Hush, hush, keep it down now

10 04 2019

Over 8 years ago the economist Robin Hanson wrote a  post on “gentle silent rape.”

It was a thought experiment, an attempt to understand why rape is punished more often and severely than cuckoldry, something he found “puzzling,” given that, as he had argued in a previous post

Biologically, cuckoldry is a bigger reproductive harm than rape, so we should expect a similar intensity of inherited emotions about it.

Men would rather be raped than cuckholded, he’d said—no mention is made of what women prefer—but in trying to figure out what, besides sexism, could account for the discrepancy in the social response to rape and cuckholdry, he wrote that

It occurred to me recently that we can more clearly compare cuckoldry to gentle silent rape. Imagine a woman was drugged into unconsciousness and then gently raped, so that she suffered no noticeable physical harm nor any memory of the event, and the rapist tried to keep the event secret. Now drugging someone against their will is a crime, but . . . .

Now compare the two cases, cuckoldry and gentle silent rape. . . . Consider also that it tends to be easier to prove cuckoldry than rape, so if we avoid applying the law to hard-to-prove harms, that should favor punishing cuckoldry more than rape.

I cut out all sorts of nonsense—by all means, go read the entire, short, post for yourself—as it focuses on what should be the appropriate punishment for cuckholdry (fines? torture?), and I, like so, so many others before me, want to focus on the gentle silent rape.

Why now? Well, I heard a couple of interviews with Miriam Toews, a Canadian author who wrote a novel based on the real-life mass drugging and rape of Mennonite women by Mennonite men in a Bolivia, a years-long ordeal which was only exposed in 2009.

I’d never heard of this before, and I won’t go into the entire, horrifying and enraging tale here—again, click on the links to read what happened—but upon listening to an interview today I was reminded of that old Hanson post: Hey, didn’t some economist write about the relative non-harms of rape of which the women have no memory?

It was a bonkers post, one which Hanson continues to defend (while declaring that any mention of him as pro-rape is “bordering on slander“). Hey, he’s just, y’know, asking questions.

I’m all in favor of asking questions, and it’s important for scholars to turn conventions inside-out. To analyze a phenomenon fully, it makes sense to poke at it from every angle, to press even on the sore spots.

But if, as Hanson claims, you’re simply “trying to understand the world and work out puzzles and theories,” then you’ve got to bring those puzzles and theories back to the world you’re trying to understand.

He says he’s a “nerdy intellectual type” who’s “probably personally less able to and inclined to think those things through,” which is a helluva statement from someone who’s trying to understand the world.

It’s also irresponsible as hell.

By all means, apply your “simple evolutionary heuristic to ask roughly what would we guess the overall level of concerns about these things to be”, but then you need to, as the economistically-minded are so fond of saying, “mark to market”, to see if that heuristic or puzzle or theory actually does tell you anything about the phenomenon you’re prodding.

Had he done so, Hanson might have come across the story of the Mennonite women in Bolivia, might have considered whether gentle silent rape was even a thing worth conjuring, and whether he had any understanding of harm, much less the world, at all.

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2 responses

11 04 2019
dmf

seems to me that evolutionary psychology has been a net loss to civilization, maybe also with economics:
nakedcapitalism.com/2011/12/philip-mirowski-the-seekers-or-how-mainstream-economists-have-defended-their-discipline-since-2008-–-part-i.html

20 04 2019
absurdbeats

It makes sense that our species’s psychology is influenced by evolution, but goddamn do so many of these evo-psych folks make me want to chuck the whole field in the river.

Metaphorically speaking, of course.

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