Monthly Archives: October 2017
The Power of Sexual Predators
I’ll never forget the day my co-workers asked me if my boss had ever “tried anything” with me. I’d been working for a mining engineering firm for several months and I told them he probably suspected – rightly – if he ever crossed that line with me I would have socked him in the jaw. I really don’t know how I would have reacted if it happened to me, though. Its possible I would have simply frozen like a deer in the headlights, just like millions of other women have done while lapsing into stunned silence. I know what that feels like too – from a different job in a different company.
I was appalled to learn women who worked there for years had been kissed and groped without their consent. A “liquid lunch” over the holidays is no excuse. Even though it was a criminal offense, these women were afraid they’d lose their jobs if they reported the assaults to management or police. They weren’t wrong. I wrote a list of the offenses, and how to avoid them, in a document called “Office Etiquette for Dummies” and posted it in the lunchroom for everyone to see. When word got around, there was an immediate outcry, questions were asked, clues were uncovered and the perpetrator was quickly called in to see the dragon lady in charge of Human Resources … who fired me immediately. The lesson here is that HR isn’t there to protect workers from sexual predators – their function is to protect the corporation against lawsuits from victims.
I didn’t reveal the identities of the victims and HR didn’t even want to know about the abusers. I went home and wrote a very long letter to the human rights commission, with copies to president of the firm, and the president of the parent company. A small cheque was issued and promises were made to educate the deviants and when last I heard from one of his victims, my former boss had been sent to work on a job site in Siberia. That sounds like a happy ending, but there are women working on that job-site in Siberia too.
I consider myself a feminist, but placing blame on an abstraction like “the patriarchy” does nothing to help victims of abuse, nor does it change the behaviour of perpetrators. Instead of trying to separate men with empathy from men without conscience, maybe we should look at the differences between people who have power and those who do not. Perhaps addressing this problem at the basic level of power dynamics illustrates more clearly how and where sexism is connected to racism, colonialism, capitalism and all the other odious ‘isms’ that make the this world suck so badly for so many people.
One way to do this is to consider is the pareto distribution as it applies to abuses of power. This is the sad arithmetic behind #notallmen and #yesallwomen both being true. Most men would never dream of groping colleague, but of those who do commit the offense, there is a significant minority who will do it over and over and over again to dozens or even hundreds of women. If the pareto distribution applies to sexual assaults per perpetrator, there is no reason to think the distribution would differ much for other offenses, like racial discrimination.
Having more power than conscience can make ‘good’ men go bad and bad men much worse. I don’t think most people understand what corrosive effect power can have on character. In 1870 there was a debate about a proposed new doctrine in the Catholic Church. Implementing the doctrine of papal infallibility was one of the worst decisions the Catholic Church ever made. In opposition to this travesty, here is what one it’s sharpest critics wrote:
“I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. ” -Lord Acton
Those who use #metoo stories to score partisan political points miss the mark because both parties are corrupt and both sides are guilty of hypocrisy. This isn’t a problem endemic to the left or the right, or to any particular industry, although it makes sense that you should expect to find more sexual predators in jobs where they would have easier access more victims. The majority of people arrested for sexual assault are men, so having more women in positions of power might reduce sexual abuse in the workplace. This is not to suggest that women can’t be sexual predators, even if those who are have flown below the radar until recently. The way Hillary Clinton attacked her husband’s accusers proves that women are not exempt from the corrosive effect that power has on character.
We live in a world where billionaires have used their money to get more power and their power to get more money. More than half of the wealth of the entire planet is in the hands of six men. These elite, untouchable multi-billionaires have subverted democracy and rigged the economy to enrich themselves while pushing millions deeper into poverty. This “late-stage capitalism” is clearly economically unsustainable, but people occupied with hand-wringing about wealth redistribution continue to ignore the far more important problem of the concentration of power.
Every problem has a solution, most have several and you don’t have to pick just one. However, you first need to understand the nature of the problem and to articulate it clearly. We are finally articulating the pervasive problem women have with sexual harassment in the workplace. Perhaps the biggest challenge we face in our once thriving (but now former) democracy is that sexual harassment is only one among many problems we will be unable to solve unless and until we reclaim the power to do so.
Trudeau is Not the Problem
The problem is that you don’t live in a functioning democracy. People criticize Justin Trudeau for all kinds of reasons that are useless distractions from the most serious problem this country faces: the loss of democracy. The fact that Canadians fail to comprehend how badly democracy has been damaged makes it harder to solve the problem. Electoral Reform is the most fundamental issue facing Canadians because we cannot hope to solve any of the other serious problems we face unless and until we reclaim the power to do so.
“First past the post” (FPTP) electoral systems are fundamentally unfair because they can give parties 100% of the power with support from less than 50% of the voters. In addition to unfair elections, Canadians really don’t understand the corrosive effect ‘party discipline’ has on democracy. Party discipline means you don’t have to buy a boatload of MPs if you want to shape legislation. All the billionaire plutocrats need to do is use the access that wealth affords and exert their considerable influence over the handful of people at the top of the party in power who tell our MPs how they must vote. These people are friends, neighbours and colleagues who rub shoulders at social events.
In 2014, Gilens & Page published the Princeton Study which proved the U.S. is an oligarchy, not a democracy. If you replicated that study here, you’d get the same results. If you want a solid example of Canadian politicians ignoring the will of their constituents, look at 1988’s single-issue election where the majority of Canadians voted against NAFTA, but one party got 57% of the seats with only 43% of the vote. If you think only the Tories break promises to their voters, look at the GST.
Noam Chomsky said this about the U.S. political system:
“In the US, there is basically one party – the business party. It has two factions, called Democrats and Republicans, which are somewhat different but carry out variations on the same policies. By and large, I am opposed to those policies. As is most of the population.“
When flawed electoral system gives people more power than they deserve, bad things will happen. Power can make ‘good’ men go bad and bad men much worse. I don’t think most people understand what power does to people. In 1870 there was a debate about a proposed new doctrine in the Catholic Church. Implementing the doctrine of papal infallibility was one of the worst decisions the Catholic Church ever made. In opposition to this travesty, here is what one it’s sharpest critics wrote:
” I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. ” -Lord Acton
This fundamental property of power explains most of what is wrong with the world, from Harvey Weinstein to income inequality to war and genocide. If you think Canadians can relax because we aren’t ruled by Donald Trump (yet) you need to wake up because we’re headed down the same path.
In Praise of Disagreeable People
Here we go again. The far left is baying for Dr. Jordan Peterson’s head on a platter, but there are compelling reasons they should pipe down and think this through. I’m a left-leaning feminist myself, and when Peterson popped up on the radar last year over the issue of Bill C-61, I did some research before jumping on the bandwagon. Peterson was and is correct in his unpopular assertion that Canadian law can now compel us to use language dictated to us by others. This is fundamentally different from telling us that certain language is unacceptable and cannot be used.
Under Bill-C61, it is possible for unreasonable people to abuse the law and target people unfairly, and it is already happening. As an example, I know a young person with mental health issues who went through a period of gender dysphoria whose gender identity and expression seemed to shift into something new every couple of months. I can tell you that it is possible to weaponize your preferred pronouns and use them to make your family ‘wrong’ for slipping up and referring to you as the gender they have perceived since before you were born. One hopes that adjudicators of the new law will take this into account.
Plenty of people seemed to think that Peterson was a bad person for pointing out a serious flaw in the proposed legislation, and assumed incorrectly that his views were based on bigotry, despite all evidence to the contrary. Those too lazy to think for themselves adopted the flip-side of the view that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” because they assume that someone who is admired by the alt right must be an enemy to anyone on the left. This is ignorant and short-sighted because the conservative views that Peterson holds are based not on prejudice, but on careful thought and sound scientific evidence. Having watched many hours of his classroom lectures and I can’t help but admire the brilliant mind and well constructed arguments behind even the views I don’t share.
It makes no sense to tear down one of the most intelligent people on the right, because his influence can have a positive impact on the extremists and lead them back from the edge. The advice he gives to juvenile, racist, misogynist trolls is to clean your room, sort yourself out and become a better person. In this respect, Dr. Peterson is a positive role model, and considering the available alternatives, it would be daft to knock him down.
The most recent kerfuffle centers on a short video clip extracted from a much longer conversation with Camille Paglia. Peterson, used the term “crazy” in the colloquial when referring to radical feminists with views so extreme they’re unable or unwilling to have a rational debate. He wasn’t referring to women generally, or even those who generally disagree with him, but those who attack without giving any consideration to opposing viewpoints. You would have to be crazy to think that psychologists never use that term in the colloquial.
Peterson, speaking as a man, pointed out something that underlies conflict between men generally: that when having a serious verbal dispute, the “option” of resorting to physical violence lurks under the surface. This possibility can temper a man’s behaviour because he knows if he goes too far, he might get punched in the face. While it is true that a woman who ‘goes too far’ may suffer the same fate, – notwithstanding the depressing facts behind domestic violence statistics even for women minding their own business – Peterson is probably correct that a woman is statistically less likely to be punched in a similar situation. However, critics need to understand the difference between acknowledging violence and endorsing it. I think its worth pointing out to those who enjoy life in safe bubbles, where violence only happens on film, TV or video games, that the direct experience of physical aggression is a daily reality for millions of people – men, women and children. However, some of the women who recoiled at Peterson’s comment about men holding back may have experienced men who didn’t.
Perhaps the statement that was most offensive was the idea that you have absolutely no respect for a man who will not fight you under any circumstances. Although swords or pistols at dawn is no longer considered an acceptable way to settle a disagreement, men still use their fists when they ‘take it outside’ but this usually happens only when they’re drunk. Christians will point out that Jesus refused to fight when they came to arrest him and also refused to let others fight on his behalf, and he seems to get plenty of respect. Pacifists like Ghandi and MLK are certainly worthy of respect, but Peterson’s comments were directed at conflict between two individuals, not the phenomenon of non-violent resistance on a grand scale, which can be an effective method of fighting injustice. People who freak out at any mention of physical aggression need to appreciate that the threat of violence by the state is what creates the safe bubble they live in.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Peterson’s comments was the way he used the word “control” as applied to “crazy women.” This got backs up for pretty obvious reasons. The long history of men exerting control* over women, coupled with more recent memories of men who still try to do so, makes many of us feel hurt and angry. This comment could be considered insensitive, but I would give Peterson the benefit of the doubt and assume he’d reconsider the way he phrased that particular thought. If this was the only thing I’d heard from Peterson, in a hit piece intended to paint him as a monster, I might think he was one, but having listened to the way he talks about his own family, its clear he isn’t. He expresses profound admiration and respect for his wife, loves his family deeply and is very grateful to and for them. Jordan Peterson says lots of things very well, so if he sometimes says something poorly, I’m not going to get my knickers all in a twist. Jordan Peterson has become a public figure who has many, many admirers and a few loud detractors. Those on the far left dislike that he makes reasonable arguments against their most extreme views. It’s fine to attack his ideas, but calling him a ‘nazi’ is unworthy, unhelpful, unkind, and incorrect. On the other hand, calling a critic who calls him a nazi “crazy” is not an entirely unreasonable position. He may be a public figure, but he is also a human being and his critics are no less flawed.
I don’t know Peterson’s big five personality profile, but I suspect he might score below average on the ‘agreeableness’ trait. Agreeable people are nice, and easy to deal with, so its natural that we all want other people to be agreeable. However, I can tell you from personal experience that people who are too agreeable tend to be doormats and others tend to walk all over them. If a couple is having a dispute with a landlord or tradesperson, the partner who is less agreeable is the one who is best suited to handle that conflict. As a society, we prefer agreeable people because they are easier to control**, but we need to understand the dark side of being agreeable, and develop more appreciation for the utility of disagreeableness. If Rosa Parks was more agreeable, she wouldn’t have been arrested.
Its fine to appreciate agreeableness, but those who demand political correctness and seek to police and prohibit disagreeable speech and thought are on a very slippery slope. We already pathologize introversion and celebrate extroverts. Demanding that everyone behave in an agreeable way is very dangerous, and legislating it is far worse. When George Orwell wrote “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” the person under that boot would be an agreeable person, so be very careful what you wish for.
* see reference in next paragraph marked “**”
** see reference in preceeding paragraph marked “*”