Tag Archives: trauma

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

Purging Bad Memories And The (Hidden) Price That Comes With It

Think about the most traumatic experience you’ve ever had. No, this isn’t another thought experiment, nor is it something I’ll put a sexy spin on. It’s an honest, but difficult question to contemplate. Some people don’t even need to contemplate it. Some trauma is so severe that simply asking the question is redundant.

Even if you accept, as I have argued, that the world is getting better and people are generally good, there is still a lot of suffering in this world. There are horrific wars throughout the world, extreme poverty, and gruesome crimes unfolding every day. The crimes themselves are awful, but it’s often the scars they leave on people, mentally and emotionally, that further amplifies the suffering.

Those scars can be pretty debilitating, even after the physical wounds heal. It often manifests in post-traumatic stress disorder, a terrible mental state that effectively locks someone into their scars. Wars, violence, abuse, and criminal victimization can create varying degrees of trauma and coping with that trauma can be a never-ending struggle.

Now, here’s the part where I try to make this discussion less depressing. This is a blog that talks about sexy thoughts, sexy novels, and personal stories involving awkward boners. In general, I want my posts to inspire and, if possible, arouse in the sexiest way possible.

I don’t think it’s possible to make something like dealing with terrible trauma sexy, but it does present an opportunity to discuss something that might not just be a thought experiment within our lifetime. It boils down to one simple question.

“If you could purge traumatic memories from your mind, would you do it?”

If that question sounds familiar, then congratulations. You’ve probably seen one of Jim Carrey’s most underrated movies, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Granted, it wasn’t exactly as funny or memorable as “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” but it dealt with this question in ways nobody had dared by making the concept of purging memories a simple service to facilitate the process of getting over a loss.

All three “Men In Black” movies streamlined that process even more with their trademark neuralizer, a device that erases peoples’ memories of an incident in a simple flash. When you’re a super-secret government agency trying to hide aliens from the public, it’s kind of a necessity. However, its implications are much greater than simply making life easier for government agents.

Think back to that traumatic experience I mentioned earlier. In addition, think of the many traumatic experiences behind those who suffer from PTSD. All that suffering is built around the memories of those horrible moments. Whether it’s an atrocity in a war, severe child abuse, or a sexual assault, it’s the memory that locks that moment into the mind.

Now, imagine being able to purge that memory from your brain. In an instant, be it a flash by a neuralizer or the service offered in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” that experience is gone. You didn’t just forget it. As far as your brain is concerned, it never happened.

It’s a concept that “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” avoids and is never expanded upon in “Men In Black.” The ability to purge our memories of traumatic experiences has huge implications, even if they’re not as entertaining as watching Will Smith fight aliens. It’s one thing to improve our memories. Actually manipulating them opens up a new world of complications, some of which we might not be ready to confront.

At the moment, we don’t have to because the technology isn’t there yet. While we have a fairly comprehensive understanding of how our brain forms memories, we currently lack the necessary tools to manipulate them. However, those tools are in development.

Once again, I’ll mention Neuralink and the advanced brain implants its hoping to use to augment human cognition. Given how often our brains frustrate us with our inability to keep up with the world or program a goddamn coffee maker, it’s a given that there will be a market for that. Part of that enhancement, though, will likely extent to memories.

It may even be among the early uses for the implants developed by companies like Neuralink. As I write this, PTSD plagues millions of people, many of them military veterans who experienced unspeakable horrors in a war zone. Given the inherent difficulties in treating PTSD, who wouldn’t opt for a better way?

Sure, it involves manipulating our brains, but talk to anyone who can’t sleep, work, or form functional relationships because of their trauma. Some of them would do brain surgery on themselves and accept all the risks that came with it. Some experiences are just that traumatic and I’m not just talking about the ones that involve wars and clowns.

It’s a tragic situation, but one that makes the idea of actually purging those memories from our minds more pressing. Before brain implants like Neuralink start enhancing our minds for the hell of it, they’ll focus on treating those who are sick. It happened with artificial limbs. It will likely happen with brain manipulation.

Due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we’re already dealing with a significant population suffering from PTDS. Since those wars show no signs of ending, that population will likely grow. Medical science has gotten better at helping soldiers recover from major injuries, but treatments for the brain are still lagging, so much so that governments are considering using MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, to treat PTSD.

Unlike a bullet wound or a broken bone, though, traumatic experiences don’t always heal. Our brain is wired to tie powerful emotions to powerful memories. That’s great for giving us fond memories of the food we eat, the sex we have, and the social bonds we create, but terrible when it comes to dealing with trauma.

In a sense, removing the memories completely may be the only way to actually cure PTSD and allow people to live fully functional lives. Given the incentives, the prevalence, and mankind’s innate ability to make awesome tools, this ability will likely emerge at some point, possibly in my lifetime.

That may be great for those who endure traumatic experiences, but it may come at a price, as all great advancements do. If we live in a world where trauma is so easy to treat and so easy to get rid of, then does that undermine the power of those experiences? Would we, as a species, become numb to those who experience trauma and those who inflict it?

Picture a scenario where someone commits a brutal rape, one that leaves another person so traumatized and scarred that it may haunt them until their dying daze. Right now, we would all want that rapist punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, what if a simple brain implant removes that experience completely while simple medicine treats the wounds?

If the victims has no memory of the experience, no lingering pain, and suffers no ill-effects for the rest of their lives, then do we still treat the rapist with the same disdain? Right now, that’s an unconscionable question to answer. I’m sure there are those who want to strangle me through their computer screens, just by asking it.

First, I apologize if that question causes someone significant distress, but it’s a question worth asking. Once we have the ability to undo all suffering caused by a crime, then will that affect our ability and desire to punish such crimes? No amount of Will Smith fighting aliens can detract from those implications.

At the moment, the technology doesn’t exist, but the trauma doesn’t stop. As decent, empathic human beings, we want to do everything in our power to stop such trauma and heal those wounds. Our efforts may get to a point where we can literally attack the source of that trauma. The questions still remain. What will the hidden cost be and can we stomach that cost?

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Filed under Marriage and Relationships, Second Sexual Revolution, Sexy Future