Most people, I suspect, find it difficult to think dispassionately about such issues. The acts involved are so unspeakably offensive as to automatically provoke revulsion in anyone with a modicum of human decency. This makes it all but impossible to discuss the kind of predatory behaviour so graphically and disturbingly described by Andrew Tickell without emotional reaction exacting a heavy toll on rational thinking. But solutions are found in the same place as explanations – and nowhere else. If we are to address a problem in a meaningful way, we must first understand it. We must develop a profound understanding of these anti-social behaviours if we are to develop a strategy by which to limit or eliminate them.
Understanding starts with asking the right questions. And avoiding the wrong questions. Or at least avoiding getting hung up on the wrong questions. The question posed in the headline is a good example of a wrong question, in that it is a question which has no useful answer. If it even has an answer at all. The question is not “how men are capable of such crimes” but why do people behave in such a way.
The behaviour of the perpetrator (almost invariably a male) is only part of the dynamic. The behaviour of the predator cannot be fully understand in isolation from the behaviour of the prey. Even the behaviour of those who from a superficial examination seem uninvolved can be relevant to understanding the behaviour of the main actors – the predator and the prey individual.
It may seem callous to refer to the people involved using such language. But it is essential to be as detached as possible in order to achieve an illuminating overview. Calling such heinous acts a ‘problem’ may appear to understate the issue. Talking about ‘solutions’ may give an impression of oversimplification. But the language helps to take the matter out of the realm of emotion and allow reasoned analysis. If you find it offensive then you should probably stop reading now and return to the knee-jerk reactions which better suit your temperament.
No human behaviour can be adequately understood without reference to evolutionary psychology. It must be so since we all live with our evolutionary heritage. We are all operating with brains/minds which evolved in an environment in almost no way similar to that in which we now expect it to function. And to serve us well. All too often it doesn’t serve us well. All too often human behaviours are driven in whole or part by brains/minds which evolved behaviours appropriate to a world we can barely imagine, so different is it from the world in which we now exist.
Behaviours which were adaptive 100,000 years ago may now manifest in ways that are totally inappropriate in modern society. To this extent, those behaviours are ‘natural’. As far as the 100,000-year old mind is concerned, it’s the environment which is unnatural. To call behaviour such as spiking a woman’s drink with the object of raping her ‘natural’ is not to excuse it. There is no way to excuse such behaviour. It is merely to gain one little fragment of understanding of the behaviour. Gather enough of these fragments and you may be some way towards finding a ‘solution’.
They predator/prey dynamic can – for purposes of discussion only – be reduced to basics. It is an interaction between the predator and the prey. The predator is scouting for the weak and vulnerable. Predators tend to be highly risk-averse. If a potential prey looks even a little like it might fight back or otherwise cause difficulties, the predator will move on. This, we may mention in passing, is why it makes such good sense for potential prey (women) to take whatever precautions seem appropriate. Anything that makes them look less vulnerable is likely to deter would-be predators.
On this score it is gratifying to hear Kelly Grehnan of 50:50 Parliament discussing the kind of precautions that can make a difference.
But all the precautions imaginable will not stop the predators being predators. The ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ initiative is welcome. But it cannot substitute for sensible precautions. Much as we might wish it were otherwise, there will probably always be predators and woman will tend to be their main prey. Or children. But this subject is horrific enough without going there. If we are to ponder these matters calmly and rationally it is better to think in terms of the weak and the strong. It’s not men preying on women. It’s the strong preying on the relatively weak. From an analytical perspective the fact that the wek tend to be female is almost incidental. Blame evolution!
The key to understanding behaviour which however ‘natural’ it may be in terms of evolved psychology is grotesquely aberant in the terms that matter in practice, lies in the difference between men who exhibit the aberrant behaviour and those that don’t. It’s foolish to dismiss out of hand the observation that not all men behave in this way. Because it’s certain all men share the brain/mind bequeathed to us by our survivor ancestors. Another of those useful questions would be what prevents most men behaving in this way?
Use your imagination. Try to think of the ‘spiking/raping’ behaviour as normal. Which makes the ‘non-spiking/raping’ behaviour abnormal. What is wrong with the minds of the ‘non-spikers / rapists’ that stops them behaving normally. This may seem odd or even outrageous. But it is just this kind of thought exercise which brings insights. Turning the thing around. Looking at it from a different angle and seeing the previously unnoticed element.
I am not pretending to have solutions. In fact, I don’t think there are solutions. I think precautions are going to be the primary preventative for a long time. If things like the “Don’t Be That Guy” are looking to alter psychology evolved over millennia then change is a matter of generations. I could be wrong on that. I hope I am. The change required isn’t entirely a matter of individual psychology. Social attitudes play a part. And social attitudes are more malleable than the evolved lizard-brain. If ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ and other educational approaches have an effect then that can only be a positive. But we must not discount anything that helps prevent these incidents. If we focus on the precautions taken by women it is only because it is this which can have the most immediate effect.
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