Compassion for Evil

24 February, 2012 § 16 Comments

So I have been working on an essay, titled “Why People Rape,” which starts from the basic premise that both rapists and rape survivors are human, and works out from there some of the ramifications of what that means for rape as a decision. It’s hard to deal with, which is why it’s taking a while to write (I have to write part of it, step away and emotionally recover, come back and see if I wrote anything horrible, then take on the next part.)

A lesson I’ve learned, mostly from my friend Vincent, is that when writing something is hard, it behooves you to connect it to your personal experience. Both because writing from personal experience is far easier than writing from universal principle, and also writing from personal experience forces you into honesty that is often elusive in higher-level material. So, on that vein, let me do that.

There is no one in our society more broadly dehumanized than pedophiles (the only group I can think of that come close are the severely mentally handicapped.) Pretty much the only use we have for pedophiles, at least in terms that we express, is that they die a tortuous and perhaps ironically appropriate death. Acknowledging the humanity of pedophiles will get you some pretty awful looks, some pretty awful words, and some pretty awful threats of physical violence.

(To be clear: a pedophile who rapes children has done something very, very evil. I’m not an apologist for the practice of pedophilia.)

Dehumanizing pedophiles is a very useful thing, in terms of maintaining a strong self-image. If you de-humanize someone, you don’t have to come to terms with the fact that you have the potential for enormous evil, as well. You also don’t have to come to terms with the fact that some of your friends, mentors, leaders may be pedophiles or rapists: their humanity attests their innocence. I’m going to have more on this in the next post.

I often find myself in a position of defending the humanity of pedophiles. This is … shit. I can’t even describe. It’s unjust. Of all people, I (and survivors like me) should have a right to be bigoted about this. It’s appalling to me that our society is so extreme in its denials that I’m the one who has to defend the humanity of people like my maternal grandfather.

But I do. And here’s why.

I was raped well before the age sexual maturity, and I was conscious of it a few years before. Being a precocious little brat, one of the first things I did is read up about what this would mean for me, going forward. One of the key things that I learned is that people who were sexually abused as children are much more likely than the general population to become pedophiles.

There are a host of psychological and social reasons for this, but I don’t really have to expertise or inclination to get into them. If you have insight, post in the comments. What I’d rather discuss is what it meant for me.

What it meant for me is that, for a couple of years in my pre-adolescence, I was wrestling with “what do I do if I’m a pedophile?” I wanted to be prepared for it. I reviewed strategies, thoughts, and feelings. I was pretty clear that actually raping kids was not an option. But what would I do? Be celibate my whole life? Try to marry someone who had a child-like appearance? I knew even then that I wanted to get married and have kids. But could I trust myself around my own children? Would I be able to tell people about it, even people I loved and trusted, or would I have to cope entirely alone?

I didn’t resolve this, because it is impossible to resolve. There is not a good answer.

(I’d like to take a moment to say that there are some people in this situation — possibly a lot of people in this situation — who deal with their pedophilia in the right way, by not raping any kids. These people are fucking heroes and it is a damn shame how little support we have for these decisions in our society.)

Fortunately, and by the grace of God (or luck, for the theoallergenic), I turned out not to be a pedophile. You have no idea what a relief this was for me, and honestly continues to be to this day. But, like, a slightly different psychological maladaptation, a tweak instead of a twonk in my subconscious, and things would have worked out very differently.

This is hard to deal with. I want to have the luxury of dehumanizing pedophiles and other rapists. I would like to pretend that I would never be like that, never do something like that. But I can’t. That informs a lot of my writing here.

We should, when talking about horrible evil, maintain compassion for those who commit it. Not for their benefit — honestly, fuck those guys — but for our own. By dehumanizing evildoers, we do damage to our own humanity. The fact of the matter is that any one of us can choose to do evil, not because we are monsters, but because we are humans. Inasmuch as we do not, that is a good thing, and something we should feel happy and joyful about.



24 February, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve been away for a bit. There are three reasons for this. First is that I am working on a very difficult to write essay titled “why people rape” which is about as difficult to write as it sounds. Second, my maternal grandfather just died (I hope is happier in death than he was in life. Low bar.) and I’ve had to deal with some of the legal and emotional ramifications of that, which are tied together*. Third, I’ve been incredibly busy on some other projects.

I wanted to link you all to one of those projects: ANIMAL CRIME. ANIMAL CRIME is a noir detective story about a marmot detective named Marmot Detective, and how he is sucked into webs of deceit, seduction, and murder in the sinister underbelly of Animal City. His adventures range from the mean streets and dive bars to the elite gentleman’s clubs and corporate offices. I really think you’ll enjoy it. The comic is free, and updates Tuesdays. There is also a role-playing game, which is $30 for a boxed set or cheaper for an eBook.

* I am entertaining ideas about what to do with the money I inherit. Donate it to RAINN or Rape Crisis? Therapy? World trip?

Depression, Faith, and Staying Alive

10 February, 2012 § 6 Comments

I’m not religious or, for that matter, particularly spiritual. If pressed on my beliefs I will say I’m an agnostic or a theist. But I don’t really think beliefs matter very much. In terms of practice, I attempt to actively practice kindness and to not become involved with evil, to the point where that’s possible (my game Drifter’s Escape can be seen as an exercise in how to relate to evil). But ultimately I don’t have a serious practice. In terms of community, I try to seek out moral intellectuals, but I don’t have a serious community.

What I do have is faith. I’m not sure whether it’s the same sort of faith that is felt and expressed by the religious, but I can’t really think of any other word for it. I have faith because, as a depressive, my options are that or die.

Depression is a rough disease. The first thing that it does is it sweeps away any notions you have of the supremacy of the rational, conscious mind. Depression strips these illusions: willpower, the self, reason, and decision making. When you’re depressed you know, at a fundamental level, how terrible living is and you know, at the same level, that it will never get better. When I talk about “fundamental level” I mean “like how you know how to breathe, or how to keep your heart beating.” Depression exists at that level of gut instinct that you just cannot cognitively override and cannot say no to.

Consequently, there are places, in depression, where suicide seems very, very rational and completely natural. I’ve been there, although I’m not now, thanks. How can you survive this?

One means is by establishing rational, conscious safeguards (“If I start feeling suicidal I will call my friend X”) which is good and I strongly encourage anyone with clinical depression to do. But that’s … treating the symptoms at best. It doesn’t really provide any sense of comfort, and it doesn’t really make your day-to-day life less dismal.

For me, and I think not only for me, there is something else that lets me survive, which I am realizing is faith. Not faith in a higher power, but faith that things can get better, even though every fiber of your being tells you that this is wrong, that clearly things will not get better, I find myself able to hold in blessed cognitive dissonance the idea that things will get better. I don’t know how. There’s no rational path from here to there. They just will, somehow.

This makes no sense. It’s irrational to believe it, particularly when one has treatment resistant or untreated depression. But it’s not really about belief, in fact, often I don’t believe it. It’s some other underlying cognitive force.

Too often, we try to reduce faith to beliefs, and judge beliefs based on some sort of binary truth value. If you have the luxury* of living entirely in your conscious mind, and entirely within a particular American culture of the self, this can seem to be the case. But the options to me, as someone who is chronically depressed, are not that. I can be rational — give in to my knowing that things are terrible and will always be, and die, or I can have faith, and live.

Religious people? Is it anything like this, for you?

* In all honest, I would say that this is as much a tragedy as a luxury. But I have self-bias, of course.

A spontaneous outpouring of creativity

4 February, 2012 § Leave a comment

I haven’t updated in a while — this is the hazard of blogging while depressed. I hope you will all stick with me.

I wanted to link to another project I’ve done in the mean time, the Hourly Game Day project. This sort of creative outpouring is fundamentally necessary to my sanity, and I’d encourage anyone who’s grappling with difficult emotional issues to create, not in terms of looking for a polished finished project, but as a means of self-expression, self-examination, and purging the self of all of its cruft and doubt.

Don’t make something good, make something now.

A Space for Wrongness

13 January, 2012 § 2 Comments

I want this blog to be a space where it is safe to be wrong.

Wrongness is, I think, undervalued a lot culturally, particularly in the internet culture, particularly on the blogging world, which is to say the world of argumentative individualistic writing. In this world, the goal of any particular argument, interaction, etc, is to be the one who’s right, and “winning” that rightness comes at all costs.

This is sad to me. This is sad to me because the personal value I get out of reading argumentative, individualistic writing is pretty much at a disjoint from its truth value. If all I ever wanted to read was correct things, I could easily go for the low hanging fruit of reading about, say, basic mathematics or formalistic logic. But I don’t. I seek out writing about politics, gender, race, culture, society, art, game design, linguistics, science, and so on, places where wrongness isn’t just likely, it’s basically assured. Why is this?

Well, clearly, it’s because I get some value from wrong arguments. In particular, personally, I would rather read an argument which is wrong, but makes me re-evaluate my life and world view, than an argument that is correct, but mostly reconfirms my existing prejudices. I had a recent talk with a room-mate about this, with respect to Andrea Dworkin (link to an excellent interview by Michael Moorcock), whose writing I really adore. Dworkin was wrong about a lot of stuff, including some of the critical issues of her day. But she was wrong in a way that leads a reader to re-assessing their relationship to sex, gender, society and self. I don’t agree with Dworkin’s conclusions (sometimes) but I’m a better person for having read her writing. This is clearly a superior experience, as a reader, than — for instance — wikipedia’s article about adhesive tape, which is more factually correct.

In this space, I’d like to pursue the kind of writing that makes people re-evaluate their own lives and their own relationships and thoughts, whether that is right or wrong in terms of trivial content. In this regard, I’d really like to have a space where being wrong doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, and it doesn’t even necessarily mean that you have the worse of the argument. It means, simply, that you are wrong, and no further.

This is the ideal. I don’t even know how to start to approach it yet, and I imagine that this is going to be a work in process. Anyone reading: I would welcome your thoughts.

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