Schroedinger’s Rapist and Me …

When I was in university, I took an astrophysics course. Part of the course was to plot the course of the Moon across the sky for 30 days. I lived in Residence at the time, as well as a couple of other students, and it was decided to save time we’d go out and do the plot together. However, when the time came only one other student could make it, an attractive young woman. Now, in order to do the plot, you had to go away from sources of noise pollution, which in our case basically meant walking out with flashlights to a nearby field. So, basically, it was just the two of us walking into a dark, deserted place when there was no one around. We did that, took the plot, and then went back.

The next time, it was again just the two of us, but this time the circumstances changed. Instead of meeting out somewhere, she had me go to her residence. She stopped in to check on her sick sister — staying for a bit — and told her to “Keep him here!”, obviously referring to someone who was going to meet her after this. We went out, and came back.

Now, to me it seemed fairly likely to me that this change was prompted by her suddenly realizing that she was walking out into a dark, deserted place with a man that she barely knew. The first time, no one would have been able to identify me, and it was quite possible that no one knew when she would be expected back. This time, her sister had seen me and so could likely identify me, and it was clear that if it would take too long that she would be missed. So, while it’s possible that I was just being a bit paranoid, to my view this was likely a case of Schroedinger’s Rapist.

And yet, I not only am not offended by this, but actually applaud her for being prudent if this is what she did.

I was watching “Angel” again last night, and in the second episode when Kate thinks that Angel is a serial killer and he asks her to meet him at the club, she says “Oh, that’s on my list to do today … walk into killer’s trap” and he replies “Hey, go in armed, wired and covered by sharpshooters. Do whatever you need to to make yourself feel safe”. I think that that sort of attitude is perfectly respectable, reasonable and prudent. I, personally, want women to take whatever precautions they think they need — within reason, of course, as macing any man who gets within 5 feet is clearly not acceptable — to feel safe and avoid being raped. Get off the elevator if you want. Let me pass you. Cross the road. Wait in lighted areas until I’m gone. Insist that we not sit in my apartment or hotel room. Whatever.

So, then, there’s no problem with Schroedinger’s Rapist, right? Wrong. The key here is that I’m perfectly willing to let women do whatever they need to in order to feel safe, but I’m not as willing to let women tell me what _I_ have to do. I know that I’m not a rapist, but if a woman has to treat me a bit like one to feel safe, that’s unfortunate but a part of life, and better than the alternative. I may feel a little hurt, but it’s a hurt that isn’t caused by anything intentional and just by prudence, so I accept it. And I have no problem with a woman doing that no matter how unreasonable I think she might be being; it’s really not my place to judge that. All of that changes, however, when she wants me to change my behaviour based on what makes her uncomfortable. While we all do like and have at least some obligation to not make people feel uncomfortable, no one can be subjected to unreasonable demands because someone else feels uncomfortable. That’s just not, well, reasonable.

The key, I think, is this: if you want me to change my behaviour or take any action, you have to convince me that your desire is reasonable. If you do, then I will generally, of course, make the change. If I don’t, then you cannot expect me to act based on what you want but which you cannot convince me is something reasonable. None of this applies to actions you yourself take; you can take them no matter how unreasonable they seem to me because they impact you, and you are not asking anything from me. And if the actions you take impede my getting something I want, in general I have no right to demand that you change either unless I can convince you. And anyone who denies this is wrong.

Ultimately, it’s all about convincing people to agree, not about imposing actions on people based on your own wants and desirse. That’s always wrong. Treat people as ends, not merely as means, and things will always work out better than if you don’t.

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