Beyond Harassment of Reality and Grasping Future Possibilities
learnings from sexual harassment as a metaphor
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Much attention has been given to sexual harassment as a problem and
as a clue to future understanding of more appropriate policy. Sexual harassment
is one means of directing attention. The stress experienced by those harassed,
and the attitude of the harassers, may however distract from a more fundamental
perspective. Strangely there are parallels between the language of sexual
harassment and of some ways of responding to reality and the future.
To what extent can "reality" be usefully understood as a person of the
opposite sex? Is reality a kind of "other" through which one can, at least
potentially, "reproduce" oneself by some subtle form of intercourse? In
which case are there also distorted understandings and approaches to such
Efforts are made to "grasp" reality and the future. This is considered
an important goal of education. Indivudals, groups and society, "grope"
their way into the future. Is there anything to be learnt by wondering
how reality may feel about such grasping and groping? What kind of future
emerges from processes of grasping and groping? Many engage in "stripping"
reality of its various disguises in order to uncover what lies beneath.
This is a key objective of the scientific method -- truth is reality laid
bare. How might reality experience and respond to this process?
Observation is a central feature of the scientific method. To what extent
might reality feel extremely vulnerable to being stared at? Much is made
of the skills of the observer in penetrating the layers with which reality
is clothed. Is there a sense in which reality experiences this as an unwanted
violation? Are scientists then to be considered as voyeurs to some degree?
How to distinguish between welcome appreciation and a leery look that sullies
But scientists do not limit themselves to observing reality. It is considered
essential to touch and feel and to analyze the nature of any response.
Further touching and feeling are then appropriate -- modified by the nature
of that response. How does reality protest such invasive exploration? In
what way might reality be inhibited in voicing any protest? Is reality
shy in any sense? Would any such protest deter further exploration or would
it only excite scientists to further prod and pinch? To what extent is
science to be understood as the process of "feeling up" reality? Does reality
feel abused by science?
Beyond simple touching, scientists tend to pride themselves on their
ability to manipulate reality -- constraining reality in order to work
their will upon it. This is one of the peak experiences of those engaged
in the applied sciences. Is there any sense in which reality should be
expected to indicate consent to this process, or is it only a hapless victim,
subject to "droit de seigneur"?
It is through working their wills on reality in this way that scientists
perpetuate themselves into the lives of succeeding generations. The results
of the intercourse with reality emerge as an addition to the body of knowledge
-- usually reproduced in papers. Whether the process is tantamount to a
rape of reality may be of little concern to the scientist. Just as promiscous
males may seek to "score" in a spirit of "researching" the opposite sex,
so scientists may engage in frenetic forms of research which amount to
little more than "sordid one night stands". Scoring may be as vital to
a sense of identity as the scientist's need to "publish or perish". Ironically,
in both cases, there is a sense in which specimens are "stuffed" and "mounted"
-- but not in the same order.
But the scientist may not be satisfied by simply manipulating reality.
There may be an impulse to cut into it, to take samples, even to pull it
apart and dismember it. The pieces derived from this destructive process
may then be preserved in museums for later inspection by colleagues. With
modern technology, such operations may be recorded on video for wider dissemination.
To what extent does such an approach bear any resemblance to the production
of "snuff movies"? Those concerned with the treatment of laboratory animals
would not find this comparison absurd.
There is more however. Torture is the ultimate form of harassment. To
what extent do we, and especially scientists, torture reality? Both torturers
and scientists aim to get at the truth, often at any cost. The methology
of torture might be considered a precursor of the scientific method, although
the latter has since contributed significantly to the skills of the former.
Both see themselves at the "cutting edge" of the advancement of knowledge,
however literally this is taken in practice. It may be regretted by both
that what is interrogated is subject to painful experience during this
process, and may even succomb as a result. Both tend to justify their actions
in terms of the broader, even "vital", needs of society. Does reality develop
a special bond with those who subject it to such treatment -- as do the
victims of torture?
But is reality to be considered innocent in its relationship with those
who encounter it? Is reality capable of being coy? Does it get bored and
frustrated by those who simply observe and comment aridly on its nature?
Does it expect and evoke some form of engagement? Does reality mock those
who fail to respond to it? Could it be said to flirt with those who encounter
it -- as some poets might be happy to assume? Is reality provocative? Is
it an outrageous flirt, especially in response to some who are inhibited
in their responses to it? As was said of the mini-skirt, does realityclothe
itself in ways which are short enough to be interesting, but long enough
to cover the subject? Is it possible that some are severely harassed by
reality -- as might be argued by people in kafkaesque situations in which
fairness can only be considered through the blackest of humour? Is substance
abuse a defence against such harassment?
Between these extremes, harassment of reality and harassment by reality,
how is it appropriate to navigate? Is the art hidden in the process of
flirting, where this remains politically acceptable? Or is dance a more
appropriate metaphor -- as part of an extended courtship with the possibility
(but not the necessity) of some later consummation?
What might a politically correct approach to reality look like and whom
would it serve? In considering the above, beware of the dismissive smile
which is so revealing to those defending the feminine perspective. Gaia
may seek her revenge.