Stereotypes and victims of crime

By skepticlawyer

There’s a lengthy and surprisingly bitter thread over at Larvatus Prodeo on two related but conceptually distinct phenomena. The first concerns cultural and racial stereotyping. The second concerns the safety advice police widely give to those who have a greater risk of being victims of crime. The post is a thoughtful one (written by regular commenter on this blog, Cast-Iron Helen). 

On the first issue, Melbourne coppers gave some fairly standard safety advice, but targetted it deliberately at a specific ethnic group:

The response of the Victoria Police was to recommend that young Indians should stop talking so loudly in their own language and should not be louchely and recklessly carrying things like iPods and laptops on their daily commute. In short, pull your head in and stop flaunting your great wealth before our simple peasant folk, in case you get yourself bashed. And robbed.

On the second issue, Helen (and others) complain that the burden of public safety always seems to fall on victims of crime — most dramatically on raped women — but also on victims of muggings and other street crimes:

This reminded me of Lauredhel’s article about other victims of crime and how the use of the passive voice, and constant advice to the crime victims both actual and potential to take defensive action themselves to not get themselves raped, or get themselves robbed, makes the perpetrator invisible and takes all the light and heat off the people doing the crime.

There’s quite a bit going on here from a few different perspectives, and since I don’t have any neat solutions (rather like Legal Eagle’s last post on the anguished choices technology adds to old debates about reproductive rights), I’m going to consider a couple of things here and see what comes of it.

On stereotypes

Stereotypes are at once not very nice and potentially life-saving. They’re nasty when they let you write off whole groups of people as worse than useless based on the exaggeration of a single trait (‘Jews are money-grubbing scoundrels’). They’re damn handy, by contrast, when they let you make rapid a assessment of your circumstances (‘I’m in China, the people look Chinese, learning a few words of the local lingo is probably a good idea’). 

The stereotype that Helen averts to is a bit more complex, though. It’s essentially learned, and rapidly so. Most Australians would have had (before very recent times) no fixed image of Indians (they’ve never formed a large immigrant group to these shores) apart from the wholly obvious ‘good at cricket’. It may not be pleasant to say so, but there’s no doubt that it takes two groups to make a stereotype: one group to behave in a particular way, another group to develop an — often unpleasant — idee fixe.

I’ll own up a tendency to the latter with a different ethnic group: white South Africans. It’s fair to say that before 2007, I hadn’t met a single pleasant white South African. Every time I encountered a Saffa, I seemed to encounter someone who was arrogant, rude and unwilling to give any ground to other people in conversation. Funnily enough, only one was an outright racist (querying why I was dating a black man). If the others were racist, they didn’t let that particular stereotype out of the bag. They just weren’t very nice, and I took to avoiding them. Now I knew this was an exercise in stereotyping, and I knew it was unfair, but like most people I’ve only got so much emotional energy to burn on building friendships. So I gave white South Africans a wide berth. 

Does that make me a racist? If we set our condemnation of stereotyping too high, then it probably does. I sense my idee fixe at moments like the current Test series. I strongly suspect I’m enjoying Australia’s current demolition of South Africa in South Africa far more than I otherwise might. This despite the fact that quite a few members of the current South African squad aren’t white.

Have wealthy Indians — they’re the only sort studying in Australia — been acting like cockheads on public transport in Melbourne? I don’t know, I don’t live there. Helen makes the entirely appropriate point that many of the young people she sees on the trains and trams of that fine city regularly act like cockheads:

It’s about being young and silly. (Some) students travel in packs, yell to each other, and generally seek attention. They’re immature and sometimes quite irritating. Duh – they’re young! This in no way excuses crimes against them, I would have thought. The idea that Indian students are somehow “flaunting” their iPods and laptops, also, is simply racist. I see thousands of caucasians and others using their laptops and ipods, and schoolkids carrying valuable musical instruments, every day.

Has there been enough especially bad behaviour to allow the stereotyping of an entire group? Quite possibly, yes. Doesn’t excuse the stereotyping, but it also doesn’t obviate the police advice either: (‘you have become an especial target, partly because of how you look. For your own safety, you’re going to have to modify your behaviour. You’re going to have to keep your heads down’). People do form stereotypes — even very careful people, people who would otherwise prefer not to form stereotypes. The police also have to deal with the world as it is, not as it would be. The danger in writing the police advice off as racist is, I suspect, the usual danger of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good.

There’s also another little worm in the fruit that Helen misses, one that I saw regularly during my stint at the Home Office all those years ago.

The Melbourne copper who gave the racially charged advice pleaded that he’d been advised to do so by other people in the Indian community:

Inspector Scott Mahony complained that the police had been blamed unfairly in the story, because “members of the indian community” had complained at a public meeting that their countrymen were noisy and obnoxious.

Now I’d be willing to bet a considerable sum that the Indians who complained about their fellow Indians being loud and irritating were none of them young. Often older people (like parents) from a more socially conservative immigrant group lose the ability they had ‘in the old country’ to police young people’s behaviour. Shocked by the vision of their children coming to behave like the liberated and louche young people of the ‘new country’, they try to recruit the new country’s police forces and immigration authorities to ‘control the yoofs’. I lost count of the number of telephone calls I received from Muslim parents complaining that their daughter had run away from home with ‘that boy’, and could I please give them her address? Explaining that the way they treat their children — especially their female children — is a per se wrong is harder than it looks. It didn’t take long before what other people in the office called the ‘avoiding honour killings calls’ all got diverted to me.

Helen’s other concern is with the common tendency to direct ‘safety advice’ at victims of crime, with the implication that if the person doesn’t follow the safety advice, they are contributing to their own misfortune. This has had particular historical currency in rape cases, but is also widespread elsewhere. It’s usually of the fairly anodyne ‘don’t flaunt wealth, don’t wander around dark streets at night, don’t wear revealing clothing, don’t drink too much‘. I’ve emphasised the last one because it’s separable from the others, and can have considerable legal significance in its own right.

There are several chains of reasoning going on when a police officer gives this kind of advice, some of them logically (and morally) illegitimate, others not. There are also two sets of empirically relevant advice — one set is legal, and the other set is physical. I am both a lawyer and martial artist, so I’ll treat the issues seriatim.

On advice to avoid being a ‘victim of crime’ — the lawyer

If the State advises young women not to wear revealing clothing because it increases the chance of rape, but then prosecutes any rapists to the full extent of the law and does not allow the woman’s dress to mitigate the seriousness of the charge at trial (or any subsequant sentence), it is difficult to consider the advice sexist. The issue thus becomes an empirical one: is there any link between clothing worn and later sexual violence? The same argument applies, for example, to those men who claim, say, that they are sex addicts and unable to control themselves, and so on. The problem of sex addiction may well be genuine, but it cannot be allowed to mitigate or vitiate either the intent or the harm. Larger issues of protection (the State’s core role) are at stake.

If, however, the State allows the rapist to mitigate the seriousness of the offence by apportioning liability between the woman and her attacker for whatever reason — allowing, in effect, a crime to be treated as a tort — then its reasoning is both logically and morally illegitimate. This is, I suspect, what so angers feminists, although making a distinction between empirical facts and subsequent (not consequent) outcomes is of vital importance. Whether something causes something else is one question; whether that should be reflected in any subsequent sentence is another. Some men are undoubtedly sex addicts who respond criminally to revealing clothing. That’s unfortunate, and I feel sorry for them, but they should still be locked up for as long as those rapists who rape for reasons that can’t be medicalized.

Alcohol and vitiation of intent

Feminists (and others) need to be aware of the special role of alcohol in the criminal law. Alcohol can — if consumed in sufficient quantities — vitiate intent. This means that a drunken criminal — if he shows that he was very drunk — can reduce a charge of murder to manslaughter and rape (depending on jurisdiction) to one of the weaker versions of  ‘sexual offence’. He does this by drinking such as to remove the mens rea, the intent.

A recognition that things as basic as intent and understanding can be swept away thanks to alcohol consumption applies not only to the accused.  Many victims in a sexual offence matter have a very dim memory of anything that may have transpired earlier. Both the accused and victim very often do not know their own motives and actions. The court — and its jury where relevant — often have to ‘split the difference’ when it comes to returning a verdict. The fact that alcohol consumption may generate a legal margin of error should always be borne in mind.

The role of alcohol in many rape cases (and in other offences of violence) has led some feminists to propose a strict liability regime for sexual offense matters. In practice, this means that instead of the Crown having to prove the accused’s guilt, the accused must prove his innocence. An accused male in these circumstances would need to make out on the balance of probabilities that he did not engage in the impugned behaviour. Strict liability regimes currently operate in much UK anti-terror law. With these laws, when the onus is reversed, a David Hicks or his ilk must make out on the balance of probabilities that he was not a member of a listed terrorist organisation. His shield (as old as Magna Carta) is stripped away. Oxford’s Professor Colin Tapper often pointed out to me that the problem with much legislation designed to further women’s rights in criminal law was its kinship under the skin to the very worst laws designed to convict the putative ‘enemy of the state’, coupled with widespread ‘mission creep’. Strict liability regimes represent an unacceptable erosion of the right to a fair trial, yet they are nonetheless becoming increasingly common. This is not something that anyone who is remotely ‘progressive’ should be celebrating.

People often forget that historically — in both common law and civil law regimes — people have had to fight very hard to unpick the State’s power over the accused (before the 1940s, the accused was called ‘the prisoner’, even though not convicted. He was also treated accordingly, and often presented to the jury in shackles). For those whose politics differ from mine, and who want a vivid picture of what ‘putting the victim first’ looks like in practice, I can only recommend the first few chapters of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, with its chilling account of the punishment meted out to a regicide. That’s what the criminal law — at least on the Continent — used to look like. It was not pleasant. When someone is punished for a crime these days, the punishment is not for the edification of the victim, but for the protection of society. There is an often unpleasant association between ‘making the victim central to criminal punishment’ and facilitating vendetta and a desire for revenge. Now those emotions can be legitimate — but only in very small quantities.

This messy conundrum is at the basis of police advice to women not to drink too much in company. Drunkenness on all sides makes it much more difficult for the Crown to prosecute offences, and to work out who is responsible for what. This is very likely not fair, but to obviate it is once again to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Many people drink and subsequently behave irresponsibly, including many otherwise good people. Would-be rapists can be counted in their number. The best advice a lawyer can give a woman is to moderate her intake. If anything does go wrong, at least a conviction may be secured. Likewise, the best advice a lawyer can give to a man is also to moderate his intake: he will at least not then be accused of a crime he did not commit and then have no recollection of what went before.

On advice to avoid being a ‘victim of crime’ — the martial artist

I’m a shodan in Shotokan Karate, 6’1″ and roughly 75-80 kg depending on training levels that month. I can stop most people of either gender, regardless of how strong they are. However, in order to earn my shodan, I not only had to be able to fight well against all comers of both sexes. I needed to have considerable awareness of the very things that lead to crimes of violence, particularly against women. Here are the ‘biggies’:

1. Victims often listen to iPods/MP3 players and so have greatly reduced awareness of their environment. Do not listen to anything that will stop you from being aware of your environs. This applies to both genders equally.

2. Victims routinely get drunk such as to undermine their basic hand-eye coordination. That said, you can still get pretty tipsy under this regime: the nanny-statists who tell you never to drink forget to tell you that many people (especially women) who have a few drinks before performing a difficult task commonly outperform people who are stone-cold sober: the drink makes them more confident, but also makes their reactions sloppier. There’s also a reason why Italians and Greeks try to stuff you with lots of food before you touch the booze — it means you get the best of both worlds. Always, always, always eat heartily before going out on a big night on the town. A small amount of drink will give you confidence and even power; a large amount may well make you a victim of crime.

3. Victims are unaware of ‘false teaming’ and other giveaway ‘cues’ when it comes to violence. Typically, a male who genuinely wants to give you a hand with that heavy load of shopping asks ‘can I help you out?’ or ‘Do you need a hand?’  A false teamer says something like ‘let’s get this pile of shopping sorted’, falsely making an unearned alliance with you. The number of sexual assaults that follow shortly thereafter is simply staggering.

4. Putting oneself first has wider applications, too. There’s a reason why the airlines tell you to fit your own mask first, and any children’s masks later. On the scale of things, children are unimportant. You are what matters. If given a choice between you and your children, or you and your husband, you have a much better chance of saving them if you save yourself first. Altruism in circumstances like these is not only dumb but dangerous.

Can this advice — advice I’ve taught to hundreds of students in martial arts and self-defence classes — be interpreted as sexist? Quite possibly, yes. That said, however, there is no doubt that crime impacts disproprotionately on persons who exhibit certain behaviours (for young women, it’s associated with public drunkeness and consequent dulling of typical powers of observation). This impact may be both wrong and unfair, but it does not detract from the basic truth: until we live in a better (let alone perfect) world, some classes of people will simply have to be more careful than others.

Media titbits

The principle reason that the ladies and gentlemen of the press present victims — rather than perpetrators — first in their news stories has its origins in a desire to encourage identification with ‘normal folks’. Perhaps naively, journalists assume that our first identification is with the wronged person, even before we know who the ‘wronger’ may be. This means journalists forego the active voice beloved of most press writing and cast everything into the passive, often with a photograph of  the victim on or near the front page. There’s also a desire to avoid sub judice and contempt of court behind this kind of writing: casting a sentence into the passive allows the journalist to bunt away any suggestion that any particular person is being ‘fixed’ with the crime. Most people agree that these kinds of precautions are necessary to ensure a fair trial for the accused.

Where does this leave us?

… With a realization that this stuff is complicated and difficult to elucidate. The hands we’re dealt may well be unfair, but aiming to fix all wrongs (an impossible task) should not prevent us from aiming to fix what we can. And accepting graciously that there are some things you cannot fix wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.


  1. Posted March 18, 2009 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    it’s a generational thing, more than ethnicity. They all do it – crackers, curry-munchers, Yids, towelheads, abos, gooks, eskimoes, poms, frogs, krauts, jigaboos.
    Just point to the inevitable sign that has a drawing of a mobile phone with a red line through it, and shout, “Shut the Fuck Up”! Always works for me.

    John would you stop adhering to the nauseating and sterile politically language. 🙂
    It is a generational thing. In fact I’ve just told a pseudo Gen Y dickhead (who evidently thinks he discovered the Velvet Underground) to shut up. It didn’t work. I’m seriously thinking of killing the shit’s phone when I get off. 🙂

    It’d also a cultural thing. Older Indians have spoken on the phone. They are apologetic. The younger generation are really really bad. Last night some kid threw a coke bottle at a guy’s car windscreen for a lark.

    But oops the guy was a local mafiosi. 🙂

  2. klaus k
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    “What you mean is it’s okay to expect visitors to conform to local norms of courtesy.”

    Not exactly. Even having to defend and reestablish the ‘norm’ means some aspect of it, at an everyday level, is lost. Something else might be gained, eventually.

    It’s not an unfamiliar problem: we have generational precedents, but also conventions for telling those damned kids to shut up.

    And yes, Posey, that’s part of what I’m suggesting.

  3. klaus k
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Example: my local public library is pretty much lost forever to me, but it continues to function as a library for a lot of people who don’t share my expectations or want to do what I want to do in libraries. I’ve definitely lost something, but it still functions as a kind of library. There are more people in it now then when I used to visit and it was actually useful to me.

  4. Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    it still functions as a kind of library.

    Yeah if a child care centre is a kind of library. 🙂

    In my opinion what should lost with people who can’t tell the difference between a library and McDonald’s is people who can’t tell the difference between a library and McDonald’s.

    As in: Get lost!

  5. Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Even having to defend and reestablish the ‘norm’ means some aspect of it, at an everyday level, is lost. Something else might be gained, eventually.

    Dude consider the concept of the swinging pendulum which obtains throughout history. We swing from, say, the too strict (c. 1950) to the too sloppy (now). When one extreme is realized we start going back.

    Sure things change. But courtesy and discipline ebbs and flows. If there is no move to reinstate courtesy then you eventually get primates acting entirely in consistence with their natures, as in badly.

    Come out on a Friday night in Melbourne. The kids sound like they belong is a zoo – literally. And they behave that way too. The city smells like a urinal.

    What of course happens, and is happening, is that the tendency to despise our own vulgarian natures obtains and people start acting courteously as a matter of elite pride. To separate themselves from the great clot of brain-dead apes that constitutes the proletarian stew we laughingly call society*. The wannabe monkeys begin to see as something they don’t have and move to acquire it through greed for status rather than any inherent grace.

    The pendulum swingeth back.

    Thing is my ranting at Gen Y are almost as applicable to Gen X or the boomers. They’re just part of an arc that results of the tendency to liberal parentage. It starts with the beneficial departure from child-rearing as repression and absolute obedience and unfortunately goes so far as to indulge random psychopathy, ignorance, laziness – well, y’know, spoilt brats.

    *Deliberate use of patrician prose designed to offend egalitarian sensibilities rather than any expression of actual snobbery. 🙂

  6. klaus k
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I don’t buy your historical model, in part because it’s never as simple as a dialectic of civilisation and barbarity within a homogeneous population. There are forces of pluralisation, homogenisation and of all other kinds.

    BTW in case it was missed, my point way back there was that I agree with you about acknowledging resentment, and about copping to ‘racialism’ (or whatever you want to call it).

  7. Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    It’s not an historical model rally Klaus. It’s just a way of describing the ebb and flow of standards. Take literacy. In the late 18th century an educated person would be able to say ‘I love you’ in many and varied different ways.

    Now we’ve got: I luv U. The reasons I won’t go into. Take science. Up ’til the 5th century or thereabout there was steady progress in the field of astronomy. Then it stopped (for some strange reason)

    A thousand years later it started again. Science v dictatorial religion/entrenched and immobile hierarchies. These ‘pendulum swings’ are observable throughout history. They are not a model but a way of describing fluctuations – a mere metaphor.

    Homogenisation and diversification: another observable pendulum.

  8. klaus k
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    It would need to lot’s of simultaneous pendulums at different social levels. But I can see the value in the metaphor as presented. It’s certainly a lovely way to get your head around historical forces.

  9. Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Racialism is a pretty standard term –

    The resentment breeds racialism not the reverse. It’s just that in the atmospheres attendant to modern day serious discussion one cannot even discuss race without being accused of racism. That is not only a kind of mind control it ironically breeds actual violent ethnic antipathy.

  10. klaus k
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    or ‘lots’ even…

  11. klaus k
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Yes, that’s why we need a language to express resentment – and also to hear resentment, even to the point of it becoming racialised.

  12. Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    It would need to lot’s of simultaneous pendulums at different social levels.

    Yeah pretty much. If you tried to assess all history according to this metaphor you’d have to imagine a vast chamber full of clocks of various sizes and shapes set to different times and chronological cycles.

    Eventually you’d just get a cacophony. Which is pretty much what all human history is.

  13. klaus k
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    I’d be totally with you on the vast chamber full of clocks thing, but for some reason it made me think of Keating…

  14. Posey
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Adrien: you gotta read “A Single Man” by Christopher Isherwood – if you haven’t.

  15. Posted March 18, 2009 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    While I’m back here I’ll provide a quote from the BMJ article cited by me at #94

    “Previous studies have shown public opinion changes after public health laws, including seat belt use, drunk driving, and smoke-free dining, took effect. ”

    The law doesn’t seem to change attitudes on the BIG moral issues like the death penalty, homosexuality, abortion etc… but the empirical evidence unequivocally demonstrates that public health laws change attitudes and community norms in numerous areas. Thus the statement “it is not possible to incorporate morality into law” is empirically false.

  16. Posted March 18, 2009 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Mel, calling laws imposing seat-belt use ‘moral laws’ risks stretching the concept to the point of meaninglessness, which is why I didn’t respond earlier. Here’s some discussion on this point from some recent work I’ve been doing (I really do need to start making proper use of SSRN, but anyways…).

    Raz’s strong account of autonomy coupled with his support for paternalism means that he needs to have very good arguments as to why an autonomous individual should accept state authority, especially if that state authority is to be manifested in paternalistic law. Superficially, it may seem enough merely to recruit Gerald Dworkin’s conception – it is clear that there is a strong family resemblance between the two. However, Raz needs to develop an unusually strong account of authority in part because he is not just defending the state’s ability to make political choices on behalf of its citizens, but moral ones. Moral autonomy – at least since Kant, and probably before – has always had a harder edge to it than political autonomy. People are supposed to be authors of their own moral principles. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine true moral choice without seeing the chooser as necessarily autonomous.

    If I seem to be engaging in hairsplitting when drawing a distinction between political autonomy and moral autonomy, recall the simple positivist truism that much law has little or no moral content – the Highway Code, the Tax Act, the Corporations Law. This is not to suggest that these laws cannot be the objects of sharply divided public debate. It is, however, unlikely to be moral debate. Contrast these with the laws that Raz would need in order to ‘permit and even require governments to create morally valuable opportunities, and eliminate repugnant ones’. This is even more the case when one considers Raz’s arguments against the possibility of simply ‘incorporating’ morality into law. The argument goes like this: morality applies to citizens independently of the law; it does not depend on law for its efficacy. Murder rates, for example, are low in developed countries because most people think that murder is morally wrong, not because the state has made a law against murder. The law, as such, only applies to outliers. Law works at the margins, not at the centre of social obligation. Supporting Raz’s concerns with incorporation, there are also serious empirical arguments as to whether the state can ‘legislate morality’ without a majority of the governed accepting the moral content of the law in question independent of its enactment.

    Something of this is captured in the anguished realization among anti-abortion campaigners in the US that they are not going to win the legal argument. Even in the reddest of red states – South Dakota – a 2008 referendum (held at the same time as the presidential election, with its historically high turnout) to ban abortion failed at the polls. Here is P. J. O’Rourke on the washup:

    In how many ways did we fail conservatism? And who can count that high? Take just one example of our unconserved tendency to poke our noses into other people’s business: abortion. Democracy – be it howsoever conservative – is a manifestation of the will of the people. We may argue with the people as a man may argue with his wife, but in the end we must submit to the fact of being married. Get a pro-life friend drunk to the truth-telling stage and ask him what happens if his 14-year-old gets knocked up. What if it’s rape? Some people truly have the courage of their convictions. I don’t know if I’m one of them. I might kill the baby. I will kill the boy […] If the citizenry insists that abortion remain legal – and, in a passive and conflicted way, the citizenry seems to be doing so – then give the issue a rest.

    The law has in many ways been forced to extend wide leeway on both abortion and infanticide due to the absence of consistent moral convictions on the issue outside the law. What happened to the UK’s infanticide laws is instructive here, as it illustrates what happens to a moral law when there is little social consensus behind the morality in the law. The common law – with its fealty to juries – has always had to be sensitive to their verdicts, which have never been patriarchal in the way many people assume:

    Until 1922, the killing of a child was a capital offence, but juries had become so sympathetic to women accused in such cases that the first infanticide law was brought in to cover newborn babies. In 1938, it was extended to the killing by a mother of babies up to a year old.

    What is important to remember here is that the juries that forced this change to UK law were comprised entirely of males — at that point women could not serve. Both anti and pro abortion advocates are dealing with very old and entrenched cultural and moral attitudes to life and its relative ‘worth’ in their attempt to change attitudes to abortion.

    I’ll also add that drink-driving and seatbelt laws require very considerable numbers of police (or a great deal of expensive technology) for their enforcement. One of Raz’s points about law generally is that an unsupported law (which could be wholly moral in content, like abortion, partially moral in content, like rules controlling advertising standards, or wholly non-moral in content, like the Highway Code) requires a lot of policing. There’s a reason why there’s a lot more police patrolling the roads than there are police with the time to attend at your house after a break-in. Now I’m not saying that this means all or most of the Highway Code should be swept away — it may well survive the most rigorous CBA — but the fact that it soaks up so much police time and resources is instructive.

    As to whether laws can change people’s behaviour — of course they can. We wouldn’t have lawyers if this part of the law didn’t work, or only worked sometimes. Well designed laws can do amazing things. That’s why we enact them. However, even ‘best practice’ laws don’t seem to be able to save enacted morality without some other pretty vital components in the mix (like independent support outside of the law).

  17. Posted March 18, 2009 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    “Mel, calling laws imposing seat-belt use ‘moral laws’ risks stretching the concept to the point of meaninglessness … ”

    I imagine most people would not have difficulty labeling a parent who repeatedly failed to properly restrain an infant in a car guilty of a moral lapse.

    Also most people today would regard someone who lights up a ciggie in a restaurant as rude and selfish, or in other words unethical, again without equivocation.

    Ample empirical evidence supports both my above points.

    You are using an absurdly restrictive definition of morality in order to make a libertarian point about the law. That is the way ideology works and we are all guilty of it I’m afraid ….

  18. Posted March 18, 2009 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    I imagine most people would not have difficulty labeling a parent who repeatedly failed to properly restrain an infant in a car guilty of a moral lapse.

    Of course. Most people accept that to a large degree, parents are morally — and sometimes legally — responsible for their children, especially infant children.

    What about an adult who repeatedly failed to restrain himself with a seatbelt? Where is the moral lapse then? Now, I don’t like to get didactic, but this is no more a libertarian point than arguing in favour of Rudd’s stimulus package is a libertarian point (as you’ve probably guessed, I’m against). If I make a libertarian point, you will know about it. I’ve never been coy about my political leanings. This is simply one of the best established findings in all jurisprudence: for the record, Joseph Raz is a left social democrat. He isn’t making this argument because it helps his politics. He’s making it because there’s a mountain of evidence for it.

    Now, I really must go and sort out my tutoring out, so I shan’t be around for a good bit.

  19. John Greenfield
    Posted March 21, 2009 at 11:27 am | Permalink


    Hmmm…just did a quick count and could find only one mention of Aborigines, not two; but quite a few of honkeys. Has yet ANOTHER cultural/ethnic/racial quota been set? I wish someone would cc. those quota-update emails to me. 😉

  20. John Greenfield
    Posted March 21, 2009 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    The other thing peculiar to Indians in Australia, is that they are overwhelmingly upper middle to upper class Indians. The White Middle Class Left Ladies (WMCLL) would do well to be advised that many of these Indians would consider them – quite rightly – to be White Trash.

  21. Posted October 30, 2009 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    You should always try and blend in. Local paper, ipod, put the tourist book and maps away. Buy a book in the language of the place you’re visiting even if you can’t read it. Don’t pin a little flag on your lapel with your country of orgin on unless you really want to get mugged!

  22. Posted January 29, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    I think that you should just follow simple rules. Make sure you don’t take risks, go in pairs, don’t get out a map, don’t look lost.

    I happened to me once when I was lost in LA thankfully I had my two year son with me in a push chair and I think that helped!!

  23. Posted August 20, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    “Some men are undoubtedly sex addicts who respond criminally to revealing clothing. That’s unfortunate, and I feel sorry for them, but they should still be locked up for as long as those rapists who rape for reasons that can’t be medicalized.”

    I agree with your second sentence above. I’m not so sure about the “undoubtedly” part, though; I certainly have my doubts that there are people who have so little impulse control that they are not morally responsible for raping people, and it seems even less likely that this behavior would only happen when the victims were wearing revealing clothing. (Aren’t you supposed to be a skeptic?)

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Skepticlawyer » Drink, sex and rape on October 13, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    […] I also want to reference an excellent post by SL on the legal issues raised in situations like this: If the State advises young women not to wear […]

  2. […] significant degree, as Tim Harford outlines in The Logic of Life. A couple of years ago, I addressed this issue on a more personal level than Harford does with his number crunching: Stereotypes are at once not […]

  3. […] stuff by Bill Muehlenberg, then complain with candour, not with a secondary boycott. If you don’t want to be stereotyped, then don’t behave in ways that fits the stereotype. That means, if you’re a gay man, […]

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