Posts Tagged ‘abuse’

Occasionally I see someone in an internet argument call the person they’re arguing with a faggot, at which point I stop paying attention to anything else that person has to say.

I mean, if you’re the sort of person who not only uses purely demeaning personal attacks in place of actual conversation, but picks “faggot” of all things to try and put someone down, then you’ve just raised the bar pretty high for me to rediscover any interest in your opinions.

Recently I’ve started seeing “cuck” being thrown around as well. It’s an abbreviation of a term for a man whose wife is unfaithful, if you’re not familiar. Yes, it’s something people really do call each other when they want to be mean, even outside of 16th century literature. No, I don’t think that will ever stop being funny.

The most prominent equivalents I can think of that come from my side of the political/feminist spectrum are “pissbaby” and “fuckboy”.

All these terms serve essentially the same purpose: they’re used to sum up in a single word all the negative and dislikable characteristics possessed by the Outgroup, which explains why we should hate them and ignore them and interpret anything they say in a deliberately uncharitable way, and why their sentience and humanity basically doesn’t count due to their stupid shitty opinions about important stuff.

Of course, it’s not exactly the same thing going on in all these cases. Culture is big and messy and complicated, and rarely do two parallel or equivalent things truly mirror each other. And the main difference is that, well, you’re right. You might use these terms sometimes, but only directed at people who really deserve to be put down, because of the horrible and appalling things they do and say. Your epithets are describing an actual, real-world set of behaviours in other people, which ought to be noticed and castigated.

It’s entirely different from the way they just lash out and call people names as soon as they realise they’re “not one of us”.

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Not cool, you guys. You’re making me say things in defence of PETA. I hate when I have to do that.

I mean, it’s never happened before, because they’re horrible, but it’s happening now and I hate it.

If you don’t know, they’re People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and they recently released this 30-second ad:



And the majority of people on what I tend to think of as “my side” leapt on them for, primarily, “glamorising domestic violence“.

Only I don’t think that’s what they’re doing.

The joke seems to be a fairly straight-forward one: This girl’s boyfriend went vegan, and suddenly found that he had so much extra energy and potency that their sex became vigorous enough to damage the wall and cause an unfortunate, accidental neck injury.

Yes, the woman has suffered physical damage, but it doesn’t even obliquely reference domestic abuse, let alone glamorise it.

When we see the boyfriend, he’s repairing the wall and shame-facedly asking how his partner’s feeling. In response, she throws at him a bag of fruit and veg which she’s just been out to buy, implying that she’s not exactly displeased with these new developments. Perhaps next time they’ll position themselves more carefully, make sure any nearby hard surfaces are adequately cushioned, and continue to enjoy their kinky sex responsibly and safely.

Which is nothing to do with actual domestic abuse. This ad isn’t portraying or describing anything reprehensible, let alone condoning it. Getting physical with someone is only unacceptable in ways they haven’t fully consented to – there’s a danger of this being used as a bullshit rationalisation, admittedly, by someone trying to justify actions that are still fundamentally abusive, but that’s not what’s going on here.

The only real link to domestic abuse is that the tone of the ad is deliberately similar to some public service announcements that show women in abusive situations, which offer help and advice. The criticism then is that, by making this ad about a woman who enjoyed getting beaten up a bit, they’re demeaning the plight of women described by the PSAs it parodies, and people will take actual domestic abuse less seriously as a result.

Maybe there’s something there. But I’m not sure lodging complaints about this ad is the answer. If people are prone to such failures of imagination that they’re going to neglect domestic abuse sufferers on the basis of kinky people speaking out and consensual violent sex becoming more mainstream, I don’t see that being neatly fixed by telling those people to shush and stop pretending that anyone enjoys getting beaten up.

Which isn’t to stay that actual domestic abuse doesn’t need our attention too, but this reaction seems misguided. I actually think some feminists are missing the point of this ad the same way some Chris Brown fans did about Rihanna. Now that was a depressing story. It doesn’t matter how much you think you’d enjoy being punched in the face; what he did to Rihanna was not okay. Contrariwise, we don’t need to stop condemning all forms of abusive relationships if we want to let this fictional vegan couple just have their fun.

More to the point, is there any evidence that a vegan diet actually does improve your energy levels like this? That might be more objectionable than anything else about this.

Also, PETA are terrible.

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Jesus fuckballs.

A 62-year-old man suffering from depression was arrested for “disorderly intoxication”. His wife asked that he be allowed to take his medications and given medical treatment. Instead, he was tied naked to a chair, gagged, and repeatedly pepper sprayed. He later died in hospital from heart failure brought on by shock from the pepper spray, and his death was ruled a homicide.

That was over two years ago. Nobody’s been charged with a crime, and the sheriff’s office has been cleared of wrongdoing.

Explain to me how any circumstances can possibly exist in which any human being has the right to render another human being immobile, then deliberately blind them with capsaicin while they are utterly defenseless. Someone. Anyone. Any circumstances at all.

Of course, the people who did this were acting as agents of a law enforcement agency. It’s only when people who aren’t enforcing the law commit homicide that we can expect there to be consequences.

Fuck’s sake, humanity.

(via Reason)

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This card trick‘s pretty neat. I reckon it’s a fairly simple force and some straightforward sleight of hand, but the effect is nicely done.

– I’ve been finding PZ Myers increasingly problematic recently in his approach to engagement with believers. But when it comes to “Nones” – a proposed movement of vaguely spiritual non-believers – he’s right on target.

– Hey, isn’t it about time we got those poor kids back to work?

– Here’s a tough little moral quandary for you. If parents employ corporal punishment, does this constitute criminal physical abuse of their children? No? What if they use a cane? Or, instead of doing it themselves, what if parents hire some guy to beat their child with a metal pole? Is it abuse yet?

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People don’t trust science.

And why should they? Science is devious stuff. It’s always trying to tell you that your strongly held religious beliefs are wrong, or toying with nature in a way man was never supposed to, or doing something hard to understand with big machines and long words that’s probably going to destroy the planet.

All of which is deeply offensive to the most basic human sensibilities. And worst of all is when scientists – those cold-hearted emotionless robots in white lab coats, or madmen incapable of seeing any beauty in the world who don’t care how much harm their experiments cause – try telling you that they even know what you think better than you do.

I mean, how dare they! Obviously you know your own mind. And if you woke up in the middle of the night and there was an owl on the bedpost with your mother’s face and a demon hovering over you whose genitals were singing Happy Birthday with the voice of Richard Simmons, then you know what you saw. Do these scientists think you’re crazy?

No, they don’t. Most scientists really wouldn’t tell you anything so condescending. But they do think that the human brain can be the epicentre of some pretty weird goings-on, and that the people who cohabit with these brains aren’t always in the best position to interpret what’s going on.

It’s really important to understand that, when scientists suggest that the way things seem to you might not match up perfectly with reality, they’re not being patronising or calling you stupid. There are lots of things that your brain gets wrong, which simply come with being human.

Optical illusions are a good example. These parallel lines ought to look more skewed than they really are. These white dots should appear to blink on and off somewhat disorientingly as you move your eyes around the picture. It’s to do with the way your brain processes visual information, and it’s fun finding out ways you can fool yourself.

Then there’s dreams. Chances are, your subconscious regularly makes up completely bizarre imaginary scenarios out of nowhere, and presents you with an entirely fictional version of reality – and often stops you from noticing that anything is out of the ordinary. This is so common that it’s considered unusual for anyone to say they never experience it.

But while certain very common and popularly recognised phenomena are generally accepted as just being quirks of the squishy grey stuff between our ears, some such quirks aren’t so familiar. There are some ways in which we just feel that our brains shouldn’t be able to let us down – it’s unthinkable that we shouldn’t be able to trust our own perception and intuition in certain areas. Which is why some things are harder to accept, and people may be inclined to respond to such suggestions by saying “I’m not crazy”.

And yet numerous other such phenomena are real and well understood. Some of these I’ve written about before: sleep paralysis, where you more or less continue dreaming but also can’t move; the ideomotor effect, where you find your body making tiny movements without you choosing to do so; pareidolia, where even a random mess of nonsense can throw up something that looks like an underlying pattern once in a while; and a wide range of logical fallacies, which show just how bad we can be at analysing data rationally if we’re not careful. And ignoring any of these cognitive oddities can lead you to get things wrong.

If you’re unaware of dreams, you might get some very funny looks from your co-workers on Monday when you describe how your teeth all fell out one night over the weekend but were magically back in place by the morning.

If you weren’t that hot on statistics, you might think that you’ve discovered a miraculous new remedy, when actually you just rubbed pineapple juice into your elbows three times a day until your cold got better anyway.

And if you aren’t familiar with false memory syndrome, then… well, things can get pretty horrifying.

In a way, it feels intuitive to expect your memory to be entirely accurate. If you remember something happening, that must be because it happened. What other reason could there be? But most of us regularly remember dreams, even though they didn’t happen. And most of us have, at some point, misremembered the way something took place, or disagreed with someone else about the exact details of a past event. Why would that ever happen, if human memory wasn’t prone to making serious mistakes?

The fact is, as in the case of dreams or optical illusions, we’re sometimes obliged to follow the data and mistrust what our brains tell us, in the case of memory too.

The most disturbing example of this relates to the sexual abuse of children.

Now, I need to be careful after a sentence like that. Clearly one extremely disturbing thing surrounding this topic is the actual sexual abuse of children. This is by no means a trivial or minor side issue, and I wouldn’t want any of my surrounding discussion to come across as apologist or dismissive of any serious cases of this.

And yet, precisely because it’s such a serious and heated issue, the occasions when people get unfairly tangled up in it are themselves especially serious, and merit particular scrutiny.

With that in mind, the history of false memory syndrome as regards childhood sexual abuse is quite horrific.

In fact, the whole idea of repressed memories that need “recovering” in therapy is controversial. People who’ve suffered through a childhood trauma often experience something like post-traumatic stress disorder, where the problem isn’t that they can’t remember what happened, but that they keep remembering it, and re-living it, constantly. If you don’t remember a particular childhood trauma, that’s probably because it didn’t happen to you…

…but that won’t necessarily stop you from “recovering” the memories in therapy anyway.

An article by Elizabeth Loftus reports some very disturbing specifics. A woman seeing a psychiatrist in 1986 became convinced that she had suffered serious physical and sexual abuse as a child, and that she was uncovering memories of “having been in a satanic cult, of eating babies, of being raped, of having sex with animals and of being forced to watch the murder of her eight-year-old friend”. Another woman, after therapy sessions with a church counsellor, “remembered” having been repeatedly raped by her father and forced to perform abortions on herself twice. On medical examination, it was shown that she had never been pregnant, and was apparently still a virgin. (I know the latter point isn’t always obvious from examination, but it was clear she hadn’t undergone anything like the several years of regular sexual assault that she was reporting.)

These two women both sued their therapists, and received seven-figure out-of-court settlements, and they’re not alone. But the damage this sort of intervention can do if the results are taken at face value is almost unimaginable. Meredith Maran has had to deal with the fact that her family spent years in turmoil because of her accusations that her father had abused her. In her case, this entirely false impression didn’t even result from any therapy sessions or hypnotic suggestion, but apparently just from being immersed in a sort of “incest survivor culture” for so long.

I don’t want to downplay the fact that, for many people, all kinds of abuse, sexual or physical or psychological, in childhood or adolescence or adulthood, is a very real and terrible problem. These people don’t need things made even worse for them by an exacerbation of any victim-blaming culture, or the worry that they’ll be accused of making it all up if they speak up and ask for help.

But, at the same time, our appreciation for critical thought shouldn’t just fly out the window because a serious accusation has been made.

A self-help book that was recently being promoted by the Church of England was criticised by scientists for its failure to take false memory syndrome into account. It told readers things like “If you are unable to remember any specific instances… but still have a feeling that something abusive happened to you, it probably did”. They’re putting forward “a feeling” as solid evidence that you were sexually assaulted as a child and just don’t remember it. This is incredibly reckless and irresponsible, especially given how much we now understand about the role of suggestibility in forming false memories that seem entirely real.

The main thing to take away is that memories don’t always relate to genuine events with perfectly reliable consistency. We have good evidence that the recollection of perfectly ordinary and totally sane people can be completely wrong, despite how real and reliable such memories feel. This is not a dangerous thing to know. It is not intrinsically antagonistic to genuine abuse victims for us to be aware of this. Understanding false memory syndrome should only give us a better chance of approaching the truth, by letting us more closely estimate the likelihood of the testimony being false, when assessing unlikely claims about demonic cults and baby-eating.

Helpful sources and further reading:

The Skeptic’s Dictionary
Chris French in the Guardian
Cracked (what, you thought I was being scholarly?)
The British False Memory Society
The False Memory Syndrome Foundation

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