My gut reaction to this is that it's total bullshit. I want it to be bullshit - almost need it to be. But I then consider the recent discussions about torture and my acceptance that while the circumstances are far-fetched (i.e. on a scale with getting struck by lightening three times, each time standing in the same spot) I can think of hypothetical situations in which I would not only condone torture, but wouldn't hesitate to engage in it myself.
Humans are quite complicated animals. Human minds are incredible and incredibly adept at rationalizing, compartmentalizing and in extreme stress, breaking. The closer humans get to the primitive mind, the more likely they are to engage in what we would consider reprehensible acts. When people are required to break their social conditioning, such as soldiers are required to do - is it any surprise that some of them will break with it more completely? And when people never receive certain types of social conditioning - acts that we find repugnant naturally happen.
There are people in the U.S. who commit egregious acts of violence every day without consideration for anyone or anything around them. They simply don't care who else might get hurt while they play their stupid little games, that carry such dire potential consequences. I believe absolutely and without reserve, that the actions of such people are immoral. But I also accept that such people do not operate with the same social conditioning that I do, nor do they exist in the same social context that I exist in. More importantly, they are not operating under the same moral frame that I operate from. While I don't believe that it excuses their behavior, I accept that just because they don't operate under the same moral framework that I do, doesn't mean or even imply that they are inherently amoral. They do have a moral frame and probably do fairly well at operating within that framework.
These are people who commit egregious and repugnant acts not because their conditioning was broken somewhere along the line, but because their conditioning allows for the behaviors that most of us find repugnant. And this is very much the case with people who commit egregious and repugnant acts such as rape, within the framework of cultures that accept rape as a matter of course. This is also the case with people who would condition children to fight as soldiers or commit acts of terrorism. All of these behaviors are repugnant and our macro-society has a responsibility to try to put an end to such behaviors. But it is important to recognize that we are not up against people who are behaving badly, according to their cultural norms. We are in fact, up against the cultural norms that accept these behaviors - it is an entirely different battle.
Now I think that the simple fact that there are cultures where these sorts of behaviors are well within social norms is adequate evidence in itself, that all men are capable of rape, that all people are as a baseline, capable of all sorts of repugnant behaviors. The bottom line is that morality is largely, if not entirely contextual. Change the context, change the development, change the cultural norms and humans are capable of all manners of atrocity. History and contemporary societies are proof of that. The fact that there are even sub-cultures in the western world that commit atrocities is proof of that.
But what about the other end of this discussion? Because the question is not; "Are all men capable of rape, if their social context is one wherein rape is a cultural norm?" The question is; "Are all men capable of rape?" which implies all men, as we exist within any social context. This is a much tougher question - not because it doesn't have a very simple answer, but because that simple answer rides atop a rather complex set of variables and because it is extremely difficult to approach this question objectively. The simple answer? Yes, all men are capable of rape, all men, regardless of the social context or cultural norms they were raised in.
But contrary to what some seemed to be saying over at Greg's blog, I think that it is important to recognize another simple concept and I believe this recognition is entirely relevant to the discussion at hand. All humans, regardless of the social context or cultural norms in which they were raised, are capable of all sorts of atrocities - given the right set of variables. It is important to recognize this, because without that added context, we're presented with the implication that the potential to contradict our social and cultural conditioning and commit acts that are contrary to our own moral framework is somehow gender specific. This is not a masculine characteristic, it is a human characteristic. Indeed rape is not just an act committed by men, women can and do, engage in acts of rape too - and for the same spectrum of reasons that men do.
So really, the question should be stated; "Are all humans capable of rape?" And we have already gotten the simple answer - but what of the reasoning behind that answer?
Being a very creative and abstract thinker, I can in fact conceive of situations in which I would torture another human being. I can also conceive of situations in which I could be driven to commit murder, including premeditated, first degree murder. I can conceive of situations that would drive me to steal and even possibly harm a completely innocent human in the process. I can also conceive of situations in which I could be driven to commit acts of terrorism, though this belongs right up there with murder and possibly even torture, in terms of likelihood. I can conceive of these not because I don't believe all of these things to be immoral, or because I am somehow morally deficient. I can only conceive of these hypothetical situations because I have an incredibly active and creative imagination.
But no matter how abstract my thinking, no matter how creative I can be, no matter how actively I try to conceive of it, I simply cannot conceive of a situation in which I would rape anyone. I don't think that most people can and I think that's a good thing. I also suspect that this is why many people get very upset at the idea that someone would tell them that they are capable of rape - or for that matter, anything that I listed above. It is important to recognize three things.
One, the fact that the potential exists, does not make anyone a bad person. It doesn't reflect on who you are as an individual, nor does it reflect on your social conditioning. More importantly, it doesn't somehow imply that you are ever going to commit such acts - most of us never do. Indeed, it is unlikely in the extreme that anyone who has been firmly socially and culturally conditioned to believe that these are horrible things to do are ever going to do them, unless there is a pathological basis for such behavior. This potential reflects on no one as an individual - rather, this potential is simply a part of what it means to be human. Being human means that we are all susceptible to being driven to commit heinous acts.
Two, being unable to conceive of a hypothetical situation in which one would be capable of committing any of these atrocities is not the result of being incapable - it is merely a failure of imagination. And as I say, there is nothing wrong with that failure of imagination. I can conceive of hypothetical situations that make my stomach churn and has, on occasion, caused me to lose a lot of sleep - something I can ill afford as a baseline insomniac. In all honesty, I would much prefer a failure of imagination under the circumstances.
Third and I think ultimately the most important. This potentiality does not reflect on one's morality. That this potential exists does not signify a breakdown in one's moral framework. But just as important, the fact that this potential is so very unlikely, does not mean that one has a firm, reasonable or even coherent moral framework. Ultimately, it is outside the realm of moral frames and is actually dependent on social and cultural conditioning. This is not to say that one's moral frame is inherently separate from the potential to commit egregious acts. Rather, the potential for committing egregious acts is not inherently dependent on one's moral frame.
I do have one last point to address, because I think that Greg is way off track. In his post; Is there a rape switch?, He makes this comment, in reference to an old term paper by one of his students:
The switch being on does not mean that rape will happen. It simply means that the man (with the switch on) is now a rapist, whether he actually rapes or not (but he probably will), and when the switch is off, he is not (so he probably won't).
Now a reasonable reading of this discussion will show that this is not something that Greg is saying as an absolute. Indeed, it is clear that he is willing to be convinced otherwise, though he strongly suspects that this is the case. I am going to answer the question in the title and respond to the idea in this quote with an emphatic and resounding; No, this is complete and absolute bullshit.
A person does not move from having the potential, to being the thing, unless they actually commit the act. The fact that a lot of people who end up fitting a similar set of variables commit acts of rape, does not mean that everyone who fits those variables is a rapist. It simply means that those who don't rape, require a different set of variables to become a rapist.
Lets look at another egregious act and a set of variables that will often cause people to commit that egregious act. A man or women is in love with someone and they get married. They have, or believe they have a very strong relationship with their partner, built on mutual trust and respect. They also have a very close friend with whom they have a different sort of relationship, but one that is also built on mutual trust and respect. One day this person comes home unexpectedly and find their partner and their best friend in their bed, having sex. This particular set of variables quite often leads the betrayed party to have a psychotic break and murder one or both of the people who have betrayed them, in a fit of rage.
Does that mean that everyone who fits those variables is a murderer, even if they don't actually kill anyone?
Not at all. It merely means that people who don't commit murder under those circumstances, require a different set of variables to become a murderer.
I'm sorry Greg, but unless and until a person actually commits the act, they only have the potential to commit the act. Until the specific variables that will cause them to act are met, they are in fact, incapable of committing the act.