Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thinking Aloud And Censorship

I seemed to have inadvertently tested the boundaries of civilised discourse recently by raising a point on twitter regarding our personal responsibility and the crimes that may befall us. It made me wonder - are there any questions that should never be asked, issues that should never be explored?

The question I poised was this: If a man wore a suit covered in £20 notes and got mugged, would you blame him? If a woman wore provocative clothing and was assaulted, would you blame her?

I received a very quick and brutal schooling in sexual politics and rape in response to the question and quickly had to admit that it was poorly constructed and probably had a false premise. Nevertheless, I stood by the attempt to explore the underlying principle of the question, which was how much responsibility we should take for our personal safety in an uncertain world.

Some decided that the question itself was so offensive that it should not have been asked. Worse, merely by asking I was accused of being a rape apologist. Hmmmm. This followed closely on from a heated stream of abuse I received for asking what the actual evidence was for the existence of Satanic Ritualistic Abuse?

I say that there are no questions that should not be asked, perhaps especially if they are inherently offensive. For if we fear to read into such issues they risk quickly slipping into dogma, which is the death of knowledge and inquiry. And I think that those who fear such questions reveal the weakness of their own beliefs.

The idea that discussion of some ideas can be prohibited for being offensive is profoundly dangerous. To prohibit questioning is downright insane.

15 comments:

  1. Welcome to the t'internet! I think you raise some very good points, Ben. It's disappointing that other people behave this way. To an extent, it's a reflection of the nature of the medium in that it is impersonal, but this type of shrill dogmatic approach to politics seems to be permeating all public discourse now, sadly.

    On the substantive points you make, obviously a distinction can be made between 'responsibility' and 'blame', though the terms are closely-connected in meaning. The man in the expensive suit might well accept he is partly to blame if he chooses to wear the suit in certain high-risk situations, but this does not detract from the moral and legal responsibility of the criminal who mugs him. Of course, in that sense the criminal is also being blamed.

    Satanic Ritualistic Abuse? I thought everyone knew that was a moral panic exposed as a hoax many, many years ago. There are lots of conspiracists on the internet who talk about child abuse of various kinds going on today. When the whole 'Jimmy Savile et al' saga kicked-off fairly recently, these people claimed to have been vindicated, which says a lot about their cognitive powers.

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  2. I recently, in an attempt to look alluring, went out in a low cut top and stapled ten pound notes to my top and skirt. I still didn't get a shag. Regards Bill

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  3. I think I must be the only woman who agreed with Joanna Lumley. We do not live in Utopia and we cannot expect everybody to behave in the right and proper manner. This means we have to 'take precautions' - and no - I don't mean carry a condom, either!

    If you are on a train and need the loo, would you be daft enough to leave your iPad, iPhone, expensive mobile phone and wallet on full display to all passing passengers while you are absent? Of course you would not. One has to assume that not everybody is as honest as we are. We hide our valuables to prevent theft.

    By the same token, us ladies have to take a personal responsibility when we go out. I noticed that when I did not or if I was in the company of another woman who 'had it all out on display' and was flirty with it, then I could expect, and received, unwanted male attention. Usually when I go out properly dressed and behaved, this doesn't happen. Quelle Surprise!

    The lesson learned is: dress and behave so as not to attract the 'wrong' kind of attention. Yes some respectable women will still be assaulted by some men who believe it is their right to get off with anybody that takes their eye - but - much of it really is down to personal responsibility. it is in our own personal interests to protect ourselves.

    As I said. We do not live in Utopia and we cannot pretend that we do.

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  4. It's a tricky one, that. Bit like saying "Would you blame someone for having their £500 iPhone stolen for daring to use it in public?".

    As mentioned above, welcome to the internet! Lots of keyboard warriors about these parts ;)

    In answer to your question, I think the two scenarios aren't comparable: I'm not sure that I fully understand why in my own head though, let alone have enough of a grasp of it to explain here...

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    1. ...although some of whatever I was trying to say has been perfectly expressed by Helga22, above :)

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  5. A religiously moral person might decide that knowingly tempting another person to commit a crime would make the tempter responsible for the crime. In contrast, the law usually requires us to exert a high degree of self-control. People judge their behaviour according to the amount of freedom they think they may take for themselves in the presence of others. I frequently disagree with their choices and, needless to say, sometimes their choices misfire. We have multi-cultural influences working on us simultaneously, on one side women's demands for freedom and, on another side, an older male-dominated morality which gives women little value or independence. In response to Ben's final point: a philosopher should be free to ask any question but, as he reminds us, politics is not philosophy.

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  6. Yes but who defines 'appropriately dressed?' It's a sliding (and very subjective) scale and the inevitable conclusion if we go down that route is keeping women locked up at home where they can be kept 'safe'. Helga is it my responsibility as a woman to dress conservatively to protect men from their baser natures? Really?!!! Or can we all be adults and treat each other with respect?

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  7. You're right, it was a bad comparison, and they're right, it does make you sound like a rape apologist.

    Look, whatever information you were given on twitter about sexual politics and rape, I guarantee it was available to you on Google - you just didn't think to go looking for it. Also on google: numerous discussions, debates, essays, blog posts etc. on the subject. You want a discussion? Good news! There IS one. There has been for a long time. How about instead of trying to 'start' one, you work on getting yourself caught up? maybe then you'll have some idea of how not to sound like a rape apologist.

    -SJ

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  8. There are two distinct questions here and they are invariably conflated. The first is whether there is any blame that should be placed on a woman if she wears provocative clothing and then gets raped. The answer, to my mind, is absolutely not. Provocative clothing is not an invitation to commit a violent and brutal act and the fault lies squarely with the person doing the attacking. The same is true of the man in his £20 note suit. Putting stuff on display is not the same as saying it is ok to take it by force.

    That said, the second question is whether you want to take the risk. Personally, I would neither wear provocative clothing nor a £20 note suit, not because I think it would be my fault if I were attacked, but because I know there are people who disagree with my view on the matter and that by behaving in that manner I am increasing my risk of being attacked by them. If I were, the blame would still lie 100% with them, but I chose not to increase the risk of finding myself in that situation.

    If you're holding a gun and I yell "Go on! Shoot me!" it's still you that pulls the trigger and it's still you committing the crime.

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    1. But, no, there are no questions that should not be asked. The only way to solve these problems is by discussing them, and you can't do that if a topic is taboo.

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    2. What Wigarse said. Two, entirely separate, questions get conflated and everyone, particularly on shrill Twitter, becomes nigh-on hysterical. Especially the Fabians, who love telling people to shut up. No, the tits and teeth girl and the £20 suited man are not to blame. Yes, they - and all of us - must decide on our own acceptable level of risk-taking.

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  9. Feminism... the bigotry that dare not speak its name.

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  10. Maybe in some cases the victim would not be blameless if they could be shown to Outrage Public Decency which is an offence:- http://www.inbrief.co.uk/offences/outraging-public-decency.htm

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  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  12. Nevertheless, no, there won't be any inquiries that should not be requested. The best way to remedy these complications is by speaking about them, and you also can not do this if the subject matter is actually taboo.
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