Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hints for the ethically challenged.

For reasons that I shall explain later, my life has (again) been enough of a mess as of late to prevent me from blogging. I will break my too-long silence, however, to note my complete disgust with an article sent to my attention by Nancy Parmalee: Manliness and Morality, from that cesspool of pseudo-intellectualism known as The Weekly Standard. Seldom have I seen so bald an apologetic for rape and for the misogynist power dynamic that rape plays in our society passed off as a highbrow and "sophisticated" discussion of current affairs.

The author of this article, Harvey Mansfield, assures us from the outset that his article is not, in fact, a work of rape apologetics:
What with Arnold and DSK, male transgression is once again in the news. Let’s not equate the two cases—one is forgivable, the other, if the accusations are true, is not [emphasis mine]. Together with these male transgressions is the reaction to them, still more interesting.
His assurances ring hollow, though, as even this first paragraph ventures into the disgusting realm of making excuses for rapists. Indeed, Mansfield starts off by drawing parallels between the marital infidelities of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the allegations against Dominique Strauss-Kahn that he raped a hotel maid. These parallels can only be held as valid if one ignores the victimization inherent in the act of rape and reduces what is an inherently violent violation of another human being to being a merely unwise decision about how to act out one's sexuality.

Equating a consensual but unwise sexual relationship with what is, by definition, a violation of a human being's right to meaningfully consent to sexuality activities is nothing short of a disgusting failure of human compassion and empathy. It is, in short, quite in keeping with the norms of the comedically misnamed "compassionate conservatism" of which the Standard is so proud.

In the very next sentence, Mansfield discards any hope he might have had for maintaining even the illusion of human compassion:
The reaction shows the power of morality to produce disgust and disgrace at the sight of these male weaknesses.
Let me make this point perfectly clear. Rape is not an example of "male weakness." Period. It is a violent and heinous act perpetrated against another human being, and no amount of sugar-coating by professional misogynists like Mansfield can change that.

Bizarrely, even Mansfield himself seems to be within reach of this basic truth, as he goes on to assert that men are inherently more violent than women, and thus inherently more capable of perpetrating rape. Where he goes with this dim shadow of understanding, though, is enough to make any compassionate person cringe:
It certainly seems strange that being capable of rape can make a person better qualified for greatness, but it’s probably true.
I cannot hope to do better here than to simply let that quote from Mansfield stand for itself. Indeed, Mansfield has laid bare his own view of the world, so that we may understand it for the hateful denial of human compassion that it is.

What else can I call it but a hateful abdication of empathy when Mansfield boldly declares that "[Women] are not rapists but victims of rape"? There is no compassion, no empathy and no understanding in asserting that women are inherently to be victims. Not content to leave things to be merely that disgusting, however, Mansfield continues in this vein:
Being mothers, [women] are closer to their children, and usually suffer more from divorce. Because women are weaker and closer to children than men, the equality of the sexes cannot rest on their being the same. Nor can women be independent, or “autonomous,” certainly not as much as modern women want to be. As vulnerable, they depend on law and morality for protection. The enforcement of law and morality is done mainly by men or by women with the strength of men. [...] Women need men to save them from men.
I could continue to highlight how deplorable and depraved a view it is that Mansfield espouses in this article, but I shall refrain, as I think his own words have made clear how little he is bothered by the hatefulness of his statements. Instead, let me turn this around and offer some hints that he (and other professional misogynists) might gain some insight from considering.

To start with, I should point out a very simple fact that escapes far too many people (as Mansfield so clearly demonstrates): women are human beings. As such, ethical considerations which take into account the suffering of human beings invariably must take into consideration the suffering of the fifty percent of the human population which happens to be female. Living with the rest of humanity must necessarily include, then, living with that half of society that is women.

Another hint for the ethically challenged amongst us is that if one uses phrases like "male weakness" to excuse and to downplay the crime of rape, then in the same stroke, one denies the ethical consequences of suffering on the part of victims of "male weakness." Insofar as ethics are concerned, rape is important and appalling not because it is a "weakness," but because it denies a victim sovereignty over her (or his, despite Mansfield's hetero-normative and misogynistic stereotypes) own body. Naturally, it is important to understand the causes that lead to such violence, but we should not fall into the trap of mistaking the cause for the crime. We do not, for instance, refer to murder by firearms as an instance of "gun-wielder weakness," for in doing so, we would obscure the issue of ultimate importance to ethical considerations: a person's life has been extinguished through violence.

Perhaps the most helpful hint I can offer Mansfield and others suffering from an ethics deficiency, however, is a hint about what ethics actually is. Ethics is a way of codifying and understanding the well-being of fellow human beings, and in particular, the consequences for others that result from our actions. Rape is a breach of morality and ethicality not because it makes us feel icky or outraged, but because it compromises the well-being of other humans. Covering this essential truth with empty and baseless assertions about women inherently being assigned the role of "victim" does nothing to increase our understanding of the suffering that is caused to a woman if she is raped. As such, these stereotypes do not enable us to reach a higher understanding of ethics, but obscures the violent results of a violent act. A woman is not a victim by virtue of the nature of her birth, after all, but because someone forces her to become a victim. This is no different from if a man is made a victim by some act of violence; a clear truth made foggy by the addition of roles imposed on the basis of gender, such as the assignment of "victim" to all women made by Mansfield.

In parting, I will leave two more hints. To those genuinely concerned with ethicality, I would advise that continuing to speak out in the face of malignant pseudo-ethical arguments such as those made by Mansfield can help to make a difference. There is naught to be gained, after all, by staying silent and letting spread an unethical standard such as is portrayed by the Standard. Finally, to the ethically-challenged, I advise that a bit of careful listening to the arguments made by the rest of society can help elucidate why certain actions, like rape, are ethically deplorable. Circling the wagons in the face of evidence of a violent act does not help anyone learn to better live in society, and closes one off to a deeper understanding of the ethics which can act to minimize suffering amongst our peers. In short, we should seek to understand rape, not excuse it.