21 October 2009

Evolution and Rape

The Objectivist
Rape and Evolution
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 19, 2009

The way in which we think is the result of how our brains are wired. Evolution tells us that the way in which our brains are wired is in part the result of the way in which wiring patterns affected reproductive success over millions of years of our history. Evolution provides an insightful look into this history. It can be troubling in that it suggests that many of our violent and ugly desires are at least in part genetic. Perhaps the best example of this is rape.

Men and women often use different reproductive strategies. In animals like human beings where offspring depend on their parents for years, females must invest significant time and bodily resources in order to reproduce and raise their offspring. In contrast, men can father many more offspring with much less time and bodily resources. This gives them an incentive to have as many mates as possible. This is not true for females. The male reproductive strategy explains why males more strongly desire casual no-string-attached sex than do females. On this account, then, the male reproductive strategy was hard wired into their brains through their genes. This same account also explains why males desire rape-sex when females do not.

In A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion, biologist Randy Thornhill and anthropologist Craig T. Palmer defend the notion that rape is a behavioral pattern that evolved because it was genetically advantageous. Their argument rests on several types of evidence. It should be noted that their arguments are highly controversial.

First, Thornhill and Palmer argue that the theory fits cleanly with the presence of rape in our closest relatives and across human cultures. They note that male rape of females is found in our closest relatives (chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans). They claim that it is also found in every human society. In addition, they note, it is widespread in the animal kingdom. Mammals, birds, and insects all engage in coerced copulation. Whenever you see a behavioral pattern that is found in our closest relatives and in all human societies, there is good reason to believe that it is either an evolutionary adaptation or a by-product of one.

Second, Thornhill and Palmer note that the theory explains how victims are chosen. Rape victims are overwhelmingly in their peak reproductive years (13-35, mean age 24). This is what one would expect of a behavior that is favored because it led to increased reproduction. This age distribution differs from other violent crimes. It also is not what one would have expected if rape victims were picked for their physical vulnerability. Thornhill and Palmer also assert that rape is a relatively effective way of producing conception. They claim that roughly 5% of rape victims become pregnant.

Third, Thornhill and Palmer point out that the notion that rape is an evolutionary adaptation explains the way in which rape is often carried out. In particular, it explains why rapists usually do not cause gratuitous injury to victims. That is, they rarely inflict a serious or fatal injury that would preclude conception or birth. Thornhill and Palmer note that it explains why it is more likely that a rape victim will more likely suffer a vaginal rape, rather than an oral or anal one, if she is in her fertile years than if she is not. Again, all of this fits with the notion that rape was encoded because of its contribution to reproductive success.

Fourth, the researchers point out that the desire for rape appears to be fairly widespread in males. They note that studies indicate that many normal men (for example, college students and community volunteers) are significantly sexually aroused by depictions of coercive sex, including ones that involve physical aggression. Again, this is what we would expect if rape where an evolutionary adaptation because it would allow for opportunistic reproduction.

This theory has striking implications. Feminist writer Susan Brownmiller and numerous other feminist writers have claimed that rape is not motivated by sexual desire, but by hostility toward women or by a desire to control them. This theory does not fit the data. In particular, the theory is unable to explain why such desires have led to a targeting of victims and means of victimizing them that is so closely tied to reproduction. It fits poorly with the observation that rapists favor women in their reproductive years and statistically in time in which they are at their peak attractiveness. It fits uneasily with the similar pattern of rape in human beings and their closest ape relatives. The theory runs aground on studies that indicate that most rapists cite sexual desire as a cause of their actions.

The theological view that human beings are created by God in his own image also fits poorly with this data. After all, it is hard to imagine why God would want his most prized creation to walk around with such evil and destructive desires. Even if God wanted to make it hard for humans to be moral by tempting them, it is hard to believe that he couldn’t have picked a less cruel way of doing so.

The theory also has implications for what to expect of men, especially young men in their peak sexually competitive years. It tells us that we can expect a significant number of them to have rape-thoughts and -desires. This likely includes the seemingly kind-hearted college-aged male who is your son, grandson, nephew, son-in-law, etc. Whether the most effective way to stop men from acting out on these desires is to strengthen criminal penalties, educational programs that focus on making men aware of these desires and the need to control them, discouraging women from dressing in provocative ways, or other means is in part an empirical question and not one that can be answered by common sense. For example, the penalties for rape are already quite strong (in the U.S. in 1992, the average rapist was sentenced to 11.8 years and served 5.4 years).

In any case, there is a dark side to man and one that is hard-wired into him.

07 October 2009

Torture: Self-Defense Argument

The Objectivist
Interrogational Torture: Justified Self-Defense
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 5, 2009

The Abu Ghraib scandal will likely prevent the U.S. from using interrogational torture in the future, even as the U.S. withdraws from Iraq and Afghanistan. The scandal surrounded a Baghdad Correctional Facility (also known as the Abu Ghraib prison), where there was haphazard and cruel treatment of prisoners by soldiers in the 320th Military Police Battalion. The New York Times reported that the investigation uncovered evidence that the soldiers did the following to detainees: forcibly sodomized one, poured phosphoric acid on others, tied ropes to detainees’ genitalia and then pulled them across the floor, jumped on a detainee’s leg (one already damaged through gunfire) with such force that it would not heal properly, beat them, urinated on them, etc. The U.S. found at least one case of homicide. There were also allegations of rape (including a fourteen year old Iraqi girl) and other cases of homicide. It was estimated by Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the Abu Ghraib prison commander, that 90% of the detainees were innocent.

Eleven soldiers were convicted for these abuses and did prison time. In addition, seventeen soldiers and officers were removed from duty. Karpinski was demoted, in effect ending her military career. The American Civil Liberties Union leaked a 2004 FBI memo which indicated that President Bush explicitly authorized the use of extraordinary interrogation tactics by U.S. military personnel. The authorized tactics included sleep deprivation, hooding, loud music, stress positions, and the use of dogs.

Despite the Abu Ghraib mess, the U.S. probably should use interrogational torture. To see the argument for it, consider the following case from MIT professor Judith Jarvis Thomson. A trolley’s brakes don’t work and it is speeding down the tracks where it will run over five workers. The trolley driver, Edward, can turn the trolley onto a side track so that it runs over only one worker. Most people think that it is okay to Edward to do this because it saves four lives. This intuition gets stronger if the one worker disabled the brakes in order to kill the five.

A similar thing is true in cases in which a terrorist is part of an attack on civilians. Consider a case in which a terrorist has helped plant a bomb or initiated an imminent attack and refuses to disclose where the attack will occur. In both cases, by endangering innocents the attackers have forfeited some of their rights and may thus be harmed in the effort to blunt the attack. In the terrorist case, he may be harmed as a way to defend the innocent from his attack.

There are a series of objections. One objection is that even though the terrorists deserve to be tortured, the U.S. shouldn’t do this because the U.S. degrades itself in so doing. This appears to be the objection of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and other Senators who oppose such torture. However, it is less degrading to waterboard a terrorist who is part of an ongoing attack than to sit by and watch him and his buddies blow up innocent people.

Here is another way to consider the degradation issue. A number of recent economic studies indicate that the death penalty saves lives by deterring future murders. If this is correct and if the death penalty does not degrade us, then torture doesn’t do so. After all, most people would prefer torture to execution and the former more directly prevents killings. Similarly, it is hard to see why waterboarding someone for two days is more degrading than locking a young man in a cage for the rest of his life as is done when the state imposes a life sentence. It is certainly less degrading than shooting people with 50 caliber machine guns so that they explode into a pink mist and this is what happens when surgical attempts to stop terrorism fail.

A second objection is that torture doesn’t work. However, there are cases where interrogational torture does appear to have worked. One 1995 case involved Philippine authorities who tortured a terrorist into disclosing a plot to blow up eleven commercial airliners that were carrying roughly four thousand passengers. A 1994 case occurred when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped an Israeli soldier. Israel tortured the driver of the car used in the kidnapping to find where the soldier was being held. In a 2004 Central Intelligence Agency study, the director reports that interrogational torture (labeled “extraordinary interrogation tactics) provided extremely valuable information, including critical threat information. This likely referred in part to the repeated waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, a top al Qaeda planner, logistical expert, and architect of the 9/11 attack that killed nearly three thousand people. His information led to a number of arrests, including terrorists who planned to smuggle explosives into the U.S. and a sleeper operative in New York. Now there is the question whether torture, when done by professionals, often yields useful information and there is simply not enough information to answer it.

A third objection is that even if torture does not wrong anyone and is effective, it still has overall bad effects. It is claimed that interrogational torture strengthens our terrorist enemies by giving the U.S. a terrible image in the Muslim world, alienates allies, creates an environment where other countries will engage in horrendous torture, etc. The cost-benefit analysis is not clear. The U.S. also strengthens terrorist groups, alienates allies, etc. when it uses overwhelming military force to pursue enemies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, and occupies the first two. It is the threat of such terrorism that causes such actions and it might be that diminishing of this threat through interrogational torture would decrease the need for such pursuit and occupation. In any case, the cost-benefit analysis is unclear and so both the objection and response are so speculative as to warrant little weight.

A fourth objection is that interrogational torture is illegal and hence should be avoided as part of our respect for the rule of law. There are two statutes that might be thought to apply to U.S interrogators operating overseas: the War Crimes Act and the Torture Convention. Because it is likely that the relevant war-crimes statutes (Geneva and Hague) don’t apply to terrorists, the War Crimes Act probably is irrelevant. It is unclear whether the Torture Convention prohibits carefully calibrated interrogational torture. If it does, the U.S. should consider withdrawing from it and changing U.S. law so that it allows overseas interrogational torture to occur. Perhaps this would be subject to certain safeguards. Such safeguards might include permitting such techniques only when done by highly trained and specialized CIA agents and only when they receive written authorization from the President or, perhaps, cabinet head.

Interrogational torture is a type of defense. It appears to have worked in at least some cases. It is no more degrading than the death penalty and life imprisonment and less degrading than wartime killing. When used correctly, interrogational torture is disturbing but not obviously wrong.