Tag: <span>Gender</span>

A View From Inside the MTA Conference

If you prefer to listen rather than read, this blog is available as a podcast here. Or if you want to listen to just this post:

Or download the MP3

Last Saturday I attended the annual Conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association (MTA). I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I figured at a minimum I could get a blog post out of it. There was a lot going on, if you include the two keynote speakers, there were 17 speakers in total, talking about everything from brain uploading to crucifixion. And I know that, at this point, you may be sick of me talking about the MTA, and I wouldn’t blame you if you are, but I think there were some themes in the conference which will be of interest to even those who feel that they’ve had enough of the MTA for awhile. But the MTA is still going to feature prominently in this post, so if you want to skip it that’s also a totally valid option as well..

To begin with they started 35 minutes late. Anyone who knows me knows that that’s a quick way to get on my bad side. As a note to future MTA Conference organizers if you say that something starts at 9:00, that shouldn’t be when the first speaker takes the podium, that should be when registration opens. Also if your goal is to become gods through the use of technology it looks bad when you can’t even keep a conference running on time through the use of technology…

Okay, I admit, that was a little snarky. I’ll try to be nicer going forward, though no promises…

When the conference did get going the first speaker opened up with a scripture which had been featured prominently in one of my previous posts: Doctrine and Covenants 87:6

And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;

He then said “Or…” and proceeded to read Isaiah 11:6-9:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

It was obvious that he was trying to draw a contrast between two visions for the future. Either we are doomed to bloodshed and disaster or we are blessed with peace and knowledge. Of course my immediate retort is why couldn’t both be true? Nevertheless it was interesting that he used the scripture from the D&C, as I mentioned that scripture featured very prominently in one of my posts. And it was interesting that he talked about two possibilities for the future, since that was the way I introduced things in my very first post. I know that some members of the MTA are familiar with my blog and have read some or even most of the posts, and it’s interesting to speculate whether I might have influenced them. Ultimately pointless, but interesting nonetheless.

Having drawn out these two visions of the future he came down on the side of Isaiah. (And I’m still unclear why it can’t be both)  In support of his more optimistic view of the future he listed all of the cool things that are happening. Included in the list was:

  • YouTube
  • Google
  • GitHub
  • Kickstarter
  • The Mars Rover
  • Mobile tech
  • Wearable tech
  • Reusable rockets
  • Solar shingles
  • The Higgs Boson
  • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)
  • Advances in robotics
  • Watson
  • AlphaGo
  • Alexa
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Moore’s Law

These are all very exciting technologies, but, for me, the list only reinforces my central criticism of the MTA. That for all of their talk of being Mormons and Disciples of Christ, and the assertion that their unreserved embrace of technology just makes them better disciples of Christ, that instead what they really are is just your garden variety tech enthusiasts. How does being Mormon inform their engagement with technology? Are there any technologies they’re not a fan of because of their religion? If the MTA made a list of technological advances over the last 10 years they considered important, would I be able to distinguish that list from a list I might find in a mainstream media outlet or in a magazine like Popular Science?

The speaker went on to say that going forward they wanted to focus more on the T (transhumanism) and less on the M (Mormon). But from what I could tell there wasn’t much “M” to begin with, and certainly very little of it at the conference. I’m honestly not sure that there’s any practical difference between a Mormon transhumanist and a regular transhumanist. I imagine that they have very different reasoning, but I think that reasoning ends up with both of them arriving in exactly the same place.

The question, as always comes back to how do we know whether to expect the D&C future or the Isaiah future (though, again, I’m not sure why it can’t be both). Does the existence of YouTube really make the Isaiah future more likely? I personally don’t think the list he made establishes a prima facie case for the Isaiah future. But for the moment, let’s assume that it does. Would a similar list compiled in support of the D&C future be more or less convincing? Let’s give it a shot:

Well? What do you think? Which list is the more compelling? Even if you decide that the Isaiah list is more compelling. (I certainly admit that it’s more pleasant.) In the end, it matters less than you think, for two reasons. First, in order for the MTA’s vision of things to work out. Ethics has to progress at the same rate as technology, otherwise you end up possessing godlike power without the wisdom or morality to use those powers righteously. Take another look at that first list, is there anything in it that points to an increase in morality and ethics? While all the items from the second list point to exactly the opposite happening.

Secondly, neither the MTA nor I knows for sure what will happen in the future. In fact neither of us even knows for sure what the two scriptures are foretelling, and even if we did, they definitely don’t come with dates attached. As I said in a previous post I really hope the MTA is right, and that I’m wrong, but who suffers the most if they’re wrong? If we end up in the D&C future and we didn’t prepare for it, that’s a lot worse than if we end up in the Isaiah future without preparation.

This represents one of the big problems I have with the MTA, There’s too little focus on the potential downsides. Within the transhumanist declaration there is a point about reducing existential risk, but there was very little said on that subject at the Conference. (Perhaps that’s how you can tell the difference between a Mormon Transhumanist and a normal transhumanist, the Mormon is more optimistic.) To be fair, while there wasn’t much said, that doesn’t mean nothing was said. In fact there was another speaker later on who was even more explicit in describing the two potential futures, calling our efforts a race between innovation and catastrophe. Again, it’s probable that this gentleman came up with the idea on his own, but I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between his presentation and my first blog post.

At this point I’ve spent over a third of my allotted space on just one presentation, so it’s obvious that I’m only going to be able to touch on a tiny amount of what took place at the conference. Though if you don’t mind podcasts, which you might, seeing as how you’re reading this rather than listening to it, I released a bonus podcast with some additional thoughts on the conference, specifically the keynote speakers. But as I said at the start rather than providing a blow-by-blow of each presentation, I’m more interested in tying together some of the broader themes. One theme that ran through all of the talks, and, in fact, runs through the entire MTA endeavor, is the idea of continually accelerating growth. One obvious question, you might be tempted to ask, is whether there is any limit to this growth, and on that count the vast majority of the people at the conference seem to agree that there isn’t.

This makes sense. If there isn’t any limit to growth than transhumanism is just a reflection of the way the world works, rather than a weird quasi religion. But I’m sure that any one of us can think of lots of reasons why growth might not continue, or why it might not carry everyone along with it.

This latter point is a problem for transhumanism, particularly the charitable Mormon variety. They can be absolutely right about the continual growth, but still wrong about it’s impact. There are numerous scenarios under which Silicon Valley billionaires have full access to the promises of transhumanism while poor people end up with a situation that’s actually worse than what they have currently.

During lunch I brought up this idea with one of the other conference attendees. Specifically the idea that as the slope of the growth curve gets steeper and steeper the cost of being even slightly behind someone else on that curve gets larger and larger. For example imagine you’re holding a car race and one car, say a Tesla in ludicrous mode, can accelerate at 1 meter/second/second and the other car, say a Tesla that only has insane mode, can accelerate at 0.99 meters/second/second, or 99% of the acceleration of the first car. In this example it takes less than 10 minutes for the two cars to be over a mile apart, and in an hour the faster car will be 40 miles ahead of the other car, even though the difference in acceleration is only 1%

Now you may retort that cars can’t accelerate forever. (You may also be upset that I switched between metric and imperial in the example.) And this is true, but if you’re a transhumanist then it’s an article of faith that society is different, it can accelerate forever. But even if this is true, if Silicon Valley billionaires are accelerating at ludicrous speed, it doesn’t matter if everyone else is accelerating at insane speed they’re still going to get left behind. You may have heard of the recent concerns over rising inequality, well as much of a problem as it is right now; transhumanism has the potential to make it a lot worse. This is what I pointed out to the gentleman I was talking to.

Of course, it’s difficult to engage in a meaningful dialogue under these circumstances, at least for me. You have a few minutes to cover a massively complicated subject in a way that someone, who’s already predisposed to disagree with you, will understand and assimilate, not assimilate in the sense of changing their mind, but assimilate in the sense that they understand what you’re saying well enough that when they fire off a retort they’re actually aiming in the right direction. Obviously this works both ways, I’m sure I only absorbed part of the point he was trying to get across.

With all of those caveats in place, he responded by pointing out that world population was about to peak, and that would solve the problem of ever accelerating growth. You can see here what I mean about firing in the right direction. I’m not sure that the problem of the billionaires leaving poor people behind is solved by having slightly fewer poor people. Still demography and falling birth rates are interesting topics, and I’ll have to return to them at some point in the future. In any case it was one of the many enjoyable conversations I had at the conference, and not only can I not do justice to all of the conversations, I can’t even do justice to this conversation.

The last topic I want to address involves a question that has haunted me since long before I was even aware of the existence of the MTA, though the MTA is precisely the sort of organization that makes me ask this question. And that is, where do you draw the line between a healthy discussion and an actual schism? To reframe the question with respect to the MTA. Is the MTA involved in a healthy discussion of the place of technology in religion or are they actually pushing for things contrary to the stated position of the church? I hoped that after attending the conference, I’d fall on the healthy discussion side of things, but if anything the conference left me leaning more towards the schismatic side.

Of course it is fair to ask whether it even matters what side of things the MTA falls on, particularly if you’re not especially religious. If you’re an atheist, the sectarian conflicts of the superstitious may be amusing, but they’re hardly consequential. In fact the only group for whom this question matters at all are members of the LDS Church, and going forward we’re going to be speaking from that frame of reference. In other words this discussion is going to assume you’re a Mormon and that you believe that the Mormon Church possesses some unique truths which are important for our salvation.

Certainly the Church operates under this assumption. We send out missionaries to preach these truths. We do work for the dead, partially as a way of transmitting those truths beyond the Veil And the most fundamental truths, like faith, repentance and baptism are hammered over and over again in General Conference. Less visibly there’s the Church’s efforts to correlate everything, from Sunday School lessons to the doctrine taught by the missionaries. And, of course, the church also puts out Handbooks of Instruction. In other words it’s clear that the leadership of the Church has decided that it’s very important for everyone to be on the same page, which makes sense if people’s salvation is at stake.

Framed in this way it’s easy to spot people who are doing their best to be “on the same page”. And one way of examining this question is just to say that people who are trying their best in this fashion are on the healthy discussion side of things, while those who aren’t are schismatic to one degree or another. I think this is the position I default to, but of course I can already predict that there will be people who object to me saying that it’s easy to distinguish between those who are doing their best versus those who aren’t. I will continue to maintain that it is, but I can see where a more specific definition of things might be in order.

The idea of being on the same page assumes a fairly hierarchical structure. In short, someone has to decide what the page says before anyone can “be on it”. As members we believe this someone is the President of the Church, currently Thomas S. Monson, and we say that he is the only one who can exercise all the keys of the priesthood. Of course he can’t do everything, and so much of what’s “on the page” gets determined by the general authorities, who are sometimes just referred to as “the brethren”.

Thus a more specific definition of whether someone is doing their best can be reframed as a question of whether they support the brethren. This doesn’t mean that they consider the brethren to be perfect, rather the question of support hinges on whether they give the brethren the benefit of the doubt. But support also takes the form of acknowledging their leadership, and not directly contradicting them.

Having said all this let me reiterate that the foregoing is how I draw the line. You may draw the line in a different fashion. Also I haven’t said anything about how we should treat people who fall on the schismatic side of the line, because that’s not the point of the post. But, hopefully it goes without saying that we should treat them with love and compassion.

Having arrived, somewhat tortuously, at the standard of support, how did the MTA fare? Well there were three presentations (at least) which I felt were very clearly on the unsupportive side of the line.

The first of them dealt with the idea of prophets, and it began promisingly enough by arguing that we needed prophets now more than ever, but then it used that as a jumping off point to argue that 15 prophets (the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve) is too few. That prophecy had become institutionalized. That true prophets don’t wear suits and work 9-5 jobs. True prophets are iconoclasts, who may appear to actually betray their religion and culture. In support of this he mentioned Abinadi and Samuel the Lamanite. That’s an interesting point, but without offering up his candidates for modern day Abinadis and Samuels he’s mostly just saying that the brethren are uncool and stuffy.

The second presentation which I felt crossed the line was titled “Post-genderism”, and it was pretty much as you’d expect from the title, with the presenter going so far as to say that when the Proclamation on the Family talks about gender being part of our “eternal identity” that in this case eternal means ever-changing, and further that the future will essentially be genderless. I understand that this is a ridiculously complicated topic, one which I am almost certainly not qualified to comment on, but it’s one thing to acknowledge that complexity and quite another to declare that you’ve figured it out, to the point where you’re deciding that certain words mean the opposite of what everyone (including the brethren) think they mean. Also lest you think this is a minority opinion among members of the MTA the presenter in this instance was the MTA’s president.

The final presentation in the line-crossing category was titled the “Mystical Core of Mormonism”. I initially assumed that the high point of the presentation was going to be when he compared Joseph Smith’s First Vision to the experience of ingesting hallucinogenic mushrooms. That was until he produced his own seer stone, which he not only claimed to be using in a fashion similar to Joseph Smith, but which he had also named…

Hearing the summary of these three presentations you may disagree with me, and that is as it should be. if you wish to watch the presentations for yourself they should eventually appear on this page (currently they don’t appear to have cut up the videos into separate presentations.) I think everyone needs to decide for themselves where to draw the line between discussion and schism. As I said in the beginning it’s a question that’s haunted me for a long time. And it’s obvious that it’s only going to get worse.

That’s the end of my partial recap of the MTA Conference. If you want more of my impressions (and really who wouldn’t?) you can check out the bonus podcast I already mentioned. As my final thought, I’ll try to make up for some of my harshness by recommending a book to the MTA. As I mentioned in my review of it, Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, might as well be titled “We Are Saved” and thus contains a lot of support for the fundamental ideology of the MTA. If you’re an MTA member you should definitely read it. And with that I promise to leave the MTA alone for at least a couple of months.

If you like overly detailed posts about small, unusual religious groups, the consider donating, since that’s most of what I’ve been doing. And if you don’t like these sorts of posts, also consider donating so I have the resources to cover larger more mainstream groups.

What’s the Best Way to Reduce Sexual Violence?

If you prefer to listen rather than read, this blog is available as a podcast here. Or if you want to listen to just this post:

Or download the MP3

I was riding in a car with my sister the other day and she mentioned that she had just listened to the But What If We’re Wrong? episode (from the podcast version of the blog) where I talked about women in the military. And she expressed her annoyance with the section where I talked about an integrated military possibly leading to more sexual violence (i.e. sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape). The section in question ran as follows:

The stories and numbers I do see mostly concern harassment. The most recent story making the rounds is of a vast network among the marines for sharing nude photos of female soldiers. Less publicized, are stories of the Navy having a growing problem with pregnancy among women who’ve been deployed. Apparently rising from 2% of women in 2015 to 16% currently. Both of these stories come on top of persistent stories of sexual harassment in the military going back to at least the Tailhook Scandal in 1991. (It’s certainly possible that there were reasons other than combat effectiveness for historically not having women in the military.)…Are we enabling a large amount of sexual harassment that might not otherwise happen?

My sister’s position was that we shouldn’t forbid women from doing certain things because it opens them up to sexual violence. That if a man sexually harasses, assaults, or rapes a woman that the fault lies completely with the man who committed the crime. That women aren’t asking for it by wearing revealing clothing, or because they were drinking and they especially weren’t asking for it by joining the military. That essentially, if a man harrasses a woman the man is 100% at fault and talking about the woman’s role in any context risks opening up the idea that some part of it was the woman’s fault.

Let me start by saying that I totally agree with my sister on this point. Everything she said is correct. I’m reasonably certain that this is another post which might get me in trouble (at this point maybe it’s easier to identify the posts that won’t get me in trouble) and before you get mad I want you to absorb the fact that I agree with everything my sister said. But, (you knew there was a “but” coming) I do have to clarify some things.

First, we need to differentiate between sexual violence and claims of sexual violence, which is to say that the US has an adversarial justice system and the process of investigating claims of sexual violence can often create a situation where the victim (who knows the violence was actual, not merely alleged) feels that they’re the ones on trial. Unfortunately this is inherent to the adversarial process, which is not to say there isn’t room for improvement.

The second clarification I need to make, and the point of this post, is that discussing the role of society or of policy or of education or of alcohol is different than discussing what a woman should or shouldn’t have done after the harassment or the assault or in the worst cases, the rape, has already happened. I can totally agree that second-guessing or picking apart someone’s actions after they’ve been the victim of a crime is not only unproductive, it’s cruel. But telling someone in advance that they shouldn’t get really drunk at a frat party is different than telling a rape victim it’s all their fault because they got really drunk at a frat party. In other words there may be some common sense changes to policy and education that should be made, which have nothing to do with blaming the victim.

For the purposes of our discussion we’ll mostly be focusing on colleges and the military, both because that seems to be where the biggest perceived problem is, where we have the most information at our disposal, and finally where we can talk about specific policies.

But before we can discuss what we should change, we should talk about the status quo. What are we doing now to decrease sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape at colleges and in the military? As far as I can tell, currently, the vast majority of our effort is put into education. Teaching people (men especially) what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate. As I look around I see some minor procedural changes, most of which involve making it easier to report and prosecute sexual offences after they already happen, but as far as prevention, almost all of it falls under the general heading of education. In essence we’re just telling people to not do it. Not do what? Well as far as I can tell the curriculum for this education at the college level, at least goes something like this:

Any kind of sex you can think of is great, healthy and completely natural. Except sex where your partner isn’t completely 100% on board and then that’s full on rape, and that’s the worst thing ever.

If that definition seems over the top, you are free to suggest your own form of the “modern day sexual curriculum”, as it is taught at colleges and in the military. But I think, based on the current atmosphere at colleges and universities that you’ll agree that however it’s phrased, it’s targeting a very small slice of all sexual behavior. While at the same time anything that’s not forbidden is encouraged and even celebrated. For example, as part of this education, they’re not telling people to practice abstinence. Or to not make out or to not do any of the hundreds of things which lie somewhere between a chaste peck on the check and actual intercourse. As far as I can tell they’re not advocating waiting until a certain age. And they’re certainly not telling them to avoid pornography or to wait until marriage.  In other words they’re trying to bridle one of the strongest desires a human being can have by giving it full rein except for in a few, sometimes not entirely obvious situations.

The military is a little bit different and as far as I can tell, you’re not supposed to have sex while out at sea if you’re in the Navy, or during actual deployment, if you’re in, say, the Army, but beyond that it’s similarly anything goes. Also there’s ample proof (the pregnancy statistic I cited earlier) along with anecdotal evidence, that despite this prohibition that people still have plenty of sex both on ships and while deployed. Once again they’re targeting very specific circumstances, and once again there’s evidence that it’s not working. Of course sex isn’t sexual violence, but you’re still looking at a situation where proximity and availability overwhelm rules and education.

As an aside, speaking of human sexual desire. I’d be fascinated in knowing from what framework the current ideology operates. If they’re basing their policy on science wouldn’t they have to admit that an overwhelmingly powerful sex drive is basically mandated by evolution? I can see speaking about men as inherently good people who should know better and just need be reminded, if you’re operating from a religious framework, but I’ve seen no evidence that they are operating from a religious framework, and if they were, why aren’t they also pushing chastity or marriage?

In any event by trying to limit just a small slice of sexual behavior while encouraging everything else, it’s as if they pointed to a giant wall of soda and said “You should grab a can and drink some it’s great. Oh, but there are some cans of poison in there as well, but those cans are clearly marked, normal cans are red, the poison cans are orange. Of course sometimes you’re going to be picking these cans while you’re drunk or tired and other times you’re going to be in a situation where you’re really, really thirsty. And sometimes you’ll be picking a can when you’re all three.”

Of course sex isn’t the only human desire we try and put limits on, but I can’t think of any other desire where a similar strategy is employed. We don’t go up to people who are overweight and tell them. “Well, evidently you haven’t heard this already because if you had I’m sure you would have acted on it, but you should really eat less and exercise.” We don’t put shots of whiskey in front of alcoholics and tell them to just pretend those shots aren’t there. We don’t take our kid who has a D average and mountains of homework and buy him a new video game. So why do we take libidinous young adults, put them in stressful situations, perhaps with copious alcohol and tell them to have all the sex they want, but just make sure that they can completely turn it off the minute there’s any hesitation on the part of the other party or the minute they board a ship.

Perhaps you disagree with all of these analogies. Perhaps you don’t think that sexual violence has anything to do with dieting or video games or alcohol. Maybe you’re right. Sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape all involve more than one person, but at it’s core you’re still saying that if you just tell people to stop doing something that it should just work. That if someone tells me to stop procrastinating that I’ll never procrastinate again. If only….

Also as long as we’re still exploring the effectiveness of just telling someone to stop doing something, how is it that the people most dismissive of abstinence only education feel that in this case just telling men to stop is going to work when telling teenagers to not have sex apparently doesn’t work? Isn’t the failure of preaching just abstinence alone another giant piece of evidence in favor of the idea that you can’t just tell someone to not do something and think that it is going to be effective?

Later on I want to look at the kind of tradeoffs we’re making, but for now let’s stick with the idea of education. Imagine that for whatever reason that education was the only tool you had. (Which is apparently exactly the position we’re in). You couldn’t segregate the sexes, or make women wear burkas. You can’t disown your daughter if she had a baby out of wedlock. All you can do is educate people. If that was the only tool available and you were really serious about stopping sexual violence, how would you go about it?

Well first, you might start by educating them to stay away from all of the soda, not just the orange cans. In other words you might teach them that sex is serious business, regardless of who it’s with. And since you would want them to exercise good judgement you might also teach them to avoid alcohol and drugs. And it wouldn’t be enough to teach them these things at the last minute just before they’re presented with the temptation to have soda, you’d want to start teaching them these things as soon as possible. You might also want to put together a whole moral system which teaches not only the dangers of sex and drugs and alcohol but, which ties in with other bad things like lying and stealing. In fact you might want to actually start with education on lying and stealing and then once they have a firm understanding that some things are right and some things are wrong, you can add in whatever commandments you have about sex. And, finally, since consent seems to be at the heart of the problem, you might teach them that the best way to go about it, is to have a very public declaration of consent. Maybe even turn it into a ceremony, and bring witnesses.

Does any of that ring a bell? Does it sound like any organization you might already be familiar with? As it turns out the LDS Church is a big believer in education as well, but rather than focusing on a very narrow definition of improper sexual conduct, the Church focuses on avoiding all sex outside of marriage. And rather than starting the education when someone joins the military or enters college, our education begins the moment a child enters Primary at the age three when they join Sunbeams. And yes there are no chastity lessons in Sunbeams, (at least not that I’m aware of) but they are taught that certain things are right and certain things are wrong. Thus when they’re later taught, sometime in their teens, the Church’s commandments with respect to sex. These commandments fit right into the framework of right and wrong the Church has been talking about since they were three years old.

In other words if people only cared about reducing the incidence of sexual violence, and even if they only had access to education there is a lot more they could be doing. I suppose that some people might argue that this approach makes the problem worse. The claim wouldn’t surprise me, but I honestly can’t imagine on what basis they would make it. But if you want to make the claim that a long term emphasis on chastity and morality makes the problem of sexual violence. worse, I’m happy to examine whatever evidence you might have.

So why doesn’t everyone adopt the same approach as the LDS Church? (Note I said the LDS Church, not BYU.) First, I doubt the idea has crossed anyone’s mind. Not only that, I assume that if I did go to someplace like Baylor University (or another college with a recent scandal) and pitched the idea of implementing LDS religious standards across the entire campus that I would not get very far. (I think the real bet would be whether I would literally be laughed off of campus or not.) Second it requires starting very young, it requires organization, it requires an entire moral framework, in short it requires a religion.

But, in what can only be a complete coincidence, the role of religion in America is at an all time low. Surely this decrease in the number of active believers couldn’t have anything to do with the increase in sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape? That would be inconceivable!

Despite it being inconceivable, as far as I can tell this is in fact the conventional wisdom, that there is no connection between the diminished role of religion and the current sexual violence crisis on campuses and in the military. In fact generally when people mention the crisis and religion together it’s in part to blame religion, for example the abstinence only education mentioned above, or they might claim that religion empowers the patriarchy. Certainly it’s possible that religion has no effect on the rates sexual violence. It’s even possible that religion causes more harassment, but less rape, or vice versa. Just as it’s possible that long term education on chastity is less effective than a two hour lecture on consent, but I find claims like this very hard to believe.

The fact is that in addition to religion, there is a whole host of options that modern culture has ruled to be inadmissible, despite the seriousness of sexual violence. Not only can I not find any one (outside of people who are explicitly religious) making any kind of connection between a decrease in religion and an increase in these sorts of crimes, but it’s equally rare to find people who are willing to suggest things like segregation by sexes or limiting alcohol or heaven forbid anything resembling a chaperon. And yet all of these things were very common historically.

We are so prone to dismiss historical norms and morals, including religion, as retrograde and primitive superstitions; which we’ve not only grown out of, but were silly even at the time they were being practiced, that despite the increase of something truly awful (how else can you describe sexual violence) it’s still unthinkable that maybe our ancestors had a point. That maybe having, at a minimum, a separate men’s dorm and women’s dorm wasn’t a crazy idea? As an example of what I mean here’s an article explaining that the vast majority of sexual assault happens in on-campus housing. And here’s another article mocking the GOP for objecting to coed dorms. Are we really serious about this problem or not? If we are, should we maybe consider some radical options? (Or not so radical if viewed historically.)

Are there downsides to having separate dorms or a less integrated military? Are there downsides to not allowing alcohol? Are there downsides to religion? Are there downsides to the BYU Honor code? Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes. Of course there are. I would never deny that there aren’t trade-offs to all of those things, but are we sure we know the trade-offs we’re making? To just take the most basic adjustment, is the incidence of sexual violence less in sex segregated dorms? What about sexual violence in the military if you have completely segregated units (all female or all male)? Perhaps it’s fine to have women in combat, but should women combat units be separate from male combat units? Is there any data on that? Has anyone even thought to do the experiment? If there are differences then what benefits does the current set up provide? If the current way of doing things leads to demonstrably more sexual violence then what is the fantastic upside that balances that out? If it turns out that coed dorms and integrated military units experience the same amount of sexual violence as segregated dorms and segregated military units I’d love to see the evidence. And even if there is evidence for that, which I seriously doubt, what about alcohol, what about encouraging promiscuity in general?

You may think from this that I’m advocating that every college be just like BYU, or some Amish equivalent. I’m not. What I want to know is, are there small common sense changes which could be made that have minimal disadvantages, but huge payoffs in reducing sexual violence?  Are we not making those changes because they seem prudish, or too much like what those religious fanatics are advocating? Would keeping men and women in separate military units give women all the benefits of being in the military with less sexual violence to boot? If it would why aren’t we doing it?

At this point many people are going to argue that we shouldn’t have to do any of that. It shouldn’t be that hard to just train men (and everyone) to not engage in sexual violence. Again, I have my doubts about the effectiveness of education, particularly education that’s so narrowly focused, and so limited to such a small behavioral slice. But even if it is effective, unless it’s 100% effective we’re still trading some level of sexual violence for benefits which still seem pretty vague to me.

Perhaps it’s time to take a different tack. Perhaps rather than deriding everything that happened before the Sexual Revolution as barbaric and misguided. We might want to take a closer look at the customs and religions that have served humanity for hundreds of years, and see if perhaps whether those who came before us, might have had to solve the same problems we’re currently grappling with, and whether if somewhere in those customs and religions there might be a better way.

If like me, you’re not a big fan of BYU (GO UTES!) then consider donating to a fellow contrarian. If on the other hand you’re a big fan of BYU, well I basically just did an entire post defending the honor code, so you should also donate.