Banner
    Silence Is The Enemy
    By Josh Witten | June 3rd 2009 02:50 PM | 25 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Josh

    Welcome to the home of the rugbyologist. Come along as I wander far and wide (and near, too), stop to smell the roses of intellectual fancy, and...

    View Josh's Profile
    Silence.

    Descartes was convinced that it was speech that set humans apart from other animals.  Speech was what allowed humans to become dominant on the planet.  Then why do we use this talent talking about trivial things, what we are wearing, who is playing second for the Cardinals, what we had for breakfast, but when it comes to the important things, the life changing things, the traumatic things. . .

    Silence.

    For years, mass rape of women and children had been used as a weapon of war in areas like Darfur, Bosnia, and Liberia.  For years after formal violence ended, mass rapes have continued.  We have a wrod to describe such horrific acts: unspeakable.

    Silence.

    Inspred by New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof's documentation of the continued mass rape of young girls in Liberia, Sheril Kirshenbaum that there had been enough silence and launched an initiative called Silence is the Enemy:
    Today begins a very important initiative called Silence Is The Enemy to help a generation of young women half a world away.Why?  Because they are our sisters and children–the victims of sexual abuse who don’t have the means to ask for help.  We have power in our words and influence. Along with our audience, we’re able to speak for them.  I’m asking all of you–bloggers, writers, teachers, and concerned citizens–to use whatever platform you have to call for an end to the rape and abuse of women and girls in Liberia and around the world.

    In regions where fighting has formally ended, rape continues to be used as a weapon. As Nicholas Kristof recently wrote from West Africa, ‘it has been easier to get men to relinquish their guns than their sense of sexual entitlement.’ The war has shattered norms, training some men to think that ‘when they want sex, they need simply to overpower a girl.’ An International Rescue Committee survey suggests 12 percent of girls aged 17 and under acknowledged having been sexually abused in some way over the previous 18 months.  Further, of the 275 new sexual violence cases treated Jan-April by Doctors Without Borders, 28 percent involve children aged 4 or younger, and 33 percent involve children aged 5 through 12. That’s 61% age 12 or under.  We read about their plight and see the figures, but it’s so easy to feel helpless to act in isolation. But these are not statistics, they are girls.  Together we can do more.  Mass rape persists because of inertia so let’s create momentum.
    Take a moment to join the Silence is the Enemy Facebook group.

    Or, write a blog posting and join the Silence is the Enemy blog coalition (e-mail Sheril).

    Now, having joined the worthy cause, you might ask how this has anything to do with science?  In the public view, science does not have a good reputation when it comes to ethics.  Based upon the idiotically simple view of evolution as the cliched "Nature red in tooth and claw," many believe that making science the basis of society would lead to some horrific social Darwinist "kill or be killed" anarchy, in which these mass rapes become some sick expression of "survival of the fittest" (yet another cliche). 

    In fact, our understanding of science gives us every reason to be opposed to mass rapes based without considering ethics, which can vary wdely from person to person and society to society.  With the goal of bringing a new and broadening perspective to this discussion, the following list will not include the basic principle of legal ethics, secular humanism, and religious morality that all people have equal dignity and basic human rights.  Essentially, all of the following should have ". . .and because it is just wrong" amended to the end.

    1. It is not possible to have a productive and stable society in which there is widespread rape.  Contract enforcement is essential to a productive and stable society, even in the absence of a controlling government authority.  In a society where one individual can take what they want from another individual without mutual agreement, the underpinnings of a productive and stable society do not exist.

    2. Widespread rape reduces the efficiency of selection in a population.  Rape eliminates an important mechanism of selection, female mate choice.  In addition, it does both mental and physical damage to young girls prior to reproductive age that could negatively effect their reproductive fitness.

    3. No, this does not mean that rape is not harmful if only practiced upon females of "low" phenotypic value because it would lead to an assortative mating problem that reduces genetic variation, which is harmful to a populations ability to respond to changes in the environment. 

    4. Widespread rape creates an extreme local environment to which human behavior will adapt.  Those adaptations, however, will be counterproductive outside that local environment making it much less likely for individuals or the society to succeed in the wider world, leading to further isolation and eventual failure.

    So, to sum up, who wouldn't support Silence is the Enemy?  Only ignorant, unethical, unscientific assholes.  You aren't an ignorant, unethical, unscientific asshole, are you?

    *Hat tip to Phil Plait, The Bad Astronomer. 

    the rugbyologist RSS feed

    Comments

    logicman
    Josh:  I just posted a quick snippet linking here.  More power to your elbow!
    Science must become the norm, or we are fucked.

    Becky Jungbauer
    I was going to answer the questions in your first paragraph, mocking you for claiming that Descartes was convinced that it was speech that set humans apart from other animals. (Pajamas, Skip Schumaker, odwalla super protein chocolate soy smoothie. And speech is only one of the two criteria needed to distinguish human from animal.) I'm also not sure whether I am an ignorant, unethical, unscientific asshole - the possibility is there.

    All joking aside, I'm glad you wrote this. It's sometimes hard for a girl to write things like this because she can be labeled a militant feminist or all sorts of other not-so-nice words. I'm sad that many times people ask, "What did she do to deserve it?" instead of placing the responsibility on the guy. (Of course, there have been examples of the gender roles being reversed, and of people making up stories. I'm not referring to these cases.) The culture needs to change - instead of glorifying all things gratuitous, what's wrong with a little decency?
    Gerhard Adam
    "...looking at the remains of the church in which her husband and two sons were hacked to death with machetes by a Hutu death squad right in front of her."

    "Buildings that had been burned down with hundreds of people inside of them stood untouched as the bones bleached in the sun."

    http://www.nocaptionneeded.com/?p=1096

    In this kind of situation, I don't think horror, depravity, and cruelty can be marked by degrees.
    Mundus vult decipi
    adaptivecomplexity
    4. Widespread rape creates an extreme local environment to which human behavior will adapt.  Those adaptations, however, will be counterproductive outside that local environment making it much less likely for individuals or the society to succeed in the wider world, leading to further isolation and eventual failure.
    Right - aside for the personal tragedy and psychological damage rape causes to individuals, mass rapes like this are extremely destabilizing to society, and it can take more than a generation for that society to recover from the damage.
    Thanks for writing this Josh.
    Mike
    Gerhard Adam
    "...mass rapes like this are extremely destabilizing to society..."


    This is true, but it is precisely the point.  The impact on individuals isn't the objective, but it is the greater destruction of the society and people that is the objective.

    I don't mean to sound cynical, but this sounds a bit like saying that "murder is bad because it introduces uncertainty into an individual's future plans".

    What, if anything, can actually be done about something like this?  In my mind, there needs to be a violent confrontation, but how such a thing can (or should) be handled is beyond me to determine. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    rholley
    The facts are so grim, I can't think of anything constructive to say.

    But still, it's necessary to cut off any self-serving tosh, 'scientific' or otherwise, that people might use in mitigation.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    This is a serious topic, and it deserves serious attention to details.

    In order for someone in North America to begin to get their head around this genuine problem in Liberia, they need to be able to relate it to something closer to home. The statistics quoted in the article are given out of context, and therefore, are difficult to comprehend.

    For instance, in West Africa, 12% of girls under 17 say they were abused in the last 18 months.
    But what is the percentage in North America? I wouldn't be at all surprised if it is the *same*.
    Remember, North America is where "one in four" is a popular rallying cry against rape ... (http://www.oneinfourusa.org/). So what is the conclusion? Is West Africa really unthinkably horrible, or is it disturbingly similar to the U.S. ?

    jtwitten
    Silence: Not Our Problem?

    This issues is an international one and not simply confined to "other" places.  The statistics are very hard to get a grip on.  "One in four" refers to over an entire lifetime.  The West Africa statistics refer to only an 18 month time frame.  It is not possible to say if these numbers are comparable or if there are shared causes of the societal trends.

    What it is possible to say is that any number is too large.  The biggest fight is against the unwillingness of people to talk about the problem.  The tendency to not say anything calls any statistical enumeration to establish the scope of the issue problematic and any attempt to analytically understand and address the root causes impossible.
    Gerhard Adam

    Josh;

    Not to sound too glib, or strange about this, but there really is a very scientific consideration that really fits into the biology. 

    As a society, the issue of silence is very serious because it creates an environment whereby we are tacitly allowing these behaviors to continue.  What we really need to do is to create the necessary selection pressures to root out such individuals and ensure that such behaviors are not tolerated.

    I'm being quite serious regarding the "selection pressures", because as you know, biological success has always been determined by these considerations (as has been our practices in animal management).  If, as a society, we took steps to ensure that there were such pressures against these activities, then there MIGHT be a chance to make a difference.

    I guess this might sound harsh to some people, but I don't believe you can rehabilitate defective traits, so the only real solution is to simply ensure they don't occur in the future.

    Mundus vult decipi
    "One in four" is a false statistic: http://www.leaderu.com/real/ri9502/sommers.html). A popular rallying cry for sure, but a specious claim nonetheless. Obvious troll is obvious.

    Gerhard Adam

    Silent may be the enemy, but so are irrelevant statistics.  There is nothing more annoying that seeing a discussion about the real suffering that people endure and have someone discuss it as if it were simply a mathematical irregularity that represents an outlier, or data point.

    Mundus vult decipi
    The flow of information, from telegraph to internet, has marked huge steps in human progress, but a countering view...maybe just for discussion's sake.

    On Descartes & talking, correlation likely isn't causation: Yes speech & intelligence distinguish us from other animals, but so does our upright posture, other aspects of our anatomy, our mating practices, etc. From an evolutionary perspective, language didn't develop in order talk about life's grander mysteries. It developed to enable us to survive in a social context. Gossip is likely much more in line with language's original intentions than discussing intellectual ideas, or rape. The development of the human mind was much more bottom-up than Descartes could've of imagined.

    One aspect that's always amazed about human cognition is our ability to generalize from a few specific examples. Elucidating on certain details can be key in story-telling, or in conveying important information (eg, case-studies). Our ability to generalize from a few select examples is a small example of the roots of science at work.

    I agree with all the points you bring up about rape. ("That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others." - John Stuart Mill). Those are some negative effects of rape, but that's not why it's wrong. Afterall, you might be able to come up with some hypothetical positive events (& use them as hypotheses in scientific studies). But science or even the grander themes tied into life/humanity doesn't get at it. It's simply wrong. No because.

    jtwitten
    Not to be crude, but to say there is no because is stupid.

    I could just say< "Hey, it's ok.  Cause I said so."

    There are multiple levels to why something is wrong, but we do need to think about why.
    Many questions in life can't or don't need to be answered by scientific reductionism.

    To give an example, here's a quote from Robert Pirsig as he's trying to define the adjective "quality" (from http://www.virtualschool.edu/mon/Quality/PirsigZen/part3.html). In its context, he's trying to determine whether it's objective or subjective. He just ruled out the former, & is considering the latter. It also provides a refute to your point that without a "b/c" you can say whatever you like.

    "He turned his attention to the other horn of the dilemma, which showed more promise of refutation. He thought, So Quality is whatever you like? It angered him. The great artists of history...Raphael, Beethoven, Michelangelo...they were all just putting out what people liked. They had no goal other than to titillate the senses in a big way. Was that it? It was angering, and what was most angering about it was that he couldn't see any immediate way to cut it up logically. So he studied the statement carefully, in the same reflective way he always studied things before attacking them.

    Then he saw it. He brought out the knife and excised the one word that created the entire angering effect of that sentence. The word was "just." Why should Quality be just what you like? Why should "what you like" be "just"? What did "just" mean in this case? When separated out like this for independent examination it became apparent that "just" in this case really didn't mean a damn thing. It was a purely pejorative term, whose logical contribution to the sentence was nil. Now, with that word removed, the sentence became "Quality is what you like," and its meaning was entirely changed. It had become an innocuous truism. "

    (He ends up deciding that "quality" is neither objective nor subjective, but rather it's where the 2 meet.)

    Instead of coming up with numerous reasons for why rape is bad - albeit ones that are unique in their evolutionary/biological perspective - try pinpointing why it is bad in a manner that gets at the very heart of the issue, which might change or solidify someone's mind. The best you might do I'd imagine might look something like Kant's categorical imperative; but inferring out from the categorical imperative is murky at best - plus it serves more as a heuristic than a scientific explanation, & it completely fails to portray the personal, emotional, & subjective violations involved in rape.

    jtwitten
    First, the express purpose of my reasoning was to address causes from an objective, scientific point of view, because so many others have established the philosophical and ethical objections.  It was also to establish a line of reasoning that would resist any differences in subjective sociocultural norms.

    Second, stating that the objections to any behavior cannot be reduced to mechanistic issues (e.g., all our emotional responses are governed by electrochemical mechanisms) abandons true objective ground. 

    This does not mitigate the subjective and emotional import of this topic.  Instead it broadens the perspective so that we can understand the negative impact of rape regardless of personal ethics.
    Gerhard Adam
    Instead it broadens the perspective so that we can understand the negative impact of rape regardless of personal ethics.
    I think you're missing the point in this regard, because you have to take into account the social groups that are in conflict and whether anyone cares whether there is a negative impact.  A negative impact is only of consequence when it is occurring within a social group that is intending to "move into the future" together and will experience the results of such negative influences.

    In human history (as well as any other social animal), there is no concern about negative impacts about other members of the same species if they belong to different social groups or colonies.  Therefore there is no objective position.  The problem here is a uniquely human problem since the people impacted do not have the freedom so simply move away from the offending parties, but instead they are trapped by political environments (i.e. other social groups) which effectively create the trap which allows these people to be victimized.

    There are only two possible choices.  Allow people to be exterminated by whoever the dominating power is, or violent retaliation that ensures such future actions are less likely to occur.  I don't personally believe that any other choice will work in the long-run, but that's still most likely going to be the result.
    Mundus vult decipi
    "the express purpose of my reasoning was to address causes from an objective, scientific point of view, because so many others have established the philosophical and ethical objections. It was also to establish a line of reasoning that would resist any differences in subjective sociocultural norms."

    The inability, however, for philosophers to come up with these absolute lines of reasoning paved the way for empiricism. If anything the latter has taught us that the world is more nuanced than our minds would like; quite literally it forces you to think in probabilistic (ie, not absolute) terms.

    I agree that we can still study those "subjective sociocultural norms" albeit in an objective fashion. A lot of psychology research does that, & some fields have gotten good at it. But I'm not sure how you would do this in a manner that would apply findings absolutely across all cultures. In fact, the degree to which the findings do or don't translate across cultures is worthy of study in & of itself. The answer might be fascinating but more nuanced & conditional than we would like to accept. Paul Ekman for instance studied facial expression across cultures. Expressions for some core emotions, he found, were universal, both in their social/subjective meaning & frequency; but other expressions for basic emotions varied across cultures. I think you would find something similar for variables that might be hypothesized to tie into rape, like personal autonomy, female autonomy, social cohesion, etc. This can help us better understand what's involved, give us a likewise nuanced understanding of rape, & maybe even synthesized to help reduce rape. But I'm not sure we can use it to infer moral or subjective judgment.

    jtwitten
    Yet, there is no other way to have universal norms without postulating an extrinsic source of ethics (i.e., god).  I can dismiss the applicability of your norms by simply rejecting the extrinsic source of your ethics.  Which brings us to Gerhard's conclusion that force is absolutely necessary. 

    As I said in the article:
    With the goal of bringing a new and broadening perspective to this discussion, the following list will not include the basic principle of legal ethics, secular humanism, and religious morality that all people have equal dignity and basic human rights.  Essentially, all of the following should have ". . .and because it is just wrong" amended to the end.
    "Yet, there is no other way to have universal norms without postulating an extrinsic source of ethics (i.e., god). I can dismiss the applicability of your norms by simply rejecting the extrinsic source of your ethics. Which brings us to Gerhard's conclusion that force is absolutely necessary. "

    You're mirroring Dawkins' cliched conversation with creationism.

    Creationism: How could people live morally & civilly without believing in God?

    Dawkins: Watch

    Some force will be necessary, but you might reframe the question along less ideological lines: "What is the ideal amount of force - both in type & quantity - that a body of hundreds of millions of people will most tolerate to live civilly?" The answer differs vastly across cultures; intrinsically it's determined by cultural norms, themes, ideas; but ultimately it's judged by its utilitarian purpose. (This even applies in cases of corruption, as to a degree people let themselves be rule; as a friend astutely pointed out to me, if the Chinese were unhappy with their gov't the masses have the power to overthrow it.)

    God & the categorical imperative can be used as stretched out attempts to draw out these universals, absolutes, norms. Ultimately however people don't need convincing; most criminals know what's wrong - both in a legal manner, & in their heart - & they do wrong anyway. There's still lots of other useful related knowledge to be gained of course

    jtwitten
    I agree with Dawkins that the professed need for ethics to be rooted in some Supreme Being does not stand close scrutiny of reality. 

    As a scientist, I find the acceptance of an idea of a "categorical imperative" or "in their heart" to be profoundly dissatisfying.  Where do these things come from?  They are either mechanistic or not.   

    There are s couple of problems with the Chinese example.  First, the level of displeasure has to be high enough to overwhelm the fear of dying in a revolt.  History argues that the level of displeasure has to be very high for that to happen, which is why most revolts are actually spearheaded by a few, middle class individuals, who are government subsidized in China.  Second, the masses would need to have some expectation that the system that replaces the current one would be better.  Again, history tells the wise man to not revolt.
    Regarding the Chinese example, the prerequisite fear required for revolution most likely changes as the population grows. It's a numbers game & the chances of dieing in a revolution gets smaller as the population gets bigger. What you see is that the balance of implicit power shifts towards the people. For example, the Chinese gov't has had to incorporate bits & pieces of capitalism into their communist regime. This was a matter of practicality not ideology. If they failed to do so, there would've likely been more civil unrest, beyond that which already exists I remember from your previous post on civil unrest in China. Its citizens probably don't want revolution to begin w/, but the urge might change if poor policy makes more of them starve.

    We might be seeing less large revolutions nowadays b/c the as the masses grow they are harder for a corrupt regime to contain. Instead, corrupt gov'ts seem to make small compromises & concessions to the people.

    Gerhard Adam
    I have to disagree.  There are many things that don't require a reason to be considered repugnant and repulsive.  They are so far outside the bounds of human morality and existence that no further explanation is required.

    I think the point that kerrjac was making is that if we think about "why", then we may also think about "why not"?  Once we head down that path, then all manner of rationalization occurs by those that want to exploit it.  The only way to universally condemn such actions is to say, there is "no because", since it can never be justified.  No excuse will ever be acceptable. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    logicman
    The only way to universally condemn such actions is to say, there is "no because", since it can never be justified.  No excuse will ever be acceptable.
    I must concur.
    Gerhard Adam
    After reading some of the newer posts I wanted to add a few points that I think are essential for the "scientific" understanding of what is taking place and why. 

    In the first place, it is important to understand the role of ethnic differences and tensions that exist in the majority of these cases (Rwanda, Darfur, etc.).  It makes no difference as to how people "think" things should work, the underlying issue is that we have various social groups (or ethnicities) that are uniformly disinterested in ensuring the other survives.  Varying degrees of "tit for tat" events may exist in their history, but in effect, the political situation and geographic boundaries have created an environment whereby these two (or more) groups must now attempt to coexist under the political leadership of a particular majority.

    By attempting to cross over such social boundaries, there is a perpetual tension that will be created and remain unresolved because the political system seeks tolerance and not consolidation.

    If we were to observe this behavior in biology (using wolves as the example), we would reasonably conclude that we are witnessing a conflict between two different packs that are in the same territory.  It is inconceivable that any social animal would allow members of different packs to interact, share territory, and share authority.  I can think of no social animal that would accept such conditions without a violent reaction.  Yet, as humans we insist on performing exactly such actions and are then stunned when we discover that they are unstable social organizations and ultimately culminate in violent and attempted genocides.

    Admittedly, human history is filled with these types of issues, because while we acknowledge our social and cultural differences, we perpetuate the myth that these factors are not involved in our political choices. 

    Since these problems are completely of human manufacture, then it is only through our political processes and forces that such events can be brought under control.  It is the transition of what was once tribal territories and societies that are being forced together into singular political organizations that gives rise to the problems. 

    The United States is often pointed to as an example of how different cultures can blend, but this is incorrect.  The general attitude is not of blending, but rather other cultures "joining".  In other words, there is a sense that one is expected to give up their old country viewpoints and join in a new society.  Recent tensions in the U.S. are precisely being impacted for these very same reasons when it is felt that many immigrants are desirous of transplanting their cultures rather than joining in a "melting pot".

    In short, the issue of rape and murder is irrelevant since it is only one more tool of terrorism to attempt the destruction of another social group.  These are not criminal acts.  These are terrorist acts because their intent is to destroy for destruction's sake alone.

    Going back to the example of the wolves, it should be clear that the only solution is to either force a separation between the groups in question, or to create a more powerful external force that can hold such a powder keg together.  In either case, much violence will ensue, but without such considerations then every "solution" is only a postponement of what will explode into societal chaos again.
    Mundus vult decipi