In Sunday’s column, Ross provided three proposals for reducing campus rape. (1. Lower the drinking age, 2. End the party school system, 3. Loco in parentis lite for dorms). For the most part it was well received (including by many people who generally disagree with Ross), but sampling on the derpendent variable reveals no shortage of people saying some version of “how about we just tell men not to rape” which in its more concrete version takes the form of some sort of sexual consent education class as part of orientation. What I find interesting about this is that this answer is essentially to tackle culture, whereas Ross called for tackling structure.
I found this ironic since in other contexts (most notably, poverty) the right tends to emphasize cultural explanations and cultural solutions which the left meets with structural explanations and structural solutions. For instance, in explaining why there are such disordered family lives among the poor, the right tends to emphasize a declining interest in marriage (or in more subtle and accurate versions of the argument, the shift from a cornerstone towards a capstone conception) whereas the left meets this with structural arguments about the shortage of marriageable men in low-income communities. And it is worth noting that while the right is probably correct that marriage is causally important and not just an issue of selection, the evidence seems to be on the left’s side that marriage promotion doesn’t work.
The general tendency seems to be that if I say culture, you say agency, and vice versa. As in so many other things, I see this switcheroo as not entirely motivated by a cold-eyed analysis and saying, eureka, it looks like the schwerpunkt of rape is culture whereas poverty is better solved by concentrating on structure (or vice versa). Rather the heuristic seems to be avoiding actions we find intrinsically objectionable and a related one of assigning responsibility for reform to the parties we find morally culpable and avoiding placing demands upon sympathetic people. We see the first heuristic operating in the many responses I saw to Ross that were much more enthusiastic about lowering the drinking age than his other two proposals. This is predictable given that all three of Ross’s proposals load on Haidt’s moral foundation of “liberty/oppression,” but one goes one way and the other two the other way. Even if it is in fact the case that increasing liberty in some respects and restricting it in others is the best way to reduce a horrific crime, fewer people think in terms of “does this work” than “is it moral.” The other heuristic is a sort of who/whom logic that (understandably) wants to punish the guilty while holding harmless the victim. This most obviously manifests in the common (morally sympathetic but not terribly prudent) criticism of anything that tacitly “blames the victim” through offering advice on how to avoid victimization. In the reaction to Ross’s piece we see it in the largely sympathetic reaction to his proposal to wage total war on fraternity row compared to his mostly reviled (and frequently distorted) proposal to bring curfew lite to the dorms. The former punishes the aggressors and so is intrinsically worthwhile, but the latter restricts the autonomy of the victims and so is unacceptable. Whether either of them would be effective at reducing the rate of a felony second only to murder is at best a post hoc consideration.