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Excerpt from Endgame

Is Rape Bad? (p. 135)

From chapter "Predator and Prey"

Once again I had dinner with my friend who used to date the philosopher. We sat down. She jumped right in. “What is the relationship between drinkable quantities of clean water being good, and rape being bad?” In the days after our dinner conversation, her enthusiasm had run up against the clear leap of logic— her ex-boyfriend would have said faith—in my argument.

“We’re animals,” I said.

“I know that. So?”

“So we have needs.”

“I’ve heard some people—men, mainly—say that’s one reason for rape.”

“No. Needs to survive, to develop into who we really are.”

“Who are we?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it?”

“I’ve read science-based analyses suggesting rape is a demonstration of power—”

“No arguments from me there.”

“—and serves the evolutionary purpose of getting women to bond with powerful men,” she said.

“Lemme guess,” I responded, “the scientists were males, right?”

“They also say rape serves to pass on the genes of more aggressive men—”

“Which might seem to make superficial sense if you presume life is based on competition, not cooperation.”

“Right, and if you presume relationships don’t exist, and presume also that sperm is way, way more important than love, joy, or peace.”

“Very odd presumptions, aren’t they? Makes you wonder about the sanity— and social lives—of those who make them,” I said, then continued, “Scientists and economists can’t measure or control love, joy, or peace . . .”

“So love, joy, and peace must not exist,” she said. “It’s all pretty fucked up.”

“It also projects the presumptions of industrial production onto women, and to a lesser degree, men.”

“That women are here to make babies . . .”

“To manufacture them, as it were.”

“Pop them out like Model-Ts on an assembly line.”

“Or buns in a factory oven.”

“So why are we here?” she asked.

“It presumes the same for sex. That the purpose is reproduction.”

“Is it?”

“Maybe the purpose of both—sex and life—is to have fun, and to enter into relationships with those around us, and to become who we are.”

“So who are we?” she pressed.

“Humans, and this is just as true for rocks and trees and stars and catfish, have a natural mode of development, or many natural modes. And there are commonalities across all humans, just as there are commonalities across all mammals, all animals, all ‘living beings,’ all rocks, what have you. Humans start out physically small, we grow, we stop growing, eventually our bodies wear out, and we die. Emotionally we follow certain patterns as well: we live for a long time with those who nurture us, we learn from them what it means to be human, and what it means to be human within our communities (or in the case of the civilized, how to be inhuman, and how to live in cities). There exist normal patterns for how humans grow. Joseph Chilton Pearce, for example, has done as fine a job as anyone describing patterns of human cognitive and emotional development.”

“What does this have to do with rape?”

“I think we can say, or at least those of us with any sense at all can say,” and she knew I was taking a dig at her philosopher ex-boyfriend, “that just as we have physical needs that, if they’re not met, cause us to end up malnourished or our bodies to not develop to their full potential, to not work very well, so, too, we have emotional needs. Failure to meet these needs can stunt us emotionally, leave us emotionally undeveloped, leave us incapable of experiencing, expressing—participating in—the full range of human emotions. I think it’s safe to say that all other things being equal, it’s better to not be emotionally stunted than to be so.”

“And rape?”

“It can stunt you. Impede your emotional development. Let’s take this even on a fairly basic level. It’s one thing to be abstinent by choice. That’s a fine choice. But what of those people—women, mainly, but some men—who’ve been deprived of their capacity to take pleasure in sexuality because they’ve been raped? Their choice to participate in sexuality was taken away from them. Their ability to fully express and experience the emotions associated with that has been stunted.”

She thought a moment, then said, “Not only that, but they’ve been deprived of their capacity to simply be in the world without being terrified. If any woman, anywhere in the world, hears footfalls behind her on a darkened street, she has reason to be afraid. Robin Morgan called that the democracy of fear under patriarchy.”

I responded, “It doesn’t matter what stories anybody tells anyone else: these are all bad things. And of course I’m not just talking about rape, nor am I just talking about sex. I’m saying that just as we can say that drinkable quantities of clean water are good—once again, no matter the stories we tell ourselves—we can similarly say that actions causing us to move away from the development of the full range of human emotions are not good. Certainly an action that causes an entire gender to live their lives in fear is a very bad thing.”

“But isn’t it possible for trauma to open people out? You wouldn’t be the person you are had your father not abused you.”

“I’ve heard people say that. There were even a few who suggested I should have put him in the acknowledgments of A Language Older Than Words.” That’s the book where I describe his abuse, and my response. “But what do I have to thank him for? Insomnia? Nightmares and feelings of terror that lasted through my late thirties, until I exorcised them through writing that book? Fractured relationships with my siblings? Messed up relationships with other people?”

“But you’ve also gained wisdom and insight you might not otherwise have gained.”

“Yes. I’ve gained it. And this is true for anyone who survives abuse. The perpetrator isn’t responsible if the survivor is able to metabolize the horrors into gifts for the community. The survivor, and the humans and nonhumans who’ve supported the survivor, are responsible. I’ve not accomplished anything because I was raped. I’ve accomplished it through and despite the rapes. The rapes did not help me develop. They were not and could never be good. My response can be and has been good. But the rapes? No.”