When I first started this blog, I put a poll in the sidebar, just for fun. Over time, I've thought of other poll ideas that relate in some way to the themes of my blog, and they've been added to the sidebar. Now, it seems to me that those polls are kind of cluttering up the sidebar, making it hard to find the other information listed there. So, I'm gathering up all the polls and putting them here on this page. I'll also take a moment to say a word or two about the genesis of or intended take-away from each poll.

What's your favorite quark?

Comments: This was the first poll I added to my blog, inspired by the title of my blog - Truth & Beauty. I have studied some physics (to put it lightly), and I noted with serendipitous glee that two of the six quarks that make up the subatomic particles had previously been named "Truth" and "Beauty" (they have since been renamed the much less poetic "Top" and "Bottom"). Along with two of the other six quarks - "Charm" and "Strange" (the remaining two are uninterestingly named "Up" and "Down") - I figured they could also represent personality traits or values, and I was curious which one people liked the best - truth, beauty, charm (i.e., charisma), or strange (i.e., quirkiness).

Liberty or Safety?

Comments: This is a pretty straightforward poll inspired by the Benjamin Franklin quote: "those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety," which is an issue that comes up a lot in the sort of things I like to discuss on this blog. It relates to the conflict between the freedom of personal expression, and the conservative impulse to sterilize people's lives and "kid-proof" the public commons. Although I would hope the answer would be obvious (and it appears that it is), I wanted to put the question to my readers and find out which they value more - their liberty, or their safety.

Who was more evil?

Comments: I thought this was an interesting question. The Marquis de Sade is this infamous historical figure, whose reputation for depravity has shaped our modern understanding of sexual sadism (i.e. deriving sexual pleasure from cruelty and inflicting pain and suffering upon others). On the other hand, Adolf Hitler, who was responsible for the genocide committed in the Holocaust during World War II, is pretty much the go-to figure in recent history to stand as an icon of evil. Some may think it a moot point to ask which of the two was more evil, but while Hitler's crimes are well-documented, I suspect that, reflected in the modern-day practice of BDSM, the Marquis de Sade may have been more pervert than criminal. So, really, in my mind, this is a question of which is more evil: violence, or sexual depravity? And I'm pleased with the results of the poll so far.

Which is deadlier?

Comments: I'll admit that this is a bit of a hyperbolic poll (even so, the results are not entirely unanimous), but as many (if not more) of these polls are about making a point as they are about assaying personal preferences. This one is based on the attitude that there is something intrinsically dangerous about the capturing of a picture. While pictures - as a visual document of information - can hold power, I think some people take it too far, to the point of suspecting anyone who pulls out a camera in public to be either a terrorist or a pervert, and believing in the superstition that pictures possess the power to capture and destroy people's souls (if not always expressed literally in these terms).

Cameras and firearms are both man-made instruments that people point and shoot, so I pitted them against one another in order to measure the priority of the above attitudes against what I've experienced in American culture to be an alarming acceptance of violence. In a sense, it's a face-off between the first two amendments of the United States Constitution - the right to free speech versus the right to bear arms - with consideration to the importance of the consequences of spreading information versus the potential for violence.

Who would you rather live next to?

Comments: We are undoubtedly in the midst of a hysteria surrounding sex offenders and sexual deviants in general. I believe there is an excess of fear-mongering, and people with a tendency - in the puritanically-inspired culture we live in - to exaggerate the threat of sexual deviants, who pose more danger to prevailing attitudes on purity - the value of abstinence, the sanctity of marriage, the perceived damage caused by engaging in perverted practices, etc. - than the life or limb (or even sexual purity) of the average citizen.

Sex offenders, in particular (because, being convicted criminals, they are seen to be safe targets for abuse), are demonized to a troubling extent. Very few sex offenders constitute the worst kind imaginable - who are designated as such due not to the sexual but to the violent nature of their crime - that all of them are presumed to be. People talk about the need for the visibility of sex offenders re-released into the population, as if they are a much more potent threat than violent offenders. Would you rather live next door to someone who was arrested for masturbating in public, or someone who physically assaulted another human being? Is the sexual ignorance of your kids worth more than their physical wellbeing? The answer that many people would give to that question says a lot about their priorities.

Which do you find more distasteful?

Comments: This poll was a direct reaction to a comment I read in the wake of one of the [somewhat] recent rulings in the U.K. about the legality of "extreme" pornography (if I recall correctly). It was a victory for freedom of speech, but one random commenter on twitter, I think, remarked on the fact that we had to fight for the legal right of consenting adults to express their sexual behaviors (one of the subjects involved in the ruling was anal fisting) while something as "vile" as advertising two-piece swimwear to children was commonplace.

It's a weird comparison, but it smacks of the exceptionist attitude involved whenever the subjects of children and sexuality meet. For one thing, the argument that the bikini is a sexual garment, akin to lingerie, is specious - I think bikinis are sexy because they emphasize the sexiness of the body, not because they magically transform the wearer's body into a tasty piece of meat. Frankly, I have a hard time swallowing the argument that little girls wearing bikinis ought to properly be considered more distasteful than adults inserting their fists into each others' assholes. Not that there's anything wrong with the latter - to each their own, indeed - but let me put it this way: in what universe is a human fist entering a person's anal cavity considered more kosher than a child wearing a two piece swimsuit? Seriously? You really have to embrace a distortion of logic to believe that. But you're welcome to disagree - that's what the poll is for.

Mr. A watches porn and decides to rape Ms. C. Mr. A is sent to prison, and a law is passed criminalizing the viewing of porn. Mr. B watches porn and does not rape anyone. Who deserves to be in prison?

Comments: This is a thought experiment on the subject of ethics, morality, and legal theory, and a bit of a jab at the radical feminist belief that porn induces people to rape, as well as the phenomenon of reactionary legislation. Basically it's a test to see whether you uphold the law (in all its arbitrariness) to be the final arbiter of what is right and what is wrong, or if you believe that the law is flawed, and that criminals can sometimes be virtuous people (such as the Mahatma Ghandi was). Alternatively, it could be used to determine your stance on pornography - namely, whether you believe that viewing it is intrinsically immoral - and the role of law in controlling the moral lives of a country's citizens.

Which would be more helpful to teens?

Comments: This poll is pretty straightforward, and is a response to the dire state of modern sex education in this country (if not others, too), as well as to the belief that exposure to pornography is the root cause of much of the perceived sexual delinquency committed by youths. Personally, I think we put too much effort into turning a blind eye to the course of nature, and too much stock in the unrealistic expectations of abstinence, and that the sexual delinquency of teens is more a result of the fearful avoidance and lack of proper guidance by adults than the teens' own frank (and, let's face it, inevitable) exposure to the realities of human sexuality. Of course, this also plays into the negative stereotypes of pornography (and its relation to reality), which I think are exaggerated by prudes. But this is hopefully becoming a non-issue in the internet age, where crowd-sourced amateur pornography is becoming more and more ubiquitous, upheaving the monopoly of the stale, mass-produced professional product.

Which is more harmful to girls?

Comments: This is undeniably a controversial issue, but I fear that we place such a strong emphasis on the sexual purity of children that it may actually be stunting their sexual development and maturity in adulthood. Kinsey found (and this should really be a no-brainer) that young women who experience orgasm at least once in pre-marital contacts are better prepared for normal sexual adjustment later in marriage.

It's not too much of a stretch to draw a line between the pressure we place on girls during their adolescence to preserve their sexual purity (to an extent that is not placed on boys) - a holdover from the conservative, sexist belief that a female's virginity is owned by her father until the day it is sold to her husband - and the trouble that so many adult women have reaching orgasm. Is it worse for a girl to have an orgasm too soon, or to be unable to have one ever?

I believe that sexual development is a gradual process that requires exposure and education over a long period of time, and that abstinence is not only unnatural, but unhealthy too. We simply cannot teach our young all about the horrors and dangers of sex, and then expect them to magically develop a healthy attitude toward it the night of their 18th birthday.

And even if you're of the opinion that children have no right being introduced to human sexuality, the sex positive approach to this question is to permit the young the experience of sexual pleasure before denying it of them in maturity. Sex positivity does not presuppose that the default outcome of a sexual experience for anyone is inevitably destruction (i.e., of the body, or the purity of the soul). Especially when evidence (no matter how strongly censured) exists to support the opposite.

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