On 15 June 2011, Dilbert-writer Scott Adams wrote a blog titled Pegs and Holes that said certain impulses, including but not limited to rape, are natural. Several sites have interpreted this to mean Scott Adams condones rape. A petition has even been created at Change.org, condemning Adams' post.
Adams' blog was brought to my attention on my Facebook page, the poster stating that Scott Adams is "detestable," so I decided to address it -- lengthily. Along with his dear-departed brother Douglas, Scott Adams' casual writing style, in-your-face bluntness and penchant for the tangential narrative were my style-guides when writing Being Gay is Disgusting. It would be remiss of me to let this go unaddressed.
Bare with me here; I'm going to piss some people off, but things need to be said, in the name of Reason.
Here is what I think is a very fair truncation of the blog (or just read the whole thing, linked above):
If a lion and a zebra show up at the same watering hole, and the lion kills the zebra, whose fault is that? You probably conclude that both animals acted according to their natures, so no one is to blame. However, if this is your local zoo, you might have some questions about who put the lions with the zebras in the same habitat.
Now consider human males. No doubt you have noticed an alarming trend in the news. Powerful men have been behaving badly, e.g. tweeting, raping, cheating, and being offensive to just about everyone in the entire world. The current view of such things is that the men are to blame for their own bad behavior. That seems right. Obviously we shouldn't blame the victims. I think we all agree on that point. Blame and shame are society’s tools for keeping things under control.
The part that interests me is that society is organized in such a way that the natural instincts of men are shameful and criminal while the natural instincts of women are mostly legal and acceptable. In other words, men are born as round pegs in a society full of square holes. Whose fault is that?
[But] if we allowed men to act like unrestrained horny animals, all hell would break loose. All I’m saying is that society has evolved to keep males in a state of continuous unfulfilled urges."
[To Scott Adams: If you read this and my summary is not representative of your whole blog, let me know and I'll correct it immediately]
[Edit: Scott did indeed reply and confirmed that this is the crux of his post]
Notice that "rape" was included in a short list of bad things that some men have done recently. Notice also that Adams agrees that men who do bad things to people should be punished. Fast forward to lower in his post, and we see Adams saying society has rendered the "natural instincts of men [to be] shameful and criminal."
Adams makes no direct comment about whether this societal trend is good or bad, only that it has happened. At the end of the blog, he predicts a future in which men are on a "chemical castration pill" until they want to procreate. This prediction is quite in line with others he has made, such as those in his book, The Dilbert Future.
And here's a selection of the extrapolated headlines and key quotes from what Adams calls the LRC community:
- Huffington Post: Scott Adams Says Rape Is A 'Natural Instinct' For Men -- "Yes, Scott Adams believes [rape] is all society's fault."
- Salon: Scott Adams' defense of rape mentality -- "Left to their own devices, men apparently would just go about raping and pillaging all the livelong day, with occasional breaks for grilling and watching ESPN."
- Mediaite: Scott Adams Believes Rapists, Philanderers Are Just Behaving Naturally -- "Adams is careful to make sure we don’t blame the victims of sexual violence while we proceed to blame the victims of sexual violence."
- Jezebel: Scott Adams Weighs In On Rape -- "...[Adams is] saying that boys are pretty much designed to be rapists and we'd better get used to it..."
And more, a petition has sprung up at Change.org with the title, "Tell Scott Adams that raping a woman is not a natural instinct." It explains:
"Scott Adams has written a blog insinuating that the act of a man raping a woman is a natural instinct and that society is to blame for these things, not the man who committed the rape."
The trait that all these articles have in common is that they come nowhere close to representing the content, context or intent of the blog they're referencing. The text, which was simply a commentary on nature and a prediction on how mankind humankind hupersonkind might eventually manage to 'switch off' such inconvenient urges, has been interpreted as apologia for rape. Bit of a stretch, no?
But for the benefit of the LRC community, I'd like to add to your manufactured outrage of people who mention rape without condemning it: The Bureau of Justice Statistics have callously and spitefully created a chart of the frequency of rape over the last 40 years and state that "Rape rates have been stable in recent years."
Oh, "stable," huh? So everything's fine, is it? All stable and dandy? How DARE they?? Not one word about what they're doing -- if anything -- to reduce the number of rapes. Worse than that, they're only including rape of people aged 12 and up, as if raped children don't even rate a mention! *sob*
*deep breath* Moving on...
So let's get down to it, and I'm going to be super-clinical and blunt; deal with it. Frankly, the people who will get most offended by this post are the ones who most need to read it. But as a quick primer, please take Mr Adams' Reading Comprehension Test. That might put you in the correct frame of mind to read this blog without exploding.
Let's start by a simple statement: Rape is sex. There's no sexual or physical action unique to rape, that is not found in 'regular' sex. Sex can be gentle or violent, can involve alcohol or not, can involve more than one position, have more than two people, be brief or slow, public or private, day or night. There is no difference between the act of rape and the act of sex, except that sex can involve exactly one person and rape, to my knowledge, cannot.
Sex is common amongst every animal on this planet and, one would presume, other life-supporting planets. By "common" I mean "ubuquitous." The sole reason any of us are alive today is because of sex. And sex was had by all, not because of government incentives, not because their parents wanted to become grandparents, but because they got horny. If there was any sex-talk between Australopithecus afarensis -- Lucy -- and her husband, whom I shall call Ricky, it was unlikely to have been Lucy sitting on Ricky's lap and saying, "Honey, I think we should start a family." More likely, Ricky came home one day from hunting and exclaimed, "Quiero sexo! Tocar los dedos!"
It's natural to want sex. We're programmed to want it so much that even those who make devout (read 'ineffectual') efforts to be celibate fail miserably. Amongst men, even those rare few who can avoid all conscious temptation only increase the likelihood and frequency of nocturnal emissions. It's in our genes that we can't keep it in our jeans.
Anyway, back on point, and the one technical difference between rape and other kinds of sex is that it lacks consent by both parties, and therein lies the objection for we humans. Our brains have evolved sufficiently to communicate with our fellow primates and know whether someone wants something done to them or not. If one disregards such wishes, we, as a society, call this "bad."
So let's look at the two key adjectives I've used so far: Natural and Bad.
When something happens naturally, that means it's natural. Still with me? Excellent. A volcano is natural. Wanting sex is natural. Wanting food is natural. Plants. Maggots. Old age. Solar flares. Unwanted body-hair. All natural. Notice that I make no observations about whether or to what extent any of these things are "good" or "bad." They're just natural.
And yes, as much as it might disturb people, rape is natural. This is as controversial a statement as "drowning is natural." All it means is that rape does happen in the natural world, and it has nothing to do with we humans. There's a rather simple but apt example of this in David Attenborough's Planet Earth series, where a little lady frog was making her way to the biggest, sexiest frog to mate with him, when another wussier, geekier frog jumped her. To put this in writing, or in a documentary, is not to condone it, and Adams was doing no such thing. He was simply observing that some people rape others.
Clinically describing how something occurs in nature is really quite important for understanding the phenomenon. By removing any moral or subjective observations, we can better understand what's going on. The Mexican whiptail lizard is a wholly female species whose offspring are clones of themselves. But the really interesting bit is that they can't lay eggs unless they "have sex" with another of their kind -- another female lizard, who doesn't impregnate anything, of course. Rather, the sexual action causes each to ovulate and thus lay eggs. Now, we could sit around and make moral judgements on these non-human lesbians, sure, but whether it's "good" or "bad" doesn't change the natural process and so is of no use to the research.
But in spite of the foregoing explanation, Adams explicitly stated in the following paragraph that perpetrators should be punished, which moves us quite neatly into the second adjective.
"Bad" is a more-or-less universal moral concept. If you pocket a friend's iPhone without their permission, you're doing a bad thing. If they give you the iPhone, then taking it is no longer bad. If someone wants to sit in a cold room for three days, that's fine; if you lock them in there while they cry, "let me go," then you're being bad.
The degree of badness changes according to societal values. Cutting a woman's hair off without her permission -- even if you let her keep it -- is usually more bad than, say, stealing her watch, even though the watch has monetary value and doesn't grow back.
Badness also rises commensurately with certain objective measures. Kidnapping a person for three minutes barely rates as kidnapping, whereas extending that time to a week will likely be considered bad. Stealing someone's popsicle is bad, stealing all the popsicles is worse, and stealing the chest-freezer is worse still. Laws of mandatory-minimum sentencing reflect this, and well they should.
So let's bring these two notions together now, with regard to rape. Wanting sex is natural. The more you resist it, the stronger the urge becomes. But making someone do something against their will is bad. Ergo, having sex with someone against their will is bad, no matter how much you want to have sex. Adams, in a nutshell, puts it even more simply: Rape is bad; rapists should be punished. Why is this controversial to write?
Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon.com writes in response to Adams that, in spite of men and women being obviously different in so many ways (physiologically, culturally, intellectually, hormonally), "that does not now, nor will it ever, presume that men are natural born rapists, or that to behave in an unrapey manner leads to 'unfulfilled urges' and 'unhappiness.'"
It would seem that Adams agrees, given that he clearly states that in spite of their unfulfilled urges for sex, men should be punished if they rape or do any other illegal stuff. For the record, in case the LRC community find this blog, I also concur. Should I concur more emphatically? Perhaps that was Adam's mistake; observing something bad without overtly condemning it.
Oh, and special points go to Williams for her invention of the word "unrapey." I like her style!
But in any event, it's not difficult to see in Adams' post that the bad behaviour, rape, is not the natural instinct to which he was alluding. Adams was talking about the general urge for sex, which we all have, and men have it more than women. Most men can control themselves, some can't, and on this point, Adams makes the very correct and relevant reference in a subsequent dialog with Jezebel writer Irin Carmon that although women comprise half of the US population, they represent less than 9% of prison inmates. Adams seems only to be making an observation about why this may be, and to think that rape of humans by humans is not related to primal sexual urges is as silly and ignorant as thinking that the bible is the reason we have outlawed rape in the West.
I'm inclined to agree with Adams' more-recent post about transference of authorship, at least with regard to comedic or comedian-derived content.
What do you think? Did these articles get it wrong? Or did I?