Man, there’s nothing worse than when you realize that you’ve signed up for a university course where the professor seems certifiably insane.
Except, maybe, when said teacher’s reach extends beyond his classroom and into the forever whirling vortex of waste that is the internet.
Steven Landsburg, an economics professor at the University of Rochester recently wrote a post on his personal blog referencing the Steubenville rape case titled, “Censorship, Environmentalism, and Steubenvile.”
The post starts off with “Farnsworth McCrankypants just hates the idea that someone, somewhere might be looking at pornography,” which in itself is an indication that it’s not worth reading, but here we are.
Lansburg discusses wilderness desecration, regulating pornography, and notably, whether rape is okay so long as the victim feels no direct physical harm.
“As long as I’m safely unconscious and therefore shielded from the costs of an assault,” writes Lansburg, “why shouldn’t the rest of the world (or more specifically my attackers) be allowed to reap the benefits?”
Oh, and what a wonderful question that is. Academics often write papers questioning social norms that we consider normal—Lansburg himself has written stories for Slate about why women cave under pressure and that victims of Hurricane Katrina shouldn’t receive “too much” aid—but the issue of rape and consent is such a hot topic, it merits a rebuttal.
I’d love to tackle the concept of what “safely unconscious” might mean, but there isn’t enough bandwidth in the world.
But please, oh please, allow me to explain why you can’t “reap” those benefits.
Let’s say that I’m in the market for a child, but not a father. This is far from true because I have killed every plant I have ever loved, but for the sake of this argument, let’s say I’ve met someone who I think would sire a lovely kid. But let’s say he is otherwise uninterested in giving a sample for my uses, but falls unconscious and is profoundly unguarded.
And because he’s unaware of his surroundings, let’s say I find a way to procure a sample without his noticing, his pain, or his suffering. (It seems that in this hypothetical, I am incredibly resourceful.) With this, I’m able to have a wonderful child with all the qualities I wanted–and the poor sap I used is none the wiser.
He never got hurt, he was never directly affected, and without me saying anything (which I wouldn’t), he never knows anything was taken from him.
So: morally, and legally, am I allowed to take that from him?
No, because it’s his. He didn’t offer it to me, and he didn’t say I could take it. It’s a trespass. No one is allowed to “reap” any “benefits” from something not explicitly offered.
The Steubenville victim was a 16-year-old girl who was taken advantage by dumb, selfish boys who didn’t understand the concept of consent. Just because she didn’t end up pregnant, sick, or diseased, it doesn’t mean she escaped unscathed.
Lansburg deigns to play devil’s advocate, like so many other academics do, but he provides no reasonable alternative. He might be trying to turn a social norm on his head, but he clearly doesn’t get that consent isn’t as inherent as we might hope.
In actuality, consent needs to be learned. Like empathy, or math formulas, it needs to be learned. The only difference is that the only time you’ll need Calc 30 after taking Calc 30 is if, god forbid, you end up with a job that requires you to teach Calc 30.
Even in a hypothetical case, Lansburg’s logic is dangerous. If there were ever a time to argue for consent and deter perpetrators, it’s now.
This may not be high-minded, university-level language, but this is the easiest way to explain it: you can’t have it because I said so.