Sunday, April 30, 2017

Kipnis on Agency (an exchange of comments)

I'm having an interesting conversation with Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa in the comments to his post "Kipnis on Sexual Assault and Sexual Agency". While we disagree on fundamentals (I think), he's forcing me to articulate my position quite clearly, for which I'm grateful.

When it's over I'll write a post summarizing what I learned.


Anonymous said...


I read your exchange on Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa's blog about Kipnis' and JJI's views on agency.

I would like to make an analogy with agency in the wilderness. I imagine Kipnis would advocate for agency in the wilderness of the sort of Sacagawea, i.e. able to navigate, communicate, and survive autonomously. On the other hand, I imagine JJI's agency is more of the sort of a cell phone in a pocket either to provide reassurance and confidence, possibly over confidence, and/or an electronic umbilical cord, i.e. to call for help if one gets lost or in danger in the wilderness.

The two forms of agency are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they complement each other. The more you can rely on one, the less you may need the other. The debate if there is one, is which is the better one to rely on, practically and ethically.

Thomas said...

That's an interesting example. When my kids were younger I resisted giving them cell phones because I wanted them to learn to get lost and find their way home without just calling. Or how to solve any other problem. I stuck to my guns for a while, but once they did get their phones they called me too much to my liking. I had to tell them explicitly, "Try to figure it out yourself."

I suspect it's considered bad form in Title IX circles to ask a woman who is having trouble with a man to try to work it out herself. As a parent, I also didn't like having to reject their request for help. That's why I think it would have been better not to have the option, not to have the "umbilical cord", as you put it. The point I've been trying to assert against Jonathan's position is that we're bringing an outside authority into situations that might otherwise teach us to exercise our own judgment.

(I guess I have a pretty clear opinion about which approach I think is most ethical.)

Anonymous said...

The analogy is a good one but not as close as the following.

A guy skinny dips in his own backyard pool. His neighbor witnesses it occasionally and would prefer not to. Does the latter person ignore the occasional unwelcome scene, tell the guy directly to remedy the problem, or instead go to the home owner's association (HOA) to notify the guy that his conduct is offending one or more of his neighbors? To make the analogy more fitting, the HOA should claim that the Federal Government gives it both the authority and the responsibility not just to tell the guy to be more discrete, or stop the behavior entirely, but to remove the guy from the neighborhood. The guy must sue in court for the possibility to return to his home and his pool.

The HOA is a better analogy than the wilderness because the HOA has arbitrary rules and stereotypically an over-wrought sense of self importance, like Title IX offices. The wilderness has known (or at least knowable) laws and applies them impartially without regard to the person's sex, race, etc. (Well, not quite: men and women and people of different races have general characteristics - some may experience heat or sun less favorably than others for example).

I didn't specify the gender of the neighbor. But now change the skinny dipper from male to female, and reconsider the scenario.

That is a better analogy. I wonder the reactions of you and Jonathan on these scenarios.