Reason Magazine defending pornography while pretending to be against rape.

A vile article from Reason Magazine, a Libertarian rag, and therefore a pro-pornography rag, seeks to defend pornography from a new perspective: fighting against pornography, they say, provides aid and comfort to… rapists!

The argument is so bizarre, even for Libertarians, that it makes one’s head spin. Radical feminists are pretty much the last people who would provide aid and comfort to rapists, and to accuse them of such is laughable. Likewise, people who argue against pornography do so partially because pornography has been proven to make its users more open to supporting to rape culture. But the author, Brendan O’Neill, doesn’t believe in the rape culture, like any good woman-hater who supports pornography:

“Rape culture” is the name given to a vast array of mostly harmless cultural practices—from saucy magazines to sexist banter on campus—which feminists claim contribute to a social disregard and even disdain for women’s equality and security. On both sides of the Atlantic, the rallying cry of third-wave feminists is that culture makes men wicked and reduces women to victims.

O’Neill has to trivialize pornography and sexual harassment in order to pretend that rape culture does not exist. The problem is not “saucy magazines” or “sexist banter.” This is not what feminists are talking about when they talk about rape culture. They are talking about, for one, rape. They are talking about pornography, real pornography, which is violent, abusive and often the result of rape and sexual coercion. They are talking about the objectification of women that permeates our culture. They are talking about the sexual harassment that many women experience on a daily basis. They are talking about the lack of political power given to women, the fact that men decide of the fate of their bodies. And they are also talking about the ideology of hate that people like O’Neill propagate, an ideology which trivializes and demeans women’s concerns, an ideology which refuses to confront rape culture or sexism.

There are two big problems with the idea of “rape culture.” The first is that it is built on some very shoddy statistics. As Christina Hoff Sommers, Cathy Young, and others have amply demonstrated, it simply isn’t true that one in four women are sexually assaulted or that women in the 21st century live in a “sea of misogyny.”

Now we see this author’s true colors. Christina Hoff Sommers is an MRA who posts at A Voice For Men. Cathy Young is not an MRA, but she is a known anti-feminist. At this point it is now clear now what O’Neill’s agenda is: anti-feminism. His data is no more credible than relying on the Institute for Creation Research for your data on the biological evolution of species.

The second problem is that the fetishisation of culture as the cause of violence and shaper of attitudes smashes the idea of free will and moral autonomy. And this is a boon to those who have chosen, freely, to do something awful with their moral autonomy. Like rapists.

Libertarians tend to be big believers in these sorts of superstitions: “free will,” “moral autonomy,” whatever you want to call it. Like many proponents of these doctrines, O’Neill uses the same old argument for “free will”: “if we don’t have free will, then you can’t blame anyone, including criminals!” This argument has nothing to do with pornography or rape culture, so I have no idea why he decided to bring it up here. To continue my previous analogy, it’s like arguing against evolution by saying that we can’t really know anything and science changes all the time. Whether that’s true or not, it has nothing to do specifically with evolution. Likewise, the “you can’t blame anyone” argument has nothing to do with pornography. It’s a red herring.

But to address the point, “free will” and “autonomy” do not exist, and we cannot blame anyone for what they do. However, this does not mean that there is no such thing as personal responsibility. To use a crude analogy, if a machine in a factory starts malfunctioning and becomes dangerous to use, we don’t simply say “well, it can’t help it, so we better not do anything” and put workers in danger. Clearly the thing to do is to isolate it and fix it.

Now, as I said, the analogy is crude. Machines in a factory are subject to property in a way that humans cannot (despite Libertarian doctrinal claims of “self-ownership”). Also, machines can be fixed and reprogrammed in a way people cannot be (even brainwashing remains an art, not a science). But the point remains: from a purely functional social perspective, people like Jeffrey Dahmer are “broken” machines, because murder is a monopoly that the State claims for itself. Therefore, whether you believe they should be blamed (if you believe, like Libertarians, that human beings are little gods) or that they shouldn’t be blamed, they should still be isolated and “fixed” (the prison systems we have are incredibly unsuited for the latter purpose, but that’s a different issue). There is no place for laissez-faire here.

O’Neill seems to think that the role of rape culture in feminist thought is to excuse rapists and give them an “out.” Actually, the point is not to excuse criminal behavior against women (which is pointless anyway from a deterministic perspective), but to understand it in order to attack it at the source. This is why feminists have concentrated on rape culture and have pointed out how things like pornography and sexual harassment are based on, and feed, the objectification and demeaning of women: in order to attack the causes of rape, attack at the roots, effect some permanent change. They are not interested in exculpating rapists. Rather the contrary, their interest is in permanently reducing the occurrence of rape.

Can rapists take comfort in the existence of a rape culture? O’Neill is quite confident that they do, but he hardly gives us reason to believe this. It is not only rapists who have no “free will,” and rape culture is not an exception to “free will”: none of us have “free will” and we are all constructed by our culture, amongst other things. So it’s hard to understand why O’Neill thinks that the connection between rape culture and rapists is somehow special and that therefore feminists are to blame for aiding and abetting rapists, while no one else who studies society or takes a position about anything deemed illegal is to blame for anything. Are psychologists to blame for giving comfort to sociopaths? Are communists to blame for giving comfort to shoplifters? It just seems like special pleading to single out feminists and their discussions of rape culture as being the one area where people are to blame.

If his argument was consistent, O’Neill would be attacking all social sciences and all positions on social issues, not just feminists. But his argument is not consistent, because his goal is to undermine feminism, nothing more. In this, he fails.

Strossen pointed out that in the 1980s and 90s, some men who had committed foul deeds fell back on the Dworkinite idea that the culture made them do it in an attempt to shrink their guilt. Marcia Pally, academic and feminist against censorship, wrote about how in the mid-1980s, when the court refused to declare him insane, Ted Bundy started “collecting information attesting to the negative effects of pornography,” in order to show that wicked images made him wicked. He started quoting academic research as part of his attempt to “bolster his pornography-made-me-do-it claim.”

Trying to associate feminism with Ted Bundy is about as mendacious as it gets. No feminist believes that pornography “makes” people commit rapes or, as in Bundy’s case, become a serial killer of women. This is a common straw man used by advocates of pornography. They try to portray the situation as: either watching one pornographic video makes its viewer go out and rape women, or pornography has no influence whatsoever. But neither of these alternatives are based on reality. No story can change people’s personalities or actions immediately (not even brainwashing can do that), and no story that we watch has no effect whatsoever. Rather, the implicit and explicit content of those stories gradually influence how people think and act. Repetition is the main thing here.

Rape culture does exist. But again, to say that rape culture “shrinks the guilt” of rapists is special pleading. As I already said, his argument is irrelevant to rape, since guilt, as a mass delusion, is not limited to our judgment of rapists, but extends to anything we consider to be wrong. Rape culture is no more relevant to this than the study of sociopathy or communism (to come back to the two examples I used before).

Now, logically, no one is guilty of anything. This does not mean that we should not hold anyone responsible for anything, which is the implication made by O’Neill. I don’t think O’Neill should be personally blamed for being a woman-hating imbecile. It’s literally not his fault. But I do think Reason Magazine should act on that information and stop publishing such amazingly illogical bullshit. Then again, expecting Libertarians to do the right thing is pretty pointless.

One thought on “Reason Magazine defending pornography while pretending to be against rape.

  1. The Fool July 5, 2016 at 14:15 Reply

    What makes Sommers not credible besides being and MRA? I think there is quite some truth in the fact that men are “oppressed” too, the industrial state doesn’t want anyone happy or free. But I suspect she’s over-exaggerating the fallacies of feminism in order to make her point. A lot of libertarians, those who I am unfortunately politically aligned with, say basically “women are not sexually harassed en mass cause Sommers says so”.

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