grandfather-ed and grandmother-ed and sibling-ed and aunt-ed and uncle-ed and cousin-ed.

    That’s why male-female emotional bonds are formed during sex (provided the bonding-hormones and neurotransmitters are unimpeded by barrier contraception and not overwhelmed by libido-reducing hormonal contraception). It’s why parent-child emotional bonds form. All of this, when functioning correctly, optimizes for human individual and social flourishing.

    So an individual has to be able to bond to a member of the species who may be very different — from a different tribe or ethnicity, say — and have that bond “harden” over time into a template for sexual attractedness. It is thus no surprise that, given hormonal imbalances prenatally or in puberty, in combination with social mores and adolescent experiences both chosen and unchosen, that a person’s “template” might begin to lean towards the same sex (or the opposite sex) and begin the process of “hardening” in that direction.

    And what next? Once a person’s preferences are “hardened,” what will they seek in a mate? Ever known a divorced person who, when they remarried, married a new mate whose appearance or personality characteristics were suspiciously like those of the former one?

    So much of our confusion is produced by this pernicious single-dimensional, quantized, axis of measurement wherein a person is either “straight,” “gay,” or “bi.” Nonsense. Natural populations are not like that, even statistically. They typically produce bell curves. The mean (high point of the bell) will be in the direction of “straight” for evolutionary reasons, obviously. But even then we tend to blend together multiple axes of measurement, from attractedness to same-gender persons to whether a guy likes to get a manicure or a girl to mix plaids and stripes. “Brain gender” gets mixed up in it all.

    So, yeah, “reparative therapy” sometimes “works.” Of course it does. It’s just rare and difficult to get an organism whose DNA made him susceptible to getting pleasure from certain kinds of experiences, who then was influenced by prenatal hormones to be further susceptible to such experiences, who then had those experiences and now associates them with orgasm and with companionship, to willfully desire to abandon those experiences! Obviously!

    And the person whose life and neurons have “hardened” in that direction will quite correctly say that it wasn’t their choice to wind up the way they are (it wasn’t). But some of them will still be able, through chosen new experiences, to trend themselves the opposite direction, if enough plasticity happens to remain. (But they’ll find it difficult, and some of them will find themselves unable to achieve it at all.)

  • WigWag

    “Read Alvin Plantinga…” (Robert F.)

    It would be very interesting to hear Professor Berger’s views about Alvin Plantinga.

  • Bebe

    @ Wayne Lusvardi

    “Here in California, if you are lesbian or gay identity [sic] you have a greater likelihood of being selected as a manager in civil service bureaucracies that have quotas for such categories. ”

    I have no idea where in California you think this situation exists since you did not see fit to provide an example but merely your supposition. As it happens, we live in the same city…and I KNOW such a situation does not exist in THAT part of California. Next time, perhaps, place a ground under such airy meanderings, lest one presume from the above comment that your views share a certain diminished capacity with Dan White.

  • Robert F

    “It would be interesting to hear Professor Berger’s views about Alvin Plantinga…” (Wig Wag).

    It would be interesting to hear Professor Plantinga’s views about Wig Wag.

  • Robert F

    Wig Wag,
    Aside from the fact that Professor Berger is on friendly terms with many American evangelicals (without being one himself), Professor Alvin Plantinga is a highly respected and regarded philosopher, whose Reformed Epistemology (developed in concert with a number of associates) is regarded by most academic philosophers, atheist or theist, to be a VALID and powerful argument for the idea that the assertion of the existence of God may be a properly basic belief, along with, for existence, the assertion of the nonexistence of God. Each of those assertions is equally a metaphysical assertion. The same can be said about the assertion of the reality or unreality of human free will. These are metaphysical assertions based on access to transcendent experience and knowledge. The problem is that access to such experience and knowledge contradicts the claims of those who assert the unreality of human freedom, which undermines their argument at its base.
    In fact, Professors Plantinga and Berger are peers, who both assert the reality of human freedom, and there is no reason to believe that Professor Berger would not welcome Professor Plantinga’s epistemological arguments, although not all the elements of his personal worldview.

    There is more to us, and you, Wig Wag, than nature and nurture.

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