INFORMATION PLEASE: EXPLANATION WITHOUT. UNDERSTANDING
The naturalization of sex occurred in the larger context of the application of scientific method to a wide number of human activities, not all of which could equally be subjected to this objectifying approach. A new sexual science was viewed as the accumulation of the exhaustive and precise delineation of the parts constituting the sexuality of the person. The implicit expectation was that once all the essential facts of each part were in hand, the explanation of the phenomenon would be realized, its mysteries revealed. The approach was not unlike that of the eighteenth-century anatomists who were convinced that they would find the secret of life on the dissecting table. Some analogies to this reductionist application of scientific method, frequently a caricature of scientific method, could be found in the German Sexual Hygiene Movement of the 1920s (Haeberle 1983), elements of Wilhelm Reich’s concept of bio-energy (1961), as well as many of the applications of technologically fixated “hard science” appearing in our current journals.
Popular images of medicine tended to share this master paradigm. Identifying the specific cause, the specific cure or vaccine for a specific disease was the essential program: a program infused with the language of discovery, discovery of what was waiting in nature to be discovered. For many illnesses or diseases this was and remains a perfectly effective model. Heroic figures became part of popular history in association with the discovery of the source of specific illnesses and specific cures. However, this application of the medical model tends to be effective only for those conditions where the uniformity of the symptom is matched by a comparable uniformity in the underlying “pathology”, where description, explanation and understanding are virtually synonymous. But for many other conditions it is clearly not as effective. And perhaps it is least effective in dealing with those “pathologies” that are rooted in the shifting complexities of social and psychological life.