The Elephant In the Santa Barbara Shooting

There have been many excellent articles written on the role of misogynist (and patriarchal) belief systems in the recent massacre. You can read some herehere, here, and here. However, a very important, central matter has been missing from every article I’ve read. Speculation centers around what made Elliot do it – mental illness is always implicated, some hypothetical events of his childhood are sometimes implicated, and the MRA and PUA community are implicated or absolved.

We are asking the wrong question and we’re asking it deliberately, to avoid the most frightening aspect of the situation: a relatable young man, with friendly and likeable social interactions and no known diagnosis of mental illness, chose to slaughter innocent people. That bears repeating: Elliot chose to do what he did. A human being made a conscious decision to kill other humans, but I’ve not seen this fact not mentioned anywhere, even in the most progressive of articles. Even the most progressive of writers appear to feel obligated to say that on top of his being misogynist, ‘of course he was also mentally ill’.

It appears taboo to speak of the frightening possibility that perhaps he was not mentally ill. We know he believed that the women of the world owed him something, and he was frustrated, upset and angry that he didn’t get it. He decided that the thing that would make him happiest would be to take revenge on his enemies. He also decided that the consequences of his actions would be worth that moment of revenge. We need to look square in the face the very real and tenable possibility that he made a calculated, rational choice according to the beliefs and feelings that he had. He didn’t need to be mentally ill. He just had to hold the beliefs that he had and the experiences that led to his feelings.

This reality is frightening because it forces us to confront the fact that Elliot is not that different from any one of us. That our own beliefs can, in fact, have real world, life or death consequences. And it raises that uncomfortable possibility that we ourselves might hold destructive, false beliefs unawares. That some of the decisions we may have made, and may make in the future, were and will be based on false beliefs, and may be very wrong, evil actions though we believe them to be right and justified.

As frightening as it is, it is in our best interest to face this reality head-on. Being consciously aware of the destructive potential of our own beliefs empowers us to choose not to do evil, rather than simply assume that we ourselves, and any actions arising from our current beliefs, cannot possibly be evil. And it tempers our adamance that substantial decisions arising from our beliefs be made unexamined.

I first faced this reality at the age of 18. I was raised in a far-right-wing fundamentalist cult. I had been raised to have absolute certainty in each precept of the set of beliefs I’d been taught, and to not allow myself to question them. That all changed when actions I took in strict adherence to my beliefs on how to show love to my closest friend ended up wounding (metaphorically) her deeply and causing her situation to deteriorate instead of improve. How could deep love, combined with faithful adherence to true beliefs, have such a destructive effect? Perhaps I had believed falsely. Perhaps some of my beliefs were not true. I couldn’t allow false beliefs to drive me to such destructive action ever again. I needed to find out what was really, actually true about myself, God, the world, and my place in it. I needed to suspend some categories of decisions, judgements, and actions until I knew more. I couldn’t afford to make such a mistake ever again. This path has led me to a more nuanced understanding of the world and my place in it.

The reality that beliefs can kill must inform our decisions as a culture and as a nation. Can we admit, as a nation, that we have been wrong? Can we open our minds to the possibility that some of our embedded cultural beliefs could be incorrect, even destructive?

The Santa Barbara shooting is not the first time misogyny has killed. Misogyny kills and injures daily in the form of domestic violence. It systematically disempowers women in the workplace. It deprives us of political representation. We need to face the fact that misogyny isn’t simply the whining of a few ugly women with bunched up panties. It’s a systemic, destructive force that pervades American culture and law.

The champions of patriarchy are coming out of the woodwork in the aftermath of the shooting. Patriarchy has been exposed for what it is. This revelation threatens to weaken the freedom of men to use lesser amounts of violence to control and oppress women in their daily lives. Every time an individual ridicules the idea of a rape culture, or ridicules the idea that American culture is patriarchal and misogynistic, they are choosing to defend a system they like. They are choosing to defend systematic misogyny – that is, to protect their freedom to use overt and covert force against and upon women.

To reflect on, evaluate, and modify our beliefs is not a weakness, but a strength. Let’s face, head-on, our own potential to hold incorrect and dangerous beliefs. If you don’t think misogyny exists or that America has a rape culture or that our nation is structured with inherent patriarchy, this is your opportunity to examine, research, and re-evaluate those beliefs. For the rest of us, let’s not think of ourselves as immune or as having ‘arrived’. An attitude of conscious questioning of the potential of our own beliefs empowers us to grow and lead. And, ironically, it also gives us a degree of compassion and understanding for perpetrators of violence. Their choices are not okay, their beliefs are not okay, but maybe, as Norway has proven, they can be helped via appropriate rehabilitation. If we, as a culture, recognize our own capacity for individual and societal evil, we will be rewarded with a safer world with less evil in it.

Note: do not defend kyriarchy in this comment thread. Any and all violating comments will be deleted.

Lourdes, Lifeboats, and Bounded Choice: Part III (Raised in a Totalist Institution)

This excellent post by Cindy K explains how Second Generation Adults (SGAs) in ‘total institutions’ (such as the Christian homeschooling movement) do not have a ‘Realistic Right of Exit’. SGAs do not have the opportunity to experience the psychological, educational, and social development necessary to thrive in the outside world.

I find this concept – SGAs not having a ‘realistic right of exit’ – fascinating because it is something both SGAs and their perpetrators can, and do, agree with.

SGAs know how challenging it is to survive outside the ‘total institution’ – for many it is in fact impossible and literally their only opportunity for survival is to stay within the abusive community.

The perpetrators, however – (Christian) homeschool leaders, homeschool convention speakers, homeschool support groups, homeschool pastors, and even homeschool parents, openly discuss how essential it is to condition SGAs one has power over (i.e. daughters, sons) to not leave the movement, and to not permit SGAs to develop skills that could lead to ‘independence’ (another word they openly despise).

When a ‘Quivering Daughter’ / SGA leaves the fundamentalist movement, she is a victim of severe, long term trauma. But our culture has failed to provide a social safety net for these survivors, who are not yet officially recognized as survivors of domestic abuse or human trafficking, and whose perpetrators are rarely even prosecuted, let alone convicted, of any crime. And yet, not only did their perpetrators remove the SGA’s realistic right of exit *in effect*, they also did so knowingly, purposely, and with intent.

As we continue to raise awareness of the SGA homeschooler problem, it is my hope that access to social and legal resources will be opened to survivors.

Do children’s rights end where the sidewalk ends?

In a recent online discussion, someone said that ‘children’s rights end where the sidewalk ends’.  This is a variation on a common argument: children’s rights must be limited for their own protection.  If we allow them to make their own decisions, they will hurt themselves.

That this argument seems prima facie true is a symptom of our cultural prejudices.  It can be revealed as a prejudice through a simple allegory.  Imagine an intelligent adult from a culture without cars is visiting your area and you have been asked to show them around.  You are walking down the sidewalk together, and this individual suddenly steps into the street with oncoming traffic.  What do you do?

Your response wouldn’t be any different than it would be if a child did the same thing.

This isn’t because an adult from a different culture should have their rights limited for their own protection.  It’s not because if we allow them to make their own decisions, they will hurt themselves.  It’s because an individual unused to our world hasn’t yet gained the experience and knowledge to protect themselves from our technology.

And you wouldn’t respond by limiting this individual’s rights.   You would respond by taking immediate steps to protect them (despite their being an adult) and, in the longer term, educating them on how to protect themselves from the dangers of traffic.

You wouldn’t project from the fact that the individual needed protective intervention in this instance to limiting their freedom to set their own values or make their own decisions.

To intervene to protect the life of another human being is normal, no matter what age that person is.

However – if that same adult individual makes different life choices than we think they should make, we let them do so.  We try to understand and respect their differences in values.  We listen to them when they express an opinion and engage them in respectful dialogue instead of silencing them.  If they tell us they feel we have done something unjust to them, we take the allegation seriously and consider whether we have and if we should make amends.  We don’t think we have the right to coerce them into behaving in a certain way or engaging in certain activities because we value them or think them important.

Any individual deserves that respect, regardless of their age, and regardless of the fact that we’d intervene if they stepped off the sidewalk.

A statement on the rights of a child

I’m about to share something very radical and very close to my heart.

It’s based on a simple belief I have: All humans are created equal, regardless of age – men, women, children, and babies – all with the same inalienable rights.

For the purpose of this statement, “child” is defined as a human between birth and reaching the age of legal majority.

A better world would be based on these principles:

A child is fully human.

A child should be afforded every protection afforded to adults. Children are more vulnerable than adults, so should not be afforded less protection.

This includes protection against bodily injury, mutilaton, and assault, regardless of the agent of these crimes.

The child may seek restitution for these crimes. The state may prosecute for them.

The child has the same right to health as does an adult. Therefore, her right to medical care should not be obstructed, any more than an adult’s should be.

Obstructing a child’s access to medical care is equally a crime as obstructing an adult’s access to medical care. If his mobility is reduced to such an extent that he does not have independent access to medical care, those reducing his mobility has a responsibility to ensure that he recieves medical care when in need.

The child has the same right to choose those with whom he associates as does an adult. If a child chooses to change his place of residence, he may not be obstructed.

In the primal state, a child comes into the world with immediate access to natural resources that enable his survival. Due to legal implementation of property law, he no longer has access to these resources. Societies have an obligation to ensure that restituation for this is made to children.

In addition, those who bring a child into the world are responsible to protect and provide for him in his his period of dependence. They do not have any right to make any choices for the child as a condition of this responsibility.

I’m not sure how we can make this world a reality, but I think that when we do we will transform the world – first for children, soon after for everyone.

Invisible Women

Last winter I polled a particular group of women.   I asked them about their experiences as young adults over the age of 18.  Here are some of the results.

56% I was not allowed to own a car and/or get a driver’s license.

50% I did not have access to transportation.

69% I did not have freedom to dress as I pleased.

38% I believed or feared that going against the/some rules would result in physical punishment.

13% I was spanked (after the age of 18).

44% I believed or feared that going against the/some rules would result in homelessness.

81% I was not allowed to spend time with some people or in some social situations that I desired to be in.

56% I was not permitted to pursue a romantic interest I had.

44% I did not receive either a legally accepted high school diploma or a GED or equivalent.

69% I spent more than 20 hours a week cleaning/cooking/taking care of the home and was unpaid.

The women I polled were not captured by strangers or taken to a foreign country.  These were women who had lived at home with their families their entire lives.  They did not go to school, watch TV, or listen to the radio.  Although they lived in the U.S., they were unfamiliar with American customs and culture.

92% had believed that “if I were to call the police about a family matter something bad would happen to me.”

75% had believed that they could be physically obstructed from leaving their home without legal recourse.

Only 9% had been aware that “if I were to move out of my parents’ home, there were shelters and other non-profit and government assistance programs to provide shelter, food, basic living necessities, and training until I was able to support myself.”

The women I polled were born into and raised by controlling families in the U.S. and had their access to information severely limited from an early age.  As children and young adults, they had not been much aware of their legal rights.  They had feared the government and the legal system instead of believing that it could help them.

These women are not rare, but they are invisible.  There may be tens of thousands of them in the U.S.  Only the minority make it out.  The majority continue in this situation or marry and repeat it with their own children.

At the time they answered this poll, these particular women had recently exited and were establishing lives for themselves.  The challenges and difficulties they faced is fascinating and worthy of a post devoted to it.

I believe that these women were victims of human trafficking even though they don’t meet the standard profile of a foreigner held captive by strangers.  I believe that these women have fallen through the cracks in the system.  Non-profits and NGOs are not reaching out to help them.

What I would like to see: public awareness, outreach from support networks to these victims, and the working out of the legal system on how to approach these situations and what recourse and protection women who have been victimised in this way have.

Without the Category of Minor, How Do You Protect Against Sexual Abuse?

I had to write this one offline – with a chai – and save to post later…

My friend Shal commented on my Intro to Children’s Rights:

Discriminating on capacity/ability rather than age, and eliminating the category of ‘minor’ would make children even more susceptible to abuse.  Our court system would become mired with cases of adults and their child victims (willingly or under duress) attempting to argue that the child’s capacity/ability makes him/her a consensual participant. And that is only in cases where there are individuals who are concerned enough to report it, because after all, it is not technically illegal anymore for an adult and a child to have sex because there is no such thing as a “child.”

This raises an important consideration – prevention of sexual abuse.  When Shal says ‘Our court system would become mired with cases of adults and their child victims (willingly or under duress) attempting to argue that the child’s capacity/ability makes him/her a consensual participant’, she brings up a legitimate concern about eliminating the category of minor in the real world that is in existence today, without changing anything else.

In this case the current category of minor partly makes up for the unsatisfactory nature of policy, practice, and consciousness of in the area of sexual assault.  Non-consensual sexual interaction is sexual assault no matter who it happens to, of whatever age.   Unfortunately, our culture is confused about recognising and prosecuting non-consent.

When it comes to child sexual assault, here’s the quick answer: the power imbalance between an adult and a child is too great for sexual consent to be possible.  If courts could recognise imbalances of power, we wouldn’t have to worry about having rules about age.

If courts opened their eyes to the difference between genuine consent (a freely made – unpressured, active desire and decision for) and the misogynistic construction (the lack of a no, or an unconvincing no) we’d be protecting children and many other vulnerable individuals unprotected in practice today.

Child sexual assault is objectively wrong.  It is not so as a product of our definition of under-18s as minors.

My favourite book on the topic of sexual consent is Yes Means Yes; Visions of Female Sexual Power and an Era Without Rape, and the corresponding blog is also excellent: the Yes Means Yes blog.

Why I Don’t Believe in Parental Rights

This may be news to some of you, but people in and connected with the homeschool circuit in the USA are working to add an amendment to the US constitution and have a surprising amount of traction.  The professed aim is to protect ‘the family’ from the likes of the U.N.Convention on the Rights of the Child.  (I’m actually not kidding.  See parentalrights.org)

The “Parental Rights Amendment” reads:

Section 1.  The liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children is a fundamental right. 

Section 2.  Neither the United States nor any state shall infringe upon this right without demonstrating that its governmental interest as applied to the person is of the highest order and not otherwise served.

Section 3. No treaty may be adopted nor shall any source of international law be employed to supersede, modify, interpret, or apply to the rights guaranteed by this article.

The U.N Convention on the Rights of The Child, pioneered by the founder of Save the Children, and ratified by all members of the U.N. except the U.S.A. and Somalia, is longer, but here is some of UNICEF’s summary of the relevant content:

Article 3.  The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children.

Etc…. perhaps most upsetting to the ‘Parental Rights’ advocates –

Article 9. Children have the right to live with their parent(s), unless it is bad for them. Children whose parents do not live together have the right to stay in contact with both parents, unless this might hurt the child.

‘Parental Rights’ supporters claim to be trying to protect the family, but they’re really just trying to protect one class in the family – the parent.  The other class in the family – the child – would actually have less protection under the amendment.

The ‘Parental Rights’ amendment says the right of the parent to direct the upbringing of the child is a fundamental right.  My main issue with this is that it protects the strong, powerful, and resource-rich (the parent) from the weak, powerless, and resource-poor (the child).  It lessen’s the child’s recourse to civil and legal protection and advocacy, when it is against their parents.  It would make corporal punishment and parental genital mutilation more difficult to eradicate.  And it most certainly does not empower children to make their own decisions about their lives and education.

My understanding of the purpose of defining rights is that it is meant to protect the weak from the strong, not the strong from the weak.

That’s why I definitely support the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.  It’s statement that the child her or himself has rights – to life, care, family, education, identity, opinions, information, expression, and freedom from violence.  It’s also a statement that the government will protect the rights of a child the same way that it protects the rights of an adult.  And it’s a statement that as adults, we are responsible for the well-being of children.

I can see how these things would be offensive to adults who are satisfied in their adult privilege and feel that children owe their parents something for giving them life and sustenance.  I’m not one of those adults.  I feel that people who adopt that mindset are at best unthinkingly accepting the cultural assumptions handed down to them and are no different from those who unthinkingly accept cultural prejudices towards racism or patriarchy.  Children are human beings, just as adults are, and if we truly believe that all humans are created equal and are endowed with equal inalienable rights, we had better include children in that statement.

p.s. It was chai at Blackwell’s again.