Sunday, February 22, 2009

Douchebaggery, or Rape?

(via Pandagon1) I just finished reading a long post at Bitch Ph.D. which asserts a definition of "rape" that requires closer examination. Here are the relevant bits:

Instead, my rape took the form of withholding and control. I will admit that I have not wanted to call it rape. I still do not want to call it rape, and am forcing myself to do so right now, and it is painful.

You see, a few years after me and my first love, from Texas, got together, the sex dropped off precipitously. My boyfriend was very attractive to me, and I was constantly horny. I wanted to have boring sex, kinky sex, and everything in between. But he withheld. He withheld sex and most forms of physical affection from me until it made me crazy. I don't know why he did it. But it became a constant form of negotiation, with me trying to get affection and sex, and him finding all kinds of reasons to decline. The nascent body-acceptance that I had formed before went off a cliff.

And then one night, after months of this, I awoke in the middle of the night to find him rubbing up against me with a hard-on. I was in that bizarre zone between wake and sleep, where everything seemed blurry and confused and it was difficult to identify reality. And before I could get out of that in-between zone, he was on top of me and penetrating me. I, of course, was not wet, having just been asleep, and not otherwise aroused. But this was what I wanted. I wanted sex and physical closeness so badly--how could I say no? Even in my diminished state, a "take-it-while-I-can-get-it" mentality took over, and I did not protest. I winced in a little pain. After he was done he kissed me and went back to sleep. I was left lying there, confused, upset. What about me? I was just starting to get aroused at the very end of the thing, and now, what was I supposed to do?

I went to the living room and cried my eyes out.

How do I frame this kind of experience? How do I call this rape in a discourse where only violence, only strangeness, only force and unwillingness begets rape? There was no violence. It was someone I knew and loved, and wanted to have sex with so badly it hurt. But he had to find the only moments where I wasn't willing, where I wasn't wanting, and fuck me then. Withhold from me and put me in a position where I didn't want to say no. Where I felt I couldn't.

I'm not going to debate her decision to call the above "rape"; whether such a term is applicable is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. What I will point out is that, by her own admission, many of the elements that are commonly understood to constitute rape (violence, coercion, etc.) are missing from her experience. If we accept the label she has applied then we may have broadened the term to the point where it ceases to be useful.

I've talked about this in the past w.r.t the defintion of "racist"; the same idea holds true here. Eventually the definition has expanded so much that it loses its power as a term of condemnation. M. LeBlanc's boyfriend sounds like a dick and a douchebag (though, in fairness to the alleged douchebag, we only have M. LeBlanc's side of the story), but its far from clear that his behavior represents a violation of Ms. LeBlanc's human rights. There is a substantive difference, from a human rights standpoint, between being in a really shitty relationship and having your bodily autonomy violated (e.g. rape where violence, coercion, etc. are present). But if you accept that both types of behavior can be described using the term "rape" then its really no longer such a big deal to call someone a "rapist"; saying "he's a rapist" becomes equivalent to saying "he's a really big douchebag with whom you wouldn't want to have a long-term relationship". In order to maintain the utility of language we must then invent another term strictly reserved for people who violate other's fundamental rights.

There are several obvious rebuttals to the above. One is that I've miscategorized the actions of Ms. LeBlanc's boyfriend and that his actions really do represent a violation of her human rights. Sure, but if you say that then we just end up playing the same game all over with the term "human rights" since it now covers violations of personal autonomy and non-violations of personal autonomy.

A second, and more substantial critique, is that the actions of Ms. LeBlanc's boyfriend represent a genuine violation of her autonomy. I don't believe that they do; see this post at The Volokh Conspiracy for some thoughts on the subject from David Post which largely mirror my own. If we label his actions coercive then its hard to imagine a relationship that doesn't involved coercion in one form or another; if follows from there that all sex in the context of a relationship constitutes rape. Obviously there's disagreement on the subject; no doubt many of Ms. LeBlanc's readers would disagree with me. But at that point you're no longer arguing about the defintion of rape but rather about definitions such as "autonomy" and "choice" which are damn near axiomatic; it's really hard to have a constructive discussion if you disagree about the fundamentals.

1 For the love of Ceiling Cat put the picture below the fold. I was browsing the front page in class and got definite reactions from the people sitting behind me.

The Ongoing Demise of Hope and Change

Well... fuck.

That's change alright; the Bush administration was never quite so brazen as to announce that human rights would take a back seat to economics. So, is this the worst misstatement in history, or should we should give Secretary of State Clinton credit for truth in advertising?

Doesn't really matter... is it 2012 yet?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Brief Comment on the FFRF

I'm not quite so down on the Freedom From Religion foundation as Ed is. I'm in agreement that the "Praise Darwin" sign is a bad idea, but some of the other things they've done are meritorious. In particular I think that the "Imagine No Religion" billboards, which have caused quite a kerfuffle in some places, probably have a net beneficial effect in the long run by virtue of moving the Overton Window in favor of disbelief.

Stupid Drug Reporting Ensnares The New York Times

So I pick up the NYT this morning and on page 5 there's an article with the headline "Ecstasy Ensnares a New Class of Teenage Users in Brazil"1. Yeah... sure... whatever...

Didn't anyone tell Alexei Barrionuevo that if you've going to blame a drug for ruining peoples' lives its de rigeur to include at least on apocryphal story about a photogenic child becoming destitute as the result of the use of said drug use? Because if you read the article you find out that the only thing special about Ecstasy is that its used by upper-class club kids. And why, pray tell, is that notable? Well... "

“Consumers and Ecstasy dealers come from a higher socio-economic background,” said Cristiano Maronna, a criminal lawyer in São Paulo. “From the police’s perspective, apprehending these individuals becomes more interesting because it will open the door to possibilities of police corruption.”
So, really, the problem isn't Ecstasy at all. The problem is that Brazil has a corrupt police force and capricious drug laws. People who are otherwise minding their own business and not causing any trouble get sucked up into a drug enforcement system which is ripe for abuse.

Might I suggest then to Mr. Barrionuevo and the editorial board of the NYT that they change the headline to something more fitting? Perhaps "Corrupt Cops and Bad Drug Laws Make Life Miserable For People"?

1 Apparently changed to "Ecstasy Ensnares Upper-Class Teenagers in Brazil" for the online version.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Skepticism Regarding Hallmark Holidays

Let me be blunt: I find Valentine's day to be silly in the very least. Ditto Mother's Day, Father's Day, Administrative Assistant's Day, and any other day you may care to name which involves obligatory gift-giving to some particular segment of society. But especially Valentine's day which, at this point in the evolution of man, seems little more than a marketing ploy by florists, jewelers, and makers of cheap chocolate. Allow me to elaborate.

Yesterday a co-worker reminded me that today was Valentine's day. I, being the pain-avoiding sort, dutifully fired up Das Intertuben and ordered the flowers etc. for delivery to the missus. The missus, upon receiving the flowers etc., was made happy. Duties discharged for another year in this regard I went and did some homework.

Some of you are now nodding in agreement, whilst the rest of you are undoubtedly thinking either "romance is dead" or "what a dick". Humor me, if you will, and let me explain myself. What, may I ask, did I prove to my wife by getting her the gifts?

That's the heart of my argument, that compulsory gift giving is essentially meaningless. I do nice things for my wife all the time without prompting, so why do I get bonus points for making with the gift giving on Valentine's day? Its not like it requires a whole lot of thoughtfulness on my part; the Valentine's day ads were all over the web reminding me that I had obligations to meet. Nor was the actual act of purchasing the gift difficult. I just had to click a button, enter my credit card number, and voila, roses delivered to my doorstep.

Delivering on the Valentine's Day gift doesn't prove anything about my relationship with my wife and yet, if I were to fail to deliver, my wife would be disappointed. She's not an irrational person... far from it... but she's been sucked into this silly ritual along with everyone else. When all is said and done it's just gives me one more reason to hate the stupidity of modern US society.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Still Not Weeping

To: Everyone
Re: Weeping

Told You So.

Love, Me

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Stupid Medical Ethics Writing

My wife and I have been debating the recent birth of octuplets to a woman in Bellflower, CA, sparked primarily by this post on the New York Times parenting blog. The missus, an ED physician, largely agrees with Ms. Belkin's assessment that the fertility specialist(s) who performed the implantation acted unethically. On the other hand I find Ms. Belkin's reasoning to be completely unpersuasive:

I covered medical ethics for years for this newspaper, and wrote a book on the subject, and while I have not directly heard this mother’s story nor that of any doctors involved, at the moment I cannot think of a scenario that would ethically allow the implantation of eight embryos in a woman who already had six children. Actually I can’t think of scenario that would allow the implementation of eight embryos ever. There is just too much risk here - to the mother, to the newborns, even to the emotional needs of the existing children. And we need not even get started on the expense.

The fact that she already had a large family at home adds more questions. This technology was invented to prevent heartbreak for parents who cannot conceive naturally, and was then expanded to prevent physical devastation, by helping parents who carry genes for serious illness to screen for such before an embryo is implanted.

I don’t see how it could have been created for this.

God, she got paid to write this?

Her indictment starts out with an argument from ignorance; she has no personal knowledge of the situation but can't imagine how it can possibly be ethical. All she can muster is vague, hand-wavey arguments about "too much risk". Please... if you're a professional ethicist surely you can come up with something better than that? Presumably she recognizes that the individuals with the best information, the mother of the octuplets and her doctor(s), evaluated the attendant risks ahead of time. That being the case she's implicitly questioning the judgement of all those people; that takes a lot of chutzpah coming from someone who doesn't know any of the specifics of the case.

And then there's the argument that "[t]his technology was invented to prevent heartbreak for parents who cannot conceive naturally". Bleh... that's just one step away from "They're PLAYING GOD!!1!!!". She asserts that, because the technology was originally intended for one particular purpose, there's something wrong with using it for another, again without anything in the way of support. Jebus... she's worse than Randy Cohen.

My gut is that there's probably a great deal that I'd find objectionable with respect to the mother's choices, but I simply don't have enough information to make a judgement one way or the other. So, unlike writers for the NYT, I think the wisest course of action for the time being is to keep my trap shut.

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