So a priest, a rabbi, and a rapist walk into a bar…

November 20, 2013 Comments Off on So a priest, a rabbi, and a rapist walk into a bar…

I am all about Louis CK, so it showed up on my radar recently when some idiot columnist used his bit about child molesters* out of context—I hadn’t seen the bit before, so I went and watched it.

Now, in unrelated news, I am reading a terrible book from 1975 with the compelling title How to Say No to a Rapist and Survive. (Try checking that out from your local library if you really want to get the fish eye.) The author, Storaska, is cringefully fettered by being from the 70s; although he is trying to be sensible and middle-of-the-road, he turns out to be the poster boy for what we in the 21st century like to call “victim blaming.” The introduction is about how one night he passes an alley where an 11-year-old is getting gang-raped and charges in, karate chops a-blazin, lays waste to the miscreants, scoops up the dazed little girl and strides manfully to her house (where he presumably deposits her in her tearful mother’s lap, shares a solemn handshake and a look of manly understanding with her father, and strides back out into the night, never to see any of them again). His book is about how women can prevent this terrible crime from happening to them, but, as the dust jacket explains, “psychological preparation ahead of time is [their] best weapon.”

One strategy is to treat a rapist as a sentient being. Accordingly, in Chapter Two, he tiptoes toward the shocking point—bear with me, here!—that… rapists are people, too. I know I know I know I know!! That’s CRAZY talk! But Storaska points out that

[The rapist] is, after all, a human being. He looks like a human being, acts like a human being and talks like a human being. In fact, the only important difference between the rapist and his fellow human beings is that he does something they don’t do. He rapes.

And here is where I came back to Louis CK. And back to my last blog post, because it will no doubt surprise you to learn that this is something that has been on my mind recently. Storaska goes on and on about The Rapist, as if that were the most prominent feature of their personality, or their life, but when you start talking about a group of people like a species unto themselves, you get awfully used to the distance that creates.

If we weren’t so well acquainted with The Rapist as a stock character in A Modern Urban Parable, we might recoil less upon learning that someone we know was arrested for rape. If we weren’t so well versed in the litany of There Is Nothing More Evil than a Child Molester, we might experience less cognitive dissonance when, say, a beloved university professor resigns over two prior convictions for attempted sexual abuse of children. Not that rapists and child molesters aren’t villains, but when we think of them as a clade we aren’t related to, it reduces our capacity to handle them conceptually. This is what I was driving at in my last post.

Here is what appears to have happened with my former choir director: People thought he was the most artistic humble genius who has ever walked the earth, at least in that county. But then they found out he was a Child Molester. Oh, no! Wait, is he the most perfect person ever or is he a disgusting worm who isn’t fit to shine Hitler’s shoes?

*heads explode and everyone cries*

But that’s because he was a Child Molester. It freaked people out because a person they admired didn’t fit into the Child Molester slot. If the Child Molester archetype didn’t exist, it just would have been an (extremely) unpalatable discovery about his character, like if you find out after 10 years your partner was only pretending to like Firefly. No matter how hard to process, it’s still a part of a larger whole. But the way we talk about Rapists and Child Molesters, the archetype cannot but eclipse everything you already know about a person. Maybe we could stand a little less deliberate demonizing. People are always people—the public is always sort of surprised to figure this out—and acknowledging that doesn’t have to get in the way of justice. It’s tempting to disown people who do terrible things, but the more we do so, the less we are really doing to make sure those things never happen again.

*Video transcript: “[I have] two children and the thing that scares me most is that they disappear. There’s nothing that scares me more than them disappearing—that’s every parent’s worst fear. Now, why do kids disappear sometimes? I think it’s because somebody took ’em and had sex with ’em, and once you have sex with a kid, you gotta toss ’em, because people hate folks who have sex with kids more than pretty much anything. If you murder somebody, folks will find you a reason. ‘Ah, you were upset, you didn’t have a, you were dehydrated, whatever.’ So, here’s the thing, so if you had sex with a kid you gotta chuck ’em out, because if the kid tells anybody you’re screwed. So I can’t help thinking that if we could take down a few notches the hatred for kids-having-sex people, at least you get the kid back.”

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