Thursday, May 22, 2014

Should the FDA grant "orphan status" incentives to companies that research treatments for rare diseases?

The other day I received the following question from an old high school friend:

"Hey Doris! Hope you're doing superbly and having an excellent start to summer. Not so quick question: in class today (actually right now, but you know class --> Facebook) we learned that the FDA grants "orphan status" to diseases that affect less than a certain percentage of the population, giving companies that invest in therapies tax cuts, grants, and other benefits. I'm curious how ethically as a libertarian you (or your libertarian friends) would resolve this issue or what alternate solutions pop into your mind, seeing as from a purely amoral stance relying completely on the free market would leave such individuals completely at risk."

This was my reply:

Hey *****! I am doing superbly, and once my summer starts, it will be even more excellent. Hope the same is true for you. I have 3 comments: one moral, one pragmatic, and one economic.
  1. Sometimes, people get sick and die. This is unfortunate, but it is nobody’s fault, and to a libertarian it is not an issue that needs “resolving”. Remember that libertarianism is merely a political ethic, not a complete moral worldview; it’s much better at telling us what not to do as governments than telling us the most moral course of action as individuals. As a generally good person, I agree with you that we should try our best to help one another, but I also recognize failing to do so is not the same as inflicting damage ourselves. To a libertarian, healthcare is not a right, and doctors are under no obligation to sell or provide even those cures or therapies which we have already discovered. So if the existence of a treatment does not impose an obligation to provide it, surely the potential existence of a treatment does not impose an obligation to research, test or create it (much less, an obligation so paramount as to justify the use of violent force necessary to collect the tax money needed to offer a grant). Even if the market had no alternative solutions, there is nothing immoral about a company’s failure to cure a sick person.
  2. That said, the market may have alternatives; I am unconvinced that “relying completely on the free market would leave such individuals completely at risk.” It is often profitable to invest in products that are of interest even to only a very small group of customers. It is also often profitable to reap positive PR from the appearance of generosity towards those unlucky few. Take this example: many Native Americans, by a random fact of genetics, have ridiculously wide feet – so wide, in fact, that most regular sneakers will not fit them. For years, they were just out of luck, and had to either wear their traditional shoes or go to a craftsman to have them custom made or wear another type of footwear. But a few years ago, Nike unveiled a line of shoes targeted specifically for native Americans, sold at an affordable price (read/listen more about it here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14763119).

    If you don’t trust profit incentives, non-profits are another alternative. If enough people like you feel providing treatment for rare diseases is morally important, they can found, fund, volunteer or work for organizations dedicated to accomplishing them, using either the methods you outlined above (conditional offers to companies) or another way they find more effective. If you fear such organizations would not survive without the government foisting it upon us, however, perhaps the consensus behind whatever conception of morality motivates you to support the “orphan status” program is not strong enough to render it a legitimate use of government in the first place.
  3.  Economically, I worry that the policies you outlined may have hidden costs on those who are sick with more typical, run-of-the-mill diseases. Healthcare, including the health research investment that may lead to new treatments, is a scarce resource; no matter which policies we pursue, not every sick person can have as much investment into the treatment of their disease as they might want or be able to benefit from. It is thus not a question of whether some diseases get less funds than they could use, but of how to allocate whatever funds which are available for investment.
    Companies will want to ensure this is done in the most profitable way possible. Social planners and concerned onlookers, at least the utilitarian ones, will want to ensure it is done in the way that does the greatest good for the greatest number. My view is that in a competitive market free from outside intervention, these ways are generally one and the same, and I don’t see why this would be an exception. If companies choose to eschew some diseases in favor of others, it means there are more people who stand to both pay for and benefit from those treatments they choose to provide.

    The trouble with the tax cuts and benefits you outline is that they divorce the incentive to maximize profit from the incentive to maximize the amount of treatment you provide. This enables – and in fact expressly encourages – companies to make more profit by treating fewer people, diverting resources away from places where they could have been used to do more good and save more lives and heal more boo-boo’s, so to speak. Basically I think you just end up shuffling around treatment from one disease to another in a morally arbitrary and economically inefficient way. However harsh it seems, and however much we might sympathize with those who lose the health lottery, refusing to waste resources chasing after cures for extremely rare diseases may make the world a happier and healthier place overall. If that’s true, you should oppose the FDA policies even if you disagree with the first two arguments I outlined.

...

To this, my friend wrote a very polite reply with little of substance attacking my position, except for this excerpt:

"It is interesting to read how you separated libertarianism as a "political ethic" from a "moral worldview"; to me, the two are near indistinguishable, but I can appreciate how from your perspective the idea of having the right to choose is completely separate from the choices that are made, and therefore this divided perspective can be defended."
I replied as follows:

Feel free to ignore this if you’re less of a philosophy dork than me, but I’d just like to clarify the “political ethic” vs. “moral worldview” bit, because it could be interpreted in a way that makes libertarianism seem amoral or callous. Libertarianism is not “completely separate” from morality. We do make moral judgments. However, these judgments are two things: limited, and consistent.

First, the consistent part. Libertarianism insists on applying the same moral standard to all individuals. The moral obligations of people running a company are the same as those of everyone else. You insinuate that companies, or at least society, has a moral obligation to help sick people. But if they do, why don’t you personally also have this obligation? You might say you lack the resources they have at their disposal, and that’s true as it relates to discovering new medicine. But you do have the resources needed to help other people from dying, don’t you? There are people starving in Africa, or dying from easily preventable/treatable diseases, or from drought. In your very city, there are homeless people dying from exposure. Many of those lives could be saved with just a bit more philanthropy – and for the most part, we don’t bother. We have the opportunity to save lives every day, and every day we decide against it to some extent. Even those who do donate to charity often forego the opportunity to give more. Remember Mr. Frechette’s analogy about the train tracks and the car and donating to the poor? Anyone who doesn’t live the lifestyle of a monk or nun who gives everything they have to charity, anyone who enjoys even the smallest luxury with funds that could have gone elsewhere, has at some point prioritized their personal profit over the potential to save lives. Is this wrong? Is it right?

Libertarians say no and no: it is morally neutral. This is where the “limited” part of our moral outlook comes in; we reserve judgment, at least publicly and in the name of libertarianism, on those areas of morality which are subjective and arbitrary and debatable. Morality has layers – what we call a “hierarchy of wrongs” – and libertarianism only deals with the most basic and fundamental of those wrongs. In this application, just because helping the sick, poor and unlucky is good – which almost every libertarian I know would agree with you about – does not mean failing to do so is bad. And as I describe here, a behavior needs to be pretty heinously bad for we libertarians to think compulsion is a justified means of stopping it.

Finally, you don’t need to know much about economics to understand the concept behind the last point. Imagine sick patients as the people in line for an organ donation, and companies as the ones who decide who gets what organ. Anyone with an ounce of empathy in them feels sorry for those who are too far down the list to get their organ in time. But would it be less sad, or morally preferable, to give those people an organ at the expense of someone who was near the top of the list? Arbitrarily reshuffling the deck to re-determine who lives and who dies does not improve outcomes from a moral standpoint, especially if it means fewer live and more die due to the inefficiency of investing in treatments for rare diseases.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Today I first heard the term LGBTQIA…

…and as much as I support the equal rights, freedoms and treatment of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex and Asexual individuals, the pragmatic side of me wonders how long an acronym can get before it starts to become counterproductive.

Of course, I’m speaking from a position of white cisgender heteronormal male privilege, so I can’t really relate to the perspectives referenced. Maybe that means you should just stop reading right now and ignore everything I have to say.

But maybe you shouldn’t, because maybe people who think like me are some of the people the left is trying to win over in its fight for tolerance and accelerated social progress. I may not be able to relate to the LGBTQIA experience, but as someone who’s spent time in the Army, I do know an awful lot about acronyms – enough, as it happens, to realize that one with seven letters that don’t spell anything isn’t very memorable or conducive to frequent repetition.

I sympathize with the desire to be inclusive of all subsets of oppressed peoples. But if we take this principle to its extreme, why are these seven terms the stopping point? Why not go with LGBPTTQQIIAA (which of course, as any self-respecting social justice advocate knows, means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Intergender, Asexual, Ally). Hell, why restrict this to pure sexuality? Facebook recently offered its users 58 possible gender combinations to choose from (as this excellent article pointed out, some complained that this was not enough). The list, as compiled by ABC news, includes:



·        Agender
·        Androgyne
·        Androgynous
·        Bigender
·        Cis
·        Cisgender
·        Cis Female
·        Cis Male
·        Cis Man
·        Cis Woman
·        Cisgender Female
·        Cisgender Male
·        Cisgender Man
·        Cisgender Woman
·        Female to Male
·        FTM
·        Gender Fluid
·        Gender Nonconforming
·        Gender Questioning
·        Gender Variant
·        Genderqueer
·        Intersex
·        Male to Female
·        MTF
·        Neither
·        Neutrois
·        Non-binary
·        Other
·        Pangender
·        Trans
·        Trans*
·        Trans Female
·        Trans* Female
·        Trans Male
·        Trans* Male
·        Trans Man
·        Trans* Man
·        Trans Person
·        Trans* Person
·        Trans Woman
·        Trans* Woman
·        Transfeminine
·        Transgender
·        Transgender Female
·        Transgender Male
·        Transgender Man
·        Transgender Person
·        Transgender Woman
·        Transmasculine
·        Transsexual
·        Transsexual Female
·        Transsexual Male
·        Transsexual Man
·        Transsexual Person
·        Transsexual Woman

·        Two-Spirit


If allies of all possible genders were serious about including all possible genders in their message, why not advocate for AAABCCCCCCCCCCFFGGGGGIMMNNNOPTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT equality? The regular old LGBT acronym incorporated “transgender”, but why not represent all 26 varieties of trans-something?

The answer should be obvious to any thinking person: as the number of identifiably oppressed groups increases, the practical ability to enumerate each and every single one of them decreases. To attempt to do so every single time we reference them as a collective would render our dialogue on the subject completely laughable, creating an absurd distraction to an otherwise important message. It is unavoidable that some gender and sexual identities will be left out, whether that perpetuates the tendency for society to overlook them and leaves certain privileges intact or not.

This is similar to the problem that a much younger (and much less educated) me light-heartedly outlined several years ago, in a post titled Triflin’ Hyphen Strife. It makes sense for a man to take a woman’s name in marriage. It also makes sense for both to keep their original name. It makes sense to give the child the name of either parent alone, or even give them it a completely new surname. But you can only go a few generations with the hyphenated fusions before somebody somewhere along the line will have to pick which one to keep and which one to ditch, implications for the patriarchy be damned.

I worry that LGBTQIA enters that territory where even people who support the cause start to roll their eyes. People of atypical sexualities have been subject to ridicule for long enough; they don’t need to be ridiculed for the way their allies choose to reference them also. These people are not so hypersensitive and demanding of recognition that they need to have their particular combination of tradition-defying uniqueness mentioned by its technical, up-to-date name every time anyone steps up to fight for them. As the author of that aforementioned Daily Banter post put it:

“there has to come a point, no matter who you are, where you accept that while the world shouldn’t discriminate against you for the way you self-identify, neither can it always be expected to defer to you on the subject in a manner that satisfies you completely. It’s one of the pitfalls of being different: sometimes you get overlooked. If you pride yourself on being unique or one a very small subset, this shouldn’t really bother you.”


That author, like me, is speaking as a straight white male who will never have to deal with the disappointment of not having “femme butch” listed on the drop-down menu of recognized gender options. But privileged or not, he’s right. Expecting the rest of us to treat you kindly and equally is a fair expectation; indignantly demanding that we remember and keep organized which of the ever-growing combinations of labels with which you self-affiliate is just not.

86' Mets have no grounds to complain about Paul DePodesta

Right on the heels of Mookie Wilson’s comments complaining of being treated as a “hood ornament,” Mets VP of Player Development Paul DePodesta has recently come under fire from several anonymous members of the 1986 Mets (as quoted by Mike Puma of the New York Post - who else?) for quotes he allegedly made during his inaugural staff conference. You can read more about this here.

DePodesta denies saying this at all, and if he didn’t this is just another instance of Mike Puma trying to stir the pot. But even if he did say “I’m tired of hearing about the ’86 Mets,” is that not EXACTLY the sort of thing we Mets fans want our front office to be saying? As Vice President of Player Development and Amateur Scouting, DePodesta’s job is not to revel in the nostalgia of the past, compiling sentimental video montages of how great the Mets were 30 years ago. His job is to acquire and develop baseball players so talented and skilled that the Mets can be great right now, and in the future. Sports fans only need to look back and reminisce about the past when the present product isn’t giving them anything to be excited about. Expressing frustration with hearing so much talk about old teams strikes me not as a jab at our team’s heroes so much as an encouraging sign that DePodesta cares much more about the current team, and wants to make it good enough that it draws the attention and praise Mets fans are currently lobbing back at players who’ve been retired for 20 years.

Besides, even if the organization really is eschewing the 86’ team, the likes of Mookie Wilson doesn’t have a whole lot to be upset about. Leave aside the fact that Wilson was a fairly mediocre baseball player (average defense with a career .314 OBP, .700 OPS for a 96 OPS+…100 OPS+ if you count just his time with the Mets, or exactly average offensively. His +3 WAR at his peak in 1986 made him a solid regular, but not a star). What made Mookie Wilson valuable to this baseball team was mostly one thing: his speed. He averaged a very impressive 38 steals per 162 games in his MLB career, topping 50 steals in a season twice. He should be remembered fondly for that. But that speed is long since gone, which makes him about as useful going forward as his fame and name recognition can make him.

So why is it surprising, or something Mookie has a right to lament, that he has “no decision-making role at all” in his job today? His decision making ability was never what made him useful in the first place! Why does he “deserve to hear some words to justify the actions” of the Mets organization? To me, it seems those actions are pretty easy to understand by just comparing his strengths to the requirements of various jobs.


Paul DePodesta, on the other hand, was one of a select handful of individuals who truly revolutionized the game of baseball. The success of his experiment in Oakland changed the entire way we approach and evaluate the sport. Crusty old timers and jealous jocks may not like to hear it, but his contributions to the sport far outstrip those of a good but unspectacular starting OF in the 80’s. If Paul DePodesta and Mookie Wilson really are at odds, and the organization can only pick one of them to help inform the teams’ personnel decisions moving forward…I’ll take the guy who went to Harvard, please.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Conversations with Feminists, part II: Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow

Stacy (OP): "This is a basic principle: until it is proven otherwise, beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s important to extend the presumption of innocence to Dylan Farrow, and presume that she is not guilty of the crime of lying about what Woody Allen did to her.

If you are saying things like 'We can’t really know what happened' and extra-specially pleading on behalf of the extra-special Woody Allen, then you are saying that his innocence is more presumptive than hers…'he said, she said'...doesn’t resolve to 'let’s start by assume she’s lying,' except in a rape culture, and if you are presuming his innocence by presuming her mendacity, you are rape cultured…

 …sexual violence is incredibly, horrifically common, much more common than it is for women to make up stories about sexual violence in pursuit of their own petty, vindictive need to destroy a great man’s reputation. We are in the midst of an ongoing, quiet epidemic of sexual violence, now as always. We are not in the midst of an epidemic of false rape charges, and that fact is important here. All things being equal, it’s more likely that the man who has spent a lifetime and a cinematic career walking the line of pedophilia (to put it mildly); all things being equal, the explanation that doesn’t require you to imagine a conspiracy of angry women telling lies for no reason is probably the right one.”

Comments:

Fred: Thank you for posting this. As a general principle, I completely agree that our personal opinions should not be subject to judicial standards.

In this case, however, it is my belief, based on the evidence, that Allen is probably not guilty. This belief is for the most based on the fact that the investigation at the time concluded that Dylan had not been sexually molested; on the details from that investigation claiming contradictions' in Dylan and Mia's stories and claims from the nanny that makes the timing of the molestation improbable; on the decision not to prosecute Allen (which was not due to Dylan's age, but due to the fact that there was no evidence to support the allegations); on the fact that Dylan's brother Moses has become estranged from their mother and claimed that Mia had brainwashed the children against their father.

There is no epidemic of false charges, but they do exist, and with evidence against the charge I do not think destroying Allen's career (which is the goal of a boycott, even if one doesn't expect it to succeed) is justified.

I should note that I am a fan of Allen's work, though I don't believe that has influenced my opinion on this matter.

Natalie: There is no reason to maintain a man like woody Allen. There is no reason to not destroy his career! Is he gonna die from that? Is he gonna be anywhere near poor? No! He'll be fine, men like you, and even women, will still admire and respect him. There is not such a lack of good work, good films in the world that we need to support a man who even *might* be a rapist. My mother never allowed me to watch a single woody Allen film, she never allowed my father to rent one, and this was a law in my house ever since I was young. I don't want to get too personal about this, but she was right. I lived in a house of film buffs, I don't feel I've been culturally deprived by that! Yeah, let's give our money to people who almost definitely are not rapists, who don't exploit young women in films about young women falling for old men (Allen). Do we really think it would be such a bad thing to make this man less famous? To give him less cultural capital?

What do you lose by losing woody Allen films? What do any of us really lose?

On the other hand- what do Dylan and other rape and abuse survivors lose if their truths are not believed?

Andrew Doris (me): There seem to be three separate points of contention here:

1. Should the court of public opinion place a higher burden on the accuser, as the legal courts do? Or should we drop the presumption of innocence entirely and instead use the "preponderance of the evidence" to determine what most likely happened? Stacy’s article supports the latter approach.

2. Does the preponderance of the evidence implicate Woody Allen in this case? The article says yes, Fred says no.

3. In general, are unproven but possible accusations of serious wrongdoing on the part of a famous person reason to boycott that person's work? Natalie says yes, but doesn't specify how or if the likelihood of guilt impacts whether such a boycott is morally necessary, morally preferable, or simply morally permissible.

Not giving my thoughts yet, just trying to keep the discussion organized.

(Note: What follows are my actual thoughts on the first question, which I typed afterwards but never got a chance to post. It is important to keep in mind, as you read the rest of the discussion, that what’s written here in italics WAS NOT posted to the Facebook page. None of the other participants in the discussion ever got to hear my thoughts on these three matters.)

I agree with Stacy and Fred that judicial safeguards do not apply outside of court. When it comes to making up our own minds, we needn’t grant the accused the presumption of innocence, and needn’t assign the accuser the burden of proof. We should all believe whatever seems most likely.

However, I disagree with the article’s argument that broad social trends should heavily influence our opinion of what seems most likely. How different is that from the argument that we should allow a murder suspect’s race – statistically, a strong indicator of one’s propensity to commit a violent crime – to inform our opinion of his or her guilt? We owe it to all individuals, accuser or accused, to draw our conclusions on their guilt or innocence from the facts of their particular controversy, on a case by case basis. Outside the court of law, I agree that “his innocence is not more presumptive than hers.” But that doesn’t mean hers is presumptive either.

It’s also worth pointing out that they actually can both be innocent. Shereen’s article claims “you can’t presume that both are innocent at the same time…Woody Allen cannot be presumed to be innocent of molesting a child unless she is presumed to be lying to us.” But people can be wrong about something without lying about it, and the Daily Beast article never claimed that Dylan Farrow was knowingly misleading everyone. It merely insinuates that she was a confused 7 year old whose hazy memories were eventually colored in, and reinforced over 20 years of brainwashing, by Allen’s estranged partner. That may or may not be true, but it’s a plausible enough third option to disprove the false dichotomy that one of them must be lying.

Finally, I also disagree that the expectations that have been placed on Dylan Farrow to substantiate her claim, in this particular case, are both unfair and unique to cases of rape or sexual assault. The article reads “he said, she said’ doesn’t resolve to ‘let’s start by assume she’s lying,’ except in a rape culture, and if you are presuming his innocence by presuming her mendacity, you are rape cultured.” Leave aside for the moment that the Daily Beast, as explained above, did not assume Dylan was lying after all. And let’s even assume, as the article does, that the burden placed on Farrow to provide evidence has been unreasonably skewed towards Allen’s side. Even assuming this, is it really true that “rape culture” is behind the rush to defend a celebrity like Woody Allen? Are celebrities accused of wrongdoing generally hung out to dry and presumed guilty when the matter is unrelated to a man raping a woman? Or is it rather common for their fans to initially incline towards their innocence regardless of the accusations?

When I was a child, I lived near famous race car driver Mario Andretti. If I accused him of beating me when I was seven years old, but had no bruises or cuts or physical marks to substantiate it, would people assume I was telling the truth? When Justin Bieber and OJ Simpson and Joe Paterno and Lance Armstrong were first accused of wrongdoing, didn't they all have people defending them? There’s a story from the Black Sox scandal that on the day the news broke, a devastated child fan went up to Shoeless Joe Jackson and said “say it ain’t so, Joe!”, as if hoping his hero would assure him he was still a hero. To be sure, there may also be a double standard as it relates to rape cases, whether they involve celebrities or not. But I think that impulse, if it still exists, is secondary to the larger reason people are reluctant to believe Dylan Farrow: Woody Allen is a funny and talented celebrity that many people really like.

Melinda: My $0.02- in my years of being a volunteer rape crisis counselor, I've come across a (very) few callers who asked me about whether their vague but upsetting memories were of sexual assault, whether they could "uncover repressed memories" in therapy. My response was always that I cannot tell them whether their impressions or memories are of sexual assault because I was not there. If they tell me they were assaulted, I believe them.

This is *not* the case with Dylan Farrow. She's clear in her description. Her description is a very sadly common scenario of an abusive parent grooming and isolating a child. Her father went on to begin a sexual relationship with her 16-or-18-year-old stepsister (who was violently abused by her birth parent as a young child- her exact age is unknown). She has nothing to gain by coming forward. I believe Dylan, and furthermore I see no reason to disbelieve her.

Andrew Doris (me): Two small, barely relevant corrections to what you just said. First, Woody did not "go on" to begin a sexual relationship with Soon-Yi (the adopted daughter of his ex-girlfriend Mia) after the alleged crime - he had already began and revealed that relationship four months prior. That's potentially relevant to how Mia was feeling towards Woody the day she went to the police. Second, Soon-Yi was not 16-18, but 19-21 at this time. That's probably not relevant to the Dylan Farrow case, but it is to the legality (though not the creepiness) of their relations.

Amanda: Woody Allen is literal human garbage. I got mad, mad respect for Dylan Farrow to write about what she's been through. If people are so worried about Woody Allen's legacy, maybe he shouldn't have sexually assaulted a child.

Betsy: It is so deeply upsetting to see, in this group, men, and only men, going to such great lengths to defend a rapist against a survivor's word. It doesn't surprise me, either, that men have been the first to defend him in this group- male privilege has largely dictated his defense not only in general but apparently in this group, too.

Fred: 1) I don't see how male privilege has dictated his defense. A criminal investigation undertaken when the accusations were first made that concluded Dylan had not been molested dictated his lack of a need for defense.
2) I am not sure if your response is a deliberate parody of ad feminem arguments or stems from a genuine belief that only due to male privilege (and I'm not even sure how the word 'privilege' applies here, anyway, since male privilege has nothing to do with males' opinions) could one possibly disagree with you about the facts of the case. This is particularly odd because you use the word 'men,' even though I alone am defending Allen; Andrew merely clarified a factual error.

Melinda: The criminal investigation never concluded she hadn't been molested. The state attorney felt there was not enough evidence/she would not be a good enough witness at trial. Let's just be clear that those are two very, very different things.

She's never retracted her statements in 20+ years. Her mother's been clear that Dylan was assaulted. Her father "slept with" and married her 15-18 year old sister. That is more than enough evidence for me to believe Dylan.

I feel it's understandable to have the opinion that there is not enough evidence for a viable criminal prosecution, although I disagree. It's plainly silly to claim that privilege has "nothing to do with [your] opinions". For example, there's a Port-a-Potty outside my office building for use by homeless persons. I dislike it. Obviously, that stems partly from the fact that I am privileged to be *not homeless*. If you're going to claim that it can't be "proven" that Allen sexually abused his daughter, at the very least, you have to concede that he has no evidence he didn't. And that he had *naked pornographic pictures* of her teenage sister.

Melinda: Andrew- No, she was 16-18. Her age was documented a 18. When she arrived in the US, her bone scan indicated she was 5-8. Her age was pegged at 7 because she needed a legal age (I am sure Mia Farrow never imagined this situation). She was nowhere near 21, quite possibly 16. And as I explained, she was violently abused as a child (her birth mother would slam a door closed on her head). She was in private special education her entire life. What the hell kind of man thinks it's acceptable to start having sex with a possibly-teenage, likely-special needs, definitely-violently abused girl less than half his age? Oh wait, I know what kind: an abuser.

The articles I've read (Vanity Fair, New Yorker) were clear that Mia Farrow learned about Soon Yi AFTER Dylan came forward. Her relatives recalled suspicious incidents with Allen from Dylan's infancy.

Edited to add: Please remember that Soon Yi didn't come to her mother and say "Mom, I know this is very unusual, but I as a mature adult have decided to begin a relationship with Woody". Her mother found naked, pornographic photographs taken by Allen in Allen's apartment. It's a stretch to call the evidence circumstantial, but even under that label, there is a LOT of it.

(here I skip two comments: one by Yolanda asking Fred to clarify if he thinks Dylan is lying or merely brainwashed by her mother Mia, and one by Rachel asking what either Dylan or Mia stood to gain by lying).

Mike: Memory implanting does exist. Studies have shown you can implant memories in someone's mind after enough persistence, but that didn't happen and Woody Allen is strangely still a rapist. Go figure!

Stacy: Memories are complex as psychological (re)constructions (memories are always a reconstruction, never the pure truth) so thanks but I do know quite a bit about false memory creation. Remember that there's social context to all of this research and even specific to the instances of abuse which people try to study, and your claim of "false memories can happen!" doesn't necessarily negate anything in this case. And as everyone has tried to make clear, our society has a problem with NOT believing rape survivors, thinking they're lying/making it up, not the other way around. You're not standing up for some rational minority.

Also, I wasn't going to mention it before but with Matt's entrance, I'll echo Betsy’s point: literally every time I've seen someone step in to try to cast doubt on Dylan's claims, it has been a (white) male. LITERALLY every time. This includes all the replies myself and others have gotten on Twitter in response to sharing her story, with links to the Daily Beast piece written by Allen's friend, and also when my friends have shared the link on Facebook (including now, of course) to receive that response (and the Daily Beast link). I'm not the first to point this out, many people have noticed—it's quite fascinating, though maybe not surprising, how consistent this is. I won't try to provide an explanation for that but I'll just leave it for the consideration of the dudes stepping in here and fitting the pattern. I know you'd like to think you guys are just special rational/objective snowflakes but that's probably not the answer.

I'll add a white male friend's tweet(s) though, for consideration: https://twitter.com/nkulw/status/429774461147947008

(here I skip a lengthy comment from Melinda ridiculing the false memory idea).

Amanda: Stacy, this is what I've seen in general all over the internet on discussions about sexual assault. I would love to see some social psychology research on gender-based disparities in reactions to stories about sexual assault.

Mike: I was saying that this obviously was not memory implanting?

And I was about to comment: "It's infuriating that anyone would belittle Dylan's intense visceral response to Woody Allen over a 20 year period as being a consequence of coaching. I don't understand how anyone could think a mother could stand by her daughter for 20 years and witness and support her expression of emotions towards the issue without feeling terrible for causing it. "

Anyone that would support Woody Allen in this scenario is delusional

Stacy: Sorry, Matt, but it sounded like you were being sarcastic—mocking the people who are denying the possibility of memory implanting in this case. Especially with your "strangely" he's still a rapist and "go figure!" at the end

Melinda: That would have been REALLY helpful in your original comment. I apologize if my comment made you feel attacked directly- your comment is exactly what people have been saying in serious statements all over the Internet.

Mike: I was mocking individuals that think that it's legitimate to assume this was memory planting. As in, memory implanting is a real thing that can happen but that doesn't have anything to do with the fact that Woody Allen raped Dylan

Sorry for not being clear.

Betsy: *Trigger warning: potentially graphic language for survivors.* It's easy to preach from a position of privilege, i.e. being a white male. It's easy for a white male to say that a woman's claims of rape are not necessarily true when he doesn't have a vagina that someone could force his penis into.

Yolanda: Betsy, usually I'm a huge fan of your comments, but I really don't think one that's that graphic, cis-assumptive, and dismissive of male survivors is a good way to call out the privilege of white male rape apologists. Societal issues, socialization, male entitlement, ideas of "objectivism", rape culture, etc. are a much better and less dismissive way to go.

(here I skip some links to youtube videos, and subsequent disapproval, which I find irrelevant to the larger discussion going on in the background.)

Andrew Doris (me):

“It is so deeply upsetting to see, in this group, men, and only men, going to such great lengths to defend a rapist against a survivor's word.” – written at a time when only two men, including myself, had commented here

“literally every time I've seen someone step in to try to cast doubt on Dylan's claims, it has been a (white) male. LITERALLY every time…it's quite fascinating, though maybe not surprising, how consistent this is… I'll just leave it for the consideration of the dudes stepping in here and fitting the pattern.” – again written at a time when only one dude, out of three, had fit that pattern

I’ve yet to contribute a single substantive opinion to this discussion, and already multiple commenters have rebuked me for a mythical, imaginary, entirely nonexistent defense of Woody Allen. Have these people read my comments? There are only two. The first one is an objective summary and organization of what other people had already said, after which I even clarified I was withholding my own thoughts on the matter. The second is an attempt to establish what I understand to be the facts of the case, again divorced from any personal opinion. In both comments, I tried my absolute damnedest to remove any hint of subjectivity, with the express concern that somebody might misinterpret them. Either I utterly failed at that, or others simply assumed that both men in the conversation were “going to such great lengths to defend a rapist,” despite the fact that I had gone exactly zero lengths in defense of anyone.

So to clarify, I suspect Allen is guilty as sin. This lengthy article, published in 1992 in the immediate aftermath of what happened, seems pretty damning to me: http://www.vanityfair.com/magazine/archive/1992/11/farrow199211. That link is also the source of the two small factual corrections I made to Melinda’s post. Both this article (which takes Mia’s side) and the Daily Beast article (which obviously takes the other side) seem to be in agreement on those details, but if Kate can cite sources claiming otherwise I suppose both sources could be wrong.

(This was the end of my own contributions to the debate. I wrote the following the next day, but refrained from posting it):

I do not mean to make myself – or men in general – out as the victims in discussions of sexual assault (if indeed there is such thing as “victims of a discussion”). As activists, many of you probably deal with ignorant, sexist men on a regular basis, and I sympathize (though I can’t empathize) with how frustrating that must be. Perhaps that frustration is the origin of this remark:

“I know you'd like to think you guys are just special rational/objective snowflakes but that's probably not the answer.”

If so, I’d like to first look inwards to see if anything I’m doing is contributing to that frustration. In deference to all of your expertise on these matters, the few comments I make on here are generally very reserved: deliberate, formal, and as neutral as possible. My intent in adopting this voice is to tread lightly, to avoid offending people accidentally as I’ve seen other men do on this forum. But despite my best efforts, I seem to repeatedly encounter hostility and animosity, even when there’s very little in the content of my comment that could possibly be objectionable. This makes me wonder if it’s my tone itself which is irritating people – do I sound uppity? Does using such uncommonly formal rhetoric make it seem like I’m speaking down to you? If so please let me know. I’m not trying to be patronizing – I’m just trying to isolate the ideas in question, in recognition that my status as a privileged dude will make many of you largely unreceptive to any colorfully expressed opinion.

And as it happens, yes, I do consider myself a pretty rational person. But I’m also under no illusions that I can separate that from my privilege. It is natural even for rational people to be set in a certain way of thinking, because it is difficult for anyone to wholly divorce their thoughts from the personal experiences that mold their consciousness. I am no exception. In fact, if I wanted to use some poetic alliteration, I might even say that my privileged patriarchal perspective produces predisposition towards a set of instinctual initial inclinations to incorrect ideas (…I’m such a dork).

But this logic goes both ways, and now that I’ve looked inwards I think it’s fair to request that a few others do the same. As knowledgeable feminists, I’m sure many of you spend a fair amount of time reading, rebuking, and lamenting the ideas of sexist morons. I’m also certain that many and probably most of those morons are white males. It is therefore perfectly natural for you be suspicious of white male opinions on feminist topics – just as the “Being Liberal” Facebook page might be suspicious of a group member whose profile picture shows them at a Tea Party rally. There’s nothing wrong with giving my comments a little extra scrutiny – in fact I encourage it, because I’ll learn from your corrections. But I humbly suggest you consider the possibility that sometimes, perhaps out of exasperation in dealing with idiot #1954065093 on Twitter, some of you might use my identity as a shortcut to avoid dealing with my ideas, and as such see sexism in comments where there really is none. That’s not an attack or an accusation and it doesn’t make you mean or a bad person or a bad feminist. It’s just human nature that we’re all a little bit biased towards the vantage points we’re accustomed to arguing.


Truce?

Conversations with Feminists, Part I: In defense of devil’s advocate

A few months ago, I joined the Hopkins Feminists Facebook page with the sincere intent of learning more about the feminist movement. For the first month, I did nothing but observe. I read the links that were posted, and the comments/debates that ensued beneath them. Gathering courage, I began posting comments myself over a period of about 3 weeks, which was an interesting ride before I gave it up and resumed watching from afar. I have lots to write about my interactions with the group and my opinions about feminism in general, but before I do I figured I’d just provide the transcript of some of my longer conversations.

The first dispute occurred when I asked to play devil’s advocate with a position someone else had presented. To my surprise, another group member castigated me for this, not for my opinion itself but for the concept of playing devil's advocate at all. She suggested that the tactic was divisive and hostile and perpetuated an oppressive environment, without accomplishing anything worthwhile. A debate ensued, and regrettably, I did not save the text of my opponents’ responses, and cannot find it now. The ironic result is that this first “transcript” will not feature any dissenting opinions by which to compare my own! What a hypocrite I am, huh? But hopefully, you can glean the essence of my opponents’ arguments from my rebuttals - or, just play devil's advocate yourself!

Feminism is a collection of ideas. The beauty of rational discourse is that over time, after years and years of public debate and discussion, bad ideas lose and good ideas win. There are fewer segregationists and homophobes today than there were 40 years ago because, in highly simplified terms, people began realizing that segregation and homophobia are illogical and unjust ideas. To be sure, advancing this discourse is slow and frustrating work: people are stubborn and biased, and the good ideas don't always win right away. But the alternative means of getting what you want, as opposed to changing minds, is using force; at the risk of getting into a philosophical discussion, I think most can agree that has its own downsides and problems.

The internet is a forum for the peaceful communication of ideas. The speed and ease with which those ideas can be communicated online, combined with the almost infinite wealth of information accessible therein, make it arguably the ideal forum. Anyone who cannot be convinced by something online probably cannot be convinced of it in person either. And even if the specific person with which you discuss is not convinced, remember that there’s a massive audience of people on the internet who can read these discussions from the sidelines, forming their own opinions even if they’re reluctant to contribute.

Perhaps it’s true that men won’t acknowledge anything until they’re “personally ready to do so”, but how is it that they become ready? Do they just wake up one day and have a change of heart, independent of human interaction? Or might the cumulative effects of social media peer pressure, extensive exposure to rational dialogue and public scrutiny on their behavior accelerate that process?

If you think feminism can accomplish everything it hopes to as quickly as it hopes to by looking at an “actuarial table” and waiting for everyone who isn’t convinced to die off, I wish you the best of luck. But as a debate team member, blogger and editorial editor, I've pretty much devoted my spare energies in life to the notion that exchanging our ideas is a worthwhile and productive endeavor. I joined this group in part because I seek to apply those energies towards enhancing my own understanding of feminist ideology, with the sincere aim of becoming a better friend of the feminist movement. If you disagree that it’s helpful, I hope you can ignore me without too much trouble, as I certainly don’t mean to bother you.


This was followed by another post from a second opponent, which disputed the meaning of devil’s advocacy. I countered that post with this rebuttal:


We agree in principle, and disagree in semantics. I followed your instruction and looked it up:

"a devil's advocate is someone who, given a certain argument, takes a position he or she does not necessarily agree with, for the sake of debate.  In taking this position, the individual taking on the devil's advocate role seeks to engage others in an argumentative discussion process. The purpose of such process is typically to test the quality of the original argument…”

To me, this sounds a lot like what I said. I wrote DA was “presenting ideas without tying yourself to them or their implications,” which is mighty similar "takes a position he or she does not necessarily agree with.” I wrote that in the context of this page, the questions asked by the DA are designed to “challenge some components of feminist thought,” which is mighty similar to “test the quality of the original argument.”

Anyway, if I failed to clarify what I meant originally, I’ll say it now: I think there is benefit in allowing group members to argue – without actually endorsing or asserting as something they personally believe – contrarian positions that challenge feminist viewpoints. I think this has the dual benefit of a) encouraging those knowledgeable on the subject to articulate rebuttals, from which both the devils’ advocate and others watching from the sidelines can learn, and b) testing the original idea in recognition that intelligent, informed and well-intentioned feminists can and do disagree on many of these issues, such that no idea expressed here should be immune from intellectual scrutiny. And contrary to how you interpreted my post, I think these benefits apply even when the devil’s advocate is ignorant of feminist ideology, SO LONG as they confess this ignorance beforehand and preemptively qualify their devils advocacy as a sincere attempt to learn more about feminist positions on the issue, rather than an attempt to actually convince the rest of the group of the contrarian position they adopt. What I’m opposed to, and recognize the condescension inherent in, is people who have already made up their mind in opposition to a feminist position hijacking posts on the Hopkins feminist page in an arrogant attempt to “educate” the feminists, particularly when such people are highly ignorant of the topic, because this inevitably denigrates into unproductive name-calling, anger and mutually entrenched antipathy.

I sympathize (though my privilege prevents me from empathizing) with the irritation that knowledgeable female feminists may feel towards ignorant males who present oppressive ideas, even within the above framework. I imagine that the excuse of “don’t worry, I don’t really believe this, I’m just playing devil’s advocate” must wear thin on women accustomed to hearing bullshit excuses for misogyny. I can grasp the necessity that feminism primarily be a forum for women to talk, and men to listen. I suppose you all must decide as a group how much talking you permit newcomers to do in their learning process; it would be out of place for me to offer an opinion on the appropriate balance.

All I have the authority to comment on is how my own mind works, and how men like me think upon first exposure to feminism. And from my expert opinion on that matter, I can assure you that listening alone is not enough to answer the reservations that prevent men from embracing the movement, even among those like me who are receptive to its basic premises. The only way to answer those objections is to allow us to voice them. You may or may not want our help in advancing your cause – that decision is entirely up to you. But if you do choose to recruit us, you cannot eschew the work of convincing us you’re right.