Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Nixed Messages

"If someone outraged me by publishing naked photos of my body, I'm pretty certain my next move would NOT be to then pose semi-naked for a national magazine, especially with a cockatoo."
Bruce Kasanoff "Why Jennifer Lawrence Confuses Me"
This is why we have so much difficulty with consent in our society. Because people become confused by the idea that whether or not someone consents to an act has any place in the moral calculus.

Or... do they? People give money to charity. That money, once they have given it, is usually the given charity's, to do with as they please. Using Mr. Kasanoff's logic here, if someone stole money from me to give it to a charity, and I was outraged about that, it would "send confusing signals" for me to donate money to a charity. Because I'm obviously outraged that charities have my money, right?

Of course, when I swap out nude and semi-nude pictures, and insert money, Mr. Kasanoff sounds like a complete and utter moron, which I really doubt is the case. So what changed? The fact that in the United States, the nudity taboo is alive and well, and so, "clearly," what Ms. Lawrence was outraged about was people seeing her naked - because it appears to be the only topic that carries any moral weight. It's the same thing when we talk about sexuality - there was a time when the sexual history of a woman who had been raped was fair game, because if she had shown a willingness to sleep with other people out of wedlock, why was it a problem if yet one more person decided to help himself? Even though that is no longer (generally) considered an acceptable legal defense, the train of thought still rolls on in some places.

Outside of "victimless crimes," nearly every criminal offense is really about acting without consent. It isn't, for instance, illegal for me to enter someone's home, and leave with $100 more than I had when I arrived. That person could have owed me $100 for some good or service that I had performed for them, or perhaps I had just borrowed the money. What is illegal is for me to use stealth or force to take the $100 from them without their consent - even if the other person owed me the money, or I was only intending to borrow it for a time. This concept, which we don't typically find hard to grasp, applies to everything - including nudity and sex. As Mr. Kasanoff notes, Ms. Lawrence is free to have as many nude pictures taken of herself as she wants, under any circumstances that appeal to her. But as long as those photographs are her lawful property, she has an absolute right to dictate who may see/distribute them, and under what circumstances. If she happens to drop prints of half of them from an airplane over Los Angeles, the other half are still off-limits without permission. Just as if Mr. Kasanoff had $1,000,000 in cash - if he dropped half of it from an airplane over Los Angeles, it would still be a crime for anyone to help themselves to so much as a penny of the remainder without Mr. Kasanoff's express permission. The apparent gulf between asking first and the act itself makes no difference in either case.

Let me point out that sexuality is not the only taboo topic that works this way. I've encountered people who appear to have genuine difficulty with the idea that I might allow a trusted friend to refer to me as "Nigger," but would consider the same from them to be overly familiar (even if I understood that they didn't mean offense by it), and thus transgressive. Like Mr. Kasanoff, they tend to assume that since I've gotten over the general taboo against the word, that I now have no issue with it at all, from anyone. And this leads them to become confused (and sometimes, angry) when I withhold permission from them

It's (way) past time that we stopped letting the taboos that we have around nudity, sexuality and language blind us to the fact that they are not necessarily moral outrages in and of themselves. Otherwise, people like Mr. Kasanoff may never get it.

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