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FREE ASSOCIATION


In psychology, free association is "the mental process by which one word or image may spontaneously suggest another without any apparent connection." A technique used in psychoanalysis, free association was originally developed by Sigmund Freud, who used it to such an extent, and with such startling discoveries, that most recognize the term today. But the practice as performed in the therapist's office, where your shrink says a word and you say the first word that comes to mind, is not so much free association as prompted association. To be really free, you watch the first thought that comes to mind, and see where it leads. You can do this on your own at any time of day. 

Thus free association is a fancy term for mind wandering, maybe even daydreaming, since you're simply flying on the wings of your thoughts and going where they lead. The Internet, which is in many ways like a big mind, and each open browser one particular point of view, is not without its analog. Anyone who has ever "surfed the Web," to use a popular and quite appropriate expression, knows how one question can lead to another and then another until whole hours vanish and you wind up reading about the actor Kevin Bacon, and how we are all only a few clicks away from the same destination. See "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon."

Browsers facilitate the experience, or direct the associative process for you. If you search a term, Google Chrome will list popular terms related to your search. Amazon does this too. If you buy one book, it directs you to the several books that customers often buy after browsing yours. The result can be a half a dozen books you don't read, as has happened to me, or hours of time you'll never get back, or learning more about Kevin Bacon than you ever wished to know. Like, were you aware that he was in a band with his brother? Or about other things, like zoophilia. 

Let me explain how Internet association works by giving you a recent eye-opening example that happened to me. Windows 10 now provides a news feed every time you click the Windows icon at the bottom left of your screen (for those who use a laptop; smart phone users I leave to your own devices: much too fancy for me). I otherwise do not read the news, but now I feel compelled to at least glance at the day's major stories. Which is basically Donald Trump, who is the new Kevin Bacon. And I reluctantly learned that the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has interviewed "the Donald," as Trump is known, not as the comedian Cohen but as the rapper Ali G, who along with Borat and Bruno is one of Cohen's alter egos, and funny as hell. 



In the short interview, which the Donald orders to proceed "very quickly," with a very peremptory twirl of the finger (a flourish which I'm sure he has patented by now), Ali G proposes a business idea to the mogul. The absurd idea is to make gloves so that when you eat ice cream you won't wear it on your hands, which the gloves will also keep warm. The Donald is seen to impatiently fidget in his seat while the rapper delivers his pitch and promptly terminates the interview. In a follow-up segment Ali G appears before some investment firm or other to elaborate his hoax. He stands before a poster on which he has scribbled various things including a Venn diagram which I think he calls Zen, or Finn. And he wraps up the interview by suggesting as a brand image for his drip-free gloves, the enticing form of a naked woman on a horse. 

And as Internet association continued I found myself looking up woman on a horse, and seeing various women riding horses, then women having sex with horses, then with donkeys, and guys having sex with donkeys, and girls having sex with monkeys, and finally girl having sex with dog while husband films it. Holy crap! Do people really do these things? the little ingenue in me exclaimed. How did I go in a mere flash from laughing at Borat to this? Perhaps because we're both ingenuous about these things. Borat after all thought Pamela Anderson was into him. I'd never be so ridiculous.

I must say however that on watching clips of these zesty videos I noticed a curious stirring in my loins. The scenes were exciting much in the way scenes involving street fights, dog fights, and snakes eating little rabbits are exciting, or like watching Johnny Knoxville get knocked out by Butterbean in a jewelry store. Eerily so, in a I don't want to watch but simply must, can't take my eyes away sort of way. And as with the snake video, I found myself wanting to vomit. I needed to go the bathroom, and not just to let off steam. 

So, why this effect? I found myself trying to analyze it, after first deleting my browser's history, which is ludicrous, considering I am the only person who uses this computer. But if I died in the shower and my family searched my laptop to find those last scraps of memories, they'd think I was some fiendish sex addict if I didn't erase my tracks. I mean who else watches a big black Doberman balling a groaning woman who is enjoying it, and hot! As I deleted my history I was informed, again by my browser, that I could simply hit Shift + Ctrl + N to "go incognito." A useful tidbit for future reference. What am I saying, there will be no future, not of this. I am no freak! To avoid self-loathing, I simply had to understand the nature of this appeal. 

And so I looked up bestiality on that bastion of knowledge, Wikipedia, where I learned the practice and fascination dates back a long time. But is it wrong, or bad, if there is such a thing, in the absolute sense? That has been debated just as long. Zoophiles, as these animal lusters are called, contend that the practice is not animal cruelty because the animal often enjoys the attention. And how is sex between different species unnatural if it happens in nature all the time? The mule is after all the (sterile) child of the horse and the ass. And humans are animals after all. Okay, now I don't feel so bad.

And then I read the following passage: "In most countries bestiality is illegal under animal abuse laws or laws dealing with crimes against nature." Did watching a scene make me somehow complicit, and felonious? Talk about free association. This thought came on the heels of my recently having read about the comedian Paul Reubens, who has managed to rebound from a decades-long episode of public shaming stemming from being caught in an adult movie theater literally with his pants down. The indecent exposure charge followed him everywhere, though it didn't stop him from resurfacing now and again in movies as diverse as Buffy and Blow. In the midst of his hiatus from entertainment, which he is officially breaking by returning to the character that made him big in the to-be-released Netflix movie, Pee-wee's Big Holiday (which fans should know airs March 18) Reubens describes how one day the Feds came a-knocking on his door with a search warrant and ransacked his house to uncover the child pornography they were sure they'd find, although they only came up with a few tasteful pictures of shirtless men, which Reubens collects because he is an admirer of the male form, and which are perfectly legal. Would the Feds be knocking on my door to accuse me of watching illicit pornography, seize my computer, make a scandal? Could I somehow parlay such a scandal into sales of my unpublished fiction? That thought didn't come to mind, but we do live in an age of fear. 

This smut is all over the Internet. (Me on my high horse, best defense is a strong offense.) I can only imagine how hard it must be to raise a child in such an uninhibited environment. Because the parent controls never work. Even a digital dunce like me knows how to tone down my browser's safety setting. I remember as a kid hearing of humans getting jiggy with horses, and even a magazine being passed around, but I don't think it made its way into my hands before getting swept up by a vigilant elder. No wonder why you pass public parks these days and wonder where all the kids are. They're all watching donkey porn! 

But if I go past the prude moralist the grade school nuns trained me to be, I find there's nothing inherently wrong in the practice, which doesn't even violate the Christian's Golden Rule. Who is getting hurt? The zoophile claims the animal likes it, his tail wags, his tongue lolls out. As hot and bothered as women want their men, but men rarely are, at least not me, unless I watch dogs, that is. I think what bothered and at the same time enthralled me was not that there was any animal cruelty going on, though it is probably confusing for the beast, who wonders why one minute he is being led around on a leash by his owner and then he's plugging her hole with his other owner watching and filming, but to the family pooch, I say, welcome to a man's world! The leash is just invisible in our case. Besides, dogs often hump the legs of humans, so maybe said dog is getting what he ultimately wished for. And philosophers argue that the practice of bestiality is not unethical so long as the animal does not suffer. Fine. I think what bothered me was seeing a lower life form, a dog or monkey or mule, dominating a higher animal (human). And I think that is what bothers many people who are against the practice, which I am not for, I just try to keep an open mind. We are so used to being at the top of the food chain, that seeing a beast having its way with "one of us" just doesn't sit right, but hey, consenting adult plus free country makes for this stuff. Free association indeed!

But there is another flavor to this argument, and finger pointers rarely recognize their share of the blame. As one proponent of the practice puts it, animal rights are regularly violated for human financial gain through procedures such as artificial insemination and slaughter. "Such procedures are probably more disturbing physically and psychologically than acts of zoophilia would be, yet the issue of consent on the part of the animal is never raised in the discussion of such procedures."

Fair enough. Nevertheless I think bestiality, even in this age of tolerance, will remain, at least in the minds of the vast majority, a taboo. I just wish that like having sex with animals, we all thought eating them was taboo too. 

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