Thursday, March 19, 2015

The unstated goal of punishment

From Reluctant Crusader: Why Alice Dreger’s writing on sex and science makes liberals so angry by Tom Bartlett.
In her new book, Dreger also empathizes with Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, authors of A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion (2001). They argue that rape is motivated at least in part by sexual attraction, a view that diverges from the widely held notion that it is solely about violence and control. Palmer and Thornhill see their work as contributing to an understanding of why rapists rape and therefore, ultimately, of help to victims. Their many irate detractors see them as rape apologists. What started as science devolved into name-calling and death threats.
Not wanting to enter this particular discussion but it sparked a thought.

Disagreement can arise for many reasons. My assumption has long been that people are actually often in agreement on overall goals but where they come into conflict is that each person often has both a different prioritization of those shared goals and most especially that they can have dramatically different trade-offs that they are willing (or not) to make.

My wife and I might both agree that our next car should be stylish, roomy, excellent repair record, good mileage, safety features, good leg room, nice driving experience, etc. But the order of those desired features might differ significantly. Even more critically, I may be focused substantially on leg room and be willing to trade off a lot in terms of MPG whereas she might be willing to trade away leg room completely for more safety features.

I think that this assessment focusing on differences in priorities and trade-off functions is substantially right. Bartlett's article prompts the thought that there is an additional element in play - the desire to punish.

It is not enough to share goals and even prioritizations of goals. For some people, the desire to punish the undesirable is very powerful and that becomes a factor in itself that has to be taken into account.

The raft of hoaxes and false accusations on university campuses over the past few months has been illuminating about a number of issues. No one supports rape, despite all the cries of "denialist" and "apologist." I have interpreted much of the rancor as arising from differences in trade-offs. The third-wave feminist advocacy groups obviously want the number of rapes to be as close to zero as feasible. As does everyone else. The challenge is that the third-wave feminist advocacy groups are willing to forego due process, free speech and other rights in order to drive the number to zero. Others will have none of that. They want to get the number of rapes as close to zero as possible but within the context of free speech and due process.

I think that interpretation is accurate but perhaps not quite complete. It has been striking to me that in a number of these cases of hoaxes and false allegations, the advocacy groups seem to be most vocal and vituperative in those instances where there is a fraternity involved and often turn a blind eye to those instances where the allegations, even where credible and proven, are against non-fraternity students. Why? I think part of the answer might be that not only is there a desire to achieve a good end, but there is also a desire to punish the enemy. It is not enough to help (or prevent) the victims, you have to punish as well.

Perhaps that is why these cases get so mucked up.

More explicitly, when problem solving, perhaps it is insufficient to solve the problem. In some instances, the solution has to include punishment as well.

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