L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

17 August 2006 Blog Home : August 2006 : Permalink

Of Racist Questions and Sexual Harassment

Over on Baen's Bar there has been an interesting thread about Racism. A barfly asked whether he was being racist in asking whether someone was African or African American since he had apparently been accused of racism for merely asking that question.

In a similar note there is the recent brouhaha about a Cambridge professor. Politically I suspect that I disagree with practically everything that Prof Mary Beard believes, yet I think that Stephan Pollard (and others) are going a little too far when they say she is hankering after sexual harassment in the classroom. I believe that as an academic, and a classicist to boot, she uses words correctly but does not imply anything beyond what she says. What she wrote was:

Any academic woman older than her mid forties is likely to have an ambivalent reaction to this. On the one hand, it is impossible not to feel sisterly outrage at what would now be deemed a straightforward case of persistent sexual harassment and the abuse of (male) power. On the other hand, it is also hard to repress certain wistful nostalgia for that academic era before about 1980 when the erotic dimension of pedagogy -which had flourished, after all, since Plato -was firmly stamped out.

The howls of outrage from elderly female dons and other feminists about this admission seems, to me, to indicate that they protest rather too vigorously. If you read the entire article this outrage seems rather ironic when her main point becomes clear - she thinks that if a professor is such a persistent sexual harasser then this should actually be noted in biographies of him. The throwaway line about nostalgia quoted above is making a point about how laws about discrimination and harassment have removed the possibility of mutually consensual student-teacher sex as well because no one dares to flirt lest their flirtation be misconstrued for harassment.

This is precisely the same issue that the Baen's Bar question is bringing up. Outright racism and sexism is clearly bad. But the legally imposed solution, by attempting to make us all interchangeable robots, removes the human interest that makes life worth living. Humans are not interchangeable robots, we have curiousity and attraction and feelings and it ought to be acceptable to express them so long as we do not attempt to impose them on others against their will. The same path is, I fear, being trodden down by all the laws against paedophilia where as a result anyone who admits to enjoying the company of children (other than their own) is automatically suspected of being a kiddie fiddler, as is anyone who happens to have a picture of a (semi) naked child on their computer no matter what reason.

Because of all of these laws, which are made for undeniably worthy causes, otherwise innocent behaviour is criminalized because some criminals exhibit this behaviour. It is precisely the same attitude that leads to bans on firearms or knives and so on. The presumption of innocence is replaced with a presumption of guilt that you then have to explicitly disprove and, as everyone knows, proving a negative is a lot harder to do than the reverse.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin