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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 intercourse?
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 reality's self-esteem?
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.
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