The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. This video is a thought experiment about artificial intelligence, the choices we make, and how much (or how little) we’ll delegate such choices in the future. Enjoy!
Category Archives: psychology
Thought Experiment: What Major Decisions Would You Trust An Artificial Intelligence To Make For You?
Drugs are bad. You shouldn’t do drugs.
That was the mantra I heard every other day in school as a kid. Others my age heard it too. There were entire assemblies about drugs at least twice a year. There were regular PSA’s after some of my favorite kids shows. Every health and PE class, it seemed, took time out of their schedule to talk about the dangers of drugs.
For the most part, I listened to these message and took them seriously to some extent. However, I could never truly buy in. I’ve mentioned before how certain anti-drug programs I went through in school sent mixed messages. These days, I’ve come to see those programs and most of those anti-drug efforts to be either a waste of time, misguided, or outright deceitful.
I’ll go so far as to say that the drug war is a complete and utter failure and should be ended right now.
I’m not trying to make a political statement. I’m just trying to put my attitude towards drugs and the drug war in context. A lot factors went into this current overview. However, there was one particular experience that really re-shaped how I saw this issue. It wasn’t something I experienced in school or some life-changing PSA. It was actually a result of dental surgery.
That, in and of itself, is saying a lot because, as I’ve noted before, I despise going to the dentist.
A big part of that aversion to going has to do with some of my less-than-stellar dental health over the years. I’m not just talking about having a cavity or two. Most people deal with that. I’ve actually had a number of major dental procedures over the years. I’ve had fillings in my molars, gum grafts for my lower lip, and a whitening procedure that made my teeth hurt for days on end.
In short, I haven’t had many pleasant experiences at the dentist. In fact, most of my major medical procedures thus far have been of the oral health variety.
However, it was when I had my wisdom teeth removed that really changed my outlook on drugs. It also happened to be the most significant medical procedure I had done at that point. It marked the first procedure that required general anesthesia and recovery process. Naturally, I was nervous, but it had to be done.
For a lot of people, getting wisdom teeth removed is entirely necessary. I was among those who had to get it done as early as possible. The longer I waited, the more it would damage my teeth, my mouth, and my overall well-being. Those were my dentist’s exact words.
The experience, itself, was fairly standard. Even if I was nervous, I knew it had to be done. My mother even took time off work to take me because she knew I would be out of it for a while. However, I don’t think she knew just how much the drugs used in the procedure would effect me.
Again, this was my first major surgery and my first encounter with the powerful drugs used in said surgery. I had little experience and no tolerance, whatsoever. Naturally, I was going to react. I just didn’t know how colorful my reaction would be.
It went like this.
I sat down in a dental chair, the nurse put something over my nose, and then told me she was delivering some nitrous oxide.
I distinctly remember her putting this tiny rubber mask over my nose. I don’t remember anything three seconds after that.
The next thing I knew, it was over. I woke up, my mouth was full of gauze, and the dentist said we were done. He might have said something more, but I honestly don’t remember because I was laughing so had.
This is when I learned why nitrous oxide was also known as laughing gas. I definitely got the laughing part down.
However, I wasn’t juts laughing. I was light-headed, loopy, and just giggling like the happiest guy in the world. I don’t remember a whole lot about what I did or said, but I felt so good, despite my mouth being bloodied and sore. I’m also pretty sure I told the nurse I loved her and I might have even proposed to her. I don’t know. I’m genuinely worried that I made that nurse uncomfortable.
Also, remember that my mother is there. She has never seen me this doped up before. She had hard time not laughing. If she’s reading this right now, she might start laughing at the memory because I really was that out of it. I was so drugged up that my mother actually got my dad on the phone so he could hear me. I don’t remember what I said, but I’m pretty sure he laughed too.
Eventually, the effects did wear off. When they did, my mouth hurt. It het a lot. It was at that point when drugs stopped being funny and I realized something important.
Sometimes, you really do need drugs in order to get through something.
For me, it was serious dental surgery.
For others, it might be something else and it doesn’t always have to with medical procedures.
On top of that, these drugs work. Seriously, I do not know how I could’ve possibly endured getting my wisdom teeth removed without anesthesia. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have laughed nearly as much or flirted with the nurse.
Beyond the actual procedure, I was also prescribed some prescription strength pain killers to help with the pain afterwards. I won’t say what type of pills the were. I’ll just confirm that they were a form of opioids. Yes, they were those kinds of opioids.
I’ll also confirm that those pills worked. They were very effective at making my jaw hurt less as I recovered from the procedure. Sometimes, they worked a little too well. That was why I was generally very reluctant to take them. However, they did get the job done. Were it not for those pills, my recovery from that surgery would’ve been a lot more painful.
That’s really what it all came back to, pain and comfort. These drugs were necessary for me. They also made me feel really good while I was enduring something very distressing. That put a very different context around drugs, the drug war, and why people do drugs. Suddenly, all those anti-drug messages I got from school seemed woefully shallow.
Yes, drugs can be very dangerous and harmful. The number of people who die from overdoses is proof enough of that. However, people don’t just take drugs to overdose from them. There’s generally another reason behind it and that reason doesn’t always revolve around getting high.
While that does happen, it’s not nearly as damaging as many of those anti-drug messages claim. My experience with dental surgery gave me a taste of how pleasant it could be. I wouldn’t blame anyone at all for wanting to pursue that feeling, even if doing so came with serious risks.
More than anything else, my dental surgery experience complicated the whole issue of drugs, drug abuse, and why we wage war on drugs. The feelings I experienced, especially with the benefit of hindsight, convinced me that waging a war on drugs just isn’t winnable. These drugs work too well and people generally like to feel good. Like it or not, that’s exactly what these drugs do.
As time goes on, I’m also convinced that the drug war and the overly simplistic “drugs are bad” message is a gross oversimplification, as well as a misguided crusade. Why people do drugs varies, but let’s not avoid the truth. These drugs have potent effects and so long as people desire these effects, there will be those who seek drugs and abuse them.
To those who have only a limited understanding of drugs and drug abuse, I hope this experience helps change your perspective a bit.
Also, to that nurse who was there after I had my dental surgery, I sincerely apologize if I said anything inappropriate. It turns out nitrous oxide just has that effect on me.
In general, it’s not good, healthy, or ethical to take pleasure in someone else’s misfortune. Even if you despise someone for what they do, what they say, or what they believe, it’s usually not good for someone mentally or emotionally to take excess joy in someone else’s suffering. I won’t say it’s entirely wrong to feel a slight twinge of happiness when someone you don’t like endures loss or misfortune. It’s just one of those things you should not overdo.
I certainly don’t deny that I’ve had those feelings in the past. There have been a number of occasions in which I felt genuinely happy to hear that someone hurt themselves or in some way faced meaningful consequences for some egregious misdeed. I’m not proud of it. I generally try not to feel that way when it happens and when it does, I try to remind myself that this isn’t good for me as a person.
All that being said, I will gladly make an exception for someone like Alex Jones.
Now, if you’ve never heard of Alex Jones, consider yourself very lucky. Hell, I envy anyone who has lived much of their life having never seen or heard of this unhinged, eccentric blowhard. I won’t provide a detailed breakdown of why he’s a relevant figure, how he came to become a mini-celebrity of sorts, or recount his lengthy history of gross misdeeds.
I don’t even want to link to the man’s Wikipedia page. I flat out refuse to burden anyone with excess knowledge of who this man is.
All you really need to know about Alex Jones is that he is the most extreme of extreme right-wing media grifters. He is also one of the loudest/most obnoxious proponents of the most insane and extreme conspiracy theories to ever be conjured by unthinking minds. This isn’t just a guy who believes there’s a shadowy cabal of elites who secretly control and guide the course of world events. This is a guy who thinks aliens, shape-shifting lizards, and Jewish bankers conspire to turn frogs gay.
Seriously, I wish I were making that last one up, but that’s disturbingly real. It became a meme for a while and is supposed to be funny. But make no mistake, there’s nothing funny about the extremism that Alex Jones promotes or the suffering it causes.
You need look no further than the suffering he’s caused the families of the children who died tragically at the Sandy Hook shooting. It’s bad enough that these parents suffered the loss of their child, a pain no parent should ever have to endure. But because of Alex Jones and the people who take him seriously, those grieving parents were subjected to endless harassment by those who claimed they were crisis actors and that their child never even existed.
Seriously, that’s what Jones actively promoted. He believed the whole Sandy Hook shooting (and most other mass shootings, for that matter) was a plot orchestrated by the government to enact stricter gun control laws so that the general populous could be disarmed. It’s as crazy, callous, and downright ghastly.
Just take a moment to appreciate what these parents have been through. First, they had to bury their own child. Then, some asshole on the internet claims they’re just actors pretending to be sad and they’re actually plotting with shape-shifting lizard people in the government. And because there are too many sadistic assholes with internet connections, they start harassing you and your family, claiming the child you loved and had to bury never existed.
There’s being a dick, there’s being cruel, and then there’s that. I honestly don’t have a word for just how awful that is on so many levels. Nobody should have to endure that, let alone the parents of grieving children.
That’s why when the parents of the Sandy Hook victims sued Alex Jones for defamation, I eagerly cheered them on. I never expect Jones or anyone like him to go to jail or anything. They’re too good at hiring competent lawyers and pushing the limits of free speech to ever suffer a fate that deserving. At the very least, I hoped they would hit Jones in his wallet in a way that really hurt.
A part of me even hoped that this lawsuit would render Jones penniless, homeless, and no longer able to maintain his bullshit conspiracy show. I know that was hoping for too much. However, it seems as though his egregious behavior is finally catching up to him. Thanks to his own ineptitude, and a huge mistake by his own lawyer, Alex Jones has lost this defamation case.
It’s no longer a matter of if Jones will have to pay the parents of the Sandy Hook victims money for his bullshit. It’s just a matter of how much he’ll have to pay. That $4 million is just for compensatory damages. The amount for punitive damages is potentially much higher. Given the amount of suffering this man has caused to parents grieving the deaths of their children, I honestly don’t know if there’s an amount high enough for him to pay.
I don’t care that Jones claims his company is bankrupt, which is bullshit. Even if he were, he deserves to pay a high price for what he’s done.
This isn’t about free speech, as he loves to claim.
It’s not about silencing him, as he also loves to claim while playing the victim.
This is about what he has done and the consequences of those deeds. Because of the crap he spewed on his show, the parents of these dead children have suffered horrendous abuse. On top of that, Alex Jones knew about this. The trial presented ample evidence that he knew and he did not do anything to stop it, let alone rectify it.
Like it or not, he is responsible for the continued suffering of these people.
He should pay a price.
He’s gone many years saying egregiously wrong things, spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories. In the process, real people have suffered real harm that they never would’ve endured, had it not been for Jones.
Yes, he still has a right to say what he said. He can’t be punished for that.
But that sacred right of free speech is not a shield from consequences.
For too long, he has evaded any semblance of consequence for what he’s said and done on his joke of a show. On top of that, he uses that same show to peddle bullshit supplements and products like the worst kind of snake oil salesman. As a result, he’s made millions from his viewers and his used his platform to elevate the voices of some truly despicable people who have done too much to foster hate, mistrust, and ignorance.
Now, Jones is finally poised to suffer real, tangible loss for his misdeeds. And since his misdeeds go beyond even harassing the parents of slain children, it sets a precedent for others to follow. Personally, I hope more follow the lead of the Sandy Hook parents. I hope more opt to sue Jones for every last penny he has and then some.
It’s bound to hurt him financially, as well as personally. But whatever he suffers, I don’t feel a shred of sympathy for him. I’ll even let myself take some enjoyment in his failure to evade repercussions. Because sadly, it’s exceedingly rare for assholes with money to face any real consequences for their actions. I don’t expect this trail with Alex Jones to change that on a large scale, but a little karmic justice goes a long way these days.
It’s still not clear how much the results of this trial will hurt Jones in the long run. Whatever it does, it’s still far less than he deserves. And in case there’s still any lingering ambiguity about how I feel on this issue or this arrogant blow-hard, allow me to end this with one simple message.
Fuck you, Alex Jones!
Fuck off, you lying, selfish, ignorant, grifting, loud-mouthed, snake-oil selling, pitiful excuse for a slob of a man!
In general, being a hard worker is a respectable trait to have. Regardless of your background, culture, or political affiliations, we tend to value and celebrate those who are willing to put in the extra effort into whatever they do for a living. It’s not easy. It can be incredibly stressful at times. Then again, most things worth doing are.
I certainly remember plenty of times when I worked hard. Going all the way back to high school, I can recall days in which I spent nearly every waking hour grinding away at something or another, be it schoolwork, chores, or a part-time job. I remember being drained when all was said and done, but I was ultimately stronger because of it.
That being said, there is a certain threshold in which hard work ceases to be about productivity and just becomes downright damaging. I suspect many people have approached or cross that threshold at some point in their lives, whether it’s with school or a career. However, I don’t think enough people appreciate just how damaging excessive work can be.
This brings me to Japan and their legendary, albeit infamous, work culture. Think back to the longest, hardest day you had at school or your job. In Japan, that’s basically Tuesday. Work for them is not just some 9-to-5 gig you do for a paycheck. It’s a sizable chunk of their lives, more so than American or European workers.
Working overtime, sleeping at the office, and sacrificing for the company aren’t seen as above and beyond. That’s the standard. Yes, it’s a very high standard, but let’s not forget these are real people pushing themselves in extreme ways to meet that standard.
While this high emphasis on work has helped Japan become one of the best economies in the world, it does have a dark side. It’s so prevalent and common, in fact, that the Japanese even have a word for it. It’s called Karoshi, which translates to “overwork death.”
It’s exactly what it sounds like, but it’s actually more complex than that.
It’s a serious ongoing issue in Japan. You don’t have to look far for horror stories about what happens to people who succumb to Karoshi. There are real cases of otherwise healthy 31-year-old men dying of heart failure after regularly working 14-hour days for 7 years straight.
Take a step back and appreciate that kind of strain.
You work so long and so hard that your heart gives out.
It’s one thing to work until you’re tired and sore, but it takes a special kind of strain for your heart to just give out.
As bad as that is, this isn’t the only way Karoshi manifests. Beyond the long hours at the office and the constant stress that comes with it, you can see other signs throughout Japan. It’s not that uncommon to see people asleep on the streets or on park benches. It’s as normal as seeing someone taking selfies.
For a more in depth look on how this unfolds in Japan, check out this video. It’s what got me interested in this topic and inspired me to bring it up.
Now, I’m not looking to denigrate or demean another country’s work culture. I understand that not every society sees work the same way or approaches it in a way people from my part of the world would recognize. At the same time, it’s hard to overlook the issues that result in people dying of heart attacks before they’re 40.
It’s something the Japan is trying to address, but changing ingrained culture isn’t easy. Changing peoples work habits isn’t easy, either. People are set in their ways. I say that as someone who regularly struggled with Spanish quizzes in high school, but never though to adjust study habits.
It’s also an issue I think highlights and important lesson for any society that emphasizes hard work. Yes, it’s generally good, but there are limits. There comes a point where the work is more valued than the person doing it and when you reach that point, the well-being of the person becomes an afterthought.
Those who claim that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life may beg to differ. To them, I would remind them that the human body doesn’t recognize whether or not you’re doing something you love or something you hate. It just knows when it’s being strained to the point where it starts failing.
I feel like this will become more relevant in the coming years. The events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have already significantly affected the workplace and I’m not just referring to the rise of telework. If anything, these events have accelerated the pace of automation. The jobs that used to require all that grinding are becoming less and less necessary.
What will that mean for workers in general?
What will that mean for work culture like that of Japan?
Will it make Karoshi better or worse as certain jobs become more scarce or unnecessary?
These are difficult questions to answer right now, but I suspect that these trends won’t change peoples’ inclination for hard work. It’s just a matter of where that effort will be directed and how we’ll balance it out with the health of the individual. That’s a balance that we still need to strike, no matter how many jobs get automated.
Work/life balance isn’t just a popular buzzword. It’s critical to those who want to both be productive and live fulfilling lives. If you’re life is all work, then is it really living in the grand scheme of things? If anything, the Japanese phenomenon of Karoshi offers insight into what happens when there is no balance. The line between working hard and working yourself to death can get blurred at times, but it’s worth making that line just a little bit clearer, if only to navigate it more effectively.
Like it or not, religion is a big part of many peoples’ lives. Whether you’re an ardent atheist or an impassioned believer, there’s no getting around it. There are still millions of religious people all over the world, living their lives and practicing their faith. Even though religion, in general, has been in decline in recent decades, it’s still a powerful force in many communities.
By and large, most religious people are every bit as ordinary and decent as non-religious people. They live their lives, love their families, and generally go about their business. For some, their religion generally enriches their lives and that’s a good thing. I know plenty of people like that.
However, this is not about them.
This is about those who take religious ideology to a dangerous and damaging extreme.
I’ve talked about this kind of extremism before. It has led to some legitimately harmful trends. In some cases, it has the potential to be an existential threat to the world at large. While any ideology can be taken to a harmful extreme, religion can be uniquely damaging because it deals in abstracts, beliefs, and spirituality.
There are things you can’t touch, measure, or quantify. As a result, they’re incredibly difficult to contest and argue against. You can give someone all the irrefutable evidence in the world. If their preferred holy book or cult leader says the world is made of cheese, that’s what they’ll believe and they’ll cling to that belief with all their might.
This sort of thing manifests most prominently in cults. Now, not every cult is religious in nature, but religion is often a powerful driving force in many. Most of the cults that make the news for all the wrong reasons were religious in nature.
How people end up in these cults varies. You can listen to former cult members from all walks of life and get a different perspective for how they fell into it, how they got out, and why they became so captivated. These stories are quite harrowing and I encourage everyone to seek them out. They have many lessons to offer.
Following these stories may also make you wonder what sets a cult apart from a traditional religion. Like I said before, most religious people don’t conduct themselves in the way cult members do. On top of that, those who are in a cult probably don’t think they are. To them, this is their normal, skewed as it might be.
Given how diverse cults can be, it’s not easy to determine when a certain religion or ideology has crosses that threshold. Some argue that certain Christian denominations and political movements are cults, but usually as a means of insult or denigration.
Thankfully, people far smarter than me have given this subject much more thought and study. There’s one particular model out there that I find to be quite useful in discerning cults from ordinary religious activity.
It’s called the B.I.T.E model. Developed by Steven Hassan, a mental health professional who has studied behavioral control tactics, it’s a handy tool for assessing the cult-like structure of both religious and political ideologies.
The model and the name are an acronym for four general patterns of behavior that tend to manifest in cults. They are as follows:
Behavior Control: Involves regulation and micromanagement of peoples’ behavior from how they dress, how they eat, and what they do with their time.
Information Control: Involves organized efforts to withhold, distort, or manage the information people see in terms of knowledge, news, and education.
Thought Control: Involves organized efforts to shape opinions and worldviews of everything from their moral code to the language they use. The ultimate goal is to instill a warped view of reality.
Emotion Control: Involves manipulating and channeling a wide range of feelings, both positive and negative. The result is often involves instilling fear of outsiders and any differing opinions, as well as a sense of worthlessness that only the organization can help them resolve.
It’s not a perfect model, but it’s one of the simplest and most comprehensive to date. The model is structured in a way to include both religious and non-religious ideologies. If you were to apply this model to organizations like NXVIM or basic personality cults, it would check the same boxes as any religious cult.
At the same time, it also helps highlight how certain religious and political ideologies do not count as cults. Some may fit certain parts of the model, but not all. For something to really be a full-fledged cult, it needs to check all four bases and in a meaningful way. That also helps sift through instances where someone tries to call something a cult as an insult.
With this model in mind, I encourage everyone to use it to evaluate their own religious or political affiliation. That may not be easy. Like I said, people in cults usually don’t think they’re in a cult. Many don’t even realize how deep they were into it until they leave.
That makes self-assessment of your beliefs and affiliations that much more critical. The B.I.T.E model might not be perfect, but it is both useful and insightful. We all need to be critical of our beliefs. Given how dangerous certain cults can be, it’s important we know the signs before it’s too late.
There are lying, cheating, whiny grifters everywhere these days. They were always present to some extent, but the internet, social media, and algorithms have made them more prominent than ever. It’s never been easier to be a grifter, telling people what they want to hear or trolling them into giving you their money, attention, or trust.
These people are assholes, plain and simple.
Do not give them the time of day, let alone a penny of your money.
They are just scamming you while pretending to enlighten you. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Some are religious grifters. Some are political grifters. Some are just plain attention whores. The only common thread is that they’re assholes seeking money, attention, likes, or subscribers.
Most of the time, it’s easy to tell the grifters from sincere individuals just seeking to put themselves out there. It’s not exactly subtle. More often than not, you can rightly assume that most professional trolls are just blatant grifters.
Others are more subtle and it’s these types you have to be careful with. They’ll rarely claim to have an agenda. If they do, they’re usually good at hiding it behind coded language and dog whistles. It’s important to be on the lookout for that sort of thing because it’s easy to get sucked into their narrative. Once you’re in that narrative, they’ve got you in their grasp and like cult leaders, they’ll do whatever they can to possess you.
Having come across plenty of grifters over the years of being online, I’ve noticed plenty of telling signs. I’d like to share some of those signs. Everyone, regardless of age or affiliation, should be mindful of all the grifts and scams on the internet. The more we recognize them, the more we can call them out for the lying, cheating assholes they are.
Sign #1: Their opinions and reviews on certain movies, TV shows, comics, or public figures never changes, be it negative or positive.
Sign #2: Their opinions, ideology, and rhetoric are extremely similar, if not identical, to other known grifters.
Sign #3: They frequently make the claim that they have inside sources on a particular industry or sub-culture that they never name (and can usually be traced to trolling comments from sites like 4chan).
Sign #4: They throw around politically loaded insults like SJW, whamen, and plebs while talking about non-political topics.
Sign #5: They try to sell you something other than a typical sponsorship like vitamins, merch, or subscriptions services that they exclusively control.
Sign #6: They claim to offer the “real” story behind a particular media narrative, be it political or entertainment.
Sign #7: They constantly claim they’re being oppressed, marginalized, and censored by some nefarious organization with no official name or face (think Big Tech, establishment media, or some outsider sub-group).
Sign #8: They claim that they’re representing the “true” opinions of fans/Christians/Americans/whatever group they’re affiliated with.
Sign #9: They have a select number of public figures they go out of their way to hate, criticize, or demean.
Sign #10: They reject all criticism and debunking as part of a conspiracy against them or people like them.
Sign #11: They never, ever stop whining.
Again, these are just some of the signs. There are probably plenty more. If you have others, please share them in the comments. Remain vigilant for lying, grifting assholes of all types. They’re always out there, looking for their next grift. Don’t let them get you. You don’t deserve to be their victims.
The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s my first video about “Daria” and was based on an earlier article I wrote a number of years back. I reworked it a bit to make for a better video. I’m very pleased with how it turned out. Depending on the response, I may make more “Daria” videos. Enjoy!
Every now and then, we encounter a story in the news that is outright egregious, but not the least bit shocking. There’s no question the details are awful. No matter how cynical or jaded you are, there are real injustices in this world. Innocent people are victimized in horrible crimes. A part of us wants to be outraged, but it’s just too unsurprising to get worked up.
I feel like we’ve had a lot of those stories over the past two years. I get the sense that a lot of people have just become so numb to horrible news.
Even so, we should still take notice when a terrible injustice is exposed, even if it doesn’t surprise us. That means that when another high-profile religious institution is found to be culpable in some egregious misdeeds involving sexual assault, we should still try and take interest.
Now, organized religion and egregious sex crimes aren’t new. They aren’t even that shocking anymore. Even if you consider yourself religious and strongly value your faith, it’s hard to miss the headlines that expose heinous crimes of sexual abuse and efforts to cover them up. It’s become so common and belabored that “South Park” does jokes about it.
It’s still serious and egregious. There are still real-life victims who suffer this abuse, but cannot get justice because the abusers hide behind religion and religious institutions. Regardless of your affiliation, I hope that upsets you, even if it doesn’t shock you.
For that reason, I also hope we can all share in the dismay and disgust regarding the recent revelations from Pro Publica about how Liberty University failed victims of sexual assault. If you haven’t read this recent report, I highly recommend doing so, but on an empty stomach. Some of the details are a bit graphic, but they’re still worth reading.
It’s a lengthy report that follows how multiple women who attended Liberty University, one of the most prominent Christian private schools in the United States, were sexually assaulted and the school failed to help them. In some cases, they were punished and shamed for the egregious sin of being victimized. It’s even more egregious than it sounds.
I won’t highlight every detail. Again, I encourage everyone to actually read the report. However, I will cite one excerpt that nicely sums up the environment that Liberty University created for victims of sexual assault.
Ten more former students told me they chose not to report their rapes to campus officials amid fear of being punished. “I knew I would face the blame for putting myself in that situation,” said Chelsea Andrews, a Liberty alum who said she was assaulted by a Liberty graduate student.
I hope it goes without saying that this is abhorrent. I also hope most reasonable people agree that we should be careful, understanding, and diligent when it comes to addressing accusations of sexual assault. I’ve said in the past that this can be tricky because sex crimes are difficult to prove and false accusations do happen, even if they’re rare.
In any case, lives can be ruined. People can be scarred for years because of what happened to them. We should definitely make an effort to improve how we handle these sorts of issues, but we should also actively work to not make things worse.
After reading this report, I won’t hide my underlying sentiment. By nearly every measure, Liberty University offers a case study in how not to handle claims of sexual assault. The fact it’s a religious school that touts conservative Christian values only makes it worse, not to mention hypocritical.
That also makes it unsurprising because, as we’ve seen, hypocrisy from organized religion is not that hard to find. However, this is a bit more personal for me because I actually know people who’ve gone to Liberty University. I’ve visited the area around Lynchburg, Virginia where the campus is based and have spent some extended time there.
That school is a big deal in that region. It’s hard to explain to people who have never traveled to that part of Virginia how big a presence they have. They’re not just another college within a college town. This is a university that is closely aligned with all things conservative and Christian.
It was founded by Jerry Falwell, a man who basically spent his entire adult life advocating for a Christian theocracy in America. That’s not hyperbole. Falwell and many like him actively promoted an ideology that sought to impose their brand of Christianity on every domain of American society.
That, in and of itself, should concern everyone who doesn’t want to live in a world devoid of fun, freedom, and anything remotely sexy. However, I’ve already touched on that thorny issue, so I won’t belabor it.
All you need to know is that Liberty University espouses an ultra-conservative brand of Christianity. That also means they impose strict codes of conduct on their students and faculty. I’m not just talking about rules against drinking, smoking, mini-skirts, and premarital sex. This is a school that forbids cursing, extended hugging, and R-rated movies.
Basically, it’s the antithesis of a party school. People go here to be educated in conservative Christian traditions. That’s why they’ve often been closely aligned with the religious right in America.
Now, that’s not to say everyone who goes to that school is some uptight carbon copy of Kirk Cameron. Some of the people I know went to that school found ways to drink, smoke, and get laid while attending. They just had to be extra careful than usual.
After reading this story, I find myself wondering how many gross misdeeds happened in the shadows that never came to light. That same code of conduct I just mentioned made it next to impossible to responsibly address matters involving sexual assault. You could go so far as to say it demonstrates the worst possible way to handle such issues.
Think of it in terms of both context and theology. Here is this very conservative school that is extremely anti-sex in any way that doesn’t result married people producing more Christians. That means any sex act, be it consensual or forced, is a gross violation of that code of conduct they hold so dear.
Then, imagine being someone who was sexually assaulted. You can try to report it, but in doing so, you just admitted to having sex. Even if it was forced on you, neither the code nor the theology seems to take that into account. They might not be able to prove the accuser assaulted you, but they already can prove that you had sex.
That gives them two options. They have to spend time, money, and resources investigating the incident, not knowing whether they’ll be able to find enough proof to warrant prosecution. The other option is to just focus on the fact that someone admitted to having sex, assume they were somehow responsible, and make whatever excuses are necessary to close the case.
One requires a lot of work and investigation.
One just requires assumptions and reinforcing time-tested traditions about blaming the victim.
That’s why investigations at places like Liberty will often focus on what the victim was wearing, what they were doing at the time, and why they put themselves in that position. It’s cruel on a level that defies description, but for religious schools, there are plenty of unfortunate precedents.
For those working these cases at Liberty, they had every incentive to take the path of least resistance. It’s easy to just shame someone who had sex. It’s a lot harder to actually prosecute a crime. That same process also requires that the institute admit some form of responsibility for not protecting people.
If nothing else, this Pro Publica report only confirms what we’ve seen with plenty of other religious organizations. When it comes down to doing the right thing by the people they’ve failed or protecting their power/influence/tax free status, these institutions will do whatever allows them to keep doing what they’re doing.
It doesn’t matter if their preferred holy book gives strict guidelines on what is right and what is wrong.
It doesn’t even matter if basic human decency is enough to surmise that this way of doing things is a gross disservice to victims.
All that matters is protecting the institution and the power it wields. I definitely felt that when I visited Lynchburg. You could say a lot of things about politics and Christianity, but you could not say certain things about Liberty University. That’s just what happens to an institution that is given that much prestige.
Sadly, I doubt these revelations will change that. Liberty University already dealt with some bad press regarding some acts of sordid adultery and some financial scandals. However, this school will still find a way to keep doing what it’s doing. Not enough people care and the school just has too much influence, both on the region and on the nation.
At the very least, this story is out there and that could help inform anyone who is thinking of sending their children to this school. Even if you’re a devout conservative Christian, I hope the knowledge that this is how they handle matters of sexual assault gives you pause.