Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Telegraph Manufactures a Controversy with Sparse Journalism and a Click-Bait Title (on Men in the UK “Having to Prove That a Woman Said ‘Yes’ to Sex” and More)

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Introduction: What The Telegraph Claimed

According to a recent story from the British newspaper The Telegraph, men must now prove consent under strict new rape guidelines. The first sentence of the story states:

“Men accused of date rape will need to convince police that a woman consented to sex as part of a major change in the way sex offences are investigated.” [1]

After that, several quotes are taken from a speech given by Alison Saunders, whose title is the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). (This would make her similar in authority to Attorney General Eric Holder in the United States.) I am including all of those quotes here:

“Consent to sexual activity is not a grey area - in law it is clearly defined and must be given fully and freely.”

“It is not a crime to drink, but it is a crime for a rapist to target someone who is no longer capable of consenting to sex though drink.”

“These tools take us well beyond the old saying ‘no means no’ - it is now well established that many rape victims freeze rather than fight as a protective and coping mechanism.”

“We want police and prosecutors to make sure they ask in every case where consent is the issue - how did the suspect know the complainant was saying yes and doing so freely and knowingly?”

These statements by the DPP are all made with respect to existing UK laws, and in fact contain nothing in the way of demanding further “proof” of anything from suspects.

Many were under the impression, based on The Telegraph’s article, that these guidelines were some “new” and essentially draconian rules for police investigations meant to presume men guilty when accused, regardless of whether they are or not (“guilty until proven innocent”).

And I, as well, initially thought that to be the case, and wrote a lengthy post highly similar to my article on the “Yes Means Yes” bill in California criticizing the misguided carelessness of these supposedly harsh new guidelines and their potential future impact.

After conducting a bit more research, however, I discovered that it wasn’t so.

The Telegraph, to put it simply, misrepresented the nature of the guidelines almost entirely, particularly with their article’s title, which, given what I have found, seems as though its only purpose was for the sake of drawing attention (click-bait) and misleading readers.

My Own Inquiry

As usual, I checked other sources and discovered, essentially verbatim, the same quotes (from DPP Saunders) and the same overall misleading narrative provided in The Telegraph’s article. But I also found references to the fact that rape and sexual assault prosecutions are up over the past year, and the number of additional cases going through the courts, something around a 30% increase, are causing a bit of a bottleneck. I suspect, although I did not find it stated explicitly anywhere, that some might be blaming the new DPP for the entirety of this overload.

Nevertheless, from The Telegraphs story regarding the new rape guidelines, I drew the impression that they were attempting to paint a negative picture of these changes; they certainly struck me negatively as they did many MRA blogs. But, I also had a nagging feeling that something was missing.

As I read and re-read several articles on the subject, I kept seeing references to a “Toolkit” and a document that proposed to define what “consent” consisted of, and yet nowhere were there links to such a document in any of the articles related to the guidelines themselves.

Indeed, the remarks that were made by DPP Saunders were all cast as future tense deliverables, so perhaps these documents hadn’t even been produced yet, I considered. I thought that maybe I should wait, unlike my sources, to see what the documents actually stated, rather than simply accepting a summation from a journalist that I know nothing about in a paper which I don’t read all that often.

Eventually, I started going back to the government websites directly, looking for biographical information on DPP Saunders and anything else that I could find. And as it turns out, when I did that, instead of merely allowing the media to spoon-feed me the news, I came across a wealth of information. Including the documents that were said to be forthcoming, as well as a December Press Release on funding for male victims of sexual violence (that link is here [5], but more about that later).

The documents in question concerning consent were also not that difficult to find once I decided to search for them. The thread that links them together is here. [2] Which looks like it may be where The Telegraph took much of its article from, although the inference that the burden of proof had suddenly shifted entirely to the accused is nowhere to be found there (nor is the implication of any sort of “presumption of guilt,” as several have been brought to believe). The comments section of The Telegraph, as well as many blog sites, are certainly ablaze with such assumptions. But, when I examined the document, what I found was quite different.

What Source Documents Say

The document, “What is Consent” [3], which appears as though it might have originated as a pair of PowerPoint slides, simply goes over the definition of consent as applied by the law. The current law, as its first line states, is: “Consent is defined by section 74 Sexual Offences Act 2003” (meaning that it is based on something pre-existing). I’ll quote three sections of the graphic as examples:

“Capacity to consent:
Issues to consider include whether the complainant had the capacity to consent if:
• s/he was under the influence of drink or drugs;
• s/he suffers from a medical condition which limits their ability to consent or communicate consent;
• s/he has a mental health problem or learning difficulties;
• s/he was asleep or unconscious.”

Note the employment of sex-neutral language, consistent with existing UK law (and not even alluded to anywhere by The Telegraph). Seems fairly commonsensical and typical, does it not? How about when the accused is interviewed:

“Steps taken to obtain consent:
• Enquiring as to how the suspect knew or believed the complainant was consenting to sex and that s/he continued to consent;
• Investigating whether the suspect targeted or exploited the victim at a time when s/he was most vulnerable.”

In another section of the same slide:

“Reasonable belief in consent:
• Recognising or ignoring any signs from the complainant that they did not want sexual activity;
• Checking if consent was given for all the sex acts and not just some, e.g. consent for sexual intercourse but not oral sex.”

I could quote from all of the sections of the two slides, but there is nothing more outrageous within the rest of it than what is in the excerpts above, which aren’t outrageous at all, but are simply guidelines for the types of questions that the police should ask both victims and suspects. Guidelines which are likely not at all different from what most police officers are already doing (does anyone truly believe that the majority of police don’t already question suspects, et cetera, in such ways?).

Consistency is the name of the game, and similar guidance goes out from the U.S. federal government every year on how crimes should be classified, investigated and prosecuted. This is a call for uniformity in approach, an approach which generally already existed; not the creation of, and/or order to enforce or carry out, some draconian new anti-male methodology as The Telegraph painted all of it to be.

Note also that if, for instance, a male suspect, while being questioned, were to say something along the lines of “I’ve never seen this woman before in my life,” or “We never had sex,” then there would really be no point in asking the other questions from the guide at all.

DNA evidence, witnesses to certain behaviors in public, and so on, would be no different than they are now. A person who makes a claim days, weeks or months after the alleged event will still have quite an uphill battle to fight in proving that any such act(s) took place. Normal policing and common sense procedures will remain.

(If you have issues with how police in the UK already operated, that is aside from the matter of these guidelines.)

The rest of the document is no more onerous than what I’ve quoted above. There is no new law, no new anything; just some (nearly redundant) definitions and guidelines.

Then there was that “Toolkit” [4] that was mentioned. But a footnote in that makes it clear that these too are merely guidelines based on existing law:

“The legal definitions of vulnerable or intimidated witnesses is outlined in the revised Code of Practice for Victims – this section considers a much wider definition of vulnerability. The legal definitions are based on the criteria set out in sections 16 and 17 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 and are narrower in scope. See CPS Legal Guidance for further information: link

The linked document mentioned in the footnote is a document from 2013 entitled “Code of Practice for Victims of Crime.” In essence, it tells the victim of a crime what their rights are.

Possible Motivation for The Telegraph Article and Derivatives

So, why did The Telegraph and all those who saw its coverage look no further in investigating these supposedly “new” and allegedly extremely biased rules? Did they know that there was virtually nothing new to see or report, aside from a political speech and some relatively common sense guidelines (which were nearly redundant and more for the sake of uniformity than anything so systematically malevolent as implied)?

Wouldn’t have been much of a story. Wouldn’t have been very efficient click-bait at all.

Wouldn’t have resulted in over 800 angry comments from readers who... didn’t really do all that much reading (but we can’t blame the readers there, or elsewhere, too much for that, as this kerfuffle and the confusion over the guidelines are primarily The Telegraph’s fault).

Finally: Good News Not given Proper Emphasis

Prioritizing controversy over meaningful, truthful and positive news would also explain why nobody, or barely anyone, seems to be aware of the fact that a million pounds is being allocated to organizations that help victimized men. I found that out because I was looking on the UK government’s own Crown Prosecution Service’s website for the details that The Telegraph was so willing to leave out. One could hardly have missed it.

But, good news doesn’t garner as much attention; even when that news is in the same general realm as something “controversial” (or that an entity has twisted to be so). How many people have actually heard of the organizations receiving this money? I’ve been led to believe that no such groups even exist. And they’ve been out there all along, not just planning to help men, not merely rallying the troops, but actually doing things in the trenches, so to speak. I simply picked one out of the list above. They actually have a website! You can contribute to them. Right now!

The related Press Release [5] states, among other things:

“More than £1 million is being provided to specialist rape support organisations across England and Wales as part of the first ever fund to help male victims of rape and sexual violence.

These organisations are: The Green House, Bristol; Southampton Rape Crisis; Mankind, Brighton, East Sussex; Survivors, Manchester; Rotherham Women’s Counsel and Pitstop for Men, South Yorkshire; Safeline, Warwickshire; New Pathways, Merthyr Tydfil Mid Wales; Survivors UK, London; Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, Wirral, Liverpool and Sefton, Merseyside; Barnsley Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Service, South Yorkshire; Axis Counselling, Shrewsbury, Shropshire; Sunderland Counselling Service.” [5]

I chose one of the organizations from the group above at random, conducted a web search, and discovered that they have a web page. I suspect that most of the others do as well.

Go up there and pick another, perform a web search on them, and I am certain that you will find one which is worthy of your help. Do it (if you can)! You will feel better knowing that your contribution will be used to assist and benefit people in the real world, where it truly matters now.

Or, be lazy and click this link to the one that I found here:
https://localgiving.com/charity/rwcs

Author: Krista [Femitheist Divine]
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NOTE I: In regard to the allocations of funds for male victims of rape and sexual violence, I am aware, because I did a post on it, of the issues related to how rape is defined in the UK (forced penetration vs. forced enveloping).

Nonetheless, anything which helps any victims of violence now is certainly a good thing, so I still find it to be something to celebrate, even if I have some problems with other aspects related to it.

Keep in mind that one can be fairly critical of something, or can argue that something is not enough, in and of itself, or due to certain other factors, while still acknowledging the positive fact that it will benefit victims of violence (in this instance, male victims) in the real world today.

NOTE II: I was originally going to write a repurposed and expanded article of criticisms of these guidelines similar to my piece on the Yes Means Yes bill in California, but changed course after doing more reading and finding out that the guidelines in this case had been misrepresented.

NOTE III: If you have any thoughts on all of this, please leave them in the comments below, and if you enjoyed or found this post to be informative, please share it as well. As always, I gladly accept any and all reasonable feedback, positive or negative, and would like to spread the word on this to those who might have been, or who might still be, confused about the nature of these “new” guidelines due to The Telegraph’s careless and shoddy journalism.
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References (Last Accessed on January 30, 2015):

[1] Telegraph Article: “Men Must Prove a Woman Said ‘Yes’ under Tough New Rape Rules”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11375667/Men-must-prove-a-woman-said-Yes-under-tough-new-rape-rules.html

[2] CPS and Police Focus on Consent at First Joint National Rape Conference
http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/latest_news/cps_and_police_focus_on_consent_at_first_joint_national_rape_conference/

[3] CPS - What is Consent - January 2015
http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/equality/vaw/what_is_consent.pdf

[4] Toolkit for Prosecutors on Violence against Women and Girls Cases Involving a Vulnerable Victim
http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/equality/vaw/toolkit_for_prosecutors_on_vawg_cases_involving_vulnerable_victims.pdf

[5] New Support for Male Rape and Sexual Violence Victims
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-support-for-male-rape-and-sexual-violence-victims

Additional (Unused) Links of Possible Interest (Last Accessed on January 30, 2015):

1) My Piece on Rape Definitions and Statistics in the United States, the UK and Canada
http://www.femitheist.net/2014/03/on-definitions-of-rape-and-sexual.html

2) My Earlier Post on False Rape Accusations
http://www.femitheist.net/2014/03/on-false-rape-allegationsaccusations.html

3) My Article on the “Yes Means Yes” Bill in California
http://www.femitheist.net/2014/08/yes-means-yes-law-bill-california.html

4) Joint CPS and Police Action Plan on Rape - January 2015
http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/equality/vaw/rape_action_plan.pdf

5) Main CPS Web Page
http://www.cps.gov.uk/

6) Legal Guidance (of Which This New Guidance Is Just a Small Part)
http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/index.html

7) Rape Protocol in Detail
http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/agencies/cps_acpo_rape_protocol.pdf

8) Rise in Sex Offence Claims Triggering Legal Delays, Says Lord Chief Justice
http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/dec/15/sex-abuse-claims-increase-delays-lord-chief-justice

Friday, January 2, 2015

Casual Musings I: Wasps in a Windstorm

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NOTE: I am starting a new series of informal posts, “Casual Musings,” which I will publish occasionally between lengthier pieces, mostly expressing a few of my thoughts on a variety of subjects for the consideration of others. This is part one of that, and all of it is, of course, just some “food for thought.”
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Some individuals on the internet are, perhaps, mesmerized by the goings-on of sociopolitical advocacy and activists. Unable to remove or disconnect themselves, countless people engage in the endless ideological warring that takes place, and, even when things seem all but futile or stagnant, they continue to express their views and, in some instances, attempt to dictate to others, both passively and forcefully, what is and is not right, and what should and should not be tolerated or allowed to exist.

But, most of the efforts of many individuals are not prudent, thorough or meaningful. The internet’s nature is such that it creates an atmosphere wherein the majority of dialogues’ contexts are often episodic, rapidly streaming by like images on a reel of film, and events and subjects are mostly acknowledged only in sporadic bursts. For a brief time, an issue is at the forefront, a dire matter of justice and injustice, and then it is relegated to a largely ignored internet timeline without any clear resolution as another issue flashes to the front of the stage.

One’s mind is easily worked into a frenzy and dazed when it is inundated with information over extended periods of time, or frequently and repeatedly. And everyone wants to write and speak to prove their merit to others. People attack, are attacked, desperately wish to overpower their opponents, and of course their adversaries have the same desires. Usually, when a petty attack is thrust out, people will rush to respond in kind, unthinking and reactive, and fixated solely on the immediate gratification that permeates much of modern culture.

Indeed, in the ever-chaotic online war of words, the competition is not to be the person with the best thing to say at any given moment, but rather, it is to be the individual who can respond the fastest and most aggressively. Whether the response is measured and well-thought-out usually plays second fiddle to whether it is reactive and abrasive enough. Many people now simply do not have the attention spans or patience for most things which take some time (particularly, as a brief aside, when news stories are involved).

Despite the rapid shifting of events and people’s attentions and thinking on the internet, the debate over sex issues has largely churned to a halt and deteriorated. Today, for instance, MRAs and Feminists remain in a constant state of total war. They cannot agree, cannot compromise, must attack as often and as quickly and as cruelly as possible. A want to win is placed before compassion for humanity.

This is not exclusive to them or to the debate over the issues of women and men and all other permutations of gender, and in fact exists in all realms of internet debate to some degree. Nevertheless, it is certainly a problem amongst MRAs and Feminists, and contributes greatly to the current issue of virtually nothing of substantial value being accomplished in terms of larger end goals, and no genuine conclusions being met in a realistic sense to solve any actual world problems. Most of what we see today between internet advocates is hysterically theatrical at best, and ludicrously farcical at worst.

In truth, anyone who cares to present their views online for the purpose of advocating for social or political change in the world should consider the subject matters for a few hours daily. Especially before writing or speaking on any given topic. When subjects or issues have been studied and thought over at length, which to be genuinely comprehensive and objective ought to take many days, weeks, or even a few months or years, the views of each individual on said subjects or issues should then be reconsidered for errors, elaborated and made precise.

That is, of course, if any activists or advocates online truly wish for the day to come when they shall no longer be forced to concern themselves with the issues that they face and combat today. So that they can then devote their minds to other problems and to new things, and so that people in the real world can be helped, and the human condition, significantly improved.

What would become of the discourse over sex issues today if everyone took a few longer moments to relax and thoughtfully deliberate over the issues that they quarrel over now for greater lengths of time? If they turned away from the paltriness of incessant squabbling, petty assaults, character assassinations, and viewed their opponents only as individual human beings, the represented demographics, all as worthy of fairness by way of being human, and the issues, as things of great importance which only the most well-studied minds and careful, thoughtful hearts should be permitted to attempt to modify.

Social and political changes are dictated by the age. Some ends are inevitable, and others must be meticulously forged and cautiously guided. In that sense, what is best for constructing an edifice of immense importance: quick, cheap and rushed work, or attentive, calculated, and thorough planning?

In a time where instant gratification has become the anticipated norm, and popularity is relatively easy to come by for anyone who can throw together a few simple words that appeal to the simple inclinations of sporadically attentive thinkers, quick, cheap and rushed is the go-to, nearly as a matter of principle, for anyone who feels the call to express their perspectives. But, it ought not be.

What we require are considerate and careful thinkers who take their time and who do not engage in the petty layman’s bickering; true intellectuals with compassionate hearts, sound minds and steady hands. Not those who view the world only through a flashing, narrow lens, or who sting at and attack everything in sight like wasps in a windstorm. We have far too many now in these categories.

Another contributor to the stagnation of the internet’s debates over sex issues is the ideological nepotism which plagues MRAs and Feminists alike, along with various other collectives, leading to the manifestation and continuous, deleterious reinforcement and propagation of a number of biases, extreme partiality, the fogging of facts and blatant perversions of reality.

It is a pity that this tendency toward ideological nepotism and insularity, which many believe is something common to Feminists but not to MRAs, is so prevalent. MRAs, though they view themselves as being above it, in the near isolation of their ingroup, are becoming, each passing year, more reflective of the mentally distorted individuals which they claim to revile, and that cancerous growth is infecting other groups with similar views as well, on both sides.

So long as that sort of nepotism and myopia remains exclusively with extremists, there is little danger of any discourse being derailed or of sensible people becoming the victims, or co-transmitters, of the delusions of those on the fringe. But now, since these mental maladies are becoming commonplace, countless individuals have opened themselves to the influence of demagogues, and much like most religious fanatics, are becoming zealous ideologues themselves. Self-interests before justice. My narrative, which must not be contested, above all else. No compromise or reasonable deliberation. To conquer or die.

When we also consider, and acknowledge, that many of these people have elevated, nearly to the status of prophets, a whole score of lunatics, as is comparably the case with both MRAs and Feminists, we realize why such extremism recurrently manifests. Fear, anger, resentment; an eye for an eye is not just a phrase in revenge and retribution, but also in opposition. And regardless of how people deny their willingness to stoop to the sordid levels of their worst opponents, they certainly will rise to their levels of intellectual degeneracy if they must to protect themselves, their own and their narratives and ideology.

Any sane individual should be astonished and repulsed by most of this. To think that so many people could be so easily persuaded by the filth and drivel of selfish fanatics. One would hope, as well, that those with reasonable minds could equally see such faults in their allies as they do their adversaries when they are so hardly different from those which they ridicule and attack, but this rarely seems to be the case. We have a severe lack, in a sense, of checking and balancing.

And, again, this is another manifestation of ideological nepotism. The us versus them mentality. Our ingroup above, the outrgroups below. Perpetual conflict. Unending escalation and promotion of extremes in increasingly equal measures, for the passively, and perhaps even partially subconsciously, foreseen sake of maintaining solid competitiveness in future standoffs.

It should enrage us all that, while people, women and men, suffer daily from the problems debated in sex issues discourse all across the world, fanatics in all circles, many of which are popular or lead simply because they are so zealous and their offensiveness catches the eyes of the those immersed in today’s belligerent and meandering internet culture, offer insane and undeniably broad bases, devoid of all honest depth, for the easily-persuaded to muddle, confuse and convolute their issues to the point of near suspended animation, or lack of true progression. This must end.

The only solution to these problems is that we must do everything humanly possible to protect, for all time, any new people from the dangers of intellectual degeneracy and ideological manipulation, whether the sources be Feminist, MRA, or any other. If we truly wish to solve the issues facing women and men today, we simply must take a stand. Zealots, fanatics or extremists must not be given too much leverage in any case, and must be reprimanded, regardless of affiliation, for errors in reasoning, distortion of facts, or for otherwise muddling, convoluting, derailing or infecting, to a major degree, discourse with their lunacy.

Such individuals must be shown, sternly, that their behavior has been wretched. Anyone can have a moment of weakness, can be overwhelmed by emotions, or can stray from the sensible path. It can be the case, and be forgiven, that someone passionate is so immersed that they forget to take into account, or appreciate, all of the truths surrounding some issue, subject or collection of facts. But, when this occurs, they must be held to the fire as quickly as possible, and they cannot be allowed to continuously stray and draw others along with them. This is, by its very nature, detrimental to all dialogues over any issues.

It is only after a person who has strayed, whether they have drawn others with them or not, has redeemed themselves that their slate can be wiped clean. All can be forgiven, and forgiveness should be reinforced as a common virtue, but what is harmful must be corrected.

Ethical purity, at least to the extent that it is possible and can be authentically evenhanded, can only exist as a result of self-discipline and education over long periods of time. Remember that charlatans and liars can offer nothing of value to any discussions beyond what they have in superfluity. And, despite all that may come, the side which does the least abandoning of the truth must be the one which stands victorious in the end on every occasion. This is not always the case, of course, but again, it ought to be.

When an individual enters a debate without having previously enlarged the basis of his or her knowledge, it shows a lack of maturity and forethought. However, if the individual then decides that he or she therefore must give up the idea of engaging at all, they become a bystander, and potentially even an enabler, which is nearly just as bad. People who enter into the fray of any discussion must simply remember their limits, strive to learn, and never push too hard until they are ready so as to avoid disrupting conversations, convoluting issues, fogging facts or worsening the state of things.

This, like all else, requires the assistance of others who are more informed and well-founded in their thinking, but they, too, must remember these same sorts of limitations and standards for themselves as well.

And, finally, a few items or ideas to keep in mind and consider.

Things to remember when dealing with others in general, and considering the future:

1) Humanity’s willingness to repeat its mistakes is timeless. Though events and faces may change, the underlying flaws of human beings rarely do. Every century, several new generations are born, and each will repeat many of the same mistakes that those before them did, at least on the rudimentary level. Nothing is a better teacher than direct experience, and for the majority of people, that sort of hands-on learning is necessary. Therefore, look to the past, and also observe current trends, when predicting the course of the future, and adjust, argue and plan accordingly. Every individual makes a difference.

2) There will always be two sides in any debate; by the very nature of debating, this is true. Normally, there will be two primary sides, those in the middle, individuals on the fringes of each side, and a few active dissenters dispersed throughout. How much influence two sides have in any debate, though this rarely occurs but ought to happen far more, can be modified by those not aligned with either, and, again, should be. The two absolute sides will always weave within their narratives portions of what is true, but along with that will come many convoluted distortions. What exists in actuality will almost always be in the middle somewhere, between the narratives of the two absolutes, with elements on the outside that none of them see. Do not allow the absolutes to rule your life or to control any conversation. They will always get a lot wrong, embellish their issues, and dismiss too much. Seek the truth within, between and around them.

Things to remember when dealing with extremists or considering their potentials:

3) Keep in mind that an extremist will not concede any losses, even when they are wrong, unless those in authority above them, who afford them greater power, take notice and become critical. In nearly all cases, they will only be harmful to any dialogue. Therefore, they must be rebuked when they go too far, and they must not be allowed any sort of monopoly as the “just” side of any discussions. They can be contributors, but they must never have control.

4) An extremist will push their fanaticism to its very limits. For them, their ends will always justify their means. Their only desire is to dominate, not to cooperate, and thus they are, by their very natures, toxic, and harmful to the progression of humanity. They will go as far as they are allowed, but will stop at wherever their authorities and most cherished peers deem acceptable at any given moment. If they are provided an inch, they will push it as close to a mile as they can. Do not dwell on them with the assumption that they are rational, and also refuse to award them even the slightest weakness or misstep to misuse for the sake of their agenda and narratives. Often, when battling an extremist, particularly in public view, you are arguing to convince neutral observers; you are not debating points so much as trying to tell a convincing story, and you must offer something of a positive vision. Meaning, always proceed thoughtfully and carefully, and choose your words wisely.

5) Remember that any extremists, though they may not seem relevant or influential as an individual in the grander scheme of things, might be, and likely are, reflective of larger elements or more powerful actors with similar perspectives which work within the current system, and that, in and of itself, makes even the lesser agents dangerous. An extremist’s greatest wish in most cases is to have the ability to entirely remake culture and society to fit the molds which they prefer, usually starting at the earliest stages, for instance, in schools and with children. They wish to reform the minds of all in classrooms, and even in private homes, through literature, media, art, social networks, and any other systems where people, including those with impressionable minds, assemble. Children, who are often depicted as “the future,” will be targeted and cultivated as the instruments with which they will forge their desired outcomes or coveted “revolutionary” paths.

6) If they can have it their way, films, games and other such media will be made depicting the glory, righteousness and splendor of their ideological system and its outcomes, and they will exert their greatest effort, in accordance with that mission, to destroy all that opposes their vision in these realms. If they are given enough flexibility and leverage, you will even begin to see such propagandist works in plazas, squares, parks, on the streets, and wherever else they can be placed for public consumption, in the forms of banners, billboards, signs and other similar types of advertisement. Much of the operations, as well, will be conducted online.

7) In their media, the mediums and vessels of their ideological narratives, not only will they attempt to make their views seem fashionable and “modern,” and all others outdated and even bigoted or violent, but they will make one of their primary goals the eradication of any and all positive liaisons between the sexes and races, and various creeds, in an effort to divide and conquer. Those who join them will be represented as enlightened and “on the right side of history,” and those who are not will be depicted, especially the “downtrodden” groups which they martyr and claim to care for, as misguided, manipulated or both and more, and their alleged deceivers will be undermined and demonized via cleverly crafted, and frequently reiterated and reinforced, ridicule and shaming.

8) Unlike a great deal of religious fanatics, who in many places, at least in the West, are held at bay by distancing barriers between church and state, extremist social activists are not prohibited by quite as many blockades. Do not become complacent and grow apathetic toward the notion that they hold any real power which could someday bring you harm. If you allow this to happen, and simply do nothing, then you will one day find yourself stunned and terrified when your heads of state, your children and students, your politicians, your social representatives, your civic leaders, your industrialists, your media voices, your celebrities, and even your beloved ministers, if you are religiously inclined, become willing to surrender to their resolutions, and do (typically gradually). In fact, you may already be witnessing this sort of thing slowly emerging where you live right now. If you disregard it, you will eventually awake in a world that is entirely unfamiliar, and they will have infiltrated and become your system, making them nearly unstoppable, and the damages which they’ve inflicted, well-nigh irreversible.

9) Over longer periods of time, if they (extremists) have garnered for themselves enough authority, they will see to it that those with views which they find distasteful, regardless of whether those views are being egregiously misconstrued and misrepresented, be barred, and even automatically forbidden, from holding any positions of influence. And anyone who dares speak out will be tried in their courts, both social, in the media, and literal, in trials, and will be made invisible to the world. Dissenters will have no voices and no means of fighting back, and their suffering will be seen as justified, either based on arbitrary statuses attributed to them, or on past ancestral, or modern associative, wrongs which were out of their control, or that they had no part in.

10) And, near the end of this process, extremists will rewrite history, if they are able. They will decry commonly acknowledged accounts of the past as being filled with misleading depictions and perversions of reality, and they will remake history in their desired image. They will portray all great leaders and thinkers who have shaped the world as the ones which best suit their narratives, undermining and villainizing all the rest who were once held in high regard, and they will argue that the qualities which they espouse as the right and greatest are inextricably linked with their perspectives, beliefs and esteemed predispositions. These things will be considered as prerequisite, in their eyes, for true nobility and purity, and all else will be censured, suppressed and systematically annihilated. By this point, and if any struggle is ever allowed to reach this stage in any broad sense, the war will nearly be over, and those on the receiving ends of the cruelty will be unable to fight back. Voiceless, faceless, and if the extremists have it their way, ultimately forgotten and vanquished from the face of the Earth.

Make no mistake, extreme individuals are, from time to time, necessary evils in many fights for sociopolitical transformation and positive progression of the human condition, but extreme collectives, or points of view, especially opposing ones, are almost always inherently deleterious, and must not be allotted significant control of any major narratives or agendas. It is the responsibility of everyone who considers themselves “moderates” in any fight to make their voices heard, to stand courageously against fanatics, and to say that they will not be allowed a monopoly on any discussions, in any case.

It always begins gradually, the advancements of extremists and the rise of their influence; creeping like a ball rolling slowly down a small hill. But, once that hill steepens, the ball starts to pick up its pace, absorbing and collecting things around it on its journey, and it will grow and grow until it spirals out of control and begins to destroy everything which lies before it. Unless, however, someone steps in its way to stop it before it has become too great a monster to halt.

If we truly wish to solve the issues that we face and fight for, then a policy of friendship and cooperation between each of us is inevitable and necessary. Humanity cannot achieve what would be truly fair and help to improve the human condition otherwise, or in the way that many are going about things today.

But, before we can move in any sort of proper direction, those who cannot bring themselves to submit dogmatically to the absolutist mindsets of extremists must take a stand and tell the destroyers and the zealots that enough is enough. We must say to them that we are all worthy human beings, that the truth of our individual values must always come first, and that it is time for us to set our petty differences aside and come together.

Simply tell the fanatics:

Your day is done. I will sit idly by no more.

Take a seat amongst us, listen, care, and strive to cooperate fairly, honestly and reasonably.

There must be, as extreme as it may sound, an eventual utter rejection of those who would refuse to do so.

Author: Krista [Femitheist Divine]

P.S. Ideally, people should think for themselves, but if you are the type that follows causes and allows others to lead, never be afraid to challenge them. Good leaders must be good teachers. If they refuse to explain things so that you can understand them, then their motives may be suspect. Are they just posturing? Are they afraid that to even entertain a question would be to implicitly admit some sort of ideological or personal weakness or frailty? Then, in all instances, you must press even harder, for they may be leading you and others in a direction which you do not wish to go. It is better for everyone concerned to avoid a false path early on than to have to retrace your steps doing the careful consideration that you, and your leader, could have and should have done in the first place.
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NOTE II: If you liked this post, feel free to share it, and if you have any thoughts on it or the general subjects discussed within, or even merely semi-related topics, please leave them in the comments below. I always enjoy reading the feedback of others whether they liked and agreed with what I had to say or not.

NOTE III: As always, assume that not all MRAs and Feminists are a part of the problems addressed above.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dehumanization through Negative Labeling in Sex Issues Discourse

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Overview:

Simple terms defined for the context of this post [1]:

- Label: “A short word or phrase descriptive of a person, group, intellectual movement, et cetera.”

- Labeling: “To affix a label to” or “to classify.”

- Stereotype: “A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.”

- Prejudice: “An unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason” or “any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.”

- Discrimination: “Treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.”

- Bias: “A particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned.”

- Ingroup: “A group of people sharing similar interests and attitudes, producing feelings of solidarity, community, and exclusivity.”

- Outgroup: “People outside one's own group, especially as considered to be inferior or alien; a group perceived as other than one's own.”
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NOTE: Though there are positive labels (e.g., scholar) and positive stereotypes (e.g., group [a] is smart), this post’s focus is on ingroup bias/prejudice and discrimination (us vs. them/the other) and negative stereotypes and labeling. So, there will not be any discussion of positive stereotypes or labels, as they are irrelevant to the purpose here. Also, hereafter only “label” and all of its variations will be used.

Ingroup bias:

→ Prejudice = emotional component of the ingroup bias.
→ Labeling = cognitive component (preconceived beliefs and expectations) of the ingroup bias.
→ Discrimination = active component of the ingroup bias (taking action).
 Prejudice (emotional) leads to labeling (cognitive), which leads to discrimination (action).
 Labeling can also be an action, but it works with the initial prejudiced reaction (“thinking”).
→ Labeling can strengthen old prejudices and create new ones.
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NOTE II: The issue to be discussed here is not whether “labeling” alone is bad. Labeling and prejudice are automatic responses in our brains. In fact, prejudice is needed in many cases to help us make quick decisions about things around us in the world, including people. Friend or foe, fight or flight.

(And, stereotyping is essential to human cognitive processes. Related: Bayesian inference.)

What is to be discussed here is how labels are used, either when subscribed to by a person willingly or when affixed to them by someone else, for the sake of demotion or devaluation. In essence, it is how labeling is employed to dismiss others and/or their perspectives, to shut down debate entirely, or to rationalize and justify actions against others. And, although this phenomenon is not exclusive to the internet, the chief focus here will be on its manifestation online.

For example:

 Negative label: An “undesirable” label, worthy of ignoring, contempt, ridicule, destruction.

The negative labeling process in the context of this post (simple framework):

→ Ingroup [x] is good.
→ Ingroup [x] says that person [y] is part of outgroup [z] (or alike enough).
→ Outgroup [z] is bad; therefore, person [y], like outgroup [z], must be:
→ Dismissed: entirely rejected (and must not be listened to).
→ Hated: condemned/attacked (is the “wrong” type of thing).
→ (Potentially) destroyed: “wrong” and “bad” must not exist.
→ Ingroup [x] is good, so it is justified in carrying out [x] action against person [y] and outrgroup [z].
→ Why? Because, ingroup [x] is good; therefore, ingroup [x]’s actions are good.
→ Whether person [y] uses the label of outgroup [z] or has had it affixed to them erroneously is irrelevant to ingroup [x]. If the behavior or views of person [y] confirm a bias of ingroup [x] that they are similar enough to outgroup [z] to be considered the same, they will be.
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Introduction:

Human beings employ labels for a variety of reasons. We use them to make things easier to identify, for the sake of structure or order (e.g., categorization), and even for destructive purposes such as damaging an individual’s reputation or livelihood. When labeling is negative, it can lead to prejudice (strengthening old/creating new), discrimination and numerous other harmful outcomes.

In the case of debates of sex issues, or the issues of women and men and all other permutations of gender, on the internet, the current trend appears to be to use labels as a means of dehumanizing others so that they are easier to dismiss, hate or even destroy. This method, which will hereafter be referred to as “negative labeling,” is especially prevalent when it comes to people accusing one another, usually with an undesirable connotation in mind, of being “MRAs” or “Feminists.”

At times, this phenomenon might seem as though it exists only in sporadic and isolated incidents, but its recurrence proves otherwise. It is a part of the natural tendency of human beings to ascribe preconceived characteristics to those around us, and to then judge them based on those fixed or generalized characteristics instead of their individual attributes, views and personalities.

In a context compatible with negative labeling, researchers Tayla Bauer and Berrin Erdogan describe the phenomenon of stereotyping, particularly when intended to be negative, as follows:

“Human beings have a natural tendency to categorize the information around them to make sense of their environment. What makes stereotypes potentially discriminatory and a perceptual bias is the tendency to generalize from a group to a particular individual.” [2]

The second sentence of the quote above is highly pertinent to the focus of this piece.

The Effects of Negative Labeling on the Internet:

When a negative label is affixed to someone with no clear indication that the person actually willingly subscribes to the label already, it is normally based on perceptions stemming from differences of opinion (disagreements). An “undesirable” label given to someone is typically used as a justification for dismissing their points outright (with no further argumentation required), to justify hating them, or to rationalize additional action against them (e.g., “doxxing” or defamation). This can also occur if they already use the label of their own volition.

Taking the labels “MRA” and “Feminist” as the most common and appropriate examples, the negative connotations are usually similar to the following:

MRA – Misogynist, conservative, and some other forms of bigot. The general, central focus of the term, when used as a pejorative, is that someone who is an “MRA” is likely to be anti-woman, probably conservative (also often seen as being anti-woman and/or racist), and is therefore an undesirable and even abhorrent person (or abhorrent set of ideas). Naturally, these are all attributes which many Feminists, who tend to be pro-woman and more liberal (or at least “left-wing”), revile (or claim to).

Feminist – Misandrist, left-wing fascist (implied pro-censorship and authoritarianism), and other forms of bigot. The general, central focus of this label, when used as a pejorative, is that someone who is a “Feminist” is likely to be anti-male, pro-censorship (willing to suppress the rights and views of others in favor of their own ideology), and is therefore an undesirable and even abhorrent person (or abhorrent set of ideas). Obviously, these are all attributes which many people, MRAs (or Anti-Feminists) included, revile (or claim to).

Of course, none of the above is true for every single member of either collective. And, of course, there are those within each group who do fit the criteria defined above. However, the point of greatest importance here is not necessarily whether the stereotypes are mostly fitting, but rather, how they are used in the context of debates of sex issues online in reaction to members of opposing causes, or individuals with conflicting views to one’s own.

The labels of MRA and Feminist, especially when used as pejoratives or with a negative connotation intended, serve chiefly to distance us from the most important label of all: [human]. The dehumanization effect of negative labeling erodes social empathy, and creates hostility. This leads to apathy, and in extremes, hatred. The perspectives and experiences of those with opposing views are then undermined, dismissed or ridiculed, and the individual existences of inconvenient (and other) adversaries within opposing causes are erased.

Through negative labeling, people are made into mere embodiments or representations of “bad” ideas or heinous “things” to be despised and rejected, instead of human beings. When they become a label, they are no longer worthy, as the labeler sees it, of individual consideration, and their unique experiences, feelings and views are no longer meaningful, or even existent. They are simply perceived as another cog in a machine which must be stopped or ought not persist. Dehumanized. A faceless abstract.

Negative labeling, in the context of this piece, is typically an outcome of prejudice based on an aversion to disagreement, or a dislike for certain kinds of opinions. And, again, an underlying cause of its occurrence is somewhat natural (but that does not justify it or make it inevitable). Psychologist Gordon Allport, in “The Nature of Prejudice,” gave a description of the intent of ethnic prejudice which fits all other forms of prejudice as well:

“The net effect of prejudice . . . is to place the object of prejudice at some disadvantage not merited by his own misconduct.” [3]

And, on stereotypes (which still applies to negative labeling), he stated the following:

“[Stereotypes] aid people in simplifying their categories; they justify hostility; sometimes they serve as projection screens for our personal conflict.” [3]

The “justified” hostility, as described by Allport and as I have hinted at above, with regard specifically to negative labeling, tends to manifest in three major forms in online debates of sex issues (they are all intertwined and overlap, but can exist in part separately, or without all three manifesting fully).

Three Major Outcomes of Negative Labeling (as a “Process”):

1) Dismissiveness: Points of view and personal experiences are dismissed on the basis of labels instead of individual merit or substance. What the opposing person has experienced no longer matters because their positions are the “wrong” ones. Their claimed experiences may also be fraudulent, and might have been manufactured only to strengthen an opposing narrative and/or to undermine a favored one, and so they cannot be considered credible. Their perspectives are based on the “wrong” type of thinking, and include things detrimental to, or antagonistic toward, a favored narrative or view, and thus must not be given even the validity of sincere acknowledgement and/or rebuttal (and no concessions, especially, can be made).

- Emotionally-impulsive narrative supporting (dogma); a trait that seems to recurrently exist in human society as part of a binary, dualistic construct (e.g., conservative/liberal).

- [Dismissiveness] usually results in attacking the opponent personally instead of what they are saying, typically with specific aim at character or with the ascription of a negative label or set of labels. Or, it will lead to simple ignoring, blocking or reporting. All points from the adversarial individual become representations of the negative label, and because the label is viewed as “bad” by the labeler, the individual’s arguments can be immediately dismissed as morally wrong or factually erroneous without further and exhaustive evaluation. Their existence beyond that is reduced to “enemy,” and the value of their individual humanity begins to deteriorate in the eyes of the labeler (if it hasn’t deteriorated entirely already).

2) Hatred: Empathy for others with opposing views, or of opposing causes, is eroded due to the label(s) ascribed to them (or which they take themselves). They are easier to hate because they become the undesirable (negative) label, and so their suffering seems less significant or even justifiable.

- In order to enforce “uniformed society,” one must brutally shame the deviants.

- [Hatred] usually results in name-calling (or other types of insulting), threats, reporting, attempts at censorship or suppression of dissent, and occasionally, to a lesser extent, public mockery. The individual hated is their label, and not a human being. They are an enemy of a favored cause or ideology, and therefore must be wholly rejected. Hatred can, in many cases, easily lead to a desire for destruction.

3) Destruction: The more people can subvert your humanity, the easier it is for them to rationalize destroying you. Destruction is usually the product of dismissiveness and hatred. A common example of this (though a bit extreme in this context) would be the Nazis exterminating people based on their being labeled (literally, counting Star of David badges) “Jews.” They were made lesser and villainized primarily on the basis of a label, and due to this, their destruction, over time, was justified in the eyes of many (especially the self-identified Nazis who were aware of the killings). Even today, the label “Jew” is seen as negative by some, and is still used to dismiss or undermine a number of concerns that Jews have, along with justifying hating or desiring to destroy them.

- [Destruction] is the ultimate end of the negative labeling process. The individual labeled is fully seen as the undesirable (negative) label. The faceless abstract. The opposing “thing” which must be eradicated. The justifications, in truth, are a matter of perspective, too overgeneralized to be fair, but to the labeler ascribing the negative labels, their desires for destruction are righteous, fully within reason, and wholly warranted. Destruction comes in a variety of forms (successful and not). It can result in blocking, reporting, censorship (attempted or successful), public shaming, defamation, threatening (and actually carrying out the threats), doxxing (gathering and releasing an individual’s personal information in hopes of inconveniencing and intimidating them or causing them some sort of tangible harm). Destruction is terrorism and gratuitous aggression. It is rationalized by the destroyer as being just because what is being eradicated is not a human being with unique experiences and individual points of view, but a repugnant idea. The ends justify the means.

The error in negative labeling, aside from the obvious anti-human and irrational employment of it, is more relevant in the framework of this piece when the label is given to a person who does not actually self-attribute the label (though none of the above would be justified if they did, and all of it is still applicable).

Again, negative labeling is used almost exclusively to dismiss the views and existences of others, to justify hating them, or to rationalize destroying them. None of these things can or should exist in a civilized society, and are nothing but deleterious to the health, fairness, objectivity and nobility of all discussions of any issues.

This leads to something almost as important as, if not more important than, the three major forms of hostility detailed above. The reasons or “drives” behind the process.

The Motivations For “Negative Labeling” and the Resulting “Justified Hostilities”:

1) Aversion to Opposition: Either stemming from fear (anger/despair), indolence or irrational hatred. It could be due to fear of being proven wrong, being too lazy to actually construct meaningful and substantial arguments (unwillingness to research to support arguments), or hatred so strong that the opposing view is seen as too abhorrent to bother responding to in earnest.

2) Desire to Silence or Destroy Opposition: The reasons would be similar to number one, though slightly different. Much of it is based in various types of rudimentary self-interest.

The differences between #1 and #2 are:

Aversion to opposition: Hearing, seeing, perceiving. Opposing views must be blocked out (ignored) or undermined.

Desire to silence or destroy the opposition: Conflicting views existing at all is intolerable (must be suppressed and/or eradicated).

Motivations broken down further:

→ Fear and anger (and, to a lesser extent, simple laziness).

- Fear: An opposing argument threatens own views (breeds feelings of potential helplessness or lack of control, being inferior; fear of humiliation or plain humility, defeat, and/or loss in general).

- Anger: Hatred, arrogance and possibly envy. Anger at the nature of the opposing views, anger at the potential of being “wrong.” Anger stemming from fear (despair). Probably over loss of personal importance or control.

- Laziness: It is easier to block out or dismiss/undermine an argument than to rebut or debunk it. Researching topics and constructing complex and valid arguments is more difficult than blocking.

 All of these motivations would overlap.

What Is Gained, and What Is Lost?

 Gained:

1) Undermining an outgroup’s perspectives (making them look bad so that people won’t listen to them).

2) The strengthening of favorable narratives vs. damaging unfavorable ones.

*Or, the strengthening of favorable views/people vs. damaging unfavorable views/people.

3) The lesser reward of being a “hero” in a “culture war” and the attention that comes with it. 

*Attention = favor (for self or cause or “ingroup”); favor = strengthening of voice and platform, demotion of opposition (weakening of their voice and favor); reward (monetary or other).

 Lost:

1) What is lost for the labeler would be nothing of real value in most cases.

*What is lost “in general” would be, for everyone else, reasonable outcomes and civil discourse.

It Boils down to Simple Cases of “Othering” People:

→ Other = Outgroup (must be unfavorable).
→ Us = Ingroup (must be given the advantage and favor).
 Nietzsche said that behind every human drive is the need for power.
→ Robert Ardrey argued that it was all about territory.
→ The truth is likely an amalgamation of both and more.

There are also the issues of self-awareness and indoctrination. How much of it is deliberate and self-aware, and how much is delusion stemming from indoctrination (or pure ignorance). Do they know that they block and attempt to silence, et cetera, out of fear, because of laziness, or due to their anger? Do they not know, and are unaware of these things on a conscious level, and simply believe that they are justified in what they do? Is it a mixture of all of these things and both conscious and unconscious on different levels?

All behaviors of, and relating to, primal impulsive needs are, theoretically, dominated sub-linguistically, and are thus mostly unconscious; behaviors are to be retranslated according to cultural measures of impulsive requisite. It could be 60% unconscious and 40% conscious. But, any further “psychoanalysis” of motivations beyond this would require a far lengthier discussion, and I imagine that most people reading this have the point by now, or can infer the rest based on their own experiences and observations.

Negative Labeling is Inherently Toxic and Corrosive:

Negative labeling stifles debate and creates hostile discourse climates, which serves only to convolute issues and prohibit the reasonable conclusion of any individual discussions or greater dialogue.

Labeling will always exist because ingroup and outgroup mentalities are naturally built into human psychology, and due to the fact that humans have a tendency to favor classification and organization; we crave structure and the ability to easily identify things based on their categorization.

(Related: Dunbar’s number/“Monkeysphere.”)

However, it is imperative that we consistently remember that the label “human” is the one which must always come first, in any context, and at any time, under all circumstances. Everything else is secondary to that. Placing any superficial labels before individual humanity is dangerous and can lead to dangerous outcomes (e.g., Nazis, Jews and the Holocaust).

And, within the parameters of what is discussed above, negative labeling is almost never necessary or reasonable.

If we truly wish to reduce the occurrence of negative labeling, we should seek to radically change the way in which people are brought up and socialized. Moreover, though, and for those currently involved in the debates of sex (and other) issues online, we must look within ourselves to overcome our animosity toward certain labels and views. We must keep open minds, avoid harmful stereotyping or labeling, and strive to place objectivity and fairness before our prejudices. This does not mean that we cannot still disagree, even vehemently. It means that we simply must avoid, and rid ourselves of, tactics and mindsets which are counterproductive. No reasonable and just outcomes can be had in a world wherein serious discourse is fueled by spite, contempt and fear.

Opponents, or even just individuals with some conflicting views to one’s own, are not reducible to a collective’s general identity. Seeking absolute, black-and-white answers and lines in everything skews perspective and approach; nearly all issues are complex, nuanced and multifaceted, and to have an unbiased, balanced and comprehensive view of most things, one must consider all of the angles. Find and analyze the gray areas. Be willing to civilly engage with someone who has adversarial views and impartially entertain what they have to say.

If there are people who suffer from the problems that all of us debate and discuss, as is often the case with human rights or human social issues, then their suffering is only extended by the negative labeling process.

Each time a debate is shut down because people dislike the “labels” of those on the other side, or because they attribute a negative label to someone who does not use it themselves to avoid productive and respectful engagement, that contributes to, and serves to help enable, the suffering of real human beings.

The ones out there which all of us supposedly care about and fight for each and every day.

“When people rely on surface appearances and false stereotypes, rather than in-depth knowledge of others at the level of the heart, mind and spirit, their ability to assess and understand people accurately is compromised.” – James A. Forbes
“Stereotypes lose their power when the world is found to be more complex than the stereotype would suggest. When we learn that individuals do not fit the group stereotype, then it begins to fall apart.” – Ed Koch
“Attempting to get at truth means rejecting stereotypes and clichés.” – Harold Evans (It all begins with one; every individual.)

Author: Krista [Femitheist Divine]
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NOTE III: This post, by no means, covers everything that could be included in this type of discussion. I simply wanted to take a first step at something fundamental, to lay out the problem as I see it. One could write a book, or many, on all of this, going over just this topic alone (and people likely already have from different angles).

NOTE IV: I am certain that many who read this will have experienced what this post discusses. It has become a fairly common strategy. You can trade out “MRA” and “Feminist” with other terms such as “Anti-Feminist” or “SJW” or even “Atheist” and “Theist” and find numerous occasions where the processes and results will be the same or similar. I focused on MRA and Feminist because they are most relevant to me, but all of it applies to many other labels. “SJW” might actually be more common than Feminist right now, but very few people self-identify as SJWs in earnest. It is almost always used as a pejorative. And, negative labeling can, and does, occur in debates of subjects other than sex issues.

NOTE V: This piece is a “food for thought” sort of presentation. If you enjoyed it, or even if you didn’t, feel free to leave your feedback in the comments below and/or share the post with others. I am sure that many people have their own views on this topic, and I would love to read them.

NOTE VI: (TL;DR) – Negative labeling is bad; only a Sith deals in absolutes; et cetera.
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References (Last Accessed December 22, 2014):

[1] Simple term definitions:


[3] Allport Gordon, W. (1954). The Nature of Prejudice.

Other Items Mentioned (Last Accessed December 22, 2014):

Monday, December 15, 2014

On Anti-GM (Anti-Circumcision) as a Cultural Prejudice

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NOTE: This is a follow-up post to my first piece on MGM. I would recommend reading it before this (Click Here).
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The Journal of Medical Ethics held a virtual “Symposium on Circumcision” in its June 2004 issue [1], and as an introduction, “S. Holm,” who had apparently already read all of the articles prior to publication, made some remarks that seem to me to have been missing the point in many respects.

The title of his short introduction to the issue was “Is the Opposition to Circumcision Partly Driven by Cultural Prejudices?” [2] In what follows, I will debunk a few of his quotes to the point where I could only conclude that the author’s hyperbole was simply intended to make sure that people read the rest of the issue.

For starters, and to introduce and summarize his remarks:

“When reading the papers I found it strange, but of course not really surprising given its symbolic importance, that we are so worried about interventions on the male penis. Why are we not equally worried about other irreversible bodily and mental interventions to which parents subject their children?” [2]

The answer is that we are (or at least should be) worried about other such interventions, and in fact, in this very same issue of The Journal of Medical Ethics [3], S. K. Hellsten makes the case that both male genital mutilation (MGM) and female genital mutilation (FGM) are questionable practices born out of cultural dogma, which is in turn derived from religious texts in each of such cultures:

“Throughout history human beings have mutilated and harmed their bodies (and minds) in the name of culture, tradition, religion, and concepts of beauty, health, normality, or social status. One of the most persistent forms of these physical violations is mutilation of human genitalia. This practice has been related to: taboos about human sexuality; children’s initiation to adulthood, maturity, and reproductive age; aesthetic values; the demands set by various religions, and to hygienic, individual, and public health medical beliefs.” [3]

And:

“From a human rights perspective both male and female genital mutilation, particularly when performed on infants or defenceless small children, and for non-therapeutic reasons can be clearly condemned as a violation of children’s rights whether or not they cause direct pain. Parents’ rights cannot override children’s rights. If we allow parents to decide what is best for their children on the basis of the children’s religious or cultural identity, we would have no justification for stopping them cutting off their children’s ears, fingers, or noses if their religious and cultural beliefs demanded this.” [3]

So, again, perhaps Holm was merely hyping up the magazine with his statements, while Hellsten made his sarcasm, or reductio ad absurdum, perfectly clear and obvious (Hellsten also mentioned governments allowing cannibalism in deference to religious beliefs, just in case his point wasn’t perspicuous enough).

For fear of quoting only half of the article, I will summarize the rest:

Holm next makes a lengthy comparison between genital mutilations (GM) and ear piercings, and questions whether it is right and proper to perform these types of procedures on very young children without their consent, to which I would say that such a line of thinking is at least a start to a sane policy. But, as referenced in my own earlier post [4], there are cultures where young women and men have been so thoroughly brainwashed into a particular set of beliefs that they will, in fact, agree to being tortured in all manner of ways in order to satisfy their parents, tribal elders or religious leaders.

These “rites of passage” have been the basis for psychological studies concerning harsh initiation rituals of various kinds, and it has been demonstrated that they have the effect of bonding subjects to the larger group (fraternity, sorority, military organization or religion) which sanctions the rituals. [5] This phenomenon is so often observed that it is no surprise that the study was partially sponsored by the U.S. Army, which makes no pretense that it is not “breaking” young recruits so as to “remake” them in the proper “militarized” image.

Anyway, to continue the example, does a young girl who asks her parents to allow her to have her ears pierced compare with Army boot camp? (Sarcasm can work both ways.) Obviously, fully cognizant children do want to become socially accepted as they grow older (ear piercing is generally considered a normal sign of womanly “maturity” or “maturation”), and some are willing to do things more extreme than others to achieve this.

We have to draw rational lines, though, between trivial things that a child might want to do to become an adult, and potentially harmful things, whether harmful to themselves mentally or physically, or harmful to society. One simply cannot compare a youngster wanting pierced ears with another youngster stealing a car or killing someone to join a gang, or ear piercing with truly brutal rituals taking place in third world countries. And, there is likewise no comparison between any forms of genital mutilation, which often require the removal of significant portions of sex organs, and an almost invisible pinhole in the adipose tissue of the earlobe.

Are there any procedures that make sense to perform before a child can speak for themselves? Of course there are. Isn’t this, at least to a certain extent, common sense? For example, we give babies and very young children injections to prevent disease, we treat wounds, we perform emergency surgeries when an infant’s life is in danger, and even though there are some “new age” people who would disagree, we typically remove the placenta and umbilical cord from newborns rather than having it drop off naturally as it would among non-human animals. [6]

However, there is no medically necessary (and currently solidly evidenced) reason to go beyond these very basic common sense things. Until more definitive studies prove otherwise, the potential benefits to MGM are negligible at best, and the benefits to FGM are non-existent. There is no need to carry out such procedures unless absolutely medically necessary, and even that parameter primarily only applies to anomalous cases (medical emergencies).

Holm seems to momentarily come to his senses here:

“No, just as in the case of circumcision the question of whether ear piercing is allowable must very much depend on the risk and magnitude of permanent harm, both physical and in terms of later conscious rejection of the procedure.” [2]

But, do you see what he did there? Or rather, what he does all throughout his article. He uses the fact that many people have their children’s ears pierced, largely as a cosmetic procedure (and often at the child’s insistence!), as a crowbar (leverage) to set up a justification for GM being not such a bad thing.

Is it just me, or is this argumentum ad populum not nearly subtle enough? I can only surmise that most people who draw such equivalences are simply not very intelligent (and I forgive them that). However, S. Holm, according to the article header, is either a student at, or more likely, on the faculty of, Cardiff Law School & University of Oslo.

Go figure.

Finally:

“It is therefore very interesting that the piece of evidence we really need to have in order to be able to assess the status of circumcision is singularly lacking. We simply do not have valid comparative data concerning the effects of early circumcision on adult sexual function and satisfaction. Until such data become available, the circumcision debate cannot be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and there will always be a lingering suspicion that the sometimes rather strident opposition to circumcision is partly driven by cultural prejudices, dressed up as ethical arguments.” [2] 

Once more, we see the trick; simply denying that there is any evidence of harm when, in fact, there is an abundance. And, his final sentence pushes the argument even further, implying that those who oppose GM have their own cultural axes to grind, when in the vast majority of cases, the situation is just the opposite.

All forms of GM that have been referenced here go back to one or two holy books, and then the cultures that sprang up around them. There is no cultural precursor to merely letting nature take its course. It hardly fits the definition of a “rite of passage” [7] to inform a subject that, in order to become an adult, they need do nothing, which is the actual state of affairs, and does not require slicing off bits of oneself.

A rite of passage is a ritual which involves doing something. Those of us who oppose GM of all kinds instead recommend doing nothing, especially when what is being proposed is a mostly superfluous procedure that violates bodily autonomy and even human rights (as I demonstrated in my previous post on MGM). His implication that the entire issue is just a cultural matter of opinion is nonsense.

NOTE II: I used a total of 33 references in my previous piece on male circumcision (mentioned above), and most of them refer to MGM as well as FGM, so I will just suggest that readers go there for many articles on the subject, both pro and con (link provided below on [4]).

And, to be sure, there are also many sources that try, by twisting logic to the breaking point, to make the case that somehow GM is not only harmless, but in a few ways, desirable. I have added a couple links to such articles at the end of my references list at the bottom of this post, and I think that as folks read them, they will recognize these same tricks and attempts at deception being used repeatedly.

The article that I am responding to here is ten years old, but the debate (especially over male circumcision) still rages even today, and that speaks to the fact that for many people, it simply is a religious or cultural “habit” that they are reluctant to give up, no matter what the science says.

I will just point out that reference [10] from the Mayo Clinic is a rather lengthy and data rich article that refers back to the American Academy of Pediatricians 2012 statement on circumcision, which I believe has been incorrectly characterized as pro-circumcision by many, whereas my reading of the AAP work was that it was diplomatically neutral, and even serves to support the argument that the supposed benefits of male circumcision are not well-evidenced enough to warrant the procedure (they stated directly that they cannot recommend it themselves as a surgery which should be routinely performed).

As always, I am prepared to go wherever the research leads, and that path is subject to change without notice. My main objection to GM is that it is most often not done for necessary reasons of health, but for misguided cultural and religious reasons (or based on erroneous beliefs about medical benefits), and what lies at the root of these reasons is frequently a fairly demented view of human nature.

Ending GM (or Male Circumcision):

Of course, the primary solution for ending GM (or, more specifically, in this case, male circumcision) is for everyone to agree to go where the science leads. At one time, a large number of children were having their tonsils removed to prevent various types of infections. Later, it was shown that this procedure had the opposite effect. We know that there is nothing in the Bible about tonsils, so we can examine the meandering course of medical science in isolation in that instance. [8]

What is required now is for the public to be given the clinical facts related to circumcision so that they can make informed decisions on the issue themselves, and where there are matters of public policy, that policy should be informed by the science of the topic as well. Not by archaic cultural traditions, norms and/or customs.

Some aspects of the science may yet be in doubt, but for the most part, it is settled that GM, at least in general, is too risky and unnecessary to be performed without sound medical reasons, of which there are few (or none).

Author: Krista [Femitheist Divine]
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NOTE III: Part of the motivation for this follow-up piece was seeing similar arguments to some/much of the above appearing in numerous places (including comment threads on various videos and articles).

NOTE IV: I did not go into great detail in this post on specifics already addressed in my first MGM piece to avoid unnecessary repetition. Nearly all of the information that was not included in this can be found there.

NOTE V: For reasons that have not changed since my earlier post, I still support IntactAmerica and Foregen and the terrific work that they do, and I hope that rational people reading this will do so as well, however possible.

NOTE VI: Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and share this article if you like it.
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References (Last Accessed on December 15, 2014):

[1] Journal of Medical Ethics June 2004 Volume 30 Number 3.

[2] S Holm, Irreversible bodily interventions in children, J Med Ethics 2004;30:237 doi:10.1136/jme.2004.009001.

[3] S. K. Hellsten, Rationalising circumcision: from tradition to fashion, from public health to individual freedom—critical notes on cultural persistence of the practice of genital mutilation, J Med Ethics 2004;30:248-253 doi:10.1136/jme.2004.008888.

[4] Krista [Femitheist Divine], Male Circumcision (MGM) is a Matter of Bodily Autonomy, Fethez Hub, July 17, 2014.

[5] “Aronson, Elliot; Mills, Judson. The effect of severity of initiation on liking for a group.Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 1959 Sep; 59(2):177–181.”

[6] Gillian Mahney, ABC News Health Blog, New Birthing Trend, Don’t Cut the Cord.

[7] “Right of Passage” defined (Websters):

[8] Stuck, B. A., Windfuhr, J. P., Genzwürker, H., Schroten, H., Tenenbaum, T., & Götte, K. (2008). Tonsillectomy in Children. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International,105(49), 852–861. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2008.0852

Other Articles Partially or Fully Justifying GM:

[9] A M Viens, Value judgment, harm, and religious liberty, J Med Ethics 2004;30:241-247 doi:10.1136/jme.2003.003921.

[10] Brian J. Morris, DSc, PhD; Stefan A. Bailis, PsyD; and Thomas E. Wiswell, MD.
“Circumcision Rates in the United States: Rising or Falling? What Effect Might the New Affirmative Pediatric Policy Statement Have?”
2014 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Article referenced at: