Monday, August 1, 2011


This gets tossed around quite a lot. Perspective is easy to say; it's less easy to define. The problem is tailoring the scope of inquiry either too narrowly, or too broadly. One must find the correct scale.

Anyway, I am reading an actual rape victim's take on this. I've read many, and they come in a lot of flavors.  Some of them are angry, some of them are reasoned, some of them are a mixed bag of something I can't define.  The angry ones are the least relevant, but saddest of the lot.  The ones where a woman adds the caveat that it's not possible for the story to be by her told without crying are just about as sad.  Why?  Because, they're not capable of remembering the event without reliving the event.

I do not understand this, but it's not important that I do. I accept that their first person conversations with themselves are different than mine.  I think my way is healthier than their way, but it's their lives and they're free to do with them as they see fit.  I just think it's silly to hold onto that much baggage.  But, that's not my problem; it's ultimately theirs to work through how best they can.

This isn't a measure of strength I hasten to add. There's nothing particularly requiring of me some reserves of emotional wherewithal to recall my past without being subject to it time and again. I just long ago learned how to detach my present state from my prior states such that I can analyze them without being victimized in the process. No idea why I can do this and others cannot.

However, I am growing quite a bit tired of the meme that people are denying to victims the right to their feelings. That people are denying to Twatson the right to have felt uncomfortable.  Few people, if indeed any at all, are saying she's, or you or me for that matter, are not entitled to whatever it is we feel. This is a byproduct of being evolved denizens of the universe.  It's a brute fact of our existence; don't like it? Tough. Go find another universe to live in.

I am told that there exist some valid points on Twatson's side. I've yet to see one that is in disagreement.  I have read carefully and thought a long time on the matters implicated in this nontroversy.  I see no point made by the opposition which has any feature that puts it in the ballpark of externally valid. I add this caveat because what someone experiences in their own head, in their own imagination, in their own feelings isn't a valid argument beyond the already conceded point that we all have feelings and are entitled to experience them.

This says nothing whatever about reality. One's first person experiences need not generalize. They need not even map onto reality.  In fact, quite often our internal dialogue does not map reality.  We are constantly living in "what if" universes inside our own heads; it's how we make decisions and learn. If x is true, that implies what? Ok, what about if x + a is true, what then?  We whittle it away until we decide on something.

I haven't thought it necessary to mention whether or not I've suffered abuse in my life. I still think it irrelevant. Assume that I have. Now assume the contrary. What merits of my argument change incident to either assumption? None at all.

Anyway, go take a look at the article to which I earlier linked, and participate in the comments section. I would urge you to be forthright, but respectful. There's a difference in the abstract conversations we've been having and engaging an actual person on the merits of her experiences.

As you can see, I have been in her comment section quite direct in saying, essentially, yes, it sucks - so what does this tell us?  It's not flip. She claims there are valid points on Watson's side. Press her. Find out what they are. Listen to her story, and evaluate on two levels: emotional and rational.

She seems to conflate dismissing an anecdote as having utility in deciding societal affairs writ large as being the same as dismissing the person's story and, by proxy, the person.  I think not. It is entirely possible to empathize with a person on the merits of a story they have about an event that happened with them. That's quite a human, social thing to do. It is also entirely possible to that while simultaneously saying, "yeah, and that provides us no insight into how to organize a world".  Appreciate her experiences. Feel them if you like. Cry with her. Laugh with her. Listen to her. Argue with her. But do not let base instinct and emotion replace careful, reasoned thinking on the issues.

I am very much interested in the take on matters that women have. I think it's highly relevant to listen and validate their feelings and experiences. But I think this is true of all women, not merely the ones who favor a particular side. I am fully capable of saying, "I know how you feel, but your conclusions aren't borne out by data."  This is, as I'm reminded daily, akin to misogyny and dismissal of a person and her experiences.

Which is odd as this line of reasoning seems perfectly acceptable to atheist with respect to listening to the religious: I appreciate and understand how your religion makes you feel. It's still factually wrong.  Sorry, since you're trying to say that your feelings on the matter somehow dictate how reality for the rest of us functions, we have a problem. If you're just telling me how you feel so that I'll know, we have an entirely different matter.

Do not take "I feel __" to imply "therefore ____ is true." Just because to you and those who love you your feelings are profound it does not follow that your reasoning is profound.  It's entirely possible to be hyper-passionate about something and be completely wrong. In fact, this is almost always true.

The correctness of a position is inversely correlated to how emotional one is about the issue. It is when a subject is most important to us that we must be on our strongest guard against our feelings, lest we be led hopelessly astray.


John D said...

The writer states this...

"Gentlemen, don't dismiss or deny a woman's fear of assault, no matter how outlandish it may be for you to accept it."

My wife had an issue in her past where she was groped in a car by a men who would not let her out. This was a scary incident for her and it hangs with her. She gets frustrated with me when we discuss this topic. Her emotions cause her stress and she often tells me that I can't understand because I am not a woman.

I appreciate that some things cause her fear that do not cause me fear. My point is that it is important to distinguish between rational and irrational fear.

It seems to me that there needs to be some balance. I think that it is common for people to have some irrational fear. To me, a woman being scared of a man in a hotel elevator is irrational. I am not saying the fear is not real. I am sure this is a real fear for many women, but it is not a real fear for most women I have talked to.

In any case, the question is whether men should be more sensitive to the irrational fear of women. The way this comes out for me is that I will sympathize with their fear and if it is a very serious issue that affects their being able to cope then I will personally take steps to help. But, I will not validate their fear as something of value. It is something they should be encouraged to change. They should not feel that they must fall in love with their fear and that their irrational fear will somehow protect them. This does not serve them well. By ALWAYS helping people (men or women) AVOID their irrational fear they will always be trapped by it.

A silly example perhaps... but... my kids are afraid of spiders. This is not so bad. Spiders can actually hurt you so they should be handled with care. Still, in my native Michigan there a very few dangerous spiders. I will clear out the spiders on the porch if they get in the way, but at the same time I try to teach my kids about the spiders. I show them how hard it is to get bit. I explain how they kill insects. I also left a spider web across one of our closed windows so the kids could watch it weave and catch bugs. I think this has helped them be much less afraid. the goal should be to eliminate irrational fear. It just make us more stressed and less happy.

Some irrational fear needs to be stared at. Look it in the eye. Look at the facts. There is virtually no chance of being raped in a hotel elevator. Mugged perhaps... but even this is unlikely with all the witnesses and cameras around. People need to understand the facts about risk and try to be cautious in high risks situations. It is bad for your health and your happiness to be constantly and needlessly alert all of the time.

Justicar said...

I'm going to draw an analogy almost sure to be misunderstood.

Consider it as dealing with a child who is afraid of the boogeyman in the closet, or a monster under the bed.

There are two sets of operative facts in existence: the child's fear, and the existence of monsters.

As I've said, there's no necessary connection between an emotion felt and reality; one need not map onto the other.

Even though we can explain to a child over and again that monsters don't exist, this seems not to assuage their fears.

Similarly, a lot of people who've been exposed to something unpleasant have difficulty in remembering the event without reliving it; the memory is as present and real to them as the event was present and real to them.

This even works for imagined scenarios. It's a byproduct of our evolution.

Just like when dealing with a child's fear of monsters, I am perfectly capable accepting that the fear is real even though in fact no reason exists for it.

So, one can validate another's emotions without having to concede that reality is thereby fit to model those emotions; they are not a pathway to knowledge. They simply are and we must experience them however they manifest. But there is no credence whatever to idea that because one felt afraid there was actually any reason to be in fear.

There might be. Or not. False positives were better for survival than false negatives since failing to be in fear when necessary meant you were dinner. Being afraid when there was no reason meant you lost a few calories here and there.

Brad said...

Wow, this takes courage.

Two points:

As a first cut, we need to make sure the idea that feelings and reason do not contradict or exclude the other: there's a time and a place for both.

Something like the five stages of grief. I read your post and you've made that clear but I thing we need to be exceedingly careful here.

Second, I'm not sure overwhelming her is such a good idea. Beware the Magic Sandwich dilemma. Four on one never looks good and never feels good if you're the one unless you're Optimus Prime and he died in the second movie.

Justicar said...

She indicated the issue is important to her and she wants discussion on it. Meaningful discussion. I take her at her word and doing what I can to help generate it.

It is an important topic which deserves honest, frank discussions. Yes, emotions run high on these things. That isn't a reason to avoid the discussion.

Plus, a blog is a great place to have it as one isn't compelled to respond immediately.

Emotion has its place. Intellect has its. When the two intersect on matters of health and public safety issues, emotional decisions make a loss for everyone.

We are unique in that we're the only animals of whom we're aware who can temper our emotions with the austere, cool serenity of rational discourse. Well, sometimes.

I do not envy her her emotions, but the fact that it is painful for her is no reason to coddle her. She claims there are valid arguments for the Watson camp.

So be it. Let us hear them and see how valid they are. If they're indeed valid, then I can only conjecture that my mind will be changed. So far, all I see is emotional outbursts and ad hoc rationalizations.

Nevertheless, the discussion plods along, hopefully leading towards something near progress.

Copyleft said...

The aspect that struck me was that Rebecca Watson had "elevator issues."

And that's fine! Lots of people have irrational fears, or past traumas that trigger unpleasant memories in situations that most people would find perfectly ordinary. And IF YOU KNOW IN ADVANCE that the person is skittish about Situation X, it's entirely reasonable to expect people to respect that and handle the situation with tact, (i.e., don't throw spiders at someone who's aracnhnophobic).

But did Elevator Guy have any reason to suspect that being in an elevator triggers rape-trauma fears in Rebecca Watson? Nope. And the cry of the gender feminists seems to be "Of COURSE he should've known that, EVERYBODY knows that!" Sorry, but that's simply not true.

Actually, their response is more along the lines of someone who threw spiders into a room at an arachnophobics' CONVENTION. If Elevator Guy had been attending a convention on domestic violence or rape survivors, I'm sure we'd all agree he'd have needed to be especially aware of approaching people as a stranger. No problem there.

And yet, to hear the gender-feminists tell it, the ENTIRE WORLD is a rape-survivors' convention. ALL WOMEN should be presumed to have an inherent fear of being spoken to by strangers, or even being in an elevator with one. ALL MEN should be constantly aware that every female human they encounter is twitching with barely-suppressed dread and horror at the thought of coming into casual proximity to a male.

You're not allowed to ask "Why." Asking simply proves that your "privilege" blinds you to the daily cavalcade of terror that ALL WOMEN face ALL THE TIME.

Somehow, I find myself skeptical of this argument.