Re: Robin Hanson’s statement: “rape and slavery are far from the only possible levers!”
Maybe I could have been clearer: at no point have I thought, and nowhere have I claimed, that Hanson endorses rape and slavery. Rather, my point is this: Imagine that I make an argument for how to improve society and at the end add, “But gathering all the Jews together and stringing them up on the sides of building’s is far from the only possible method!”
(a) This is a truly horrendous thing to say; if I have to say this, then something has gone very, very, very wrong with my analysis, and indeed I would expect an avalanche of justified criticism for such a weird, callous qualification.
(b) Notice that in neither my example nor Hanson’s example, the “horrendous thing” is actually excluded; rather, it’s just that there are extra ways to accomplish X.
In other words, compare: “rape and slavery are far from the only possible levers” versus “rape and slavery are not in any way, at all, ever, for obvious moral reasons, levers to pull in this or in any context.” I assume (and certainly hope) that strikes readers as a compelling distinction?
As for “redistribution,” I’ve never thought that my points hinged on this term in any way. What’s relevant is Hanson’s claim, in his original post, that “sex could be directly redistributed, or cash might be redistributed in compensation” (italics added).
What exactly does “directly redistributed” mean here? Hanson gave away his answer immediately after the post to me, some colleagues of mine, and especially a basket of anti-feminist folks who commented on the post with stuff like (paraphrasing): “This seems right. Men should get the sex they want from women. Society would be improved.”
In fact, the qualification that “rape and slavery are far from the only possible levers!” — which, again, and amazingly, does not actually exclude rape and slavery — was a later addition prompted by criticisms like mine, after I (and others) pointed out to Hanson that “direct redistribution” of women is, well, not acceptable.
The same goes for Hanson’s subsequent claims that he wasn’t talking about women per se, although in our initial exchanges he most definitely was, a fact that is consistent with him using the brutal murder of 10 people by an incel man as a starting point for his discussion of sex redistribution.
Here’s some relevant evidence; this is far from an exhaustive enumeration of data that substantiates my interpretation of what (the hell) is going on here, but it should at least be enough to stun the morally sensitive mind:
Hanson tweeted to me on the 27th that, “as I said in my post, redistribution of sex doesn’t have to take the form of coercing women’s bodies, it could be cash transfers to those with less sex. And violent men could be excluded from such programs” (italics added). I hope that readers — all readers — see something deeply wrong with this statement. Indeed, my response was: “May I … just point out that it’s the phrase ‘doesn’t have to’ that’s so morally repugnant. Like, really, really disturbing.”
Elsewhere, on FB, I wrote:
“Robin, the statements ‘rape and slavery are far from the only possible levers!’ and ‘… redistribution of sex doesn’t have to take the form of coercing women’s bodies’ … are utterly appalling, for pretty uncontroversial, straightforward moral reasons.”
To which Hanson responded:
“You aren’t denying the truth of those statements. You thus seem appalled at true statements.”
(Quick fact check: I’m not appalled by true statements.)
I had other exchanges along these lines exactly, but can’t find them, nor did I take additional screenshots.
In yet another exchange, I wrote:
“Robin, one [women] is not like the other [money]. Humans have moral value, money doesn’t. It’s the complete and total incommensurability of the two that has people shocked, stunned, aghast, and nonplussed, along with statements like [those mentioned above]. I cannot believe that those are actual sentences that you actually wrote.”
To which he rejoined: “Both labor and sex are about human relations. Both have value, both can be redistributed.”
To which I responded: “Noting a few similarities between labor and sex does not address my point. Both apples and oranges are round and edible; both can be converted into juice and both grow on trees. Therefore, any other comparison that one might make between them must, surely, be apt.”
Even more telling than these quite telling statements, someone named “Garrett Malcolm Petersen” wrote on FB: “For the record, many early communist thinkers before Marx (and even some of Marx’s early essays) did favor common property in women,” to which Hanson replied:
“I agree there have been people in the overlap. Which makes their rarity all the more puzzling.”
But, as defenders will say, Hanson wasn’t thinking about women when he wrote about incels in the context of men who kill because they can’t have sex.
Furthermore, I note in an April 27 tweet to Hanson in a discussion specifically about redistributing women’s bodies: “(a) your example involves a man, (b) incel is overwhelmingly dominated by men (I’m sure you’re aware of this), and (c) virtually everyone commenting on your post, so far as I can tell, also interpreted your comments in terms of sexless men, not women.”
That last point was absolutely true at the time: virtually everyone understood exactly what Hanson was talking about: Men aren’t getting sex, so they’re getting angry and violent, so we should figure out ways to get them the sex they want.
Even more unbelievable, in my view, at least, was Hanson’s later tweet, which I didn’t respond to (so far as I remember):
“Some tell me that my problem was posting on sex inequality too soon after a related killing. But many think right after a shooting is a great time to talk about gun control. Is difference [sic] that they like gun control, don’t like sex redistribution.”
I hope this speaks for itself.
Returning to his original post, Hanson further writes: “For example, the article above seems not at all sympathetic to sex inequality concerns.” Hanson is here referring to the article quoted about a guy who murdered 10 innocent human beings because he couldn’t get laid, and that also mentions the homicidal rampage shooter Elliot Rodger (with whom I’m very familiar; he was a sadistic, narcissistic psychopath, which is probably why he had trouble with women).
In other words, it’s an article about toxic masculinity, (invisible) male privilege, violence and rage toward women, and so on. What Hanson picks up on, though, is the lack of sympathy for men. Which isn’t surprising because (some authorial context):
- Hanson is an avowed men’s rights advocate. From my perspective, such a position is abominable given the horrendous history of women struggling around the world for the most basic human rights. (Not that men don’t have it harder than women in many respects; my position acknowledges good arguments for any conclusion, because I really don’t give to hoots about ideology, in-groups, etc.)
- Hanson previously wrote the “gentle, silent rape” post, which further indicates “where he’s coming from” in the original post about sex redistribution.
- Hanson has repeatedly blocked women who disagree with him. In fact, I watched the conversation between Hanson and a notable woman scholar unfold; while I was much bolder in my criticism of Hanson’s egregious misogyny than she was, she got blocked (for merely criticizing Hanson’s ideas!). To me, at least, this further indicates that (a) Hanson has a problem with women, and (b) Hanson isn’t actually interested in honest debate about (I can’t believe I’m saying this) sex redistribution, or whether rape and slavery are acceptable mechanisms for redistribution (again, Hanson favors other options but doesn’t push these off the table).
I do honestly wonder how much virtue-signaling there is to Hanson. He’s a prominent figure in certain fields of scholarship, and his reputation is bound up with the reputation of certain institutes. As I hope the evidence above shows, I’m not in the least interested in “virtue signaling” (such a facile accusation!); I just care about what people actually say and the conclusions that follow from those actual statements.
As I have mentioned to several others, that fact is (or so I’d argue) that this issue isn’t going away, because (a) Hanson’s tweets, FB posts, blog posts, etc. are out there, and he remains prominently displayed on FHI’s website, etc. and (b) lots and lots of people who didn’t know about Hanson before his post about sex redistribution now do, and find his claims quite appalling. In other words, some damage has been done, and more will be done as, say, people curious about existential risks inevitably come across his name (cited by so many people, including myself), google him, and discover, e.g., his “gentle, silent rape” post.
The point: If the community really cares about “reputation hazards,” if it really cares about making it more welcoming to other people, if it really cares about kindness and reasonableness and other such desiderata, then folks need to actually speak up against ideas like those championed by Hanson. Or so I would argue, until a better argument comes along.