Thought Crimes

Something that really aggravates me is when people say hate crime legislation punishes people for their thoughts, for what’s in their heads.  First of all, hate crime laws aren’t the only laws that do so: how about possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute? What is intent if not another word for thoughts? And how about the distinction we make between manslaughter and murder? Again, thoughts!  So punishing people for thinking certain thoughts is hardly unprecedented or unheard of in our legal system.

Secondly though, I don’t think that’s really what hate crime laws are punishing.  When we declare someone guilty of a crime, we do it on the basis of the effects of their actions, not their intentions (thus manslaughter is a crime and victim impact statements exist).  When someone commits a hate crime, the effects are far larger than those of the same actions committed randomly, because there are repercussions for a much larger number of people.  An act of random or personal violence impacts the victim and generally those close to them (family, friends, etc.).  Perhaps in an abstract or indirect way the people physically or geographically close to the crime are affected (higher crime rates affecting property values, for instance), but that’s about it.

A bias crime, however, involves everyone who shares the characteristic(s) of the victim that led to their being targeted.  When one person is attacked because of their religion or race or sexuality, it makes everyone else of that religion, race, or sexuality more aware of their difference and the ways it puts them at risk.  It reminds them of their marginalization.

Along with the psychological effects, there can be physical consequences too: it is a well-established fact that stress is bad for one’s health, leading to heart disease among other problems (which is why African-Americans have higher rates of hypertension and heart attacks than comparable whites), and what could be more stressful than being perpetually primed for attack?  Human bodies aren’t meant to be constantly on guard, and doing so is rough on them.  There are lifestyle consequences as well: members of the targeted population change how they live in ways both large and small, from taking cabs more often to moving cities, in an effort to protect themselves.

Shouldn’t someone who triggers all this be punished for it?  Shouldn’t they be held accountable for all the lives they’ve touched?  Are these really such difficult and complicated questions?

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Kate Middleton’s Nipples

Okay, I admit it – I couldn’t resist a peak at the Kate Middleton photos. You know the ones I mean. Even though it was out of curiosity more than anything else (really!), I’m definitely not proud and a little embarrassed (not enough not to write this though, apparently).  Anyway, I have to say my reaction was somewhat less than scandalized.  The invasion of privacy and all that, yes, definitely scandalizing, but the pictures themselves? Left me wondering A) what’s the big deal about nipples? Because pretty much everything else is visible in a bikini, so they must be what all the shock-and-awe is about, yet, unlike some body parts, literally all of us have them (for further reference, see “nipplegate”), and B) don’t people ever get tired of looking at identical female bodies? From the neck down, Kate Middleton could be pretty much any white female celebrity or model.  She has a fine body, an attractive one even, but looking at it I couldn’t help but feel like I’d seen it a million times before, even though this was technically the first time.  You’ve seen one uber-thin, long-limbed woman, you’ve seen ‘em all.  Of course, it’s different when it’s an actual person rather than a media construct imposed upon one; affection transforms many things, among them the beloved’s body, which becomes something precious and fascinatingly unique no matter its contours.  Without that though, the constant parade of indistinguishable female flesh becomes just…tiresome.  Looking at those photos really brought that home to me.

I suppose that’s not why the pictures were taken or why the photographer was able to sell them for however much they were though: it was about the shiver of surprise people get from seeing an icon in the flesh and realizing she’s actually human and in the grand scheme of things not all that different from themselves, just as hostage to her physicality.  Or maybe it was about an illicit thrill of seeing someone who’d been so carefully packaged and presented to the world without all the trimmings (debatable as that is: is she really free of them in the images in question? Can she ever be?).  Whatever it was, it was definitely more complicated than a simple hunger for more female nudity.  It’s not like anyone is starved for that in this day and age.  What people are hungry for, what I was hungry for, was something else.  The question I’m still mulling over is what.

No, this isn’t a post-feminist world, why do you ask?

Just looking at this makes me feel sick and kind of violated: the barely-implicit misogynist anger, the complete absence of any awareness of female humanity.  This banner ad showed up alongside a page I was reading.  So much for Google invading my privacy to determine which specific ads will appeal to me the most, get under my skin.  This one’s under my skin alright…Is this really what men want?  A living sex-doll at their mercy? I know most don’t, but frankly this seems like a case where one is one too many.

(Latin) American Graffiti: The Walls Speak

A few of my favorites, mostly from Argentina:

  • True, crickets don’t work. But ants can’t sing.
  • Poverty is a time bomb.
  • Fight hunger and poverty! Eat poor people!
  • If you’re surprised by a storm at sea, pray, but do not stop paddling toward shore.
  • God lives, it’s a miracle!
  • Everybody makes promises but nobody keeps them.  Vote for nobody!
  • Blessed are the drunkards, for they will see God twice.
  • The revolution is the orgasm of the people.
  • When a politician says yes, he means maybe, when he says maybe, he means no, and when he says no, he means it’s not political.
  • A war may begin with a small detail…like a speck in the sky dropping bombs.
  • In ’73 we were on the brink, and today, we can proudly say that we have taken a step forward.

And best of all:

  • Tremble Fascists…Maradona is a lefty.

She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful

Lately when I’ve turned on the radio I keep hearing a song about a woman who doesn’t know she’s beautiful.  It’s hardly the first time, and it’s hardly just pop songs that worship the oblivious beauty.  It’s easy to see the appeal, to both men and women.  Few women, afterall, see themselves as beautiful; the idea that maybe they could be without realizing it is incredibly enticing and basically harmless.

Looking a little deeper however, and the appeal becomes more complex.  Maybe this is just me being cynical, but it seems to me that the appeal of such a woman to a man comes down to power.  In our world, physical attractiveness opens doors and counts for a lot.  People seen as attractive make more money and are more likely to get what they want, be it a job, a spouse, or a restaurant reservation.  Certain physical traits that contribute to a conventionally attractive appearance are seen as indicative of positively valued personality characteristics; for example, slenderness is seen as indicative of self-discipline, generosity, and maturity, and blondness of playfulness, good humor, and spontenaity.  Again and again, research has shown that people who are seen as beautiful are assumed to be smarter, more capable, and just better than those who are not.

This power that comes from being physically attractive is known as erotic capital (physical beauty isn’t the only characteristic that confers erotic capital: everything that contributes to a person’s sex appeal and that allows them to leverage it for gains and advantages in other areas is part of it, but physical appearance is obviously a major factor).  In many ways, erotic capital functions the same way as any other form, but it is unique in one crucial aspect: it’s highly contagious.  When a beautiful woman stands next to a less-than-beautiful man, his metaphoric stock rises.  She is assumed to be in high demand, therefore he is assumed to be rich or famous or perhaps exceptionally talented in some socially-valued arena; in other words, to possess a lot of some other form of capitol with which he has bought access to her erotic capital.  He can take advantage of that assumption, leveraging his supposed-capital toward a purpose of his choosing.  This is the meaning of the phrase “arm candy.”

Whether or not a woman is aware of her beauty has no affect on her value as a status symbol.  Her value in this regard rests on the assumptions of people who know little or nothing about her or her companion.  Where it does make a difference is in a woman’s wielding of her own erotic capital.  A woman who doesn’t know she’s beautiful doesn’t know her own power.  She is likely to undervalue herself, and thus her male companion can have the best of both worlds: he doesn’t have to worry about his “arm candy” demanding equality within the relationship, but he can still enjoy her looks and the benefits of her erotic capital.

In other words, I don’t like that song.