The horrible case of 8 year-old Leiby Kletzky lost on a seven block walk to meet his mother, kidnapped and murdered by a stranger he'd asked for directions, has prompted various forms of outrage and advice. One thing I've seen quite a few places is the recommendation that children be instructed not to ask men for help, on the basis that men are more likely than women to exploit a child. And I can't help but wonder if that's really the advice we should be giving?
How much harm does it do children to make them afraid of men, to be given the not so subtle message that men are by nature dangerous? I can't help but think that childhood lesson produces a lasting impact that is very real, but also hard to quantify. And is the damage done by that lesson given to all children truly less than the impact of the assaults/killings/abuses directed at a minority of children? We can easily say that protecting even one child from abuse is worth just about anything, but that would be a lie. While it's hard to compare these things, as a society we clearly do... All parents could escort their children everywhere they go until they are 18, to ensure their safe passage, but society has decided that the children's mental health requires the risk of them being given independence, accepting the horrible things that could happen when they exercise it. So is a society tainted by the fear that men are likely to abuse them worth the reduced harm to some children? I'm not sure.
And separate from that, does the warning to avoid men when in need not cross (or at least come infinitely close to crossing) a very sexist, stereotyping line? What makes me uncomfortable is that you could use a similar logic to explain to a young daughter that she should stay away from black boys. Statistically they are more likely to commit crimes. This advice would make her "safer". But that would be a horrible message to send a child; I can't imagine any decent parent doing it. It's offensiveness is obvious, the fact is black people aren't genetically more likely to commit crimes, the increased crime rate is explained by socioeconomic factors. And so now we turn to the advice for daughters regarding men. Are men more likely to commit crimes because of genetic/hormones or is it because of other factors (environment, education, culture, etc.)? If it is not genetics/hormones then it would seem wholly "unfair" to discriminate on that basis, just as it would be to warn whites about black people when the root danger is socioeconomic, not race. Presumably one would argue that crime is more common among males for genetic/hormonal reasons, and I'd probably agree that there is some truth to that. But I'm not sure even that is enough to make it an acceptable form of discrimination, when every individual male is being judged with comparison to the aberrant males.
And of course all this relates somewhat to my earlier discussions about SlutWalk and whether or not women advising women to take precautions in situations where their behavior and/or dress could put them at elevated risk constitutes sexism. In that case my argument was that it's not sexist (against women) to make women aware of the risk of assault and mention precautions they could take to improve their odds, as long as those precautions outlined do not necessitate women being restricted in how they dress or where they go, and so long as society does not see those who flout these precautions as no longer being victims, should an assault occur. In this situation with children, I see a few key difference. There is in this case the prejudgment that all men may be potential kidnappers/pedophiles/murderers. In this case the solution is to avoid asking all men for help, and it is the blanket nature of the warning that I think makes it so sexist. If the advice given to children was instead, ask any adult woman or any adult man in some degree of authority wearing an employee's uniform engaged in his duties (e.g., grocery store manager, postal worker, city construction worker, etc.) then I would feel the advice less sexist and more reasonable; I do not know what the right selection criteria would be for men equally unlikely to violate children as the average woman, but I'm sure there are some.
It surprises me the degree to which so many people seem to insist on an irrational parity between races, genders, suffering, achievements, etc. Parity is rare. How likely is it that any two things in the same class are equal? Most commonly identically classed things have a unique and subtle tendencies across their group which make them, in sum, noticeably different while being in each incarnation able to exceed the other. But that's not the reality people seem to like, it's not the one most people, particularly those who tow the politically correct line, seem to acknowledge. And I'm forever surprised by this ridiculous falsehood of parity.
Yesterday all over the news was a blog post made to Psychology Today by one of their unsolicited writers revealing his "study" proving Black Women are Less Attractive than Whites, Asians, and Native Americans. The blog post included a number of graphs, claimed research over a seven year period, and having supposedly excluded body mass index (BMI) theorized that black women were less attractive because they had more testosterone which made their features less appealing. If you're a student of the world you won't be surprised to learn that Satoshi Kanazawa's "study" was met with disgust, shock, anger, and his post was quickly removed by Psychology Today. But what surprised me in the response, what always surprises me in responses to these sorts of situations, was the refusal to refute (or even discuss) the actual subject matter. The party line seems to be, "All races are equally beautiful. Any attempt to suggest any one race [particularly a minority] is less attractive is racism." Now let me be clear, Satoshi Kanazawa's blog post is not a study; it is missing just about everything one would expect to find in a serious, rigorous academic examination of the topic. Opinions he says he has captured and explanations he has offered for them are, without further evidence and details, wholly unconvincing. But, most who condemn him don't know this or care about this. Most people were just deeply offended by the idea. But, surely the idea must be true, on some level. The idea being not that black women are less attractive than women of other races, but that people (and therefore the society to which they sum) have attractiveness preferences, which are often (if unconsciously) racially based. The true reality of societal attractiveness and therefore racial preferences I don't know and wouldn't dare to hazard a guess, but I am sure society has them. And why on earth would we be surprised? And why on earth would we deny it. For many the refusal to consider the topic seems to stem from a belief that the question is fundamentally flawed or otherwise invalid. You see lots of comments in response, "What is beauty?" "How can one measure attractiveness?" "He's trying to compare apples to oranges." And those arguments are fine things, but they are ultimately nonsense, because they require us to believe that the world's behavior doesn't depend on the real answer to Kanazawa's real question ("How does attractiveness rank by race/gender?"). If you've lived any amount of years you've surely figured out that people's perception of another's beauty matters quite a lot. Beautiful people have a social advantage over their homelier but otherwise identically schooled, motivated, gifted friends and coworkers; and this social advantage can be an advantage in business as well, though also sometimes a detriment. So understanding attractiveness preferences is useful: to understand, compete, and combat the inequities. And inequities are everywhere, and nothing to focus on lamenting. Surely no one would be much surprised by studies indicating female preferences against shortness, against balding, against... Each individual should be and largely is seen as an individual, the sum of his or her particular merits. Tom Cruise is short but has enjoyed the adoration of millions. Bruce Willis is bald yet continues to enjoy the adoration of millions. So why then the surprise and fury that preferences might correlate to race tendencies when individual variation is always available. Again, this man's study appears to be pure bunk, but there is an answer to the question he asked, and it is a useful question, and we shouldn't be afraid to let someone ask it, or to help them find the answer.
And I don't have time to fully go into it, but in the news out of the UK today was fury over their justice minister Kenneth Clark's on radio comments to a rape victim regarding a plan to give reduced prison terms to those who readily admit they committed rape. I won't get into the meat of the story, but I will mention one curious quote at the end of the article:
When he was quizzed during the show on why rape sentences were on average only five years, Clarke said: "That includes date rape, 17-year-olds having intercourse with 15-year-olds.
"A serious rape, with violence and an unwilling woman, the tariff is much longer than that. I don't think many judges give five years for a forcible rape frankly."
Asked if he thought date rape did not count as a "serious" offence, he said: "Date rape can be as serious as the worst rapes but date rapes, in my very old experience of being in trials, they do vary extraordinarily one from another and in the end the judge has to decide on the circumstances.
It isn't very well highlighted in this passage, but time and time again I've seen discussions where people toeing the politically correct party line seem to insist that all rape is equal, and I think that reflects a similar refusal to accept that reality is far more complicated and messy. Each case of rape must be examined and the punishment affixed based on the individual crime, but we shouldn't be afraid to speak about overall impact of varying classes and types of crimes. Far from the exercise being futile, it's necessary and vital for appropriately responding to the problem, particularly in a world where problems are often tackled via governmental budgets. Targeting resources at reducing the occurrence of sexual crimes, appropriately allocating resources for their prosecution, and for treating its victims requires a complete understanding of its incidence and impact. Again, we cannot be afraid to ask any question, dive into any subject, and get whatever answers might be there (accepting the answers only after thorough review).
We can improve our reality most efficiently if we acknowledge it.
And one final tangential note... I really struggle to understand our justice system. The notion that you lock someone in a jail complex for a fixed period of time as punishment is so curiously ineffectual. The prisoner is left with his free will in tact, able to wile away his months or years without any serious reflection or self help and then release him as though we assume him to have changed. And of course he rarely has, most often his mind has retained its felonious nature, and he'll find his way to new victims. And these new victims exist because we failed to act to protect them. Why are we releasing anyone who we have very strong reason to suspect retains their criminal mind? If a rapist is likely to rape again (has done little or nothing to demonstrate a radical change in thought/behavior) what on earth are we doing releasing him in 5 years, or 10 years, of 50 years? Our society seems to be stuck in this useless middle ground. We punish but not so much that any real satisfaction is achieved through vengeance, and we provide only very limited resources in prison to rehabilitate because we require free will participation. And at the end of the day we're all worse for it, with a currently incarcerated population approaching 1% of US residents, and people of felonious minds on the outside no doubt being 10x higher. I'm not suggesting we move towards a Chinese-style reeducation camp model... but I can't believe in a world where we bend free will almost to the point of breaking through commercial advertising, and through political and religious indoctrination, that we are in the area of criminals so incredibly impotent.