Thursday, June 4, 2009

Are All Men Capable of Rape?

There has been a lot of interesting discussion going on over at Greg Laden's. He has now gone to three posts (one, two, three) and the discussion is pretty heated. I really didn't have time to engage yesterday and don't have a whole lot today. But I think that there are a lot of very important points to be made about this. I'll start with my first comment on this thread and expand a bit...

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.

28 comments:

JLK said...

Did I already tell you to read The Lucifer Effect by Phil Zimbardo?

If not, I'm doing it now. Read it.

Anonymous said...

Some men are so inverted, neurotic and sexually dysfunctional and repelled by sex that the option of raping any human of either gender holds no meaning, absolutely no attraction at all under any social conditions or any societal norms. If you consider men who suffer from hypoactive desire disorder, or men who are asexual,the idea that all men are capable of rape becomes an untenable argument.

The premise of the argument is just assumed as true,which results in begging the question. That some men in a particular culture in which rape is acceptable will in fact rape,is no revelation, however what is omitted is the fact that not every male in that culture did participate in the rape of another individual which kind of shatters the premise itself.

The "rape switch " proposition is about as convoluted and hypothetical as can be. How about the "ding-dong button alarm" or the "snatch switch" ideas?

Becca said...

So at what point does an attempt at rape count? If someone corners me in an alley, tries to pin me to a wall and rip off my clothing, I'm gonna want him to be prosecuted as a rapist even if I knee him in the balls and stop him first.
What if someone approaches a victim with every intent of raping them, but then notices there's someone else around that can stop it?

From a legal perspective, we can perhaps define a line which constitutes sufficient proof of intent. From a moral/philosophical perspective, it gets muddy very quickly, which is I think part of what Greg's getting at.

DuWayne Brayton said...

So at what point does an attempt at rape count?

At the point that rape has been attempted. This isn't even muddy - if one has attempted rape and for whatever reason it didn't actually work out, they are a rapist.

And I don't see that as being the point that Greg is getting at at all. He is making a significantly different generalization when he says that by virtue of going to war, people are now capable of rape. I am not questioning that some people who wouldn't otherwise rape are capable at that point, but that does not mean everyone is.

DuWayne Brayton said...

JLK -

You haven't before, but I will definitely do that as you have yet to steer me wrong...

Becca said...

At what point is intent an attempt? If, hypothetically, someone is not raping people solely because they fear getting caught, and you put them in the US and they don't rape, but you put them in a Liberian war zone and they do, are they a rapist either way?
For this subset of people, at least, I could see calling this a 'switch'.

Dan J said...

Becca said: "If, hypothetically, someone is not raping people solely because they fear getting caught…"

I've no psychological training at all, so this is just an honest question: Are there really people like that? Are there cases where someone who is caught and convicted for rape admits that they thought about it and intended to do it for years, but never did because of the fear of being caught (until the urge became too great)?

Given the number of truly sick individuals in this world, I'm sure there are some out there like that. Very sad.

DuWayne Brayton said...

I am not sure where to take that Becca, except to say that at that point the distinction becomes so fine that we get to the point where we might as well call all men rapists, because all men are capable of rape, given the right set of circumstances.

I mean we can't know what is going on in someone's head - short of them telling us and I doubt that many people are going to publicly admit that the only thing keeping them from raping, is the fear of getting caught. That's why I think that the distinction must be made when a person is not a potential rapist, but has become a rapist in action.

I would go as far as to amend my assertion and say that instead of everyone being incapable of rape, unless specific variables are met, some people are capable of the act as a baseline and only don't rape for lack of opportunity. But I think that this is actually pretty obvious and not a terribly important distinction - or more importantly a rather fine distinction from assertions I made in the body of the initial post. Indeed I think I covered it as stated - not sure and I'm not reading the whole post to see if it was here or elsewhere - pretty sure it was here.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Yes Dan, there are. There are also people who as a baseline have sexual fantasies about kids - and not all of them like it. Some of them are actually aware and seek help for either of those issues, before they ever act out - though that doesn't always prevent them from acting out.

But yes, there are most certainly people who are like that.

gregladen said...

DuWayne, I have to admit that I have been giving your commentary on this less attention than I 've been giving to some others, because I was assuming (correctly, I"m sure) that you are not an arm waving maniac that I need to look in on by way of blog maintenance. Now I'm reading your post carefully.

Torture is a form of violence. Most people are capable of violence. If there is a violence switch it's like one of those switches that open the door at the grocery store ... it is so much in the background and so automatic that we only notice it when it works slowly or fails. I don't think, as I've said before, rape is a subset of violence for our species, but torture probably is.

Tricky bit here, possibly a fallacy: "The closer humans get to the primitive mind, the more likely they are to engage in what we would consider reprehensible acts. " Rape is not a primate behavior generally speaking, or a mammalian behavior generally. It is found more among birds. It shows up here and there among mammals. So the primitive-derived (or limbic-cortical) spectra must be used very carefully here.

"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."

I would say, as I have said a couple of times, that wartime rape is broken, fucked up behaivor.

Here:

"There are people in the U.S. who commit ...[and all the stuff in between] ... a moral frame and probably do fairly well at operating within that framework."

I just want to make sure that we are not conflating physiological or phycho-physical ability with moral frame. I may or may not have a sexual attraction to various people I know, and I may or may not have a moral frame that determins which individuals I have sex with. A soldier is physo-physically able to kill in various ways, but part of the moral frame determines which individuals to kill, even if the soldier may want to kill some individuals who are off the list, and does not want to kill some who are on the list.

gregladen said...

"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."

Again, this is conflation. "finding repugnant" may have to be more carefully defined. I think it is important when talkng about wartime rape and similar kinds of rape elsewhere that we distinguish sexual arousaal (competent erection, ability to orgasm), other limbic feelings and trends, links to violent urges, social conditioning (which relates to these but is not the same thing) and the philosophical frame. The lack of understanding these different things is what is at root of most of the understanding of this issue. That, and conflating all kinds of rape and getting into discussions of where the line is drawn between "no means yes" and cutting out someone's liver after raping them.

"And this is very much the case with people who commit egregious and repugnant acts such as rape"

Nothing wrong with this sentence per se, but I see it as a clue that we continue to throw rape in with other acts too easily and are not looking at it precisely enough. This implies a kind of hydraulic theory of "repugnancy." In some social contexts we could throw improper use of holy water in here with random violent acts carried out while drunk in a bar and raping the woman in the rice field as being on a multi-dimensional array of acts. We would lose analytical power.


"...within the framework of cultures that accept rape as a matter of course."

There are not any that are normal. This is not a relativistic exercise. Across all the ethnographies I've ever read, only out of control 17-28 year old males accept rape as normal in any non-fucked up culture, and others tell them that this is wrong, and even that is rare. Rape is not a normal human behavor socially though it is common.

I could be missing some cultures, let me know

(Here and throughout I'm really only talkinga bout overpowering, forced stranger-rape. Male assholitude in relation to sex is much more widespread but again, let's try to keep the discussion on focus)


"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."

Again, my assumption is that wartime rape/violent forced stranger rape is the category we are talking about, and this simply does not apply.

gregladen said...

"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."

I would rephrase as follows:

"... the simple fact that there are circumstances such as war and post-apocolypce settings where these sorts of behaviors are commonly practiced by many or most men is adequate evidence in itself, that most men are capable of rape, ..."


"The bottom line is that morality is largely, if not entirely contextual."

Maybe, but we are talking specifically about rape, and rape (again, stranger/war/forced rape) has to do with things that have evolved contexts. Rape should be resisted by most humans, seen as a bad thing, there should be widespread social mechanisms operating, and so on. There is even some evidence of physiological mechanisms to avoid pregnancy in the case of rape.

""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 "

No fair stating that there is a complex set of variables without stating what even a single one of the variables is. This may also be a fallacy ... hard things to think about must be complex. I'm not saying that there is NOT a complex set of variables. I'm just trained to see phrases like this and ask the question... "could you list them please?

gregladen said...

"


"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."

That is an interesting and important statement and I essentially agree with it. But it is unrelated to the question: How does a 21 year old man achieve an erection, sustain it, and have an orgasm, while having 'sex' with a woman who is being held down by his squad leader and a fellow private, in the full knowledge that in a few minutes he himself is going to put a bullet into her heart? Or, more exactly, how does a 21 year old man who, while living out on the farm in Iowa would never be able to 'get it up' in such a horrific context, suddenly find himself able to do this.

"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"

More evidence that you are not focusing on the problem.

"...spectrum..."

I love context, I love spectra, I love referring to complexity. The rape switch hypothesis is about getting a hard on while you are killing someone. Erection are physiologically complex at the cellular level (in the brain mainly) but at the socio-cultural and philosophical level they are pretty simple.

"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?"

I can't, obviously, accept this juncture in the argument (see above).

gregladen said...

You state that you can imagine yourself carrying out a wide range of violent acts under the right circumstances, then you say: "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."
DuWayne, I have to admit that I have been giving your commentary on this less attention than I 've been giving to some others, because I was assuming (correctly, I"m sure) that you are not an arm waving maniac that I need to look in on by way of blog maintenance. Now I'm reading your post carefully.

Torture is a form of violence. Most people are capable of violence. If there is a violence switch it's like one of those switches that open the door at the grocery store ... it is so much in the background and so automatic that we only notice it when it works slowly or fails. I don't think, as I've said before, rape is a subset of violence for our species, but torture probably is.

Tricky bit here, possibly a fallacy: "The closer humans get to the primitive mind, the more likely they are to engage in what we would consider reprehensible acts. " Rape is not a primate behavior generally speaking, or a mammalian behavior generally. It is found more among birds. It shows up here and there among mammals. So the primitive-derived (or limbic-cortical) spectra must be used very carefully here.

"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."

I would say, as I have said a couple of times, that wartime rape is broken, fucked up behaivor.

Here:

"There are people in the U.S. who commit ...[and all the stuff in between] ... a moral frame and probably do fairly well at operating within that framework."

I just want to make sure that we are not conflating physiological or phycho-physical ability with moral frame. I may or may not have a sexual attraction to various people I know, and I may or may not have a moral frame that determins which individuals I have sex with. A soldier is physo-physically able to kill in various ways, but part of the moral frame determines which individuals to kill, even if the soldier may want to kill some individuals who are off the list, and does not want to kill some who are on the list.


"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."

Again, this is conflation. "finding repugnant" may have to be more carefully defined. I think it is important when talkng about wartime rape and similar kinds of rape elsewhere that we distinguish sexual arousaal (competent erection, ability to orgasm), other limbic feelings and trends, links to violent urges, social conditioning (which relates to these but is not the same thing) and the philosophical frame. The lack of understanding these different things is what is at root of most of the understanding of this issue. That, and conflating all kinds of rape and getting into discussions of where the line is drawn between "no means yes" and cutting out someone's liver after raping them.

"And this is very much the case with people who commit egregious and repugnant acts such as rape"

gregladen said...

Nothing wrong with this sentence per se, but I see it as a clue that we continue to throw rape in with other acts too easily and are not looking at it precisely enough. This implies a kind of hydraulic theory of "repugnancy." In some social contexts we could throw improper use of holy water in here with random violent acts carried out while drunk in a bar and raping the woman in the rice field as being on a multi-dimensional array of acts. We would lose analytical power.


"...within the framework of cultures that accept rape as a matter of course."

There are not any that are normal. This is not a relativistic exercise. Across all the ethnographies I've ever read, only out of control 17-28 year old males accept rape as normal in any non-fucked up culture, and others tell them that this is wrong, and even that is rare. Rape is not a normal human behavor socially though it is common.

I could be missing some cultures, let me know

(Here and throughout I'm really only talkinga bout overpowering, forced stranger-rape. Male assholitude in relation to sex is much more widespread but again, let's try to keep the discussion on focus)


"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."

Again, my assumption is that wartime rape/violent forced stranger rape is the category we are talking about, and this simply does not apply.


"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."

I would rephrase as follows:

"... the simple fact that there are circumstances such as war and post-apocolypce settings where these sorts of behaviors are commonly practiced by many or most men is adequate evidence in itself, that most men are capable of rape, ..."


"The bottom line is that morality is largely, if not entirely contextual."

Maybe, but we are talking specifically about rape, and rape (again, stranger/war/forced rape) has to do with things that have evolved contexts. Rape should be resisted by most humans, seen as a bad thing, there should be widespread social mechanisms operating, and so on. There is even some evidence of physiological mechanisms to avoid pregnancy in the case of rape.

gregladen said...

""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 "

No fair stating that there is a complex set of variables without stating what even a single one of the variables is. This may also be a fallacy ... hard things to think about must be complex. I'm not saying that there is NOT a complex set of variables. I'm just trained to see phrases like this and ask the question... "could you list them please?"


"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."

That is an interesting and important statement and I essentially agree with it. But it is unrelated to the question: How does a 21 year old man achieve an erection, sustain it, and have an orgasm, while having 'sex' with a woman who is being held down by his squad leader and a fellow private, in the full knowledge that in a few minutes he himself is going to put a bullet into her heart? Or, more exactly, how does a 21 year old man who, while living out on the farm in Iowa would never be able to 'get it up' in such a horrific context, suddenly find himself able to do this.

"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"

More evidence that you are not focusing on the problem.

"...spectrum..."

I love context, I love spectra, I love referring to complexity. The rape switch hypothesis is about getting a hard on while you are killing someone. Erection are physiologically complex at the cellular level (in the brain mainly) but at the socio-cultural and philosophical level they are pretty simple.

gregladen said...

"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?"

I can't, obviously, accept this juncture in the argument (see above).


You state that you can imagine yourself carrying out a wide range of violent acts under the right circumstances, then you say: "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."

Yes!!! This is exactly the thought experiment that gives me some reason to believe that the "rape switch" is not a totally stupid idea.


"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."

Right. But they don't kow about the switch...

Everything from here "Being a very creative and abstract thinker" to here "egregious acts. Rather, the potential for committing egregious acts is not inherently dependent on one's moral frame" I totally agree with, well said, very important.



"A person does not move from having the potential, to being the thing, unless they actually commit the act."

There is a semantic argument that says don't call a person a rapist unless they've raped. That's fine, but it is nothing other than terminology. What I am saying specifically is that a person goes from one who can't imagine and can't psycho-physically achieve the 'sex act' in the context of forced violence and potential homicide to one that can. That is what the rape switch is.

I think it might be real (I am still treating this as a hypothesis that I don't want to believe in either!!!!) because of the arguments made here and elsewhere.

You can use a different term if you like ("potential rapist" or whatever) for those who have not actually carried out the act, and in truth, it will be impossible to measure or to know

It is also an utter canard. It really does not matter much to the argument, and is more of a distraction to the argument.


"Does that mean that everyone who fits those variables is a murderer, even if they don't actually kill anyone?"

Again, you are totally ruining a perfectly interesting discussion with a semantic argument. Who the fuck cares? Come up with a term for "could murder spouse's illicit lover" (probably "human" would be fine here).

I have no problem with the idea of separating "did it" with "potential." Why not do that, it makes sense? It is also, as I say, not that interesting.

gregladen said...

Yes!!! This is exactly the thought experiment that gives me some reason to believe that the "rape switch" is not a totally stupid idea.


"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."

Right. But they don't kow about the switch...

Everything from here "Being a very creative and abstract thinker" to here "egregious acts. Rather, the potential for committing egregious acts is not inherently dependent on one's moral frame" I totally agree with, well said, very important.



"A person does not move from having the potential, to being the thing, unless they actually commit the act."

There is a semantic argument that says don't call a person a rapist unless they've raped. That's fine, but it is nothing other than terminology. What I am saying specifically is that a person goes from one who can't imagine and can't psycho-physically achieve the 'sex act' in the context of forced violence and potential homicide to one that can. That is what the rape switch is.

I think it might be real (I am still treating this as a hypothesis that I don't want to believe in either!!!!) because of the arguments made here and elsewhere.

You can use a different term if you like ("potential rapist" or whatever) for those who have not actually carried out the act, and in truth, it will be impossible to measure or to know

It is also an utter canard. It really does not matter much to the argument, and is more of a distraction to the argument.


"Does that mean that everyone who fits those variables is a murderer, even if they don't actually kill anyone?"

Again, you are totally ruining a perfectly interesting discussion with a semantic argument. Who the fuck cares? Come up with a term for "could murder spouse's illicit lover" (probably "human" would be fine here).

I have no problem with the idea of separating "did it" with "potential." Why not do that, it makes sense? It is also, as I say, not that interesting.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Greg -

Rape is not a primate behavior generally speaking, or a mammalian behavior generally. It is found more among birds. It shows up here and there among mammals. So the primitive-derived (or limbic-cortical) spectra must be used very carefully here.

I am not using "primitive" in a strictly scientific/anthropological sense - strictly probably isn't the right word either. I am using it to denote a complete reset (through breakdown) of a person's social conditioning, whereupon a new conditioning can be built.

I just want to make sure that we are not conflating physiological or phycho-physical ability with moral frame.

HAHAHAHA!!! I am not laughing at you, but with you...I have gotten into some extremely heated debates with people about inherent/universal morality - suffice to say that I really don't fucking buy it. Nor do I think any ready made moral frame can ever compare to a experientially developed moral framework.

Again, this is conflation. "finding repugnant" may have to be more carefully defined.

Sorry, it actually is what I use because I don't buy universal moral axioms. Better put would be "socially conditioned to find repugnant."

That, and conflating all kinds of rape and getting into discussions of where the line is drawn between "no means yes" and cutting out someone's liver after raping them.

This is something that I am going to write about soon - actually in part as a discussion of what exactly we're calling rape in this military context.

I actually have quite serious issues with the notion that war is that much of an automatic breakdown in the conditioning that prevents men from raping. The issue is that while there isn't a question it breaks it down in soldiers from cultures that treat women like chattel and have far less in the way of baseline social inhibitions about rape, the baseline social inhibitions make a significant difference - put simply, I think the correlation is far more dependent on that baseline than I think you're crediting.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Nothing wrong with this sentence per se, but I see it as a clue that we continue to throw rape in with other acts too easily and are not looking at it precisely enough.

I disagree. I don't believe that in the context of situations that will breakdown social conditioning to this extent, it is irresponsible to assume that rape is a special category. Look at the conflicts in the developing world where rape is so common place. Rape isn't the only extra-egregious act that is being committed. The non-sexual torture and wholesale slaughter of entire people's is also commonplace - men, women and children. I think that separating rape in this context is zeroing in too far and becomes a distraction from what war is causing. This isn't to say that there isn't a place where it is necessary to zero in on it for public health purposes, but that isn't where this post was going.

In some social contexts we could throw improper use of holy water in here with random violent acts carried out while drunk in a bar and raping the woman in the rice field as being on a multi-dimensional array of acts.

There is a different dimension altogether, when we are talking about someone drunk in a bar raping. I would argue that either that person is pathologically prone to breaking down social conditioning, or that person has experienced a slightly different social condition than those of us not prone to rape. Someone who has, for example, grown up in a household that held rather more firmly to traditional gender norms to the extent that their mother was treated in some respect, as chattel.

In the latter case, I would put them in the first category of people I described - those who's social context is outside the western norm.

There are not any that are normal. This is not a relativistic exercise. Across all the ethnographies I've ever read, only out of control 17-28 year old males accept rape as normal in any non-fucked up culture, and others tell them that this is wrong, and even that is rare. Rape is not a normal human behavor socially though it is common.

It isn't that long ago that rape was considered normative in the U.S. It wasn't that long ago that a women couldn't expect help from the police if her husband was beating her or decided to rape her. This is the sort of culture where rape is accepted as a matter of course and where it isn't much of a step to decide to rape outside the context of one's own chattel.

And I think it is extremely relevant because I suspect that the forced on stranger, wartime rape we are talking about stems directly from the values that allow a man to rape and beat his wife.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Maybe, but we are talking specifically about rape, and rape (again, stranger/war/forced rape) has to do with things that have evolved contexts. Rape should be resisted by most humans, seen as a bad thing, there should be widespread social mechanisms operating, and so on. There is even some evidence of physiological mechanisms to avoid pregnancy in the case of rape.

Rape should be, but until very recently a large percentage of men had no compunctions about raping and beating their chattel (wives). And going back further, those with privilege were, some of them, inclined to take advantage of their right to rape peasants who existed on their estates. This wasn't universal, but it was common enough to be legal - which tells us something about the potential for rape being culturally normative.

I understand that you want to keep this discussion strictly on the topic of wartime rape, but I think that avoiding the discussion of rape in other contexts is likely to cause us to miss variables that are probably relevant.

No fair stating that there is a complex set of variables without stating what even a single one of the variables is. This may also be a fallacy ... hard things to think about must be complex. I'm not saying that there is NOT a complex set of variables. I'm just trained to see phrases like this and ask the question... "could you list them please?

And this is where you are showing a very naive grasp of the human mind. This is also the point that makes the discussion of all sorts of atrocities and the variables that have to happen to cause them becomes highly relevant. My point is that what you are asking is impossible. This is because there is no universal set of variables that will cause humans to do anything. While there are some generalizations that are more common than others, none of it is universal.

You and I are both capable of rape. But the variables that would cause me to commit such acts are not the same as the variables that would cause you to.

Let me put it to you with a different behavior and one that I can define the variables that would cause me to commit a particular act. Someone decides to torture and murder my family and I find out who it was and where they are. I would not inform law enforcement, though I would probably inform a friend in case I am unable to succeed. I will then find that person, hurt them and then kill them. And no, I am not talking out my ass - I know that I am capable of that brutality under such extreme circumstances and honestly, that is one of the "conceivables" that churns my stomach and has caused me to lose sleep.

What would you do?

DuWayne Brayton said...

But it is unrelated to the question: How does a 21 year old man achieve an erection, sustain it, and have an orgasm, while having 'sex' with a woman who is being held down by his squad leader and a fellow private, in the full knowledge that in a few minutes he himself is going to put a bullet into her heart? Or, more exactly, how does a 21 year old man who, while living out on the farm in Iowa would never be able to 'get it up' in such a horrific context, suddenly find himself able to do this.

Again, this is indicative that he has found the set of variables that will allow him to commit such an act.

More evidence that you are not focusing on the problem.

And I have explained the reason for that. Focusing in on this one thing is missing the fact that we are talking about a very generalized breakdown of social inhibitions.

The rape switch hypothesis is about getting a hard on while you are killing someone.

The fact that women are a) rarely involved in combat and b) have a less outwardly obvious physiological reaction to sexual arousal is quite probably the only reason we're not including them in this discussion.

Physiological differences do not mean that some women are somehow not going to have similar reactions to some men in the same circumstances.

Again, this is conflation. "finding repugnant" may have to be more carefully defined. I think it is important when talkng about wartime rape and similar kinds of rape elsewhere that we distinguish sexual arousaal (competent erection, ability to orgasm), other limbic feelings and trends, links to violent urges, social conditioning (which relates to these but is not the same thing) and the philosophical frame. The lack of understanding these different things is what is at root of most of the understanding of this issue. That, and conflating all kinds of rape and getting into discussions of where the line is drawn between "no means yes" and cutting out someone's liver after raping them.

I disagree. These issues are all related - inextricably intertwined even. Who we are as a baseline, is going to affect what we do in extreme situations and how we react to any stimuli. Social conditioning is critical to that.

The bottom line Greg, is that in the discussion of the human mind, nothing is universal. There are too many variables to make any actual generalizations - we can't really come close.

And we cannot ignore any variables that will turn someone into a rapist or someone capable of any atrocity. This includes variables that speak to other atrocities besides rape. Rape isn't special in comparison to other atrocities humans can commit, thus other atrocities are relevant to the discussion.

And the discussion of social contexts that foster a greater incidence of rape are really the most critical factor to discuss, because that is the only factor that seems to largely impact behaviors on a large scale - it's the only variable we can actually do something about.

gregladen said...

I promise to have ten thousand words for you but the end of the weekend. Well, maybe I can cut it down a bit. Right now I'm packing for a trip...

One point I'll make for now in response to your excellent arguments (half of which I disagree with): Rape, like many other behaviors, is distinct in its own way. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

JLK said...

@Anonymous (right below my original comment):

I just want to point out to you that rape is about power, not sex. Increases in the incidents of rape are correlated with economic downturns, job loss, etc. It is very similar to the domestic violence literature - when a man is made to feel powerless in his world, he becomes more capable of acting out in a way that provides him the illusion of regaining that power, whether it's through physically dominating his wife, raping her, or sexually assaulting a stranger.

Stranger and spousal rape is almost never about sex and nearly always about power. Date rape, on the other hand, is a subject in need of an entirely different discussion because then we add in the element of coercion instead of just forced rape.

And to Becca - attempted rape IS a punishable crime. The problem is, what happens after you knee the guy in the balls? Unless you render him unconscious and have time to hold him down while you call the cops, you're probably gonna run the fuck away as fast as you can and he'll never be caught or prosecuted. That's why I like Penn Jilette's "pink guns" idea - all women carry firearms and men aren't allowed to and are taught to use them properly. So if some dude tries to attack you, you SHOOT him in the balls and hold him at gunpoint until the cops get there and arrest his sorry ass.

Dan J said...

"I just want to point out to you that rape is about power, not sex. Increases in the incidents of rape are correlated with economic downturns, job loss, etc. It is very similar to the domestic violence literature - when a man is made to feel powerless in his world, he becomes more capable of acting out in a way that provides him the illusion of regaining that power, whether it's through physically dominating his wife, raping her, or sexually assaulting a stranger."

I've seen mention of the incidence of rapes increasing during economic hardships, etc., and I am definitely aware of the correlation of rape with power and control rather than sex. What can this tell us about the increase of rapes during times of war? Is the "rape switch" in some way triggered by high stress levels in general, or specific stressors? I've never been in the military, but I can imagine that being overseas in wartime would be pretty damn stressful.

I admit that I'm a total n00b when it comes to this kind of thing, but I still find it all thought-provoking.

Catharine said...

I don't believe that all men are capable of rape. I do believe that all humans are capable of violence (of varying degrees) but sexual violence is a different animal. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my husband couldn't rape someone if his life depended on it. (And he concurs.) I'm sure many men are capable of rape (and never do it or want to do it), but I think there is too much variation within the subset of "men" to make the generalization that "all" are capable.

I think that rapists are made, not born. One statistic I saw reported that 90% (or some incredibly high number) of rapists were victims of physical and/or sexual abuse, usually as children. Similarly, a high number of rapists witnessed domestic violence as children. Add to that a culture that objectifies and oppresses women and glorifies machismo and I think lots of men would assent to being "capable."

Official statistics reporting the prevalence of rape are wrong. Most people who are raped (men and women) do not report it. Some surveys (like surveys on college campuses) show that 2/3 of rape victims never report the crime. An accurate head count would require an effort no less exhaustive than taking the population census - and even then there are people who would lie. I don't think we can say that rape is "declining," even if that's how it looks statistically.

One night I was working with a group of five women and the subject of sexual assault came up. FOUR out of FIVE of the women (ranging in age from 24-43) admitted to being sexually assaulted and/or raped at some point in their lives. (Not one person reported an assault.) I fear that one reason rape is so under reported is that it has become a sort of cultural norm. Stranger rapes, the ones that often do get reported, are the exception - that is still viewed as a crime. But as everybody knows, most rapes occur between people who know each other; acquaintances, friends, dates, lovers, husbands, fathers, other male relatives, clergy, teachers, doctors...the list goes on and on. Women (and girls) who are culturally conditioned to feel "less than" still, unfortunately, feel responsible for these crimes.

durkas said...

I just thought id add a comment and id like a reply please. How can you say that you have a creative and abstact mind to the point wereby you can concieve commiting acts of torture (which is what rape is), murder, mass murder etc but not rape. You must be a combination of a asexual and a, oh yes a very uncreative and abstractedly deficient individual. Sorry it just makes no sense!!!
PS id like to add that rape is a complicated subject and also if were honest a bit morbidly intelectually intrigueing. That is why i looked this up. But I will never rape anyone because its not in me to cause that much harm to a person. (and i would include torture and murder to that) But if i had no built in conscience, could there be a reason to do it? As a male, as a human, I can see how it would be a concieveable reasons to commit such an act. But i would also like to add that the reason you couldn't concieve raping someone is that you obviously couldn't think of a scenario whereby it was either benificial or totally necessary to do so. (in nearly every way id agree but my self confessed brutal logic simply dosn't) Thats where rape is to some a unique thing and to most, including myslef, an evil thing...

DuWayne Brayton said...

durkas -

You answer it yourself...I can't conceive of a scenario in which it was necessary. I am not imagining scenarios that remove my conscience, I conceive of scenarios in which I, DuWayne, would commit atrocities.

As far as intellectual curiosity goes, I think that is entirely reasonable - important even. Obviously I am one for considering a lot of different, often very ugly ideas as intellectual exercises. I wholly support such considerations.