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Michael Shermer: Rapist or Sleaze? (Unless Box Checked for Other)

Presumably you’re aware by now that accusations have been made that Michael Shermer did something bad (if not, you can catch up on current events here). There are some things atheists need to consider about this, philosophically and personally. 

The Quality of Evidence

As skeptics we should know the difference between ordinary and extraordinary claims (we rightly mock William Lane Craig for thinking winning a lottery is as extraordinary a claim as rising from the dead; yet rape and sexual assault and exploiting women for sex are far more common than winning lotteries). We should know the difference between anonymous authorship and unnamed sources (the Gospels being anonymous is only a problem because that means we can’t evaluate their reliability or how they even know what they claim, but when we have a journalist using unnamed sources, which are not anonymous to him, the author is the journalist, who is not anonymous, but is a known person whose reliability we can evaluate, and we do know how he knows what he claims).

We should also know that standards of evidence are on a sliding scale (belief is proportioned to the evidence) and not black and white (as if claims have to be either certainly true or certainly false…surely you’re sick of explaining that to Christians, so surely you can understand why atheists are sick of having to explain it to fellow atheists). We should also know that clues that accumulate from multiple independent sources, even when unnamed or anonymous, have to be weighed in (we rely on this routinely in public discourse: think of how many things you believe about the government that in fact you really only know because of multiple “unnamed sources” in that government–and how many times have we atheists been allowed to make charges or even testify as “Jane Doe” in cases against school prayer and proselytizing, specifically to protect us from vigilante backlash?).

We should also know the difference between criminal and civil standards of judgment; and between investigations and findings reached in a court to enforce public laws, and investigations and findings reached in private companies (for-profit and nonprofit, schools and hospitals, hotels and bars, banks and grocery stores) to enforce their own private conduct policies (e.g., you don’t have to be convicted in court to be banned from a campus for violating a school conduct policy, nor do you have to break any law for that, either).

These things have already been thoroughly discussed by others here so I’ll say no more about them. (See Sexism, Skeptics, and the Burden of Proof by Dana Hunter, and Harassment, Rape, and the Difference Between Skepticism and Denialism and PZ Myers’ Grenade, and Anonymous Accusations vs. Unnamed Sources: The “Deep Throat” Analogy by Greta Christina). [Add to those now the equally astute and useful analysis of Shouting Arson in a Crowded Theatre: Rape, Reputations and Reasonable Suspicion by Alex Gabriel.]

The State of Evidence

Notably, the accuser did not use the word “rape” when she described what happened (though she did in the end call it that). What she said was “Mr. Shermer coerced me into a position where I could not consent, and then had sex with me.” And her only reason for having this accusation made public was “to share this story in case it helps anyone else ward off a similar situation from happening.” Because she was hearing similar stories from many other women involving Shermer.

This will become very important as I continue. So do take note of the precise distinctions here, of what has actually been said, and why.

The details involved alcohol. Given things others have said online (revisit the timeline), it’s possible Shermer has a habit of getting women drunk and having sex with them (or trying to). Several people online claim to have witnessed his skirt-chasing in general (even propositioning a married woman while her husband was elsewhere in the same room) and evidence of his propensity to have multiple simultaneous ongoing affairs (some of which one source claims his wife eventually became aware and was looking online for others…I don’t know if Shermer and his wife are still married). I’ve been hearing other rumors like this for years, so this isn’t a suddenly new thing. It’s just spilling out into public now.

You can review all there is and draw your own conclusion. This is only my own judgment. But the preponderance of evidence (a civil court burden, whereby a claim need only have a better than 50% chance of being true, so even just a 50.1% chance of being true would win a case) is enough for me to conclude that the general picture is probably true: Shermer pursues sex with women a lot, both one-night stands and ongoing affairs, and he has often enough done so without telling his wife or his various girlfriends. His recent attempt to compel PZ Myers to retract his report of what a witness told him appeared to deny even this (that Shermer has lots of consensual trysts and affairs), which I think is disingenuous at this point.

The Relevant Moral Values

If that were all there were to this story, I would not be troubled by it. Consensual sex, even cheating, is not anyone’s doom. What one does sexually does not (contrary to pop politico psychology) indicate a general dishonesty or unreliability in other matters, or entail you’re a bad person, or make you unlikable or untrustworthy. Or dangerous. Or disgusting. Or any negative stereotype attached to expressions of human sexuality, even the sneaky kind. (This has nothing to do with opposing sex.)

What troubles me (and ought to trouble you) are the elements of victimization, exploitation, and insensitivity that are bubbling to the surface in some of the accounts of Shermer’s behavior.

Because I also believe the preponderance of evidence is sufficient to conclude Shermer probably has crossed moral lines. I have seen enough evidence to establish, in my own mind, at least a 50.1% chance that Shermer has not just cheated or fooled around, but has left a wake of victimized women in his path, that he has not conducted himself morally, and that he is probably not good or safe company (especially for women). Again, I am not witness to this. I am only inferring it from what has been said online by those who do claim to have witnessed evidence of it.

Whether you or anyone would agree depends on what you think the evidence establishes as actually having happened. But it also depends on what we think would even be right or wrong in the first place, even if we agreed on every fact in the matter. The two must not be confused. Nor should an emotional reaction to the one lead you to promote wrong notions regarding the other.

So set aside for a moment whether the accounts of his behavior are true. As a general rule, these things are true:

(1) Propositioning women you’ve barely even met, and have built no rapport with and have no idea what they think or feel about such things, is wrong.

That is wrong most especially (but not only) because it is certain to make a lot of women uncomfortable and unhappy and ruin their fun at parties. And a decent person shouldn’t want to do that. Moreover, a decent person would be aware that they are doing it. So when someone is doing it, or isn’t even aware that they are doing it, that’s a good reason to peg them as undesirable company.

It’s a basic rule of being a nice person: it is the moral responsibility of anyone at a social event to make sure, so far as they are able, that anyone in their immediate presence is reasonably comfortable, and not to make them uncomfortable without moral cause. And that’s what people have a right to expect (otherwise they wouldn’t go to social events at all). Even when we violate that pact inadvertently (and that often happens), we apologize and make it right (whatever that reasonably entails, as the offended party will inform you).

If the stories going around are true, it does not sound like Shermer is on board with this. And that makes me wary of him.

(2) Getting women drunk with the intent of having sex with them (without first establishing that they are okay with that) is wrong.

By this I mean very particularly making an intentional effort to get a woman drunk (and not merely enjoying the drinking and the elation of inebriation together) with the intentional purpose of getting them to have sex with you (as in: you do not believe they would agree to have sex with you if they are sober, therefore you inebriate them), and, again, without first establishing that they are okay with that (e.g., I’ve known women who have said, when sober, that they want their man to get them drunk to give them the courage to do something sexual, and that’s okay).

This is wrong for two reasons, one more major than the other.

The one less major is that it’s sleazy. Seriously. If you can’t persuade a woman to have sex with you when they are sober, you really should admit it’s slimy and pathetic to then try and impair their judgment just so that you can take advantage of them. That disregards their feelings, their happiness, their desires and interests, and simply makes them a tool for your manipulation and pleasure. You don’t care about them. You only care about yourself. And you’ll do what you can to them to get what you want. You shouldn’t even want to do that. And anyone who does is kind of an awful person. The kind of person I want to stay away from…and I think most women do, too.

The more major reason is that this puts you in serious risk of committing rape. Or at the very least (if you are a caring sort of person), creating a situation in which it’s not even clear whether you are committing rape (a situation a caring person would find disturbing to find themselves in). If you are inebriating a woman (or even if she is inebriating herself), your moral responsibility to her increases. You have an even greater obligation to take even greater care to ensure she consents to anything that then happens, and that means making sure she understands what is happening, and actually approves of it. Though this need not require some sort of silly precisely worded script or the exactly precisely clear word “yes” to every single move, it still cannot be accomplished by telepathy. You cannot guess that they approve. You need to be sure.

Notice how this contradicts the supposed purpose of getting her drunk, if you are getting her drunk specifically to make her more likely to say yes. If you are not an awful person, and thus actually care about any women whose company you are enjoying, then you should recognize that these two goals are in conflict: making sure anything you do together is what they want; and taking deliberate steps to bypass what they want by impairing their judgment.

Think about that.

(3) Both principles (your responsibility to the comfort of people in your presence at social events, and that your responsibility increases with their inebriation) entail another: alcohol is a recreational drug, and as such, you have a responsibility not to force it on people or let it harm them when you can intervene to prevent it.

It is wrong to keep filling someone’s glass with alcohol without asking them each time if that’s what they want. It is even more wrong to try and keep their glass full not only without asking them, but even taking measures to try and conceal this from them (such as by distracting them, keeping them busy, filling their glass when they aren’t looking, and so on). It sounds like Shermer might do this (one or the other, or both, depending on the exact details of the accounts so far told). If he does, that’s morally wrong. And that would make him a sleaze who disregards the wishes and welfare of those in his company.

But your responsibility extends even beyond that. Even if they are saying yes when you offer them more, even if in fact you aren’t even supplying them and they are entirely refilling their glass themselves and you have nothing to do with it, you should still care about their welfare and let them know if you think they might be having too much (which means to the point of maybe getting sick or having a hard time walking or grasping what’s going on). Your response to them getting too drunk should not be to pick that as your moment to have sex with them. It should be to recognize that maybe they are too drunk to fairly consent to sex and therefore they should get a chaperone to bed…who should be someone they know and trust, and that might not be you. Or you can advise them to switch to water or non-alcoholic drinks for awhile so they can avoid things like, say, tripping and falling, or feeling sick, or throwing up.

Remember that thing about responsibility to the comfort of your company? Do you really want people to get sick or hurt themselves? No? Then say something. Do what you can to prevent it. And “hurt themselves” includes doing things that damage their happiness. Like have sex with someone they really didn’t want to, or do something sexual they really didn’t want to, or get outright molested, assaulted, or raped.

It is important to recognize that victims of crimes and abuse do not have an actual responsibility to avoid being victimized. We are not morally or legally obligated to lock our car doors. Even if we leave our keys in the ignition, it is still theft to drive off with it. It is still victimizing someone, taking or using their property without their permission. And indeed, under the law, these things wouldn’t matter…a car thief would not get acquitted, or do less time, if she proved the keys were in the ignition when she stole the car. That it was an easy theft, that we didn’t take steps to make it harder, makes no difference to it being a crime, or to its severity.

The same follows for rape or assault–and not just rape and assault, but non-criminal abuse and exploitation as well. It is not a victim’s responsibility to avoid getting drunk, to avoid drinking too much, to avoid drinking as much as they mistakenly think they are, or to avoid drinking at all. They have a right to get as right bloody drunk as they please. Or as they accidentally end up doing. It doesn’t matter. The keys in the ignition do not excuse the theft of your car. If you take advantage of a woman in such a state, even if she is entirely responsible for putting herself in that state, you are victimizing her, same as a car thief is stealing a car.

This holds not just for actual rape (a distinction I’ll get to next), but even for things that aren’t crimes but that do cause harm (as in, damage, or even just unwanted risk, to people’s health or happiness). Even if it’s not rape, if you are taking advantage of a woman and she is harmed by it (like, say, if she’s left devastated and in tears immediately afterward), you are making her a victim, and you are the one causing her harm. It was not her responsibility to avoid that (any more than it’s our responsibility to not leave our keys in the car). It was your responsibility to avoid that (to not steal the car).

It disturbs me that Shermer might not agree with this. That he may have been victimizing women (even if not criminally) and doesn’t even think it’s wrong–that he owes nothing to them, not even an apology, not even a revision of his future behavior so as not to cause this result again. That he might even think it’s their fault. It appears as if he isn’t even worried about how he may have hurt this woman, nor cares to find out what he did wrong so he can avoid doing it again.

Although, granted, that depends on what has actually happened. Merely drunk women who pursue him are consenting adults (presumably). But there is a line beyond that, when he sets his sights on a woman, and it does look to me like he might have a habit of crossing it.

Whether that’s so or not, as to the moral aspect, Shermer might, even on the record, agree with what I’ve said. Suppose, if his accuser faces him in court with her story, and Shermer then claimed he never had sex with her, that in fact he was concerned about how inebriated she was and sought to find someone to make sure she made it to bed safely–unharmed, unexploited. That would mean he agrees with the moral principles I have laid out, and that therefore he agrees that if the accusation against him is true (and that he is the one who escorted her to her room, and had sex with her), then he is indeed a bad man who victimized a woman. Crime or not.

Thus when I look at the accuser’s claims and the corroboration that has followed and conclude that the preponderance of evidence (a greater than 50% chance of being true) favors his having done what he now denies, you can see why this troubles me. I am not troubled by Shermer merely having trysts and affairs. I am troubled by that.

Note that I have framed all this from the perspective of men targeting or harming women, because Shermer is a man and I am not aware of Shermer pursuing men. But everything I have just said is just as true when gender roles are reversed, and a man or a woman is targeting or harming men. Because men can also be raped or taken advantage of or made uncomfortable or otherwise harmed if we don’t treat them with the same respect and compassion when pursuing a sexual interest in them.

Rape vs. Sleaze

Recall what I said at the start. Michael Shermer’s accuser did not include the word “rape” in her initial description. Maybe that was intentional, maybe it was fortuitous. But it’s important. Because it can be unclear just what that means. If you accuse a guy of raping someone, do you mean by the legal definition? By the legal definition that was in force in the specific jurisdiction where it occurred, or in some other jurisdiction that you are more used to? Or do you mean not legally, but morally?

Indeed, one could say “you raped me” in the sense of “you were convicted in a court of law of raping me” or “you raped me” in the sense of “I’m going to take you to court for raping me” (or “I would take you to court for raping me if I actually thought I had any chance of getting a fair trial” or “I would take you to court for raping me if I actually thought convicting you was worth suffering all the horrible things your legal defense team will inevitably do to me and my family and reputation” or whatever).

These are not the same thing. Clearly, no one (even anonymously) has claimed Shermer was convicted of rape. I think the evidence is sufficient to conclude already that that would be defamation. Rather, he has only been accused of doing something (not of being convicted for it), and only something that might be rape. Even if his accuser said “he raped me,” that is not defamation in and of itself. Because it is not automatically defamation to accuse someone of raping them. Obviously. Otherwise no one could ever be accused of rape. It is not defamation to testify that your rapist raped you, or to tell the authorities they raped you in the first place. People have to be allowed to report crimes without being sued for it. No justice system could function otherwise.

For a public figure, of course, and certainly in California (where Shermer lives), a defamation suit requires proving not just that something said about him was false (and that may be impossible for him to prove when no witnesses can back him up any more than his alleged victim, and her eyewitness testimony simply cancels his), but that it was said in reckless disregard of the truth (meaning, the person saying it knew it was false, or had no honest reason to believe it was true…and again, Shermer would have to prove this, and that’s really hard to do, probably impossible in this case, even if or when he knows who his accuser is).

This is why I suspect his accuser is not afraid of a defamation suit. He’d almost certainly lose. What I suspect she is afraid of, if she tried charging him or suing him for assault (or even if he finds out who she is, without being legally compelled to keep her identify from the public), is how he can materially harm her, destroy her reputation, investigate and expose her life, her sex-life and sexual history, and the resulting endless and relentless swarm of harassment, threats, and stalking that inevitably befalls any woman the Evil Atheist Slyme Hoard sets their sights on. (And such behavior is precisely what creates injustice by scaring victims away from reporting what happened…which actually facilitates rape and abuse, which a decent person should be keen on not doing.)

Just for example, suppose Shermer’s accuser is married and has had in her life one consensual extramarital affair that her husband never discovered. Shermer’s lawyers might dig that up and parade it in court in an attempt to discredit her (which would fail, since it actually wouldn’t prove her malice or the falsity of her claim) and to materially punish her (which would succeed, if it had the expected effect of ruining her marriage). She might not want to expose herself to that outcome, preferring he be allowed to get away with whatever he did, in the interests of her own wellbeing, while still being able to warn other women. Which, incidentally, was her actual stated purpose, as quoted.

There are many other scenarios that could warrant the same choice. (What if she is a private member of a BDSM club, and doesn’t want that paraded out in public? As inevitably it would be. And so on.) [Since I published this, an actual rape victim recounted a number of other reasons, which in her case were not even hypothetical.] If you can honestly put yourselves in those shoes, you’ll realize this is no simple matter of “certainly I’d file a charge with the police” or “certainly I’ll come forward.” If you have never felt sympathy for the countless victims of the world who are in these situations (and thus stay silent, for their own good), then you either lack compassion or haven’t learned as much about the world as I have.

Thus it’s crucial to note that all she has said she wants to do is warn women. And that’s what she has done. It is not incumbent on her to do more. Particularly as it would not accomplish all that much. Proving what happened to her in court is exceedingly difficult and wouldn’t make much difference even if she could manage it–problems countless survivors of rape, abuse, and assault have dealt with. Moreover, what happened might just have risen to the level of inappropriate conduct, and not a crime (not only for reasons I’ve already stated, but also for reasons I’m about to go into–hence reporting it to the conference venue, as she said she did, was possibly all should could do, and is in line with her stated goal of making it possible for future women to be cautioned about his behavior).

Thus look at what she said happened: she claims Shermer “coerced” her “into a position where I could not consent” and then had sex with her. She has not said what form of coercion was used (and thus no accusation has been made yet that he used physical force) and what counts as coercion can be sufficiently subjective that it would be all but impossible for Shermer to prove he didn’t coerce her…in whatever sense she means. Likewise, what she considers being unable to consent can be sufficiently subjective that it would be all but impossible for Shermer to prove she could consent…in whatever sense she means.

Thus, read as-is, there really isn’t much here that Shermer can challenge…unless he wants to challenge it happening at all. And that’s where a significant number of other witnesses come in, who have already said they can corroborate at least that much, as well as that this woman felt traumatized and devastated by what happened. She was harmed. Regardless of what Shermer factually did. I think there are enough witnesses to prove that’s true, and if he forces the matter, I suspect he won’t be able to honestly deny it.

I make these points not to suggest that I think Shermer’s accuser is exaggerating or employing disturbingly broad definitions of words (the stock fears of the MRAs and other misogynists and rape apologists). I actually don’t know what details lie behind “coerced” and “could not consent.” And neither do you. Rather, the point I am making is that in one still important respect it doesn’t matter. What he did is sleazy. Even in what I think is the best case scenario, given the preponderance of evidence so far. To me it doesn’t seem like he cares (now or then) about how he may have harmed this woman, or that whatever he did to harm her might be something he should apologize for and make right and stop doing in general so as to ensure he doesn’t harm anyone else (and it does sound like there are already other victims).

To explain what I mean, I have to conclude with a thought experiment.

When Exactly Is It Rape?

Trigger Warning: I am about to viscerally describe rape and shame scenarios. Hypothetically, but realistically. If you think that might be too disturbing, you should skip the indented paragraphs with titles in bold (the blocks labeled Scenario A and Scenario Z and Scenario B). Just don’t read them. Read only what comes before and after those.

Let’s explore three different scenarios…

Scenario A: You finally get to meet a big celebrity, for the first time, someone you really love and admire, and you’re at a party having drinks together, sitting at a table. He shows a lot of interest in you, asks you lots of questions, listens intently. Your conversation is so animated, in fact, his focus on you so engaging, that you don’t even notice that he keeps filling your wine glass, and you don’t realize how much you’ve had.

Then you start to feel you must have drunk too much, your vision is blurring and you feel a little dizzy. He shows concern, and offers to take you to your room. You get up and almost fall, you are having difficulty keeping upright. He supports you, and in his arms walks you to the elevator, and your room. You are really out of it and at this point can barely think straight and can’t navigate on your own. You have difficulty walking. At first you aren’t even sure it was your room he took you to.

He gets you to the bed and your head is swimming. You’re struggling not to pass out. You can’t speak coherently. He starts kissing and fondling you, then undressing you, then…everything else. You are too drunk to resist. And you are too surprised to speak. You just think to yourself, in a bit of shock… Oh. Okay. So this is happening. You never asked for it, and he never asked you if you did. It wasn’t even a subject you’d ever discussed or hinted at. And once it’s begun you aren’t sure how to stop it. You aren’t even thinking clearly enough to reason that out. You say something, but your speech is so slurred even you aren’t sure what you said. And before you get any idea of what to do, it’s over, and he leaves.

You lay there in the bed, stunned. The shock of what happened has sobered you up a little. You feel violated. You gather yourself up. You start crying. You finally get your head together and stumble out to report what just happened, visibly shaken as many witnesses can verify.

This is a rape. In at least a third of all the states in the United States, in fact, it is felony rape (though the exact language varies, e.g. rape is sometimes called “aggravated sexual assault”). If Shermer has ever done this, then he is a rapist, by almost any standard. I say almost, because shockingly, at least as of ten years ago, it appears that in two-thirds of U.S. states what I just described is not a rape. Although it is in the other third of the country.

(For this point, and what follows, see Valerie Ryan, “Intoxicating Encounters: Allocating Responsibility in the Law of Rape,” California Western Law Review 40.2 [Spring 2004]; see also the NDAA manual on Prosecuting Alcohol-Facilitated Sexual Assault [2007].)

Under New Jersey law (as of 2004; things may have changed since), unless the victim was unconscious or completely unable to move or speak (and thus “physically helpless”), she cannot claim it was legally rape if she was aware of the fact that she was drinking alcohol (no matter who gave it to her) and wasn’t being forced to drink it. Only if the alcohol was administered without her “prior knowledge or consent” would Scenario A qualify as rape under that law (since the victim in that scenario was conscious and offered no objection or resistance).

Under California law, however (again, as of 2004), it is rape whenever “a person is prevented from resisting by any intoxicating or anesthetic substance, or any controlled substance, and this condition was known, or reasonably should have been known by the accused.” A woman who can barely walk or speak coherently and is having trouble figuring out where she is and how to get to her room, is clearly incapable of resisting a sexual advance. In California, having sex with her anyway is felony rape (assuming you didn’t establish consent for this to happen prior to her condition).

Note that under neither law does her merely being drunk make it rape (and I am not aware of any law under which it does–a lot of college “rape awareness” pages get this wrong). Under California law, according to state jury instructions, “the level of intoxication and the resulting mental impairment” must be “so great that the alleged victim could no longer exercise reasonable judgment.” As Ryan puts it, the law doesn’t require a victim to “become so intoxicated that she is physically unable to speak or display a lack of actual consent,” but on the other hand mere intoxication “to some degree” or intoxication that “reduce[s a woman’s] sexual inhibitions” is not sufficient to make a sexual encounter rape (some other condition would be required, such as she resisted, verbally and/or physically, and the man continued; or she was threatened; etc.).

When the question of whether Scenario A is rape or not depends on the absurd trivia of what piece of land it happened on, you should readily grant leeway in the use of the term “rape.” If it’s rape in California, it’s fair to say it’s also rape in New Jersey by California standards. “In California, we call that rape.” Fact.

Atheists should be particularly sensitive to this point. We often make hay out of the fact that the Bible legalizes rape. Even though, strictly speaking, that’s logically impossible. If rape is legalized, it’s not rape anymore…if, that is, you insist on only ever calling something “rape” when there is an actual law calling it rape at the time and place it occurred. Oh, right. Now you see the problem.

Under the laws governing the ancient Hebrews, forcing captive women to have sex with you was not “legally” rape. It not only wasn’t illegal, it was explicitly legal, codified in the law as a man’s privilege (for this and other horrible truths about the Bible, see my collection of examples, including this one, in The Will of God). But we are happy to call it rape. Because we don’t follow the rule “it’s only rape when the law at that time and place says it’s rape.” We follow our conscience instead.

Thus, we readily recognize that calling something “rape” does not mean “according to the law at that time and place.” We know rape when we see it. When consent cannot honestly be given.

We in the U.S. endured a very recent example of this: Only just last year, President Obama signed a law making it illegal to rape your wife in the military. That’s right. Until 2012, in the military, it was legal to rape your wife. Notice the phrase “legal to rape your wife” entails accepting that we are not defining “rape” by “what the law says at that time and place.” Rape is not what is illegal. Rape is what should be illegal.

As I wrote last year:

[The new law] eliminated the old UCMJ provision that allowed service members to rape their own wives: that’s right, the law used to define rape as any of a list of awful things done to a woman except one’s wife (explicitly: it said wives can’t even in principle be the rape victims of their own husbands). No shit: the very first line of this law read: “Any person subject to this chapter who commits an act of sexual intercourse with a female not his wife, by force and without consent, is guilty of rape and shall be punished by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct.” So you can force your wife to have sex with you without her consent. Nice. In this new Act, signed by Obama, the phrase “not his wife” is now deleted. The new law has also eliminated the bizarre assumption that only women can be raped and only men commit rape, by substituting “person” for all gendered terms.

So you can get rid of the notion that we can’t accuse someone of rape if the act in question doesn’t meet some strictly defined legal definition in a particular time and location. We would never have allowed that reasoning to fly when criticizing the UCMJ, and we atheists certainly don’t let it fly when criticizing the Bible. Rape is sexual penetration without consent. Period. No matter what the law says.

We could say this is the distinction between something being legally rape (in 2000 A.D., a soldier forcing his wife to have sex with him without her consent was not legally rape; in 2000 B.C. a soldier forcing a foreign woman he captured to have sex with him without her consent was not legally rape) and it being morally rape. And I think most discourse about Scenario A being rape would be of the latter kind. If Scenario A is what Shermer did, then morally, Shermer is a rapist. Regardless of what the law may have said wherever and whenever it occurred. Whether in Palestine in 2000 B.C., or in the U.S. Military in 2000 A.D., or whatever. Because that’s what most people mean by a “rapist,” and most especially atheists, who use “rape” in exactly that sense when criticizing biblical law.

This is not the only distinction we atheists already routinely make (between what is rape really, and what only technically is rape under any given system of law). We also recognize a huge difference exists between what a law says, and what juries end up doing. The law may say that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” or that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated” or that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” but what legislatures, judges, and even juries do might still not enforce that law, due to prejudice, ignorance, or what have you.

Scenario Z: So, imagine. You’re a man. You are arrested for some misdemeanor you didn’t commit and will easily walk on, but you are held over in jail a night awaiting a court hearing. In your cell three men jump you and gang rape you. You report this almost immediately and establish abundant documented physical evidence (wounds, physical trauma, semen). The three men claim it was consensual, and even though they are separated when interviewed, their stories all agree (as they conspired to ensure). It goes to trial, and the jury believes them, and not you. They are acquitted. And in the eyes of the law, they are innocent, and you were officially not raped–in the eyes of the law you had consensual group sex in a jail cell. And now no one believes you.

That would fucking suck, wouldn’t it?

Now think how often that actually happens. To women.

In Scenario Z, the truth is you were raped, and you know it. Could you–would you–still call it rape? Even though your rapists were acquitted? What would you call it? What should you call it? Are they really no longer rapists? Should you really stop calling them rapists? It seems pretty obvious that you should be able to tell the truth, that you were raped, and that you believe they are rapists. Imagine how horrible it would be if it was illegal for you to do that. That your rapists could even sue you if you did, and take your house, your savings, even compel you to pay them money out of your paycheck every month. After having raped you. All because they could dupe a jury into believing their story.

Think about that.

What could you do? Well, I suppose, you could say you “believe,” as you testified in court, that they raped you, and are therefore rapists, but the jury didn’t see it that way and acquitted them. Could your rapists sue you if you put it that way? Would that be fair? Do we really want the world to work that way? Worse, do we not only want it to be okay for your rapists to sue you, but do we also want you to be harassed and mocked by your own community as a “liar” and a “faggot”? (I shocked you there, didn’t I? Replace that last word with “slut” and think long and hard.)

This is why you should feel bad about victim blaming.

You should feel awful for anyone who suffers Scenario A. It should make you sick to think that even happens. And when you don’t know it wasn’t Scenario A, yet act like whatever did happen was no big deal and it was the victim’s fault for making it easy, you are on the wrong side of justice. Remember the (only barely) hypothetical gang-raped man in Scenario Z, and the tragedy of the outcome of his trial. Will you really side with those who don’t believe him and even mock him for claiming what happened to him was rape? Really?

But that’s even in the context of the law, what legally is rape. Many a rapist will be acquitted, or can’t get convicted. Yet they are still rapists, even by the legal definition. That juries don’t or can’t be convinced of that does not change reality. And regardless of the legal definition, anyone who sexually penetrates another without their honest consent is a rapist, by every moral standard we atheists have been applying to the Bible, and antebellum Christian slavery, and fundamentalist Mormon polygamy, and the scandals of the Catholic Church. We don’t stop to ask, “Oh, wait, was that actually legally rape where that occurred?” No. We know rape when we see it. Especially when the religious majority refuses to legislate it.

But the reality goes beyond that. Because even when something is not even morally rape, it can still be sleazy and reprehensible.

Scenario B: You finally get to meet a big celebrity, for the first time, someone you really love and admire, and you’re at a party having drinks together, sitting at a table. He shows a lot of interest in you, asks you lots of questions, listens intently. Your conversation is so animated, in fact, his focus on you so engaging, that you don’t even notice that he keeps filling your wine glass, and you don’t realize how much you’ve had.

But then you start to feel you must have drunk too much, your vision is blurring and you feel a little dizzy. He shows concern, and offers to take you to your room. You get up and lose your balance a bit but don’t stumble. You can walk if you’re careful, and with his hand out to you he walks you to the elevator, and your room. You are really out of it and are kind of floating. You struggle to concentrate on where he is even taking you.

He gets you to the bed and your head is swimming. You crack wise about how drunk you are. Then without warning he starts kissing and fondling you, then undressing you, then…everything else. You didn’t give him any signal you wanted to fool around, and this isn’t anything you wanted before, but once he just suddenly started, even from his first kiss you respond in kind. You aren’t thinking straight, or thinking at all, but it’s exciting and you participate enthusiastically. But in the midst of it you start to feel it’s wrong. He didn’t ask you. There was no lead up to test your boundaries or pauses to determine your desires. He just did it. You’re ashamed and don’t think you would have done this if you’d been given a chance to think about it. Soon it’s over, and he leaves.

You lay there in the bed, regretting what happened. You feel exploited. Like he took advantage of you. You feel awful about yourself, you feel like a fool, and you cry yourself to sleep. You vow never to let that happen again, to stay away from men who would do that, and to only drink in the company of men you trust won’t.

This is not rape. But it isn’t nice, either. If it wasn’t what you wanted, if you weren’t given a chance to think about it first, then it still wasn’t right. You were still taken advantage of. You were still abused and mistreated. And your happiness was still damaged and disregarded. Even if that is all Shermer did, even if what happened was Scenario B (and I am not even saying it was, only if it was), then he still took advantage of a woman and destroyed a human being’s happiness. Even if it wasn’t against the law. Even if it wasn’t sexually penetrating someone without their consent. Thus it’s being against the law or not is hardly the point. But it’s being rape or not is hardly the point, either.

Knowing that even just Scenario B happened would be sufficient warrant for women who don’t want that to happen to themselves to not drink with Michael Shermer, and to drink instead with men they can trust, men who won’t take advantage of them or attempt to trick them into sex they don’t want by plying them with alcohol, men who respect them enough to think that even trying to do that would be appalling, an outright embarrassment to their gender.

And women who might not want that to happen to them, who want to know what sort of men they can and can’t trust, deserve to be made aware of that. And that is exactly what this witness did. No more. No less.

And you don’t have to decide which happened, Scenario A or Scenario B, in order to agree with that.

Comments

  1. Jacob Schmidt says

    But in the midst of it you start to feel it’s wrong.

    How is this not revoking consent? If, part way through, you stop consenting, it’s still rape.

    I can see, if the victim doesn’t communicate this revoked consent in any way, the perpatrator not being held guilty, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore that it was rape.

    We should be able to revoke consent at any time; just because we consented to earlier activity doesn’t mean we must then consent to all.

    • says

      “But in the midst of it you start to feel it’s wrong.”

      How is this not revoking consent? If, part way through, you stop consenting, it’s still rape.

      Thoughts have to expressed in word or action (so they would have to stop what they are doing physically, start resisting, say no or stop, or some such thing). Otherwise you are consenting by participation.

      (Unless, of course, you are so drunk you literally can’t speak or act, or can’t do so coherently or effectively, but then that’s why that is already categorized as inability to consent…California and New Jersey, for example, only disagree on what counts as being unable, and in that dispute California is right.)

      I can see, if the victim doesn’t communicate this revoked consent in any way, the perpatrator not being held guilty, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore that it was rape.

      Not by any helpful or commonplace moral or legal definition. Certainly, nowhere is that legally the case. But even speaking morally, if you are participating in the sex, when you are able to understand what’s happening and could express your desire to stop but choose not to, then you are consenting, regardless of what thoughts you are mulling or what doubts you have.

      But that only relates to what counts as raping someone. You can still be exploiting someone, harming them, etc., without it being actual rape. But even then, you have to be able to know they want to stop. If they keep contributing and don’t express any desire to stop, you can’t possibly know what they are thinking.

      Nevertheless, it should be your desire to know. Which is why you shouldn’t plunge in like Scenario B describes. You should test boundaries by stages, and make sure your partner is coherent enough to understand what’s happening and think about it. Bypassing that may not rise to the level of rape, but it can still rise to the level of exploitation and harm.

      We should be able to revoke consent at any time; just because we consented to earlier activity doesn’t mean we must then consent to all.

      Yes. And in fact it is surprising how many people don’t know this (based on polls and case studies). But even in the law (not just moral reasoning), outside the context of pre-arranged signals of organized sexplay, if someone you are with says stop, no, pushes you away, tries to leave, etc., even in the middle of the act, in fact at any time at all, that is revocation of consent, and continuing anyway is rape.

    • rumblestiltsken says

      I know I made a similar comment to JS which is still in moderation before you replied to several like this. Feel free to ignore that one.

      In response to this – it is still rape (morally). The non-celebrity participant has withdrawn consent, but not expressed it.

      Expressing it has nothing to do with the reality of consent. In Scenario A the non-celebrity does not express their lack of consent, so for it to be rape (morally) you are requiring a judgment on level of impairment, which is difficult to make externally. You are requiring the (drunk) celebrity to be able to tell exactly how drunk is too drunk for consent in the other participant.

      Instead, if a person has revoked consent internally, consent is revoked.

      In your scenario B, there are any number of reasons the non-celebrity may not verbalise revocation of consent, for example – this guy has got them drunk and is having sex with them with no prior encouragment (until he made his move). He didn’t respect boundaries before … is he potentially dangerous? Many people in that position would keep quiet because of fear.

      What you are doing is placing the blame for the rape on the victim. “They didn’t say no”. You already know that the blame is on the rapist. “You didn’t check it was yes”. That applies throughout any sexual encounter, not just at the start.

      The rapist in scenario B will never be able to tell the difference between revocation of consent (non-verbalised) and ongoing consent unless they check for it. You suggest it is the responsibility of the person being raped.

      That is wrong.

    • says

      Expressing it has nothing to do with the reality of consent.

      It does under the law.

      And for the same reasons as it does under the law, it should morally as well.

      The issue is not whether B is rape (it’s not), but whether B is still morally wrong (it is).

      [Y]ou are requiring a judgment on level of impairment, which is difficult to make externally.

      If it is actually difficult, then you are doing it wrong.

      It’s actually easy to do (just don’t do B; almost anything that avoids B will test ability to consent successfully).

      But even in B, we have expression of coherent thoughts, awareness of circumstances, and active participation.

      That is not incapacity.

      (That is not equivalent to a well-thought-out “yes,” but rape is not a function of whether your consent was well thought out.)

      Keeping quiet out of fear, BTW, would be a different scenario. If you felt threatened, you don’t even have to be inebriated for it to be rape even under the law (even in New Jersey).

      What you are doing is placing the blame for the rape on the victim. “They didn’t say no”. You already know that the blame is on the rapist. “You didn’t check it was yes”. That applies throughout any sexual encounter, not just at the start.

      You are falsely assuming I said the woman in Scenario B wasn’t victimized.

      You are confusing the boundaries of what constitutes specifically rape, and what constitutes immoral conduct.

      In actual fact, not showing any resistance or opposition and actively participating in the sex is legal consent under the law. And for the same reason it is so there, it is morally consent as well.

      Again, force, threat, or extreme impairment negate that (and create implicit lack of consent). But B does not describe any extreme impairment of understanding or ability to speak or act or articulate ideas.

      But just because you consented in those terms, doesn’t mean you won’t be ashamed or harmed or exploited by it, nor does it mean it was okay for the man to proceed.

      Again, you must distinguish rape specifically, from exploitation and harm generally.

    • rumblestiltsken says

      I am only using your already agreed to definitions, which were good.

      “Rape is sexual penetration without consent. Period.” That is a great starting point, which excludes a bunch of non-penetrative cases, but is without doubt a fundamentally true statement.

      So we agree that the legal definition is only a subset of what defines rape morally.

      You are stating here that the reason for the legal position is relevant in this setting. I am not sure I understand what you are claiming the legal reason is, however.

      You argue that it “would be easy” to determine level of incapacity, citing a number of factors the reader, but not the celebrity, has at their disposal. Namely “expression of coherent thoughts, awareness of circumstances, and active participation.”

      How does the celebrity know those things? In the situation where the non-celebrity no longer wants to have sex, but hasn’t expressed it, how does it look different to the celebrity? Or more importantly, even though you claim “keeping quiet out of fear, BTW, would be [rape]“, how would that appear to the celebrity?

      If they were afraid, or not consenting but not-speaking-up for another reason, or consenting but too drunk to be enthusiastic … how does it look different to the celebrity?

      And if it doesn’t look different, how does the celebrity prevent rape?

      Because it isn’t for the reader of the scenario to prevent rape, nor for the potential victim, it is for the potential rapist. We accept that, right?

      And if rape and not-rape look identical to the potential rapist then it is up to the rapist to get more information. This would be true in any situation, but is particularly true in a setting where all the sexual activity was initiated by the potential rapist.

      What you seem to be arguing is that in the scenario where a person withdraws their intellectual consent, it is up to that person to stop the sex-act in mid-action.

      But we know that doesn’t happen. Coercion occurs during sex as much as it occurs before it. Many people “just put up with it” and it is still rape, in a moral sense. They are not consenting, their is sex without their consent. Much of the problem about spousal rape comes from these ideas – that consent has been given already, so there is no point checking again.

      Checking again is the point of “ongoing consent”. Telling someone to stop sex is a horrendously difficult thing to do, the barrier is really high. Asking someone if they want to keep going is really easy to do, the barrier is really low.

      If the celebrity in your example has created an environment where the non-celebrity would rather let it happen than stop it, even though they no longer consent, then it is rape. Period.

    • says

      You are stating here that the reason for the legal position is relevant in this setting. I am not sure I understand what you are claiming the legal reason is, however.

      A lot of principles in law are the same in moral reasoning, for the same reasons.

      In this case, the principle is that you can’t be choosing to act immorally if you are incapable of knowing that what you are doing is wrong. In law the principle is scienter, the absence of which can even nullify a law, but at the very least exonerate guilt, since apart from “statutory” crimes, there is only a crime when actus reus is combined with mens rea, and lack of scienter entails lack of mens rea.

      Scienter does not mean you can claim as a defense ignorance of the law (because it is within your power to read the laws; and you just chose not to), but rather scienter absent only when there is literally nothing you could ever have done (or reasonably have done) that would make you aware of the law or what constitutes violating it (hence a law can be “nullified for vaguess” due to principles of scienter). That does not exonerate negligence (e.g. shooting a gun into the dark of night in a residential neighborhood), but it does exonerate you from unforeseeable consequences (e.g. shooting a gun correctly on a firing range and someone you didn’t know was hiding behind a silhouette is killed).

      This has to be a basic principle not only in law, but moral reasoning as well. It has to be reasonably possible to know what you are doing is wrong, otherwise what you did cannot be evidence of a malevolent character (the only point of assigning disapprobation to moral violators). And “wrong” in a moral sense means “causes harm” (so knowing harm is caused, or reasonably being able to have known it, but nevertheless believing that that harm doesn’t make it wrong is not the same as not even realizing what you are doing is causing harm).

      Thus, if someone is indicating consent through active participation, and has indicated their ability to consent by coherently articulating spoken thoughts in general, you cannot be held responsible for being mistaken in that case. They have to voice/act on their revocation of consent for you to know it has been revoked. Since we are not telepathic, lack of scienter negates any crime otherwise (morally or legally).

      However, that only pertains to rape (acting without consent). You can have the evident consent of someone and still be exploiting them or harming them. And thus one should be as concerned about that, too, and not just whether what you are doing is technically rape.

      You argue that it “would be easy” to determine level of incapacity, citing a number of factors the reader, but not the celebrity, has at their disposal. Namely “expression of coherent thoughts, awareness of circumstances, and active participation.”

      How does the celebrity know those things?

      They were observed by the celebrity in the scenario as I described it (Scenario B, notably…not in Scenario A). That’s why I wrote those two scenarios that way.

      You apparently need to compare them side by side to see how they do indeed look different to the celebrity.

      However, you have also conflated two things I said. I wrote (emphasis now added):

      It’s actually easy to do (just don’t do B; almost anything that avoids B will test ability to consent successfully).

      But even in B, we have expression of coherent thoughts, awareness of circumstances, and active participation.

      That is not incapacity.

      The latter remark is about whether a person is incapable of consenting. In Scenario B, the celebrity observes enough information to rule that out (the woman in B is capable; whereas the woman in A is not).

      The former remark is about whether we can take the trouble to be sure of it. We can rely on apparent indicators, but that risks putting us in Scenario B, which is not rape (consent is observably given and never revoked in any way the celebrity is capable of knowing), but is still something we should never want to perpetrate, because it is not well considered consent.

      The steps it takes to avoid B (e.g. testing boundaries and conversing about what’s about to happen, even if just banter, as long as it’s coherent) not only establish ability, they establish consent is considered as well.

      Or more importantly, even though you claim “keeping quiet out of fear, BTW, would be [rape]“, how would that appear to the celebrity?

      It would lack the enthusiastic participation. It would thus remove us from B and put us in A.

      If we are imagining a scenario whereby a woman has no genuine reason to feel threatened, then her feelings do not make it rape. There has to be an actual tangible reason to feel threatened (a reasonable person standard). And the celebrity who doesn’t realize he has done or said things that created that tangible reason would not be able to claim lack of scienter, because a reasonable person would realize that (and a well-intentioned person would not generally have even done it). Otherwise there couldn’t have been an actual tangible reason to feel threatened.

      (Here, as for almost anything, I could probably imagine a totally bizarre scenario that would manifest an exception to these principles, but being totally bizarre it wouldn’t be reasonable to believe such a scenario ever really occurred without good evidence it did.)

      What you seem to be arguing is that in the scenario where a person withdraws their intellectual consent, it is up to that person to stop the sex-act in mid-action.

      But we know that doesn’t happen.

      That is irrelevant to the point. Once consent is given, you are responsible for revoking it. You can’t magically expect to do that by telepathy.

      Again, it is only rape if consent is not given or is revoked (or can’t be either). Not if it is “imagined” as revoked or someone “thinks” about revoking it after having given consent.

      But it’s not being rape still does not make it right.

      You have to allow that the line between right and wrong is not exactly in the same place as the line between rape and not rape. So imagine it is not. Then try to think what exists in the space in between those two lines.

      What you’ll see there is Scenario B.

    • rumblestiltsken says

      But you set up a situation here where the was no communication to start with.

      Explain to me where consent was given in your scenario – and not “legal” consent, which is grossly flawed, but moral consent.

      You are taking the position that if you kiss them back while drunk, it is now your burden to deny consent ie you have given consent.

      They never had consent to start with. Your scenario, paraphrased, is “you participated until you thought about what you were doing”. A physical response while heavily drunk is not a proxy for consent, conscious thought is a requirement for consent. The alternative is dangerously close to “he had an erection, so it wasn’t rape”.

      So one argument is: She never consented in the first place, the only proxy we have is a non-thinking physical response while drunk.

      If we accept that physical responses when drunk are not a decent proxy for consent, then nothing the celebrity did assessed consent, at any point. Thus, the celebrity cannot tell the difference between rape and not rape in the scenario. They have failed their “not a rapist” test, regardless of what actually occurs. This is their burden, not the other participant’s.

      In this case, the outcome is that the non-celebrity didn’t want sex. So, rape.

    • says

      A kiss does not communicate consent to sex. Nor does an erection. Participating enthusiastically in sex communicates consent to sex.

      Scenario B describes the latter.

      The rest has already been addressed in comments above.

    • rumblestiltsken says

      Scenario B describes a non-conscious-thought physical response that looks like your definition of consent. The person, once thinking it through (a requirement of any form of consent I know) realises they have not and would not consent.

      I would therefore argue that your definition of consent is flawed, because it includes, in your own example, a clear case of non-consent.

      Are you arguing that conscious thought is not a required element of consent?

    • rumblestiltsken says

      Scienter is knowledge of guilt. We should be aiming for a society where an idiot in a hurry knows that they need their partner to make a conscious decision to consent to sex.

      The participant did not use conscious thought to make their decision. They did not consent. Their drunk body responded enthusiastically.

      Can you imagine a surgeon operating on a drunk person because they were enthusiastically making cutting motions with their hands?

      You are opening a ridiculous pandoras box of “non-verbal consent while drunk” shenanigans. You keep asserting that physical actions while drunk are consent, while stating explicitly the person was never given a chance to think about what they were doing.

      Please re-read that last sentence a few times.

    • says

      Scienter is knowledge of guilt.

      Not exactly. Read the links.

      The participant did not use conscious thought to make their decision. They did not consent. Their drunk body responded enthusiastically.

      That’s not how bodies and brains work. Stick to science.

      Can you imagine a surgeon operating on a drunk person because they were enthusiastically making cutting motions with their hands?

      I can’t fathom how you can even remotely see that as a valid analogy. I’m not even sure what you think you are describing.

      You keep asserting that physical actions while drunk are consent, while stating explicitly the person was never given a chance to think about what they were doing.

      Because there is a difference (a legal, factual, objective, and morally significant difference) between consent and well-considered consent.

      If you don’t think there is, then you are trapped in black-and-white thinking that is not in alignment with the complexities of reality. And you should see to that.

    • rumblestiltsken says

      Hang on …. I just need you to clarify.

      Are you saying that moral consent for sex doesn’t require a conscious choice? I am not talking legally now, I am talking about the standard the law should strive to reach.

      How do you justify coerced sex being wrong? Say, a pastor and a parishioner, or a teacher and student (assuming legal age)? The only difference between this and “normal sex” is manipulation that limits conscious choice.

      [TW: child abuse] In fact, how do you justify the age of consent? Children can consent, just not with a conscious informed choice.

    • says

      Are you saying that moral consent for sex doesn’t require a conscious choice?

      It certainly does. If I start actively having sex with you, I have consciously chosen to do so.

      (I supposed unless I’m sleep walking, complete with coherent conversation demonstrating awareness of what’s going on–but then scienter would apply, since you would have no means of determining that so as to tell the difference.)

      By analogy, if I offer you a drink and you hold up your glass for me to fill it, you made a conscious choice to have your glass filled. As long as I’ve confirmed you are coherently aware of what’s going on. And that’s Scenario B.

      How do you justify coerced sex being wrong? Say, a pastor and a parishioner, or a teacher and student (assuming legal age)? The only difference between this and “normal sex” is manipulation that limits conscious choice.

      Note that sex coerced by violence or threats, actual or implied, is not what I discuss in this article because no one has claimed such in this case (so far).

      The victim in this case did not claim to be Shermer’s student, for example. And accordingly, I described Scenario A and B to exclude any such power relationship being a factor. It is therefore moot to the analysis of my article. You’d be discussing a completely different set of circumstances (which would involve another distinction between the line between rape and not rape, and the line between right and not right, and again those lines would not be in exactly the same place…there would be a zone in between them, just as there is here).

      As I wrote in the article:

      [Under even California law] mere intoxication “to some degree” or intoxication that “reduce[s a woman’s] sexual inhibitions” is not sufficient to make a sexual encounter rape (some other condition would be required, such as she resisted, verbally and/or physically, and the man continued; or she was threatened; etc.).

      Hence I was bracketing out more extreme scenarios as not relevant to my present point.

      In fact, how do you justify the age of consent? Children can consent, just not with a conscious informed choice.

      You have to have the capacity to understand what is happening and its consequences. That is indeed the same standard applied to inebriation: mere inebriation does not negate consent; but inebriation that reduces your mental ability to that of a child does.

      The question of when an actual child becomes capable in this regard is more complicated (e.g. the debate in the UK) and not relevant to the present article. (Rightly or wrongly, age of consent laws often involve matters other than just mental ability and understanding, matters not relevant to the case being analyzed here.)

    • rumblestiltsken says

      “As long as I’ve confirmed you are coherently aware of what’s going on. And that’s Scenario B.”

      But that is exactly where this diverges. Where, at any point in scenario B, did celebrity do anything to confirm coherence?

      “He just started”. It is there in words. He never asked. He never communicated. He “started”. A drunk body is not a test for coherent thought. That is why they can’t drive a car.

    • says

      Where, at any point in scenario B, did celebrity do anything to confirm coherence?

      He observes her making coherent statements expressing an understanding of what’s going on. (She can also walk on her own, although that would not be sufficient in itself.)

      Perhaps you would expect a jury to expect more observation in that case. They wouldn’t. But regardless, just add to Scenario B what conversation verifying coherent awareness would satisfy your standard. Do not make it about sex. And then you have the functional equivalent to Scenario B that I am arguing from.

    • rumblestiltsken says

      Asking me to add details to make the scenario not rape kinda defeats the argument that it, as described, is not rape.

      On the other hand, you could change the scenario by saying “well, I guess never giving a drunk person a chance to consciously consider if they want to have sex is pretty immoral. So because I was intending to write the scenario as a not rape scenario, I will alter it so that actually happens.”

      Don’t the endless comments in this thread, Ana Mardoll blogging about it and all the others complaining about this around the traps not at least make you go … hmmm? Maybe I should reassess this?

    • says

      Asking me to add details to make the scenario not rape kinda defeats the argument that it, as described, is not rape.

      Which tells me you are missing the whole point of my article.

      Don’t the endless comments in this thread, Ana Mardoll blogging about it and all the others complaining about this around the traps not at least make you go … hmmm? Maybe I should reassess this?

      Few people are raising the issue you are. So, no.

      I don’t know who Ana Mardoll is. If she’s blogged about this, please provide the link here.

    • says

      Yes, thanks. Finally. She errs in assuming Scenario B is about being threatened. I actually point out that it becomes rape if that’s the case. So she isn’t actually disagreeing with me. She just didn’t notice I said the same thing she did.

    • says

      Richard, I think the issue is that in a rape culture how can she not be threatened? Socially programmed to think it’s her fault if she resists and will get a more “culturally/legally acceptable” as rape, rape experience, and more traumatic, as Mardoll says. The question should be why did her partner continue when there is no obvious reciprocated consent – *enthusiastic* consent throughout. Calling it “not rape” is the issue I think, just a morally indefensible act that involved sexual intercourse, in your own words. That seems an accurate description of rape, even if not legally in many countries/states.

      Mardoll mentions the prison rape scenario, can you construct a scenario where a man in prison who, “would [not] have done this if [they'd] been given a chance to think about it”, consents to sex with another man in prison? The culture and climate in prison is such that if you don’t consent you get a worse experience and likely no one will believe you anyway. How could anyone say that person was not raped? If free to choose they would not have consented. The larger context of the society and culture they are a part of needs to be taken account of – not just two people in a room/cell – two people in a culture of rape.

      I must admit I read this post and had no problem with it until I read the comments and Mardoll’s post. Superficially it’s correct but I cannot see how it could work in reality unless there is no rape culture in that society. I was unaware when first reading it as it’s internally consistent, probably also due to my privilege of not being affected negatively by rape culture.

      Good quote from this post that shaped my thoughts on this …
      http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/meet-the-predators/

      We need to revoke the rapists’ social license to operate. We need to stop asking, “why do we think he didn’t know she wasn’t consenting,” which is the first question now, really. First as a cultural matter — leaving the legal matter aside — we need to adopt the stance that sexual interaction ought to always be had in a state of affirmative consent by all participants; that anything else is aberrant. If someone says, “I was sexually assaulted,” the first question should be, “why was a person continuing with sexual activity when zir partner did not want to?”

      I think scenario B fails on that basis.

    • says

      I think the issue is that in a rape culture how can she not be threatened?

      Because I can count on several hands women who were in a similar situation and were not threatened and liked what happened.

      So we cannot assume all women in that situation will feel threatened.

      That they could, however, is the problem I am talking about (and, as I said in this article, is something that should concern anyone perpetrating Scenario B). But that is not what I describe in Scenario B (the point of Scenario B is that feeling threatened wasn’t the issue). One can certainly imagine a third scenario in between A and B that incorporated the added element of feeling threatened. I just didn’t explore that in my article, since my point was to explore the furthest extremes of what Shermer might have done given the description given (i.e. the least and the worst), and to illustrate that even in the best case scenario what he did would have been wrong (if it was anything analogous to B).

    • says

      Because I can count on several hands women who were in a similar situation and were not threatened and liked what happened.

      It’s not really the same scenario at all then as they liked what happened. In this one the person is left feeling pretty shitty. I guess the way I look at it is if that was a woman I knew and she described what happened – drinking – went up to room – he initiated rather abruptly – she half heartedly joined in at first but clearly didn’t throughout. Would I be calling that rape? Certainly doesn’t meet the enthusiastic consent bar and the “consent” given would in reality be tainted by a culture that pressures women to consent in that situation or be penalised. Maybe “threatened” isn’t the right term, but socially pressured by rape culture?

      It’s not really a problem I need to worry about, in that situation as a man, I’d be free to withdraw consent with no thoughts that anyone would blame me for “not putting out” or “being a tease”. Let alone use that as justification for any ensuing violent rape that occurs due to me withdrawing consent. All men need to worry about is accidentally raping women in this scenario, not something anyone is going to be feeling sorry for them about. I think this power differential aspect afforded men by rape culture taints scenario B. As someone with the privilege of not knowing what it feels like it’s probably better for me to shut up and read comments by those affected negatively by rape culture in your new post.

    • says

      The issue is only whether there are ever cases where a woman doesn’t feel threatened but also comes to feel exploited (and is exploited) and only truly realizes this before she can act on it. And there are. And easily can be.

      “Pressured” is no different (there is no mention of pressure being a motivating factor for the victim in Scenario B either; note that you could describe Scenario B gender reversed and it would be an event that I know has happened as well, but that isn’t because of rape culture, so rape culture, though real, is not the factor in this case).

      At any rate, I’ve covered all sides of this in a follow-up.

  2. JSC says

    Good article. You might like to know, however, that it is actually illegal to leave you car doors unlocked in a number places. I believe the legal theory is it’s a form of contributory negligence which makes you at least partially responsible for the outcome if, say, kids go joyriding in your car and run someone over with it. It doesn’t absolve the joyriders, though… but it does tend to absolve your insurance company. ;P

    Note that this is essentially the same legal theory that can make it illegal in some places for you to allow someone to drive home from a bar when you know they are too drunk to drive and you are in a position to stop serving them or take their keys — like bartenders. This to me seems closely related to the premise (which I support) that if you are with someone who is too drunk to consent, you become responsible for what happens to them in your presence.

    It’s also closely related to the legal theory behind trade secrets and certain intellectual property rights where if you don’t make at least a minimal effort to protect your rights, you can be considered to have abdicated them without explicitly doing so. In this case it can absolve the other party.

    I find this all very troublesome because I think your analysis from an ethical standpoint in the case you outline is correct. That would mean the legal and ethical theory behind it isn’t fully generalized.

    There’s also diminished capacity (and the related age and ability of consent concepts) which could play a role here but but that’s problematic as well. A drunk person has (temporary) diminished capacity but is still considered culpable and guilty of murder if they kill someone with their car while drunk which means your sober self before the fact is responsible for not having taken precautions to prevent the incapacitated version of you from doing something stupid. What adjustment to the theory could be made so that this holds but someone getting drunk at a party doesn’t have to make at least some prior attempt to ensure their own personal safety?

    I’d love to see all this unified rationally somehow in a way that covers all the exceptions we seem to think are needed — or conversely, disproves some of the exceptions but upholds others.

    There’s a divide in thinking here on personal responsibility that’s decidedly situational and some of it has changed dramatically in opposite directions in different situations in recent years.

    • says

      You might like to know, however, that it is actually illegal to leave you car doors unlocked in a number places. I believe the legal theory is it’s a form of contributory negligence which makes you at least partially responsible for the outcome if, say, kids go joyriding in your car and run someone over with it. It doesn’t absolve the joyriders, though… but it does tend to absolve your insurance company. ;P

      I’m unclear what you are saying…that there is legislated law somewhere (by which one can be fined!?) for leaving your car unlocked, or that insurance companies (by private contractual arrangement with you) won’t pay theft damages if you do? Those aren’t the same thing.

      Maybe it would help if you found some statutes or something somewhere to point me to.

      Because the former would be the daftest of laws, and arguably a violation of basic property rights, while the latter isn’t a law but an agreement you voluntary enter into with a business.

      The closest thing I can think of in my acquaintance are trigger-lock laws, which I happen to be against (for various reasons), but those don’t mitigate theft (i.e. it is still fully illegal to steal a gun that isn’t locked up; and you can’t be tried for a murder someone else commits with your gun, even if you didn’t lock it–not locking it only subjects you to a fine for creating a hazard). Rather, they mitigate accidental death (from a child’s access to the weapon, for example, and thus the legal theory is closer to that of driving drunk, which I discuss below).

      Note that this is essentially the same legal theory that can make it illegal in some places for you to allow someone to drive home from a bar when you know they are too drunk to drive and you are in a position to stop serving them or take their keys — like bartenders.

      That’s certainly not under the same legal theory. That’s a bystander intervention principle (some places have it illegal not to help someone in trouble if you can; the Jerry Seinfeld Show ended with an extended joke about that).

      In civil law the technical term is duty of care (certain people have a duty of care to certain other people, which varies depending on your assigned social responsibility), but the same concept applies in some criminal statutes (like that one; and others relating to negligence, for example).

      This to me seems closely related to the premise (which I support) that if you are with someone who is too drunk to consent, you become responsible for what happens to them in your presence.

      I wouldn’t take that too far. I would agree you are morally responsible to not be negligent (as I’ve described in this article), and should perhaps be legally responsible to not be grossly negligent, but you can’t actually control everything they do, or even watch everything they do, nor are you legally their guardian just out of proximity, and at some point you are going to face a legal conundrum of allowing them to do x or having to commit assault or even kidnapping against them to prevent them doing x, and without a lawyer to parse the law where you are, you are in safer legal territory to let them go their way if they resist, in all but the most extreme cases. Likewise, if they do something stupid before you can intervene or when you weren’t looking, you can’t be held liable for that.

      It’s also closely related to the legal theory behind trade secrets and certain intellectual property rights where if you don’t make at least a minimal effort to protect your rights, you can be considered to have abdicated them without explicitly doing so. In this case it can absolve the other party.

      I’m not aware of that actually being true. Once you’ve established the right (e.g. you have a trademark or patent; and in the case of copyright, the right exists instantly), you can’t lose it just by publishing or making it known. So you’d have to show me what statutes say otherwise and for what.

      What you might be thinking of is participatory responsibility in civil (not criminal) cases, which only affects the size of an award if you win a case. For example, if you break your leg and sue for ten thousand dollars, but your behavior is found to have been 60% responsible for the incident, the person you sue, even if they lose, only owes you four thousand dollars (assuming the amount you sued for is awarded).

      There’s also diminished capacity (and the related age and ability of consent concepts) which could play a role here but but that’s problematic as well. A drunk person has (temporary) diminished capacity but is still considered culpable and guilty…

      Note that this issue is discussed in the articles I linked to, if you’re interested. Generally, even in the most generous legal regimes, incapacity from intoxication cannot absolve you of a felony unless it is as extreme as would make having sex with someone in that same state rape (i.e. you’d have to be so out of it you don’t even realize what’s actually happening and can’t make coherent decisions). Thus, it is theoretically possible to have sex with someone in that state and be absolved of rape because you were in the same extreme state. But that varies by state, and even in the best cases judges and juries take the concept of “extreme” seriously.

      As for the technical term “diminished capacity,” that even in general does not usually absolve you of a crime, but rather lessens the offense you are convicted of.

      …of murder if they kill someone with their car while drunk

      I’m not sure that’s quite correct. Merely being drunk does not impair the judgment that leads to driving (just as it doesn’t prevent a woman from consenting). Whereas if you were so drunk you could argue you weren’t even thinking clearly, and then kill someone, I believe that would normally be manslaughter of some degree, or equivalent. Although states vary a lot in how they define murder vs. manslaughter, and both often have differing degrees of each, or a third, more generic category of just “homicide.” For example, often what you describe would simply be called “Criminally Negligent Homicide,” and neither murder nor manslaughter explicitly.

      It becomes second degree murder, for example, when you could reasonably have known you were behaving dangerously and could have stopped your behavior but didn’t. Meanwhile, a “diminished capacity” defense, if successful, typically lowers the degree of offense (from a higher count to a lower count of murder, or from murder to manslaughter, etc.). I think it requires proving that you were incapable of forming intent in the state you were in, so you’d have to be so drunk you couldn’t have even been aware that driving was dangerous (and that requires being pretty amazingly drunk).

      Although you’d have to ask a lawyer to be sure, and it will vary from state to state.

      …which means your sober self before the fact is responsible for not having taken precautions to prevent the incapacitated version of you from doing something stupid. What adjustment to the theory could be made so that this holds but someone getting drunk at a party doesn’t have to make at least some prior attempt to ensure their own personal safety?

      I think you have it backwards. Operating a vehicle in a manner that can cause death is not in the same category as leaving a door unlocked. In the latter case, someone other than you must positively act criminally for a crime to occur, whereas in the former, you are the one positively acting criminally (since without your action, no crime could occur, and if one does, it can only be because of the choice you made).

    • JSC says

      I’m unclear what you are saying…that there is legislated law somewhere (by which one can be fined!?) for leaving your car unlocked, or that insurance companies (by private contractual arrangement with you) won’t pay theft damages if you do? Those aren’t the same thing.

      Germany and Australia both have widespread laws of this kind last I checked. It’s not particularly common in the US but I’ve heard of it being done at least at the city ordinance level. Texas stops short and only requires that your keys not be in the ignition — but apparently elsewhere in the car is OK. The insurance thing was just a fun aside but they often piggyback on the law using a clause about operating the vehicle legally.

      That’s certainly not under the same legal theory. … In civil law the technical term is duty of care …

      Duty of care is one of the tests for responsibility in a case of negligence. And it can extend to contributory negligence. It’s just coming at the same concept from the opposite direction.

      I’m not aware of that actually being true. Once you’ve established the right (e.g. you have a trademark or patent; and in the case of copyright, the right exists instantly), you can’t lose it just by publishing or making it known. So you’d have to show me what statutes say otherwise and for what.

      It’s explicitly true of trade secrets — “is the subject of reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy” being one of 3 criteria for protection. With other types of intellectual property they’ve been systematically removing it from the law over the last few decades in the US and other countries. You used to have to assert your rights clearly or lose them. A good example is the movie Charade with Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Its copyright hasn’t expired but someone screwed up and forgot the copyright notice in the credits of the first run so the film is public domain now despite some later releases having copyright notices. Negligence on the part of the studio.

      I wouldn’t take that too far.

      Granted. I should have stipulated only morally and only to a certain degree outside of any specific duty of care circumstances.

      what you describe would simply be called “Criminally Negligent Homicide,” and neither murder nor manslaughter explicitly.

      You are right; I misspoke when I used the term murder instead of homicide. Manslaughter and Homicide are used interchangeably for criminal or gross negligence depending on the jurisdiction, though. Some states have a separate category for vehicular/intoxicated homicide and/or manslaughter.

      But now you should see how all these disparate examples tie together. Variations on negligence. In the original unlocked car door example, you normally wouldn’t be held responsible for the theft itself (well, except by the insurance company) and it doesn’t substantially mitigate the crime of the thief. The law is to prevent further problems after the initial crime and essentially holds you partially responsible for them much as you could be held responsible if your small child got a hold of your gun and killed someone or if you are a bartender and let a patron drive drunk. A car is considered a deadly weapon.

      I was attempting to use the case of intoxicated homicide slightly differently. If you consider, as I mentioned, the sober individual who began the night and the intoxicated individual who drove the car as if they were separate, it helps to clarify how the sober person is held responsible for the actions of the intoxicated person who, depending on the specifics of the intoxicant, may not technically be responsible. The sober individual is still guilty of negligence.

      Merely being drunk does not impair the judgment that leads to driving

      Really? The literature I’ve read says alcohol impairs your judgement and alters your perceptions as well as reducing your reflexes, coordination and inhibitions. That last is related to judgement and perception. If you are incapable of judging or perceiving a situation as dangerous, that could diminish your responsibility. You mention your own experiences with alcohol along these lines in reply to someone else but surely you know the various effects of alcohol differ in degree (sometimes significantly) from person to person and not just with quantity.

      At least from anecdote, it’s pretty clear people regularly do things while drunk (stunts and whatnot) that can kill them when they wouldn’t have done them otherwise. YouTube is replete with such drunken fail videos — quite a few of which might actually be snuff films. Granted, some people are just that stupid naturally, though.

      The impairment of judgement and perception was certainly supported by a brain mapping study I was involved in but they didn’t explicitly study the decision to drive so it wouldn’t be conclusive. I tried looking it up but it’s 20 years later and I fail to remember the title of the study or the professor who was running it — and the other major cognitive effect of alcohol (memory loss) probably didn’t help because I was one of the guinea pigs.

      Note that I’m actually a “date rape” survivor — only it wasn’t a date. I lost consciousness before anything happened and, for what little sanity I have left, I consider myself somewhat fortunate in that regard. It’s still painful to think about but at least I’m not assaulted by direct memories. I’m loathe to even contemplate theoretically the idea of the victim sharing the blame but I’m still very interested in the ethical philosophy underpinning why we don’t in cases where one made a conscious decision to get drunk in a specific setting. How exactly is that differentiated from certain situations of negligence? I believe there is a limited set of simple ethical precepts from which you can derive anything but so far as I’m aware, nobody has fully developed a complete theory of ethics from first principles so we are left with exploring various thought experiments despite it sometimes being painful to contemplate. My interest in this is both as a rape survivor and as an atheist interested in rational ethical frameworks.

    • says

      Germany and Australia both have widespread laws of this kind last I checked.

      I can’t speak to the silly laws of foreign nations. But if the Texas law is of the same ilk, then…

      It’s not particularly common in the US but I’ve heard of it being done at least at the city ordinance level. Texas stops short and only requires that your keys not be in the ignition — but apparently elsewhere in the car is OK.

      The Texas law does not affect the criminality of theft (and thus supports my point about the legal theory: a thief does not get off or less time if the keys are in the ignition; they are still 100% to blame for the crime), it is like gun trigger-lock laws: a safety issue (the law prohibits leaving a car idling unattended, for example, and not engaging the emergency break; the keys in the ignition but in the off position is thus being assumed to pose a similar risk). The assumption must be that kids might get in and do mischief and cause harm. It is not to prevent theft (hence keys sitting on the dashboard is not illegal). So this is not about contributing to a crime against you. It’s about when you could be creating a risk to the public.

      It’s explicitly true of trade secrets…

      Trade secrets are not patented (because patents cease to be secret). You can thus choose to patent (and thus have the right to sue anyone who uses your idea) or keep it secret (and risk not being able to sue unless it is stolen…which requires that it has to be stolen–hence if you publish it you gave it away, and that’s not stealing).

      You thus have to keep those two options distinct. Then you’ll understand why the trade secrets law works the way it does. It has no bearing on the present case.

      A good example is the movie Charade with Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Its copyright hasn’t expired but someone screwed up and forgot the copyright notice in the credits of the first run so the film is public domain now despite some later releases having copyright notices. Negligence on the part of the studio.

      Well, to be precise, that’s not even an example, much less a good one. Because that was not a trade secret. It was a copyrighted product. Under current law copyright is automatic (it does not have to be declared). Charade was produced before that law went into effect.

      However, even before that, the legal theory was that you had to indicate that it was owned for it to be owned (otherwise you were publishing it for the public domain). The absurdity of that faulty assumption in the law was redressed in 1978, but even under the earlier assumption that law bears no analogy here because cars are not the sorts of things that are often public property (necessitating that a distinction be made clear which are and which aren’t)…much less (!) women.

      In the original unlocked car door example, you normally wouldn’t be held responsible for the theft itself (well, except by the insurance company)…

      And just to be clear, you can pay an insurance company to insure you even then. It just costs more because their costs go up.

      It is not that the insurance company doesn’t cover you because you were responsible. Insurance companies actually don’t care who is responsible. They only care about the actuarial risk–i.e. what paying damages will cost them, as measured against their collected premiums. As long as the balance is a profit, they will insure anything, literally anything, even your completely voluntarily jumping off a cliff to certain death (it’s just that the premiums on that would be so high as to erase any point in taking that insurance, although stunt men and women have insurance that approaches the analogy). That’s why installing a burglar alarm will reduce premiums, because it reduces the risk to the insurance company…yet you can still get theft insurance without installing an alarm.

      “Merely being drunk does not impair the judgment that leads to driving”

      Really? The literature I’ve read says alcohol impairs your judgement and alters your perceptions as well as reducing your reflexes, coordination and inhibitions. That last is related to judgement and perception. If you are incapable of judging or perceiving a situation as dangerous, that could diminish your responsibility. You mention your own experiences with alcohol along these lines in reply to someone else but surely you know the various effects of alcohol differ in degree (sometimes significantly) from person to person and not just with quantity.

      Reducing inhibitions and slowing reasoning and perception does not cause you to inadvertently commit crimes (unless you are a criminal). Nor does it make you “incapable” of judging or perceiving a situation as dangerous (as I can attest to: I can be very drunk and still perfectly grasp what’s dangerous and what’s not…and variations in people relate to how quickly they get drunk or how much alcohol it takes to get them to a certain state, it does not relate to the level of cognitive impairment of equivalent states).

      Drinking is not like dropping acid, for example, which can indeed impair your ability to know what’s dangerous.

      At least from anecdote, it’s pretty clear people regularly do things while drunk (stunts and whatnot) that can kill them when they wouldn’t have done them otherwise. YouTube is replete with such drunken fail videos — quite a few of which might actually be snuff films. Granted, some people are just that stupid naturally, though.

      I would advise you to notice that there are as many such YouTube videos of people doing the same things perfectly sober.

      Correlation is not causation.

      I am sure the only time drunkenness can assume fault is when you are so drunk you literally don’t know what’s really going on (e.g. that you are walking a railing a hundred feet from a concrete embankment below). And that is indeed precisely the degree of drunkenness that statutorily negates consent for sex (and thus establishes a rape).

      Note that I’m actually a “date rape” survivor — only it wasn’t a date. I lost consciousness before anything happened and, for what little sanity I have left, I consider myself somewhat fortunate in that regard. It’s still painful to think about but at least I’m not assaulted by direct memories.

      That’s awful. I’m sorry to hear that. Notably, that is beyond even Scenario A.

      I’m loathe to even contemplate theoretically the idea of the victim sharing the blame but I’m still very interested in the ethical philosophy underpinning why we don’t in cases where one made a conscious decision to get drunk in a specific setting. How exactly is that differentiated from certain situations of negligence? I believe there is a limited set of simple ethical precepts from which you can derive anything but so far as I’m aware, nobody has fully developed a complete theory of ethics from first principles so we are left with exploring various thought experiments despite it sometimes being painful to contemplate. My interest in this is both as a rape survivor and as an atheist interested in rational ethical frameworks.

      Indeed. I agree these are things worth thinking about and discussing…I’m sympathetic to that especially as a philosopher, who writes on philosophy of morality and law quite a lot. So no worries here. Just be aware that some people can take it the wrong way (although you’ve handled it fine here so far, so I don’t think there has been any problem).

    • GrzeTor says

      You are not obliged to close your doors by the law, but other documents – especially your insurance policy – might state otherwise. So generally you can expect negative repercussions for not caring for security or being vigilant, it’s just that these are not going to come form the government.

      So if someone admits to not being careful, cautious, reasonable, controlling his behavior etc. to the public, he can expect negative opinions about himself from the public. It’s only the govnermnet that is out of the pool of possible critics.

    • GrzeTor says

      @Richard “You evidently don’t understand the actual principles insurance companies work under”

      Example:
      http://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk/publications/ombudsman-news/82/82-keys-in-car.htm

      “Almost all motor policies include a clause that excludes cover for theft, attempted theft or malicious damage, if the ignition keys were left ‘in or on the vehicle’.”

      “Mrs J complained about her insurer’s refusal to pay for the theft of her car. Her husband, who was included as a ‘named driver’ on the car’s insurance policy, had gone out in the car to the local supermarket. He had stopped off on his way home in order to post a letter. He said he had parked the car and crossed a busy road to reach the post box. As he turned round to make his way back to the car, he saw it being driven away.
      [...]
      complaint not upheld”

      @Richard “If you are blaming victims for the crimes committed against them, you are on the wrong side of justice.”

      In general – everybody except the government and it’s agencies has the right to blame a person for the wrongdoings this person has done. It doesn’t matter if the person who did the wrong thing was or wasn’t a victim of a crime. In the examples above people who left keys in the car are blamed for leaving keys in the car. It’s not blaming them for the crime of stealing a car. In case of people getting drunk they may be blamed for drinking – but of course they can’t be accused eg. of having their money stolen while they were drunk.

      It’s much different than the dealings with the government, where the criteria is legal or illegal. Private people can be blamed on whatever inoptimal measure, as long as it is a result of their actions and decisions, not some external influence.

    • says

      Thanks for not listening to me and reading the comments I directed you to.

      That was very helpful, because it led to you posting this completely moot and irrelevant comment you spent so much time on.

    • Ed Ladnar says

      Mr. Carrier, do you have a legal education? You seem to have some knowledge of the law, but you don’t really talk about it like a professional. But I don’t want to be nitpicky. The main thing is this: you appear to divorce civil law from morality – you seem to reject that civil liability has anything to say about moral questions. For example, you dismiss the idea that civil liability for leaving keys in one’s ignition has any bearing on a discussion about rape because it has no effect on the sentence of the criminal actor. That is a non sequitur. We hold criminals responsible for their actions regardless of whether the injured victim acted with or without care. That is one kind of moral judgment. But if the injured person seeks compensation through a civil suit, in many jurisdictions a plaintiff’s recovery can be limited by any fault apportioned to the plaintiff, even in the case of intentional torts. That is another kind of moral judgment. Anyway, the point is that the way fault is, or should be, apportioned in civil cases actually has a lot to tell us about social values. Tort law sheds at least as much light on morality as criminal law, and perhaps even more so, since it encompasses largely encompasses criminal law (traditional criminal law, anyway). See, for example:

      http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/law/tort-law/tort-law-and-social-morality

    • says

      All citizens are morally obligated to understand the laws governing them (otherwise, how could they know to obey them, or what rights they have?). For example, blogging and journalism would be impossible if bloggers and journalists can’t know what constitutes defamation.

      But that’s all I am doing here. I have never claimed to be a lawyer or giving formal legal advice. I have instead frequently noted the limits of my knowledge in that regard.

      What I have said is based on what lawyers and legal sites and the laws themselves have said in these matters. As a philosopher I have studied the law quite extensively. But as I always do (in history, science, philosophy) is typically not speak in jargon but in colloquial language…deliberately. I explain why in Proving History, p. 9.

      I do “divorce civil law from morality” (or more precisely, I distinguish them), because the law does not magically align exactly with right and wrong (and often cannot do so, since the purpose of the law is not to enforce anyone’s morality, but to maintain a civil society so people can live by their own moralities, e.g. religious liberty and the individual’s pursuit of happiness: see Sense and Goodness without God VII.1, pp. 369-70; it’s only sometimes that these align).

      It is thus not that “civil liability has [nothing] to say about moral questions” (which is not anything I have ever said), but that they are different things and have different goals and are created by different processes with different agendas (and of different merit). To the contrary, I have frequently argued that some of the best and most important moral reasoning is in the law and legal decisions. But that does not make them synonymous. Often some of the worst moral reasoning is in the law and legal decisions (case in point, the UCMJ before 2012, or the Supreme Court’s upholding of the mickey mouse law).

      Thus, in the example you call attention to, I am not just referencing the law, but people’s moral judgment that the law is entirely correct about this and that in fact it would be immoral of the law to operate differently in that case (it would create moral injustice). That does not require the law and moral judgment to be identical in every case. Indeed, there are things it would be immoral to legislate against, which in fact are themselves immoral (e.g. epistemically bankrupt hate speech: that is immoral, but must not be illegal, because the consequences of legislating that would be a net harm to civil society; we therefore must answer it with moral condemnation, not legal action).

      We hold criminals responsible for their actions regardless of whether the injured victim acted with or without care. That is one kind of moral judgment. But if the injured person seeks compensation through a civil suit, in many jurisdictions a plaintiff’s recovery can be limited by any fault apportioned to the plaintiff, even in the case of intentional torts.

      If you had read the comments here, you would know I said this myself. (See here.)

      Anyway, the point is that the way fault is, or should be, apportioned in civil cases actually has a lot to tell us about social values.

      Only economic values (it relates to financial costs incurred by one’s actions). And those are often out of alignment with moral sense.

      Indeed, when there is a criminal standard, it morally supersedes a civil one. One would not absurdly say a murderer was not a murderer, or less bad a murderer, simply because his victim was out late at night and thus a jury ruled the victim was 10% responsible for being murdered…that only demonstrates the moral absurdity of civil tort law, not the moral appropriateness of saying it’s less bad if you murder someone who is out late at night. The more so as a murderer will in particular target such people, so it is absurd to use their choice of target as reason to say they are not as bad a murderer as someone who picks harder targets.

      Hence this is one area where the law is out of alignment with moral judgment. Compare the varying jurisdictions and public outcry at unjust civil court rules on torts involving rape (discussed here). Even as in the case of rape as I pointed out in my article: New Jersey clearly legalizes what is actually, morally, rape (just as I noted our UCMJ once did). Thus, the law is out of alignment with moral judgment there. So it is, also, in civil rape cases that blame the victim. And public opinion generally agrees (hence “no duty” provisions are gradually entering the law, as noted in the previous link).

      Case in point: it is absurd to think that it is morally acceptable to steal sexual access to a woman, merely because tort law allows a jury to say so. The famous case of McClenahan v. Cooley illustrates how out of alignment tort law is with sound moral judgment (analysis here and here). In that case, a man left his keys in his car to enter a bank to briefly transact some business, a thief stole it to evade police, and killed someone in a collision. The victim’s family sued the owner of the car. In no plausible sense would their winning that case be a sound judgment (and the court agreed, issuing summary judgment for the defendant; the plaintiff appealed and then won the right at least to go to a jury).

      Morally it is absurd to assign even a fraction of blame for that death to the car’s owner, but juries can do unimaginable things, driven by irrationality and prejudice. But generally, in cases like this, courts and juries rule for the defendant (they are not found at fault, even in small part: see discussion here), yet some do the reverse (thus, you can’t hold tort law up as a moral paradigm when it isn’t even producing logically consistent conclusions).

      Nevertheless, that case at least made some sense where it occurred because Tennessee law held it illegal to leave a car in such a state (hence see again my discussion of such laws here, above), but the question is whether it is just to blame morally condemn someone who didn’t kill someone and couldn’t have even foreseen their being killed, by an action that in itself is completely harmless and typically doesn’t kill people.

      That case is not a correct analogy, because there is no law mandating that woman avoid getting drunk (nor would it make analogous legal sense to: again, see discussion in the thread above), but also because for a finding in tort law there must be a duty of care from the defendant (the one accused of negligence, who in this analogy would be the rape victim) to the plaintiff (in real world cases, a third party harmed by the rape, which generally never exists, but for this analogy it would have to be the rapist), and in the case of sexual assault the assaulter is the one who had the duty of care, not the other way around (e.g. I may in some sense have a duty not to help car thieves kill people with my car, but I do not have a duty in any sense to prevent a nurse from poisoning me…to the contrary, she has a duty to me not to poison me; as for a nurse, so for a man in the company of a drunk woman).

      Thus, even if you want to elevate civil standards above criminal (even though you have given no logical reason why we should in this case), and even though civil standards still do not make someone not a thief, murderer, or rapist simply because their victims were “out late at night” (for example) so even if you did elevate civil standards above criminal you have no valid argument here, even then, civil tort standards exist that are against even the point you were hoping to make (i.e. which do not acknowledge a victim contributing to the outcome of a criminal’s behavior, e.g. being out late at night does not reduce the culpability of a murderer, thief, or rapist even in civil judgments), and those that favor the point you were hoping to make are demonstrably morally absurd (e.g. they entail a murderer is less bad if they kill someone out late at night, than if they kill someone during “reasonable hours”).

      So, philosophy is not your friend here.

  3. colnago80 says

    Just for example, suppose Shermer’s accuser is married and has had in her life one consensual extramarital affair that her husband never discovered. Shermer’s lawyers might dig that up and parade it in court in an attempt to discredit her (which would fail, since it actually wouldn’t prove her malice or the falsity of her claim) and to materially punish her (which would succeed, if it had the expected effect of ruining her marriage). She might not want to expose herself to that outcome, preferring he be allowed to get away with whatever he did, in the interests of her own wellbeing, while still being able to warn other women. Which, incidentally, was her actual stated purpose, as quoted.

    It is my information that California has a rape shield law which, in general, states that the complainant’s prior behavior cannot be brought into evidence, except in certain well defined circumstances. Therefore, any dirt that Shermer’s lawyers and investigators dig up is, in general, inadmissible.

    As an example of exceptions, consider the Kobe Bryant case in Colorado, which also has a rape shield law. In this case, the judge, after an in-camera hearing ruled that the complainant’s activities in the 72 hours prior to her examination by the SANE nurses at a local hospital could be admitted. This was because of the following factors.

    1. Injuries to her genital area which the prosecution proposed to enter into evidence as evidence of forceable sex were said by the physician at the hospital where she was examined to have occurred any time in the 72 hour window preceding it.

    2. The complainant, one Kate Faber, testified under oath that she had had sex with a man the day before the encounter with Bryant but not after. However, the SANE nurses testified that they observed motile sperm in her genital area. Sperm only remains motile for a period of 10 to 12 hours after ejaculation. Since the examination occurred some 16 hours after the alleged encounter with Bryant, a defense expert testified at the hearing that she must have had sex with someone subsequent to the encounter with Bryant, and that someone was shown by DNA analysis not to be Bryant. indicating that she was lying under oath. The DNA expert from the Colorado Department of justice who did that actual analysis concurred with the defense expert, Elizabeth Johnson who ran a DNA lab in California.

    • says

      I can’t speak to that case. I haven’t researched it.

      But to the general point, there is a difference between a rape shield law being in place, and it actually working. I am aware of too many cases of it being useless to see it being of any assurance to anyone. It’s simply too easy to bypass or ignore. For example, one can just leak the information to the public (by channels that can’t be traced). And there are plenty of legal devices by which a prior affair (for instance) can be introduced as evidence of something either witness claimed or denied on the stand.

      Sure, it’s better when there is a rape shield law. But they aren’t as secure as a victim would require to feel safe.

      It also might not apply in a civil case.

    • colnago80 says

      Re Richard Carrier

      I would agree that rape shield laws don’t stop leaks. The point is that they determine what can be introduced as evidence in a trial. As it happens, it is my information that the law in Colorado is supposed to be stricter then in most other states. However, if leaks are occurring, the judge can put a gag order on the lawyers and, if caught, they could be subject to penalties including disbarment. An attorney would have to be nuts to risk disbarment for a client.

      Indeed, they don’t apply in a civil case. However, in a civil case, any dirt on the defendant which is inadmissible in a criminal can come in. The problem for Shermer, should he choose to actually file a civil suit agains his accusers is what might turn up under discovery. Most reputable attorneys will advise there prospective clients not to sue because something might turn up under discovery that would cause more damage to the prospective plaintiff’s reputation then the accusations at issue.

      I don’t know about Shermer but, in the case of Lawrence Krauss, who is also under the gun for alleged misbehavior, his association with a convicted child molester and any revelations relative to his divorce would be fair game. I strongly suspect that if the only accusations against him consist of boorish behavior (e.g. inviting a women he did not know to join him and his fiance in his hotel room for a 3 way), the association with the convicted child molester would cause more damage to his reputation; therefore, IMHO, most attorneys would advise him to take a pass.

    • says

      Right. I think discovery is going to hurt Shermer. A lot. (Especially if he tries sticking to the “I never fooled around ever” defense, which it looks like his lawyers inadvisably talked him into, or couldn’t talk him out of.)

      But the average Jane and Joe doesn’t know those kinds of details, or how they can work to their advantage.

      Re: Krauss. So far as I know, his only association with a rapist is as a friend whom he refused to believe was guilty (of having sex with underaged sex-trafficked prostitutes, for which I believe his friend was convicted, if I’m not mistaken), and that is already public knowledge. So I don’t see how discovery on that matter would concern him (unless there is something even darker there to dig up). But there are other matters in his case that he evidently is keen to suppress. And it does look like he’s someone women should avoid (some of the rumors are pretty bad). But no one has come forward (even by proxy) to stand by their accounts (yet). So that one is largely staying behind the scenes for now. (That may change; I know various parties are looking into legal ways forward in the Krauss case.)

    • GrzeTor says

      There’s no “rape case”. What we have is just a defamation/libel case. Typically (but not always) if such cases involve rape, assault, robbery etc. then civil courts wait for criminal courts rely on criminal courts to solve the case. Thus it may be enough for MS to just provide papers proving he was never convicted of rape in order to for court to believe the publication against him is false.

    • says

      Since no one has said he was convicted of rape, you clearly don’t understand the facts of this case or what’s going on.

      Indeed, this remark of yours suggests you didn’t read my article. Because it contains a whole paragraph on exactly this point.

    • GrzeTor says

      “Since no one has said he was convicted of rape, you clearly don’t understand the facts” – actually my point was exactly about this, but perhaps I haven’t written it clearly enough.

      From what I know (I may be mistaken) – the courts are not compatible with non-specific and imprecise claims, and in fact allergic to them. So a practically scientifically unfalsifilable claim “RC sometime, shomehow did some crime to someone” (would require a detailed per-minute life history to be investigated?) has a high chance to be found false in court – you just give the court a paper that proves you were never convicted, and since specific and officially confirmed “wins” with unspecific in courts then you won. In fact courts won’t even allow unspecificif claims as evidence eg. “I somehow know RC was doing doing something evil”, you have to fill-in what/when/where/whom fields or shut up. Really sentences like, “Ever since, I’ve heard stories about him doing things” won’t look good as quality evidence.

      Now from what was published – PZ hasn’t provided information where/when/whom (“at a conference” is not precise enogh to count), just some abstract stories without names and places. At the same time we can say with high probability that MS can provide some paper that he was not convicted or even tried of any crime. So with the information the public was presented – MS clearly wins. Now, perhaps PZ has some hidden cards, some detailed information, that is somehow confirmed? How could anyone form the public know if it wasn’t provided? From what he wrote he has just an e-mail – not much.

      You have forgotten about this in your “quality of evidence” chapter – that evidence has to be specific, precise, complete, coherent and generally quality-controlled (vetted).

      Strangely the rule is reverse in the court of public opinion – here the unspecivic, incomplete, imprecise, vague, ambiguous claim that is emotionally strong is very difficult to be falsified, just by it’s design. Eg. if no time is specified, then even if the accused presents a detailed minute-by-minute schedule of his last 2 years, then there are still going to be suspicions that the event happened before. If no age of the alleged victim was provided, then “before” may stretch to the birth date of the object of accusation.

      So it looks like PZ published accusations that look like being designed in a way to heavily impact public opinion, but may be problematic in courts.

      Ah, there’s another crucial difference between the evidence expected by courts vs. the evidence expected by public. Courts accept one-sided evidence, while public demands objective one, and feels cheated when someone is biased or one-sided.

    • says

      I have no idea what you are going on about now. None of this has anything to do with what my article says or concludes.

      You said “it may be enough for MS to just provide papers proving he was never convicted of rape in order to for court to believe the publication against him is false” — which makes no sense unless you think someone said he was convicted of rape. Since no one said that, proving he wasn’t can’t help him win a defamation case here. If you are confused by that, read the whole part of my article where I discuss the different kinds of things that can be meant by a rape accusation. You know, like you should have already.

      You have forgotten about this in your “quality of evidence” chapter – that evidence has to be specific, precise, complete, coherent and generally quality-controlled (vetted).

      This isn’t a law court. So none of that is relevant. We are making judgment calls from the evidence we do have available.

      You can certainly say we can’t lock him up or lynch him on the evidence we do have so far. But we aren’t trying to do that. What we can say is that it’s enough evidence to suspect he does bad things and women might want to stay away from him. In other words, what my article actually says.

      You should, in particular, re-read my section on evidence and standards (I have asked you this now at least twice). In particular the paragraph that talks about different levels of evidence, and then the paragraph that links you to more detailed discussions of these different standards and why they differ.

    • GrzeTor says

      No, Richard, We The Public are not stray dogs that are satisfied with the scraps of information that Lord Myers throws at us when he’s in good humor. We The Public (minus FTB/A+ crowd) know that information is a necessary prerequisite of making decisions, and the quality of decision is critucally dependant on the quality of information.

      As of now the quality of information presented to The Public is not enough to make a decision that would lead to a change of opinion about Michael Shermer. That means whatever opinion a member of The Public has about MS it should stay as it was (status quo).

      As far as Lord Myers is concerned – we The Public can condemn him for treating us in a perverse way – first firing up our emotions by highly charged words and phrases (his post included: raped, explosive information, unethical behavior, powerful big name guy, dillema, consequences, coerced, consent, SEX, no recourse, no way out, no ohter option etc.) and after charging us emotionally he provides not enough of quality information and evidence for us to decide intellectually, analytically, using critical thinking what really happened.

      That’s evil! He should either provide enough quality informaiton that The Public has the basis for making the judgement, or he shouldn’t start all this scalndalistic emotionalizing at all (put up or shut up).

    • says

      Re-read (yet again) the first section of my article, if you really care about how to use information correctly.

      And stop posting comments that entirely ignore everything I said there and fail to interact with any of it.

      I will begin deleting comments that do. Read my comments policy if you are unclear about this.

    • GrzeTor says

      I think you don’t understand. What you want is: “We have some information on the Internet. Given this information – what is more likely: A or B?”. What I’m telling you is that this is a wrong type of excercise. It should rather be 2 stage:

      1) At first stage have a reasonably high standard of quality of evidence and information that tells what enough to make judgements. Filter out the information doesn’t fit this standards. Go to the ponint 2 only if there’s enough of the quality information left. Otherwise exit with “not enough information” conclusion.
      2) The second stage is making judghements, based on the usual methods.

      So in this case, for me the quality of information presented is not enogh to move from stage 1 to stage 2. I blame PZ Myers for such low quality of information. And yes, I know that there actors like intelligence agencies that have to search for conslusions based on scraps of information or noisy information, or information that may be actively obfuscated or even falsified by others. Or another unfortunate group – historians – who only have so much information as archeologist find them, and know that some data was consciously destroyed (eg. burned libraries, or specific books targetted for destruction by the rulers) – and still have to make some decisions.

      Unfortunately such lack of quality information is related to the risk of making a wrong judgement. An example might be when in 1941 Soviets command convinced itself that Germany won’t attack it based partially on reliable, but incomplete evidence: they had intelligence data that showed that Germany has no equipment or clothing able to withstand heavy Russian winters, and that they are not even pursuing that. This meant Germany was not readying for the war in Russia. The problem was that Germany attacked without enough preparations, for which it paid by having its army frozen during winter.

      Fortunately for us – The Public – we don’t have to participate in such feasts of speculation. If someone wants to convince us of something we can demand certain standards of evidence to be met. If they are not – then it can be rigtfully ignored. And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be cautious! Don’t you know that one of features of centenarians is that they are suspicious? Being generally suspicious about everything is safe and healthy. What doesn’t make sense is to reserve it for one singled-out guy based on gossip-style information, who by the way is far away from the profile of a criminal (by factors like age, intelligence, race, lack of criminal history etc.). So you should rather advice being suspicious about everyone – including yourself, PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson or whoever.

      When it comes to the quality of information in private organizations vs. courts – private organizations mostly make decisions about the future, which by definition is not known in advance. Some decisions are even very long term, determine the course of the institution for many years, while the state of the world then (how stong the competition is going to be, when the next economic depression starts, will new invention arrive substituting for what the company is trying to sell etc.) is quite unpredictable. The decisions are being made based on uncertain information not because there’s a preference or custom of doing it, but because it is only one available. The courts make decisions based on the past, which is naturally deterministic, which is easier, thus the information standards can be higher.

      The other distinction is that private organizations make decision that optimize only their own egoistic good, without much concern for justice, public good, or good of an individual. This means not that much values need to be optimized, so a decision is easier. So decisions like firing an employee after a controversy or scandal are not based on preponderance of evidence or whatever you suggest, but on a simple wish to stay away from the controversy by getting rid of anyone involved in it, no matter if they were guilty or not (eg. Donglegate). There’s not much information to gather about the case to make such decisions – just is it good or bad press for the institution. Do you want us to have such standards of judgement by invoking “investigations and findings reached in private companies”? By such standards we should reject and oust both PZ, as well as MS in order to stay away from the controversy.

      Courts can’t do that, they have to try to be objective, work for public good, which requires them to optimize multiple variables at once ven the ones that are contradictory (eg. free speach vs. reputation). , act without taking sides, remember about the influence of the precedents on the public outside of this case and so on. I say it is a good standard, better than the egoistic one used by private companies, so why not embrace it? Why go with something inferior like internet gossip-hearsay, when we have good standards handed to us on a plate?

    • says

      It should rather be 2 stage…

      “If wishes were horses, we’d all be eatin’ steak” — Jayne Cobb

      You have to calculate what conclusions follow from the information you have.

      Wishing you had more makes no difference to what that conclusion must be.

      The fact is, you have the exact words of the woman in question, as she wrote them. (In her case; and likewise in several others, involving all the other incidents.) And it is improbable that she is lying (even more improbable that PZ made her up). Unless you have wildly unrealistic priors, based on wildly inaccurate understandings of the people involved and human behavior generally.

      That’s enough to come to a preponderance of evidence conclusion…the same standard that wins in even civil court.

      It is also enough for a company to make decisions about whom to hire to speak at an event.

      And it is enough for women to decide whether they want to drink around Michael Shermer.

      That’s it. That’s all there is too this. No amount of smokescreen from you is going to change any of it.

  4. Jacob Schmidt says

    When the question of whether Scenario A is rape or not depends on the absurd trivia of what piece of land it happened on, you should readily grant leeway in the use of the term “rape.” If it’s rape in California, it’s fair to say it’s also rape in New Jersey by California standards. “In California, we call that rape.” Fact.

    Thank you! Fuck, I’m so tired of morons citing specific state laws to narrow the definition of rape, as if legality is the be all end all of ethics and social interaction (not to mention that rape was, in fact legal against ones spouse for centuries).

    • says

      Note carefully the differences between A and B. Those are the differences that matter.

      Scenario B does not contain any expressed desire to stop or desist, but does contain active participation and statements of awareness.

      Therefore, to turn B into rape again, she’d have to express her desire to stop (verbally or physically). Merely thinking something doesn’t do it. Unless she is in a state such that she can’t coherently express that desire (which is Scenario A).

      See other comment for more discussion of the distinctions.

    • sandman15 says

      @Richard

      Eyewitness testimony is obviously evidence, but it’s about as unreliable as evidence gets.

      At the moment I’m leaning towards Shermer probably having done something wrong, but the tribal nature of this whole issue troubles me. I honestly don’t think evidence matters to most people who are participating in this debate, on either side of the divide.

    • says

      Eyewitness testimony is obviously evidence, but it’s about as unreliable as evidence gets.

      Not about this. It’s average reliability in rape cases is in the vicinity of 9 in 10. That alone might not be sufficient for conviction, but it’s certainly sufficient for concern.

      I honestly don’t think evidence matters to most people who are participating in this debate, on either side of the divide.

      A statement that is itself tribal: dismissing people’s evaluation of the evidence because of a prior bias that there is a “divide” that is deciding the matter. Rather than, say, the evidence, and people’s standards of evidence.

    • sandman15 says

      @Richard

      Apologies in advance for not quoting, as I’m not sure how to quote on here.

      On what do you base the assertion about reliability?

      In what sense is my statement tribal? Which “tribe” does that statement suggest I belong to, given that I think both sides are equally guilty of confirmation bias?

      There is undoubtedly a divide within the community. Do you think it’s a coincidence that people on either side of the divide have come to the same conclusion as the other people on their side? I can’t think of a single person from either side who has responded to the issue in a manner that wasn’t entirely predictable.

      It is either an extraordinary coincidence that opinion is so neatly divided or a reflection of the tribal nature of the debate.

    • says

      You are assuming the matter is tribal. Rather than based on prior experience and information available and standards of reasoning. The reason there are “two sides” is not that there are tribes. Thinking it is, is itself tribal thinking. The reason there are two sides is that one side is not reasoning logically or treating evidence non-hypocritically, but ideologically (which causes all their weird positions on everything–by analogy, you would not say the reason Atheists and Evangelicals differ down the line on so many issues is “tribalism”). And the other is going where the evidence leads and being measured and reasonable about it (my article as a case in point). If you can’t tell the difference, then you are really lost in tribal thinking.

      On reliability, start here.

      And even those numbers are inflated (a single story confirmed to be a general problem), and also reflect mis-identified perps of actual rapes (and thus measured numbers of false reports do not entail a rape didn’t occur, but include when the wrong perp was identified in a line-up, which has a DNA-exclusion rate of around 1 in 5, although rapists don’t always leave DNA so even that is inflated, but the possibility of mis-identified perp is not relevant to the present case).

    • sandman15 says

      Richard,

      I did not say that tribalism was the reason for the divide. I said that this issue has become tribal, with opinion being predictably divided.

      Please, just reread your last post. You have dismissed the other side’s view as the product of ideology, while claiming that those on your side are rationality personified. Surely you see the irony?

      You must be utterly lacking in self-awareness if you can’t see the irony in your previous post.

    • says

      I did not say that tribalism was the reason for the divide. I said that this issue has become tribal, with opinion being predictably divided.

      Which is itself tribalist thinking. If you would rather look to see it not as tribes but as people applying reasonable standards and people applying biases instead of reasonable standards, and then look where things line up, you’ll see what you mistook as two tribes. Exactly like in my analogy of Atheists vs. Evangelicals. That isn’t tribalism. And neither is this.

      You have dismissed the other side’s view as the product of ideology, while claiming that those on your side are rationality personified. Surely you see the irony?

      You must be new to all this. Which is strange if you are already claiming tribalism and you don’t actually know any of the history that you claim establishes your mistaken assumption of tribes.

      We have dealt with what you call “the other side” for years, on dozens of issues, and they always lie, make shit up, use irrational and fallacious reasoning, and substitute biases for premises. This isn’t something I just suddenly assumed. This is something I have repeatedly confirmed, and replicated, in numerous different contexts.

      And if you took the trouble to make the same comparisons over the same number of issues and actually looked at what the truth was vs. what each side was saying, and actually looked at which side was using fallacies and which side was not but actually being careful and nuanced, you would find that your “two tribes” actually line up exactly into two groups: one whose premises accurately reflect the truth, and whose reasoning is nearly devoid of fallacies, and actually being careful and nuanced; and one whose premises frequently are false and even mythical, and whose reasoning is frequently fallacious, and neither careful nor nuanced. (Case in point: just this week.)

      That’s not two tribes. That’s just people who are reasonable and people who are not. Being not reasonable explains why the latter people all end up saying the same stupid things. And the rest of us are simply continually pointing that out.

      It would seem you are the one lacking in awareness. Because you don’t seem to be aware of any of this. Yet feel confident in declaring hypotheses about what’s happening…wholly uninformed.

  5. earl says

    ” but is a known person whose reliability we can evaluate, and we do know how he knows what he claims).”

    from PZ himself: “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do, I can do no other. I will again emphasize, though, that I have no personal, direct evidence that the event occurred as described”

    PZ himself is unable to put his reliability on the line, because he himself admits that he does not know the event actually occurred. Whether PZ is honest or a liar is irrelevant, he admits, he doesn’t really have the information to confirm it.

    • says

      I think you are confusing PZ’s statement that he knows the woman and knows she is trustworthy (and not some random crank or mentally disturbed person), and PZ noting that all he has is her testimony (i.e. he wasn’t physically there himself; although others were after the fact, who can further corroborate that element of her account, and he knows some of them personally as well).

      You seem to think that eyewitness testimony isn’t evidence. Which is bizarre. Because most science and law rests on eyewitness testimony as evidence. Imagine no one ever believing anything you ever saw or experienced based on the principle “eyewitness testimony isn’t evidence.” Then imagine how massively your life would suck…and how even society as a whole could never function.

      Then join reality with the rest of us.

    • GrzeTor says

      “Z’s statement that he knows the woman and knows she is trustworthy”. And I don’t trust PZ Myers. For me he is too much infected with the mind virus of lef-wing ideologies. I suspect that instead of looking only at the facts he projectshis ideologieson facts, and makes his decisions based on the summary image of facts and his projections.

      Many other people don’t trust PZ Myers, I’d say most of the world’s population – passively, just by not knowning him, or those who have learned something about him, don’t agree with his left-wing ideological dogmas.

      Unfortunately the way he and his repeaters attacked MS may also affect people who don’t trust him. It’s because humans have thisunfortunate bias of accepting frequently repeated statements as facts. What FTB crowd has created is a huge collection of text with frequent repetitions of MS name and words like “rape”, “rapist”, “imoral”, “sleezy” etc. close to his name. I can safely assume that FTB participants know about human biases (Julia Galef tought them), so they know that creating such pieces of texts would cause many of non-educated public to associate MS name and evil deeds just because of frequent repetition.

    • says

      And I don’t trust PZ Myers.

      Then you don’t have to share my article’s conclusion about Shermer.

      See how easy that was?

      Although I doubt you have any actual tangible reason to distrust him (you have no evidence of his general dishonesty, for example).

      Which is ironic, because that kind of emotional bias is supposed to be the sort of thing you are against.

      P.S. What will you do when Shermer loses his defamation suit against PZ?

      (Because I’m pretty sure that’s going to happen…indeed, I give odds Shermer will back down and not even press the suit, knowing full well what will happen if he does. What will you do then?)

  6. Michael Yuri says

    For the most part, your three general rules strike me as very sensible and thoughtful, but I have to respectfully disagree with your justification for Rule number 1. Specifically:

    It’s a basic rule of being a nice person: it is the moral responsibility of anyone at a social event to make sure, so far as they are able, that anyone in their immediate presence is reasonably comfortable, and not to make them uncomfortable.

    This strikes me as just plain wrong, at least without smuggling in a whole lot of unstated assumptions. Take for example, a gay man who gives his partner a friendly peck on the cheek in social company that includes Christian fundamentalists who are made very uncomfortable by the display of affection. I assume you would agree that the man in this example did not do anything morally wrong, despite the discomfort he caused. And this is true even if he was perfectly aware that some of his social companions would be made uncomfortable, because we believe that their intolerance isn’t a valid reason to expect him to curtail his actions beyond the normal level of socially accepted public displays of affection.

    Perhaps instead of “so far as they are able” you could say “so far as they are able, without unduly sacrificing their own dignity and autonomy,” or instead of “not to make them uncomfortable” you could say “not to make them justifiably uncomfortable.” But either way, you are smuggling in a huge amount of complicated and hotly contested ideas about legitimate social mores and expectations.

    I don’t disagree with your bottom line principle: As a general rule, propositioning women you’ve barely even met, and have built no rapport with and have no idea what they think or feel about such things, is wrong. I just think the reason why has to be a lot more complicated than your explanation suggests.

    • says

      This strikes me as just plain wrong, at least without smuggling in a whole lot of unstated assumptions.

      That’s a fair point. There are unstated assumptions (e.g. we’re talking about atheist events among like-minded company). You hit on a good example.

      They all boil down to a single categorical exception: it is not an offense to cause immoral or irrational offense (being offended by gay PDAs is actually contrary to sound moral reasoning itself; being offended by something solely due to a wild delusional state you are under is actually contrary to sound reasoning altogether).

      I was trying to include things like that when I said “it is the moral responsibility of anyone at a social event to make sure, so far as they are able, that anyone in their immediate presence is reasonably comfortable, and not to make them uncomfortable.” But there is a better way for me to make clear the point you make…

      Perhaps instead of “so far as they are able” you could say “so far as they are able, without unduly sacrificing their own dignity and autonomy,” or instead of “not to make them uncomfortable” you could say “not to make them justifiably uncomfortable.” But either way, you are smuggling in a huge amount of complicated and hotly contested ideas about legitimate social mores and expectations.

      Those revisions also do that a little, so they don’t really bypass the problem altogether. Although I think adding “justifiably” is the most succinct, and closer to what would work. I’ve revised the article to say this:

      “[I]t is the moral responsibility of anyone at a social event to make sure, so far as they are able, that anyone in their immediate presence is reasonably comfortable, and not to make them uncomfortable without moral cause.”

      Our discussion here will suffice to unpack what that means.

  7. fmcp says

    This is a very thoughtful and fair post, and I really appreciate that you’ve outlined ways in which something that is not rape can still be morally reprehensible. I also appreciate that you’ve included a mention of the fact that drunk sex can be just dandy. Still though, there’s a small point that really bothers me.

    In describing Shermer’s “skirt chasing,” you single out his “propositioning a man’s wife while her husband was elsewhere in the same room” and give it slightly more power than the other examples. Many of the comments about his behaviour do the same thing: they express discomfort with his sexually aggressive behaviour in general, but seem to reserve special disapproval for the instances in which he comes on to women despite being aware of them being married. It seems to be a common reaction, and it leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Sleazy behaviour is sleazy, regardless of the target’s relationship status. Single and/or poly women should not be somehow more appropriate targets.

    I’m a woman, currently in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship. Whenever I talk to my partner about the problem of sexual harassment at conferences (and other places) his response is “you’re safe – you’re with me.” Although he means well, I think it’s important for him to understand that a) I don’t want to be safe because of him – I just want to be safe and b) I don’t want to be safer than the other people there. That’s the attitude of “I don’t have to be faster than the bears – I just have to be faster than you.” It’s not a bad punchline, but it’s a bad approach to life.

    I hope I’m making sense here – I really do agree with you, and this may seem like a tiny quibble, but it’s been sticking in my craw for a while now and I wanted to get it off my chest.

    • says

      In describing Shermer’s “skirt chasing,” you single out his “propositioning a man’s wife while her husband was elsewhere in the same room” and give it slightly more power than the other examples. Many of the comments about his behaviour do the same thing: they express discomfort with his sexually aggressive behaviour in general, but seem to reserve special disapproval for the instances in which he comes on to women despite being aware of them being married. It seems to be a common reaction, and it leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Sleazy behaviour is sleazy, regardless of the target’s relationship status. Single and/or poly women should not be somehow more appropriate targets.

      Wholly granted. There just aren’t any stories I know with details (there are references without details) that reflect definitely sleazy behavior with single/poly women.

      But it is well worth pointing out what you did: it’s not all that “more appropriate” to target single/poly women.

      But when you know (or have reason to believe) a woman is not single or poly, it is less appropriate in the minimal sense that you have one extra reason to know you are not welcome, yet proceed anyway (even the more so without making sure her husband is cool with it).

      But this is hair splitting, when just propositioning random women is already full sleaze, regardless of their presumed “availability.”


      I’m a woman, currently in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship. Whenever I talk to my partner about the problem of sexual harassment at conferences (and other places) his response is “you’re safe – you’re with me.” Although he means well, I think it’s important for him to understand that a) I don’t want to be safe because of him – I just want to be safe and b) I don’t want to be safer than the other people there. That’s the attitude of “I don’t have to be faster than the bears – I just have to be faster than you.” It’s not a bad punchline, but it’s a bad approach to life.

      Fuck yes.

      Thank you so much for saying that.

      If only that paragraph would get through to more people.

      (I just now put it in bold in the hopes it does.)

  8. brive1987 says

    You did not address the morality of what PZ did and the moral questions there. Is it not ironic that Shermer’s past is paraded as evidence and the accusers is so carefully firewalled? Once you go public and you make people draw conclusions then all relevant context needs to be on the table. Is there the possibility that she has (for instance) a history of lying? Is this plausibility greater than that of winning the lottery? We will probably never find out and have to rely on anacdotes from individuals who are hardly dispassionate on this issue.

    Her claims need to be taken seriously, now they are public general decency requires they be properly substantiated by neutral parties.

    • says

      You did not address the morality of what PZ did and the moral questions there.

      That is not the topic of my article.

      With respect to my article, what’s done is done. Right or wrong, the information is now out there, and we must account for it.

      Once you go public and you make people draw conclusions then all relevant context needs to be on the table.

      That would be nice, but you have to work with what you have. As a historian and a journalist, I am used to never having all the information I’d like about anything. I have to make judgment calls from what I have access to.

      And in reality, that’s the same boat we are all in, about most things in our lives and worldviews and knowledge of the world and its history and affairs.

      Is there the possibility that she has (for instance) a history of lying?

      PZ knows her, and knows others who know her, well enough to know she has no such known history (that’s the point of his vouching for her).

      Many a journalist uses unnamed sources on the same grounds.

      Likewise atheists who make legal cases against school prayer et al. under a protected “Jane Doe” status.

      And so on.

      Is this plausibility greater than that of winning the lottery?

      Yes. By far. Unless you think 9,999,999 out of 10,000,000 women are established liars.

      And if you do, you have a serious problem.

      Statistics suggest false rape allegations occur less than 7% of the time. That’s better than a 9 in 10 chance she’s telling the truth. If lotteries were won that easily, we’d all be rich.

      Her claims need to be taken seriously, now they are public general decency requires they be properly substantiated by neutral parties.

      Like I said, in reality (where the rest of us live), we don’t always get what we want.

      You have to make judgment calls from what you get, not what you’d wish you had.

  9. mcbender says

    Excellent post, for the most part, Richard. I take issue with a few things:

    Firstly:

    even propositioning a man’s wife while her husband was elsewhere in the same room

    Can you reword that as “propositioning a married woman while her husband was elsewhere in the same room”, at least? I don’t think it was your intent to phrase this in an objectifying way (and my reworded version doesn’t remove all of that), but the way you worded it really comes across as if the woman’s only salient attribute is that she is a man’s possession and that made me cringe.

    Secondly:

    As far as I can see, Scenario B is also rape. Inability to express either consent or lack thereof renders any apparent consent meaningless. The situation as you’ve described it there shows someone who would not have consented while sober doing so only because of an altered mental state. That is rape. I realise you’ve stated explicitly that that is morally wrong while not calling it rape, but I think you concede too much by doing that.

    I don’t think we should tiptoe around this – unless the two people are previously known to one another and in an established relationship of some kind (such that they have established their consent while sober), when mind-altering substances are involved people should not be having sex, precisely because this sort of thing can occur. Or to put it another way, “If someone is too drunk to drive, they are too drunk to fuck.”

    • says

      Re: wording. That’s a good point. I’ve made the change to the text.

      Re: Scenario B differs from A in the fact that the woman is coherently able to express her thoughts and understands what’s happening. That is not an “inability to express consent.” Certainly in law. I would agree in moral reasoning as well. (Although as you note, that it’s not rape still doesn’t make it okay.)

      I wholly disagree with “If someone is too drunk to drive, they are too drunk to fuck.”

      Not only is that disanalogous (the reason you can’t drive drunk is that reaction time and motor skills are depressed, creating a needless and great risk of harm to others, not because your ability to consent is impaired, which is why you can be convicted of driving drunk and can’t claim that being drunk absolves you of responsibility because you couldn’t consent to drive), it’s also so routinely proved false as to be quaint (nearly everyone I know has gotten drunk and had sex with new people they just met, even many times, and neither they nor their partners regard it as even a bad idea, then or when sober, before or after, much less consider it a situation where they couldn’t consent…which is why this is how the law also reads).

      You can, if you want, abide by your own personal code never to do that just to be safe (since your own risk management is your own business), and even try to persuade people to do the same (with a risk management argument). But that doesn’t rise to a moral obligation…on your or anyone else (much less a legal one).

      If I can consent to using my credit card to run up a bar tab while drunk (which constitutes signing a contract…that’s what those signatures on bar receipts are for), I can consent to have sex while drunk. And many people I know (a whole lot of them women) consciously choose when sober to get drunk so as to reduce their inhibitions specifically so they will have sex (or to increase their chances of it).

      So let’s not imagine inebriation prevents the ability to give consent. The law is quite right about that. For inebriation to disable you in that way, it has to be so extreme as to put you in a persistent state of confusion or disorientation.

      To bring it back to drunk driving as the analogy, I am a legendary drinker, and yet even I have never been so drunk that I didn’t know driving drunk was bad and couldn’t make conscious and deliberate efforts to find alternative transportation.* If I can do that, I can know an act is good and make conscious and deliberate efforts to pursue it, just as I can know an act is bad and make conscious and deliberate efforts to avoid it (as when I deliberately don’t drive when drunk, even when very drunk).

      [* There was one exception to this in my life, but in that case I was too drunk even to walk, so driving never even entered consideration.]

    • mcbender says

      I’ll concede the point about comparing it to drunk driving, that analogy was ill-advised and I should have thought better of it. I think mostly the reason I suggest that rule of thumb is that it provides a clear cut-off point that is easy to identify; intoxication is clearly a spectrum and you have to draw a boundary somewhere, so it’s best to err on the side of caution. But that’s a pragmatic way of looking at things and doesn’t speak to moral normativity. (Also, for what it’s worth – I’ve been a moderately heavy drinker in the past myself and have never been tempted to get behind the wheel of a car either. But clearly there are substantial numbers of people who do, else drunk driving wouldn’t be a serious problem, so we shouldn’t necessarily be using you or me as typical examples to argue that drunken people always retain sufficient judgment when there is evidence to the contrary).

      That said, I suspect that if we taboo the word “rape” you and I wouldn’t disagree very strongly here.

      What I would like to say is that, even if you are correct that many women use alcohol to deliberately reduce their inhibitions in order to have sex (and I see no reason to doubt that this occurs), that is no reason to therefore say that behaviour isn’t problematic in any way. It seems to me that the reason people feel the need to do this is because of remnants of rape culture and slut-shaming in the first place, and the correct solution is to work at changing the culture rather than letting it slide for that reason. It is at best a shoddy patch that fails to solve the problem, and at worst actually further enables rape culture.

      I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming victims, but telling men that it’s okay to sleep with drunk women because there’s a decent chance they got that way intentionally to reduce their inhibitions is providing men with predatory tendencies an incentive to proceed when they might otherwise question whether or not they should. The moral calculus works out pretty easily I think – the worst possible outcome when people refrain from drunken sex is that nobody experiences sexual pleasure that night; the worst possible outcome when someone proceeds in a dubious situation is that somebody feels victimised, exploited, and possibly raped. We should err on the side of less sex rather than more rape.

      This is why the enthusiastic consent model is so important (yes, it isn’t perfect, as this post http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2012/05/real-consent.html argues, but it’s a good shorthand for most cases), which I don’t think you disagree with. If our goal is to create a healthier sexual culture and reduce victimisation as much as possible, we have to start there and I’m not sure it’s even productive to debate whether Scenario B is rape or not when it’s easy enough to say “we need to prevent it from happening”.

    • nonzero says

      @mcbender

      > “What I would like to say is that, even if you are correct that many women use alcohol to deliberately reduce their inhibitions in order to have sex (and I see no reason to doubt that this occurs), that is no reason to therefore say that behaviour isn’t problematic in any way. It seems to me that the reason people feel the need to do this is because of remnants of rape culture and slut-shaming in the first place, and the correct solution is to work at changing the culture rather than letting it slide for that reason.”

      I think you are overstepping when you make the broad assumption that women who drink to be less inhibited are doing so because of rape culture. This is psychologizing with no support except your own speculation. People sometimes want to unwind, they want to allow themselves to let loose once in a while, there is nothing wrong with that and it is quite healthy. If mutual consent occurs between two drunk people, both consensually participate in the sexual act, and then for some reason one of them has apprehensions in the middle of the act yet continues participating anyway, I feel unfortunate for the person, but I can’t see how that is rape. If they didn’t communicate their change of mind because they became unconscious, because they were afraid due to something the partner said or did, or was forcefully not allowed to communicate, then that is rape. But if it was their choice to continue even though they regret it, the other partner is not telepathic, did all they could reasonably do (unless you want to enforce checking for consent every minute until the act is done), and cannot be held responsible (though should feel compassion and understanding) for the other partner’s feelings. I guess if one wants to be 100% sure one will never be in this type of situation, one could avoid all drunk sex period, but that is a personal risk management decision as Richard stated. And even then, one doesn’t have to be drunk to change their mind during the act.

    • david ledoux says

      McBender, why do you complain about objectification by use of “a man’s wife” when you yourself use the phrase “her husband?” Both could be construed as reducing the person to a possession of the other.

    • says

      McBender, why do you complain about objectification by use of “a man’s wife” when you yourself use the phrase “her husband?” Both could be construed as reducing the person to a possession of the other.

      David,

      There isn’t any other way to do it (i.e. it has to be “a man’s wife” or “her husband”…and it certainly ideally should not be both, which was the problem, and when faced with that, you have to decide which needs to go, and it’s obvious which that is).

      The distinction is between needlessly subordinating the primary object of the sentence (the woman) and linking the secondary object (the husband) to her (the only reason he is in the story is by being her husband, as opposed to someone else’s; whereas that’s not the case for her).

      The latter is perfectly fine (and in fact there is grammatically no other way to it, other than pleonastically, which is bad style and wouldn’t really avoid the problem anyway). The former is not.

      You seem to think McBender objected to the pronoun as always indicating possession. Possessive pronouns routinely do not mean actual possession (e.g. “her friend”; “her lawyer”; “her doctor”; “her political representative”). What McBender had a problem with was that subordinating that woman’s existence to being “a man’s wife” was gratuitous and thus made it seem “as if the woman’s only salient attribute,” i.e. the only reason she is being mentioned, “is that she is a man’s possession” (i.e. that hitting on her is bad because she is the possession of another man, rather than that by being married–and not confirmed to be polyamorous–she has expressed a public desire for other men to not proposition her because she has devoted herself to another other man in the room).

    • mcbender says

      Richard:

      That’s exactly what I had been trying to say, yes. If I didn’t know better, I’d ask if you were capable of telepathy.

      Nonzero:

      I can’t provide a citation for you, but I have seen multiple women claim as much in blog comments, so I’m comfortable saying that at least some women do have the motivation I described (maybe characterising it as rape culture isn’t the right language; I think really what the alcohol-fuelled sex is a response to is the “good girls don’t” trope, slut-shaming and madonna/whore dichotomies, etc).

      I think what is needed here is a reconceptualisation or reframing of what exactly “consent” is – for instance, in many discussions of enthusiastic consent we see the idea that consent is an ongoing process, rather than a binary switch that turns on and off. “Checking” for consent can and should be a similarly ongoing process; if a person is unable or unwilling to notice that their partner is not enjoying what they are doing, they are not behaving responsibly. That doesn’t mean you have to be constantly asking “Can I do this now? Can I do this now?” ad infinitum, as people like to strawman this argument, it just means paying attention to one’s partner and their needs, and how they’re responding to what one is doing (which people should be doing anyway).

      Once you understand consent this way (subject, again, to caveats such as the “Real Consent” post at Pervocracy I linked earlier, but I still think drunken consent doesn’t fall under that umbrella), Scenario B starts to look much more problematic, and more like rape than consensual sex.

      I do not think we can reduce the avoidance of drunken sex to “personal risk management”, for this reason: if this is a gamble you are willing to make, you are gambling with somebody else’s well-being as stakes. A few months ago there was a hugely problematic post by a confessed rapist at the Good Men Project website, in which he essentially argued that he enjoyed drug-fuelled partying and certain kinds of risky behaviours enough that he thought it was worth “the risk of rape”. What phrasing it in that way elides is that he wasn’t risking his own rape, but risking committing rape against other people – as I said, gambling with others’ well-being at stake. Which I find unconscionable. Risky behaviour is perfectly fine as long as the persons to whom the risks apply are aware and accepting of them (it’s an issue of informed consent), but it is not possible in such a scenario when a person unconnected to the potential victim is the one making the decision. Now, this is of course an extreme, but I don’t see any relevant difference such that the same principle does not apply to the situation we are discussing.

      That’s what I think, and why I say again that it’s better to try to change the culture. (It also doesn’t help that an acquaintance of mine was victimised in a very similar scenario – somewhere between A and B here – and, because of very similar arguments being made by the authorities, is unable to obtain any legal recourse).

      [Aside: it's mcbender, or M.C. Bender if you must capitalise. That is, unfortunately, my actual name.]

  10. Wendy Stanley says

    Thanks for sharing… Interesting comments. I appreciate the non-emotional tone as I have been a little turned off by such in other discussions regarding Shermer. I do think that, in the skeptic “community”, exploits are happening as they do in many other “communities.” I think one of the most important lessons in all of this is that women should be aware of their surroundings and avoid situations where they are unable to fully manage their faculties. I am not saying that if a woman gets drunk, it is fair game… clearly not. In no way do I justify rape (of course) or even ugly behavior from men (or women) who stack the odds in their favor or simply recognize an (otherwise unavailable) opportunity by adding intoxication and/or fame to the mix… However, I have seen it many times and know that, regardless of what another person should do or how they should behave, those things are ultimately irrelevant and, although worthy of punishment/reprise, do not substitute one’s own responsibility (to themselves) to remain cognizant of their environment. Having two daughters, I take very seriously the idea of rape or even opportunistic consensual sex. My advice is always to make sure you are well aware of (and accept) the risks associated with any given environment. Thanks again.

    • says

      I think one of the most important lessons in all of this is that women should be aware of their surroundings and avoid situations where they are unable to fully manage their faculties.

      But they shouldn’t have to.

      That they have to is what we call rape culture.

      If it wasn’t for rape culture, women could get knocked out drunk, just as men do, and not worry someone will rape or molest them. And we would rather be in a world where women have the same privileges and securities as men. So we should all take effort to move the world in that direction. We should consider it a shame, and a failure of our culture, that we have to say things like “women need to watch out.”

      For a larger and eye-opening discussion of exactly this point, see Dana Hunter’s recent piece on Dr. Phil’s recent gaffe (skip to where it says “Know the safety tips and warning signs…” and read from there to see the relevant points hit home).

      Nevertheless, note that what you are advising is exactly what the woman accusing Shermer is doing: telling women about a safety precaution they may need to engage in to protect themselves. We would rather the world were such that they didn’t have to engage such a precaution. But we don’t live in the world we’d rather be in. We can only work to take this world closer to it.

    • JSC says

      From Wendy:

      I think one of the most important lessons in all of this is that women should be aware of their surroundings and avoid situations where they are unable to fully manage their faculties.

      From Richard:

      If it wasn’t for rape culture, women could get knocked out drunk, just as men do, and not worry someone will rape or molest them. And we would rather be in a world where women have the same privileges and securities as men.

      Please don’t forget that this can and does also happen to men and is likely reported even less often. I realize we are speaking in the context of a specific case concerning women but much of the is general advice and hypotheticals.

      From Richard:

      We would rather the world were such that they didn’t have to engage such a precaution.

      Absolutely. You’d never stop it completely, however, so advising people to be vigilant at least in general is a good idea. I really wish someone had advised me of it. I couldn’t even conceive of the possibility before it happened to me as a college freshman. I’m male, straight, tall, strong, sturdily built and trained in martial arts from an early age. None of that makes one bit of difference if enough alcohol and/or a date rape drug is involved.

    • says

      Yes. Note I have a specifically emphasized paragraph in my article making that same point (about all genders being at risk and exploitable).

      However, our rape culture is skewed against women (e.g. men can get knocked out drunk and it’s considered quaint, and they don’t even fear being molested, and no one tells them they should, nor blames them when they are…that’s the difference).

      Although possibly in certain sub-cultures this is reversed (is there a rape culture in the gay community? e.g. if a man got knocked out drunk at a gay club, would they fear being molested, and would people tell them they should, and would people blame them when they are? I don’t know, since I’m not as plugged in there).

    • imnotandrei says

      [I]f a man got knocked out drunk at a gay club, would they fear being molested, and would people tell them they should, and would people blame them when they are? I don’t know, since I’m not as plugged in there.

      The details differ somewhat, but yes, in certain parts of queer subculture, that definitely does exist.

  11. says

    “To me it doesn’t seem like he cares (now or then) about how he may have harmed this woman, or that whatever he did to harm her might be something he should apologize for and make right and stop doing in general so as to ensure he doesn’t harm anyone else.”

    It’s important to remember that Shermer was a fundamentalist christian who abandonded his belief during his graduate studies. He was not raised with secular values. Having been a fundamentalist christian means that he was part of a system that openly taught patriarchy as god’s design for humanity and for the family. Despite leaving christianity, those normative values of patriarchy and the submission of all women were instilled in him at a young age and for a long time. Being raised in patriarchy means that it’s normal to think that women exist to support the purposes and pleasures of men. His behavior bears this out and is why he can say and think that he did nothing wrong. His behavior is abominable, but it is not particularly surprising, considering that he is an ex-christian male.

    • says

      That’s a theory. But I’m not sure it would hold up as a general rule that “secularly raised” atheists are going to be reliably better informed/enculturated on this point (I know too many misogynistic, arrogant, paternalistic atheists to think “reliably” is an apt term there). Maybe there is a statistical difference, but that only ups the prior probability. To confirm the theory here you’d still need positive evidence in Shermer’s specific case. And only his psychotherapist (if he has one) is likely to have access to that (or maybe his friends, but being his friends, they probably wouldn’t talk about it). Unless, of course, he foolishly leaves sufficient evidence of this in his own writings and public communications. But no one has shown that to be the case, that I know of.

  12. says

    Great post, as always.

    A question, for clarification. You said:

    Consensual sex, even cheating, is not anyone’s doom. What one does sexually does not (contrary to pop politico psychology) indicate a general dishonesty or unreliability in other matters, or entail you’re a bad person, or make you unlikable or untrustworthy. Or dangerous. Or disgusting. Or any negative stereotype attached to expressions of human sexuality, even the sneaky kind.

    Now, I agree that the type of consensual sexual activities a person enjoys, the gender and number of partners, the personal meaning and purpose one attaches to sex (ie: “fun activity between people” vs. “act that cements a life-long partnership”), that can’t tell you if a person is good, bad, dangerous, disgusting, etc. etc.

    But if a person is cheating–not involved in an open marriage or polyamorous relationship–that is a form of dishonesty. It involves lying (by omission, at least) to one person, often more than one if he (or she) tells the potential new partner that he’s single or in an open relationship. Very often there are other forms of deception and cover ups. It’s a violation of an agreement, and it involves someone putting their own sexual desires over the emotional (sometimes even physical) well-being of their partner.

    So beyond just being a shitty thing to do, I think you can draw conclusions about a person who cheats, especially someone who cheats often, by their sexual behavior. I don’t think it’s out of line to conclude that a cheater is dishonest, untrustworthy, lacking in commitment, and selfish.

    Why don’t you feel this is an appropriate conclusion to draw? I would suppose the primary way we form opinions about a person’s character is by observing their behavior. Why should their sexual behavior not be considered in that evaluation? Or am I totally misunderstanding what you wrote?

    • says

      But if a person is cheating–not involved in an open marriage or polyamorous relationship–that is a form of dishonesty.

      Not one of as great importance as lore has it, IMO. And really, it’s only latent Christian prudery and sexual mores that leads people to draw these invalid conclusions.

      If you take sex out of the picture and examine anyone’s life, that level of dishonesty is actually human-typical (everyone keeps secrets and lies about something or other in their life), and thus not indicative of a dishonest character in areas of public importance (e.g. it doesn’t make you more likely to embezzle money or lie in scholarly work, it doesn’t make you unreliable in financial matters or matters of safety, etc.).

      For example, someone who is married in a Christian community and lies about being gay. You would not peg them as an unreliable or dishonest person in any other respect. They are just making the best of their situation and keeping certain aspects of their sex-life private (even from their wife).

      We have no more reason to think any more ill of marital infidelity.

      For example, I have known more than one married woman (with kids even) who cheats on their husband occasionally without his knowing. Yet I also know those women to be extremely honest and reliable people in every other aspect of their lives.

      Only outdated Christianized thinking connects sexual infidelity to evil character. There is no actual evidence of any such link. Cheating on a diet you vowed to your partner you’d keep is objectively no more evil than cheating on a sexual diet you vowed to your partner. It’s not the best thing you can do. But it’s not indicative of an evil character either.

      We place far too much importance on sex. And we have our cultural roots in Christianity to thank for that.

      It’s a violation of an agreement, and it involves someone putting their own sexual desires over the emotional (sometimes even physical) well-being of their partner.

      Only in terms of risk, but all choices in life involve varying degrees of risk, and what individuals consider acceptable risk varies, and risk itself varies objectively (e.g. the risks of an affair are simply nowhere near comparable to the risks of embezzlement or rape).

      A discreet adulteress, for example, won’t threaten the emotional well-being of their partner any more than the Christian gay man who secretly watches gay porn without his wife’s knowledge (and otherwise has a perfectly happy, cooperative marriage). There is risk of discovery; but that is weighed against the diminished happiness of the alternative. No one is so beholden to their partner that they are obligated to abandon all their personal happiness for them (if that were the deal, then they should leave them). Lives have to be managed. And I am more forgiving of people in that regard, and I think we all should be.

      Indeed, I think a saner world would have partners more forgiving of affairs. And accordingly as a public consumer, I myself am more forgiving of affairs in those I work with or follow the accomplishments of.

      I am much less forgiving of the victimization and exploitation of people for sex. Nowhere near the same category. And someone caught at that who doesn’t see the error of their ways, is an unreliable person in general. Because if they can’t be trusted to see the serious harm they are causing in such a case, I wager they can’t be trusted at all.

    • Tessa says

      OK… In all this above, you seem to be forgetting one very very very important thing. The feelings of the person or persons being cheated on. These honest (except for repeatedly lying to and sneaking behind the backs of their partners they presumably love) women (some with kids) you spoke of did those acts knowing the pain it could\would cause their partners. And you honestly don’t think that says anything about them as people?

      I know you don’t think the partner’s feelings matters, so why don’t you go find someone who found out their partner of several years has been sleeping around behind their back and tell them they shouldn’t have feelings. That they’re stupid for feeling betrayed. That they haven’t suffered any real emotional damage. Hey, tell them about the prudish Christian views of fidelity! Yeah. That would be great. It’s awesome you can sit there and tell people what to feel.

      The issue isn’t the sex exactly. The main issue is that the person knowingly entered into an agreement with someone they loved. While knowing how important this agreement was to this other person, they completely disregarded their feelings. This shows the person has no actual respect for the partner. If they actually respected the person, they would have informed them up front they think that monogamy is a prudery that they refuse to adhere to. Or when they realized they couldn’t keep this promise, they could be up front and tell them so. But no, their desire to get off from someone else was more important to them than the feelings of their partner. Awesome.

      It’s funny, you’re the one talking about us putting so much importance on sex, but you think nothing of putting sex above one’s partner’s feelings.

      And really, do you not think this translates to other things? If they are so willing to lie and cheat behind the backs of someone they love, why do you think they are magically going to be consistently honest to people they don’t care about? And you say the women you mentioned are honest and reliable otherwise, but how do you know? I’m sure their partners think they are honest with regards to sex, but they’re wrong. So why are you so sure that you’re right?

      As for the bit about the gay person in a Christian community, it’s a false equivalency. A bad one at that. The gay person is in a situation completely out of their control to begin with. They didn’t agree to not be gay at birth. The community thrust this expectation upon the individual against their will. There’s also the threat to life and emotional abuse involved as well. It is a (understatement ahoy) sucky situation, but not the same as a person agreeing to enter an exclusive relationship and then sneaking around anyway. And it’s kinda sad you equate choice with force.

      And your silly diet example isn’t the same either. I don’t think many relationships begin with the understanding that one would be on a diet, and the adherence to the diet (no matter how objectively unsound it is in your opinion) is a big part of the foundation of the relationship that both agreed upon.

      Whether or not you personally believe exclusivity matters means nothing. It was decided at the onset of the relationship.

      No one is so beholden to their partner that they are obligated to abandon all their personal happiness for them (if that were the deal, then they should leave them).

      I agree completely. So if you have a partner and you agreed to be exclusive, but you can’t do it, then break up. Yes, do that. Don’t be a liar. Don’t sneak around and compound the pain you are courting by lying. Honesty is gooood. Lying is baaaaad.*** If your first impulse is to lie, you’re a liar… and a procrastinator.

      Lives have to be managed. And I am more forgiving of people in that regard, and I think we all should be.

      I’m less forgiving of breaking promises to people you love and going behind their backs just for sex. I prefer to be honest, and think we all should be.

      Honesty causes less pain in the long run. It takes out the betrayal, too. And it’s just less shitty in general. And if you think exclusive sex isn’t important and shouldn’t be, then hey, get a partner who agrees! That would be awesome. What is not awesome is lying to your partner about your views and then screwing around on them.

      I also think people should put other people before sex. I seriously don’t understand why sex is more important than another person’s feelings. Can you explain it to me?

      Also, why does lying to a partner about sex somehow get a pass in your book? That it doesn’t say anything about them? If they have to lie and cheat behind the partner’s back, they obviously know it means a lot to them, and they know the consequences, but they do it anyway. How is that not a reflection of their character?

      And this isn’t even getting into the risk of STDs the partner has no idea about.

      *** Just to be clear, I am not speaking in absolutes in all earthly situations. There are situations where truth can be harmful, and lying can save lives, but this isn’t one of them.

    • says

      I seriously don’t understand why sex is more important than another person’s feelings.

      Yet it seems to me that you have placed sex more important than people’s feelings. Indeed, you seem to place a strangely high importance on sex. And I see that as more of a problem than a solution.

      I’m not going to condemn a woman who cheats on her husband to no harm. Nor am I going to try and harm her and her husband by “outing” her, nor am I going to slut shame her for her sexual choices, nor am I going to conclude she is an untrustworthy business partner or colleague or teacher or scientist simply because she fools around.

      And that seems to be the difference between us. And it seems to all have its root in the fact that I don’t place so much importance on sex as you do.

    • Tessa says

      Yet it seems to me that you have placed sex more important than people’s feelings. Indeed, you seem to place a strangely high importance on sex. And I see that as more of a problem than a solution.

      I’m not going to condemn a woman who cheats on her husband to no harm. Nor am I going to try and harm her and her husband by “outing” her, nor am I going to slut shame her for her sexual choices, nor am I going to conclude she is an untrustworthy business partner or colleague or teacher or scientist simply because she fools around.

      And that seems to be the difference between us. And it seems to all have its root in the fact that I don’t place so much importance on sex as you do.

      Wow, no. I don’t place a whole lot of importance on sex. I think society puts waaay too much importance on it. And I loathe slut shaming and would never ever do that. Here, let me quote myself…

      The issue isn’t the sex exactly. The main issue is that the person knowingly entered into an agreement with someone they loved. While knowing how important this agreement was to this other person, they completely disregarded their feelings. This shows the person has no actual respect for the partner. If they actually respected the person, they would have informed them up front they think that monogamy is a prudery that they refuse to adhere to. Or when they realized they couldn’t keep this promise, they could be up front and tell them so. But no, their desire to get off from someone else was more important to them than the feelings of their partner. Awesome.

      (emphasis mine)

      When they entered the relationship, it was their choice if they wanted to be exclusive, and hopefully discussed what that meant and how important it was. But either way, they know if it’s an open relationship or not. And they know if doing it will hurt their partner or not when they found out. Whether or not you or I place much importance on sex is irreverent. It’s the couple who decides that.

      So either exclusivity was never important to person A, and they lied to get the person B to date and marry them, then snuck behind their back.

      Or they thought it was, and eventually changed their mind but didn’t respect their partner to inform them the parameters changed.

      I place people’s feelings about sex higher than sex itself. And I recognize that different people have different feelings about sex. And when 2 or more people enter into a sexual relationship it’s up to them to come up with the rules. If you can’t honestly come to terms with someone’s feelings and beliefs about sex, don’t get into a relationship with them. Don’t lie about it. If you claim to love someone don’t put sex above those feelings if you know it will hurt them.

      You keep saying “no harm” but you the person who was mislead into thinking they are in an exclusive relationship feels harmed. But I guess you fall into the “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” category.

    • says

      The issue is not of “no harm” but of relative degree of harm (and risk is always a form of harm in that equation), and how that affects our judgment of a person or our treatment of them. Nothing more.

    • Tessa says

      The issue is not of “no harm” but of relative degree of harm (and risk is always a form of harm in that equation), and how that affects our judgment of a person or our treatment of them. Nothing more.

      OK, let’s boil it down.

      Cheating causes the partner pain. The person cheating is in the relationship voluntarily and knows that cheating will cause the partner pain. The person cheating then cheats regardless of the pain that the cheating will cause. So it’s not the sex, it’s the pain they are causing.

      I see the pain they cause by cheating as quite a bit of harm. This does reflect on their character. They are doing this to someone they love. They put so little consideration into the feelings of someone they love, but somehow they are going to consider the feelings of other people better? Why would they not do something else dishonest if they felt they could get away with it?

      And I have no problem judging them for the pain they cause in that situation.

    • says

      You are making empirical predictions about human behavior that are proved false in practice.

      Thus, your reasoning is clearly flawed. Reality often does not conform to armchair assumptions about how it does.

      It’s simply an observable fact that having affairs does not predict untrustworthiness in business or profession or with money or anything else at all (much less is propensity to rape or exploit people).

      It is also a fact that the harm it causes is, statistically, less than the harm one can cause by exposing or slut shaming or other forms of social punishment (almost any Scarlet A scenario is worse than the cheating itself, and yet is caused by people who think they have the right to judge others and thereby cause even more pointless pain and call it righteous).

      Hence what I said:

      I’m not going to condemn a woman who cheats on her husband to no harm. Nor am I going to try and harm her and her husband by “outing” her, nor am I going to slut shame her for her sexual choices, nor am I going to conclude she is an untrustworthy business partner or colleague or teacher or scientist simply because she fools around.

      That’s my point.

    • Jet says

      I think we’re on the same page here, but this statement threw me:

      “Cheating on a diet you vowed to your partner you’d keep is objectively no more evil than cheating on a sexual diet you vowed to your partner.”

      That seems very easy to misconstrue. Taken as a general statement, it’s literally true. Everything else being equal, there really is no objective difference. That said, everything else will almost never be equal in real world scenarios (at least not in my experience).

      In my own marriage, I know I would be emotionally devastated if my wife were to cheat on me. Likewise, she would be emotionally devastated if I ever cheated on her (to the extent where she may even try to hurt herself). We’re both aware of each other’s likely reactions. Near as I can tell, this is not due to any kind of latent religious thinking we were raised with (I was raised Methodist. She was raised secular. Both our mother’s had affairs at one point, and we both consider this to have been a good thing, given their circumstances). Compassion then dictates we ought to not cheat unless the act of cheating could provide some gain that outweighs the likely consequences, should we get caught cheating. But I’m hard pressed to think of any gain that could outweigh consequences like those.

      So far as I know, my situation not unusual. If it is unusual, could you provide some links proving this? And if it isn’t unusual, would you then agree that, for a significant number of practical applications, there’s a night-and-day difference between cheating on a food diet and cheating on a sexual diet?

    • says

      Note that it is not a religious upbringing that communicates cultural assumptions. It’s the entire culture that does this (e.g. TV shows, movies, novels, and assumptions passed through your parents that even they are unaware originated solely in a religious context). That’s why even people raised secular can be homophobic, for example. Homophobia is solely a creation of religious thinking (ultimately it was invented in Judaism, and thereby transmitted to Christianity, and thence to Islam). Yet it abides (and for a long time widely abided) in non-religious members of Judeo-Christian populations. Likewise the women-are-inferior/subservient meme or the woman-is-homemaker-man-is-breadwinner meme and losing-virginity-is-bad meme and so on. Homophobic atheist parents, for example, can be emotionally devastated, indeed emotionally destroyed, by learning their son is gay. But that does not justify their son trying to not be gay for fear of causing extreme emotional harm. Although it would remain a factor to consider, it does not carry the same moral force as, for example, reacting to his being a serial rapist.

      I recommend reading blogs by polyamory advocates for perspective on how culturally determined your situation is. Our own Miri Mogilevsky has written on this a little (best example is here). After that, PolySkeptics is a good place to start. Some polyamory advocates are evangelistic or judgmental about people devoted to monogamy, but ignoring the hyperbole and opinionating and focusing on their factual discussions and examples related to why people are or aren’t poly can be informative of how much we are culturally and psychologically trained to think a certain way, which can be as unhealthy or questionable as being culturally and psychologically trained to be homophobic or sexist or anything else that causes emotional harm out of proportion to the objective facts.

    • Jet says

      Points well taken about religious memes infusing western culture (though, I like to think my introverted sci-fi subculture helped inoculate me against some of those memes). :D

      And thanks for the links. Polyskeptics should eat up a good chunk of my weekend, and Miri’s piece confirmed what I was already thinking. If you agree with her than we’re on the same sheet of music after all. You have a technical way of communicating that can sometimes throw me. The statement I quoted is shocking at first glance and IMO can be misinterpreted to mean you’re saying people’s feelings don’t matter.

      I actually think that kind of misinterpretation is the main reason a number of people thought you were engaging in rape apologetics. Not that this excuses their actions. People need to read more carefully, and think harder before reacting, especially self-described skeptics.

    • Tessa says

      You are making empirical predictions about human behavior that are proved false in practice.
      Thus, your reasoning is clearly flawed. Reality often does not conform to armchair assumptions about how it does.

      Actually I didn’t make any empirical predictions. I was asking how you were making the prediction that one form of untrustworthiness doesn’t indicate untrustworthiness in an individual.

      It’s simply an observable fact that having affairs does not predict untrustworthiness in business or profession or with money or anything else at all (much less is propensity to rape or exploit people).

      I haven’t observed this fact (I never included rape, but cheating can definitely be a form of manipulation, see below). Because, it just seems odd to me. One type of untrustworthiness doesn’t indicate untrustworthyness. Can you point to statistical proof of this? You only seem to have mentioned your friends who you say are honest and reliable to you, but not their spouse. That’s hardly convincing.

      Cheating is not simply sex. Cheating is a series of actions that includes sex.
      Just as shoplifting isn’t simply leaving a store with an item. If it was, buying a product would also be shoplifting.

      Cheating: (A) Entering into an exclusive relationship voluntarily, (B) giving partner the impression of exclusivity. (C) Then going behind the partner’s back and (D)having sex with someone else. (E) Continuing to give the impression that they are being exclusive.

      You are saying that because you don’t want the woman to feel bad for having sex, you will ignore A,B,C, and E no matter how the whole series of actions together makes the partner feel.

      And if one has no intention of being exclusive when they begin a relationship, then they are definitely manipulating their partner. They are lying in order to get them into a relationship, and putting them in a position to feel the pain when they find out. That seems pretty cruel, manipulative, and premeditated.

      OK, let’s look at business. (A) Company X signs a contract with Store Y. Store Y is the only place that can sell Company X’s product. (B)company X convinces Store Y that they are keeping to the terms of the deal. But (C) without Store Y’s knowledge, (D) Company X starts stocking its product at store Z. (E) Company X continues to convince store Y that they are keeping the terms of the deal.

      Does it make any sense to have a problem with Company X’s actions? There’s nothing inherently wrong about them selling products to Store Z, and really, why shouldn’t Company X earn money for their product by selling it. It’s anti-capitalist to suggest they shouldn’t. Are you going to shame them into just giving their product away? They have employees that use that money to support their families. And you don’t want them selling their product. Are they untrustworthy for selling to Store Z? I don’t think so.

      It is also a fact that the harm it causes is, statistically, less than the harm one can cause to the employees of company X by exposing, or suing the board, or other forms of judicial punishment (almost any sort of scenario is worse than the selling the product itself, and yet is caused by people who think they have the right to judge others and thereby cause even more pointless pain and call it righteous).

      It’s not like Store Y is important.

      It is also a fact that the harm it causes is, statistically, less than the harm one can cause by exposing or slut shaming or other forms of social punishment (almost any Scarlet A scenario is worse than the cheating itself, and yet is caused by people who think they have the right to judge others and thereby cause even more pointless pain and call it righteous).

      So are you saying that you would condemn a man cheating on his wife or his husband? There is no slut shaming involved in that case. Actually the opposite. Are the feelings of the spouse statistically significant then?

      This was my whole point really. You ignore the pain of the spouse who is in pain because of several voluntary actions of the cheater in which sex is only one. You are too focused on the sex. Look at all the other actions and the people they affect.

      Nor am I going to try and harm her and her husband by “outing” her

      That’s fine, but it’s interesting that you are making your action of telling the part that “harms” the husband, instead of the actions of the wife.

    • says

      I was asking how you were making the prediction that one form of untrustworthiness doesn’t indicate untrustworthiness in an individual.

      Widespread experience with it not doing so. And having zero evidence to the contrary.

      cheating can definitely be a form of manipulation

      Cheating can also be a sign of sociopathy. But it is a fallacy of affirming the consequent to conclude that therefore all cheaters are sociopaths. It is the same fallacy to say “cheating can be a form of manipulation, therefore all cheaters are manipulators.”

      And if one has no intention of being exclusive when they begin a relationship, then they are definitely manipulating their partner. They are lying in order to get them into a relationship, and putting them in a position to feel the pain when they find out. That seems pretty cruel, manipulative, and premeditated.

      And if one has no intention of being straight when they are actually gay, but their parents would be devastated to find out they are gay, then they are definitely manipulating their parents when they say they are straight and secretly have gay relationships?

      The logic breaks down here. Again, that it can be a certain thing, does not mean it always is.

      They are lying in order to keep their parents happy, and putting their parents in a position to feel the pain when they find out the truth. “That seems pretty cruel, manipulative, and premeditated.”

      Except, it’s not. It is in fact none of those things.

      Certainly one can get married with the intention of cheating (premeditation) and one can be cruel and manipulative about it, and one can be cruel and manipulative about it because they are a cruel and manipulative person generally, but often none of these things are true. So we cannot false generalize from “cruel and manipulative persons will sometimes cheat” to “all persons who cheat are cruel and manipulative persons generally,” and we cannot false generalize from “there are people who get married intending to cheat” to “all people who cheat got married intending to do so.” And so on.

      People and relationships are far too varied and diverse and complicated to over-simplify like this.

      Ultimately, your business analogy only proves my point that you are over-valuing the significance of sex. Cheating in that contract you describe is wrong only because it will cost (or significantly risk costing) the other company money and marketshare and put it in danger of bankruptcy or lost profits. That is precisely the kind of effect sexual affairs don’t have. And when they do, then we are talking about a much more serious harm (e.g. if a woman is spending money on her paramours and taking time and resources and sex away from her husband in result, then the real harm is that, not the sex with someone else, which alone takes nothing away from the husband and does him no actual objective harm at all).

      So are you saying that you would condemn a man cheating on his wife or his husband? There is no slut shaming involved in that case. Actually the opposite. Are the feelings of the spouse statistically significant then?

      I don’t understand the question. Did you mean to ask “So are you saying that you would [not] condemn a man cheating on his wife or his husband?”? Or did you mean to ask “So are you saying that you would condemn a man cheating on his wife or his husband, but not a woman cheating on hers?” In the latter case, I make no distinction by gender. In the former case, it depends on what you mean by “condemn.” I have not said cheating is okay, only that in the scale of harms, it’s pretty far down the list. Hence I will not over-condemn someone for merely having affairs. I can be more forgiving and understanding about that, than I can about other much worse things. For the reasons I’ve stated.

      “Nor am I going to try and harm her and her husband by “outing” her…”

      That’s fine, but it’s interesting that you are making your action of telling the part that “harms” the husband, instead of the actions of the wife.

      Because that is the objective reality (and note I said it harms both parties, not just the one). The sex itself does no objective harm to anyone. It is only the knowledge of it that causes harm. And for no objectively valid reason–but we can’t help how people react irrationally to the things that happen in the world. Just as with the closeted gay man and his conservative parents.

      I think if someone can’t be monogamous a fully moral relationship for them would be an openly polyamorous one. But morally failing at that is not as great an evil as many other things a person can do to their spouse or colleagues or society.

    • Tessa says

      [Note to Richard Carrier: This is in a different browser. I think there's something wrong with my firefox if you've received this message several times. It keeps freezing while replying, and doesn't give any indication it's in moderation. So sorry again if it's the 30 thousandth attempt]

      And if one has no intention of being straight when they are actually gay, but their parents would be devastated to find out they are gay, then they are definitely manipulating their parents when they say they are straight and secretly have gay relationships?
      The logic breaks down here. Again, that it can be a certain thing, does not mean it always is.
      They are lying in order to keep their parents happy, and putting their parents in a position to feel the pain when they find out the truth. “That seems pretty cruel, manipulative, and premeditated.”
      Except, it’s not. It is in fact none of those things.

      Hey, let me quote myself again from the very first response I made:

      As for the bit about the gay person in a Christian community, it’s a false equivalency. A bad one at that. The gay person is in a situation completely out of their control to begin with. They didn’t agree to not be gay at birth. The community thrust this expectation upon the individual against their will. There’s also the threat to life and emotional abuse involved as well. It is a (understatement ahoy) sucky situation, but not the same as a person agreeing to enter an exclusive relationship and then sneaking around anyway.

      You can change the community to parents. The idea’s the same.
      See the difference?

      Certainly one can get married with the intention of cheating (premeditation) and one can be cruel and manipulative about it, and one can be cruel and manipulative about it because they are a cruel and manipulative person generally, but often none of these things are true. So we cannot false generalize from “cruel and manipulative persons will sometimes cheat” to “all persons who cheat are cruel and manipulative persons generally,” and we cannot false generalize from “there are people who get married intending to cheat” to “all people who cheat got married intending to do so.” And so on.

      People and relationships are far too varied and diverse and complicated to over-simplify like this.

      Well, I was being very specific at that point and not generalizing. It was an if-then statement. Voluntary exclusive relationships where the person never had any intention of being exclusive. All situations like that would be manipulative and premeditated by the very descriptions. Can you think of a situation where that wouldn’t be?

      The long and the short of it is this:

      In any exclusive relationship, with regards to cheating, the most important part is the feelings of the person being cheated on. This is because when people agree to voluntarily enter into an exclusive relationship, they are putting themselves in a position to have power over their partners’ feelings. They chose to have this power. The partners trust them with this power. That is why it’s so important. I place a lot of value in people’s feelings. And situations where people have voluntarily put themselves in this position of power and crap all over the feelings says a lot about them to me.

      Ultimately, your business analogy only proves my point that you are over-valuing the significance of sex. Cheating in that contract you describe is wrong only because it will cost (or significantly risk costing) the other company money and marketshare and put it in danger of bankruptcy or lost profits. That is precisely the kind of effect sexual affairs don’t have. And when they do, then we are talking about a much more serious harm (e.g. if a woman is spending money on her paramours and taking time and resources and sex away from her husband in result, then the real harm is that, not the sex with someone else, which alone takes nothing away from the husband and does him no actual objective harm at all).

      Ah… Can you please come down from Mt. Vulcan and recognize the one thing I’ve been talking about?

      People’s feelings have value. That was actually… Here let me quote the very first thing I said in my first comment…

      OK… In all this above, you seem to be forgetting one very very very important thing. The feelings of the person or persons being cheated on.

      Once again, you have ignored the emotional pain of the person who was cheated on, because there’s no material loss. Feelings are not objective. Feelings are subjective. Feelings are personal. We are social creatures. We can’t just go around ignoring people’s feelings completely. And we can’t just throw our arms up into the air and say, “Well, somebody’s going to have their feelings hurt, so all instances of feelings being hurt are equal.” Which seems to be what you are doing when you equate a situation completely out of a person’s control trying to stay safe(the closeted gay person that you brought up again) and one that has been in their control from the beginning (cheating).

      Ultimately, your business analogy only proves my point that you are over-valuing the significance of sex.

      My whole analogy was about how it wasn’t the sex, but the situation in which the sex occurred. How is that confusing? Selling a product to Store Z isn’t bad, but in the situation where there’s exclusive relationship with store Y, it becomes part of a series of bad.

      I don’t understand the question. Did you mean to ask “So are you saying that you would [not] condemn a man cheating on his wife or his husband?”? Or did you mean to ask “So are you saying that you would condemn a man cheating on his wife or his husband, but not a woman cheating on hers?” In the latter case, I make no distinction by gender. In the former case, it depends on what you mean by “condemn.” I have not said cheating is okay, only that in the scale of harms, it’s pretty far down the list. Hence I will not over-condemn someone for merely having affairs. I can be more forgiving and understanding about that, than I can about other much worse things. For the reasons I’ve stated.

      I apologize. I didn’t include the whole quote:

      I’m not going to condemn a woman who cheats on her husband to no harm. Nor am I going to try and harm her and her husband by “outing” her, nor am I going to slut shame her for her sexual choices, nor am I going to conclude she is an untrustworthy business partner or colleague or teacher or scientist simply because she fools around.

      I meant “condemn” the same way you did above. And you have only ever mentioned women cheating on their husbands, and considering slut shaming seems to be the “more harm than the cheating” you keep coming to, it seemed you were being very specific that the pain to the woman from slut shaming overshadowed the pain the man received from cheating. So I took away the slut shaming. My main question was at what point were the feelings of the person being cheated on valid? When does it matter?

      Because that is the objective reality (and note I said it harms both parties, not just the one). The sex itself does no objective harm to anyone. It is only the knowledge of it that causes harm. And for no objectively valid reason–but we can’t help how people react irrationally to the things that happen in the world. Just as with the closeted gay man and his conservative parents.

      I was actually going to post an addition about you including the wife in that harm because that was especially interesting and I forgot to mention it. The response was up before I go the chance.

      “The sex” is not some outside amorphous entity hovering around us. “The sex” is not a little squirrel running around. “The sex” is not some inevitable natural disaster hurtling towards our couple. “The sex” is not a force of the universe out of anybody’s control. In reality “the sex” is an action. An action the woman in your scenario had a choice on whether or not to perform. Stop separating the woman in this scenario from “the sex.” She is the cause of “the sex”, NOT simply the victim of the effect of… “the sex.”
      “The sex” isn’t in a vacuum. *cough* (sorry… very disturbing mental image there.) “The sex” occurred while the woman was in a completely voluntarily situation of her own making that she could end before “the sex”, or change the parameters before “the sex”, or all sorts of other things that would have been honest. But no. She chose the action that would cause “the pain” in her husband.

      Did she know she was going to fool around before they got into the relationship? Would her husbands have married or continued having sex with her if he knew? And even if she intended to be monogamous but couldn’t, and lied after the fact and continued lying, would her husbands have stayed married to her if he knew the truth?

      Why is lying about this so completely OK to you that mere act of telling the truth is the bad thing? Does the fact you find it irrational that the husband wouldn’t want to stay together mean that you will take that very choice away from him?

      I think if someone can’t be monogamous a fully moral relationship for them would be an openly polyamorous one. But morally failing at that is not as great an evil as many other things a person can do to their spouse or colleagues or society.

      I disagree. (With the second sentence.) I place real life value on people’s feelings. And in general put more value on how one is treating other people than on whether or not actions cause material loss. Note my view even towards material loss is filtered through the treatment and respect for others involved. And cheating shows a complete disrespectful disregard for the feelings of someone you supposedly love, when you have chosen to put yourself in a position to have power over those feelings.

      This is why I don’t see how you can separate the dishonesty involved in cheating, and the dishonesty involved in business practices. Both are human interactions. Both are determined by the respect you have for the other persons or persons involved, and the perceived gain over the threat of being caught. How you treat people is how you treat people is how you treat people.

    • says

      If you value feelings so much, then you should agree outing someone causes more harm than leaving things be. Since in the latter case, feelings don’t actually get harmed; whereas in the former case, they only get harmed by an action you took (not in the sense that that was the only action responsible, but in the sense that the harm would not have occurred but for your action). Look at discussions of outing gay men without their consent for an analogous problem.

      I’ll repeat what I said, because you keep getting off the point:

      I do not think cheating is “okay.” I only think it is objectively far less harmful than you seem to think, and thus rather low on the scale of awful things people do (much worse being, for example, embezzlement, rape, physical or emotional abuse), and it can often have non-malicious motives that are more forgivable than such other things. And I have accumulated abundant evidence that it does not reflect on one’s honesty or professionalism or reliability or even loyalty in any other matters, and I have encountered no evidence to the contrary, so I am not going to make assumptions like “occasionally cheating = awful person in every other way” that I have no evidence for and plenty of evidence against.

      The fact of the matter is, everyone lies about all kinds of things in their lives (many a marriage is even built on some sort of lies and dependent on them for survival…not that I would wish it so, but I can’t count the number of marriages I know in which it nevertheless simply is so, from the secrets people keep about their sexuality to the lies they tell to avoid giving offense). That in no way means no one can ever be trusted ever in anything.

      As this is true generally, it is true specifically in the context of lies told upon sexual cheating. And again, I have decades of firsthand experience with this, from dozens of people I know and dozens more I have known about (more than half of whom are women–dispelling the notion that cheating is a guy thing). It simply is not true that a person who cheats cannot be trusted in business or in any other sphere or subject. There is no evidence of this. None. Quite the contrary, I personally have accumulated decades of evidence from lots of people indicating otherwise.

      My experience with a wide and diverse range of people cheating has also taught me that relationships are way more complicated and diverse than you seem to think. Like sexuality itself. Cheating simply does not correspond to any single narrative or storyline, such as you keep indicating you think it does. This is why I won’t try to map onto someone else a stereotype of what I think a “cheater” is or why they do what they do. Because I know if I do that, most of the time I am going to be wrong.

  13. Sean Boyd says

    I have problems with your conclusion regarding Scenario B: it is morally rape, as the victim was intoxicated to the point that walking was difficult and xe was unable to properly concentrate on what’s going on. A person that incapacitated can’t provide consent. Showing momentary interest at the initiation of sexual activity does not change that. Quoting you: “And regardless of the legal definition, anyone who sexually penetrates another without their honest consent is a rapist…” (emphasis is mine.) Particularly when we consider that the celebrity was surreptitiously promoting this intoxication by keeping the wine jug flowing, so to speak. You’re right in that it’s a scummy way to act, but I think it goes way beyond that.

    • says

      [T]he victim was intoxicated to the point that walking was difficult and xe was unable to properly concentrate on what’s going on.

      That’s not incapacity. It’s at the brink (which is why I took care to draw it up to the line, to make a point at how easy it is, if one is not attentive, to tell the difference). But in B the woman can coherently articulate her thoughts, understands what’s happening, and can make decisions about it. In law, that’s ability to consent. And I say morally it is so as well. It’s the difference between making a bad decision (because you are impaired) and being unable to coherently make a decision (because you are impaired).

      (See other discussions here and here and here for more on this point.)

      Although remember, it’s not being rape still doesn’t make it right. So the line between rape and not rape is not the line between morally right and morally wrong.

  14. says

    Even if she is absolutely in the right, and has nothing to hide, being involved in a law suit can be very expensive and time consuming, and she may not have the financial resources for it.

    • says

      True. A criminal rape charge would not face that specific difficulty. But a civil case would (offensive or defensive). It’s also worth noting the costs of such aren’t just money (which is considerable) but also time and stress.

    • Jacob Schmidt says

      PZ has confirmed that she has a legal representative. It’s presumably pro bono representation, since that is what Ken White (of Popehat) seems to have helped secure for PZ.

  15. imnotandrei says

    Thank you, sir. While I am sure this will not actually be the last word in these discussions, it *should* be.

  16. Diana MacPherson says

    Thanks for taking the time to explain this, Richard. I find it all very sad that in this day and age women are really only valued for the sexuality. We all tacitly know this, as women but sometimes we actually hope someone talks to us because we have interesting things to say or ignores us because we don’t (not because we’re unattractive or getting older).

    It’s really sad.

    • says

      Well, as words of encouragement, do let me say I know many men who see and treat women that right way, and dare say most do. So it’s just a minority that are screwing this up for everyone. Which is grounds for hope.

    • Diana MacPherson says

      I agree there are a lot of men who don’t treat women badly and your point about it only being a few that mess it up for others actually has a wider context. I’ve witnessed men behave domineeringly and disrespectfully to women in workplace meetings, then turn to a man, who is a normally a respectful person, for confirmation in a buddy-buddy kind of bromance way. It isn’t a sexually charged situation but it devalues women in the same way.

      The normally nice, respectful guy gives him this bromancy confirmation because he wants to feel like he’s part of the group. I don’t think these normal guys are even aware of what’s going on.

      Changing the environment really takes these respectful, non domineering men to refuse to accept that behavior and recognize when they are being pulled into complacency. Moreover, it takes institutions to discourage this behavior explicitly and encourage the opposite behavior. It looks like we are at least moving in the direction because we’re calling bad behavior out!

    • says

      That’s why men need to do more to help with these cultural defects. We shouldn’t give the confirmation in a buddy-buddy kind of bromance way. And the more of us who don’t, the less this will happen. And that’s honestly, literally the least we can do.

      I actually spoke about this very problem (and my having been caught up in it myself when young) and why we need to do things about it–when I spoke about what the military taught me about feminism, for the recent FtBConscience. For those who are interested, the video, with links and details, is now available here.

    • Diana MacPherson says

      Absolutely agree. It’s why I always see men as the best allies in stopping this sort of behavior.

  17. says

    The article provides very detailed and clear explanation. Kudos!

    Apart from all the stats you provided, I would like to see the current statistics about how many women who report rape are able to get a conviction. Because it is always indicated that the conviction rates are low or “accusations are delegitimized.” I tried to find them actually and stumbled onto this report by the Department of Justice: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/SOO.PDF It’s a bit old [dated 1997] but nonetheless it has a finding/claim that seems (to me) to significantly undermine the indictments of the legal system re rape. It makes me think: the legal system in the US isn’t as bad as I am told it is by people. Quote from the report

    Based on data from 6 States in 1990, about half of those arrested for rape were convicted. For 4 in 10 arrestees, the conviction was for a felony.

    The overall conviction rate is listed as 48% of those arrested. I know it’s just for 6 states and from 1990. But still. And won’t the situation have improved? Sadly, I wasn’t able to find newer reports.

    • says

      Note that reported rapes are a fraction of actual rapes (most victims don’t press charges or come forward) and a large number of even reported rapes don’t go to trial (because prosecutors will decide a witness won’t persuade a jury, etc.). You also have to tease out what data is referenced (e.g. Are statutory rapes included in the numbers you were looking at? Are those percentages of cases that were reported, or cases that went to trial? Etc.).

      For example, page 12 says the 48% is only of the 80% that went to trial, so actually the rate of conviction was 38% of those arrested, and in fact only 32% were convicted of rape (the others got off on a misdemeanor). Moreover, 80% of those plead guilty (I would suspect a lot of those were statutory cases, where it is really hard to deny the sex happened and impossible to prove the victim wasn’t underage). So really the conviction rate for rapists who try to beat the rap is barely 25% (or 1 in 4).

      But what is encouraging is the acquittal rate: only 2% (the others are dismissals). Though that probably reflects the choice of filing official charges (a prosecutor or detective may advise a victim not to bother filing if the chances of conviction don’t look good). And again, most victims don’t even go that far.

  18. rumblestiltsken says

    Scenario B is rape (morally, as you frame it) if the realisation came during the event. At that point, consent was revoked. If the participant had been asked at that point, they would have said no.

    Sex without consent is rape, as you say.

    Scenario A was still rape even though there was no verbal “No”, and it is here too.

    If the realisation occurs after, then I guess it is the grey zone you describe.

    • says

      Scenario B is rape (morally, as you frame it) if the realisation came during the event. At that point, consent was revoked. If the participant had been asked at that point, they would have said no.

      Incorrect. Consent has to actually be revoked to be revoked. If you don’t speak up (or act on it), you didn’t do it. Only if you are unable to speak or physically resist (or speak coherently or articulate thoughts) is consent intrinsically absent. Otherwise, active participation is consent.

      See my comment here and all the discussions it links to for more on this point.

    • R Johnston says

      The problem with scenario B is that a step’s been left out. An enthusiastic participant who changes her mind in the midst of sex and starts to feel that the scenario is just too rapey for her to enjoy and consent to will most likely stop participating enthusiastically. It’s a complete myth that men can’t tell when their partners have lost interest, and it’s a myth that it’s difficult for a man to interrupt sex. And if the only sign of consent received is enthusiasm, then the withdrawal of enthusiasm is the withdrawal of consent, especially in a scenario where you know that there’s partially impaired judgment to begin with.

      Perhaps Scenario B is not enough to hold up as rape in most courts of law, but it is enough to justify calling a man a rapist rather than merely a sleaze.

    • says

      The problem with scenario B is that a step’s been left out. An enthusiastic participant who changes her mind in the midst of sex and starts to feel that the scenario is just too rapey for her to enjoy and consent to will most likely stop participating enthusiastically.

      And if that had happened, then B would be rape if the man continued.

      But pay attention to the meaning of probabilities: “most likely” entails “not always.”

      Hence Scenerio B’s exist.

      And therefore we should be aware of that…and make sure we’re never perpetrating one.

      As to the vocabulary, I don’t know what a judge would instruct in a defamation case over that. Possibly you are right. But I’d ask a lawyer first.

      (Maybe one could use evidence like in this comment thread of how many people do think B is rape even as described, as evidence in court that it is not defamation to call it rape if the event happened even just as described in B. But I personally think one should be more fastidious and err on the side of caution, rather than risk watering down the meaning, significance, and impact of the word ‘rape’.)

  19. says

    CARRIER
    Because most science and law rests on eyewitness testimony as evidence.

    CARR
    Surely most science and law rests on hearsay testimony as evidence.

    If I claim that I know somebody who says person A has done something bad, this hearsay evidence is really good evidence of the moral character of person A.

    Especially if I can’t give any dates or details. That can only strengthen the case against person A.

    • says

      CARRIER
      Because most science and law rests on eyewitness testimony as evidence.

      CARR
      Surely most science and law rests on hearsay testimony as evidence.

      If I claim that I know somebody who says person A has done something bad, this hearsay evidence is really good evidence of the moral character of person A.

      Especially if I can’t give any dates or details. That can only strengthen the case against person A.

      Let me see if I understand your point correctly.

      Scientific data rests ultimately on eyewitness testimony, not mere hearsay (which is someone reporting what someone else said). But you could say a research report itself is hearsay (since the researchers report what subjects and witnesses saw, experienced, etc.), though the data itself is not (there is presumably a record of who the subjects were and what they said, even if it’s not in the report that appears in a journal, and their testimony is on file somewhere).

      This is like a journalist reporting what witnesses said on the stand in a trial. That is technically hearsay, but is not merely hearsay, since there were actual witnesses whose testimony actually did get recorded. One could even claim that all court transcripts are hearsay, because the court recorder is merely claiming to have heard what they typed. But now we’re getting so far removed from any relevant distinction that it’s just being silly.

      If that is your point (that people can overblow the “hearsay” rule…when in fact they rely routinely on hearsay evidence all the time, such as in newspapers and research papers in the sciences and even reading court transcripts, and thus hearsay is not discountable evidence but is in fact often routinely very strong and reliable evidence, it just depends on exactly what we are talking about), then I’m on the same page.

  20. Kate says

    Nice post Richard, your clarity is always refreshing. Although, I’ve always rejected the “she shouldn’t have drank so much,” line of defense, I’m also uncomfortably with the abrogation of personal responsibility that involves. I learned quickly as a young adult not to drink too much with men I didn’t trust or in high risk situation like bars and conferences. But I also avoided drinking too much in other kinds of dangerous situations, like when camping at the beach, because when I drink I do stupid things, like trying to swim across the cold lake in the dark by myself. That is, the responsibility to keep myself safe is mine, and one of the best ways to do that is by protecting my ability to reason and make decisions. As such, getting irrationally drunk is knowingly taking the risk that I’ll do dumb things that I may regret. The commentary I’ve seen clearly indicates many people feel the same.

    That said, it bears mentioning that people are not always good at judging how impaired they are – or will become in the next hour, as alcohol already consumed makes its way to the blood stream. Inexperienced,drinkers, infrequent drinkers, and people drinking beverages other than what they regularly consume are all likely to drink more than they intend. In my experience, Americans mostly drink beer and they can get unexpectedly clobbered on wine.

    Of course impairment does not excuse sleazy behavior – I agree entirely that our responsibility to impaired people is higher ( although, I find it rather rude to foist responsibility for your well being onto others without their consent), nonetheless, it’s foolish to make responsibility for your own safety dependent of the good behavior of strangers.

  21. says

    You’re a good writer, Richard. You wrote a one-sided sympathy piece for your fellow FtB blogger, PZ, all the while feigning objectivity. You deftly avoided obvious couterpoints and nagging questions.

    You speak of rumors and accusations as if they’re evidence. They’re not. You presume he’s established a history of, at least, sleaze based on these rumors and accusations. You rationalize an assumption of guilt based on zero evidence.

    For instance, take this passage:

    |———-
    Again, I am not witness to this. I am only inferring it from what has been said online by those who do claim to have witnessed evidence of it.
    ———-|

    You’re basing your well-crafted argument on hearsay – online hearsay! Plain and simple. Then, in this next passage, you speak of evidence as if it actually exists. Bullshit. If there’s evidence, please cite it. To my experience, when people cite “the evidence” without saying what the evidence is, they’re blowing smoke up your ass.

    |———-
    Whether you or anyone would agree depends on what you think the evidence establishes as actually having happened.
    ———-|

    Laughably, in the next passage you admit (confess?) you don’t know what actually happened, yet “what he did is sleazy”. You indict yourself. I guess you’re not such a crafty writer after all.

    |———-
    I actually don’t know what details lie behind “coerced” and “could not consent.” And neither do you. Rather, the point I am making is that in one still important respect it doesn’t matter. What he did is sleazy.
    ———-|

    And in the next passage, you use phases like: “What he did is sleazy”; “the preponderance of evidence so far”; “whatever he did to harm her”; “he should apologize . . . make right . . . stop doing”; “so . . . he doesn’t harm anyone else”. You’ve clearly convicted Shermer in your own mind based on NO evidence whatsoever. Once again, rumors and accusations are NOT evidence and, despite what you claim, would NOT be forceful for the prosecution in a U.S. court of law.

    |———-
    Even in what I think is the best case scenario, given the preponderance of evidence so far. To me it doesn’t seem like he cares (now or then) about how he may have harmed this woman, or that whatever he did to harm her might be something he should apologize for and make right and stop doing in general so as to ensure he doesn’t harm anyone else (and it does sound like there are already other victims).
    ———-|

    Then your scenarios . . . what can I say? Hello? You made them up. They avoid other scenarios favorable to Shermer. I agree that Scenario A is rape and B is sleazy but, unlike you, I don’t presume Shermer must have done something like one or the other. Need I say it again? Rumors and accusations do not evidence make. Your presumption of guilt is pure bias. Period.

    And if the mystery woman (i.e. “witness”) was so keen to save other women from the predatory predilections of Shermer . . . why did she wait years to come forward? That makes very little sense at all.

    And I don’t agree with Scenarios A or B. I don’t agree with ANY scenario until I know what the evidence for it is. You know . . . the rule of law and all that? The presumption of innocence. Innocent until proven guilty. Justice may be blind but it’s not in denial. And your one-sided post is in denial of any possibility that Shermer might be innocent.

    If Shermer is guilty, I hope he suffers to the maximum extent the law allows. But as it stands right now, I think PZ is reprehensible for leveling public charges against Shermer without any evidence at all. And let’s get this point straight right now. The mystery woman hasn’t made ANY public charge. PZ has. The woman – if she even exists at all – made a private charge that PZ took public. The consequences are ALL on PZ if he proves to be mistaken or manufacturing the entire story to take advantage of the rumors about Shermer you’ve alluded to. As far as I’m concerned, if PZ would publicly level such charges against Shermer without evidence, he’s capable of anything.

    • says

      You have confused actual objectivity and sound reasoning with “feigning” objectivity and sound reasoning. You even mischaracterize the facts (even in direct contradiction to the facts I have stated). No doubt due to malicious beliefs, motives, or worldviews plaguing your mind. I can’t help you. See a therapist.

  22. GrzeTor says

    So where are the accusations agains MS that you claim are there? I don’t see any. What was written until now ware exactly defamation-style gossips. Designed to be specifically vague and ambiguous so that the person attacked won’t even be able to prove his innocence by providing alibi or whatever.

    The way accusation works is that it is a precise statement of a fact or fact. It says what, where, when, whom with enough detail and coherence. There’s no such thing here: the gossips that were published are void of either specification of a place, or a specification of time, or a description of action that would be precise enough to leave a reasonable person with no doubt as to what happened. The only thing specified in these gossips is MS – who is specified precisely by name!

    Let’s assume that the attacked person is willing to prove his innocence to the public. If there was an accusation – a precise story, with dates, places, descriptions of actions – then he can provide some evidence like he wasn’t there at the time, or he was doing something else at a time or whatever. What’s more, someone from the public could even provide such information, like that on this precise date he/she was with the attacked person, and they were doing some other things than those describet in the attacking message.

    It’s impossible to do with the defamation-style blog posts that PZ Myers attacked MS with: it simply has no information in it that would allow the attacked person to respond to (the only information precise enough is the attacked person’s name). That’s just evil, you shouldn’t do such things to people!

    If the intention of those who write posts against MS was to start some public debate about his behavior, then thay would design their message in a way that would make it possible to respond to. It would be opposite if their goal was simply to destroy someone’s reputation or career with misinformation: then they would use vague, ambiguos, confusing terms and phrases so that it was not possible for the attacked to prove his innocense.

    • says

      An unnamed eyewitness is not “gossip.”

      Read the first section of my article again and try…please try…to understand how to think like a reasonable person.

      And a rape does not require an “attack.”

      Read the rest of my article and try…please try…to understand what rape actually is and the various ways it can be perpetrated without “attacking” someone.

      And my conclusion does not even assume there was a “rape.”

      Read the article again and try…please try…to understand why, and when, having sex with someone can be wrong even when it’s not rape.

      It’s also not defamation if I have no good reason to believe it’s false.

      And I don’t. As I said, I have more than enough reason to believe there is a more than 50% chance it’s true (I even explained why, both as to facts and evidentiary principles), and that Shermer is more probably than not responsible at least once of something akin to either Scenario A or Scenario B. And he should be concerned about that. And so should any woman in his future company.

    • GrzeTor says

      @Richard “And a rape does not require an “attack.”” – In my post the word “attacked” meant “attacked by a defamation-style gossip or defamation-style blog post”. Not a “person attacked sexually”. I hope it’s more undesrtandable now, after this clarification.

      And my post is universal – it’s not dependand on the type of attack (as defined above). The crucial point in my post is the assymetry of specifications. Only the attacked is specified!

      1) It doesn’t fit the stated goals of teaching others of what patterns of behavior they should avoid – in such case the blog post would be written in fully abstract way, thanks to which the conclusions of the post would be applicable everywhere, whenever such pattern of behavior uccurs. It might even be useful even if untrue!
      2) It also doesn’t fit the pattern of fact reporting. If it was fact reporting, then at least you’d have an exact place and date, as well more info on what happened, even if some people wanted to remain anonymous. There would also be much less emotionalizing there, as well as a dose of objectivity.

      If it doesn’t fit any of these patterns then what it is? I identified it as an attack on a (specified) person designed in a way (strong accusations with few information, but lot’s of emotionalism) that would make it very difficult to prove the innocense in the eyes of public opinion. Maybe I’m wrong here – if so what known pattern best describes this type of assymetry of specifications?

    • says

      In my post the word “attacked” meant “attacked by a defamation-style gossip or defamation-style blog post”. Not a “person attacked sexually”. I hope it’s more undesrtandable now, after this clarification.

      Ah, I see.

      Oh, indeed, Shermer can do all those things.

      When will he?

      And what will you say when he’s disproved and loses the case and the evidence comes out that in fact corroborates everything said against him?

      And what should we (and especially women) do in the meantime?

      My article is about answering that question.

      Stay on topic.

  23. Hunt says

    I don’t agree with what Myers did, most because I mistrust him. I think the ongoing battle between Atheism and Skepticism could play a part and may well have influenced his decision to disclose unproven accusations. It’s no secret that Shermer and Myers (and other FtBers) have crossed swords before. Normally, what do we do with evidence when it comes from a source biased against a position? We lessen the reliability of the evidence.

    You might say, well, Myers has stated that he has nothing against Michael Shermer. Well, let’s put it this way, when someone asked PZ why he hadn’t just gone to Shermer and asked him to explain events, his response was to the effect, what would you expect him to say if guilty? Exactly. For almost the same reason, you can’t expect Myers to incriminate himself in any such direct way.

    Why should you implicitly trust PZ Myers? How well do you actually know him? How many hours have you actually spent in his company? You know him through writing. Don’t you also know MIchael Shermer through writing?

    The central witness, “Jane Doe.” How well do we know that PZ knows her? As Shermer’s lawyers pointed out, PZ redacted “Carrie” in a critical update. Does he directly know “Doe,” sort of know her, or know her through Carrie Poppy? I’m very happy to be enlightened/corrected on this matter. If this is more a “friend of friend” relationship, ask yourself how many friends of friends you trust implicitly? Would you trust them with your life? Another person’s life? Reputation?

    People are both engaging in speculative fiction about Shermer’s guilt, guised as parable (see Dana Hunter’s “Sherman” post) and also confabulating facts about the case. I read one comment on Pharyngula speaking about how concern should primarily be focused on the “young women” who was assaulted. The interesting thing here is that, to my knowledge, nowhere has it been reported that “Jane Doe” is young. In other words people are inventing facts and scenarios, coloring in “facts” here and there, evidently pointing to the powerful and lecherous older man and the helpless young woman.

    Perhaps readers will think I’m being paranoid or mean-spirited, but if you’re going to launch some kind of pseudo-Bayesian analysis of guilt or innocent against Shermer, isn’t it fair to do the same for PZ Myers and all the others engaged in innuendo? Anything that speaks against the reliability of Myers, or anyone “framing” the story (or Shermer) should be aired, if you really want to be fair to Shermer.

    5% of rape cases are false (or something like that), 95% are true, therefore, the argument goes, “Jane Doe” is 95% likely to be reliable. Is this correct? A random sample from all rape cases will follow that distribution, but can the “Jane Doe” report be considered a tiny random sample? I think there is every reason to doubt it, considering the run-up to this report, the “tidal wave” of blog posts, the ethos of the campaign to “smoke out” the sexual abusers of atheism and skepticism. No, I think the idea that this fits a random instance needs very much to be justified or discarded, given that it alone seem to seal the deal for many people.

    Refilled wine glasses, getting people drunk around him: Is Shermer an alcoholic? Has that even occurred to anyone? Alcoholics often enjoy drinking with others, often enjoy having others drink with them. Is this LESS LIKELY than that that Michael Shermer, renowned skeptic, writer on ethics and morality, is actually American Psycho, serial rapist, who has eluded the law for years?

    I have no intention to draw conclusively. My specific purpose is to express agnosticism. The only thing I really want to illustrate is that we don’t know. We just don’t know; yet there seem to be crowds of people who are dead certain.

    And that should concern everyone. Seriously. The next person could very well be you.

    • says

      It’s no secret that Shermer and Myers (and other FtBers) have crossed swords before.

      Yet never lied before.

      Relevance.

      Tattoo that on your mind.

      As to the rest, PZ has answered all that. Why not go read what he has actually said?

      Anything that speaks against the reliability of Myers…

      Like what?

      That is, actual evidence of his lying or getting comparable facts wrong (which is what “against the reliability of” means).

      Have any?

      Refilled wine glasses, getting people drunk around him: Is Shermer an alcoholic?

      I am unaware of any evidence of that. And it wouldn’t relate to his inebriating other people. Or maybe you don’t know how alcoholism works.

      Is this LESS LIKELY than that that Michael Shermer, renowned skeptic, writer on ethics and morality, is actually American Psycho, serial rapist, who has eluded the law for years?

      It is interesting to see someone come in here and act like the sane rational person educating us on how to reason, who then throws up the most egregious and ridiculous textbook example of a straw man fallacy and false dichotomy, and thinks that proves how rational and reasonable he is.

      No one (and I mean no one, apart from now you) has said anything whatever that equates Shermer to the villain in American Psycho or (as that analogy implies) any sort of Richard Ramirez violent rapist stalker, or any such bullshit.

      So you clearly just showed us you are reasoning from a false dichotomy:

      “Either PZ is a liar or Shermer is like Patrick Bateman.”

      Since that is the premise you are working from, and that premise is false (it excludes a whole huge middle), your conclusion in this case is invalid and your whole reasoning about this case is demonstrably irrational.

      I wonder if there will ever come a time when you will admit that.

    • Hunt says

      “No one (and I mean no one, apart from now you) has said anything whatever that equates Shermer to the villain in American Psycho or (as that analogy implies) any sort of Richard Ramirez violent rapist stalker, or any such bullshit.”

      It’s called “hyperbole,” a rhetorical technique to make a point.

      But you knew that.

    • says

      No, it’s not just a rhetorical point when your argument is based on it–as in, when you remove the hyperbole, the argument becomes invalid.

      That’s a fallacy.

      Exactly as I said.

    • Hunt says

      One more thing: I suddenly realize that you don’t understand my argument. I’m not offering alcoholism as one side of a dichotomy, just that, look, here’s one other possibility, and is even this one possibility (not to mention the sum totality of possibilities) less likely than the possibility that Shermer intends to rape women he encounters at parties? Once again, this illustrates the type of confirmation bias that might be happening here. You do want to consider all possibilities, right? The alternative is to be entirely credulous to just-so narratives like the one Hunter fabricated.

    • says

      You are again telling me you didn’t read my article. Which is about the possibility Shermer doesn’t intend to “rape” women and might never have (although it is also possible he does or has). And which is based on evidence (from multiple sources) that should alter what one thinks is likely in this case. And which is about preponderance of evidence and not what is merely “possible” (and certainly not about what is “definite”). Your comment now ignores all three distinctions, and thus ignores pretty much 90% of my article.

  24. Roel Winters says

    “And in the eyes of the law, they are innocent…” (scenario Z)

    In the eyes of the law they are “not guilty”, this is not the same as “innocent”.
    This distinction (and people being unaware of it) is the whole point of scenario Z, isn’t it?

    (thx, Matt Dillahunty!)

    • says

      That’s a valid point. A technical distinction, but one many a legal treatise has remarked upon the significance of.

      Of course, literally “not guilty” is simply a synonym of “innocent.” You’d have to assume an implied “not found guilty by a particular jury in a particular trial.” The term “not proven” would therefore be clearer.

      But the distinction matters (here is a good rundown on why).

      (The public in particular can abuse this because citing the principle “innocent until proven guilty” can then be used to entail a “not guilty” verdict entails a finding of “innocent”…which is playing loose with law and reality, as the above link explains.)

  25. Pen says

    I’m a bit staggered that since I’ve been following this story nobody has raised the question of conversations about contraception and safe sex in Scenario B. Nobody, as far as I know, has discussed the issue of whether Shermer who is allegedly quite promiscuous is systematically using condoms if/when he goes around sleeping with women who are too drunk to consent. I keep thinking about it and wondering why nobody mentions it then forgetting. Am I just too cynical for not assuming he and anyone else over the age of 18 at least does that?

    Anyway, I’d add to your list ‘having sex with another person without explicitly addressing the issues of contraception (if straight) and safe sex is wrong’. It doesn’t really matter if we find these formalities tedious, they’re necessary. Partners who don’t know each other well where either of both are drunk probably haven’t done that.

    • says

      No one is discussing it because there is no information pertaining to it to go on. For all we know, he is a master at rapid condom application and consistent at it. Or assumes he has consent to go without a condom for the same reason he assumes he has consent to go in at all (whether in A or B).

  26. Nathan says

    I just wanted to make one comment in regards to the “getting women drunk for the purpose of having sex with them bit”. And I know this has been said a thousand times before elsewhere but why is it that you think so little of women that you think they are incapable of making their own decisions in regards to how much they should drink? There is no such thing as forcing a woman to drink too much- she makes that decision.

    I want to make it clear that I’m not defending this tactic. But I believe women more than capable of making their own decisions; they don’t need a man to do it for them.

    • says

      [W]hy is it that you think so little of women that you think they are incapable of making their own decisions in regards to how much they should drink? There is no such thing as forcing a woman to drink too much- she makes that decision.

      It’s not just women, but men, for whom this is not always true. Read the first paragraph of Scenario A or B. Carefully.

      Of course, it absolutely is possible force someone to drink alcohol; I know many a case of physical force or threat being use to do that; I just don’t think Shermer has ever done that. But conning someone into drinking more than they would choose to if aware: that happens a lot more often, and is something it sounds like Shermer might be doing.

      I want to make it clear that I’m not defending this tactic. But I believe women more than capable of making their own decisions; they don’t need a man to do it for them.

      Not in Scenario A: inebriation then made her incapable of making her own decisions, and would do so to a man (I made a particular point of noting that men can be taken advantage of and their ability to consent removed in the same ways), and would do so even if she knew how much she was drinking. I wrote a whole paragraph in the article about that very point: deciding to get incapacitated is not deciding to get raped or exploited, and it therefore doesn’t matter who is at fault for the inebriation…except insofar as trying to con a woman into that state makes your exploitation of her even worse, because it reflects even more poorly on your character, and establishes that you are even more dangerous to be around.

  27. Jacob Schmidt says

    I don’t think we can agree on whether scenario B is not rape. I thank you for emphasising that, regardless, it’s still harmful and potentially traumatizing.

    Consent that is not genuine, to me, is worthless. Consent that is merely an extension of previous consent and assumed via participation (which, for sex, can simply be laying there while hesitating, uncertain of how to respond) is meaningless. As far a I’m concerned, there is no useful distinction.

    I get that the difference between A and B is supposed to be agency, and that scenario B is supposed to describe a scenario where the victim has agency. I don’t think that comes across very well.

  28. says

    “Note that I have framed all this from the perspective of men targeting or harming women, because Shermer is a man and I am not aware of Shermer pursuing men.”

    FYI, just so you are kept up on the relevant facts, there is a public accusation by a named accuser, Dallas Haugh, that Michael Shermer allegedly raped him. Thank you for your very detailed analysis and contributions to the discussion. They are truly invaluable, and I would like to thank you for all the effort.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/08/13/do-you-know-the-person-behind-the-tumblr-creative-pooping-who-goes-by-the-name-dallas-haugh/comment-page-1/#comment-671302

    http://creativepooping.tumblr.com/

  29. says

    Richard, why the double standard between what constitutes giving consent and what constitutes revocation of consent? If a drunken kiss-back is supposed to be equivalent to gi ving consent for sex, then why you can isn’t a drunken hesitation in participation in the middle of sex equivant to revoking consent for sex? Instead you want revocation, and revocation alone, to be explicitly verbalized in order to be considered valid. Bollocks.

  30. yazikus says

    Consent has to actually be revoked to be revoked.

    I have been trying to figure out how to articulate what bothers me about Scenario B. Doesn’t consent have to be obtained at some point? I don’t think that it was in this case. An absence of No does not mean Yes. So I guess I’m in the Scenario B was morally rape crowd. I otherwise very much enjoyed this piece.

    • says

      Doesn’t consent have to be obtained at some point?

      Correct. And B describes it being obtained by active participation (and its ability to be thus given is ascertained by her ability to coherently articulate thoughts about things going on).

      While consent has to actually be revoked to be revoked, so too consent has to actually be given to be given. But physical participation counts as such in exactly the same way that physical resistance would.

  31. says

    “I was aware of that report but not what Dallas’ gender status was at the time of the alleged incident. That still isn’t clear. So I am making no assumptions about it.”

    Actually it has been clarified, as my above link indicates, which was a comment from Dallas himiself, which states “I am a cisgender bisexual male.”

    • says

      Oh, I see that now. Thanks. Noted.

      P.S. That would make him, incidentally, a now named witness to Shermer’s behavior. (So the denialists can’t claim this is another anonymous source.) I will reproduce his claim here for evidence and reference:

      I am fairly certain that Michael Shermer had nonconsensual sex with me. I don’t really wish to elaborate on the details (I am already feeling pretty sick writing this, and yet again, the evidence wouldn’t be enough), but I can confirm it involved the tactics already stated.

      I didn’t do anything about it, and I feel quite horrible for that.

    • GrzeTor says

      Yet another informationless piece – without classic when, where, how. Additionally totally evidenceless – no physical evidence, no third-party accounts, just words. And so ambiguous that from the text you cited we don’t even know who didn’t give consent – was it MS or the other person.

      Note that it that is supposed to originalte from a person with mental problems, and is not compatible with basic human psychology, that says highly emotional events are remembered well.

    • says

      Because there is always a third party witness to a rape.

      And people with depression can’t ever be raped or ever trusted to tell the truth.

      And you are, like, totally honestly and sincerely confused about which of them Dallas meant had not consented.

      And nothing I wrote in the whole of my article you are commenting on has any bearing on this case.

  32. Jesha says

    Dr Carrier,
    I’d definitely go with “sleazy”, and “gossip”, I’m afraid. First of all, the note Myers printed most definitely does directly accuse Shermer of rape; the phrase “coerced me into a position where I could not consent” can’t possibly mean anything other than “he raped me”. I can’t imagine that the writer didn’t know this, I’m 100% sure PZ knows this, and I’m 100% sure you know this.

    My reading of the note (and I don’t know any more than the next person who’s read it) indicates that the writer became intoxicated through her own volition (encouraged but not forced to drink), and then made a choice to have sex with someone (who was also intoxicated, who knows how much), and subsequently decided that she would not have made that choice had she been sober. It sure doesn’t sound like she was unconscious, nonfunctional, or oblivious (I’m sure she would have said so if that were the case), just at a point where she wasn’t exercising good judgement.

    So, your slut-shaming of Dr Sermer notwithstanding, I don’t think this is indicative of any bad acts on his part. Of course I don’t – and cant – know the exact scenario (neither do you), and I’m probably influenced by my generally positive view of him.

    So the writer wants to warn women, but I’m not sure exactly of what. That Michael Shermer gets horny when he’s drunk, and that when he’s horny he may try to have sex with me, and if I’m also drunk I may make a choice I later come to regret? OK then, consider me warned. But I have a feeling that’s not what she has in mind. I think this is a vicious rumor and doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

    • says

      You aren’t a very good reader.

      My article says (emphasis now added):

      Notably, the accuser did not use the word “rape” when she described what happened (though she did in the end call it that).

      So for you to suggest I said anything to the contrary doesn’t reflect well on your ability to pay attention.

      My reading of the note (and I don’t know any more than the next person who’s read it) indicates that the writer became intoxicated through her own volition (encouraged but not forced to drink), and then made a choice to have sex with someone (who was also intoxicated, who knows how much), and subsequently decided that she would not have made that choice had she been sober. It sure doesn’t sound like she was unconscious, nonfunctional, or oblivious (I’m sure she would have said so if that were the case), just at a point where she wasn’t exercising good judgement.

      Oh, I see. You didn’t read my article at all.

      Okay. First, how you magically know more things about the incident than I do, I have no idea. Your powers of clairvoyance could win you the million dollar Randi prize. Why don’t you get on that? Secondly, please find the place in my article where I mention anyone being “unconscious.” Thirdly, you seem to be describing what I labeled Scenario B. Yet without getting the point I made with that Scenario. In other words, the whole point of the last section of my article.

      But right, you didn’t read it. You comment on articles you don’t read. That’s how you roll, I guess.

      So, your slut-shaming of Dr Sermer notwithstanding…

      Yes, yes, we get it. You didn’t read my article. You don’t have to keep repeating yourself. But apparently I do. This paragraph is in my article (no, seriously, really, this isn’t just a rumor, it’s actually there):

      If that were all there were to this story, I would not be troubled by it. Consensual sex, even cheating, is not anyone’s doom. What one does sexually does not (contrary to pop politico psychology) indicate a general dishonesty or unreliability in other matters, or entail you’re a bad person, or make you unlikable or untrustworthy. Or dangerous. Or disgusting. Or any negative stereotype attached to expressions of human sexuality, even the sneaky kind. (This has nothing to do with opposing sex.)

      Or maybe you don’t know what slut shaming is. Or have a mental disorder that causes you to see the exact opposite of slut shaming, even an explicit denunciation of slut shaming, as slut shaming.

      But I’m pretty sure that’s not in the DSM-5.

      Of course I don’t – and cant – know the exact scenario (neither do you), and I’m probably influenced by my generally positive view of him.

      It sounds like either Scenario A or B. You’d know what that means if you read the article you’re commenting on.

      So the writer wants to warn women, but I’m not sure exactly of what.

      Read my article. It, like, totally tells you. No, seriously. It really does.

      But try really hard. Because I think you have a reading problem. You obviously tend to miss things (like, everything) and read things as saying the exact opposite of what they do. It’s important to be aware of your flaws so you can compensate for them.

      That Michael Shermer gets horny when he’s drunk…

      How do you know he gets drunk?

      I think this is a vicious rumor and doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

      Wait, what is the vicious rumor? You just said you knew what the woman was talking about and that it probably actually happened as you describe. Now you are saying no woman witnessed this happen to her and it’s just a rumor. I’m really confused. Which bullshit argument is the one you actually want to stick to?

  33. Ligeti says

    These everlasting feuds over proper sexual behaviour seem to vindicate the pragmatic truth that religions have always acknowledged: human sexuality is a destructive force and if one wants to keep the community cohesive and harmonious one should uphold chaste monogamous behaviour as an ideal and to codify it accordingly. Another pragmatic truth that religions have acknowledged is that one should avoid drinking alcohol because it is fuel for immoral behaviour, a devil’s tool.

    Secular ideological communities have been lacking the institutional wisdom that religions have gained over thousands of years of cultural evolution. Atheist and skeptic communties are now beginning to face the reality that community can’t function properly if sexual behaviour is not clearly regulated and policed. And new kind of secular moralistic dicourse has emerged to suit this purpose. For example, intstead of saying that sexual desire is “sinful”, secular person might say sexual desire is bad because it objectifies, or: prominent people in the community must show special sexual purity, not because their holiness that serves as an example to others demands it – like in the case of religions – but beacuse of the “power differentials”. The problem of sexual harrasment is the age-old problem of anarchic male sexuality, demonic carnality that is solely interested in hunting selfish pleasure…

    • says

      These everlasting feuds over proper sexual behaviour…

      What feud about proper sexual behavior?

      I haven’t seen anyone arguing against anything I’ve said about proper sexual behavior. No argument = no feud.

      You are evidently projecting your fantasies onto what’s going on here. Take off the faith-colored glasses and see reality for a change. Trust me. It won’t hurt. Not much. As long as you consent to take off those glasses and see reality. But if not, I can’t help you.

      Also, get up to speed on what we secularists actually say about human sexual desire. Start here (since you seem to have a weird idea of what “sexual objectification” means), then try this (because it will burst the bubble of your false narrative about atheist views of sexuality), and then end with this (because that will freak you out, and it’s good to get freaked out every once and awhile).

  34. drken says

    Defamation suits are commonly launched not because the person thinks they can win, but because defending yourself from one is very expensive. In other words, if he wants to silence anybody else from speaking out, he doesn’t have to win the case, he just has to bankrupt PZ.

    • GrzeTor says

      Why do you think that MS wants to “silence PZ”, or prevent him from “speaking out”? Isn’t it almost sure MS would like PZ to contiune his fight with creationists and religionists? That the potential suit is only about a single issue, rather than against the whole of the blog?

  35. ceesays says

    But scenario B is rape, though

    because the moment non celeb starts to feel that this is wrong, non celeb is not consenting any more. it doesn’t matter what non celeb says or doesn’t say. and non celeb may simply freeze and not move rather than try to fight in any way, or push celeb off or whatever. it doesn’t matter. the moment non celeb feels that things have gone wrong, the only responsibility non celeb has is to survive – and that might mean not protesting or trying to fight, but just waiting for it to be over.

    Celeb is at the very least an utter sleazeball for not simply making sure non celeb got to xer room all right and going the hell away after that. Never try to initiate sex with someone who is impaired. that’s rapey and gross.

  36. angharad says

    I see a few people have thought that Scenario B was also rape, and on first reading I thought that too. I’ve read your refutations of this and while they seem reasonable it also seems you’re walking a very wobbly line. People have different reactions to alcohol. I, for one, begin to lose my mental faculties long before my physical faculties, so capable of walking is not a good indicator of capable of giving reasoned consent. My point here is not to say that this is rape or this is not rape, but that it’s a pretty nebulous boundary, and best practice is not to try and work out where the boundary is, but just to stay well away from it.

    • says

      I agree B is right at the line. That’s partly the point. It’s one of several reasons we should want to avoid perpetrating B no matter whether it’s rape or not. In fact, trying to calculate whether it’s rape or not shouldn’t even be how we react to it…if that’s all that concerns us, then that comes close to assuming it’s okay if it’s not rape, which very definitely misses the point of my discussion of B.

  37. kevinsolway says

    You’ve gone from diagnosing people with mental illnesses (Thunderf00t) to implicating a person as a rapist or a sleaze. At least your consistent. Consistently taking the moral low-ground.

    • says

      Because evaluating the available evidence to reach a judgement about whether someone can be trusted in particular ways is “talking the low moral ground.”

      Or, you know, like, not even at all.

  38. kevinsolway says

    There are two scenarios:

    Scenario A is that God exists and that Jesus was his Son.

    Scenario B is that God exists and that Jesus wasn’t his Son.

    They are the only two scenarios. Which do you choose? A or B?

    That is the level of your logic Mr Carrier.

    Very disappointing.

    • says

      Huh? Where did I ever say those were the only two logical possibilities?

      I think you missed the whole first half of my article.

      (And the parenthesis in the article’s title!)

  39. Gregory Merrigan says

    Richard, you are not a lawyer. You should think very carefully about leaving all this up, because it looks like Myers is going to be sued.

    We don’t need you drug into this and discredited.

    • says

      How would my talking about my thoughts on this matter affect Shermer’s lawsuit against PZ?

      I don’t think you know how the law works.

      Maybe you think Shermer can now sue me, but that would mean you definitely don’t know how the law works.

      Not a single statement in my article is even false (as I’ve worded), much less negligently so, and Shermer would have no chance showing any of my statements here are false.

      Journalists and bloggers don’t have to be lawyers to know how to word what they say to conform to the laws of their state and country. Obviously. As otherwise we couldn’t have any journalists or bloggers unless they were all lawyers. Which would be ridiculous.

      What’s especially ridiculous is that no one ever said bullshit like this to me when I pondered and criticized the misbehavior of Christians and Muslims.

      I wonder why.

    • Gregory Merrigan says

      Reading skills, Richard. Reading.

      I didn’t say you had to be a lawyer to blog or to criticize the misbehavior of Christians…or anyone else…but you do need to be lawyer to give legal advice.

      Which you aren’t and you have.

      And you cuss too much.

    • says

      You seem not to understand what “giving legal advice” means when saying “you need to be a lawyer” to do that. That only means I cannot claim to be a lawyer giving legal advice. Otherwise I can give all the legal advice I want. It’s called free speech, protected by the first amendment.

      As explained here:

      Advice from friends or family does not constitute legal advice. True legal advice forms an agreement between an attorney and his or her client based on a particular legal matter the client is experiencing … [thereby] creat[ing] rights and responsibilities in the advice-giver.

      I am not doing that. Indeed, I have been very clear about the fact that I’m not doing that.

      For more, see my comment elsewhere on this trope. Links are there for official and formal sources on the point. But I’ll quote my conclusion here:

      [C]itizens are not only legally allowed to give each other legal advice, they are morally obligated to be able to do so. If we do not understand the laws, we cannot know whether we are conforming to them. And if we cannot openly discuss the laws and whether and when they apply, our first amendment rights are being abridged. It is therefore our obligation to discuss what the laws are, what rights they establish we have, and whether and to what extent our neighbors may be violating them.

      We just can’t represent ourselves as doing this for money or as licensed experts. And I am not representing myself as either. I’m just an American citizen talking about the laws of his country and whether and to what extent I believe I am protected by them.

      Or in this case how others may or may not be protected by them, or how others might use them against others.

      Oh, and…

      Fucking Fuck Fuck the Prudish Fuck Duck crossed the street, because reasons.

  40. Zacattack says

    Consensual sex, even cheating, is not anyone’s doom. What one does sexually does not (contrary to pop politico psychology) indicate a general dishonesty or unreliability in other matters, or entail you’re a bad person, or make you unlikable or untrustworthy. Or dangerous. Or disgusting. Or any negative stereotype attached to expressions of human sexuality, even the sneaky kind.

    I found most of your post compelling and well-argued, but this paragraph bothered me. If someone is in a monogamous, sexually exclusive relationship and cheats on his/her partner, that strikes me as deceitful. It seems reasonable to me that someone who is deceitful to their monogamous partner is likely to be deceitful towards other people in their lives as well. Why is this conclusion wrong?

    This particular deceit also strikes me as cruel. Am I also wrong to find cruelly deceitful people disgusting and unlikable?

    • says

      Why is this conclusion wrong?

      Because it is prudish (it attaches a shame-related significance to sexual activity that doesn’t objectively exist and is largely a Christian invention atheists still haven’t gotten over) and anthropologically unfounded (sexual infidelity has never been shown to correlate with unreliability in other matters: see what I already said about this in this thread).

      This particular deceit also strikes me as cruel.

      I don’t see why. If you screwed around publicly and rubbed it in your spouse’s face, that would be cruel. But falling off the wagon of a sexual diet is no different from falling off the wagon of any other diet, as long as you are doing it discreetly and responsibly otherwise. (See again, my other comment on this.)

    • Zacattack says

      Because it is prudish (it attaches a shame-related significance to sexual activity that doesn’t objectively exist and is largely a Christian invention atheists still haven’t gotten over)

      I’m it just seems bizarre to me that breaking a sexual commitment to someone should not result in at least some amount of shame, just like any other case of breaking commitments. To me, the only question is how much shame it should entail, i.e., should breaking a sexual commitment entail more or less shame than failing to take out the trash, failing to pay a bill, etc.

      You may be right that sexual monogamy is a Christian invention atheists need to get over, but someone who believes was foolish to have made a commitment to it in the first place.

      I don’t see why. If you screwed around publicly and rubbed it in your spouse’s face, that would be cruel. But falling off the wagon of a sexual diet is no different from falling off the wagon of any other diet, as long as you are doing it discreetly and responsibly otherwise.

      If I am indifferent to the suffering my infidelity would cause my spouse, that strikes me as cruelty by definition.

    • says

      Some amount of shame or regret, yes. But objectively, not anywhere near as much as people assign to sex. People over-apply shame to sex. Thanks to a thousand years of Christianization of our culture. When you look at how “adultery” is handled in non-Christianized cultures, you find more variability. Indeed, that adultery even causes emotional harm is almost entirely a product of cultural taboo (like a Muslim daughter marrying a Christian woman causing her parents emotional anguish, even to the point of disowning her, the analog to divorce).

      But we sometimes can’t escape our cultural taboos and have to manage them or accommodate them.

      If you flaunted your affairs, that would be indifference to the suffering of your spouse. But discreet affairs don’t necessarily do that. Like the married Christian gay man, at what point do you ruin your own happiness merely to avoid the possibility that the people you love will emotionally react badly? The answer to that question is not as simple as you might think (I know too many cases personally to be naive about this anymore). Which is why I give more leeway on it than I do, for example, overt cruelty, or violating or exploiting people, and other things further down the spectrum of harm.

  41. setec says

    Richard, maybe this can give you some insight into why some of us who support womens’ rights and oppose harassment are nevertheless taken aback by some of the behaviors of the Atheism+ crowd on FTB.

    In PZ’s original “bomb” thread, I made a case similar to yours (more briefly and less eloquently, but with civility and sincerity) that there’s a difference between Scenario A and Scenario B, one being felony rape and the other sleazy and immoral but not illegal. I thought that if PZ is dropping such a bombshell he should at least specify which of these scenarios the accusation concerned — not to doubt the victim’s story, but simply to suggest that clarifying the accusation (felony or scumbaggery) would be helpful in a case of such importance.

    I was excorciated for this, called a “rape apologist,” and accused of wanting a “get out of rape free” card by several of PZ’s favorite Horde members. (I have never slept with anyone but my wife and never intend to… let alone drunk strangers.) Their primary argument was that Scenario B is exactly the same as Scenario A: “drunk” = “consent is impossible” = “rape”, period and how dare I suggest otherwise. I then dared to describe examples, including Scenario B or even a Scenario C in which the drunk person initiates the sex, participates enthusiastically throughout, and may not have any regret later (they said it’s all rape no matter what). This was an impersonal, intellectual counter-argument to their overly broad definition of rape to include Scenarios B and C, and The Horde’s thought police relentlessly labeled me a rape apologist, victim-blamer, and/or wannabe rapist, insisted that I stop commenting, and called in PZ to issue a ban threat, which he did (my “lawyering the definition” was inappropriate apparently, as was acknowledging gray areas). For describing scenarios (very much like you did above), I was lambasted for “triggering” people who, for some reason, despite their sensitivity, were reading hundreds of comments in a blog thread about rape. I never personally attacked anyone in the thread, tried to meet them half-way or more on many things, and was still basically treated like Satan incarnate. PZ later banned me for showing my face in another thread on the topic with a totally innocuous comment.

    Prior to the “bomb” post, I had no stake in the “Atheism+ vs Atheism ‘Less’” debate. I wasn’t even aware of its existence. I just read Pharyngula occasionally (for 7+ years) to enjoy his thrashing creationists, and then found myself briefly entangled in this shitstorm. For simply making (and defending) a good faith argument on an intellectual point, I was labeled terrible things and silenced. When people accuse the atheist+feminists of tribalism, witch-hunting, and stifling dissent, this is what they’re talking about. It is unbecoming of a movement of rational skeptics. It is very off-putting to natural allies of the movement, people like me who believe in coupling atheism with the values of humanism and rationality and equality. I had a minor disagreement with them on one or two points, and they tried to rhetorically burn me at the stake. They did the same to many others who were only 99% on board their train.

    I just don’t like this divisiveness within atheism. The anti-feminists have done more than their share of reprehensible behavior and I won’t defend it (e.g. the disgusting treatment of the girl with the Carl Sagan book on reddit — although I will point out that that post made the top of /r/all and therefore most of the commenters/voters were from a reddit-wide sample of mostly juvenile males and not necessarily atheists). However, the tribalism and dissent-stifling by the A+ers on FTB is also very ugly and it would be nice if someone within that community would recognize that problem and speak out, too. This schism is the sort of thing that’s supposed to happen among religious sects, not skeptics. Both sides need to be more civil.

    I bring this up because I’ve seen you characterize the critics of Atheism+, at times, by describing the worst behaviors of their worst members… a fair rhetorical tactic, sure. But I want you to see that there are some legitimate criticisms of the way some of them (PZ & friends) lash out at people for even the slightest dissent, even for expressing the same views you expressed here. Even if these ideas aren’t draped in the many pages of tact you applied here, they shouldn’t be grounds for that sort of rhetorical persecution in a community of free thinkers.

    • says

      I thought that if PZ is dropping such a bombshell he should at least specify which of these scenarios the accusation concerned

      He could not have. Thus, this was an unreasonable request.

      Notice how I have not once mentioned his “needing” to make this distinction. I have even explained (as did PZ in his original post) why the woman in question could have good reason not to be any more specific than she was. She is not seeking a rape prosecution. If you don’t understand this, you don’t understand what’s going on here.

      This is one reason why what you did is not at all comparable to what I did.

      Indeed, that was your first and most persistent mistake, which your comments in that thread show you never figured out (or best I could tell; I gave up reading them after they became repetitive).

      I was excorciated for this, called a “rape apologist,” and accused of wanting a “get out of rape free” card by several of PZ’s favorite Horde members. (I have never slept with anyone but my wife and never intend to… let alone drunk strangers.)

      Now, the problem here is that your version of history doesn’t agree with the historical record.

      This is what actually happened:

      You said this.

      To which a commenter said this.

      Notice they made my A vs. B distinction, not you…they criticized you for not making it.

      What started all that was you saying this:

      Is the victim saying Shermer tampered with her drink somehow, or just that he encouraged her to get herself really drunk and then took advantage of her lowered inhibitions?

      Notice that your dichotomy is not at all my dichotomy. You were not contrasting my Scenarios A and B. Moreover, you were not saying [your stand-in for] B was still awful and unethical.

      That’s mistake number two and three. If you don’t see why they are bad, please meditate on it until you do.

      You also said:

      When she says she was “not able to consent,” does that mean she was unconscious, or does it mean she was too intoxicated for informed consent?

      Note that the latter corresponds to my Scenario A, not Scenario B. Thus, you again were not making the distinction I was, but were even implying that Scenario A is not rape.

      It seems evident, in fact, that you did not know my Scenario A was rape. Even though several commenters kept explaining that to you.

      That’s mistake number four.

      Again you said this:

      What do you call it if two people willingly get drunk together and have sex they both regret, which neither one of them would have consented to while sober?

      Notably, this is not Scenario B, either. So you were not making the distinctions I was. You were actually alleging that what this woman was accusing Shermer of was merely regretted drunk sex, as if the only other option was rape, or just that. False. And insulting to victims, again.

      That’s mistake number five (how many at-bats should you get?).

      In that same comment you said this:

      If it meant the victim had her drink tampered with, passed out, or verbally protested or struggled/resisted and was physically overcome, then the crime is clearly rape. But if she willingly got drunk and then, in an intoxicated state, issued consent she wouldn’t have while sober, that’s a sleazy thing for Shermer to take advantage of, it’s not rape.

      Notice again that the latter includes Scenario A, which is rape. Yet you just called it not rape (you are contrasting it with “passed out” and “resisted” and with “tampered drinks,” none of which are in Scenario A). This is explicit in your comment here, where you define your own ‘scenarios’ A and B like this:

      [I]t’s fair to ask whether Shermer is accused of A) that type of “rape” [merely being drunk] or B) the actual definition involving unwilling intoxication, unconsciousness, or ignoring verbal or physical resistance.

      Note that my Scenario A is not included in your B, yet is rape. People kept telling you that. You kept not listening to them.

      In other words, for all these reasons, you made exactly the wrong argument (five mistakes, which you never corrected–you kept making them, even after people kept correcting them), which is not at all the argument I made. You were indeed sounding like a rape apologist.

      You never emphasized even that non-rape scenarios are also morally reprehensible and are sufficient warrant for the woman’s stated purpose (to warn other women). Indeed, you consistently acted like if it wasn’t rape, then it was no big deal and she shouldn’t have complained about it. Which very definitely is the exact opposite of what I have argued in my article (about Scenario B in particular, but the whole conclusion of my article in general).

      Indeed, you even aped the rape apologist’s playbook, almost verbatim:

      …that’s something people of all genders and orientations have been doing since the dawn of time, or at least the dawn of alcohol, and both parties would bear some responsibility if that were the case.

      So you said she is responsible for being victimized, and it’s no big deal because everybody has been doing it since forever (everyone has been doing rape since forever as well, so that isn’t a very sound argument to begin with).

      That’s rape apologetics 101.

      Maybe that’s not what you intended, but intent is not magic.

      And that is the lesson you need to learn here.

      You didn’t learn it, they got tired of you, and banned you. You should regret not having learned your lesson, not that other people grew weary of you not learning it. Especially rape and assault victims who indeed get offended when people persistently keep saying things like this. Which you really should have sympathy for, rather than complaining about it…which makes it look like you are insensitive to what they’ve been through and have had to put up with, and you weren’t actually interested in sympathizing with victims of rape or exploitation, and weren’t even listening to comments like this or this which, had you agreed with them openly, would have started setting you on the right course.

      I stopped reading the exchanges at that point, because I could already see you were on the wrong track, and just repeating yourself, and certainly not arguing what I did, and you weren’t listening or learning. You still don’t even seem to realize this (as your comment here indicates…you actually think I am arguing the same thing you did, when in fact what I am arguing is what other commenters there were trying to explain to you.).

      Thus, what happened there was, you handled yourself poorly, did not show empathy for victims, did not learn, repeatedly did not correct any of five key mistakes, did not pay attention to what the woman’s stated purpose was, and you didn’t listen to people when they tried to correct you, and when you kept ignoring them, then told you you were annoying them with your terrible and dismissive argumentation (e.g. you should have paid attention to comments like this).

      And the worst that happened was they stopped listening to you. Which you decide to call divisive for some reason–as if somehow this kicks you out of the whole movement and makes it impossible for you to keep reading and learning and helping us achieve our actual goals–or even realizing what you did wrong, apologizing, and making it right.

      Please, dial back your ego just a little, and think about this: cultivate in yourself a sincere desire to understand why those five mistakes of yours were mistakes, and why your sixth mistake (of not listening to people when they tried pointing out those mistakes to you) is what ultimately got you banned there–not the voicing of offensive or wrong opinions. They let you post plenty of those, at length, for quite a long time before they lost patience with you.

    • setec says

      I very much appreciate the detailed response.

      He could not have [specified the scenario the allegations concerned]. Thus, this was an unreasonable request.

      Why couldn’t he? It doesn’t require revealing any additional identifying details. The incident was already outlined in broad strokes (at a conference, a few years back, sex, alcohol involved), and stating whether definitively criminal behavior (as opposed to scumbaggery) is alleged would have been sufficient. I get that they’re not seeking criminal prosecution, but he knew this was going to touch off an “Is Michael Shermer a rapist?” debate in the skeptic community (see the title of your post). That debate has two components: a) did he do what he’s accused of? and b) is what he’s accused of doing rape? PZ could have negated part b with just a few extra non-identifying words.

      As far as I can tell, you’re saying my “Mistake #1″ was suggesting that it’s important to distinguish between “rapist” or “sleaze.” As this post shows, you also seem to think that’s important. Why was this a mistake?

      I gave up reading them after they became repetitive

      They certainly did, but that was because I repeatedly responded to repetitive arguments against me or my viewpoint. It was an ugly conversation. I think much of the drama might have been avoided if FTB had better comment threading.

      Notice that your dichotomy is not at all my dichotomy. You were not contrasting my Scenarios A and B.

      I was attempting to contrast your Scenarios A and B, and I don’t think I was too far off the mark, although I certainly would have chosen my words more carefully if I’d known what response would follow. Not being familiar with the lingo of this issue at all, some of my comments clearly gave some people the wrong idea. Here’s what I said, slightly more extended: Is the victim saying Shermer tampered with her drink somehow, or just that he encouraged her to get herself really drunk and then took advantage of her lowered inhibitions? When she says she was “not able to consent,” does that mean she was unconscious, or does it mean she was too intoxicated for informed consent?

      In these two sentences combined, I was asking whether the elements of criminal rape were present — tampering with her drink without her knowledge, or unconsciousness (and I would have classified nominal consciousness with the inability to physically or verbally resist/object in the same category with unconsciousness, if I’d thought of that scenario). That was my stand-in for Scenario A, which I stated would be rape. When I said “encouraged her to get herself drunk and took advantage of her lowered inhibitions,” I was referring to your Scenario B in which the drunk person with lowered inhibitions expressly consents to and actively participates in sex they otherwise would not, and might later consider it rape because after-the-fact they didn’t view their seemingly-enthusiastic-at-the-time consent as informed. Perhaps I misused the term “informed consent,” but this is what I meant. Mistake #2 stands as a mistake, in that people clearly didn’t understand what I was trying to say and that’s a failure of communication on my part.

      The fundamental question at the heart of both our dichotomies is whether Shermer had sex with this person without any consent, or with consent that resulted from self-impaired judgment.

      Moreover, you were not saying [your stand-in for] B was still awful and unethical.

      Directly below the part quoted above, in my first comment on that thread, I wrote, [These distinctions] tell us whether Sherman being a manipulative douchebag or a criminal rapist. I think the term “manipulative douchebag” clearly implies that I regarded either behavior is awful and unethical (I think I reiterated this once or twice later in the thread, too). So cross off Mistake #3.

      You were actually alleging that what this woman was accusing Shermer of was merely regretted drunk sex, as if the only other option was rape, or just that. False. And insulting to victims, again.

      I was not accusing this woman of any such thing. By the point of the comment you’re referring, the discussion (at least the part I was participating in — here’s where threaded comments would be helpful) had meandered into a strictly hypothetical argument about definitions. Specifically, it was a back-and-forth about whether all drunk sex is rape, the same argument you addressed in the current thread on your blog. So I think you can cross off mistake #5.

      At one and only one point I raised the possibility that Shermer’s victim “got drunk of her own accord (including as a result of verbal peer pressure) and then willfully (albeit with impaired judgment) had sex she later regretted after sobering up,” (an attempted description of your Scenario B). I mentioned this not to accuse her of doing this but to establish that PZ’s description of events did not rule this possibility out, and that it would be very useful to PZ to clarify whether Shermer is accused of doing this or something more severe/illegal when touching off a public debate about whether or not Shermer is a rapist.

      Note that my Scenario A is not included in your B [the rape scenario], yet is rape. People kept telling you that. You kept not listening to them.

      To be honest, your specific Scenario A hadn’t even crossed my mind. I never get drunk or hang out with drunk people, so the state you described — barely conscious but unable to understand what’s going on or do anything about it — wasn’t familiar to me. Had anyone expressly raised that possibility (contrary to your assertion, they didn’t), I would have said I consider it to be functionally equivalent to unconsciousness, and to be rape. Also note that your Scenario A involves no consent, impaired or otherwise, and I consistently agreed that sex with no consent is rape. So cross off Mistake #4.

      You never emphasized even that non-rape scenarios are also morally reprehensible and are sufficient warrant for the woman’s stated purpose (to warn other women). Indeed, you consistently acted like if it wasn’t rape, then it was no big deal and she shouldn’t have complained about it.

      As I explained above, my very first comment said those non-rape scenarios are morally wrong, and I’m pretty sure I reiterated that at least a couple times later on. Later on, I got into describing consensual drunken sex scenarios that are “no big deal” as part of a definitional argument (about whether all drunk sex is rape, on which I took the same position you do in this blog post), not implying their specific relevance to Shermer’s accuser.

      Indeed, you even aped the rape apologist’s playbook, almost verbatim: …that’s something people of all genders and orientations have been doing since the dawn of time, or at least the dawn of alcohol, and both parties would bear some responsibility if that were the case.

      Again, this was a reference to drunken trysts/hookups in general, as a counter-argument against the many people who were arguing that all drunk sex is inherently rape. It was not at all directed at Shermer’s accuser, nor suggesting she was responsible for being victimized. That would be very clear if you actually read all the comments again (a chore I would not wish on my worst enemy) — another case of misunderstanding resulting from a wall of 4000+ unthreaded comments.

      As for the “rape apoligist’s playbook,” I seriously had not even heard the term “rape apologist” before this discussion. I didn’t follow this debate before PZ’s bomb. The term itself seems as patently ridiculous as “murder apologist” — who ever takes up apologetics for a major violent felony?

      You didn’t learn it, they got tired of you, and banned you. You should regret not having learned your lesson, not that other people grew weary of you not learning it. Especially rape and assault victims who indeed get offended when people persistently keep saying things like this.

      I certainly learned some things about how carefully one has to talk to this crowd. As I’ve explained here, my comments were consistently trying to support the very same points you made in this blog post. For someone unfamiliar with the feminist lexicon, I don’t think I was too far off from what I was trying to say. However, between unthreaded comments being taken out of context and my apparent use of words or omissions that unexpectedly served as “dog whistles” in this crowd, nobody gave me the benefit of the doubt. Many including you assumed a far more nefarious meaning that I intended.

      Nobody there did what you did in your reply above: Logically and specifically responded to individual points, so I could clarify what I meant in places where you misinterpeted me as a result of my unclear communication or your misreading context (because of unthreaded comments). Your criticisms were specific enough that I can see where you’re coming from, and vice versa. If PZ’s Horde had responded like this, there would be no problem. If I had written my original post as well as you wrote this blog post, there would have at least been less vitriol.

      This is the bottom line: I went in there with the same underlying positions you’ve described here, but without your extensive knowledge of how to talk about these issues. Without anyone providing a clear explanation of what they thought I meant, allowing me to clarify what I actually meant, they assumed the worst launched right into calling me a rape apologist, wannabe rapist, etc. That’s no way for a movement of rational skeptics to behave. There shouldn’t have to be a rhetorical instruction manual for expressing disagreement with these people without being villainized (if it’s even possible).

      Thus, what happened there was, you handled yourself poorly, did not show empathy for victims, did not learn, repeatedly did not correct any of five key mistakes, did not pay attention to what the woman’s stated purpose was, and you didn’t listen to people when they tried to correct you, and when you kept ignoring them, then told you you were annoying them with your terrible and dismissive argumentation (e.g. you should have paid attention to comments like this).

      I did not ignore their comments, except for the requests to shut up… I spent way too long responding to as many comments as possible. I didn’t know until later in the thread who was a victim and who wasn’t, and I did express sympathy for commenters who said they had been victims. The first of those conversations went like this:

      victim: Such-and-such happened to me, how dare you say that’s not rape??
      me: I never said that’s not rape! It clearly is. I’m very sorry to hear that happened to you.
      victim: How dare you imply I need need your sympathy, you evil rape apologist!

      As I explained above, the five mistakes were at most 1-1.5 mistakes, the others being things people assumed about my position as a result of overlooking or misreading the context of various comments. As for the mistake I did make (not communicating Scenarios A and B clearly enough), nobody in that thread provided an opportunity to learn exactly how they misunderstood me. You’re the first person to take a rational step back and respond in a way that clarified all the points of agreement, disagreement, or misunderstanding. Maybe somebody there should have done that rather than immediately branding me a “rape apologist,” accusing me of wanting a “get-out-of-rape free card,” and banning me. Maybe the A+ community should be less intent on finding enemies to attack and more intent on finding common ground with would-be allies.

    • says

      Why couldn’t he [have specified the scenario the allegations concerned]?

      In the article you were supposed to have been commenting on is this:

      I can’t give more details than that, as it would reveal my identity, and I am very scared that he will come after me in some way.

      So PZ had to oblige. She didn’t want to provide enough information for Shermer to identify her (that may change soon; it’s one of the things Shermer has to think about: if he names her, then she can go public with every exact detail–see here).

      Hence this was already explained in the article you were commenting on. So you should have known this.

      It doesn’t require revealing any additional identifying details.

      Only if you assume Shermer has done this a lot (and not just the once).

      Think about that.

      I get that they’re not seeking criminal prosecution, but he knew this was going to touch off an “Is Michael Shermer a rapist?” debate in the skeptic community (see the title of your post).

      That is not the title of my post. My post’s title has three crucial elements:

      Michael Shermer: Rapist or Sleaze? (Unless Box Checked for Other)

      That debate has two components: a) did he do what he’s accused of? and b) is what he’s accused of doing rape? PZ could have negated part b with just a few extra non-identifying words.

      You forgot the third component, which is the point pertaining to the actual conclusion of my article: even if it’s not rape, does that make it okay?

      And this isn’t PZ’s words you are talking about. You are talking about the woman’s own words, written by her, that she asked him to publish. So, no, PZ did not have the choice to “edit” what she said.

      This is a common confusion I’m seeing a lot. Everyone keeps saying “PZ said this.” No. The eyewitness herself said it. You are reading her actual words. (Which is why this is not mere “hearsay,” or a “rumor” or “gossip.” It’s an unnamed source, quoted verbatim.)

      As far as I can tell, you’re saying my “Mistake #1″ was suggesting that it’s important to distinguish between “rapist” or “sleaze.”

      Only after we decide whether to check box for other. Hence the whole first part of my article is about evidence and why I come to the conclusion I do about what may have happened, more probably than not.

      It is strange that you keep forgetting that part.

      They certainly did, but that was because I repeatedly responded to repetitive arguments against me or my viewpoint. It was an ugly conversation. I think much of the drama might have been avoided if FTB had better comment threading.

      Or you were a more sensitive listener. And actually listened to the commenters (especially the ones that responded to you the most calmly and matter-of-factly). And read the article you were commenting on more carefully. And actually tried to be aware that there were actual rape and assault victims and others who had been exploited in that comment thread and reading your comments (since that describes a large percentage of women, and a non-trivial percentage of men, you should always assume that’s the case). And operated with the standing assumption (as you should always do, given what we know now about cognitive biases in human reasoning) that you might have been framing the problem incorrectly (as you were, and as several people pointed out to you).

      And above all, you should have known you were not framing it as I did, but in fact very much in contradiction to my framework, yet you came in here to complain about being attacked for framing it the same way I did. Which means you must not have been reading even my article very carefully.

      This is therefore a recurring problem. That’s a bug in the system. You need to debug the way you approach things. You should run on your brain now all the software updates I just suggested.

      I was attempting to contrast your Scenarios A and B, and I don’t think I was too far off the mark…

      You were completely off the mark, in exactly the way several commenters pointed out (but you kept ignoring), and in exactly the ways I just explained in my last comment. (So go re-read that…I won’t repeat all that.)

      Even now you are refusing to admit that it’s not A+ that was the problem. It was you–and certain behaviors and assumptions you are engaging in that are at fault for what happened to you, and that will cause many other problems and mistakes in your life and thinking if you don’t fix them, so you should really be most concerned to do that. It’s for your own good. And everyone else’s.

      …although I certainly would have chosen my words more carefully if I’d known what response would follow…

      You should have done that after those responses. But you didn’t even do that. See the problem?

      You were not punished for failing to get it right the first time. You were punished for failing to get it right after a dozen tries. You had more chances to miss than an entire baseball team gets in half a game. And the problem is there: why didn’t you correct course, even after so many at-bats? I answered that question in my last comment on this. (Hence go re-read that…I won’t repeat all that.) And in my remark above about the software updates you need to install on your brain.

      Not being familiar with the lingo of this issue at all, some of my comments clearly gave some people the wrong idea. Here’s what I said, slightly more extended: Is the victim saying Shermer tampered with her drink somehow, or just that he encouraged her to get herself really drunk and then took advantage of her lowered inhibitions? When she says she was “not able to consent,” does that mean she was unconscious, or does it mean she was too intoxicated for informed consent?

      Holy crap. Really? You aren’t listening even to me now?

      Please. Please. Seriously, please, please, please…go re-read my previous comment and try as hard as you are humanly capable to see why the above paragraph is exactly what I said was incorrect and nearly the exact opposite of what my article says here. (Hint: every one of your questions is a fallacy of false dichotomy. I explained why in my previous comment. And this is what people in that other thread were trying to explain to you. Over and over again. So it is really embarrassing for you to continue to not get it even here. So please get it. Please.)

      In these two sentences combined, I was asking whether the elements of criminal rape were present — tampering with her drink without her knowledge, or unconsciousness (and I would have classified nominal consciousness with the inability to physically or verbally resist/object in the same category with unconsciousness, if I’d thought of that scenario). That was my stand-in for Scenario A, which I stated would be rape.

      But that is very definitely not my Scenario A. And that is precisely the problem. You were saying (and still are saying, astonishingly) that my Scenario A was not rape. That is what people repeatedly tried telling you. And which I explicitly told you in my last comment. And still you aren’t listening and don’t get it.

      What’s up with that? I’m really scratching my head here. This should be humanly impossible. So why is this happening?

      When I said “encouraged her to get herself drunk and took advantage of her lowered inhibitions,” I was referring to your Scenario B in which the drunk person with lowered inhibitions expressly consents to and actively participates in sex they otherwise would not, and might later consider it rape because after-the-fact they didn’t view their seemingly-enthusiastic-at-the-time consent as informed.

      But what you left out was the part about that scenario still being very bad and still rendering Shermer unsafe and a bit reprehensible and thus warranting this woman’s stated purpose (to warn other women). That’s one of the key points of my article. Others in that other thread kept prodding you on that point as well, and you kept ignoring them as well (rather than acknowledging their point, and clarifying yours).

      The fundamental question at the heart of both our dichotomies is whether Shermer had sex with this person without any consent, or with consent that resulted from self-impaired judgment.

      Incorrect. Merely impaired judgment does not create Scenario B. A third of my article is on exactly that point.

      Impaired judgment only increases responsibility to ensure considered consent, it does not negate considered consent; the failure in B is not accepting that greater responsibility and thus not correctly ensuring considered consent in that case. Which is not anything the woman did. It’s what the celebrity did. That failure is thus entirely theirs.

      That you still don’t seem to get this, even after many people tried explaining it to you and even after I have done so now at least twice, is a bit weird. It’s deeply perplexing me.

      I think the term “manipulative douchebag” clearly implies that I regarded either behavior is awful and unethical (I think I reiterated this once or twice later in the thread, too). So cross off Mistake #3.

      No, you needed to emphasize that, instead you dropped it and stopped even making the point or explaining that it was your point, even after people made clear they were challenging you on whether you were or not. Again, you weren’t listening. You didn’t even seem to grasp the crucial importance of that point to the entire conversation you were in. And that’s a little strange. Again, maybe you realize now that was a huge mistake. But then, that’s my point.

      You were actually alleging that what this woman was accusing Shermer of was merely regretted drunk sex, as if the only other option was rape, or just that. False. And insulting to victims, again.

      I was not accusing this woman of any such thing.

      Yes, you were. If, again, you don’t realize this (even now, after all these people telling you, myself included?), that only makes the mistake worse, and all the more in need of acknowledging.

      Specifically, it was a back-and-forth about whether all drunk sex is rape, the same argument you addressed in the current thread on your blog. So I think you can cross off mistake #5.

      Um, no. The mistake precisely was that you kept thinking (and even saying) that it was all about just “whether all drunk sex is rape,” when (a) you never got correct when it was rape (I explained this to you in my last comment, and have again above in this comment…again) and (b) you treated the whole debate as simply a binary question, rather than discussing the middle category of not rape but still victimizing and unethical (and in need of warning other women about…again the point of her coming forward…your mistake number one, as I said).

      I mentioned this not to accuse her of doing this but to establish that PZ’s description of events did not rule this possibility out, and that it would be very useful to PZ to clarify whether Shermer is accused of doing this or something more severe/illegal when touching off a public debate about whether or not Shermer is a rapist.

      Which gets us back to the first point: PZ could not tell you more, because the witness was unwilling to, for the reasons she stated, and as I explained first thing in this comment.

      Thus, all you can do is assume it was most probably what I describe as Scenario A or Scenario B (which are neither the scenarios you ever described, mistakes you still don’t seem to realize you made), and thus might not be rape but is still reprehensible and worth warning other women about. Which was all she wanted.

      That’s the end of it. Until you know more. But as the concluding lines of my article say, you don’t need to know more, for that conclusion to be reached.

      As for the “rape apoligist’s playbook,” I seriously had not even heard the term “rape apologist” before this discussion. I didn’t follow this debate before PZ’s bomb. The term itself seems as patently ridiculous as “murder apologist” — who ever takes up apologetics for a major violent felony?

      Indeed. That people do it (a lot; sickeningly a lot) is precisely what is meant by “rape culture.” If people engaged in murder apologetics like they do rape apoologetics, we’d be living in a murder culture.

      The point now is, now you know what you didn’t know. Indeed, you should perhaps have googled the term and caught up on what it means and why people were responding to you with it, and what rape apologists do typically say and sound like. (You can still do that now; and then realize what an awful mistake you made in that comment thread and how awful some of your persistent remarks actually look in context.)

      There is even an entry on it at Rational Wiki (Rape apology).

      The Steubenville case even nationalized top five “rape apologetics” editorials (The Top 5 Rape Apologies and Five Easy Steps for Becoming a Rape Apologist). There is even now a depressing Rape Apologetics Bingo Card and a Rape Apologists Style Guide. Your particular remark was in the same category as what got Amy Dickinson called out as inadvertently engaging in rape apologetics a few years ago (for which she eventually sort of apologized, though after trying to deny it with some haughty insensitive arrogance first).

      This is the bottom line: I went in there with the same underlying positions you’ve described here…

      No, you didn’t. I’ve explained, carefully, why this is not the case, and why it’s not being the case is actually the issue here.

      You need to learn that. There is no use continuing any conversation here until you do.

      And you didn’t need some “rhetorical instruction manual” to learn it, you just needed to listen to the people who were talking to you, and be aware that there were victims reading your comments (“attending to context” should be a basic rule everyone understands when they speak; they shouldn’t need a manual to know that) and therefore you should have looked at what you wrote from their perspective before hitting “send” (rather than thinking only of your own aims; empathy = thinking about how other people will feel).

      Those programming fixes need to be run:

      1) You need to be a more sensitive listener.

      2) You need to read the articles you comment on more carefully.

      3) You need to be aware that there are almost always actual victims reading your comments.

      4) You need to operate with the standing assumption that you might be framing the problem incorrectly.

      And these five mistakes needed to be corrected, yet you still aren’t even owning to them (and thus still aren’t learning):

      1) The witness is not seeking a rape prosecution, she is trying to warn women from a specific danger of exploitation (because that is what she said, which relates this to bug number 2 above).

      2) Contrary to what you still keep claiming, you were not contrasting my Scenarios A and B, but building a false dichotomy contrasting merely unconscious/resisted sex (which is not my Scenario A) with all other regretted drunken sex.

      3) Hence you never made any distinction between Scenario B and mere regretted drunken sex (neither factually nor morally), even though several people were voicing exactly that concern about what you kept saying (which relates this to bug number 1 above).

      4) And Scenario A was never even acknowledged to exist by you (even though several people were pointing that out), even though several people were addressing exactly that omission in what you kept saying (which again relates this to bug number 1 above).

      5) You even explicitly said your only non-rape option was “two people willingly get drunk together and have sex they both regret, which neither one of them would have consented to while sober” (hence, merely regretted drunk sex, not my Scenario B) and (unknowingly) engaged in other stock rape apologetic stances, and even though this was pointed out to you, you never acknowledged it or corrected it.

      And worst of all, this kept happening. You kept failing to learn. They gave you chance after chance after chance. And you wore out their patience. And that’s on you, not them.

      That’s what you need to realize. And do something about. In addition to everything else recommended above.

    • setec says

      Holy crap. Really? You aren’t listening even to me now?

      I was quoting my original post from the bomb thread (via italics) prior to explaining what I meant by it, and you seem to think I was stating it anew as opposed to quoting it for purposes of clarification.

      You were saying (and still are saying, astonishingly) that my Scenario A was not rape.

      I am not saying, and never did say, that your Scenario A is not rape. I just re-read your Scenario A for the third time, and it describes someone who (a) never consented, drunkely or otherwise (therefore it’s rape), and (b) was too far inebriated to verbally or physically resist (which I would have classified as functionally equivalent to unconsciousness, and therefore rape, if asked about that specific scenario).

      I’m scratching my head as to why you’re trying so hard to insist that I’m disagreeing with you, when I’m not. My previous reply explained that very clearly. This is the problem with A+. You’re so intent on looking for a fight that you don’t try bother to comprehend what I’ve written before assuming

      But what you left out was the part about that scenario still being very bad and still rendering Shermer unsafe and a bit reprehensible and thus warranting this woman’s stated purpose (to warn other women).

      No, you needed to emphasize that, instead you dropped it and stopped even making the point or explaining that it was your point, even after people made clear they were challenging you on whether you were or not.

      I didn’t leave that out!!! In my first post in the bomb thread I said it makes Shermer a “manipulative douchebag.” In my second post, I called it “sleazy.” After that, the overwhelming majority of responses to my posts were insisting that all drunk sex was by definition non-consensual and therefore rape, and I got into arguing against that by debating various hypotheticals. I did, at one point, refer even to the more innocuous scenario in which a drunk woman initiates sex [and presumably continued to consent throughout] and a man accepts as “dishonorable, sleazy, or unchivalrous, but not rape” on his part. On the next page I said that the right thing to do is for the man to decline sex with a willing drunk woman if he thinks she may regret it, and said (direct quote), “I’m merely suggesting that there’s a difference between ‘not doing the right thing’ and ‘rape.’” Later on, I said, “this question does make a difference in whether Shermer should be judged as a regular jerk or a serious criminal.” And again on that page, “I give Shermer’s victim the benefit of the doubt on her story, while also acknowledging that the OP’s account of events left some doubt as to whether Shermer just sleazily took advantage of someone’s lowered drunken inhibitions or actually forced her to have sex with him. For daring to acknowledge that there’s a difference between the two (both of them being bad, but one significantly worse)…” That’s SIX TIMES on in the original thread that I condemned Scenario B type behavior. What would you have me do, post it as a disclaimer on every single one of my replies? How many reiterations would have been sufficient?

      Impaired judgment only increases responsibility to ensure considered consent, it does not negate considered consent; the failure in B is not accepting that greater responsibility and thus not correctly ensuring considered consent in that case. Which is not anything the woman did. It’s what the celebrity did. That failure is thus entirely theirs.

      I agree with this, and never said otherwise. As explained above, I repeatedly said Scenario B is a very shitty thing for the celebrity to do. That implies it is his failure. This was clear in my original bomb thread posts and my previous post here. How can you say I “don’t get this?”

      Yes, you were. If, again, you don’t realize this (even now, after all these people telling you, myself included?), that only makes the mistake worse, and all the more in need of acknowledging.

      The people “telling me” what I said without paying attention to what I said were and still are wrong. Here’s the relevant part of my first bomb thread post, quotes in italics: “If he tampered with her drink, or if she was unconscious, or if she tried to physically resist and wasn’t able to, he’s a criminal who deserves jail time. But if she got drunk of her own accord (including as a result of verbal peer pressure) and then willfully (albeit with impaired judgment) had sex she later regretted after sobering up…” [now next paragraph quoted] “I’m not saying it’s one or the other, or that I don’t believe the accuser… I just think when a bomb this big is dropped the accuser should be precise about the elements of the crime that determine its severity.

      Here’s the key word: IF. I was pointing out (as I clarified repeatedly) that the scenario described by the accuser and relayed by PZ did not contain enough information to distinguish between these two cases. You and I have a legitimate disagreement about whether a public accusation of a major figure should make that distinction — that’s fine, and I don’t want to ligate it again — but what’s incontrovertibly clear is that I was (a) suggesting that the distinction exists and (b) suggesting that in my opinion the accusers should clarify the accusation, and VERY clearly NOT (c) “accusing” the woman. Noting the existence of a possibility is very different from an accusation (especially when I explicitly reiterate that I’m doing one and not the other). Sometimes, people voice possibilities as a passive-aggressive way of making an accusation, but that’s very clearly NOT what I was doing.

      Also, on the next page, I wrote (again with reference to the fact that I would like to see the possibility ruled out in the accusation): “I’m not saying the victim in this case was willing while she was drunk. That wasn’t specified, and if she says she was not, I’ll believe her.” Also on the next page, “I’m not suggesting this was the case with Shermer and his victim, just arguing the definition.” I continued to be repetitive on this point, because people there (like you) kept misrepresenting what I said.

      This is the problem with A+: You, like the Pharyngula horde, are trying very, very hard to attribute words and opinions to me that don’t even resemble anything I said. At first I thought you were just reading some unintended meaning between the lines: seeing dog whistles in various word choices or omissions that I used out of a simple lack of familiarity. But now it seems you’re maliciously ignoring or misinterpreting everything I actually wrote and arguing against some “generic rape denalist” straw-man who has little in common with my views or statements.

      1) The witness is not seeking a rape prosecution, she is trying to warn women from a specific danger of exploitation (because that is what she said, which relates this to bug number 2 above).

      This is a fair point. I didn’t talk much about that significant purpose for this leak. In fact, I didn’t comment very much on whether dropping this “bomb” was the right thing for PZ to do or not. As PZ admitted, it’s a tough question to wrangle with: whether the public value of a name-specific warning (relative to a generic warning against Shermer’s described tactics) outweighs the fact that an unintended but predictable consequence would be a public discussion about Shermer’s potential criminal culpability, for which the blogosphere hardly seems an appropriate venue.

      2) Contrary to what you still keep claiming, you were not contrasting my Scenarios A and B, but building a false dichotomy contrasting merely unconscious/resisted sex (which is not my Scenario A) with all other regretted drunken sex.

      I think the main contrast we were both making, more broadly, is between rape (Scenario A) and unethical/sleazy-but-not-rape (Scenario B). It’s true that my initial comment differed slightly in detail from your Scenario A, but it was compatible with it, and but if asked about your specific scenario, I would have said that I consider it equivalent to unconsciousness (and therefore rape) from a moral/legal standpoint. I don’t spend enough time thinking about rape to have every variation of every scenario floating around in my head.

      However, I did explicitly state in the original thread that sex without any consent is rape, and as far as I can tell your scenario describes a lack of consent, and therefore would be classified as rape according to that comment. I also clarified later (comment 1063), “If she’s passed out or barely conscious, it’s rape. If she tries to resist verbally or physically and he overcomes her, it’s rape. If he got her drunk against her will, it’s rape. If she willingly got drunk and then willingly participated in sex while drunk, it’s a shitty thing for him to take advantage of, but it’s not rape.” Doesn’t “barely conscious” describe your Scenario A?

      You even explicitly said your only non-rape option was “two people willingly get drunk together and have sex they both regret, which neither one of them would have consented to while sober” (hence, merely regretted drunk sex, not my Scenario B

      Here’s the full quote from comment 790: “I’m also kind of shocked to see so many people saying the latter situation is rape, and here’s a question for those people: What do you call it if two people willingly get drunk together and have sex they both regret, which neither one of them would have consented to while sober? Did they rape each other? Did one of them rape the other, and if so, which one? What if they were both men or both women? What if they both got drunk willingly and had willingly sex but only one of them later regrets it? When does it become rape exactly?” Where did I say that this was the ONLY non-rape option??? This whole quote was a reductio ad absurdum of the notion (argued explicitly by many there) that all regretted drunken sex is rape, nothing more. You’re putting words in my mouth that weren’t there, and that completely change the meaning of what I said, and attacking me based on that changed meaning. This is the kind of bullshit for which A+ has developed a reputation. You’re not looking at what I said, you’re categorizing it as quickly as possible into a pre-existing narrative and ignoring not only the intent behind my words but the words themselves.

      (a) you never got correct when it was rape (I explained this to you in my last comment, and have again above in this comment…again) and (b) you treated the whole debate as simply a binary question, rather than discussing the middle category of not rape but still victimizing and unethical (and in need of warning other women about…again the point of her coming forward…your mistake number one, as I said)

      As explained above, I did get it correct but incomplete. My list of what qualifies as rape was not as thoroughly exhaustive as it could have been, but I never said “everything not on the list is not rape,” and I certainly never said that your specific Scenario A is not rape. I merely said that drunken sex is not always inherently rape.

      Again, I very clearly condemned the unethical non-rape behavior SIX TIMES in the original thread.

      I was one of the only people there arguing against a binary interpretation. The A+ers were the ones pushing a binary viewpoint (“it is rape or it isn’t!!!”), while I was suggesting the possibility that this could have been very unethical behavior but not rape. PZ himself lambasted me for discussing “gray areas.”

      And you didn’t need some “rhetorical instruction manual” to learn it, you just needed to listen to the people who were talking to you

      I did listen. People kept misrepresenting my positions, and I kept clarifying (it got very repetitive), saying many of the exact things you think I didn’t say (and that you say I didn’t listen because I didn’t say them). I condemned Scenario B-like behavior as unethical six times, and continue to say that I didn’t condemn it and that, because I didn’t condemn it, I wasn’t listening. I acknowledged that “barely conscious” (a briefer statement your exact Scenario A) is rape (as well as some other scenarios that weren’t on my initial list), yet you still accuse me of not admitting those thing and of not listening.

      If I listened to all the people talking to me, I would have killed myself. I could not live with actually being all the things they accused me of being. Luckily for my mental health, I’m none of those things. I’m not a rape apologist. I’m not part of rape culture. I sure-as-fuck do not want a “get out of rape free” card for myself, as Caine accused. All these accusations came at me after my first couple posts. It’s hard to be a “sensitive listener” to people who are blatantly misrepresenting everything I say and then accusing me of being the scum of the Earth, but I did still try. I have more patience than most. That’s why most of the skeptic community finds PZ’s Horde intolerable.

    • says

      I am not saying, and never did say, that your Scenario A is not rape.

      I’m stopping this whole conversation right there.

      Yes, you effectively did say that. In that thread. Repeatedly. And that is one of several things that people kept trying to tell you, you kept ignoring them, and they lost patience over. I’ve now explained here repeatedly why what you said was essentially saying that. And you keep ignoring me. And I am losing my patience.

      Until you realize that, there is no point in continuing any conversation with you.

  42. nathanaelnerode says

    “Shermer is a man and I am not aware of Shermer pursuing men. ”

    This was written before reading what Dallas Haugh wrote, I take it?

    • says

      Sure. But then, re-read the first half of my article where I discuss why I didn’t check the box for “other.”

      (BTW, if you want to give money to a millionaire to finance his use of the law to silence people from saying what happened to them, you lose your ability to say you aren’t acting just like naive Catholics donating to the Church to pay for their attempts to silence abuse victims with frivolous defamation suits. Maybe if he presented evidence he couldn’t have done it the analogy would fail. But he hasn’t yet, so it doesn’t yet. If he loses his case, will you ask for your money back?)

  43. Dr. RTFM says

    “Shermer has a habit of getting women drunk and having sex with them” How does Shermer, or for that matter anyone else, accomplish this act? Does he inject alcohol directly into the blood stream? Does he forcibly hold women down and pour alcohol down their throat? I’m just wondering, because if I understand the tenets of feminism correctly, the most basis tenet is that women should be treated as equals to men, and the statement “getting women drunk” implies that somehow women are incapable of controlling their own alcohol intake.

    • says

      First, I said this happens to men, too, since I said “men can also be raped or taken advantage of” this way (so you evidently lose your narrative here…if men are the equals of women, and I said men can be victimized the same way, then I’m being consistent…you are the one who is not).

      Second, I answered your question, at length, in the very article you are quoting. How is it that you can find that quote so as to quote it, but don’t notice the many paragraphs that answer the question you are now asking?

      I can only assume you stopped reading and decided to comment on the article without having finished it. Bad skeptic.

      Now try doing what you should have done in the first place:

      Read my entire discussion after “(2) Getting women drunk with the intent of having sex with them (without first establishing that they are okay with that) is wrong” and “(3) Both principles” and then the paragraph “it’s crucial to note that all she has said she wants to do is warn women” and then read “Scenario B” and everything that comes after that.

      That’s your answer.

  44. Heber says

    Great post! Thanks for taking the time to tease this out; I truly appreciate your effort. However, after reading all the comments, I know I will be the first one to disagree with you on two particular issues. You’d be surprised to know how easy it is to sweep across the spectrum of the decent/polite/overly polite/condescending. Let me take one of your examples:

    You’re sitting at a bar by yourself and you notice an attractive woman sitting at the opposite end. Both perfectly sober. You notice that she constantly glances at you and simpers shyly, and so you decide to come around the bar and sit by her. After having properly introduced yourself and after some small talk you decide to order a bottle of wine. You pour yourself a drink and, as the gentleman that you are, you pour her a drink. Drinks get drunk and so you pour each other another drink, an so on and so forth.

    Your take here is that this is wrong. We shouldn’t keep pouring them drinks lest they get too drunk to consent to anything. This assumes that women can’t make their own decisions. Notice that at any point she can refuse and say no thanks. In my case, I would respond, “are you sure?”. If she says yes, then I’d say “would you like some water?”, etc. My point is, she is a grown woman. She can talk. Women can, and should be allowed to make their own decisions. As long as we, men, are not forcing them to do something they don’t want, women should be able to politely refuse. It becomes a problem only if after refusing, you insist, badger and pester them to the point where they feel genuinely threatened. But insofar as women everything is dealt verbally and both know what each other is willing to do and not do, then no transgression has been committed.

    Then same logic applies to propositioning to random women. If you’re at a bar and you like a woman, there is absolute nothing wrong with approaching her, conversing a little and then simply asking her if she’d like to come back home with you. That’s the purpose of language. She may say yes, though she’ll most likely say no thanks, in which case you simply go away and look elsewhere. Isn’t that one of the principal aspects of a intellectual maturity? We don’t like playing games; we’re past those teenage years. If you like someone, there is nothing wrong with asking.

    Women are not children, they are just as smart, judicious and capable as men, thus we, as men, should not arrogate to ourselves their right to accept or refuse propositions, indecorous though these may seem.

    • says

      (1)

      Your take here is that this is wrong. We shouldn’t keep pouring them drinks lest they get too drunk to consent to anything.

      Huh?

      No, that isn’t my take on it at all.

      Unless you mean “we shouldn’t keep pouring them drinks unless they have our express permission,” but you clearly don’t mean that; or unless you mean “we shouldn’t keep pouring them drinks when they get too drunk to consent to anything,” but that’s clearly not what you mean either. (On both points re-read my article’s points (2) and (3) and pay attention to what they actually say.)

      If we reversed the question, so that you said “my take” was that “if we get them too drunk from pouring them drinks (even with their permission to have done so), i.e. if we keep pouring them drinks and then discover we’ve accidentally gotten them more drunk than we may have wanted, then we should not have sex with them,” then you’d be right. But you didn’t ask your question that right way around.

      If you do get a woman that drunk (no matter how), then, exactly as I actually said, you “should get [her] a chaperone to bed…or…advise [her] to switch to water or non-alcoholic drinks for awhile so [she] can avoid” bad outcomes–including being taken advantage of, as I explain in Scenario B, which is avoidable not by merely not having sex with her, but also by, exactly as I actually said, “ask[ing her]” if it’s what she wants to do and making sure there is a “lead up to test [her] boundaries” and “pauses to determine [her] desires.”

      In other words, act responsibly, and care about her. Don’t just fuck her because you can.

      Thus, you seem not to have read my article, which addresses exactly the point you are asking about, more than once. And it doesn’t say what you just alleged.

      For example, you apparently didn’t read this paragraph:

      The same follows for rape or assault–and not just rape and assault, but non-criminal abuse and exploitation as well. It is not a victim’s responsibility to avoid getting drunk, to avoid drinking too much, to avoid drinking as much as they mistakenly think they are, or to avoid drinking at all. They have a right to get as right bloody drunk as they please. Or as they accidentally end up doing. It doesn’t matter. The keys in the ignition do not excuse the theft of your car. If you take advantage of a woman in such a state, even if she is entirely responsible for putting herself in that state, you are victimizing her, same as a car thief is stealing a car.

      And this sentence:

      Merely drunk women who pursue [sex] are consenting adults.

      And this sentence:

      If you are inebriating a woman (or even if she is inebriating herself), your moral responsibility to her increases. You have an even greater obligation to take even greater care to ensure she consents to anything that then happens, and that means making sure she understands what is happening, and actually approves of it.

      And this paragraph (even though in the article it’s entirely in italics so you wouldn’t miss it):

      Note that I have framed all this from the perspective of men targeting or harming women, because Shermer is a man and I am not aware of Shermer pursuing men. But everything I have just said is just as true when gender roles are reversed, and a man or a woman is targeting or harming men. Because men can also be raped or taken advantage of or made uncomfortable or otherwise harmed if we don’t treat them with the same respect and compassion when pursuing a sexual interest in them.

      (2)

      If you’re at a bar and you like a woman, there is absolute nothing wrong with approaching her, conversing a little and then simply asking her if she’d like to come back home with you.

      Yes, that is wrong. Unless you mean by “conversing a little” more than a few sentences, and instead what I said, which actually is “buil[d a] rapport with [her] and have [some] idea what [she] think[s] or feel about such things” before asking them such things. If you meant the latter, then you again mis-read my article and missed the fact that I said exactly what you did and thus you aren’t disagreeing with me.

      But if you are saying it’s okay to proposition a woman you have not built a rapport with and when you have no idea what they think or feel about such things, then no, you are quite wrong. (Although that is a much smaller sleight than fucking them when they’re drunk without asking or making extra sure it’s what they want because, in their state, they need to consider it longer and with greater care. But being less bad does not make something good.)

      In actual fact, most women do not like the latter scenario. It makes them uncomfortable and they are sick of it happening all the time and want it to stop. If you haven’t learned that, you haven’t been listening to women and don’t know much about what they want.

  45. Grifftastic says

    “And you don’t have to decide which happened, Scenario A or Scenario B, in order to agree with that.”

    In your mind, is Scenario B the best case scenario of what transpired? Because my guess would be most of the people who have problems with the way these accusations have come out, and who criticize PZ’s handling of it, would think that there’s no good reason to think that even something as egregious as Scenario B took place. At this point it’s all hearsay.

    It’s ultimately hard to disagree with any of the points you make in this article. But it’s very easy to disagree with the premises.

    Even if Shermer were a known cheater, even if he had been caught flirting with women in crude ways, even if he was known to manipulate women to drink more than they’d like, this still wouldn’t be enough to assume that he’s at the very least a borderline rapist. At least not for me.

    I can think of a few more plausible scenarios that could have happened that would not conclude with Shermer being a horrible, devious sex offender. It seems your article is directed toward people like me, but your conclusion seems so shortsighted that it’s hard to think it would convince those who don’t already agree with you.

    • says

      In your mind, is Scenario B the best case scenario of what transpired?

      Or equivalent, yes (I do not assume my Scenario B is identical in every detail; and there are plenty of scenarios we could draw that have the same moral status but multiply different content).

      At this point it’s all hearsay.

      First, that’s incorrect. It’s an unnamed source (you are reading her actual words, and she is a known person to the reporter). That’s different from hearsay.

      Second, that’s irrelevant. It is intrinsically improbable that someone would describe merely regretted drunk sex as “coerced me into a position where I could not consent, and then had sex with me.” That’s as unlikely as someone describing their seeing an elephant as “I saw a large cow.” Not logically impossible, but so improbable (given the way people ordinarily speak) that we can rule that out as unlikely (e.g. it won’t affect a preponderance of evidence standard, such as I reference). She almost certainly means at best something equivalent to Scenario B (and possibly something as bad as Scenario A; with some small probability of something even worse, but only small because that would more typically generate a different statement).

      Even if Shermer were a known cheater, even if he had been caught flirting with women in crude ways, even if he was known to manipulate women to drink more than they’d like, this still wouldn’t be enough to assume that he’s at the very least a borderline rapist. At least not for me.

      Then why did you not notice that I said exactly that myself? I have a whole paragraph in my article saying this.

      First, I do not conclude he has more probably than not (note the qualification) victimized at least one women (in a manner either like Scenario A or Scenario B) merely because “Shermer is perhaps a known cheater, and perhaps caught flirting with women in crude ways, and perhaps known to manipulate women to drink more than they’d like,” but because at least one woman has said he “coerced me into a position where I could not consent, and then had sex with me,” and it is very unlikely she would say that if it wasn’t true (the probably of her lying or mispeaking is easily less than 10%, based on all we know about such reporting and the use of the English language in general).

      Second, I also (note the addition) conclude he has more probably than not (note the qualification) behaved unethically toward women (violating my principles (1), (2), and (3); violating none of which entails a rape has occurred, but only something morally wrong has been done). That is not the same thing as being “a horrible, devious sex offender,” it’s simply being an awful man who disregards women’s boundaries, makes them uncomfortable, and sleazily tries to take advantage of them. And the stories that have surfaced so far are enough to convince me that there is a more than 50% chance that’s what he’s been doing.

      That’s not shortsighted. That’s simply an honest conclusion drawn by reasonable inference from the evidence so far available.

      By contrast, notice how illogically you just behaved:

      You falsely believed I reached the first conclusion from the premise you stated, when in fact I did not (you somehow magically forgot what the actual evidence and premises were that I said in my article lead me there, and you even magically forgot the paragraphs in my article that explicitly denied the reasoning you credited to me).

      You then falsely equated my description of his other unethical behavior with being “a horrible, devious sex offender,” then concluding that evidence does not make him “a horrible, devious sex offender,” therefore I have no reason to believe he has engaged in unethical behavior. That is a fallacy called “straw man” (by the fallacy of equivocation, switching “unethical” with “horrible, devious sex offender” between premises and conclusion). I did not argue that other evidence showed he was “a horrible, devious sex offender,” therefore for you to think that is what I argued, means you are not reasoning soundly, and not paying attention to what I have actually argued.

      Thus, it would appear to be “your conclusion” that “seems so shortsighted that it’s hard to think it would convince those who don’t already agree with you.”

      Look in the mirror. Then fix your mistakes. Then reason correctly.

    • Heber says

      I am sorry, sir. You did say that. I didn’t think I would need to quote you, but here it is:

      “It is wrong to keep filling someone’s glass with alcohol without asking them each time if that’s what they want.”

      No, it’s not. My little brother is 6 years old. He loves chocolate bars and will gobble down as many as I give him. It’s really strange, sometimes I think he was born with a bottomless stomach. He’ll keep eating until he vomits. Something similar happens with a certain variety of fish. I’ve heard that if you keep feeding them they’ll just keep eating until their stomaches burst (this may be apocryphal, but you get the point).

      Women aren’t children, let alone fish. As long as you’re not forcing them to drink, there is no need to ask every single time you pour them a glass. IF they don’t want you to keep pouring, they have the ability to say, ‘I’m good, thank you’. To assume that we NEED to ask them every time we pour them a drink I think is condescending.

      Then you dig yourself in a deeper hole:

      “But your responsibility extends even beyond that. Even if they are saying yes when you offer them more, even if in fact you aren’t even supplying them and they are entirely refilling their glass themselves and you have nothing to do with it, you should still care about their welfare and let them know if you think they might be having too much (which means to the point of maybe getting sick or having a hard time walking or grasping what’s going on). ”

      Can you imagine if every time you went to the grocery store for some ice cream, cheetos, butter, or mayonnaise , cashiers were trained to lecture you on the perils of saturated fats? Why don’t they do this? Because no adult person appreciates being nannied, which is what you are evidently enjoining us to do. Should we care about women’s welfare? Of course, that’s not even controversial. How far before that trespasses onto personal autonomy.

    • says

      Women are not six year old children because they are adults that have the ability and the right to be allowed to make their own decisions, not wards you can just irresponsibly stuff without caution or considering whether they consent or if what you are doing is even good for them or what they really want. In other words, that you can be an irresponsible dick to children in no way warrants being one to adult women. And frankly, you shouldn’t be one to children. Or I suppose in your thinking getting kids drunk and raping them is okay as long as they don’t stop you.

      And the perils of saturated fats are not even remotely analogous to the perils of rape (not in degree, not in consequence, not in circumstance, not in any respect whatever).

      Asking people what they want is not being a nanny. It’s being polite. And treating them like autonomous human beings.

      So I have to call bullshit on this.

  46. Chandrese says

    “Enjoyed” seems to be the wrong word to use with regard to the subject of this blog post, so “excellent and well worth the time to read every word” will have to do.

    I’m sincerely impressed. And grateful for the clarity.

    • says

      First, nothing I have mentioned as evidence here is a “rumor” (every single item of evidence comes from a self-described eyewitness).

      Second, Shermer is allowed to defend himself. He has chosen to remain silent, and instigate a lawsuit for defamation (which he might drop, once he realizes what’s going to come out if he presses it).

  47. says

    The conversations about the exact line when it becomes rape really really bother me. It gives rapists a line of argument to excuse what they do, and the fact is that no one should get near that line. If you toe that line you don’t care if you are raping someone or not. If someone really thinks the difference between “I am planning on raping someone” and “I don’t care if I rape someone” is so huge then there is something seriously wrong with their ability to reason. Both things can and do end in rape.

    Nothing in this post talks about meaningful consent vs not. That seems to be the main issue here.

    • says

      The conversations about the exact line when it becomes rape really really bother me. It gives rapists a line of argument to excuse what they do, and the fact is that no one should get near that line.

      That’s not a valid reason to not have conversations about the exact line when it becomes rape. Because the alternative is to leave the line blurry, which is a greater injustice (because laws are unenforcible and ethics inactionable if we cannot even know what constitutes a violation) and helps rapists even more (because they can much more easily exploit a blurry line, and indeed exploit the very fact that it’s blurry, than they can a clear one).

      If you toe that line you don’t care if you are raping someone or not.

      That is a non sequitur.

      First, you can explore that line precisely because you care if you are raping someone or not. Therefore, there is not only one cause for doing so.

      Second, the entire point of my article is that where the line is for rape does not even matter if you care about how you treat other people, since there is a lot of area between where the line between rape and not-rape is, and between where okay and not-okay is, and we shouldn’t want to put ourselves in that zone either (and by “we” here I mean potential perpetrators, not potential victims).

      Nothing in this post talks about meaningful consent vs not.

      Quite a lot is said in my article about meaningful consent. For example (and this is just one example, there are many other discussions of it in my article): “He didn’t ask you. There was no lead up to test your boundaries or pauses to determine your desires.” That logically entails a well-sought consent would be he did ask you and there was lead up to test your boundaries and there were pauses to determine your desires. Likewise testing evidence of coherent thought and understanding of what’s going on. My article speaks about all of that, and more.

  48. wscott says

    Haven’t had time to slog through all the comments, but just wanted to think you for a well-reasoned look at a very difficult subject.

  49. GrzeTor says

    According to your standards – what could MS do to prove is he is innocent? What kind and amount of evidence would be enough for you?

    • says

      There is an infinite array of possible things that would do it (this is like asking an atheist what would convince them a god exists…obviously there are infinitely many answers to that question). It also doesn’t have to be done so decisively…it would be enough for him to create reasonable uncertainty as to whether he did anything wrong (although that would still warrant women being cautious around him, but that shouldn’t worry him if he isn’t victimizing women, exactly as several people have said of themselves already).

      But if we rephrase the question as “what is an example of one sort of thing” that would at least convince me that we can’t be certain Shermer has done anything wrong (i.e. the preponderance of evidence standard, with the probability dropping below 50%), and if we acknowledge that this depends on what happened, then here is an example for each of two possible scenarios (and I will emphasize these are just examples, so don’t pull any of the same apologetics bullshit that Christians do when I give mere “examples” of what would convince me a god exists; there are many other examples, indeed endless numbers I can imagine, many even more decisive that these):

      (1) He would admit publicly (as he apparently has done privately) that he knows which woman is accusing him, and who she is, and what his version of events is (but give the latter only after doing one of the following, to test her claims).

      (2) If he did not have sex with her, then he should ask her to provide all the details of her story (including date, etc.), then provide his alternative account of events, documenting any facts contrary to her account that he can (such as whether he was even there at that time, and who he was with, and whether he was indeed told a formal complain was filed or not, etc.). [He has privately claimed to John Loftus that he has exculpatory information about her...if so, he should produce it.]

      (3) Or if he did have sex with her, then he should ask her to provide all the details of her story (including date, etc.), then provide his alternative account of events, and show concern for why she felt harmed by their encounter and ask what he can do about it.

      (4) He should also publicly address all the other stories out now (either to say they are lies or explain what he thinks really happened or that why he doesn’t think they were wrong).

      If he did all four steps in a believable, consistent way (without being caught in a lie and without acting like an insensitive ass), then my preponderance probability would drop below 50% (unless something else came out, of course, but we’re assuming ceteris paribus).

      Indeed, it would be a tremendous show of good faith that he refused to use a threat of a lawsuit to silence witnesses right out of the gate, but instead attempted to get them to retract publicly using the above procedure, and only sued them when they failed to do that. Which of course he can do only if he can prove they are lying; so if he can’t, the best he can do is leave it as a public uncertainty, and then just do his best to show that this isn’t a recurring pattern, that she is the only one making a claim like this (that will be hard if the other witnesses that have been mentioned come forward, but I’m assuming for the sake of my example that he isn’t guilty and thus there aren’t any), and that the other claims that have been published are just misunderstandings or gaffes he’s willing to apologize for and admit were a bit inappropriate (etc.).

      Just for example.

  50. abc says

    “But the preponderance of evidence (a civil court burden, whereby a claim need only have a better than 50% chance of being true, so even just a 50.1% chance of being true would win a case) is enough for me to conclude that the general picture is probably true”

    Could you please elaborate how you estimated the probability to make the above conclusion?

    At least your method should make it clear, by a numerical calculation, that the probability is not, say, lower than 40%.

    • says

      No, I can argue a fortiori (see Proving History, p. 333, “a fortiori, method of”). I know that whatever calculation I run, the outcome will be above 50%. I do not have to say how far above, because it doesn’t matter for my point.

      But if you wanted to see a specific calculation as an example, if I assume a fortiori that as many as 1 in 4 rape/exploitation allegations of this kind are false (and actually the data suggest it’s less than 1 in 10, so I am well above actual; for comparison, almost all the rape and abuse allegations against Catholic priests are of this kind: uncorroborated eyewitness reports from victims, many of whom seek as much anonymity as they can to avoid being targeted with unsavory tactics), and the evidence presently is 100% as expected on either h or ~h so far, so the posterior probability is 75%, which is well above 50%. If you can adduce any evidence that is less than 100% expected on h (the primary claim is at least minimally true, given all the other evidence of trend and background evidence and so on), let me know. So far I haven’t seen any.

  51. Bobo2 says

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curtis_Publishing_Co._v._Butts

    Holding:
    “Libel damages may be recoverable (in this instance against a news organization) if the injured party is a non-public official; but claimants must demonstrate a reckless lack of professional standards on the part of the organization in examining allegations for reasonable credibility.”

    PZ Myers clearly failed to examine the allegations for reasonable credibility. He is liable. Note also that Minnesota is one of the few states that has criminal defamation laws.

    PZ should be scared.

    • says

      PZ Myers clearly failed to examine the allegations for reasonable credibility.

      His account makes clear he did (what he says, exactly as worded, is factually accurate to the extent of his possible knowledge).

      What is curious is why you think you have evidence that, despite everything he did say and do, he “failed to examine the allegations for reasonable credibility.” I suspect you have extremely bizarre ideas of what constitutes “examining the allegations for reasonable credibility” (as in: impossible to enact). But courts operate on a reasonable person standard. Not an extremely bizarre and impossible to meet standard. No one can be convicted of not doing the impossible. That’s a basic common law principle.

  52. says

    Wow, this is silly. Look at the lengths Carrier has to go to to give credence to these rape accusations circulating around Shermer. Sounds like a William Lane Craig debate. Paragraphs upon paragraphs of trying to logic evidence into existence. Fucking pathetic.

    • says

      You evidently are confused between a philosophical analysis of hypotheticals and general rules, and a conclusion reached about the facts in this case. The article you are commenting on consists of about 90% the former and only 10% of the latter; and the latter does not “logic” any evidence into existence, it draws logically valid inferences from the evidence that already does exist.

      I suspect you are really saying that eyewitness testimony is not evidence. But every court in the universe disagrees with you. Including the court of public opinion. By your contrary perverse logic, I would expect you to be defending the Catholic Church because there is no “evidence” any priest ever molested or raped anyone.

  53. says

    This reminds me so much of Christian apologetics. No evidence, so a lot of excuses and philosophical meanderings.

    If there was sufficient evidence, you wouldn’t have to write so much to prove your point. The evidence would be… self-evident.

    It’s funny seeing people getting worked up over literally nothing.

    • says

      First, my article isn’t about proving what happened. It’s about what the general moral realities are given different hypothetical possibilities. That you can’t tell the difference convicts you of being irrational (or too lazy to actually read the article you are commenting on).

      Second, I don’t think you know what “self-evident” means. Try to explain how any rape in history could ever have been “self-evident” and you’ll see the problem.

      Third, there is plenty of evidence, consisting of eyewitness testimony. I link to it all. My inferences follow logically from that evidence without any meandering.

  54. says

    About alcohol ‘…you have a responsibility not to force it on people or let it harm them when you can intervene to prevent it.’

    I agree totally with this.

    It is the gentleman’s responsibility to see that a lady does not drink too much. If, in his judgement, he thinks she has drunk too much, he should courteously, but firmly, prevent her from drinking more.

    If you can intervene to prevent her drinking too much, it is your responsibility to stop her drinking.

    • says

      I disagree that we should “firmly prevent her” or “stop her” (except in very extreme cases, which I’ve never personally seen but can imagine, albeit with some difficulty). We should make her aware of our observation and our recommendations. But unless she is so inebriated that she is incoherent and thus clearly cannot reason or clearly does not actually grasp what is happening (and that is extremely drunk, not just merely too drunk, and in which case medical intervention makes sense), unless that, it’s still her business what she ultimately chooses to do (and you just have to manage the consequences as responsibly as you can). Same as a man when the roles are reversed.

  55. says

    So, summarising the thesis of this entire argument: if someone is engaging in a sexual activity and they withdraw their consent, it is their responsibility to express that consent has been withdrawn. Sounds good.

    However: it was also the responsibility of the person initiating the sexual activity to obtain consent to begin with. If a person doesn’t get explicit consent to proceed, they can’t defend themselves by protesting that the withdrawal of consent wasn’t explicit enough for them. This ‘consent by participation’ premise is unlawful rubbish.

    The argument that we should look to the law as a guide to morality is also unconvincing. If law were a source of morality we wouldn’t have to keep changing it to resolve unjust situations.

    Lastly, I’m curious: at what point in a person’s life does writing something like this become a priority? Who thinks about all of the potential that a new day offers them and thinks “The most important thing is that I identify and chastise women whom I acknowledge to be victims of sexual misconduct for using the word ‘rape’ when legal minutiae say they shouldn’t”? Of all the things to write, how does that reach the top of the list?

    • says

      it was also the responsibility of the person initiating the sexual activity to obtain consent to begin with.

      That is done in Scenario B. Inadequately, but then that’s the distinction between doing that (and thus avoiding rape) and doing it well (and thus avoiding harm).

      This ‘consent by participation’ premise is unlawful rubbish.

      Based on what law or court case? I think you might need to actually read up on rape law.

      The argument that we should look to the law as a guide to morality is also unconvincing. If law were a source of morality we wouldn’t have to keep changing it to resolve unjust situations.

      Note that I never said the law is a guide to morality. Se my comments on exactly that point upthread, although my position on this was already explicit in the article you are commenting on, where I made exactly the same point you just did, e.g. from the UCMJ fiasco and the difference between California and New Jersey rape law.

      The reason we should include at least a look at law when considering moral reasoning is that a lot of factual, empirical cases have been tried there over centuries (often hundreds, thousands, even millions), and thus a great deal more practical real-world thinking has been done, published, and codified on issues relevant to moral decision-making there, so moral reasoning without looking at the legal history of a question is like doing botany without ever looking at plants.

      Lastly, I’m curious: at what point in a person’s life does writing something like this become a priority? Who thinks about all of the potential that a new day offers them and thinks “The most important thing is that I identify and chastise women whom I acknowledge to be victims of sexual misconduct for using the word ‘rape’ when legal minutiae say they shouldn’t”? Of all the things to write, how does that reach the top of the list?

      Your comment seems to be confused. I am addressing the very people (and there are tons of them online…hundreds…some have even commented in this thread) who are effectively saying “The most important thing is that I identify and chastise women whom I acknowledge to be victims of sexual misconduct for using the word ‘rape’ when legal minutiae say they shouldn’t.”

      You seem to imply I am the one saying that, when in fact my article is a response to the people saying that (and things like that).

      Maybe I misunderstood your question.

      If you meant it the right way around, and are thus asking what has become of society that so many people keep saying things like that, sadly necessitating articles like mine, then you are framing the question the wrong way. This isn’t something society has come to. This has been the way society is since time immemorial. What’s changing is that more and more people are now trying to change society in exactly that respect.

      In that light, what society has come to is a greater state of enlightenment such that we are now at least having these conversations in public. It can be disheartening that that means we still have a long way to go. And it seems odd to look at a fucked up situation and call it progress. But as fucked up as things are now, overall they are not as fucked up as they were. And in twenty or fifty years time, they’ll be saying the same of us.

    • says

      That is done in Scenario B. Inadequately, but then that’s the distinction between doing that (and thus avoiding rape) and doing it well (and thus avoiding harm).

      Consent is not on a dimmer switch. You have it or you don’t. There is no such thing as ‘inadequate consent’ that somehow isn’t rape. Your insistence that coercing someone (through the use of capacity-diminishing drugs and then just flatly not asking) into allowing you to engage in sexual activity is somehow not rape is exactly what’s wrong with this entire post.

      Your comment seems to be confused. I am addressing the very people (and there are tons of them online…hundreds…some have even commented in this thread) who are effectively saying “The most important thing is that I identify and chastise women whom I acknowledge to be victims of sexual misconduct for using the word ‘rape’ when legal minutiae say they shouldn’t.”

      You seem to imply I am the one saying that, when in fact my article is a response to the people saying that (and things like that).

      I am not confused. The entire purpose of your ‘Scenario B’ musing is to tell a person (and lest we wander too far into the abstract, let’s not forget that we are talking about–and your post is lecturing–an actual person to whom these events actually happened) that, despite her assertion that she was raped, she shouldn’t use the word ‘rape’ because you are convinced that ‘consent by participation’ is a valid concept. (Speaking of which, it’s not on me to prove that assertion wrong, it’s on you to prove that it’s valid, since you’re the one making it. When you do so, make sure to take into account variations in jurisdictional laws. You may be surprised to find that even your most detailed legal arguments are not universally applicable.)

      As an additional note, may I add that I find it fascinating that you have asserted in this thread (while discussing proposition etiquette, which we need not delve into further here) that you have authority in your positions based on having listened to women and their viewpoints. Does it concern you if every woman I know who has read this post (I’ve discussed it with perhaps a dozen so far) has come to the conclusion that you are (unintentionally, they hope) apologising for and promoting the cultural narratives that assist rapists in avoiding legal repercussions? If so, do you think you might need to take a longer look at exactly what you’ve said and consider whether they might have a point, even if none of it is in Latin?

    • says

      There is no such thing as ‘inadequate consent’ that somehow isn’t rape.

      In the law, there is. And for the reasons I’ve explained.

      There is getting consent. And there is making sure it’s well-considered consent. The distinction exists everywhere (e.g. a con man can get your consent for something, and thus legally steal some of your money; that’s enough consent for the law and for the corresponding measure of moral extremity [the difference between criminal immorality and mere immorality], but it doesn’t make what he did moral or okay).

      You are having a hard time telling the difference between rape and not-rape and moral and not-moral. You think the line is magically drawn in exactly the same place. It isn’t. There are plenty of sexually immoral scenarios that are not rape. And you need to grasp why that is.

      When you do so, make sure to take into account variations in jurisdictional laws.

      Um, you did notice that in my article I even make a specific point of that, yes? And even discussed its relevance in general. In fact, that’s, like, a quarter of my whole article.

      I’m starting to feel like you are trolling me.

      …an actual person to whom these events actually happened) that, despite her assertion that she was raped, she shouldn’t use the word ‘rape’ because you are convinced that ‘consent by participation’ is a valid concept.

      Notice that I never made that argument. Nowhere in my article do I say “she shouldb’t use the word ‘rape’.” For any reason at all, much less that one. The question of what words people “should” use and when is a wholly different kind of debate than any I attempt to resolve in my article. My article is about what I think a reasonable person should conclude and why (and that whether you call it rape or not is irrelevant). That’s not the argument you are now attributing to me.

      Does it concern you if every woman I know who has read this post (I’ve discussed it with perhaps a dozen so far) has come to the conclusion that you are (unintentionally, they hope) apologising for and promoting the cultural narratives that assist rapists in avoiding legal repercussions? I

      There are already women commenting in this thread who do not corroborate your generalization. Likewise in my Facebook thread on this article. In fact, nearly every woman who has commented on it, anywhere that I have seen, has not said what you claim. So I am beginning to suspect you are either making this up, or you have a very unusual and biased sample of women you are querying.

    • depizan says

      So she can use the word rape, even though you clearly state that it isn’t rape (because you are the Lord High Arbiter of What Is Rape, apparently, even though there are people, laws, and organizations that disagree with you). How… magnanimous of you.

      Perhaps it would help if you’d defined your terms at some point, since I can’t be the only one wonder exactly what you define rape as, as well as what you define Scenario B as. Though my interest in your answers is vanishing as you repeatedly dismiss those who disagree with you, engage in lovely victim blaming, and post responses that seem to state that you think arousal equals consent.

      I sure as hell wouldn’t have drinks with you.

      Also, to your friends who’ve been raped: I’m so sorry this asshat tried to convince you it wasn’t rape.

    • says

      So she can use the word rape, even though you clearly state that it isn’t rape (because you are the Lord High Arbiter of What Is Rape, apparently, even though there are people, laws, and organizations that disagree with you).

      What laws disagree with me? Please cite some. That would at least be a useful example. I already cited several. So if you have contrary examples, they should be presented.

      And please read my article. You seem now to have either not done that or to have forgotten what’s in it. For example, it is perverse to say I am claiming to be Lord High Arbiter of What Is Rape when I said this:

      Thus look at what she said happened: she claims Shermer “coerced” her “into a position where I could not consent” and then had sex with her. She has not said what form of coercion was used (and thus no accusation has been made yet that he used physical force) and what counts as coercion can be sufficiently subjective that it would be all but impossible for Shermer to prove he didn’t coerce her…in whatever sense she means. Likewise, what she considers being unable to consent can be sufficiently subjective that it would be all but impossible for Shermer to prove she could consent…in whatever sense she means.

      I actually don’t know what details lie behind “coerced” and “could not consent.” And neither do you. Rather, the point I am making is that in one still important respect it doesn’t matter.

      And the based merely my own understanding of rape on an analysis of several state laws and discussions of them by legal experts.

      Perhaps it would help if you’d defined your terms at some point

      I did. I even discussed the formal definitions of terms in the law and linked to the legal analyses I was basing those discussions on. I’m starting to think you didn’t actually read my article. Or you forgot half its contents already.

      Though my interest in your answers is vanishing as you repeatedly dismiss those who disagree with you, engage in lovely victim blaming, and post responses that seem to state that you think arousal equals consent.

      It is amusing to see someone characterize “not agreeing with you” and “arguing against you” with facts and logic and references as “dismissing you.” I don’t think you know what the latter phrase means.

      I also don’t know what you can imagine is victim blaming in my article. I’ve repeatedly demonstrated, with quotations, that I do the exact opposite even with Scenario B. You are the one who keeps dismissing me…by not even listening to anything I say or paying attention to the content of my article–the very article you claim to be commenting on.

      And nice try, but you won’t get away with lying about me here. Nowhere–and I mean fucking nowhere–in this comment thread or in my article, do I equate mere “arousal” with consent.

      That you think I do proves you are incapable of reading a sentence and grasping its content.

      I sure as hell wouldn’t have drinks with you.

      Oh, yes, please don’t. You’re not a rational person. Stay a hundred feet from me at all times.

    • depizan says

      Also, Dick, this statement “every woman I know who has read this post (I’ve discussed it with perhaps a dozen so far) has come to the conclusion that you are (unintentionally, they hope) apologising for and promoting the cultural narratives that assist rapists in avoiding legal repercussions” is not a fucking generalization. It is a flat out statement of fact. I’ve been there for at least some of the discussions in question.

      Perhaps the women Will knows are unusual and biased (What are you even claiming here? I hope its not that people who’ve experienced Scenario B might “wrongly” think it’s rape.), but I’d hardly think that your Facebook followers are unbiased.

    • says

      What are you even claiming here? I hope its not that people who’ve experienced Scenario B might “wrongly” think it’s rape

      If by any definition under the law (any law I know), then yes, they are wrong.

      If by any definition based on a reasonable analysis from how we morally define rape under modern laws generally, then yes, they are wrong.

      If by some other definition, then maybe not. I made no claims beyond the above two. My article is written to people who share that conclusion. Those who don’t, don’t need my article.

      I’ll reiterate what I said in the article:

      Thus look at what she said happened: she claims Shermer “coerced” her “into a position where I could not consent” and then had sex with her. She has not said what form of coercion was used (and thus no accusation has been made yet that he used physical force) and what counts as coercion can be sufficiently subjective that it would be all but impossible for Shermer to prove he didn’t coerce her…in whatever sense she means. Likewise, what she considers being unable to consent can be sufficiently subjective that it would be all but impossible for Shermer to prove she could consent…in whatever sense she means.

      I actually don’t know what details lie behind “coerced” and “could not consent.” And neither do you. Rather, the point I am making is that in one still important respect it doesn’t matter.

      Knowing that even just Scenario B happened would be sufficient warrant for women who don’t want that to happen to themselves to not drink with Michael Shermer, and to drink instead with men they can trust, men who won’t take advantage of them or attempt to trick them into sex they don’t want by plying them with alcohol, men who respect them enough to think that even trying to do that would be appalling, an outright embarrassment to their gender.

      And women who might not want that to happen to them, who want to know what sort of men they can and can’t trust, deserve to be made aware of that. And that is exactly what this witness did. No more. No less.

      That’s the bottom line. Why you are obsessed with semantics that miss the entire point, I don’t know. What sound you utter to refer to what happened is irrelevant to whether someone was victimized and it was wrong. That’s the entire argument of the last section of my article.

      If you don’t grasp that, then you have a serious reading comprehension problem.

  56. fluffy says

    Note: written, after much hesitation, on an iPhone. Take all errors as a consequence of IOS working with autocorrect and a very long comment thread.

    Richard, please reconsider scenario B. B is extremely academic and unrealistic. The person is intoxicated to the edge of being unable to consent, but you describe her as being still able to consent because it suits your argument. You also have her not changing her behavior despite changing her mind, which cannot even be explained by her intoxication because she is still sober enough to act rationally – barely – by author’s fiat. Here are the problems with that: 1. The person is raped. Perhaps not on your “objective” terms, but to the person herself. She remembers withdrawing consent / changing her mind but the intercourse continuing. She feels like a rape victim. And you tell her: no. You weren’t raped. That is at least condescending, if not rape apologia. Keep in mind that this is not rape – according to you – based on a technicality you yourself invented

    2. There is no way at all for the perpetrator in B to know that the person is drunk, but still able to consent. That perpetrator does not have the magical Richard Carrier mind reading machine. To him, the drunk person. Acts just like, or almost jus like someone unable to consent. So what you do then is NOT – and I want to emphasize that – it is NOT blaming the perpetrator for not being diligent enough and asking A barely conscious person wether they can even consent. It is NOT taking he perpetrator to task for even going through with “sex”. No, you are putting the blame on the barely able to consent drunk person.

    In essence, you are shifting the blame from the perpetrator to the victim. The victim feels raped, but she just barely did not have enough to drink for being unable to consent, and she just so did not communicate her lack of consent clearly enough. On the other hand, the perpetrator had no way of knowing whether the drunk could even consent, and did obviously not check whether she changed her mind – in other words, he did not ask for enthusiastic consent diligently enough. But the perpetrator is still fine, if sleazy.

    3. This narrative is in line with typical rape apologia which says that men just can’t tell whether a woman is not into it, that drinking and having sex is their fault, that rape claims are just claims of sex regretted the day after. People know whether someone is into sex. It is not like your mythical scenario where withdrawn consent is still enthusiastic behavior. But your scenario supports that rape myth.

    It is not a drunk persons fault if they end up an a sexual encounter that don’t want. But your scenario makes it the persons fault for not being clear enough.

    Rape claims are not just drunk sex regretted. But here you construct a scenario that ends up with a person feeling raped and you emphatically denying the rape.

    4. The language you use can be read as you addressing someone directly. So you may end up actually telling people who (feel like they) were raped while intoxicated that no, they weren’t quite drunk enough and they did not communicated clearly enough and as a result, they were not raped.

    All of which to uphold some notion of sex-positivity and a way out for Shermer to just be a sleaze. Or something.

    Scenario B grosses me out to no end. I can’t begin to describe to you how I feel about that, though I tried my best above. I hope you will consider that while maybe B passes on a technicality (see the bile rise in my throat at that word) and thus may not be such, it still reads and feels like rape apologia where the rapist also goes free on a technicality – or rather, on a judge’s decision that the victim wasn’t “that” drunk and still in control.

    Yes means yes. It is your job to ascertain consent.

    Now, back to lurking

    • says

      B is extremely academic and unrealistic.

      Given that I know actual people it has happened to, your denial of it is unrealistic.

      She feels like a rape victim. And you tell her: no. You weren’t raped. That is at least condescending, if not rape apologia. Keep in mind that this is not rape – according to you – based on a technicality you yourself invented.

      No, it’s the law. Not my invention.

      The question would be whether the law is as it should be (and thus should we morally consider B rape even though it legally isn’t). And there is sound legal reasoning to conclude it is (and thus it is not even morally rape). See my comment on scienter above.

      What you are doing is falsely assuming that if it isn’t rape, then it’s morally okay and thus can’t be condemned. Which I explain is very much not the case.

      There is no way at all for the perpetrator in B to know that the person is drunk, but still able to consent.

      False. Compare A to B. Line by line. In B, sufficient evidence of coherent thought and understanding of circumstances is observed, and active participation in all sexual acts is clear and unambiguous.

      Perhaps you mean to distinguish consent (such as relates to the law, actually and normatively) from well-considered consent. But only the former defines rape. The latter defines moral and immoral conduct just this side of rape.

      The victim feels raped, but she just barely did not have enough to drink for being unable to consent, and she just so did not communicate her lack of consent clearly enough.

      That is conspicuously not Scenario B.

      So you are getting even what I said wrong. You are talking about some other Scenario that I did not describe (or else confusing Scenario A as Scenario B).

      In essence, you are shifting the blame from the perpetrator to the victim.

      Notice how you illogically conflate “blame” with “rape.” Quite conspicuously and explicitly, in Scenario B I place the blame on the perpetrator, not the victim. If you missed that, go back and re-read what I said in the article.

      The difference between B and A is not who is to blame (in neither case is the victim to blame). The difference is what objectively happened (i.e. which moral offense the perpetrator committed against the victim…not all immoral sexual acts are rape).

      This narrative is in line with typical rape apologia which says that men just can’t tell whether a woman is not into it, that drinking and having sex is their fault, that rape claims are just claims of sex regretted the day after.

      False. Scenario A refutes that apologetic. And Scenario B is not such a scenario (because in B, a man can tell whether the woman is into it, and she clearly indicates that she is).

      To think that all “rape claims” are “just” claims of sex regretted the day after is to ignore Scenario A (as well as everything on the worse side of that). Thus, only someone who ignored half my article could come away with that notion.

      Moreover, to think that even Scenario B is “just sex regretted the day after” is to completely ignore the significant elements of B (in which the regret is more than regret, and occurs immediately, not the day after, and in which the fault is clearly on the perpetrator for violating the victim; that the violation does not rise to the level of rape does not make it not a violation, nor make it merely something regretted later, but something that actually causes real harm, and is wrong…thus, “just sex regretted the day after” is a wholly separate third category I didn’t even discuss).

      Scenario B grosses me out to no end.

      Me as well. As you should know, if you actually read my article (I’m wondering if perhaps you didn’t). I’ll quote it just to be clear:

      You were still taken advantage of. You were still abused and mistreated. And your happiness was still damaged and disregarded. Even if that is all Shermer did, even if what happened was Scenario B (and I am not even saying it was, only if it was), then he still took advantage of a woman and destroyed a human being’s happiness.

      In other words, it’s despicable. Even if it’s not rape.

      That’s what I said. And you really need to grasp the point.

      Because…

      Yes means yes. It is your job to ascertain consent.

      …is exactly what I also said, about the same scenario.

      Thus, that you thought I said something else, suggests you aren’t paying attention.

  57. Zacattack says

    It seems to me that communicating an unwillingness to meet commitments to the person to whom the commitment is made and then dealing with that is normally more ethical than just willfully ignoring the commitment while lying about it. This assumes (as your 2nd paragraph seems to) that we’re talking about someone who hasn’t “fallen off the wagon” so much as decided the wagon isn’t worth riding anymore, yet is deceiving their partner into thinking they’re still on board.

    But we’re getting into quibbling details and in broad strokes I think we basically agree. Thanks for engaging.

    • says

      It seems to me that communicating an unwillingness to meet commitments to the person to whom the commitment is made and then dealing with that is normally more ethical…

      Absolutely. That is, in fact, the best of all possible worlds.

      Most people just don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. And we should be willing to be more forgiving because of that.

  58. Thomas22 says

    It seems that a lot of people think scenario B was rape, perhaps a third of the commenters. If they are wrong to think this then it raises a difficult question. If Michael Shermer had scenario B sex a hundred times then thirty of the people with whom he had sex might think that what happened was rape even though it wasn’t. Therefore there would be thirty potential false allegations of rape.

    • says

      Perhaps if by “false” you mean “with respect to the law” or “with respect to the definition of rape explored here.”

      But that would miss the whole point of my article. It doesn’t matter whether it was rape or not, by any definition. It’s sleazy and morally damnable. “If Michael Shermer had scenario B sex a hundred times” then women should indeed be warned away from him, exactly as this woman said was her sole aim in coming forward.

      P.S. Also, mathematically, your conclusion “there would be thirty potential false allegations of rape” would only be true if Shermer committed actual rape sixty times. One should thus be careful of attempting to make some sort of faulty point with mathematics. The Math will always screw your pooch.

  59. Thomas22 says

    Your conclusion would only follow if you assume that Shermer is as likely to have scenario A sex as he is to have scenario B sex. If we assume that he only has scenario B sex then there could be a large number of false rape allegations and no genuine allegations.

  60. Thomas22 says

    My mistake for not spotting your mistake straightaway. Of course, the error rate in interpreting scenario B tells you nothing at all aobut the ratio between scenario A and scenario B. So the idea that thirty false allegations of rape implies sixty real rapes is completely wrong.

    • says

      Oh, now I see what you were arguing. I mistook you. Sorry about that. I thought you were trying to argue something relevant here, but I see now that you were not. And that confused me.

      Yes, certainly, if all you mean by “false rape allegation” is someone calling Scenario B rape, then sure. But that would then miss the point of my article entirely (which is why I did not imagine this is what you were saying). Whether B “is” rape or not is irrelevant to the conclusion of my article. Indeed, that it is irrelevant is precisely the whole point of that last section of my article. So if you don’t understand that, re-read it. Now.

      Instead, I now must assume you meant that the rate of false rape allegations in actual courts of law (which is again not relevant here, because no such charge has been filed) would reflect this (admittedly nonscientific) one third rate of error in understanding what the legal definition of rape is.

      But that doesn’t follow, because those kinds of charges wouldn’t even be recorded statistically (if some event is reported that is not rape under the law, no one says a false charge of rape was made; that only occurs when someone says something happened that does meet the definition of rape under the law, and thus actually gets filed as a charge of rape, which then turns out to be actually false).

      So I don’t know what your point was. You can’t have been making a point about the recorded statistics and estimates of false rape allegations under the law (that would be illogical). And you can’t have been making a point about Scenario B being morally acceptable (that would ignore the whole entire argument of my article).

      So…what was your point again?

  61. Antonio says

    I fully agree with your moral judgement of the possible narratives behind this warning/allegation. Having been in relationships with victims of rape and child abuse, and having been in a situation where it was not possible to make an allegation public because of the implications for the victim, I am constantly infuriated by the egocentric and methodic behavior that too many people show in the pursuit of their sex drive, and by how little they reflect on the consequences, may they be smaller or bigger ones.

    In this individual case, however, I still have a problem which I haven’t yet been able to fully express rationally. I feel uncomfortable at the idea that such “bomb” posts ought to be an accepted and common way to publicly warn others about suspicious persons. To me, as an outsider, this particular post just does not give, in itself, enough evidence to justify a judgement about Schermer’s character. Further evidence, in form of further stories, is scattered throughout many blogs, and hard to gather and assess. I just think that PZ Meyers could and should have done a better job in presenting the situation.

    Another way, that would have avoided the public shitstorm and still improved the situation,would have been to give the alleged perpetrator a private warning to stop his behavior and that, otherwise, stories about him would be made public. I don’t know if this happened, as I don’t no many other things.

    • says

      I feel uncomfortable at the idea that such “bomb” posts ought to be an accepted and common way to publicly warn others about suspicious persons.

      Note that I made no judgment about that in my article.

      That would be a wholly different discussion.

      Further evidence, in form of further stories, is scattered throughout many blogs, and hard to gather and assess.

      Not hard to gather. It’s already gathered (I linked in fact to where: the timeline).

      …this particular post just does not give, in itself, enough evidence to justify a judgement about Schermer’s character.

      I agree. If there hadn’t been years of rumors of sleazy conduct on his part and now many of those coming out from the actual original witnesses, then a lone accusation would be at least somewhat questionable (maybe 50/50)…except for how he is handling it. Contrast how Avicenna handled a false rape accusation against him just recently (by people trying to discredit this accusation against Shermer, by fabricating their own false one).

      If PZ’s post had been directed at me, my first and immediate concern would be to know what exactly is being said to have happened, and I would contact PZ personally to ask him to have the witness bring out more details so I could defend myself, and then I would publicly do so (and not just file a lawsuit…that would literally be the last resort; it tends to be the first resort of the guilty). I would also get the report that was filed on me from the venue in question and publish and address it. And assuming I had lots of trysts (as Shermer appears to do), I would be very concerned about possibly having harmed someone and would want to know what exactly I did wrong in her case, if anything. And I would endeavor to open a more public conversation about that and find out what exactly is being claimed and how much it aligns with my own memory of the event (or, if I could prove I wasn’t even there at the time, I would do that, obviously). Indeed, Shermer has claimed to John Loftus that he either knows exactly who this is and what incident it is about, or that there are a number of possible women and incidents it could be about (depending on which communication from Shermer to Loftus you trust the more; neither makes him look good). If I had that information, I’d go public with it and discuss it right away.

      Shermer didn’t engage in any of this behavior. He has made no public attempt to answer the charge or find out and bring out more details about it; he has shown no concern for the woman he may have harmed; he has shown no interest in publicly investigating the details and bringing them to light (e.g. getting the original report that was filed published…possibly it was never written down, but then that would be what he should reveal, and then report what those who took the report can remember of the event, and so on). Instead, he has simply tried to quash the claim with legal muscle (even though that manifestly failed) and not address it publicly at all. That makes him look a great deal worse.

  62. antialiasis says

    Richard, I don’t really understand why you’re bringing up scenario B as a possibility with regards to the Shermer case. As I understand your position, you believe the scenario you wrote out constitutes the woman consenting, and thus being able to consent, but Shermer’s accuser explicitly said even in the initial report that he coerced her into a position where she could not consent, not could not withdraw consent or could not give well-considered consent. If you think she may have been exaggerating her degree of incapacitation to make what happened sound worse than it was, or whatever, please own up to that instead of elaborately concocting a scenario B where she wasn’t really raped (even if you make a point of it still being wrong) and saying her description is just as compatible with that.

    That being said, I also strongly disagree with your assertion that scenario B, as written, doesn’t constitute rape. You could in theory argue that this situation could happen with the man genuinely having no conception that he was raping her, but given he seemingly deliberately keeps filling her glass until she’s barely aware where she is and initiates the act completely without any warning or preparation – there’s explicitly no testing the waters to see if she responds positively, he just does it and she in her drunken state responds positively before even remembering that he never asked. You say that ‘Under California law, according to state jury instructions, “the level of intoxication and the resulting mental impairment” must be “so great that the alleged victim could no longer exercise reasonable judgment.”’ Well, as you write scenario B, it seems manifestly clear to me that she is completely incapable of exercising reasonable judgement. She’s struggling to remember where he’s even taking her when he takes her back to her room. It’s possible, since my judgement of this is affected by my being privy to her thought processes, that a person observing her in that state from the outside could underestimate how drunk she is. But this man himself deliberately got her to that point before trying to have sex with her, in the hope that this would make her unable to say no to him, and then starts “kissing and fondling” her with no warning or build-up. It would be difficult to legally prove that he deliberately got her that drunk and wanted her to be unable to say no, but given that he did, as it strongly seems in your scenario, can you really morally call it not rape? At least judging from your comments, your distinction between ‘morally rape’ and ‘not morally rape (but still awful)’ is based on scienter, and the man in scenario B’s actions indicate that he is perfectly aware she’s probably unable to refuse him – indeed, that seems to be the point of his actions.

    You could make up a scenario B where I’d agree that it’s shitty but not quite morally equivalent to rape, but I don’t think this is true for your scenario. The fact that you felt the need to bring up scenario B as something that might have happened in the Shermer case and argue at length that it doesn’t count as rape does, indeed, sound disturbingly like rape apologia (yes, even if you’re supposedly raising it to argue that it would still be sleazy) – I know that’s not the point you were trying to make with it, but your apparent obliviousness to how it could be construed that way is bizarre. Do you really not see how suggesting this woman may just have been drunk and consented but regretted it afterwards, so it’s just sleazy and not rape, sounds a lot like typical rape apologia?

    • says

      Richard, I don’t really understand why you’re bringing up scenario B as a possibility with regards to the Shermer case. As I understand your position, you believe the scenario you wrote out constitutes the woman consenting, and thus being able to consent, but Shermer’s accuser explicitly said even in the initial report that he coerced her into a position where she could not consent, not could not withdraw consent or could not give well-considered consent.

      You should read the article you are commenting on. It actually answers your question.

      I’ll highlight some of the passages for you:

      Thus look at what she said happened: she claims Shermer “coerced” her “into a position where I could not consent” and then had sex with her. She has not said what form of coercion was used (and thus no accusation has been made yet that he used physical force) and what counts as coercion can be sufficiently subjective that it would be all but impossible for Shermer to prove he didn’t coerce her…in whatever sense she means. Likewise, what she considers being unable to consent can be sufficiently subjective that it would be all but impossible for Shermer to prove she could consent…in whatever sense she means.

      I actually don’t know what details lie behind “coerced” and “could not consent.” And neither do you. Rather, the point I am making is that in one still important respect it doesn’t matter.

      Knowing that even just Scenario B happened would be sufficient warrant for women who don’t want that to happen to themselves to not drink with Michael Shermer, and to drink instead with men they can trust, men who won’t take advantage of them or attempt to trick them into sex they don’t want by plying them with alcohol, men who respect them enough to think that even trying to do that would be appalling, an outright embarrassment to their gender.

      And women who might not want that to happen to them, who want to know what sort of men they can and can’t trust, deserve to be made aware of that. And that is exactly what this witness did. No more. No less.

      So…can you grasp now why I brought up Scenario B, and for whom?

      If you think she may have been exaggerating…

      Here’s a fun game for you. Search the word “exaggerating” in my article. Read the sentence it hits.

      That being said, I also strongly disagree with your assertion that scenario B, as written, doesn’t constitute rape.

      Then you disagree with the law, everywhere.

      Which would be fair enough–if you admit that’s what you are doing, and that what you mean is that you want laws changed to reflect your actual moral concern.

      But you might find the legal system has already wrestled with these questions and found that what you might want written into the law would violate basic common law principles (for example, see my discussion in comments here of the role of scienter).

      Or maybe not. But what we’d be doing at that point (assuming you found a better definition of rape that the law should adopt that doesn’t run aground on common principles of justice) is reworking where we should draw the line between rape and not rape in moral rather than (presently) legal terms. And even assuming we came to agree the line goes somewhere else, we still have the problem Scenario B was designed to address: the fact that the line between rape and not rape is not the same line as between moral and immoral. You will then have to address the zone in between (of that which is not rape but still immoral, and thus worth warning people off).

      You can’t avoid doing that, by simply trying to define rape differently. That’s why trying to do that is missing the entire point of my article, and the entire role of its conclusion.

      Well, as you write scenario B, it seems manifestly clear to me that she is completely incapable of exercising reasonable judgement.

      Not as would match jury instructions, even in California. You are engaging in rank hyperbole here, in fact. Honestly. “Completely” incapable? That’s an insult to people who actually are completely incapable. It’s hard to take you as being sincere here. But to be charitable I will assume you just slipped and didn’t realize the absurdity of the way you just worded this.

      She’s struggling to remember where he’s even taking her when he takes her back to her room.

      That is not “complete” incapacity. It is diminished capacity. Not at all the same thing. Not even close. Morally or legally.

      Compare:

      A: At first you aren’t even sure it was your room he took you to.

      B: You struggle to concentrate on where he is even taking you.

      Nowhere in B is there a “struggling to remember.” Changing the word might change the Scenario. But let’s stick to the words I used, okay?

      That I have to concentrate on something does not make me incapable of understanding it or making decisions about it. It might make it harder for me to do so (the whole point of my article’s discussion of our increased responsibility with the inebriated) but it doesn’t take away my ability to do so.

      That is an absolutely crucial distinction.

      It is the very distinction that makes the difference between rape in the law; and I argue (at length in the article) that it should be the distinction that makes the difference morally. Otherwise we start to erase the value of “rape” as a word.

      But that it is not rape does not mean it is not victimization, and morally wrong.

      And you seem to be having a hard time grasping that.

      It would be difficult to legally prove that he deliberately got her that drunk and wanted her to be unable to say no, but given that he did, as it strongly seems in your scenario, can you really morally call it not rape?

      I call it wrong. Very wrong. I just do not call it rape.

      And again, even if you disagree on the trivia of the semantic point of what kinds of events to refer to with what sounds, you still have to face the reality that wherever you move the line for “rape,” there is still a zone between that line and the line for “moral,” and you still have to confront and address what conclusion to reach when what happened falls in that zone.

      Your obsession over defining rape looks like an attempt to avoid that uncomfortable fact.

      …the man in scenario B’s actions indicate that he is perfectly aware she’s probably unable to refuse him – indeed, that seems to be the point of his actions.

      If that were the case, then B would be A. But it is not the case. There is no evidence whatever in B that the man “is aware” (much less “perfectly aware”) that the woman is “unable” to refuse him (you are here now ignoring everything I said, with quotations from legal sources, on what “unable” means, and has to mean, for rape to be a meaningful term). And you cannot know from the information presented that “that” is the “point” of his actions–no such information is provided, and you are not a telepath. If it were his point, though, then that means he would be content with perpetrating Scenario A. Which would negate the point of bringing up Scenario B.

      (Although even in law, intending to rape someone and having consensual sex instead is not a crime; so what the perpetrator in Scenario B was planning is actually moot to the question of whether what ultimately did happen was a rape. You have to stick to the actual facts of the incident, the actus reus; mere mens rea is insufficient to constitute a crime.)

      Do you really not see how suggesting this woman may just have been drunk and consented but regretted it afterwards, so it’s just sleazy and not rape, sounds a lot like typical rape apologia?

      Since I have been very explicit, detailed, and specific about this, you cannot honestly say that unless you ignore half my article. Rape apologia is “she deserved it.” My discussion of Scenario B very explicitly explains that she didn’t. That is, in fact, the entire point I make with it. Rape apologia is also “there isn’t really anything wrong with that.” My discussion of Scenario B very explicitly explains that there is. In fact, I describe it as an awful thing to do in no uncertain terms.

      Hence my argument is directly destructive of rape apologetics. It destroys it at its very premise.

      So I don’t think you have a good grasp on what rape apologetics actually is. Or what’s wrong with it.

    • antialiasis says

      You seem to have decided, for some reason, that my issue is that I don’t get your central thesis (of there being a zone that’s not rape, but still morally wrong and still something that women should be warned about). I did not argue with your central thesis at all – in fact, I specifically stated that you could write a scenario B where I’d agree it’s shitty but not rape. To clarify, I didn’t argue with your central thesis because I agree with your central thesis. I completely agree that there is a world of sleazy bad things that are not morally equivalent to rape – I’ve personally been in an emotionally abusive relationship, for instance, where I agreed to various things that I hated because he would get sad or argue lengthily that relationships were about compromise and if I loved him I’d do this for him, and I get that that wasn’t rape but still wrong, and that a lot of other things would fall into that same category. I don’t disagree with the point you were trying to make with this post at all.

      But I commented on your post because I think you went entirely the wrong way about expressing this idea in the context of this particular incident, to the point where it feels like rape apologia (which, yes, I know is exactly the opposite of what you were trying to say; that’s precisely why I think the fact a chunk of your post comes across that way anyway is a serious issue that you should be looking into). “Shermer coerced me into a situation where I could not consent” is vague as to exactly what happened, but it is not at all vague as to whether or not she was capable of consenting – the one thing she does state explicitly is that she wasn’t. Taking a woman’s testimony that she could not consent, exact words, and saying maybe she actually meant she was just somewhat drunk but still perfectly capable of consenting, is exactly the kind of thing rape apologists do. Do you not see how you could make your point without treating it as a given that the woman might just as easily have been exaggerating her state of incapacitation? (Yes, I know you don’t use the word exaggerating. But by looking at her saying she could not consent and saying she might actually have been able to consent, you are implying that her statement is an exaggeration of what actually happened, no matter what words you use or don’t use.) Simply treating this as a hypothetical bending over backwards thing – “But okay, suppose you don’t trust the could not consent part of her testimony and he ‘merely’ got her drunk enough to not be thinking about what she was doing…” – would help a lot, instead of insisting that it’s just vague and there is no way to tell what she meant by it. Because your actual point is just that what Shermer did would have been wrong even if she had been able to consent, there is no need for you to fuel the idea that that’s probably what actually happened; the fact you do so anyway is very unfortunate.

      I suppose I may have been too busy being viscerally horrified by your scenario B to pay careful attention to the exact words you were using, so fair enough, maybe she isn’t meant to be quite as incapacitated as I perceived her to be (in particular, I interpreted “struggling to concentrate on” where he’s even taking her as meaning she doesn’t know, is trying to concentrate on it to remember, but is struggling to do even that – why would she be trying to concentrate on that at all otherwise? – but it’s considerably less horrifying as you apparently meant it). But it certainly feels like reading about rape. As you write it, the man does not observe her making coherent statements expressing an understanding of what’s going on – you only say she “cracks wise” about how drunk she is. If you had actually written out a coherent conversation here, she would come across as considerably less out of it, but from what you did write I get the impression the woman is barely aware what is happening, and you arguing that actually a careful word-for-word comparison with scenario A will show she’s reasonably coherent doesn’t change that. Again, you could have made your point better, with less unfortunate implications, if you’d written a scenario where one does not have to squint at the exact words you use to see that she’s meant to be fairly lucid.

      Proudly announcing that a viscerally horrifying scenario that reads decidedly like a rape (not because I have a loose definition of rape, but because the woman actually comes across as very highly incapacitated) actually isn’t is, again, something that sounds very uncomfortably like rape apologia. By that I mean that I think a genuine rape apologist could read your post and feel partly vindicated – they’ll look at scenarios where the victim was clearly unable to consent and say, “Look, even this feminist agrees that that’s not rape, just sleazy.” I know that the context around it and the central thesis of your article don’t actually support rape apologism, but you’re still unintentionally fueling it in a really, really unfortunate way.

      Editing scenario B to actually sound consensual-but-sleazy as you intended it should not be hard. There have been enough people here and elsewhere who read it like I do that I would say you really should be considering whether your intent perhaps didn’t quite come across right.

  63. zerilos says

    Yikes! I have serious issues with “rules” 2 & 3. “Forcing” alcohol upon another adult would mean one of three things: A. the victim didn’t know he/she was drinking alcohol; B.the victim was physically unable to resist; C. the victim was placed in a situation where refusal would likely result in a loss of financial security. Unless I am the victim of one or more of those three scenarios; then I am responsible for my own state of inebriation. Forcing does not mean (and let’s hope that it never does) ‘offering another person alcohol with the hope that he or she drinks it’. Sure, the other person may have supplied the alcohol and may have done so with the intention of getting me drunk, but they didn’t get me drunk. I am responsible for my alcohol consumption and the decisions I make as a result. For me personally, this has never been an issue. I routinely turn down drinks, and when I was younger I’ve turned down the opportunity to use other drugs as well (even when being pressured to use them by a friend). Honestly, it’s not that hard and I’ve known plenty of women who don’t struggle with this either.
    Having said this, I’m not suggesting that Shermer isn’t a cad and I’m not even suggesting that he has never raped anyone. However, I will dismiss the accusations as they currently stand because they lack a quality that I demand of every other claim: falsifiability. In each of these claims, we don’t know the: ‘when, where, who and what’ (we can assume the ‘why’). How exactly does Shermer (or anyone) defend himself against accusations made by unknown people, accusing him of unknown acts, at unknown times and unknown locations? If innocent, how could he possibly demonstrate it? It shouldn’t be this easy to destroy a person’s reputation. For me to take these accusations seriously, I need details; otherwise, as a matter of principle I must presume Shermer’s innocence (as I would hope people would do for me) at least until we hear some specific details.

    • says

      Yikes! I have serious issues with “rules” 2 & 3. “Forcing” alcohol upon another adult would mean one of three things: A. the victim didn’t know he/she was drinking alcohol; B.the victim was physically unable to resist; C. the victim was placed in a situation where refusal would likely result in a loss of financial security.

      I agree. And if rules 2 & 3 were about “forcing” alcohol on someone, you’d have a point. But since they aren’t, you don’t.

      I am talking about decent and respectful behavior. Which stops far short of “forcing” people to do something. If you think it’s okay to do anything whatever just shy of forcing people, then you don’t understand what treating people with respect means.

      For me personally, this has never been an issue.

      And if something never happens to you, it never happens to anyone.

      I routinely turn down drinks…

      Not everyone is as as perceptive (I know more than one person who has been given more alcohol than they were aware of having been given) or as forceful in asserting themselves (I know more than one person who is not; that they can be more easily victimized in no possible universe justifies victimizing them).

      If you don’t understand either, then you have a problem.

      However, I will dismiss the accusations as they currently stand because they lack a quality that I demand of every other claim: falsifiability.

      Like all the claims of rape made against Catholic priests?

      You must agree then that the Catholic Church has never abused children and should get a huge apology from the public for believing it did.

      In each of these claims, we don’t know the: ‘when, where, who and what’ (we can assume the ‘why’).

      Shermer does. Or could–and make public–if he tried. The claims are thus indeed falsifiable. It’s just that Shermer would actually have to do something to make that possible (whereas if he’s guilty, it’s in his best interests to not make public such “potentially falsifiable” details, because then when they weren’t falsified, his guilt would be confirmed).

      But the when, where, who, and what are not necessary elements to my article’s conclusion (and hence you have lost track of the entire point of my entire article). It doesn’t matter where or when Shermer did any of the things many witnesses have reported him doing. They still happened, according to those witnesses. So it comes down to how likely it is that all those witnesses are lying. And unless that’s 50% or greater, that he did some of those things is more than 50% likely. Likewise per witness–unless you can show a specific witness is at all unreliable, you are left with a more than 50% chance they are telling the truth.

      Which is the preponderance of evidence standard I stated.

      So re-view the first section of my article about evidence and the logic of evidence. Abandon your irrational black-and-white thinking. Use probabilities. Not “either totally and certainly true or totally and certainly false.”

      How exactly does Shermer (or anyone) defend himself against accusations made by unknown people, accusing him of unknown acts, at unknown times and unknown locations?

      By finding those things out and making them public (and if the people he contacts, all of whom he could contact easily because they are reachable individuals, if any or all of them refuse to help with that, he can publicly make a point of that fact).

      Ultimately, Shermer could do more to publicly bring out the ‘when, where, who and what’ in the public eye, and address them (or the barriers people put up to prevent him finding them out). He has chosen not to. Draw your conclusions from that.

      If innocent, how could he possibly demonstrate it? It shouldn’t be this easy to destroy a person’s reputation. For me to take these accusations seriously, I need details; otherwise, as a matter of principle I must presume Shermer’s innocence (as I would hope people would do for me) at least until we hear some specific details.

      It’s improbable for anyone to accumulate this bad a reputation, with this many witnesses, without being guilty of something. Certainly, improbable does not mean impossible, but then that’s the preponderance of evidence standard I was talking about again (read the linked articles I provided in the evidence section of my article). Improbable may not be impossible, but it is still improbable.

      By contrast, innocence can be easy to prove; or at the very least benefit of a doubt can be.

      But that would require Shermer to actually do something. Rather than hide behind layers.

    • zerilos says


      I agree. And if rules 2 & 3 were about “forcing” alcohol on someone, you’d have a point. But since they aren’t, you don’t.

      I am talking about decent and respectful behavior. Which stops far short of “forcing” people to do something. If you think it’s okay to do anything whatever just shy of forcing people, then you don’t understand what treating people with respect means.

      You used there term “forcing” in rule three, and offering alcohol is not “just shy” of forcing alcohol.

      And if something never happens to you, it never happens to anyone.

      It’s the reason it doesn’t happen that’s at issue. The reason it doesn’t happen to me (and almost everyone I know) is because I don’t allow it to happen. It’s not that I’ve never found myself in that situation; however when I’m in that situation I do my best to recognize my limits and the potential consequences of my decision. Refusing alcohol is such an easy decision (for those of us who aren’t addicted), particularly in a situation where you could just literally walk away from a person you likely will never meet again. Anyone who finds it difficult to do so needs to engage in some introspection and examine why they lack the capacity to do something that is so easy for the rest of us. This is not to say that a victims state of intoxication excuses a non-consensual sexual act, it would still be rape and deserving of whatever legal consequences resulted.

      Shermer does. Or could–and make public–if he tried. The claims are thus indeed falsifiable. It’s just that Shermer would actually have to do something to make that possible (whereas if he’s guilty, it’s in his best interests to not make public such “potentially falsifiable” details, because then when theyweren’t falsified, his guilt would be confirmed).

      But the when, where, who, and what are not necessary elements to my article’s conclusion (and hence you have lost track of the entire point of my entire article). It doesn’t matter where or when Shermer did any of the things many witnesses have reported him doing. They still happened, according to those witnesses. So it comes down to how likely it is that all those witnesses are lying. And unless that’s 50% or greater, that he did some of those things is more than 50% likely. Likewise per witness–unless you can show a specific witness is at all unreliable, you are left with a more than 50% chance they are telling the truth.
      Which is the preponderance of evidence standard I stated.

      So re-view the first section of my article about evidence and the logic of evidence. Abandon your irrational black-and-white thinking. Use probabilities. Not “either totally and certainly true or totally and certainly false.”

      Assuming Shermer’s innocence for the sake of argument, you are in essence asking Shermer to prove a negative. Just how do you prove that you didn’t engage in unknown sexual acts with an unknown person; at an unknown location; on an unknown date; as reported by unknown witnesses? By comparison, the Gospels have got be considered valid historical documents.

      By finding those things out and making them public (and if the people he contacts, all of whom he could contact easily because they are reachable individuals, if any or all of them refuse to help with that, he can publicly make a point of that fact).

      Ultimately, Shermer could do more to publicly bring out the ‘when, where, who and what’ in the public eye, and address them (or the barriers people put up to prevent him finding them out). He has chosen not to. Draw your conclusions from that.

      At best, any witnesses Shermer could bring forward would only be able to testify about their personal interactions with him, they would not be able to rule out what other individuals saw and/or experienced; particularly when we don’t know any of the specific details. If Shermer did bring forward witnesses claiming that they have never seen him coerce women into having sex would you be satisfied? Is it possible that you would dismiss their testimony as being anecdotal and/or biased and/or coerced? I can tell you that I most likely would, and I suspect the same it true of you.

      The tragedy here, is that I might very well be defending a rapist and I honestly do suspect that at best he is a first class creep. I just have serious issues with the quality of the evidence and the methods by which it was obtained (kinda like my view of the gospels). As a matter of principle, until I have specific and potentially refutable accusations then I will grant him the benefit of the doubt.

    • says

      You used there term “forcing” in rule three, and offering alcohol is not “just shy” of forcing alcohol.

      And you mistook that to mean physical or coercive force?

      Why?

      Did you not read the explanatory text that provided the context?

      RC: And if something never happens to you, it never happens to anyone.

      It’s the reason it doesn’t happen that’s at issue.

      No, it’s that it actually does happen that’s the issue.

      You ignored everything I said about this in my reply.

      Go re-read it.

      Assuming Shermer’s innocence for the sake of argument…

      Note that that’s exactly what I did.

      Quoting my article…

      So set aside for a moment whether the accounts of his behavior are true…

      So you aren’t saying anything new here.

      Back to the thread…

      …you are in essence asking Shermer to prove a negative.

      If that were the case, then this would be the case for all rape and assault charges of almost any kind whatever.

      You must then agree the Catholic Church is being asked to prove a negative and therefore it should be exonerated of raping or abusing any children ever.

      Yes?

      Just how do you prove that you didn’t engage in unknown sexual acts with an unknown person; at an unknown location; on an unknown date; as reported by unknown witnesses?

      I have already given several examples in comments here of how Shermer can in fact do all these things. You need to catch up. And listen to what I wrote even to you.

      By comparison, the Gospels have got be considered valid historical documents.

      The comparison is invalid. I explained why in the second paragraph of my article.

      Pay attention to what I actually wrote. I will start deleting comments from people who keep refusing to respond to what I have actually said. That has long been my comments policy. Learn it. Live it.

      At best, any witnesses Shermer could bring forward would only be able to testify about their personal interactions with him, they would not be able to rule out what other individuals saw and/or experienced; particularly when we don’t know any of the specific details.

      Now look who is speculating.

      I wonder if you would make the same defense of the Catholic Church. And if not, why not.

      I have already answered the question of how he could learn more and thus reveal more. You are ignoring me. Stop it. Respond to what I have written.

      If Shermer did bring forward witnesses claiming that they have never seen him coerce women into having sex would you be satisfied? Is it possible that you would dismiss their testimony as being anecdotal and/or biased and/or coerced? I can tell you that I most likely would, and I suspect the same it true of you.

      You seem to be suffering a serious case of illogic here. Think this through. No, seriously. Think it through.

      If Charles Manson brought forward witnesses claiming they had never seen him order anyone’s murder, would you be satisfied that therefore he never order a murder?

      I sure hope not. Because he would never have gone to jail if juries obeyed your logic.

      It’s especially weird that you think I would dismiss character witnesses as coerced or anecdotal (I have never done that; nor is there any reason for you to believe I would). The problem with character witnesses is not whether they are telling the truth. The problem is that even if they are, their testimony is of limited value (though that does not mean it is of no value; hence it is all a preponderance of probabilities, and not a black and white pursuit of certitude…re-read the first section of my article…again).

      The tragedy here, is that I might very well be defending a rapist and I honestly do suspect that at best he is a first class creep. I just have serious issues with the quality of the evidence and the methods by which it was obtained (kinda like my view of the gospels). As a matter of principle, until I have specific and potentially refutable accusations then I will grant him the benefit of the doubt.

      I agree the evidence could be better…and I would insist that it be better before, for example, jailing Shermer or stating anything about him with certainty in this matter. But whether the evidence we do have is enough so far to tip the scales over 50% is the question. When you say “benefit of the doubt” you are saying something exists that pushes the probability below 50%. What is that something? (It can’t be Shermer’s testimony, because he has given even far less of that than his accuser has.)

      Note that the options are not 100% and 50% and 0%. The options are (for example) 51% and 49%. Or some other nonzero, nontotal probability.

      So what probability would you assign (roughly speaking) to the worst accusation being true? And what probability to just the creep status (whether or not the worst accusation is true)? And why that probability? In other words, based on what evidence or background knowledge do you derive that probability estimate?

      [And again, you cannot say 0% or 100% because absolute certainty is humanly impossible.]

  64. Thomas22 says

    “Instead, I now must assume you meant that the rate of false rape allegations in actual courts of law (which is again not relevant here, because no such charge has been filed) would reflect this (admittedly nonscientific) one third rate of error in understanding what the legal definition of rape is.”

    Certainly not. I thought that that was the conclusion you were drawing, mistakenly, from my original comment. What I meant was that a sleaze could leave a lot of people thinking that they have been raped even though, technically, they haven’t. Judging by the comments here that would be a third of the people who experience scenario B sex. Therefore we should be wary of assuming that Shermer is a rapist even if there are a number of allegations. That is in no way a defence of Shermer’s behaviour.

    • says

      I thought that that was the conclusion you were drawing, mistakenly, from my original comment.

      Yes, but we both agree I mistook what you said.

      Hence I’m now going back and looking at your original comment correctly, and now the problem is I can’t see what relevance it has to any discussion here or anything in my article.

      That is indeed why I mistook it; I was trying to read it as making sense in context; it never occurred to me that what you were saying made no sense in context.

      You now attempt to explain your original remark as meaning this:

      Therefore we should be wary of assuming that Shermer is a rapist even if there are a number of allegations.

      First, there are not a number of rape allegations. There is only (at most) one. So I don’t know what you are talking about.

      Second, no rape allegation has been made under the law (not even one).

      Third, that a victim called what happened to her “rape” can mean a number of different things. That’s what my whole article is about.

      Fourth, and most importantly, the only sense in which you can logically mean calling B rape is “false” is by some sort of legal definition or my own moral one. But the conclusion I draw from B is based on it not being rape (and thus not a false allegation of rape). So it makes no sense to respond to what I said by questioning whether a B claim was “false.” Since I never claimed B was rape, that calling it rape would be false (by my definition or any legal one) is wholly irrelevant here, and thus it makes no sense now why you are even making an issue of it.

      My article’s point is that B is not rape and yet is still fully awful and fully sufficient to warrant warning women off Shermer (and to think ill of him and so on down the line).

      So I still can’t fathom what your point was.

  65. says

    I have added to a key section of my article this note:

    Since I published this, an actual rape victim recounted a number of other reasons, which in her case were not even hypothetical.

    …referring to reasons a real rape victim won’t report or come forward. In this case, the victim was Skepchick Elyse, and she is willing to come forward now decades later for the greater cause of helping people see what sorts of things actually happen in reality. I strongly encourage people to read her whole story.

    • spicyhippoplankton says

      Thanks for the article and this addition. It’s hard to believe how many people can’t seem to grasp why rape goes unreported (or even go so far as to call into question the victim’s sense of morality when they don’t), even after repeated attempts to explain. I work in a field where I support those who have experienced trauma, exploitation, abuse, and so on, and deal with this type of dismissive attitude and lack of empathy all too often. Hopefully some of these people will read what you and Elyse have written. Thanks again.

  66. says

    “Skirt chasing” sounds like benign, harmless fun. It isn’t. This is predation. As a society, we need to stop making excuses for this behavior, because it enables it to continue. Women are not a vending machine for sex. Full stop. If a man can’t engage a woman as a human being first, and only, then he isn’t capable of seeing her as a human being. A man making a sexual advance toward a woman he doesn’t know isn’t “ruining her fun”. This is predation. It re-affirms her status as subordinate under men, as the sex class, as a less important human being than he is, whose need for safety is less important than his “need” for sex.

    “Getting a woman drunk so she can’t consent” is, in fact, rape. we’re all socially conditioned, mainly through depictions of rape in media, to think that it isn’t rape unless a woman is screaming and fighting and/or having her life threatened. This is very rarely the case. The majority of rapes are committed by men that the woman knows and/or trusts.

    Why Scenario B is still rape is because women are socially conditioned to acquiesce to men. Women will suffer severe social punishment for setting boundaries. I’ve been the young 20-something woman who “consented” because that’s what women are supposed to do, not because this was what I wanted. women with this kind of social conditioning cannot give meaningful consent. We can toss around legal definitions all we want to, but the reality is that unless a woman enthusiastically engages in a sexual exchange, and preferably initiates it herself, it should always be suspect.

    On the topic of social consequence… How many women have not been able to meaningfully engage a male figurehead in the community unless she does so as a potential sex object? Crudely, if she isn’t “fuckable”? As women who are leaving “fuckable” age for middle age can attest, we become invisible after age begins to show. We are no longer allowed interface with our male peers because we are not candidates for fucking, which can manifest anywhere from outright blocking to social chilling to contempt to disgust (ever try starting a conversation with a man who looks at you with disgust?). It doesn’t matter that we have greater experience, are more articulate, or have excellent arguments and insights. We aren’t male, and we aren’t fuckable, so we don’t exist. Do we truly, as a community, as a society, want to tolerate the wholesale abandonment of such a large knowledge and skill set? Can we afford to? And yet, we do, all because a woman’s primary reason for existing in a male-dominant society is for sex.

    I bring this up because even advocates for creating safe spaces for women are failing to understand just how deep this problem runs, or what it will take to change this status quo. It is precisely because of this status quo that women in the community can’t have safe space, aren’t becoming community leaders, and aren’t being heard. Rape exists where women’s social, economic and political power are thin.

    It is also important to note that the allegations of “false rape accusations” are themselves false, as such accusations are in fact rare. As Almost Diamonds noted on her blog, women are often coerced by law enforcement – outright bullied – to withdraw their claims. So while the official statistic is 6% of claims are false, the reality is 2% or less. Yet, when a woman makes a claim of rape, chances are she will be disbelieved, because as a culture we believe that most rape claims are false.

    In reading this piece, there is still some “woman as sex object” framing that I imagine most of us aren’t even aware of. If the sexes were switched in this article, it would seem disjointed and bizarre for that reason. Until we, as a society, stop seeing women as vending machines for sex, and men relate to us as full human beings rather than potential fuck objects, rape culture is here to stay.

    • says

      “Skirt chasing” sounds like benign, harmless fun. It isn’t.

      Depending on what you mean. Plenty of free love and polyamorous people (men and women) pursue sexual relationships all over the place, including at conferences. They are not predators. Most of them pursue their affairs ethically (there have been some noted exceptions discussed in the blogosphere, but by that very fact those cases exemplify the difference). There is nothing wrong with that. Sexuality is not inherently predatory. So we have to keep clear the difference between predatory and non-predatory sexual pursuits, and not smear one class of people with the crimes of another.

      A man making a sexual advance toward a woman he doesn’t know isn’t “ruining her fun”. This is predation.

      Technically that’s a non sequitur, because it’s not either/or. And again, you may be over-generalizing here. This calls into question what definition of “predation” you are working with: too broad, and the term loses any emotional force; narrower, and it won’t apply to many cases.

      It re-affirms her status as subordinate under men, as the sex class, as a less important human being than he is, whose need for safety is less important than his “need” for sex.

      The fact that there are women who make sexual advances toward men they don’t know refutes this inference as a generalization. So again, you are over-generalizing and losing nuance. Clearly women doing that are not “re-affirming [or even affirming] a man’s status as subordinate under women, as the sex class.” So there may be cases when men doing it are not doing that, either (it’s at least then possible, so we shouldn’t assume without good data that there are none). But I would agree both are treating their target of interest “as a less important human being than they are, whose need for safety [or comfort or self-respect or other goods] is less important than the pursuer’s desire to have sex with them.”

      Hence my first rule in the article.

      “Getting a woman drunk so she can’t consent” is, in fact, rape.

      As long as you mean getting a woman so drunk that she can’t consent, yes. That’s Scenario A. But otherwise, you are incorrect on the law (as my article explains in detail), and for “rape” to have any emotional force, you are wrong on the moral definition as well. Merely being inebriated does not take away anyone’s ability to consent. That’s a matter of both law and scientific fact.

      And yet, per my second rule in the article, there are moral lines that can be crossed in this area that don’t entail rape but do entail questionable ethics and values.

      …we’re all socially conditioned, mainly through depictions of rape in media, to think that it isn’t rape unless a woman is screaming and fighting and/or having her life threatened. This is very rarely the case. The majority of rapes are committed by men that the woman knows and/or trusts.

      Hence my article is not about the “mythic rape” model and never discusses it as an issue in this case (beyond a single aside). My article is entirely about kinds of rape that don’t fit that model.

      Why Scenario B is still rape is because women are socially conditioned to acquiesce to men.

      That makes no sense. Rape cannot depend on how the victim was conditioned. It can only depend on what they actually do. Otherwise women can’t consent to anything whatever, because “women are socially conditioned to acquiesce to men.” If you can understand why the latter makes no sense, you’ll understand my point.

      Women will suffer severe social punishment for setting boundaries.

      Women can suffer severe social punishment for setting boundaries.

      I’ve been the young 20-something woman who “consented” because that’s what women are supposed to do, not because this was what I wanted. Women with this kind of social conditioning cannot give meaningful consent.

      Then they cannot be judged competent as adults and should be made the wards of a guardian to make decisions for them.

      Obviously that is not what you want to happen. So your logic is a bit frayed here.

      If social conditioning has made you incapable of making your own decisions, you are equivalent to a child or the mentally handicapped. If you are capable of making your own decisions (and thus are not equivalent to a child or the mentally handicapped), then you cannot claim social conditioning has deprived you of that ability.

      We can toss around legal definitions all we want to, but the reality is that unless a woman enthusiastically engages in a sexual exchange, and preferably initiates it herself, it should always be suspect.

      In Scenario B she does “enthusiastically engage in the sexual exchange” (literally). So you are agreeing with me that Scenario B is not rape. It’s still wrong, and still victimizing a woman, but in a way that differs from rape.

      In Scenario A she does not “enthusiastically engage in the sexual exchange” and in California (and any sensible moral judgment) that is rape. As I explain in the article.

      How many women have not been able to meaningfully engage a male figurehead in the community unless she does so as a potential sex object?

      I’m not sure what you are referring to. Do you have a specific instance in mind?

      Many women meaningfully engage with male figureheads in the community without “doing so as” a potential sex object. You seem to be implying this never happens. As far as I have observed, it’s the other way around…that is a minority problem, not a majority problem (which still makes it a problem, but we should not exaggerate it, as that will only discredit the legitimate case for the real problem).

      As women who are leaving “fuckable” age for middle age can attest, we become invisible after age begins to show.

      That is not generally true. Plenty of non-invisible older women are leaders in this movement, with large fan bases and speaking tours. There is a paucity of them in the moneyed organizations, but that’s mostly due to another problem (Old Boy Networking and status quo defense).

      The rest of what you say is similarly unrealistically over-generalized and I think you may be projecting some experience you have had onto the entire atheist community, when in fact what you are describing is relatively unusual, and when it happens, widely condemned by many of us (men included).

      Yet, when a woman makes a claim of rape, chances are she will be disbelieved, because as a culture we believe that most rape claims are false.

      That is true of enough people to be a problem. But it is not true of everyone. And those numbers are shifting. Part of what people like me are in fact doing is working to shift them (with articles like mine).

      In reading this piece, there is still some “woman as sex object” framing that I imagine most of us aren’t even aware of. If the sexes were switched in this article, it would seem disjointed and bizarre for that reason.

      First, that is a consequence of our culture, not my article.

      Second, I have a whole paragraph on the fact that the genders are sometimes reversed in all these cases. So that it would seem bizarre should not be an excuse to assume it can’t or doesn’t happen. Bizarre just means relatively uncommon. But “relatively uncommon” still encompasses a nonzero number.

      Until we, as a society, stop seeing women as vending machines for sex, and men relate to us as full human beings rather than potential fuck objects, rape culture is here to stay.

      That’s correct. If by “we, as a society” you mean “a large enough number of those in our society who are doing that.”

  67. Voysov Reason says

    “there really isn’t much here that Shermer can challenge”

    This is exactly why you should not make accusations in the way it was done in this case, and why we have libel laws. If the accused is innocent, you have robbed him of any hope of defending himself. The claim is so non-specific – an unidentified person at an unidentified conference, with no mention of witnesses, no explanation of circumstances, no explanation of the method of coercion, no explanation for why the delay in reporting – that anyone could make that claim of anyone. Indeed I could make the same accusation of you, Richard Carrier, and you would be powerless to refute me. Is this the level of evidence we are expected to accept for having a man’s reputation damaged? Ridiculous.

    Yes, sadly rape is a common crime, and I would never try to minimize it’s horror or blame it’s victims. But I am having a plausibility problem with this claim, and the way it was handled. Conferences are generally held in hotels with many people around. If it occurred in the public areas, there may be a chance there is surveillance video or witnesses to corroborate the story. And even if it was in a private hotel room, surveillance video in the hallway may be able to establish whether the two were alone in the same room.

    But by letting so much time pass and not reporting it to anyone, we have prevented that possibility, for both the accused and the accuser. Was it reported to the police? Apparently not. Was it reported to the hotel or conference establishment security? Apparently not. Doing so may have provided means of evidence the accuser may not have thought of, so I dismiss the claims that it is pointless to report it to anyone, because it is just “his word against hers”. Maybe so, but maybe not. I know reporting something like this must be extremely hard. But it is the right thing to do. Reporting it to a blogger months or years later and blasting it across the internet without any corroborating evidence, or any specifics, is exactly the wrong thing to do.

    • says

      “there really isn’t much here that Shermer can challenge”

      This is exactly why you should not make accusations in the way it was done in this case, and why we have libel laws.

      You seem to be confused. The quoted line is about how the claim might not be libel (because there is nothing in it that’s false). So libel laws are precisely what that line was saying won’t help here. So that certainly can’t be “why we have libel laws.” Maybe you wanted to say our libel laws should be more draconian than they actually are?

      Otherwise, the ethics or propriety of what PZ did is irrelevant to my entire article and therefore is irrelevant here. This is like confusing a debate over whether Manning and Snowden committed crimes or did something wrong, with a debate over what we should do with the information they nevertheless released.

      Indeed I could make the same accusation of you, Richard Carrier, and you would be powerless to refute me.

      No, I wouldn’t.

      Indeed, this happened here (a false accusation was made against Avicenna), and he refuted it. Decisively.

      If you made actually the same accusation against me that the woman PZ quotes did against Shermer, then the analogy would have someone notable who knows you quoting you, unnamed, on their blog. And this is what would then happen if I was innocent (and here I will assume the only witness who comes forward is you and that there aren’t half a dozen other stories of misconduct):

      I would immediately contact your proxy, as being notable I can easily locate contact information for them, to find out what’s going on and to ask whether you or they will give me more information so I can defend myself against the accusation or whether you and they openly refuse to do so (note Shermer has done nothing like this). If you do the latter, I would blog about that fact and how that discredits you and the whole accusation. If you do the former, I would blog my side of the story in response to the details I got, and I would bring in all witnesses who can corroborate any elements of my account (note Shermer has done nothing like this).

      What happened from there would depend on what happened. Assuming this is a wholly baseless charge (I never had any sexual contact with the woman nor even went anywhere with her), I would adduce evidence from any witnesses there are who were with me that I was with them at the time of the alleged incident. If I could not (because I was for some reason alone at the time and not on the internet so as to be able to produce a record of that or anywhere my presence could be recorded or otherwise couldn’t locate any of this information because it was so long ago), then I would explain exactly that. Note Shermer has done nothing like this.

      Then I would bring out and quote all witnesses who have observed me frequently enough in relevant situations who can attest that I have never done anything like that. Note Shermer has done nothing like this. For him this would be less effective because there are a lot of other stories of his misconduct, and if he tried a character defense, that would no doubt smoke out even more witnesses to his misconduct (if there are any), and either way we would have competing accounts, and only his side with demonstrable bias. But I am assuming for the sake of example that in this hypothetical scenario I am totally innocent, so there aren’t already any such stories, and none more to fear coming out from any credible source, and none do. In that scenario, character evidence would weigh for me, against this one sole witness who can’t corroborate a single element of her story.

      But thing is, the woman in Shermer’s case says she has witnesses who can corroborate key elements of her story. She filed a report on it even (which Shermer would surely have been informed of; there is a reason he told John Loftus he knows who she is, or that she can be any of a number of women he thinks it is). That will all come out if he presses the case. He would probably not want that to happen. That may be a good explanation for his silence.

      But again, we are in the other hypothetical scenario, not his scenario. In the hypothetical scenario, I am accused but I am innocent and there are no other accounts of my misconduct. So in my scenario, when I press the case (in public, on my blog) and she is forced to prove she really does have witnesses who can corroborate key elements of her story and a report was filed, and she fails to do so, she will be discredited (because we will have then caught her in relevant lies).

      Case closed.

      That’s how this would go if Shermer were innocent. Notably, Shermer has not taken a single one of these steps.

      Now, it gets more complicated if Shermer did have sex with her and she was destroyed by it and did immediately report the incident to several people including the venue organizers (as she said she did). But once we get there, we are in Scenario B at best. And Shermer is then not innocent. He might be innocent of rape, but no one is charging him with rape. So that is moot. If you don’t understand what I mean, then re-read the last paragraphs of my article.

  68. says

    Richard,

    Although I am a lawyer, I don’t want to get involved in too many of the points that are discussed above. I come here primarily to learn about and study topics related to theism. That said, I have skimmed the dialog above and just want to make a couple of points. Many of the entries speak of coercion when the more apt word for the meaning intended would be cajoling. Coercion requires either the threat of force or similar intimidation that involves a right or need of the victim. I have not seen anywhere in the descriptions above facts alleged that would constitute coercion. If I threaten you with physical violence unless you do X, or if I have the ability to fire you or withhold food or medication from you and threaten to do so unless you do X, I have coerced (or at least attempted to coerce) you. Cajoling, on the other hand merely means that I have attempted to persuade you by force of intellect, trickery, deception, charisma, peer pressure or any number of nonviolent means to do something that you might not otherwise do. Cajoling may be harmless or fatal. In and of itself, it is neither immoral nor illegal. If we are driving on the open road and I say to you “Floor it, let’s see what the top end is on this baby!” I have cajoled you. If you act on my exhortation and get up to 120 miles per hour, it is your responsibility for the consequences–which could range anywhere from none whatsoever, to a speeding ticket and loss of driving privileges, to your own death if because of the speed an accident happens and fatally injures you, to criminal liability if you survive, but I die. On the other hand, if you are afraid to go into the water, and I cajole you to do so, I may have done you a solid if, in fact you lose that fear and go on to become a gold medal swimmer. When you were “this big” and you got in trouble and tried to avoid punishment by pleading “Well, Johnny told me to do it”; your mother admonished you: If Johnny told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it, too? So, when we are very young one of the first things we are taught is that we must take responsibility for our own actions and decisions. When one is the victim of coercion, one’s decision is not free and voluntary; when one has been cajoled, the responsibility stays with the one either acting upon or refusing to act upon the cajoling. The simple point here is that words count and misusing the word coercion here is, I believe causing many if not most of the problems.

    The second point is also related to word use. Rape is a word that causes an instantaneous negative reaction. In that sense it is similar to murder. It’s a hot button. It is most commonly associated with forced sexual communion or sex imposed on another under threat of force. And, just as there are differentiations in the law for the act of ending another’s life e.g. 1st degree murder with malice aforethought, manslaughter, negligent homicide, etc.—all with varying degrees of moral culpability and punishment; so, too, there are different laws regarding rape. These degrees are not termed rape—presumably intentionally, and are grouped as sexual assault. Typically, however, rape as a crime is either prosecuted as “plain” forced sex, or as some form of statutory rape, which focuses on the non-consensual aspect of the act whether the lack of consent results from the inability of the victim to consent e.g. drugging the victim as in some forms of date rape, or due to the minority of the participant and hence his/her lack of legal capacity to consent—even when the participant is willing, and may have lied about their age to the other party. The point is that the first thing that happens when a reasonable person hears the word rape is that they default to the primary definition: a crime consisting of forced sex.

    This brings us to the issue in question. When someone uses the word rape they either intend the hearer or reader to bring to mind the primary definition, or they have negligently allowed that to occur. Just as there is a clear moral distinction that one makes between someone who has committed vehicular homicide (let’s say they ran a stop sign and hit a pedestrian) and a person who meticulously plans and carries through an execution of their victim, there is a similar moral scale in the eyes of a beholder who distinguishes between an 18 year old who has sex with his/her 16 year old girlfriend/boyfriend and the perpetrator who grabs a woman in a parking lot, puts a gun in her mouth and threatens to blow her head off if she resists even though both acts fall under the generalized term rape. Failing to note the fact that the former example is properly described as statutory rape would be misleading, hence immoral. When the word rape is used along with an identification of an individual, and without qualification, it is only reasonable to presume that the statement is meant to convey that the person who is the subject of the statement has, in fact forcibly raped someone. In other words it is a deliberate act intended to harm the identified person. In the case where the statement is true (there was a forcible rape involved), there is nothing morally wrong with that. In the case where the unqualified use of the word rape is used to convey a qualified act (say, as the 18 yr old/16 year old situation described above) it is not morally true. The intent is to mislead, not illuminate.

    Now, as I see it, PZ Myers couched his use of the word rape within a quotation of a statement from a friend. Nevertheless, when I read his piece, I see his real intent as being one of harm to Mr. Shermer rather than the protection of future conference attendees. Let’s begin with noting that if the letter writer’s true intent was to prevent Shermer from raping again, it would best have been served by prosecuting the case. I will allow for no whining here. Besides, If the latter was the case, then Myers, the journalist-blogger could have used any number of other methods of accomplishing his (and the woman who claims she was coerced’s) stated goal of merely warning conference attendees of the presence of at least one person to avoid at all costs and described the incident as she did in the letter, but without acting as judge and jury and calling the incident rape; even though she did. Alternatively and most obviously, he could have contacted Shermer directly: “JEEZ, Mike; WTF? She says you fuckin’ raped her!” might have been a good way of starting such a conversation. My guess is that if such a conversation had been had, Myers would have not rushed this version to publication. And ultimately, that is the crux of the matter here. What is moral under Myers’ circumstances? Why did he not report the specific facts that he must have known to distinguish in his own mind that his friend’s friend had indeed been coerced and not merely cajoled into drinking so much she ? Basically, this comes down to: did he drug her? If not, then that cannot be coercion. It’s not a secret: Bad things happen to people all the time when they’re drunk. They make bad decisions. They forget things. I can go on. The point is you and only you are responsible for your sobriety unless someone drugs you—if you want to avoid exposing yourself to a whole host of potentially bad happenstances, don’t get drunk, or at least don’t get blind drunk, for crying out loud. I assume he had such facts. If he wants to stand and call a man a rapist in the press, he damned well better have those facts. This is print. Worse, it’s the internet where everything lives forever. If he does not, leaving alone the legal consequences—he is morally wrong to do so. A prudent person would certainly give serious thought to editing or re-worded his entry to refer to something like “questionable conduct”, “unscrupulous conduct”, “reprehensible conduct” or other language intended to forewarn someone that he likes to ply women with drinks in the hope or course of having sex with them. Using the word rape (and disavowing its obvious electricity by incorporating it within a quote) and then claiming that that he only wanted to warn, is simply dishonest. If you want to take the high road, then take it. In my opinion, Myers did not.

    By the way, can you help instruct people to stop using the term “sexual harassment” as if it a) was a sex crime or b) could exist as applied to people outside a work environment? They mean sexual assault. Sexual harassment is a workplace concept. Broadly, it can be present without any sexual contact or coercion whatsoever. When it rises to the level of sexual assault, then that charge also applies, but they are not the same. You can easily commit sexual harassment without ever physically touching the victim. The same is not true of sexual assault.

    Ok. Climbing off my soapbox now…

    • says

      I would only correct you on the following:

      (1) Cajoling, though different from coercion, can still be still immoral. And what you think is cajoling might actually be coercion in the laws of many states (so you may have to defer to the law on this).

      (2) PZ simply repeated what a woman he knows said. That she called what happened to her rape is beyond his ability to police. He could only have said more on his own thoughts about that (had he wanted to) if she let him reveal more details (hence my article is based on what the possibilities are, given what little she said; and among them are, as my article lays out, things that are not in any common view rape, legally or morally, but which are nevertheless awful and victimizing).

      (3) On why victims of rape often do not, even cannot, bring charges (and it is very often a waste of time to do so even if they do) read my article and the relevant links where I (and through those links, others) discuss exactly this issue. You show that you did not read that and have no knowledge of what reality is for rape, abuse and harassment victims and prosecutions.

      (4) You can quibble all you want about what you would have done if a friend of yours asked you to do this, but that’s besides the point here, since what’s done is done. And we now have to make judgment calls from the information now given us. Analogously one can Monday-morning-quarterback Manning or Snowden and talk about how they could have done what they did better. But that doesn’t change the fact of the information they’ve made public, which we now have to make decisions on, regardless of how it came to be available to us. That manner of dissemination can factor into our evaluation of its reliability. But once we’ve decided on the probability of its accuracy, we have to draw conclusions from that. Arguing about how we got here cannot logically affect that. (Although Shermer could certainly now give us the other side of your imagined phone-call…so that he doesn’t is now on him.)

      (5) Finally, you’re quite right about sexual harassment except that “sexual harassment is a workplace concept” is somewhat incorrect. Any harassment based on sex is by definition sexual harassment. Whether it is illegal or not. In actual fact, outside the law, it is often banned among customers at public events and venues (including online, e.g. World of Warcraft has the right to refuse service to a customer who engages in it), not just among employees or in workplaces. It just so happens that if it is not outlawed outside workplaces, then only workplaces (e.g. businesses and charities) can police it, because only they then have contracts (actual or implied) with the employees and customers it would govern.

      Of course, in practice, many forms of sexual harassment are de facto illegal (yes, illegal) outside the workplace–because they are included in the definitions of harassment of any kind that is illegal almost everywhere (including online, throughout the U.S.; even more so in some states). Although the laws differ as to what it takes to violate a harassment law outside the workplace (laws governing business practices are generally more strict, due to the power imbalances and the way sexual harassment in particular affects commerce), and something being illegal isn’t much help when police won’t prosecute the law (most charges of online harassment are ignored; this is slowly changing…glacially slowly) or it is too costly to press charges (police often won’t prosecute a case unless the victim identifies the harasser and gathers the evidence needed to win a conviction, which can be costly in time and money, or even impossible) or it is barely worth the bother (when the penalties are so small that the long stressful time suck of carrying a case all the way through to trial isn’t worth it) and so on. But that’s besides the present point.

  69. says

    Thank you. I will not comment about any of your points above except for no. 2.

    Myers is a journalist under the circumstances and the ethics that bind journalists should be the standard to which he was and is expected to comport himself. It is that failure that drove me to comment about this matter at all. I am not defending or condoning the act of plying a potential sexual partner (male or female) with alcohol. I am not defending or condoning impressed sex, if that is what occurred. Neither am I blind to the type of background sexism that exists within our culture. That’s one of the reasons I don’t want to get into the actual incident. There are far too few facts disclosed to make a judgment one way or the other about what happened between the woman and Shermer.

    But Myers did have the opportunity, and more importantly the moral and ethical obligation to do more than repeat gossip, let alone stand for the truth of that gossip without due inquiry before publication. And due inquiry regarding what he himself termed a “hand grenade”, does not consist of asking other people if they think this is probably true or not. It absolutely was possible and morally and ethically mandatory that he either vet the claim thoroughly and responsibly (we’re not talking about calling Shermer a parking ticket scofflaw here) or edit or paraphrase the quotation to exclude the incendiary term.

    As a secularist, this omission is even more egregious. If you (and I can tell from your writings that you do) want to encompass atheism, secularism, humanism, etc. into a community; and if you want to define the moral and ethical attributes that that community should embrace, then those attributes need to be applied homogeneously. It is not a defense to Myers’ immorality here to say, in essence, he was only gossiping. Gossip is not exactly an activity that promotes secular values. If as you state, he was constrained by the woman from relating additional details, then morally and ethically he needed to NOT print her statement verbatim. As I originally stated, he had options. He either rejected or ignored them. In either event, his conduct is not what I would want as a paradigm for my community. I hope, as you continue to evaluate the criteria for membership in your community, that you see this point.

    Peace.

    • says

      This isn’t gossip. This is an eyewitness, known to Myers personally, reporting what happened to her.

      If you can’t grasp the difference, you have a serious problem, and shouldn’t be lecturing skeptics or journalists.

  70. says

    I really don’t see the need for an a acerbic comment as above, but so be it. Briefly:

    When you say “PZ simply repeated what a woman he knows said.”, that is gossip unless he, as a journalist, conducts due diligence as I described above. It is mere repetition of a statement or claim without further investigation. Her statement is not gossip. His is. No matter how you cut it, Myers did not and is not living up to the ethical standards that I believe you yourself would impose here.

    Journalistically, he had a duty to at least try to ascertain the “other side of the story” before he published and he abrogated it. Had he at least attempted to contact Shermer for comment prior to publication and recited in his piece that he had done so, I would not be harping on this. But as it is, it is yellow. If you choose not to call him out on this, well, that’s certainly your prerogative.

    Again, Peace.

    • says

      Shermer can produce the “other side of the story” now. And PZ will even link to it.

      So why doesn’t he?

      It can’t be because PZ didn’t ask.

      So that isn’t much of an argument.

  71. ed says

    Terrible argument. Unless he forced alcohol down these bird brain’s little gullets Mr. Shermer should not be held liable for anything. Nothing here is indicative of rape. Sounds like he likes to loosen up with a few drinks as do these women. But its not his responsiblity do decide for her when shes had enough as he also cannot force her to have sex. She sounds like a girl who found out she wasnt the only one and decided to slander this guy and ruin his reputation. Ive seen it before happen to friends. Prove rape or shut up.

  72. says

    I have read some of the responses here and some of the jaw-dropping responses elsewhere (i have just worked through Ana Mardolls blog entry where the commentariat seem to now hold you on about the same level as Heinrich Himmler) and i am left somewhat depressed and amazed in equal measure.

    It seems that for some, however genuinely heartfelt and enthusiastic the initial consent, all it takes is some momentary change of heart at any point during sex to leave the other party guilty of rape even, as in the example you have been discussing here, absolutely no sign (verbal or otherwise) is given to indicate this change in mental attitude.
    It seems to me that if this is what constitutes rape then there can scarcely have ever been a sexually active human being who has not, at some point or other in their life, been ‘raped’, having (at some time during sex) decided that on reflection they would rather be doing something else but pressed on as the path of least resistance.
    It is just insanity squared and diminishes rape into a crime that encompasses the merest uncommunicated change of fancy.
    When i read Rumblestiltskin’s analysis in post 1.3 I really wonder how often this ongoing confirmation of consent needs to be sought by the “potential rapist” (a term i found profoundly odd in itself, given that in this scenario whereby consent can be withdrawn silently, are we not all potential rapists every second of every encounter, rather than two people embarking on a sexial liason, one wearing a ‘potential rapist’ hat and the other a ‘potential victim’ hat)?
    I am mentally conuring up some kind of bizarre scenario where both participants are frantically hammering away in the missionary position relentlessly asking “Do you still consent” interspersed with parroting “yes i do”s, in reply to one another: both individuals trying desperately hard not to draw breath just in case that coincides with a change of heart by the other fellow.
    Maybe that is a little far-fetched but if the requirement is to be that there is no onus on someone having a change of heart to signal it, in any way shape or form, other than when determinedly asked as to their present status by the other individual, then i can’t see how anything other than such an outrageous scenario avoids the ‘potential rapist’ becoming a ‘rapist’
    Maybe the issue arises because of the logic summed up by Rumblestiltskin at the end of the comment (1.3 (forgotten the way to create a quote box here, sorry))

    “If the celebrity in your example has created an environment where the non-celebrity would rather let it happen than stop it, even though they no longer consent, then it is rape. Period.”

    I dare say all of us have been in scenarios whereby the environment is such that we have deemed it better to carry on with a sexual encounter than to stop, even though we have long since lost the will to carry on. I know, for my part, i have gotten into encounters where i have really wanted to stop (or not even be there, for a variety of reasons) but have felt it would be awkward, bad manners, insulting even, to say to the lady that I’d really rather not continue. Is that rape? Have i been raped on those occasions? I am sure Rumblestiltskin and many others would say “yes you have: period”, but if that really is what rape constitutes then the act is not the terrible crime I had imagined it to be. For my part, had I asked to stop (or physically made my unhappiness clear) and the woman (on top, perhaps) had carried on regardless, then I would buy into it being sexual assault/rape but that is as far as it goes.

    i have to say, when i first read your blog entry a couple of weeks ago i expected to disagree with nearly everything you would have to say (going by past experiences) and yet I found very little that i wasn’t nodding along with.

  73. Childermass says

    Unless Shermer is arrested or taken to court then the discussion of law might a bit academic. There is another question that should greatly concern us and is probably more relevant here. It is not what the law can or should do, but rather what the response of the freethought community itself should be.

    If the community comes to the consensus that Shermer is acting towards women during functions of our community in a way inconsistent with the values we wish to be associated with then the community has the right to treat him as _persona non grata_ and cease to invite him to events. And then there is the question of how we come to such a consensus.

    • says

      Unless Shermer is arrested or taken to court then the discussion of law might a bit academic.

      I’m not sure why it’s being academic would be a problem. A lot of people don’t know this stuff, and would benefit from knowing it and thinking about it (for example, to skeptically evaluate the assumptions they make when the word “rape” is used).

      But in any event, plenty of people commit crimes (or are believed to have committed crimes) who do not see justice (or are believed not to have), and about whom we discuss whether they should have. This describes maybe 5% of all journalism ever.

      …rather what the response of the freethought community itself should be.

      Hence the closing paragraphs of my article.

      But note my article makes clear I only have a preponderance of evidence belief, not a certitude. So whether Shermer should be persona non grata can only be at the discretion of particular venues right now, in terms of what they assess to be the risks and optics (unless, for example, more evidence comes forward that raises his guilt to a much greater certainty).

      Right now I think the only thing that is definitely warranted (as my article explains why) is that women should be on their guard around him (which can’t hurt him all that much; as others have pointed out, even if he’s totally innocent, women being on their guard around him won’t be much of an inconvenience…unless he’s annoyed that this makes it harder for him to get laid, although I don’t see why it would do even that, if he’s not using unethical tactics to begin with).

      Beyond that it has more to do with how he conducts himself from now on. For example, suing people is more likely to make him persona non grata than just telling his side of the story in public and being done with it, and leaving it at he-said/she-said, where we have to decide which of them, if either, is lying, based on what limited information we then have.

  74. says

    I think it’s worthy to note that a couple of the fundamental precepts of both our criminal and civil legal systems is the right to face ones accuser and the right cross examine said accuser. When the accuser is anonymous this denies an accused party of fundamental rights that level the field and which are especially important in a matter in which there exists no physical evidence, only personal accounts of events.

    • says

      You seem to be ignoring the whole first section of my article you are commenting on, and the linked discussions of the reality of different standards at different levels of analysis.

      Case in point: we are not trying to jail Shermer, or even sue him, so what the standards are for criminal justice or civil torts is irrelevant here. We are not claiming to know what he did with that kind of certainty. We are further down the rung of levels of certainty. Those different levels are explored in the links I gave. Go read them.

      Likewise, you are confusing anonymous with unnamed sources. Those are not the same thing. Indeed I explain this in the article you are commenting on, with links. So you don’t appear to have actually read the article you are commenting on.

      Moreover, you evidently didn’t read any of the comments above where we have already discussed how Shermer could find out what he needs to in order to give his account of events. Shermer has simply chosen not to.

      Which leaves things where my article says they are.

  75. says

    At what point are women responsible for themselves? As a goddamn adult, I can turn down a drink and rebuff the advances of some asshole. If I get plowed and end up having sex with a guy I wasn’t that crazy about, that is not rape. That was bad decision making on my part, and to assert otherwise is an affront to people who’ve actually been raped.

    • says

      It’s a little more complicated than that. As I explain in the very article you are commenting on. It doesn’t look like you read it, or else you aren’t actually responding to what I actually said about the levels of harm and responsibility in this matter, which is not as black and white as you seem to think. It is not as if the only options are “totally wrong” and “totally okay.” And you would understand that if you actually read this article. So that you don’t seem to know this perplexes me a bit.

  76. pallabbasu says

    Very nice article, can’t agree with more especially with last section. Same thing I was telling my friends. What Shermer did was not possibly illegal, but he is a sexual predator. Many guys including me would have possibly done the predatory thing in similar circumstances. But women should know who is what, the woman who is speaking up should not be bullied or silenced.

  77. Susan Smith says

    It is a horrible thing to be the victim of a sexual assault and to be doubted. The victim should never be blamed. However, if you won’t file charges, you lose the ability for justice to be done and you cannot prove your attacker guilty.

    It’s not appropriate to accuse someone anonymously over the internet. What is to prevent anyone from accusing someone of any crime? In our society, people are innocent until proven guilty. I’m shocked that a real person was used in these scenarios. A person who has not been found guilty in a court of law and thus must be assumed innocent.

    Leave out the real person’s name and the scenarios are a precautionary tale about drinking heavily, alone with a stranger. Assuming both parties were drunk, both should be equally cautious of engaging in non-consensual sex.

    • says

      [I]f you won’t file charges, you lose the ability for justice to be done and you cannot prove your attacker guilty.

      You can’t “prove” your attacker guilty except by your testimony. So if the victim isn’t believed here, why would she be believed by twelve random and often less educated people on a jury?

      Indeed it’s often worse the other way around. Women victims are very badly treated by law enforcement and the justice system. It’s generally a horrible experience, sometimes as bad the original incident. The other costs can also be higher than the benefits, so if all you want to do is warn other women about a specific predator, then that’s all you can afford to do, and all you can be expected to do. (The article you are responding to not only made this point, in several paragraphs, it links to examples of what I mean…read them).

      Worse, since women aren’t trusted as witnesses, they often unjustifiably lose their cases, and their rapist is not only acquitted and declared innocent, they are immune from any further prosecution due to double jeopardy (you have a better chance in civil court, but even then you need lots of money and seven out of twelve random people to believe what the woman is saying, and in this present culture, that’s a lot to expect; plus all the other costs, which I discussed in the article above).

      Notice I discussed exactly this problem, too, with my scenario Z involving a (not as hypothetical as you might think) male victim of rape. I also spent a whole section before that discussing how in some states what is prosecutable as rape in one state is not even illegal in another (so a woman might not even have an action to declare, and thus other women there can be victimized with impunity).

      So you aren’t reading or paying attention to the article you are commenting on. You need to re-read all that and see it from the perspective of actual victims, given the nature of the way the world actually works (and not the way you think or wish it did).

      The first section of the article you are commenting on likewise challenges your claim that this is an anonymous source. It’s not. It’s an unnamed source, whose existence, name, and testimony have been multiply verified by named people. Same as in journalism or Jane Doe defendants in court (many an atheist has been allowed to testify, in court, under a pseudonym against Christian abusers in state-church separation cases, specifically to protect them from retaliation…if that’s okay, then so is this). Re-read the first section of this article on those points.

      Finally, it’s not really the case that “people are innocent until proven guilty.” O.J. Simpson was acquitted. But we all know he’s guilty. Tons of people we know are guilty of things, who have never and likely will never even go to court. So we don’t really, as a society, adopt any such axiom.

      Rather, the “innocent until proven guilty” concept only exists at the level of using force against defendants, i.e. jailing, fining, or executing them. We obviously have a very high standard for that. But all human belief is not attuned to such a high standard, nor could it be. We could never believe anything then, unless it passed the review of a jury in a legal proceeding (and you certainly don’t live your life that way).

      There are many other degrees of belief, where we might not be certain enough to warrant jailing someone, for example, but we have enough suspicion to be wary of them and not want to support or interact with them anymore, or have drinks with them or trust them to look after us if we’re a woman. Again, see the links in the first section of the article you are commenting on for a discussion of the different evidence standards we accept in society for different levels of certainty and different degrees of consequence.

      Be more attentive to the reality of the world, the costs victims face, and the nuances of different evidence-standards and degrees of belief.

    • says

      We have established certain standards by which to determine the veracity of said testimony. A fundamental standard, among others is that of facing ones accuser. This is a standard common to both criminal (high standard) and civil (low standard) matters in determining guilt.

      Are you and Myers the self anointed arbiters of the standard in some new system of jurisprudence that the two of you unilaterally and mutually devised?

      Yes, Simpson was in fact acquitted of the criminal charges in the cause of State of California v. Simpson, so I know that he was proven to be innocent under the law and by the criminal standard. I’m not certain who this “we” is that “all know he’s guilty” is but for you to make such a statement only serves to demonstrate to “us” that you either have a rudimentary at best concept of the system of jurisprudence under which you live or some sort of loathing or total lack of respect for it. Perhaps some combination of all of the above.

      The fact remains that Shermer has not been demonstrated to be guilty of anything and for you to assume as your fall back position in defense of the despicable form and format in which the accusation was made to be “we just want to know it’s safe to have drinks with him” is laughable at best. We have a legal system for a number of reasons, one of them is to insure that our citizenry is immune from being accused of such serious crimes without recourse. Myers denied this to Shermer and apparently you advocate this form of public lynching via gossip with the gossiper in chief being judge, jury and executioner. You might be interested in the research Dr. Robert Altemeyer, among others, did on authoritarianism, your apparent black and white position in this matter brought his work to mind as I read through your statements above as well as some of those included in piece these comments are in reference to.

    • says

      A fundamental standard, among others is that of facing ones accuser.

      Not in John/Jane Doe cases (as many an atheist has been allowed to bring in court to protect them from community retaliation).

      Nor in journalism (where many an unnamed source is used to show that, e.g., the President or some other official did or said something they claim not to have).

      The only time we require facing the accuser is when liberty is on the line (e.g. you might go to jail on their testimony or have to pay an enormous sum to them).

      Again, read the links I provided that discuss the different levels of evidence we actually require in society for different levels of outcome. You clearly didn’t. Be responsible. Do it this time, before continuing this conversation. Remaining willfully ignorant is not a way to persuade anyone of anything.

      Certainly, if we were saying Shermer should be locked up or pay a million dollars to the witness, then I would absolutely agree he should get to know who she is and challenge her in court (within the parameters of existing rape shield laws). But we aren’t calling for that. All this witness wants is for women to be wary of him. Women can take her testimony into consideration when deciding what to do about that.

      The rest of us can likewise take that into consideration when deciding whether to be around him or sponsor him at an event, based on our own judgment of the whole body of evidence–which extends far beyond just this one woman’s experience; especially just recently, with the groping incident, but there were already numerous other independent accounts of other incidents of misbehavior that violates the standards of behavior expected by many venues.

      That’s how reasoning works. That’s how humans make decisions.

      Although it is interesting that Shermer doesn’t know who his accuser is. That means he has done this so many times that he doesn’t know which drunk woman he crossed boundaries with is ratting him out. (He even intimated on Loftus’ blog that it could be one of a number of women he thinks might fit the bill. Yikes.)

      In any case, if he wants to know who she is, all he has to do is sue us, as he promised to do but, for some mysterious reason, hasn’t. Because truth is an absolute defense. (Might it be that he knows that?)

      In the end, what you need merely ask yourself is what the probability is that this witness said what PZ records her saying (i.e. the converse of the probability that PZ himself is just making this all up), and that has to be in light of the fact that Carrie Poppy has verified it (so you are now asking the probability they both are conspiring to fabricate this testimony), and then what the probability is that this witness is telling the truth as it appears to her (which could fit anything on the spectrum from what I describe as Scenario B to Scenario A), which is the converse of the probability she is lying. When I do that math, I get at least over 50% in favor of it being true. But that’s me personally. You can come to your own conclusion. And that’s how it works. Free speech. Free thought. Just make sure you can justify your probability assignments–why are you assigning the probabilities you are, is there any actual basis for that, is it a sound basis and consistent, are you doing it free of biases (personal or cognitive)–which is what being a responsible skeptic is all about.

  78. Mark Ross says

    I’ve addressed the “evidence” of Michael Shermer’s guilt in some depth: Most of it seems to be little more than rumors from the ubiquitous “a woman I know”. I disagree with Dr. Carrier in on several points, but on one point especially: skepticism doesn’t require us to assign a probability of guilt in all cases. Skeptics can–and should–withhold judgment when insufficient evidence is available to draw a reasonable conclusion.

    http://hatchetmaniac.com/2013/09/08/evaluating-myers-hand-grenade-part-ii/

    • says

      Withholding judgment is logically identical to assigning a low probability (low enough to be in the zone corresponding to uncertainty). You need to have a reason to do that. And it has to be a logically valid one. Indeed, in my case, that’s what I have done: a probability merely above 50% is not a probability that constitutes certainty. Hence I have declared none. So you aren’t even arguing against me.

      Secondly, this is not “a woman I know” in the urban legend sense. This is an actual identifiable woman whose existence and identity have been multiply confirmed by known, named people. It is equivalent to a Jane Doe in a legal case. Assigning Jane Doe anonymity to a witness or victim or plaintiff is good enough for courts of law. Why wouldn’t it be good enough for us? Indeed, we depend on it: many an atheist has sued a school for violating church-state separation and been granted Jane Doe status to protect them from retaliation (the same reason in this case). Likewise we routinely trust journalists who report the accounts of events from witnesses whose identity they protect.

      So it all comes down to whether you believe the named people (PZ and Poppy) are conspiring to lie about all this. And what reason and evidence do you have that they are?

      As for the alleged victim the same applied: what reason and evidence do you have that they are lying? And would your reasoning entail your rejection of every victim’s testimony? And thus end all law and justice as we know it? Or can you point to facts that make her relayed testimony less trustworthy than every other Jane Doe and Deep Throat in history?

      There is certainly a probability she is lying or mistaken. But is that probability greater than 50%? Why? Because she’s a woman? Because Shermer is famous? Fallacies both.

      Skepticism requires responsible reasoning. Not the abrogation of that responsibility just to make yourself feel comfortable or rescue a conclusion you desperately want to hold. That’s the exact opposite of skepticism.

  79. Mark R says

    Dr. Carrier: I’m not “arguing against you” in the fanatical sense, and I’m certainly not a Shermer apologist. I say this so you will understand my motives for writing. I’m not here to say Shermer is innocent and I’m not here to condemn you for believing that he is probably guilty.
    -
    > Withholding judgment is logically identical to assigning a low probability (low enough to be in the zone corresponding to uncertainty). You need to have a reason to do that. this is not “a woman I know” in the urban legend sense. So it all comes down to whether you believe the named people (PZ and Poppy) are conspiring to lie about all this. And what reason and evidence do you have that they are? There is certainly a probability she is lying or mistaken. But is that probability greater than 50%? Why? Because she’s a woman? Because Shermer is famous? Fallacies both. Skepticism requires responsible reasoning. Not the abrogation of that responsibility just to make yourself feel comfortable or rescue a conclusion you desperately want to hold. That’s the exact opposite of skepticism.<

    I agree with this statement in its entirety with the exception that you’re directing it at me. Curiously, you seem to be concluding–this time against the evidence provided that I’m not drawing any conclusion whatsoever–that I am arguing that Shermer is innocent of these charges.
    -
    Since you’re so enamored with the assignment of probability percentages could you please enumerate for me how you arrive at the very precise number of 50.1%? How can you assign any number at all since you don’t know anything about the accuser? Are you aware of her mental state? Is she prone to making false allegations? Does she have a vendetta against Dr. Shermer? Since the burden of proof rests with the person making the assertions, these are valid questions. And while I would never AUTOMATICALLY assume she is mentally unstable or a liar, these are certainly valid questions to consider to gauge the probability that her accusations are true. Without knowing this, how in the world can one assign such a precise number to her relatively vague statement?

    • says

      I’m not here to say Shermer is innocent and I’m not here to condemn you for believing that he is probably guilty.

      Then you are a lousy writer.

      In any event, since you just said you agree with me, there is nothing left to discuss. Any miscommunication you caused is now resolved.

      How can you assign any number at all since you don’t know anything about the accuser?

      It is logically impossible to have any belief-state that does not entail for you an epistemic probability that x for any x. “I don’t know either way” entails 50%. Everything else entails having reasons to believe it’s less, or reasons to believe it’s more. If you have no reason to believe it’s less or more, then necessarily you are saying you have no reason to believe it’s anything other than 50%.

      Your folly is in not realizing that.

      For a complete analysis of the problem, read Proving History, pp. 83-88 and 110-14.

      And while I would never AUTOMATICALLY assume she is mentally unstable or a liar, these are certainly valid questions to consider to gauge the probability that her accusations are true. Without knowing this, how in the world can one assign such a precise number to her relatively vague statement?

      It’s called a prior probability.

      Do you assume most women claiming to be raped are mentally unstable liars? If so, based on what background evidence? If not, then do you assume half of all women claiming to be raped are mentally unstable liars? If so, based on what background evidence? If not, then you must assume women claiming to be raped are more likely than not not mentally unstable liars. And whatever frequency you assume, of how many women claiming to be raped are mentally unstable liars, you have to justify with reliable evidence, or abandon for a frequency you can justify. (And this can be done a fortiori, so you don’t have to know the actual frequency, just what it is very unlikely to be: see Proving History, index “a fortiori”.)

      That’s how responsible skepticism actually works.

  80. Mark R says

    Let me tell you where I disagree with this line of reasoning. You may be able to use a statistic that most women who claim to have been raped by a named attacker were actually raped by that named attacker, and draw a conclusion from that fact that in general when a woman makes such a claim that it is both accurate and truthful. If you were to use this as a betting strategy, it would be fruitful as you would be correct most of the time. But not all of the time. You’d also find yourself on the losing end of some bets.

    But if your aim is to draw a conclusion about a particular accusation, the statistics no longer matter. We know that there are women who ARE delusional, mentally ill, or simply hateful that do make false accusations of this sort. We also know that there are women who point a finger at a man in sincerity claiming he is the rapist, when evidence eventually turns up showing that he was not. To determine whether this woman is either of those two types requires evidence specific to this matter at hand. In other words, if you want to find the truth of a particular case, you can’t rely on statistics. You have to rely on evidence of the particular case in question. There is simply NO evidence in this case.

    To place any kind of probability based on no empirical data is what they call “making a wild-ass guess” in my neck of the woods. Calling this “responsible skepticism” is, in my opinion, a laughable and embarrassing conceit.

    • says

      You may be able to use a statistic that most women who claim to have been raped by a named attacker

      The question is what statistic you are using. And why.

      Period.

      Are you being responsible in your assumptions, or not? That’s all there is to it. Don’t try to hide from this fact. Face and accept it.

  81. Eric Diaz says

    Articles like these is what have turned men into wussies.

    “Propositioning women you’ve barely even met, and have built no rapport with and have no idea what they think or feel about such things, is wrong.”

    I would disagree, Do I recommend it? No. But if you are honest in your intent, confident, not creepy, and respectful. This is not NECESSARILY wrong. Most woman will not sleep with you right there, but if they perceive that you are not a threat, they may consider your offer later. They know you are clear, that you know what you want, and you are not beating around the bush, pretending that you dont want to fuck her, while she knows you want to. Guys try to seduce woman like she will be in bed before she realizes it is too late.

    “Getting women drunk with the intent of having sex with them (without first establishing that they are okay with that) is wrong.”

    I kind of disagree. It is sleazy, it is the easy way. I would not have much respect for a man that does this, but no one ever says “Hey, lets establish that I will fill your glass so that you will want to have sex with me”…If a woman says yes to that, you most likely can have sex with her without having to buy a single drink. Also, if a girl does not want to drink, and the guy fills her glass, she should simply put it aside and not drink it. Or when she is filling tispy, stop drinking. It takes two to tango.

    I will tell you what I think happened(speculating).

    The shame that women can feel from having sex with a guy they just met can be very strong. This is mainly because of social programing. Alcohol is a drug that numbs that programing, So her instincts may be telling her that she should have sex, she wants to have sex, but her intellect is telling her she should not, its too soon, what are people going to say etc. She maybe gave in while still having that conflict in her mind, then when the alcohol wears off, social programing is in full strength. Ergo, she concludes he tried to rape her, or took advantage.

    Because of this conflict I think it is sleazy to sleep with a woman by getting her drunk. Not wrong entirely, because the woman may want to have sex, but definitely classless.

    • says

      Articles like these is what have turned men into wussies.

      I love how you immediately start with a childishly crypto-sexist remark–caring about women and what they think and feel and say makes men weak, and then saying this by avoiding the more obviously sexist implications of calling men “pussies,” and instead adopting the conflation of “wimp” and “pussy” as if that solved the problem of implying women are intrinsically pathetic and the worst way to insult a man is to equate him with a woman.

      So you just exposed where you are on the sexist-humanist spectrum: pretty well over toward the non-humanist side.

      “Propositioning women you’ve barely even met, and have built no rapport with and have no idea what they think or feel about such things, is wrong.” I would disagree, Do I recommend it? No. But if you are honest in your intent, confident, not creepy, and respectful. This is not NECESSARILY wrong.

      I will grant that in certain highly unusual circumstances (e.g. in the middle of an orgy) that might be true. But somehow I don’t think that’s what you mean. It sounds like you really mean treating women as just sexual targets, i.e. showing no interest in getting to know them as persons and just bypassing that whole “you’re a person” thing by directly propositioning strangers for sex without having any idea they are fine with that first, is okay.

      Most woman will not sleep with you right there, but if they perceive that you are not a threat, they may consider your offer later. They know you are clear, that you know what you want, and you are not beating around the bush, pretending that you dont want to fuck her, while she knows you want to. Guys try to seduce woman like she will be in bed before she realizes it is too late.

      You clearly don’t know much about women. Indeed, you don’t even seem to be acknowledging anything about their actual interests and concerns here.

      I’ll attempt to be charitable and assume you don’t really mean that “most women” (or indeed any significant percentage of them) actually want you to open your first conversation with them with a blunt admission that you want to fuck them (without even knowing anything about them as a person, but responding solely to their appearance!), however politely phrased. That simply negates them as a person and reduces them to an object. Which most women are smart enough to notice. That’s why they don’t like that.

      Instead, I’ll assume what you really mean is that once you’ve gotten to know a woman at least a little, and allowed them to get to know you at least a little, (from, say, at least half an hour of meaningful or flirtatious conversation), and they’ve brought up the subject of sex or indicated that they might be interested in something more, that politely indicating your interest in them is sometimes okay. That’s pushing the limits of good sense, but I can at least imagine scenarios where that would be true, although in reality usually you need at least an hour, and/or very clear signs, before it is honestly possible to intimate sexual interest in a way that does not declare your disinterest in them as a person but in fact communicates that your interest is partly dtiven by who they are as a person and not just their physical body devoid of their mind.

      “Getting women drunk with the intent of having sex with them (without first establishing that they are okay with that) is wrong.” I kind of disagree. It is sleazy, it is the easy way. I would not have much respect for a man that does this…

      Loss of respect for any person P is what occurs when P does something wrong. If they didn’t do anything wrong, there could be no rational basis for losing respect for them. So you don’t seem to be disagreeing with me here.

      If your intent is to use drugs to manipulate people, there is something despicable about you. Unless they are explicitly on board with the idea…

      …but no one ever says “Hey, lets establish that I will fill your glass so that you will want to have sex with me”…

      Actually, yes, they do. I’ve done that several times. Not in those inept words, of course. But my wife has explicitly told me I have standing permission to have sex with her regardless of her state of inebriation at the time (because, you know, spouses communicate and talk about things). And I’ve had lovers tell me they want to have sex with me but want to get a little drunk first. And I’ve asked lovers, as they start to drink, whether they would be okay with something happening later if they get drunk (and how drunk would be too drunk for that). And so on.

      If a woman says yes to that, you most likely can have sex with her without having to buy a single drink.

      Only if they agree to. Just because a woman expressed sexual interest doesn’t mean you get to have sex with her whenever you want. Even if you often have had sex with her. Spousal rape is a thing.

      Also, if a girl does not want to drink, and the guy fills her glass, she should simply put it aside and not drink it. Or when she is filling tispy, stop drinking. It takes two to tango.

      So women don’t get to have the same rights as men? Men can drink and get drunk and enjoy that without deserving to get raped, but women can’t? You are sounding like a Muslim here. Poor women are asking for it if they get drunk. But men can get drunk all they want.

      If you do not want to drink and a gay man fills your glass, you should simply put it aside and not drink it. Because he might rape you. Or when you are feeling tipsy, you should stop drinking. Because he might rape you.

      If those sound like silly recommendations to you, they are.

      Yet, because you don’t seem to recognize women are human beings, you were not even able to put yourselves in their perspective to see how silly your recommendations are. You negated women as people. Again. Yet when you treat them as people, and seriously ask if you’d give that advice even to yourself (or indeed any man) before audaciously offering it to women, notice how you get a different conclusion about all this than you just did.

      You know what the correct recommendations are? If someone is drunk, don’t rape them.

      The shame that women can feel from having sex with a guy they just met can be very strong. This is mainly because of social programing. Alcohol is a drug that numbs that programing, So her instincts may be telling her that she should have sex, she wants to have sex, but her intellect is telling her she should not, its too soon, what are people going to say etc. She maybe gave in while still having that conflict in her mind, then when the alcohol wears off, social programing is in full strength. Ergo, she concludes he tried to rape her, or took advantage.

      This sexist and demeaning fantasy about how women’s minds work is disturbing. Not least because it reveals how little you have ever known any woman as a person. You really don’t even have a clue about what women think or how they think. And in place of that gaping hole of ignorance, born of evidently never having had a serious conversation with a woman about things like this (or possibly anything), you fill that hole with sexist rape apologetics that reflect cultural thinking that had already become antiquated by the end of the 1950s.

      Please don’t have sex with a drunk woman. I do not trust that you are capable of knowing when you are raping them. And that makes you dangerous, even if you don’t realize it.

      P.S. Possibly you’ve had lots of conversations with women and just didn’t listen to anything they said. I allow that as a possibility, because it is common behavior among sexists, and is equally good an explanation for why you have such bizarre, antiquated and wholly inaccurate ideas about women.

  82. says

    Shermer forced me to continue to drink wine in my glass, then forced me into his hotel room, then forced me to have sex with him. So I did what any sensible person would do. I went straight for the polic—- Oh no I told “someone” in charge of the “event” my mistake. I thought I should be so inclined to get a name of who I told, or to go to the police after. I decided to wait two years to talk about being a victim.

    I also saw god when I left his room, I don’t wanna go into details about what god looked like, but I can assure you I am the messiah and you all need to give me money. I <3 Atheism+ btw. Very influential. Had it not been for + I would never know I could live without hating fags, jews, spics, niggers, or chinks. I mean the atheist bible clearly-…. Oh yeah forgot. The only solidarity a non stamp collector has with someone else who doesn't collect stamps is; not collecting stamps. #skepticismthrownoutwindow #didntrealizewewerebiblethumpers #niggazbetrippin

    • says

      I like how you not only come in with the pathetic sexism and stupid rape apologetics, and a veiled condemnation of humanism (“yay sociopathy!”), but throw in some racism for good measure. Way to advertise your brand there.

      Honestly. You just crazy uncled.

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