Speaking Softly About Rape

A woman has been raped. Everyone knows the name of the assailant: Brock Turner. And the discussion following has been touching and shocking all at the same time.

What follows are my thoughts about what I have seen online.

In case anything I write below creates a doubt, and I wouldn't write that unless I have seen some serious grandstanding and moralizing (and un-friendings) going on, lets establish some of my positions:

  • Brock Turner is a rapist and he should be going to prison for as long as the law permits.
  • The fact that the victim got so drunk that she became unconscious doesn't justify any part of his despicable action, no matter how many minutes were involved.
  • The Victim deserves no shame at all for what happened.

Okay... let's talk about this.

A Measured Voice

One voice that is measured is the voice of the victim, who has elected not to have her name splattered all over the media. I respect that decision. I'll humanize her by calling her "Victoria".

I have read the full text of Victoria's statement to the court and to her assailant. I was moved by its graphic visuals of the scene in the hospital following her shocking awakening to discover that her head was strapped to a gurney and she had no idea where she was or why she had pine needles in her hair. What followed was the alienating indignity of having her body further probed for documentation.

And as if all of that isn't enough, she has to deal with the aftermath of all of this in her head. And she has to figure out how to continue living her life without breaking down and without flying into a rage. And she and her boyfriend have to deal with an alien new reality.

When it comes down to it, there is no price that can be paid to settle this debt by the rapist, Brock Turner. There's no way to get square again. And frankly, he owes her a serious apology and one that is not diluted by the long filibuster that is in his full statement.

What You Are Not Permitted to Mention

I read the Victoria's statement and I think I "get it". I think she used every bit of her will to summon love in her heart to have written so patiently. I am moved and inspired to the full possibilities of the best version of myself.

But then I open the BookFace and I find I am assaulted repeatedly by reposts and words from people I know which seek to impose constraints upon what we are allowed to say aloud and what certain words mean. It's feels like I am being shouted down when I haven't even said anything.

And the conclusion I am left with is that I am someone who doesn't "get it".

We are apparently not allowed to talk about how it is inadvisable to get drunk. Don't even think about it, the assailant named it as the primary contributing factor for him. The fact of a woman being drunk, even to the point of passing out, is not justification for rape, says practically everyone knowing fully that they have the truth on their side.

I don't disagree but that doesn't mean we aren't talking past one another here. If we consider the many factors that are ingredients in this terrible, horrible, unspeakable incident there are two that things that specific people could have done differently that would have changed the situation:

  • Brock Turner could have acted like a gentleman
  • Victoria could have consumed less (or no) inebriating substance

One might be tempted to make the case that I am a heartless and cruel human being who is giving moral shelter to the assailant and re-victimizing the victim if I mention the second point.

But if there are multiple factors that could have been changed to nudge the situation, why not permit ourselves to reconsider them all? After all, any incident is a function of its contributing factors.

This is an idea that is hammered in motorcycle safety class. They present to you multiple scenarios where a crash occurs, and in each one you are required to identify the reasons a crash occurred. The object lesson is that most crashes happen because of a complex of reasons and rarely because of one single cause.

I think we are doing a disservice to Victoria and to this entire discussion if we choose to ignore that "opportunity" is a contributing factor to crime. And the rapist Brock Turner would have had much less opportunity when faced with a sober woman with her full wits about her, resisting with everything she had.

I wish so much for her that she could have resisted. And for this reason, I wish that people didn't drink when they party.

I don't think it justifies Brock Turner's act of rape to say that. I don't think it has to mean that we hold him with any less blame.


But as you can see, I have to speak very carefully in order to say that.

There is something going on in the broader culture around rape. I would call it a campaign to educate except for the sensation of being SHOUTED DOWN BY PEOPLE YELLING AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS!!!

From what I can gather, the shouting is way of reacting meaningfully in the aftermath of a senseless tragedy that we do not wish to compound by minimizing the victim's choices as well. The shouting is a ham-fisted attempt at unequivocal expression of solidarity with Victoria and vocal opposition to the tendency to blame the victim and to show them less support than they deserve.

I think the motivation is noble but the methods are off-putting.

It feels to me like we are trying so hard to control the thoughts of the people around us. We are telling the others around us what to think, and in what exact words. And more importantly, we are making decisions about what must NEVER be thought or said following a rape incident and that we will bring shame down upon anyone who dares to use the forbidden words.

Well, I have to be honest: I shut down when I read words that come on too strong with the thought policing and shaming. And I don't feel good about these interactions. I think that online discussion has the capacity to make us better when we are able to put our ideas together. But it's not the case when faced with this ugly feeling of being shouted down. It isn't the online experience I want to have and it's probably not what you're after either.

Well... Part of the beauty of our age is that we each have our own space to write what we notice. We all have the chance to write the Internet we would like to read. And, hopefully I have written this without shouting and without giving moral cover to Turner.

Speaking Softly

Please take this to heart: When we say things softly and with a heart full of love, we can trust that we will be heard.

We have a term for the experience of reading or hearing something that makes sense: it "resonates". I like to visualize the words echoing softly in the heart and mind of the reader/listener.

We can choose unilateral disarmament. We can choose to speak softly and trust the echoes to make sensible new ideas a part of the way we think and live. And maybe if we do this consistently, we will finally get to have the online experience we desire: sharing ideas, connecting people, and changing things for the better.

Think Bigger

To Victoria

I hear you. I am so sorry for what has happened to you. And, I hope you know that you have touched me with your strength and your compassion.

You are connecting people and changing things for the better. Thank you.

Everything You're Not Supposed To Do After Paris is Attacked

So Paris was attacked on Friday. And all over social media people started telling each other what to do and what not to do. I collected a list of things that it is in appropriate to do so that the next time this happens, we can be prepared. Here goes nothing!

  • Don’t talk about “unimportant things”. I don’t want to hear about your toddlers… Paris just got bombed.
  • Don’t say things that I disagree with. “Unfriend me if you do.”
  • Don’t be silent. We must show the enemy we are not afraid and we will not accept threats. Paris needs to know that we pay lip service. Symbolic gestures (tell the enemy that they) are important.
  • Don’t let revenge motivate you. We must measured in our responses, or we let the enemy set the terms of engagement.
  • Don’t profile. I don’t care that a key mental mechanism of scientific advancement is noticing patterns. It’s only okay to profile if it conforms to notions of “political correctness”.
  • Don’t blame religion, we believe in freedom of religion! Especially not Islam or Christianity. (But atheism isn’t a religion… you can blame that all you want. You can’t have morality without a god to punish you in the afterworld.)
  • Don’t be “intolerant” of any ideas. Even if the ideas imply that it’s okay to murder you if you offend/blaspheme some notion of some god(s). Even if the ideas lead to the brutal oppression and mutilation women. Who are you to judge?
  • Don’t ever even suggest that Saudi Arabia is involved in exporting the ideas that animate coordinated mass murder. They are our “friends” and they sell us oil (it may seem like it’s for profit but they have our best interests in mind).
  • Don’t verbally mention Islamism or Islam. If we don’t talk about it, we can’t be called intolerant.
  • Don’t ever suggest war. War is not the answer.

It really does seem like when you add it all up, people really do want us to do nothing. That is, unless we happen to agree with them.

Using notions of what is “socially acceptable”, many voices emerge to pressure people and selectively work to constrain the conversation so that no one is saying anything too “upsetting”. Of course, the definition of what is “acceptable” and what is “upsetting” shifts depending on who you are. That’s how you end up with so many “Dont’s” that seem to contradict one another.

Sometimes the people doing the pressuring are you and me. We are playing the role of “thought police” any time we take it upon ourselves tell someone to pipe down and be politically correct or to act with decorum. We all have the potential to pressure others and shut other people down nowadays. The worst of us act to embarrass and humiliate and shame others until they submit.

In the aftermath of public mass murder, who does this serve and who does it harm? Does it help the victims to suppress speech? I can’t see how it would. One could argue in reason, however, that suppression of speech is completely in concert with the aim of the perpetrators of public mass murder.

How about we let the people who are still alive speak their words and trust them to revise their words and thinking as they go along? How about we let people react in their own ways? How about we let ourselves work through it?

The enemy wants us silenced. They want the ideas they don't like suppressed and they want the ideas that constrain us from acting in retaliation against them repeated loudly.

Let us defy them. Let us speak openly about the flaws of some of our ideas and begin to revise them. Let us name the enemy’s ideas: Islamism.