It continually astounds me how many people don’t seem to understand the basics of the Schrodinger’s Rapist analogy. Being that my blog has been getting some traffic from people who don’t get it, I thought I’d take a stab at elucidating the idea. If you haven’t read the original post, go there now, and I’ll wait here while you finish.
Okay, good. Now, the Not-Really-Getting-It responses to this analogy are generally along the lines of:
- You think all men are rapists! (incorrect)
- You think all men are potential rapists! (correct or incorrect, depending on what you actually mean)
The “all men are potential rapists” bit is not saying what many people seem to think. It’s not saying that you in particular, Dear Reader Who Would Never Rape Anyone, might rape someone. It’s saying that an unknown person in public that you have no information about could potentially be a rapist. That is what you, Dear Reader, are when you approach a stranger in a public place. To that stranger, you’re an unknown. You know yourself out to ten significant figures, but a random stranger can guess out to one or two at best.
Imagine a friend asks you to play a game of Russian roulette. Serious Russian roulette, with a six-shooter and a single bullet. If you say no because you don’t want to die, is it appropriate for your friend to object by arguing, “What, do you think all of the chambers are loaded?” Of course not, because that’s not the point, is it? The point is that one of them is loaded, so each turn of the game you play could potentially kill you.
In this Russian roulette scenario, you, Reader Who Would Never Rape Anyone, are an empty bullet chamber. But not all of the chambers are empty, and on a given turn, the people playing the game have no idea whether the chamber that’s lined up to fire is you or one with a bullet in it. Until the gun is fired, Schrodinger’s Bullet. This is analogous to the type of situation Schrodinger’s Rapist is describing.
If you still think the most reasonable response to Schrodinger’s Rapist is that it’s ridiculous because not all men are rapists, I have made a list of other arguments you ought to be comfortable making, to illustrate the point.
- You’re about to have sex with a new partner. That partner asks you to get tested for STIs beforehand. You respond with, “What the hell? Not everyone has an STI, you know!”
- You get bitten by a wild animal. Your friend suggests you get rabies shots just to be safe. You respond with, “What the fuck? Not all wild animals have rabies, you know!”
- Your friend advises you to wear a seatbelt. You respond with, “What the shit? It’s not like you’re going to get in a crash every time you drive, you know!”
- You want to have sex with a new partner, they want birth control to be used. You respond with, “Seriously, do you think women get pregnant every time they have sex?!”
- Your friend suggests you get a flu shot. You respond with, “Jesus, do you think everyone gets the flu every year?!”
Does it make sense now? Schrodinger’s Rapist is not an argument of personal accusation, it’s an argument of statistics and precautionary measures. It’s an argument from trying to make the safest decision while not having all of the information that would be ideal to have. Not everyone has an STI, but a new partner could potentially have an STI, which is why people get tested. Not every wild animal has rabies, but the one that bit you is potentially a carrier of rabies, and it’s better safe than dead. Not every car trip ends in a crash, but every car trip could potentially end in a crash, which is why you wear a seatbelt. Not everyone gets the flu every season, but there is a chance that you could get it, so you get inoculated.
If everyone could see a random stranger on the street and just know, “Oh, that one’s not a rapist”, then the whole analogy would break down. The same way Russian roulette wouldn’t make sense if you could look inside the gun before pulling the trigger. Obviously in the real world, though, we don’t magically know who’s who. A random stranger cannot magically tell that you, Dear Reader, are not dangerous, the same as they cannot tell which chamber has the bullet, which animals have rabies, which car trip will end in a crash, etc, etc. In short, the salient point is that just because you know you’re not a rapist doesn’t mean everyone else does*.
Now, this blogger entreats you, implores you, can we at least move on to criticisms that actually demonstrate an understanding of what they’re arguing against? They don’t even have to be good ones, I promise, I just want them to be a nonzero level of relevant.
For a discussion of the claim that Schrödinger’s Rapist doesn’t make sense because most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, or because rape isn’t common enough to justify this type of risk assessment, see the follow-up to this post, For Those Who Don’t Understand Schrodinger’s Rapist, Part Two.
* Which we hopefully all picked up back in the concrete-operational stage, if Piaget is to be believed, yes?
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