One of the most powerful Chinooks in Canadian history is poised to hit Nova Scotia this coming Easter weekend, carrying with it summer-like temperatures and bringing relief to snow-weary Bluenosers.
Chinook Arch over Calgary (CalgaryWikifan, Wikipedia)
Chinooks consist of a dry, warming wind from the Pacific Ocean that occasionally reaches as far as Alberta or Montana, but in rare cases a Chinook can get caught in the jet stream and be delivered to eastern parts of North America. This “east-reacher Chinook”, so dubbed by meteorologist B. Uried-Deep of the Environment Canada Weather Office, will be the first to reach Nova Scotia in over 75 years.
I don’t normally write content warnings, though perhaps I should.1 Consider this the warning: Sexual controversy ahead.Here be dragons – these are politically uncharted waters, this is going way outside the Overton Window. If you are not up to processing this, turn back for now!
Imagine, if you will, a Nazi of some humanity. (Bear with me.)
She believes that there is a problem with the Jews in Europe. But she (quietly) disagrees with the methods that Hitler is employing. Instead of extermination, she favours deporting the Jews to a new homeland. Or perhaps she may even think there is a way to keep the Jews in Europe without endangering Germans – after seizing their accounts and assets, they could be allowed to live under strict controls and surveillance, especially certain individual Jews that don’t act on the Jewish imperative to corrupt Germany – for example, the ones who didn’t condone the boycott of German goods.
While this Nazi is much kinder than a Final Solution Nazi, you might think that her moral understanding leaves a little bit to be desired. She’s still labouring under the impression that there’s something wrong with being Jewish2, and so everything she proposes while holding this belief is suspect. But hopefully she’ll change.
Now imagine a psychologist of the 1960s of some humanity.
He believes that there is a problem with homosexuals. But he (quietly) disagrees with the methods that the state is employing. Instead of imprisonment, perhaps homosexuals can be treated. Ammonia-aversion therapy seems promising. And thanks to advances in diagnostic imaging, we might someday be able to identify homosexuals before they act on their urges. We could also employ chastity devices and even chemical castration. Homosexuality is a terrible affliction, yes, but we should show some humanity and treat the homosexuals, not imprison them, especially not the ones that refrain from committing the crime of sodomy.
This psychologist is arguably kinder than many of the politicians of the time, but again his moral understanding leaves a little bit to be desired. He’s still labouring under the impression that there’s something wrong with being homosexual, and so everything he proposes while holding this belief is suspect. But hopefully he’ll change.
US sodomy laws by the year they were repealed or struck down, from before 1970 (lightest yellow) to 2003 (darkest brown) (Wikipedia)
This is about where I’m at with the following Cracked article. Not that they think there’s a problem with being Jewish or homosexual. But there’s this third thing.
We need to be on guard against topical exceptions in matters of justice. If the justice system is to be fair, it would seem that a determinedly even-handed treatment of evidence and the law is required even in the most explosive cases. Debating whether and to what extent to deprive someone of their fundamental freedoms should be kept at arm’s length from our momentary emotions and politics.
“Someone is sexually assaulted. Someone is charged. The violence becomes news and a journalist must piece through her research to write a story. But that reporter, says Helen Lanthier, must attend to a whole lot more than just the so-called facts.
“‘I know there needs to be objectivity,’ says Lanthier, of Lunenburg’s Second Story Women’s Centre, ‘but what I would like to see is a discussion about the role of a reporter in the broader scheme.’2
“Lanthier is co-co-ordinator of Be The Peace. The advocacy project ends in March and Lanthier, and hundreds of community collaborators on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, are seeing the fruits of this concerted three-year effort to address violence against women.
“One change? Before Be The Peace, South Shore survivors had to travel to Halifax to connect with a sexual assault nurse examiner. Now there are 11 trained on the South Shore who collect specialized evidence after an assault.
“Notice, there, I didn’t say, after a woman alleges she’s been assaulted?
“‘Alleged’ and ‘alleges’ are overused words in reporting on sexual violence, Lanthier says. ‘It affects the survivor’s credibility. It might imply that she’s lying.’
“In fact, there are no more false claims of sexual assault than any other crime. (Surprised? Then you’re probably buying into a common stereotype that women are manipulative and accuse wildly.)3
“Pay attention to news writing, Lanthier says, and you’ll notice the word ‘alleged’ blanketing sexual assault stories, especially in verb form — ‘Mary alleges’ — that casts doubt not only on the crime, but the survivor herself.
“Due process and the presumption of innocence is important, Lanthier says, but too often ‘what you’re left with is, “Oh my God, none of this is true.”‘”
“Alleged” and “accused” must be used in reporting all undecided criminal cases, including sexual violence. If a reporter accepts innocent until proven guilty, a fundamental tenet of our legal system, their use of these words should be ubiquitous and should not affect a reportee’s credibility. How could they, if they’re used evenly across all types of cases?
Of course, perhaps they are not used evenly in all cases and this merits closer examination. (Numbers would be helpful – for a start, you could run or cite concordances on a body of media reports covering different types of crimes. I’ll leave that as a graduate thesis exercise for the reporter so she can support her own claim.) If we applied extra linguistic precautions to sexual assault cases that we don’t use anywhere else, that would indeed be unfair to true survivors. We must treat all types of cases fairly and not isolate our demands for fairness to this one domain.
I would also like to see numbers about the probability of false accusations for sexual assault relative to other domains, though reliable statistical work would be extremely challenging for both inborn and extrinsic reasons. However, even if this claim has strong support, it’s a red herring because each case must be judged on its individual merits. Imagine a change to the justice system where, since 75% of accused of crime Z were found guilty anyway, we simply convict everyone accused of crime Z since there’s a 75% chance we’ll be right.
Innocent until proven guilty necessarily means alleged until proven survivor. We need not go to extremes to speak of how they might be lying. We can offer assistance and support to the alleged without having to make a verdict. This is hard work: It’s much easier to deal in absolutes and strict categories. But when we think that way, a lot of important principles get thrown under the bus.
Scott Alexander taught me we should be loathe to throw out what someone has to say just because they say something like, “I’m not an X / I know Y, but…” ↩
My note: As wrong as it is to think this of all women, enough women do accuse falsely and very deliberately that it is a serious problem, not in the least because people who are innocent have their lives as trashed as the guilty.
You’ve probably seen toxoplasmic headlines about the “sexualization” of youth. But what this really reflects, I hope to convince you, is a panic regarding society’s inability to maintain a perfect Puritanization.1 Every time I see people complain about “sexualization”, I want to scream, and I’ve been wanting to speak about this since I was a kid myself.2
A formative experience of my childhood – when I was seven, I think – was seeing a poster of bikini-clad women on motorcycles. It was behind a door in the bedroom of the son of a professional acquaintance of our family.3
This was a dangerous and irresponsible image – they should have been wearing proper equipment if they were going to be riding. If they were to get into an accident, there wouldn’t be much left of them.
At around the same time, I also saw prints of a few Paul Peel paintings. They made me feel like I could be beautiful and they made me want to be naked and free with other kids. At some point I learned about “nudist camps” and so I started taking my clothes off when I was by myself. I also saw something in a grocery store tabloid about a woman being allergic to clothes and I obsessed about the story and actually kind of envied her.
Taken together, it was like I had lived all my life in the desert and had never known water and here was an oasis and boy does that water taste good, but I also don’t know the terms ‘oasis’, ‘water’, or even ‘wet’. I suppose this knowledge was dangerous in a peculiar way – I had access to drinking water, at least in my imagination, but I couldn’t talk about it with anyone, and I dreaded being caught.4
Excepting a flirtation with Dr. Laura-style social conservatism in my adolescent years, where in the very presence of my body screaming “SEX NOW” I dutifully went to war against myself (and others) just like many other people exposed to a no-sex-outside-marriage Christianity. ↩
To someone thinking, “Look, you just said it yourself, you’re living proof of the harm exposure to exposed skin causes children!” I would say, “Well, it’s kind of like the harm of getting caught with alcohol during Prohibition. Your claim of the harm of the thing would have little or nothing to do with the innate nature of the thing.” Too many things are like that these days. ↩
I’m not going to rate the presentations on a 0-to-10 scale like I usually do with my minireviews. The presentations aren’t supposed to be set-in-stone choreographed song-and-dances anyway. In many cases I either might sort of come to know some of these people, or I have or might form opinions about them that would make me even less objective than usual. And with such an up-close-and-personal thing, I have to consider the feelings of the presenters.
You also really don’t want to get into saying that any particular presentation would have been better than any other. Even if it’s nigh-objectively true and would be so for 99% of attendees, the truer any superiority becomes, the unkinder it gets to point it out. ↩
I want to talk about innocence and blame. I think both are fundamentally flawed and our belief in them compounds rather than lessens our miseries, especially in how they leave us susceptible to the politics of alienation and retribution, resulting in terrible justice policies, among other things.
People routinely say “everything happens for a reason,”1 seemingly asserting that there’s something special about this arrangement of things.2 That’s as it may be. Here I take the standpoint that “everything happens for a cause”. Hop on board the things-have-causes axiomatic train and let’s explore some of the implications for how we think about innocence and exoneration, blame and retribution.
This song played on the radio all the time when I was in Grade 9 and I thought of the girl I loved3 at the time and how after something happened to her we could lay on a grassy field and hold hands. It even got to the point where I wished something would happen to her, so this could happen. Though I’d probably be no more likely to show my feelings then than normally, so if my wish had come true because I made it, it would have been both wretched and futile.
For a while after this, being the concrete sort of thinker I was4, I wanted to think of innocence as something real. Maybe it was something I still had, but that I’d lose later.5
What is innocence? A state where you should not be blamed for something. Okay, but why not?
You couldn’t have understood.
Couldn’t have? That’s quite an assertion. How do you know that? I’ll agree that it’s more likely that a kid doesn’t understand x, but you have to test it. Saying that the kid can’t understand x is demeaning. (Okay, it’s probably not demeaning to babies to say they can’t understand nuclear physics, but you can still ‘test’ this: knowing that you haven’t seen them reading or mathing much yet, you can be nigh-absolutely confident that they can’t, or at least that all the babies you’ve ever met can’t.) Anyway, here’s the story of a Korean fellow who was solving differential equations at age seven.
Given the extreme consequences we mete out to sexual transgressors1, we must more than ever before reflect on how we know that our outlawed sexualities are innately harmful – that is, damaging by their nature alone, excepting their violent, life-destroying extrinsic consequences. A few main points I would like people to consider:
The exacerbating effects of the secrecy and isolation necessary in age-disparate relationships merits analysis.
Psychology has before failed to test assumptions based on social norms. (e.g., homosexuality)
Mandating the status of victim on people who don’t want it is inhumane.
Insisting that someone is hurt in an invisible way and might not even know it should be regarded skeptically. It is a claim that is difficult to falsify2 and is therefore pseudoscientific.
The November 3rd, 2014 edition of Maclean’s promises on its cover “SEX OFFENDERS NO ONE SUSPECTS: FEMALE TEACHERS.”5 Turn to page 44 and you will find a report by Anne Kingston that assumes the prejudices of our sex-supressing culture and does nothing to question the abominably evil reality that you must be a victim merely because the true believers in the legal system and their pseudoscientific enablers in the bowels of psychology6 say you must be. Okay, maybe I’m a bit cynical, but hear me out. (Or read the vastly shorter letter I wrote to Maclean’s.)
Now, before I get into this:
I acknowledge that there are cases of despicable manipulation and monopolization that merit a response that may need to include prosecution.
I also acknowledge that anyone who feels that they have been abused must have gone through severe stress and torment, although it might be at the hands of society and the legal system and not wholly or even necessarily reflecting the nature of the stigmatized activity.
I’m not suggesting that the silence around coercive, stultifying abuse isn’t worse than the silence around consensual7 activity.8
And, as I’ll say again in a second, for a teacher to bring the world crashing down on herself and a student and everyone else in the vicinity, is plain nuts.
Large categorical taboos mean that everything gets painted with the same broad brush, and Maclean’s is, consciously or unconsciously, content to maintain our categorical thinking merely by using the term “sex offender”, as it covers everything from consensual sex that happens to be against the law to kids being whipped within an inch of their lives for the sake of producing pornography for violentophiles9.
Kingston’s thesis is simply that “the treatment of female teachers who sexually exploit male students reflects legal and cultural double standards.” It’s borne out – females get probation and time served while males go to the crowbar saloon. But I worry that the way we’ll fix the double standard is by making non-normative females and their lovers as miserable as the non-normative males and their lovers.
Not to mention sex workers! Thank the FSM for sex workers and their advocates on Twitter. Here’s @SugarKovalczyk: “Some of y’all should reexamine your beliefs in a historic & global sense while recognizing how late 20th century hysteria has shaped you so far.” I also recommend this essay by Mistress Matisse on the “End Demand” Campaign. Quote: “End Demand activists are quick to say ‘prostitution is not a victimless crime.’ Not while they’re around, it won’t be.” ↩
Meaning that it’s hard to compare the idea to reality – this comparing is the perspiratory part of science. Paul Lutus’ essay “Building Science” begins by explaining falsifiability. ↩
As David Dunning writes in Pacific Standard: “Some of our most stubborn misbeliefs arise not from primitive childlike intuitions or careless category errors, but from the very values and philosophies that define who we are as individuals. Each of us possesses certain foundational beliefs—narratives about the self, ideas about the social order—that essentially cannot be violated: To contradict them would call into question our very self-worth. As such, these views demand fealty from other opinions. And any information that we glean from the world is amended, distorted, diminished, or forgotten in order to make sure that these sacrosanct beliefs remain whole and unharmed.” – from “We Are All Confident Idiots”
“Consent” is a legally-blinkered term, not a humanistic one. It suggests that you’re agreeing to something that is against your interest by default. It belongs in draconian places like employment law – you consent to have no privacy, you consent to being able to be fired at will.
But this is the term we have, so I assert that consent that is not legally recognized can yet be consent on the principle of mutual self-determination (infinitely more important, provided you’re not getting together to plan a shooting spree), but I’d rather just avoid the word, not to mention the simplistic arguments that follow that rest directly on the socio-legal recognition of consent rather than addressing the actual nature of our sexuality. (“I won’t debate this with you because you refuse to recognize that an n-year old can’t consent.”)
I also reject the idea that sexuality is as necessarily fraught as getting a mortgage. Oh, sure, it frequently ends up being a great big mess, but I think most of the problems with it are extrinsic – the dictates of our nature perpetually clash with the established social order, one that forces us to live in ignorance.
As a thought experiment, imagine if the sexual standard for consent applied in other areas. Let’s say food. You could argue that children shouldn’t be fed because they don’t understand exactly what is happening and what they’re agreeing to do. Consent is impossible. Being fed without consent is abuse.
I think even most pedophiles would be against coercion, but as long as people define a sufficiently high bar for legal consent in this single area, it’ll never be cleared, and we’ll have more food for the prison-psychiatric-industrial complex.
As a pragmatic friend says to me, “It is ultimately silly to come up with black and white rules about who can and cannot consent that are based on thresholds whose precise positions are arbitrary. But then, black and white rules are efficient for managing large populations.” Well, there’s a certain dehumanization in insisting that a large population be wholly united on all things and wholly managed the same way. For a counter-vision, read Scott Alexander’s “Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism”.
I’ve been an ass about word choices before, and I probably will be again. I know I despise being told what words I can and can’t use. Our words reflect our identity. Rather than circulate lists of words, we should probably just reflect more often on the words we use – how we steer with our choices and are in turn steered by the choices of others.
I think the silence is related, embedded in the same morass of sex-negative shame. But same silence or not, I think the silence is corrosive to the better angels of both interests. Think of this as you would a commentary about the danger of Islamophobia the day after 9/11. ↩
Of course, if you like looking at young people without their clothes on, you’re every single bit as depraved as the people who beat and torture children and who may or may not record it. Because reasons. ↩
A basic piece of advice for all writers is to know their audience. In order to reach someone, you need to have a conception of their interests, their motivations, their knowledge, and their prejudices. Whether it’s writing a note to your friend, or writing for a workshop class, or writing a text message that your mobile carrier will copy into a law enforcement database, the same principles apply.
It’s good to have a routine for writing. Sit somewhere where all you do is write, buy your favourite cup of coffee, and turn the wi-fi off on your laptop so that the hidden keyloggers don’t transmit all those aborted sentences to government keyword-monitoring servers. If there’s one thing worse than a publisher not understanding your vision, it’s a counter-terrorism unit paying you a visit at 3am! Ha-ha!
Once you get in the habit of writing for a particular audience, it becomes effortless. When you write a heartfelt message to your loved ones, you’ll automatically consider the effect your word and phrase choices will have on you, your spouse, your children, and the RCMP officers assigned to your file.
I am presently residing in Sherbrooke, part of Very Rural Nova Scotia. Of course, I don’t have to stay here, and I didn’t even have to come here. But it works very well for me, except for the tricky problem of income.
Sherbrooke Village recently posted an advertisement on the Service Canada Job Bank seeking an archival assistant. I would have applied for this position, even though it’s temporary – the work seems interesting, it would leverage my IT skills, I’d learn something, and it would be a pickup of both money and experience. And it’s local.
But the position requires people to have received EI in past 3 years, so I’m ineligible. It’s maddening; it just seems arbitrary and unfair. I’m no longer a student, so I don’t qualify for the student positions (with the Village or, for example, the Eastern Counties Regional Library) that come across my radar either. When I was a student, I thought jobs reserved for students were great things. Now the shoe’s on the other foot and it hurts like heck.
I am alarmed by Bill C-36, your proposed prostitution legislation, and would encourage you to scrap it and start over. “Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons”, an act keeping with this government’s convention of naming acts by what people want rather than what they do, is a laudable objective, but you can reduce human enslavement and trafficking without effectively prohibiting prostitution1, which you are in fact doing, given that you would have communication, advertising, and purchasing all banned.
With regards to prostitution, you use the word ‘inherent’ frequently, saying things like “inherent harms of prostitution.” Inasmuch as inherent means “existing in something as a permanent, essential, or characteristic attribute”, what, exactly, are these? I am especially eager for you to enumerate dangers related to prostitution itself that are indivisible from prostitution, not just ones that stem from the legal climate that has held sway until now.
Instead of ‘inherent’, it would be nice if you would use the more precise words ‘innate’ or ‘intrinsic’ because then we would know you’re talking about attributes indivisible from the thing itself. For example, if we’re talking about alcohol prohibition, a hangover is an innate and intrinsic harm, while getting gunned down by the mob is an extrinsic harm – though, in the wrong legal regime, perhaps a ‘characteristic’ one.2
I believe sexual rights are far more important than alcohol rights – sexuality is baked into us and our countless predecessors, while alcohol is a relatively recent discovery and can be lived without, which is not to say it should be prohibited. Yet comparing our attitudes to sex and alcohol may help expose the inconsistencies in our thinking.
I’ve decided that I’m not going to use the word “prostitute” very often. It makes as much sense as calling a gay man a “sodomist”. But I enjoyed using the word unflinchingly and unabashedly. I’d do it again if it serves the purpose of provoking bullies like Peter MacKay.