A book about deviants
21 December 2011
If I were to sum up this book in a single sentence it would be that this is a book about tools. Not tools in the traditional sense (like a hammer or a screwdriver), but people that we have a very low opinion, usually because they do or say stupid things. Granted, a number of people mentioned in this book have, or have had, very good reputations, and some of them still do, but what this book does is that it explores the darker sides of this individuals.
Now, when we come to people like Tchaikovsky or Roman Polanski, we usually think of them as being a brilliant composer (as in Tchaikovsky's case) or filmmaker (as in Polanski's case). However it is their dark side that is the focus of this book. Both of these individuals were paedophiles: Polanksi actually having a conviction recorded against his name. We should note that while paedophilia is illegal (as it should be), it was only about 50 years ago that anything that wasn't the strict Christian view of sex was illegal (and even then sex between a married couple was also considered a little distasteful). It is interesting to see how much has changed since then.
One of the common themes that seems to run through this book is that most (not all) of the people explored were in one way or another sexual deviants. Granted, the term has changed now so that any form of sex between consenting adults is acceptable. However if we consider many of the characters in this book (with de Sade being one of the worst) there is also a common theme of people being interested in young boys. This, to me, is simply perverted. The reason I say this is because unless one is an adult one really has little concept of what is happening and such actions can result in a deviated mind later on in life: this was the case with the Marqui de Sade. He was molested as a boy, and out of all of the sexual deviants in this book he was the worst. In the case of de Sade anything goes. He was a prolific writer, however I have already decided that his books are off my list (and I suspect that they are still black listed in a number of places). It was good to see that Napoleon, after reading two of his books, was so horrified that he locked de Sade up and went to extraordinary lengths to prevent him from writing any more.
Reading through a number of these characters does remind me of an incident that happened in Australian politics. A high profile member of one of the state legislatures was caught having sex with a mentally deficient man. Now, technically he was an adult, but due to his mental deficiency one does raise the question of whether he was able to consent. In the same way that a child under the age of 18 is incapable of making an informed decision, I believe that a person who is mentally deficient will also have the same difficulties. While it was implied that technically what the politician did was not wrong, it was good to see that he was pressured to resign. It was not because of his homosexual tendencies, that is not an issue here in Australia, given that there are a number of openly homosexual politicians in prominent positions, but rather because, as I believe, he took advantage of this man.
Fraud is another aspect that this book explores, and there are a few people who are guilty of it. The book looks at one Parisian lady who has been considered one of the greatest fraudsters that ever lived. However, as with all fraud, and lies in general, they tend to be built on shaky ground and once somebody wisens up the whole house of cards quickly collapses. We saw that recently with Bernard Mardoff. Then there is the tele-evangelist who built an empire on the innocence of people and their religious beliefs. Through his programs he would raise millions of dollars which went to fund an extravagant lifestyle. We still see this today where pastors of mega-churches live in luxury while their congregations struggle to make ends meet. It is no wonder that people find it difficult to trust the church.
Look, in the end, unless you are interested in learning about people's darksides, this book can be quite disturbing and gut wrenching. One of the other things that sticks in my mind is the story of Anthony Blunt. He was a high profile member of the British elite, holding the position of Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures. Not only did it turn out that he was a homosexual (though by the time his secrets were revealed it was no longer a crime) but that he had been selling secrets to the Russians. What happened was that the Russians would leverage him and his friends through blackmail. Learning that they were homosexual they threatened to reveal this to the world unless they assisted them. Despite my position on homosexuality, making it a crime simply does not work, and the proof of this is clear with the life of Anthony Blunt. It was only because it was criminal behaviour that the enemies of freedom were able to use it as a weapon against the English (and no doubt the Americans also).
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