Quotulatiousness

January 27, 2018

QotD: “Hate” laws and other redundant bits of legislation

Filed under: Law, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As a customary principle of politics, whether “electoral” or “appointive,” I think it unwise to adjust legislation, or offer to adjust it, in response to behaviour by the criminally insane. This confers too much power on them. Verily, it is a mark of our present social condition that “reforms” are guided more and more by the hardest and strangest cases. […]

The need, specifically, for new “hate laws” is zero, at most. Murder has never been an expression of affection, to any individual or group; specific hatreds have always been considered in the interpretation of motives. We have enough crimes already, without inventing redundant ones in accord with the latest fashions. The intention behind them is never exemplary of mental and moral hygiene.

Which points again to the deeper “problematic” (one tires of the misuse of this word) in politics as practised today. We not only legislate in response to the transient behaviour of the criminally insane. Worse, our legislators, though arguably sane to start with, get in the habit of indulging insanity, even within themselves.

David Warren, “Orlando”, Essays in Idleness, 2016-06-14.

December 19, 2017

The imminent threat of Neo-Victorianism

Filed under: Business, Education, Government, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle on the moral panic currently gripping modern American public life:

The same logic applies to the burdens of proof. If unsubstantiated claims are accepted at face value, then eventually enough will turn out to be false that many future claims will be disregarded — whether they are plausible or not, whether they are substantiated or not. That was the harm done by cases like the Duke Lacrosse scandal, the UVA rape case, the Tawana Brawley accusations, and many others. But there’s another potential harm we also have to think about.

Let’s say that we do manage to establish a social norm that a single accusation of “inappropriate sexual behavior” toward a woman is enough to get you fired and drummed out of your industry. It’s the crux of the issue so eloquently explored recently by Claire Berlinski: What would a reasonable and innocent heterosexual man do to protect himself from the economic death penalty?

One thing he might do is avoid being alone with anyone of the opposite sex — not in the office and not even in social situations. You might, in other words, adopt something like the Pence Rule, so recently mocked for its Victorian overtones. (Or worse still, work hard not to hire any women who could become a liability.)

This would obviously be bad for women, who would lose countless opportunities for learning, advancement, friendship, even romance — the human connections that make us human workers superior to robots, for now.

On the radio recently, I pointed out that this might be a logical result of a “one strike and you’re out” policy. The host, aghast, remarked that this was obviously not what we wanted. And of course, that isn’t what anyone wants. It might nonetheless be the logical result of the rules we’re setting up.

It’s easy for me to think of all the things I would have lost out on under a strict Pence Rule. The creative writing professor who conducted my independent study in his house, for example. It was perhaps a more innocent time, but even then I was not unaware of the sexual overtones our culture would see in a young female student going to a much older male professor’s home while his wife was at work. He was a perfect gentleman who made me cabbage soup, taught me to insert little slivers of garlic into a beef roast, and savagely critiqued my prose. David Slavitt, wherever you are, thank you for making me a better writer. And my condolences to all the female students today who will never have similar opportunities — if I may judge by the bemusement/horror of male professors to whom I have told this story.

December 16, 2017

When righteous fury slides into moral panic

Filed under: Business, Law, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle on the dangers of believing all accusations of sexual impropriety and eliding mere crass behaviour with violent sexual assault:

Unfortunately, when we accept no limits on what constitutes a crime, and when we lower the standards of evidence for believing a crime has occurred, we aren’t necessarily furthering the cause of crime-reduction.

Of course, some people might say that that’s just too bad, but we’re going to have to expect some casualties in the war on the patriarchy. Women have left jobs for years because they couldn’t stand the harassment; have found their careers stalled because they wouldn’t play along; have spent far too many hours desperately trying to dodge creeping hands. Why should we weep because a few innocent men are now victims?

One answer is that “truth and justice matters.” That’s a good answer. But if it doesn’t satisfy you, here’s another: Moral panics aren’t good for anyone, including the victims they’re trying to protect.

In the early days of the University of Virginia rape scandal, when questions were first raised about Rolling Stone’s story, battle lines developed between those who wondered about the rather cinematic details, and those who asserted “#IBelieveWomen.” In truth, even many of the people asking the questions confessed how uncomfortable it made them to do so (and you can add my confession to the list). How can we risk adding insult to the already-grievous injuries of a woman who has been raped, by also demanding that she prove she’s not a liar? And yet, if we don’t, we risk convicting people who are innocent, and damaging our own cause.

Ultimately the norm of reflexively believing every accusation, and meting out harsh treatment to every man who is accused, does grave harm to the cause of fighting rape and harassment. #BelieveAllWomen elides the messy reality that women, like the rest of humanity, aren’t always telling the truth — and that even when they are, their interpretations of events is not always the most reasonable one. If we reify too many weak or false claims, the norm will quickly slide toward “believe no women.”

October 25, 2017

The new “movie plot threat” – The Revenge of the Return of the Bride of the Sex Trafficking Mafia

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The rising moral panic over sex traffic gets a well-deserved takedown by Lenore Skenazy:

We are in the midst of a massive mommy moral panic. Across the country, mothers are writing breathless accounts on Facebook of how sex traffickers nearly snatched their children at Target/Ikea/the grocery store.

While at Sam’s Club, one such post explains, “a man came up to us and asked if the empty cart nearby was ours.…He was an African American with a shaved head.…It seemed like an innocent encounter.” Innocent, that is, until the mom and kids headed to Walmart and there was the guy again, “feverishly texting on his phone but not taking his eye off my daughter.”

It could only mean one thing, she wrote: “I have absolutely NO doubt that that man is a trafficker looking for young girls to steal and sell.”

And I have absolutely no doubt that she’s wrong. This is what security expert Bruce Schneier has dubbed a “movie plot threat” — a narrative that looks suspiciously like what you’d see at the Cineplex. The more “movie plot” a situation seems, the less likely it is to be real.

But it sells. A Facebook post by Diandra Toyos went wildly viral after she said she and her kids were followed by two men at Ikea. “I had a bad feeling,” she wrote. Fortunately, she “managed to lose them.”

Which, frankly, is what one does at Ikea, even with people one is trying not to lose. Nonetheless, the post ricocheted through the media. CBS told viewers that while experts found the scenario unlikely, “that doesn’t mean Toyos didn’t have reason to be concerned.”

Actually, it does.

September 6, 2017

When in doubt, cry “Fascist!” or “Racist!”

Filed under: Britain, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Brendan O’Neill on Facebook recently:

The left’s greatest mistake so far this century has been to accept at face value the establishment’s explanation for why people gave it a bloody nose. Stunned by Brexit, dizzied by Hillary’s loss, the establishment has gone into serious moral and political meltdown. It can only understand the various populist revolts against it as mass acts of racism, maybe even fascism, as the handiwork of demagogues who “got at” the people and twisted our minds. I mean, why else would anyone reject such wonderful institutions as the EU and the Democratic elite…? And, for shame, most of the left has embraced this propaganda, this made-up horror story. They have nodded along to this perverse politics of fear born of a wounded establishment’s fury with the “deplorable” demos. All those Antifa and commentators out there screaming “OMG, fascists everywhere!” think they’re being radical when in truth they are the unwitting spindoctors of the old establishment, bit-part players in a top-down narrative of hysteria that has no relation to reality.

May 27, 2016

QotD: Teenage sex

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

A wise and cynical friend of mine once described the motivation behind puritanism as “the fear that someone might be fucking and getting away with it”. I think the subtext of the periodic public panics about teen sex has always been resentment that sexy young things just might be getting away with it — enjoying each others’ bodies thoughtlessly, without consequences, without pregnancy, without marriage, without “meaningful relationships”, without guilt, without sin.

The traditional rationalizations for adult panic about teen sex are teen pregnancy and STDs. But if teen pregnancy really had much to do with adult panic, anti-sex rhetoric would have changed significantly after reliable contraception became available. It hasn’t. Similarly, we don’t hear a lot of adult demand for STD testing in high schools. No; something else is going on here, something more emotional and deeper than pragmatic fears.

Conservatives and liberals alike are attached to the idea that sex ought to be controlled, be heavy, have consequences. The Judeo-Christian tradition of repression, which yokes sex to marriage and reproduction, is still powerful among conservatives. Liberals have replaced it with an ethic in which sex is OK when it is harnessed to building relationships or personal growth or therapy, but must always be undertaken with adult mindfulness.

Both camps are terrified of mindless sex, of hedonism, of the pure friction fuck. Lurking beneath both Judeo-Christian and secularized taboos is a fear that too much pleasure will damn us — or reduce us to the status of animals, so fixated on the drug of orgasm that we will become unfit for marriage and society and adult responsibility. What has not changed beneath contingent worries about pregnancy and STDs is the more fundamental fear that pleasure corrupts.

And beneath that fear lurks something uglier — the envy that dares not speak its name. The unpalatable truth is that a teenager’s “immature” hormone-pumped capacity to have lots of mindless sex makes adults jealous. The conscious line is that the kids have got to be stopped before they have more sex than is good for them — the unconscious line is that they’ve got to be stopped before they have more fun than we can stand.

Eric S. Raymond, “Teen Sex vs. Adult Resentment”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-05-29.

February 3, 2016

Brace yourself for the predictable bullshit about “trafficked” prostitutes at the Super Bowl

Filed under: Football, Law, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Reason, J.D. Tuccille explains why the usual media coverage of underage/trafficked/sex slave prostitutes being shipped in to cater to the depraved masses at the Super Bowl are so much hysterical nonsense:

When the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos face off in San Francisco, experts warn us to expect Cam Newton and Peyton Manning to face burial under a tidal wave of human flesh — not the opposing team’s defensive line, as you might expect, but a writhing mass of sex slaves inundating the Super Bowl and the Bay Area.

Or so government officials and moral panic types would have it.

“Super Bowl host cities typically see a jump not just in tourists, but also in some crimes, including human trafficking and prostitution,” San Francisco’s KGO warned earlier this month on Human Trafficking Awareness Day, an annual event held every January 11.

“The good news is that we are continuing our efforts to fight human trafficking,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said the same day. “The bad news is that the problem continues to increase.”

Gascón made his comments at a press conference deliberately tied to the big game, in anticipation of a wave of “trafficked” sex workers descending on the area.

That term – not “prostitution,” but “trafficking” — is a deliberate choice, selected to confuse people accustomed to the plain language established over the long history of the buying and selling of sexual services. The reason why is obvious. While the trade in sex was once frowned upon in itself, that’s no longer necessarily the case. A YouGov poll published this past September found Americans almost evenly divided, with 44 percent favoring legalization of prostitution, and 46 percent opposed. That’s up from 38 percent support for legalization in 2012. Amnesty International is among the organizations seeking to recognize people’s right to, in the organization’s words, “the full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work.”

Opponents of commercial sex find themselves on the wrong side of shifting public opinion, so they pull a little rhetorical sleight of hand to get around that inconvenient word “consensual.” The implication of the “trafficking” terminology is that prostitutes are slaves — and they’re being hustled off to a major sporting event near you.

“Coercion is much rarer than ‘trafficking’ fetishists pretend it is,” insists Reason contributor and former call girl Maggie McNeill. “The term ‘trafficking’ is used to describe many different things along a broad spectrum running from absolutely coercive to absolutely not coercive, yet all of them are shoehorned into a lurid, melodramatic and highly-stereotyped narrative.”

September 24, 2015

QotD: Sex trafficking

Filed under: Law, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I am often asked if, by calling “sex trafficking” a myth, I’m saying that there is no such thing as coercion in sex work. The answer, of course, is “not at all”; what I’m saying is 1) that coercion is much rarer than “trafficking” fetishists pretend it is; 2) that the term “trafficking” is used to describe many different things along a broad spectrum running from absolutely coercive to absolutely not coercive, yet all of them are shoehorned into a lurid, melodramatic and highly-stereotyped narrative; and 3) that even situations of genuine coercion rarely bear much resemblance to the familiar masturbatory fantasy of an “innocent” middle-class girl in her early teens abducted by “pimps” from a shopping mall, bus stop or internet chat room.

Maggie McNeill, “The Face of Trafficking”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-10-10.

May 29, 2015

The legacy of the great satanic sex abuse panic still resonates today

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Radley Balko reports on the recent release of two former Austin, Texas daycare owners … who’ve been in prison since 1992 on the testimony of a toddler and “expert evidence” from a satanic ritual expert and how the moral panic of the day made it impossible for the courts to see how utterly unlikely the case actually was:

The panic actually began in the 1980s. It was instigated and perpetuated mostly by groups of fundamentalist Christians who saw Satan in every heavy metal album, “Smurfs” episode, and Dungeons & Dragons game, along with a quack cadre of psychotherapists who were convinced they could dig up buried memories through hypnosis. What they did instead was shed some light on just how potent the power of suggestion can be. Remarkably, children were convinced to testify about horrifying — and entirely fictional — violations perpetrated on them by care workers and, in some cases, by their own parents.

But it wasn’t just children. As the Kellers’ conviction shows, the panic was so overwhelming, it could convince trained medical professionals to see abuse where there was none. Some defendants were convicted of gruesome crimes such as the aforementioned dismembering of babies despite the fact that there were no corpses and no babies missing from the immediate area.

[…]

That the highest court in Texas still can’t bring itself to declare the couple innocent, in spite of all that we know now, shows just how difficult it can be to undo the damage caused by a moral panic and junk science in the courtroom.

[…]

Here’s an observation from the panic that I don’t think has been fully explored: These kids didn’t make up these stories. In this case and dozens of others, the kids were telling tales with details about geography, history and current events about which kids of their age couldn’t have known. That’s likely what made their stories seem somewhat credible. But the fact that it all was fictitious reveals a particularly unsettling truth: These sick, lurid, unimaginable abuses could only have been a product of the imaginations of the therapists, social workers, cops and/or prosecutors who interviewed the children. If the memories were implanted, those are the only people who could have implanted them. That means that the same people entrusted to protect these kids, and in whom these communities trusted to police the streets, prosecute crimes and administer therapy, were ultimately the ones capable of dreaming up detailed sexual fantasies that put children in bizarre rituals involving violence, animals, corpses and so on.

There’s a lot to be learned from these cases. For one, there are lessons about professional accountability: Not only were the vast majority of the prosecutors who put these innocent people in prison in these cases never sanctioned, but also most went on to great professional success, sometimes because of their role in these high-profile cases, and sometimes even after it was widely known that the people they prosecuted were innocent. There are other lessons here about how we screen “expert” witnesses, and how bad science gets into the courtroom. There are lessons about the power of suggestion that could be applied to eyewitness testimony and how we conduct police lineups.

But the drawing of lessons is something we typically do once a crisis is over. This one still isn’t. There are still people in prison awaiting exoneration in these cases.

May 20, 2015

Minecraft – the latest moral panic

Filed under: Gaming, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Techdirt, Karl Bode pours some scorn on a deserving demographic:

Like many people, video games have been an integral part of my life for about as long as I can remember. From my days visiting Wildcat! BBS systems where I’d play Trade Wars 2000 — to obsessing over the Apple IIe, IIc and IIgs — video games were not only an integral part of my childhood, they actually helped forge an adult career path. Swapping out graphics cards and building new PCs to play Quake 2 led to a job in Manhattan legal IT, which in turn resulted in a life focused on writing about technology. Aside from a few tics, I like to believe I wound up relatively normal, and video games have made my life immeasurably more rewarding.

That background usually forces me into the role of video game evangelist when surrounded by folks that, all too frequently, are engaged in hand wringing over the diabolical moral dangers games purportedly present. At a party recently, some friends expressed muted shock because a colleague’s kid was, instead of being social, playing a game in which he was “herding human beings and keeping them in a barn to eat.” I had to explain (skipping the part about how you’d need a mod to actually eat them) how this behavior wasn’t indicative of a Jeffrey Dahmer in training, he was simply engaged in normal problem solving behavior on the new frontier […]

Despite the fact that Minecraft is simply an amazing evolution of the Lego concept for the modern age, the moral panic surrounding the game never quite seems to abate. The latest case in point is over at the BBC, where the outlet implies it has heard all of the pro-Minecraft arguments before, it’s just choosing to ignore them in order to portray the game as an unpoliced virtual-reality hellscape that’s rotting the brains of children everywhere. While there are some good points embedded within, there are notably more bad ones, like the argument that kids should instead be reading, because reading engages imagination and builds character

QotD: The forward-looker

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

You know the type as well as I do. Give the forward-looker the direct primary, and he demands the short ballot. Give him the initiative and referendum, and he bawls for the recall of judges. Give him Christian Science, and he proceeds to the swamis and yogis. Give him the Mann Act, and he wants laws providing for the castration of fornicators. Give him Prohibition, and he launches a new crusade against cigarettes, coffee, jazz, and custard pies.

I have a wide acquaintance among such sad, mad, glad folks, and know some of them very well. It is my belief that the majority of them are absolutely honest — that they believe as fully in their baroque gospels as I believe in the dishonesty of politicians — that their myriad and amazing faiths sit upon them as heavily as the fear of hell sits upon a Methodist deacon who has degraded the vestry-room to carnal uses. All that may be justly said against them is that they are chronically full of hope, and hence chronically uneasy and indignant — that they belong to the less sinful and comfortable of the two grand divisions of the human race. Call them the tender-minded, as the late William James used to do, and you have pretty well described them. They are, on the one hand, pathologically sensitive to the sorrows of the world, and, on the other hand, pathologically susceptible to the eloquence of quacks. What seems to lie in all of them is the doctrine that evils so vast as those they see about them must and will be laid — that it would be an insult to a just God to think of them as permanent and irremediable.

H.L. Mencken, “The Forward-Looker”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

April 18, 2015

Moral panics and “Shaken Baby Syndrome”

Filed under: Health, Law, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In L.A. Weekly, Amy Nicholson looks at a new documentary:

It’s never simple when science suffers a shakeup. The road to the truth is littered with fallen experts who were disgraced when they tried to disprove — or prove — the common wisdom, be it that the earth revolves around the sun or that witches float. Today’s researchers are fighting to restore logic in the debate over vaccinations, global warming, and the increasingly hazy medical condition called Shaken Baby Syndrome, whose adherents accuse, pursue and prosecute an estimated 250 parents, babysitters and other caretakers each year.

Veteran investigative journalist Susan Goldsmith has spent years examining the medical and legal industry that has arisen to promote its belief that vicious baby-shaking by enraged adults has killed thousands of infants, the subject of the new documentary, The Syndrome, researched by Goldsmith and directed by her cousin Meryl Goldsmith.

“I made a career writing about child abuse,” she says. Her child abuse investigations as a reporter for The Oregonian led to two new laws designed to better protect kids in foster care. Yet, she also sees extreme, unfounded reactions by well-meaning people when children are involved. Says Goldsmith, “When people hear ‘child abuse,’ all thinking just goes into shutdown mode.”

A diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome was supposed to explain mysterious deaths in babies without bone fractures, bumps, bruises or neck injuries. How did they die? A theory arose that babies were under attack by loved ones. For decades, doctors in the U.S., and dozens of other countries were trained to look for three internal symptoms that experts claimed were proof of a powerful shaking assault on a tiny child: brain swelling, blood on the surface of the brain, and blood behind the eyes. Well-meaning doctors were instructed that these symptoms could only occur due to intense shaking — if a parent or babysitter said the child had fallen or suddenly fell ill, that was a lie.

Proponents of the theory grew so powerful in political circles, where elected officials were keen to show they supported helpless children, that laws were passed across the U.S. requiring a doctor who spotted any of the three symptom to alert authorities. Failure to report symptoms, even if a doctor found the parents’ explanation made sense, could result in fines, civil lawsuits, or even jail time.

We’ve been here before. The Syndrome rewinds back to the 1980s when the big public panic on behalf of children was Satanic Ritual Abuse, a Salem-like national frenzy in which prosecutors and juries in big cities and small towns sent daycare employees to jail for years for crimes as implausible as cutting off a gorilla’s finger while at the zoo, then flying the children over Mexico to molest them.

H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.

February 19, 2015

QotD: The prohibitionists

Filed under: History, Law, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

This notion, I believe, is at the bottom of much of the current pathetic faith in Prohibition. The thing itself is obviously a colossal failure — that is, when viewed calmly and realistically. It has not only not cured the rum evil in the United States; it has plainly made that evil five times as bad as it ever was before. But to confess that bald fact would be to break the forward-looking heart: it simply refuses to harbor the concept of the incurable. And so, being debarred by the legal machinery that supports Prohibition from going back to any more feasible scheme of relief, it cherishes the sorry faith that somehow, in some vague and incomprehensible way, Prohibition will yet work. When the truth becomes so horribly evident that even forward-lookers are daunted, then some new quack will arise to fool them again, with some new and worse scheme of super-Prohibition. It is their destiny to wobble thus endlessly between quack and quack. One pulls them by the right arm and one by the left arm. A third is at their coat-tail pockets, and a fourth beckons them over the hill.

The rest of us are less tender-minded, and, in consequence, much happier. We observe quite clearly that the world, as it stands, is anything but perfect — that injustice exists, and turmoil, and tragedy, and bitter suffering of ten thousand kinds — that human life at its best, is anything but a grand, sweet song. But instead of ranting absurdly against the fact, or weeping over it maudlinly, or trying to remedy it with inadequate means, we simply put the thought of it out of our minds, just as a wise man puts away the thought that alcohol is probably bad for his liver, or that his wife is a shade too fat. Instead of mulling over it and suffering from it, we seek contentment by pursuing the delights that are so strangely mixed with the horrors — by seeking out the soft spots and endeavoring to avoid the hard spots. Such is the intelligent habit of practical and sinful men, and under it lies a sound philosophy. After all, the world is not our handiwork, and we are not responsible for what goes on in it, save within very narrow limits. Going outside them with our protests and advice tends to become contumacy to the celestial hierarchy. Do the poor suffer in the midst of plenty? Then let us thank God politely that we are not that poor. Are rogues in offices? Well, go call a policeman, thus setting rogue upon rogue. Are taxes onerous, wasteful, unjust? Then let us dodge as large a part of them as we can. Are whole regiments and army corps of our fellow creatures doomed to hell? Then let them complain to the archangels, and, if the archangels are too busy to hear them, to the nearest archbishop.

H.L. Mencken, “The Forward-Looker”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

December 26, 2014

Coming up next on Moral Panic Daily, the war on “gendered” toys

Filed under: Media, Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

If you’ve had kids of your own, you may have been briefly concerned about imposing gendered expectations on your children by giving them stereotypical “boy”- or “girl”-coded playthings — or more likely, been accosted on that issue by someone who doesn’t have kids. Get ready for more of it, as it’s apparently the next imaginary crisis western society is facing:

“Tis the season for anxious parenting,” writer Elissa Strauss announced last Friday in The Week. The cause of this parental stress may not be obvious at first glance. Rather, it is quiet, insidious, and, apparently, it lurks worldwide.

It is — get ready, innocent holiday shoppers — an army of sexist, “gendered” toys, ready to oppress children around the globe. Sadly, these toys, much like, say, Victoria’s Secret models, face a rather odd conundrum: They are both victimizers and victims at the same time. These inherently sexist toys, you see, are also forced to live in a virtual apartheid of equally sexist, restricting, and gender-segregated toy store shelf arrangements. It is, as modern feminists like to say, a bit of a double bind.

Remember the children’s book Corduroy, where the underprivileged bear with the broken overalls lives on the same shelf as the fancy doll and the gigantic lion and the unintentionally spooky clown that looks like it’s about to murder them all? Well, friends, in our age of inequality, this diversity is apparently no more. Strauss explains further:

    Thanks to the feminist revival of the past half-decade more and more parents now hesitate to buy their daughters a doll or sons an action figure. In Australia, activists are calling for a ‘No Gender December;’ in the UK a campaign called ‘Let Toys Be Toys’ is pushing for gender-neutral toys; in Sweden some toy stores are now gender neutral; and here in the States resistance to the pink aisle is growing louder and louder.

Interesting! Since I do almost all of my shopping online, thereby avoiding — and this is quite purposeful, friends — any type of toy aisle altogether, I did what any good writer investigating a potential international scourge would: I took my three boys to the local Target toy section. This, in case you don’t have kids, is a very brave thing to do.

My goal was to investigate “the gendered tyranny” of the toy aisles, as Australian academic Michelle Smith recently called it. I’ll start by saying this: There was a certain tyranny in the Target toy section, but I’m not sure if it was gendered. Here are the toys my kids descended upon within approximately 15 seconds:

  1. A giant plastic castle, concocted by the Fisher Price “Imaginext” brand, which has a lion’s mouth as a gate. Every time you open the gate (“Click!”) the lion lets out a roar (“RARGHGH!”).
  2. A “Let’s Rock” Elmo, which says the following, over and over: “ELMO’S GONNA ROCK! YEAH!” (Maybe this one was broken, but seriously, that’s all it said.)
  3. A four-foot long Star Wars light saber, which makes a rather realistic light-saber “Woooooosh!” sound. This toy is also useful for knocking all the other toys off the shelves.
  4. “Click! RARGHGH! Click! Wooooooosh! Click! ELMO’S GONNA ROCK! YEAH! RARGHGH!”

I’m sorry, what was I saying again? My ears are bleeding. Oh, yes. Among the colorful rows of the Target toy section — I’m sorry, I mean “the highly gendered amusement prison bounded by proverbial pink and blue bars” — two aisles stood out. Both, unsurprisingly, were an explosion of purple, sparkles, and several alarming and unearthly shades of pink.

December 11, 2014

“Eyewitnesses” and the human mind

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Maggie McNeill discusses some of the problems we encounter when we depend on “eye witness accounts” of events:

If you haven’t yet read my research paper, “Mind-witness Testimony”, you really ought to […] The Reader’s Digest version is:

    … The human mind doesn’t passively record events as a camera does; memory is an active and dynamic process which retains information by fitting it into schemata, mental frameworks which shape our thinking and give meaning to perceptions … The same psychological mechanism which causes us to find pictures in Rorschach’s inkblots also causes us to fit memories into the complex web of schemata by which we interpret the world. And just as we ignore those topological elements of a cloud or inkblot which do not fit the meaning our minds have imposed upon it, so do we forget or distort elements of a memory which fail to conform to the schema in which we have embedded it, or even invent elements which were not in reality present, but which the schema predicts should be…The human mind often completely fabricates memories in order to impose conformity with one’s weltanschauung. One simple example involves police lineups: people will often identify the man whom police imply (subtly or overtly) is their preferred suspect because they believe police to be expert assessors of guilt who would never implicate someone falsely, and this schema of police authority and infallibility actually shapes their memories, sometimes to the point of identifying a person who is later proven to look absolutely nothing like the actual criminal…

In witch hunts of both the classic and modern varieties, hypersuggestible people such as children, the mentally ill, the emotionally needy or the severely traumatized can be induced to “remember” all sorts of fantastic things which are not even physically possible, much less grounded in actual events; when they repeat these “memories” in court (or in front of audiences hungry for “sex trafficking” narratives) they are not lying in the strict sense, but merely playing back a script that was written into their memories by processes such as suggestion, group polarization, stereotypic conformation, guided imagination, abusive interrogation tactics and others discussed in my paper. Though the concept of “recovered memory” has been discredited and most reasonably-well-informed people understand its role in driving the Satanic panic, few have yet connected the dots to recognize “sex trafficking” narratives as produced by the same processes. However, as the public begins to recognize driving the Satanic panic, few have yet connected the dots to recognize “sex trafficking” narratives as produced by the same processes. However, as the public begins to recognize the fallibility of human memory, it’s inevitable that outlandish, evidence-free stories such as those told by Somaly Mam, Chong Kim and Theresa Flores will be treated with greater skepticism.

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