Tag Archives: sex crimes

Prison Or Brain Hacking? A Choice That May Shape Our Future

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How does a civilized society deal with its least civilized individuals? This is a question that every society has had to answer, going back to the hunter/gatherer era. We live in an imperfect world full of imperfect individuals. Some are more imperfect than others, so much so that it’s not always possible to reform them into functional members of society.

Most people who commit crimes are not monsters, nor are they sadists who get their joy by torturing the innocent. A vast majority are just people who find themselves in bad situations where they make wrong decisions, exercise poor judgment, or lack impulse control. For these people, fines and brief imprisonment are usually sufficient.

For those who become career criminals, neither respecting the law nor seeking to abide by it, the current system is woefully inadequate. It’s part of the reason why criminal justice reform has become a hot topic. We’re finally learning that throwing people into prisons where they’re dehumanized, degraded, and tortured doesn’t help them become productive members of society. Go figure.

There’s plenty of room for improvement. Some countries have demonstrated that there are more effective, more humane ways to treat criminals. However, even those systems have their limits. As long as human beings remain an imperfect species, we’ll still have to deal with these deviant, violent, and inherently dangerous individuals.

For the moment, our options for dealing with these people are few. It primarily involves incarceration or intense therapy, often coupled with drug therapy. While this can be helpful to some, there are severe limitations. Some individuals don’t even want treatment and even those who are caught don’t always respond.

With that in mind, allow me to present a not-quite-hypothetical scenario. What if, instead of prison or therapy, we gave offending criminals an option to undergo an invasive treatment that affects the primary source of their deviant behavior in the brain? Jail is still an option for those who aren’t keen on messing with their brain wiring, but for certain people, an alternative is an alternative.

What I just described is one of those concepts in which the science is there, but the technology and the courts haven’t caught up to it. I know whenever I talk about emerging technology, be it sex robots or artificial wombs, I venture pretty far into speculation territory. Some of these advances rely on science and tools that don’t yet exist. This isn’t one of those cases.

In July 2018, the Journal of Neuroscience published a study revealing that targeted stimulation of the prefrontal cortex reduced aggressive tendencies in test subjects. Before you start getting fever dreams of mad scientists strapping people to gurneys and sticking wires in their ears, you can rest easy. This isn’t the kind of electroshock treatment that find their way into one too many horror movies.

These treatments have ground-breaking implications. They prove that it’s possible to temper or mitigate certain behaviors in people. The study doesn’t specify the limits of the effects or if it can be applied to something other than aggressive behaviors. It’s still a proof of concept and one that could compound the impact of other emerging technologies.

We already have tools like CRISPR that allow us to tweak our genes. We also have companies like Neuralink that are actively working on implants that could fix, augment, or expand our brain capacity. While men like Elon Musk and Ray Kurzweil often discuss these advances within the context of keeping humanity on pace with artificial intelligence, there will likely be some interim uses for these technologies.

Tempering violent behavior in people with significant cognitive impairments is just one possible use, but one that has the potential to change how we think about crime and punishment. Think back to those people I mentioned earlier who just inherently violent. They can’t manage their emotions or control their anger. They don’t think before they act and some don’t even feel guilty about what they do.

Like it or not, these people exist. I’ve known people in my life who have terrible impulse control and fly into a rage over the smallest things. Some of those people have had issues with the law and I often see in them a sense of never-ending frustration. Many don’t like that they have these issues. A few have tried to get help, but it doesn’t always work.

I suspect that if some of those people were given a chance to treat their tendencies with targeted shock therapy or a brain implant, they would jump at the chance. Deviant tendencies aside, they seek some level of function in their lives. If tweaking their brain is the difference between prison and freedom, then they’ll take that risk.

Turning people who might have been unrepentant psychopaths into productive, non-violent members of society is an objective good. The technology to do just that is not that far off and more study could help us refine the process, so much so that prison might be less necessary in certain cases. Given how expensive it is to imprison people, it’s an alternative worth pursuing.

Along with that undeniable good, however, there are plenty of potential dangers. Anyone who has ever seen one too many psychological thrillers or just read “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” can easily imagine how this kind of technology could be abused.

Tempering someone’s violent behaviors is all well and good, but why would it stop there? The brain is capable of all sorts of behaviors, deviant and otherwise. Say a society determines that other non-violent behaviors, be it sexual promiscuity or binge-watching Netflix for too many hours, are not socially desirable. What’s to stop them from imposing this on their citizens?

Some countries probably already fantasize about technologies that enable them to directly pacify their citizens, rendering them weak, passive, and easily manipulated. In his famous novel, “1984,” George Orwell called these people proles. However, in the book, the deviants had to be tortured and re-educated. If Big Brother had access to this technology, it would be a simple medical procedure.

That has plenty of terrifying possibilities for abuse. What if someone uses brain stimulation to prevent people from having homosexual urges? What if someone uses it to treat those who identify as transgender? There’s no evidence that the techniques in the study would work on that, but there’s no evidence to say it’s impossible.

Its use will definitely be controversial. That much, I’m certain of. It’s not advanced enough to become a legitimate treatment for anything. At the moment, direct brain stimulation is utilized for a specified set of conditions and it’s often a last resort. Using it on healthy people who just want to cull their violent urges is uncharted territory.

Whether it enters the picture for criminal justice reform is anyone’s guess, but if the process works, someone who has dealt with one too many repeat offenders will try to use it. From there, the precedent will be set. It’s hard to say what form it’ll take, but it’ll take society into uncharted territory with respect to controlling our minds.

Perhaps, at first, the process would be voluntary and only be presented in conjunction with jail or some other treatment. It’s also possible that the courts will determine a strict set of criteria for when the state could force this treatment onto someone. There are probably a few repressive governments who would try to use this on an industrial scale. I won’t say they’re names, but most people know who they are.

Like any emerging technology, there are risks and rewards worth considering. We stand to benefit greatly by having a society with as few violent individuals as possible. We also stand to lose a great deal if we allow misguided authority figures to determine how we use this technology.

I’m not qualified to determine whether or not someone should have their brain hacked. I don’t know that anyone is. However, I also don’t deny that the human brain, as magnificent as it is, has plenty of flaws. We should go about fixing those flaws, especially in people who are disproportionately impacted by them. We just have to be very careful about how we manage it.

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Filed under futurism, human nature, psychology, sex in society, Sexy Future, Thought Experiment

Why Linking Human Trafficking And Prostitution Hurts Efforts To Deal With Both

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As a quick thought experiment, take a moment to picture the appearance and circumstances of a typical plumber. Chances are you’re imagining a big-bellied, greasy-haired, middle-aged man who prides himself on wearing old jeans that expose his butt crack. As stereotypes come, it’s fairly crude, but harmless for the most part.

Now, take a moment to picture a typical victim of human trafficking. Chances are the images you conjure are a lot more distressing. Depending on how much you’ve read into the issue, you can picture a scared young woman from a foreign country huddled in a corner, traumatized and broken after being exploited by her ruthless captors.

Chances are, those ruthless captors conjure some nasty images as well. You imagine they’re sadistic, deviant men who smile at the sight of a scared young woman, having to sell herself sexually in order to pay off a debt that she didn’t even ask for. Such men are the closest thing we have to real-world super-villains.

In terms of terrible crimes, human trafficking ranks near the top in terms of things that offend every sense of decency, humanity, and justice. It’s one of those crimes that’s so horrific that it’s almost impossible to scrutinize without a sense of outrage clouding our judgment. Any effort to do so is usually overshadowed by the horrors of the crime itself.

Despite those obstacles, it’s still an issue worth discussing. If anything, the fact that human trafficking is such an egregious crime makes it that much more relevant. When there’s something that’s so objectively evil, people tend to line up in droves to play the role of a hero. It’s not quite like virtue signaling because this is an actual crime with actual victims.

However, and this is where I’m sure I’ll lose some people, the assumptions surrounding human trafficking and the efforts to combat it aren’t as clear cut. That image of a typical human trafficking victim that I described earlier is, like the plumber, a popular perception that doesn’t quite reflect reality.

Now, none of that is to say that human trafficking isn’t a terrible crime and a serious problem. I want to make that abundantly clear before moving forward. The point I want to make here has more to do with our attitudes towards this crime, its association with prostitution, and how it reflects certain gender dynamics.

For better or for worse, human trafficking is linked to prostitution. It’s major component of the popular perceptions surrounding the crime. As such, a great deal of opposition to the legalization of prostitution comes from the idea that it will increase human trafficking. The veracity of that claim does have some data behind it, but even the most comprehensive studies concede that the link is inconclusive at best.

It’s that link though, however true it might be, that gives human trafficking its insidious reputation. It’s why it is often cited by feminists, human rights advocates, and moral crusaders as an issue worthy of outrage. Battling human trafficking means battling exploitation, sexual promiscuity, and exploited women all at once. That appeals to a lot of people, but it also obscures the true nature of the crime.

That nature is not entirely dependent on sex or prostitution. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), approximately 22 percent of estimated 20.9 million human trafficking victims are exploited for forced sexual labor. That’s still way too many people being exploited, but what about that other 78 percent?

That portion of human trafficking victims are primarily forced into labor of a non-sexual nature. That labor includes work in sectors such as agriculture, construction, domestic work, and manufacturing. That kind of exploitation affects victims of any gender, as well. While women make up about 55 percent of the victims, that still leaves 45 men and young boys, who can also be sexually exploited as well.

The hard data alone undermines the popular perceptions surrounding human trafficking, but it gets even more complicated than that. Since human trafficking is a criminal enterprise that’s exceedingly difficult to prosecute, it’s hard to get accurate data on the scope and scale of the issue.

Back in 2001, a terrifying report from the University of Pennsylvania made headlines by claiming that approximately 300,000 children, mostly young girls, were being sexually exploited. Understandably, this caused a lot of outrage and horror among politicians and activists.

That claim was not accurate, by the way. The report, which was based on outdated data from the 1990s, only covered children “at risk” of being sexually exploited. It didn’t refer to actual victims. That data is harder to come by, but most figures are nowhere near that egregious number. In addition, the methodology for gathering such data is both incomplete in some areas and flawed in others.

Even with those flaws, though, the perceptions surrounding human trafficking and the mental images it conjures are more than sufficient for people with agendas to garner support. Unfortunately, it’s not the forced labor or the 45 percent of victims who are male that get the attention. It’s the women and the sex that gets the emphasis.

As a result, policies and legislation intended to combat this issue tend to focus primarily on that component. Earlier this year, a couple of major laws were passed with the stated intent of combating human trafficking. However, the primary impact is being felt by sex workers, as a whole.

These laws explicitly mentioned sex trafficking. It said nothing about forced labor, which makes up the bulk of human trafficking victims if the data from the ILO is accurate. That’s akin to passing a bill that punishes the maker of ski masks rather than focusing on those who actually use them to commit crimes.

That’s not to say efforts to combat the sexual exploitation of young women aren’t justified. However, why does that particular variation of a crime warrant more laws and resources than another? Why is sexual exploitation the main focus and not the forced labor that is more likely to impact men and boys?

It says something about both our priorities and our attitudes when the exploited sexuality of women is given a greater priority than the enslavement of men. It sends the message that the pain of a sexually exploited woman is somehow greater than that of an exploited man. Pain is still pain, last I checked. When you prioritize one, you undermine the other, by default.

Moreover, those noble efforts to combat human trafficking may end up making the situation worse by coupling it with anti-prostitution efforts. Like the war on drugs, making prostitution illegal does nothing to mitigate the demand for prostitution, nor does it make things easier for those who are prostitutes. It just puts the industry in the hands of criminals.

In recent years, it has become popular in some countries to pass laws that prohibit the buying of sex, but not the selling of sex. It’s an approach that still criminalizes part of an act and, according to a 2012 report by the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, it has not achieved the desired effect of reducing prostitution or human trafficking.

It’s because of these shortcomings in combating both prostitution and human trafficking that organizations like Amnesty International now favor the full decriminalization of prostitution and stricter laws against forced labor. To date, no country has attempted to enact such a policy.

That’s not to say that Amnesty International’s measure will eliminate all instances of human trafficking or forced prostitution. Like any imperfect society, there will be cases of injustice and exploitation. However, that’s exactly why it’s so important to have reasonable policies that emphasize the full spectrum of an issue.

Human trafficking is a terrible crime. Forced labor, be it sexual or otherwise, is just as terrible. There’s no denying that, regardless of how uncertain we may be of its prevalence. By focusing only on its links to prostitution, though, we don’t just undermine the full scope of the crime. We do a disservice to all victims, regardless of gender.

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Filed under gender issues, political correctness, prostitution, sex in society, sexuality

Should We Re-Think Our Expectations Of Teenagers?

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When I was a teenager and in a particularly bad mood, which happened more often than I care to admit, there was this one thing my parents often told me that really pissed me off.  It came out in many forms, but this was the underlying sentiment.

“If you EXPECT it to be a bad experience, then it’s GOING to be bad experience.”

I can’t recount how many times I heard something like this. I just remember it pissing me off even more every time I heard it. They usually said it to me whenever we were going out to do something that didn’t involve me sulking in my mood. Being the great parents they were, they didn’t let that happen. They got me off my ass and out of that mindset.

They probably didn’t know at the time, but that bit of good parenting reflects a real phenomenon within our collective psyche. It’s called expectancy theory and it’s kind of what it sounds like.

It’s based on the principle that if someone has certain expectations about something, it’ll affect how they approach it. If they have a positive, hopeful attitude, then they’ll be more likely to evoke positive, hopeful outcomes. If they’re negative about it, as I often was, then it’s not going to turn out well and confirmation bias will help make it worse.

With that in mind, I’d like to apply this to an experience that’s pretty much universal for everyone. Specifically, I want to focus on our expectations as and towards teenagers. Now, I know I’ve given teenagers a lot of crap on this blog, often highlighting how they tend to do dumb things and have misguided attitudes. In my defense, my own confirmation bias has somewhat affected that.

I did not have a good teenage experience. I had a terrible attitude for much of my teenage years and, despite having great parents and amazing social support, I found ways to make myself miserable. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I want to focus less on my own experience and more on the concept as a whole.

Take a moment, whether you’re a teenager or not, to ask a few important questions about the sentiment you have towards teenagers. Don’t just think about how you feel about it, personally. Think about how we collectively approach the teenage experience.

Are teenagers more deviant because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be deviant?

Are teenagers more immature because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be immature?

Are teenagers disrespectful because of their basic developmental biology or because we expect them to be disrespectful?

Are teenagers more prone to risky behavior because of basic developmental biology or because we expect them to do risky things?

See the pattern? There seems to be this underlying assumption about teenagers that rarely gets scrutinized. It’s this idea that all the biological changes that teenagers go through with puberty somehow transforms them from these sweet, innocent children into these reckless, irresponsible, proto-adults who aren’t capable of managing themselves.

It’s fairly likely that all those biological transformations that teenagers go through has some affect on their mentality. However, even the most up-to-date research on the issue concedes that our understanding of the mechanisms behind the process are extremely limited. What that means in a scientific context is we should not assume that our assumptions at the moment are wholly valid.

It may very well be the case that our expectations about teenagers have a significant impact on how we treat them. In turn, how we treat them ends up affecting how they act in response. Then, when they react, we use confirmation bias to justify our expectations. It comes off as one elaborate self-fulfilling prophecy to which we all contribute.

When you think about it, the signs are there. If you’re a teenager, just look at how the world treats you. If you’re an adult, think about how you were treated as a teenager and how you treat teenagers now.

We impose strict curfews about what they can do with their private time. We don’t trust them to consent to sexual activity until a certain age. We regularly send them to educational institutions where their lives and schedules are strictly controlled, not unlike that of prisoners. Whenever there’s a crime or an act of deviance, we tend to expect teenagers to be involved.

From my own experience, I can attest to this. When I was in high school, I noticed a distinct change in the way adults and teachers dealt with us, compared to middle and elementary school. Suddenly, everything we did was subject to greater scrutiny. It was as though everyone thought that we, a bunch of hormonal teenagers, were just one impulse away from becoming violent deviants.

I’m not going to lie. I found that kind of insulting. Teachers, adults, and even police officers would talk down to us whenever they discussed things like sex, crime, and even our personal lives. It wasn’t just that we were expected to screw up. It was almost as though we were supposed to screw up.

It never really crossed my mind that being a teenager could mean anything else. The idea that these attitudes were somehow flawed never entered my mind. I don’t think many people, including other teenagers, give it much thought now. That may very well be a problem that only makes itself worse the longer we have these expectations.

Part of what inspired me to write about this topic is an article from TheVerge that pitched the crazy, yet oddly logical idea that we should consider those under the age of 24 to still be teenagers. I admit I thought it was a joke at first, albeit not of The Onion variety. However, the author does make some interesting points.

Compared to earlier generations, youth today are staying in school longer, marrying and having kids later, and buying a house later, writes Susan Sawyer, the chair of adolescent health at the University of Melbourne, in an op-ed published today in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. The transition period from childhood to adulthood lasts far beyond age 19, when it is popularly thought to end. As a result, she writes, we should change our policies and services to better serve this population.

In a sense, the author of the article is doubling down on the expectations. Now, it’s not just people who don’t have a two in front of their age to which we should ascribe these assumptions. We need to apply that to people even older because somehow, they’re still not meeting the other expectations we have of functioning adults.

Personally, I think that’s taking things in the wrong direction. If we’re going to start expecting more deviance and immaturity from more people, then that’s what we’re going to see and not just from confirmation bias. Just as I did as a kid, my negative expectations led to negative manifestations. Now, they may follow young people beyond high school.

It’s not magical thinking to say that attitude matters when it comes to dealing with people. Human psychology is extremely complex and varies wildly from individual to individual, but humans are still a very social species. As such, treating others with respect and maturity will provide them with incentives to do the same.

I don’t deny that certain assumptions are difficult to escape, especially when some of them are incorporated into actual policies. Even if we woke up tomorrow and started treating everyone over the age of 13 as a responsible adult, it probably wouldn’t resolve the many issues we still have with youth in society. However, as I came to learn as an adult, having a good attitude goes a long way towards achieving a good outcome.

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Filed under gender issues, sex in society, sexuality

Aziz Ansari: A Case Study Of He Said/She Said And Impossible Justice

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Ordinarily, I prefer to wait until an ongoing scandal involving a celebrity dies down before I comment on it. In my experience, it takes time for the full story to emerge. Most of the time, a more complete story tends to render any premature comments moot. John Carpenter recently provided a notable example of why such prudence is important.

That said, there are times when patience is also moot because the narrative follows an all too familiar pattern. It becomes so predictable that you can practically set your watch to it. Over the past several months, especially since the Harvey Weinstein scandal, we’ve seen that pattern play out in all sorts of disheartening ways. That’s why I’m opting not to wait on offering comments on Aziz Ansari.

By now, everybody with an internet connection, a social media feed, and a predilection for celebrity meltdowns knows the story. Aziz Ansari is the latest case of the Weinstein Effect. His name has officially been added to the growing list of male celebrities being accused of sexual misconduct.

The story first broke on Babe.net where a 23-year-old Brooklyn-based photographer calling herself Grace, which isn’t her real name, told a very distressing story about a night she had with Ansari. That story reads like a bad date, but still echoes with some of the same themes that Harvey Weinstein has helped make infamous. Naturally, this story is already striking a chord with the ongoing anti-harassment movement.

The way Grace tells it, she got into a situation that she lost control over and Ansari took advantage of that situation. I don’t want to get too caught up in the details. They’re just too unsexy, even for an aspiring erotica/romance writer.

Before I even attempt to comment, it’s worth pointing out that Grace said herself that she confronted Ansari about this privately. On the surface, it seemed like a terrible example of miscommunication and mixed messages. According to the article, this was the exchange.

Grace: I just want to take this moment to make you aware of [your] behavior and how uneasy it made me.

Ansari: Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.

If this had occurred several years ago, that probably would’ve been the end of it. The incident would’ve been a nasty experience for Grace and an uncomfortable memory for Ansari, but it probably wouldn’t have made the news, outside a few disreputable tabloids. Since powerful men harassing women has become a far greater issue, though, this is now national news.

It’s already generating the kind of divisive arguments that have been cropping up since the Weinstein scandal. Supporters of the anti-harassment movement are siding with Grace, accepting her story as another example of powerful men exploiting women. Opponents, including a few celebrities, are saying this movement is going too far and devolving into a man-hating witch-hunt.

Neither side is going to convince the other they’re wrong. Both sides have plenty of rhetoric to make their point. When I look at this story, though, I see far greater forces at work. I also see a devolving situation that is doing more to divide people in lieu of addressing real issues surrounding men, women, consent, and harassment.

When you read over Grace’s story and then read the statement Aziz Ansari issued in response, there’s one inescapable fact. It’s impossible to vindicate or disprove either version of the story. It is very much a classic he said/she said ordeal. She said he assaulted her. He said everything they did was consensual. There’s no way to be certain.

Sure, there’s a distinct possibility that one of them is lying. Everyone, celebrity and non-celebrity alike, is prone to lying. There have been documented incidents of women falsely accusing men. There have been men who have lied and gotten away with sexual misconduct. However, without knowing more details about the incident, it’s not possible to truly know.

Me being a guy who places a lot of faith in people, I suspect that both Grace and Ansari believe they’re telling the truth. I believe that if you hooked them up to a perfect lie detector, it would verify that both of them believe their respective stories with all their hearts.

This sounds like an impossible position until you remember that our memories are not very reliable, especially when it comes to unpleasant memories. Beyond simply not remembering the details of a terrible situation, our brains are wired to avoid the kind of mental discomfort that comes with enduring or committing a sexual assault at all costs, even if that means mis-remembering the truth.

It’s because of this that the he said/she said nature of stories like this is difficult to process. It creates a scenario that’s different from most other crimes and injustices. There’s no dead body. There’s no lost or damaged property. There’s nothing tangible to highlight the crime or misdeed. There are only two conflicting stories. As a result, it leads to a situation of impossible justice.

Even if everything Grace described happened exactly as she said it did, there’s no way to prove it in a courtroom or even a civil case. Even if Ansari is one-hundred percent innocent and is the victim of an elaborate extortion plot, there’s no way to prove that either, absent a confession or new information.

In both instances, there’s an injustice being committed. Since humans are wired with an innate sense of justice that shows even when we’re infants, that situation is untenable in our collective minds. People hear a terrible story like Grace’s and that inner justice system goes into overdrive.

Since we don’t have the time, energy, or even the capabilities to gather all the facts, we’re left relying on a certain degree of prejudice. This is where the impossible justice of he said/she said gets real ugly and this scandal with Ansari demonstrates it. When people start relying on prejudices, it tends to bring out the worst in humanity.

For those who believe our culture is full of entitled, misogynistic men who see women only as objects to be owned, then their prejudices will be reinforced by this story. For those who believe the movement against sexual misconduct is going too far and all men are being demonized, this story does the same.

That’s greatest tragedy of an impossible justice. It gives certain people the anecdotal evidence they need to further their agenda. It also gives those who stand against that agenda even more incentive to fight back. In the end, it only serves to heighten hostilities and intensify the rhetoric.

At a time when men and women are increasingly divided, especially in matters pertaining to sex and intimacy, this sort of story really drives us in all the wrong directions. It frames all men as sleazy pigs who jump at any opportunity to harass a woman. It frames all women as victims who must fight back against everyone and everything attacking them, real or imagined.

For me, personally, this story makes me sick to my stomach because it’s one of those stories that’s perfect for pushing an agenda, but not for pursuing justice. If what happened to Grace is true, then I’m in favor of having Ansari face justice for his misdeeds. I say that as someone who has been a fan of his comedy and his work on “Parks and Recreation.”

As it stands, though, there’s not enough evidence beyond the he said/she said dynamic to convict anyone of a crime. Absent that kind of justice, people are filling in the blanks with whatever gender-driven prejudices they want to strengthen.

In my personal opinion, which may put me at odds with both sides, I believe that there’s a third version of this story between Grace and Ansari that is closer to the truth. In that version, Ansari isn’t a total gentleman and Grace isn’t a hapless victim either. It’s just an experience that becomes awkward and unpleasant for them, the memories of which later get conflated and influenced by outside sources.

In the end, it’s still impossible to know for sure. Short of high-definition video, unambiguous audio, and an ability to read the exact thoughts of both Grace and Ansari during those moments when they were together, we can’t know how consensual or hostile the situation was between them. It messes with our desire for justice, especially when it comes to how men treat women.

In seeking that justice, though, it’s important to remember that there are instances where the truth isn’t just elusive. It’s physically impossible to ascertain. In those instances, trying to fill that uncertainty with agendas will only lead to more injustice in the long run for everyone.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, sex in media, sex in society

Perception Vs. Reality: ANOTHER Unfair Fight

Did you hear the news? Rates of crime, violence, and deviance are skyrocketing thanks to that horribly evil corrupting influence known as pornography! Wait…I may have been mistaken. I think that influence is violent video games now. Hold on, I think it might have been internet harassment.

Or was it violent movies?

Or was it comic books?

Or was it heavy metal music?

Or was it MTV?

Or was it the Simpson/Family Guy/Bevis and Butthead?

Or was it Dungeons and Dragons?

I’m sorry. I just can’t keep up with all these terribly corrupting influence. It seems like there’s a new one every other year. In every case, this latest influence will be the one that turns our culture into an orgy of meth-addicted chimps armed with machine guns.

I’ll turn the sarcasm off now. Hopefully, I don’t need to point out the breadth of the absurdity I just described. If anyone bought into any of these so-called scourges, then we’d all be living in a Martin Scorsese crime drama by now. Since Joe Pesci hasn’t come to break my legs with a baseball bat, I’m going to take a moment to give the terrified masses a reassuring hug and explain that the world isn’t that terrifying.

Sadly, hugs only go so far. Reassuring the terrified masses requires that I fight a losing battle. That battle is between the forces of perception and reality. Unfortunately, it might as well be a battle between a sick kitten and hungry grizzly bear armed with chainsaw.

This is going to sound cynical, but it’s kind of a byproduct for someone seeking a career in crafting elaborate fiction. Perception kicks reality’s ass every, single, goddamn time. Why shouldn’t it though? Reality is cold, callous, and boring. Reality is the reason we don’t win the lottery every week. Reality is the reason we don’t get our dream job, live in our dream house, or marry our dream girl/guy.

With perception, luck is always on our side. We are always the center of the universe. We are John McClane in the body of a young Bruce Willis, living out our own Die Hard movie where countless European thugs with bad accents are out to get us. It’s more exciting and it makes us feel special. Sure, it’s a deluded fantasy that comes dangerously close to requiring therapy, but it beats the hell out of reality.

I’ve tried to paint a less dire picture of the world on this blog. I’ve pointed out that by most objective measures, things are getting better in the world. Poverty is down. Crime is down. Violence is down. Hell, even the divorce rate is declining according to the CDC. That’s objectively good for everyone except family divorce lawyers that charge by the hour.

We, as a society, should be thankful that we actually have to look for reasons to panic. We’ve had to come up with some pretty ridiculous threats to society. Decades ago, it was comic books. A few decades after that, it was dungeons and dragons. These days, it’s violent/sexist video games.

Of course none of these panics led to the downfall of civilization. At worst, it created a lot of annoying arguments on the internet, but let’s face it. There are so many arguments on the web and people have such short attention spans that their impact is on par with light cough.

At the core of these panics, however, is a common misinterpretation about common sense that turns common people into uncommon asshats. It’s this pervasive notion that the media we consume has a major impact on us. One year, it’s Elvis’ hips that were going to turn us into monsters. The next, it’s a hidden sex mini-game in Grand Theft Auto.

Again, it’s worth pointing out that violence and violent crime has been decreasing for decades. We do pay people to keep track of this shit, you know? It’s kind of an important function of modern society. The data is there. We’re actually getting better at this civilization thingy we’ve been working on for 10,000 years.

So why do we still obsess over the effects on media? Well, there is an element of common sense to it. Tell an ordinary, sane person that consuming violent media makes a person violent and they’ll probably agree to some degree. It makes sense. Most people tend to think other people are vulnerable to that kind of crude influence.

The problem is, they still think they’re John McClane in a Die Hard movie. They think they’re the hero who isn’t prone to corruption. They don’t realize that they are those other people and those people don’t go out randomly killing each other because of the movies they see or the video games they play. The data just doesn’t bear that out.

The problem is the perception. Movies, TV, video games, and Twitter hashtags give the perception that violence and sexism are more prevalent than they really are. They trigger this “danger mode” that’s hardwired into our caveman brain, making us think there’s a hungry tiger hiding behind every bush. It’s not real, but our caveman brain doesn’t care.

Even when the perceptions become too skewed to rationalize, even with a caveman brain, we still look for reasons to dread. We still look for something to get outraged over. In recent years, there has been less of an inclination to link violent/sexual media with violence and more a trend towards linking it to sexism.

This has been playing out in arenas like video games, female-centered movies and TV shows, and feminism, which I’ve talked about before. This latest moral panic isn’t that media is making people violent. It’s the idea that media is making people sexist and reinforcing patriarchal stereotypes. I won’t name names, but anyone who does even basic research on it knows who I’m talking about.

Again though, reality doesn’t jive with this perception. Despite the fact that video games have gotten much better at rendering beautiful women in undersized thongs, rates of sexual violence against women have declined by more than half since 1995.

Just as a point of reference, the best selling game of 1995 was Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Yes, there was more sexual violence in that year compared to 2005, the year Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, complete with its hooker-killing and sex mini-game, came out.

So why do I bring this up? Why do I make a big deal of this issue? Well for one, it does affect me and the industry I’m trying to break into. I deal in the romance/erotica medium. That medium has its own controversies and I’m not just talking about sparkling vampires.

The perceptions about how this media affects people is still there. Back in 2012, the media reported an unusual spike in births, which happened to coincide with the success of “50 Shades of Grey.” It sent a clear message. Reading all this erotica/BDSM fiction was getting people horny and they were making babies. That’s a pretty clear impact, if ever there was one.

Now chances are, this was just the media trying to moisten some panties and get a few extra clicks. Reality probably isn’t that clear-cut. Even if the data did show a spike in births, correlation does not equal causation. Media, especially BDSM fiction, is only every a catalyst, at most, rather than a cause.

This perception surrounding media, especially that surrounding erotica/romance, is bound to affect how I pursue my career in this field. I really do want to make a living writing erotica/romance novels. My goal isn’t just to get couples horny so they can get frisky and make a few babies. However, if that does occur, I will gladly embrace it as a pleasant side-effect.

It all comes back to perception. I don’t doubt my own perceptions are skewed. I’m sure that has shown on more than one occasions with this blog. I never claimed to be objective. I’m not an activist, a reporter, or even an internet meme. I’m just a guy trying to turn his passion for erotica/romance into a career.

My perceptions are only my tools. Reality is still an obstacle, but these are obstacles we must all be willing to navigate. If we don’t, reality has a nasty way of biting us in the ass and not in the way we’ll enjoy.

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