The path less travelled.

This post contains general thoughts about contraception and sterilisation as well as my own personal reasons for choosing the latter. If that seems like massive over-share to you, I quite understand if you don’t wish to read it. I’d say, though, that I think it’s important to be open to hearing a variety of perspectives on these issues, which are by their nature intensely personal, and which most of us have to confront at some point in our lives. I know a lot of women who are ambivalent at best about motherhood, and who I assume feel the same discomfort I do at living in a society that remains hostile to that ambivalence. I also sense a persistent taboo around open discussion of contraception, especially its shortcomings, which I doubt is helping anybody. I know that my own discomfort around these topics is borne of and perpetuated by our persistent inability to discuss them honestly and without fear. So here goes.


“Why don’t you want children?” There’s a sense in which the question seems nonsensical, like a request to prove a negative. You might as well ask me why I don’t want to move to Siberia, why I don’t want to run an ultramarathon, why I don’t want to become an accountant. I simply have no desire for these things, and in fact they all sound actively unpleasant to me, although I realise that many people enjoy all of them (although probably not concurrently).

Nobody has ever asked me to justify my failure to pursue the latter three options, although unlike the first, they don’t actually require active avoidance. Not having children requires constant, vigilant attention. Remembering to buy condoms, fumbling around with them every time you have sex, finding pharmacies that are open and will sell you the morning after pill when they break. Remembering to buy pills before the current pack runs out, remembering to carry them with you and take them at the same time every day, working out what to do when you miss one. Some women are fortunate enough to be able to pay a few dollars for implanon every few years and forget about it, but not everybody. How much do the rest of us spend on contraception over the two or three interminable decades that we have to use it? Thousands upon thousands of dollars, surely.

And for some of us all of this trouble is for the sake of preserving something we actually have no use for – our fertility. Imagine if you had to undertake an irritating task on a daily or weekly basis from the time you started high school just to preserve the possibility of one day becoming an accountant. Imagine you had to keep doing it through your twenties and thirties even though you had become a perfectly happy physiotherapist and had no special affinity for or interest in numbers. Imagine if, when you decided you wished to stop undertaking this task and finally close that door forever, you would be expected to justify this decision to dozens of accountants, many of whom were mortified and insisted that you would one day join their ranks. Imagine that some of these people could actually obstruct you, and force you to continue undertaking the task each day until you hit retirement age, “just in case”. This situation is completely absurd, isn’t it?

The neurologist who advised me on the emergent issue that all types of hormonal contraception seem to cause me frequent, severe and untreatable migraines has written to my GP saying that I “would prefer hormonal contraception to barrier methods if it were tolerable”. This is untrue. I would prefer to be able to have sex without getting pregnant. It’s that simple. I would be happy with any reversible form of contraceptive that were cheap and highly reliable, required minimal effort on my part, and had no negative side-effects on my mood, my health or my sex life. As far as I can tell, in my own case, after thirteen years of experimentation with various methods, no such thing exists.

Do other women grapple with the decision to become mothers in the same way that I’ve grappled with the decision to get sterilised? They are both major decisions. They are both effectively irreversible. And yet it seems unthinkable that I should say to a friend who tells me she is trying to become pregnant, “Are you sure? What if you change your mind?” It would be something far beyond mere rudeness for me to ask what she would do if she were overwhelmed by regret in a few years time, or if she and her partner broke up. We know what she would do. She would live with the consequences of her decision as best she could, because that would be the only option available to her. Such is the nature of irreversible decisions in reversible circumstances.

I expect that I will sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have children, as I suppose I may one day wonder what it would have been like to be an accountant. But when I think of pregnancy, labour, the sleep deprivation of the early years, the tantrums, the endless hours trying to cultivate an interest in piano lessons or school sports, the screaming arguments with teenagers who inexplicably despise you this year, the constant non-negotiable requirement to sacrifice my own desires again and again for someone else, my blood really does run cold. People who enjoy parenting will find this characterisation unfair, but then, many accountants are probably disappointed that not everybody shares their passion for numbers. Most of us in the quantitative professions do, at least, accept that many people would rather shovel shit than work with Excel spreadsheets all day, no matter how much we enjoy it.

Sterilisation and parenthood may be the only decisions in life that you really can’t take back. There is a middle path that involves putting the decision off until it’s made for you by biology, but that path is strewn with inconvenience and risk and expense, and it is not for me. I may regret this decision one day. I imagine I will regret a great many things about my life by the time I’m through. But unlike regretted parenthood, the consequences of which fall on at least three people, any regrets I have will be entirely my own.


The Hand That Wields The Sword

People die every day.

This is obviously, trivially true. I remember being appalled during the coverage of the 2004 Tsunami, hearing newsreaders refer to 230,000 casualties including 26 Australians, in one breath. It was a shocking contrast, and patronising, as though we were incapable of caring about anybody but our own.

And yet I find many of the cynical reactions to the Bali executions on social media today terribly childish, laden as they are with claims that those of us who oppose these executions are only bothered because it’s over there, because it’s drug smugglers, because it’s Australians. These have been coupled, often, with claims that we will forget tomorrow and likely have no deeper commitment to human rights, that we are simply swept up in a Twitter storm. I have no time for this shallow reading. I do not believe the lives of Australians are worth more than the lives of others. I do not believe the death penalty is more appalling when applied in a non-English speaking country than it is when applied in America. I am not even especially more opposed to the executions of drug traffickers than to those of murderers. But I remember when those men were arrested, and I’ve seen them mentioned in the media for years, while I know nothing about anybody on death row in Japan, Saudi Arabia, or America.

So, yes. Yesterday night I broke down and wept over the phone to my partner at the senseless horror of the fact that the death penalty still occurs in 2015. No, I have never done this in response to any other execution. I can’t explain why this one has affected me so profoundly, but I know that I am not alone in having been affected by it. Thousands of people around Australia last night sat in their homes and thought about those men, and their families, and human rights, and the responsibilities of governments. Many of them reached out to share their distress and their compassion with others, and with the families of the men being executed, in the ways that were available to them. That is right, and good, and human.

Some of those people have gone back to their jobs today and will think little of other victims of backward “justice” systems, including our own. Some of them will even continue to support the death penalty in other circumstances. Many of us are hypocrites, one way or another. Nobody is capable of caring deeply about all injustices, every day. We cannot weep for all prisoners, or even all of those executed. It is imperative to shut out most of the terrible things that happen in the world, so long as you wish to continue living in it.

But to cynically denigrate all expressions of compassion and distress as hypocrisy and wagon-jumping is childish. If you blithely state that people are executed every day and ask why nobody mourns for the rest of them, while failing to mourn them yourself, you too are a hypocrite. If you meet each individual example of tragedy with a Dear Muslima, while never once stopping to confront the awful magnitude of the suffering that anybody experiences, you are a coward.

It’s easy not to care. It’s easy to find reason after reason to be emotionally disconnected from everybody except your loved ones, and to live your entire life without sparing a sincere thought for anyone you’ve never met. It’s easy to brush everything off with excuses. The Bali 9 should’ve known better than the smuggle heroin through Indonesia. Jill Meagher should’ve known better than to walk home alone on Sydney Rd. Women in Saudi Arabia should know better than to cheat on their husbands. Asylum seekers should know better than to get on boats to Australia. These are trivial observations, they are morally worthless. They have no value. They mean nothing.

Knowledge of potential consequences is irrelevant when those consequences are unjust, and appealing to the responsibility of the victimised party gives those with the real power a free pass. There’s nothing noble in that. Your cynicism isn’t buying you anything except comfort, and comfort is cheap.


The real problem with “victim blaming”.

I’m often uncomfortable with the reflexive reaction to “victim blaming” in sexual assault, because although I have a negative reaction to it myself, I think the now-automated Twitter response actually mistakes the nature of the problem. The problem isn’t that nobody ever locates any personal responsibility with the victims of other crimes – they do, and police campaigns about locking your car are not met with cries of outrage. The simple act of giving well-meant advice is not the problem. The problem is that locking your car is really easy, while implementing the type of advice people often give young women is actually impossible if you want to live anything like a normal life.

At various times in my life, especially after high profile rapes and murders, I’ve been told by young men with straight faces that I shouldn’t get drunk around men I don’t know and that I shouldn’t go out unless I have a “safe” way to get home. Let’s just contemplate what this would mean for me as an unmarried woman, shall we? Seriously. Let’s think about it. No drinking at bars, pubs, nightclubs, or most house parties. That’s what that actually means in practical terms. So… what? I can only consume alcohol in the safety of my own home or at a (female) friend’s house?

Thankfully, only drinking in my own house also handily solves the problem of getting home at night after socialising, since my options in Melbourne are walking (not safe), taxis (definitely not safe), public transport (stops at midnight), cycling (inadvisable while drunk), and driving (illegal while drunk). A magic carpet, maybe?

I have a theory about this stupid advice, which is actually the same theory I have about the internet feminist freakouts about “victim blaming” that end in the words “teach men not to rape”, as though a few sessions with a white board and a laser pointer would solve all Adrian Bailey’s problems.

My theory is this: it is deeply distressing to confront the reality that most women are at constant low risk of sexual assault, either by friends, relatives, partners, or strangers, and that there is actually very little that can be done about that in the short term. We may hope for and try to enact cultural change, and we do our best to “stay safe” while still living as full citizens with freedom of movement and association, but the next Adrian Bailey is out there somewhere. Even in a completely fascist legal system with life sentences for rape, arbitrary sexual assault would still happen.

This is a fact that mature adults need to learn to live with – we should do all we can to curb sexual assault and mitigate the harms it causes, but this will take decades of hard work, and even then, incidence will never fall to zero. Ill thought-out advice that assumes women could make minor behaviour modifications for major reductions in risk is simplistic and embarrassing, and indicates that the people offering it have not seriously confronted either the issue of sexual assault in our society, or the practical realities of women’s lives.

The unquenchable thirst.

We live in a world in which the practice of dousing your wife in kerosene and setting her alight to punish her family for an inadequate dowry is so common that it has a name. We live in a world where people mutilate the genitals of little girls for the explicit purpose of trying to prevent them ever wanting or enjoying sex. We live in a world where hundreds of millions of women have as little control over their own adult lives as women in Victorian England did at the breaking of the first wave of feminism, a world in which countless women are trapped in relationships with men who rape, beat, and may one day murder them. We live in this world.

And in this world, people who claim to be committed to the project of feminism thought it was a laudable and productive use of their time to write thousands of words lambasting an academic who dared to admit that his commitment to feminism, still profoundly held, had made him deeply, personally miserable as a young man.

There is plenty to criticise in Aaronson’s comment. If you were set on this task, you could not unfairly call it blinkered, naïve, and neurotic. But the reaction to it, the public evisceration of some poor bastard for being those things in this world, is sick. Most people have been guilty of these sins, and most people have suffered less for it even before being publicly pilloried. I wish to God men like Scott Aaronson made it into the top 100 threats to the welfare or agency of women in 2014, I honestly do. What a world that would be, where the fight was so nearly won that all we had left to do was help reform a few socially paralysed nerds. My God.

And let’s imagine we lived in that world. Let’s imagine that we’d worked our way so far down the list that young men like twenty-something Scott Aaronson were our most pressing issue, since they’d made the critical mistake of reading Andrea Dworkin and becoming so consumed with self-hatred that they couldn’t so much as speak to a woman. Is this what we’d do to them? Parade their hurt and shame across the internet so that all righteous people could participate in ridiculing them? Which is the world in which this is a constructive response to somebody who identifies themselves as a committed feminist baring their soul, however flawed that soul might be?

This is sick. This outrage factory feminism that turns any imperfect ally into grist for the mill is sick. It produces nothing but division, resentment, and a rightful distrust of modern feminism. It helps nobody. It educates nobody. It improves nobody. Consuming it is like drinking salt water. It provides no sustenance, and is ultimately toxic.

Whose job is it anyway?

Every few months I seem to come across an example of a feminist trotting out a variation on the line, “It’s not my job to educate [non-feminists]”. I find this incredible. Do people honestly believe that mass political change is going to be achieved by undecided or sceptical people independently seeking out opposing views, reading them dispassionately and objectively, and then giving up their formally deeply held beliefs with a minimum of fuss? I cannot imagine what tiny minority of people might be convinced in this fashion, but I’m certain it does not include most of the people we wish would come around to our way of thinking.

When people say, “it’s not my job to educate you”, this assumes that the only obstacle to agreement is that the other person is ignorant. The tone of most Feminism 101 articles belies this; those I’ve read may as well be calculated to alienate people who are on the fence. They are patronising. They communicate, clearly, an assumption that all opposition to feminist views is based solely on rank ignorance or self-interest, and that all that is required is enlightenment. They address adults seeking political and philosophical argument the way I would address a child attempting to learn arithmetic. This is hubris.

Disagreements about feminist issues are, in my experience at least, only rarely disagreements about facts. They are far more often disagreements about values and attitudes. Saying you refuse to “educate” someone assumes that what they require is more information, which is often not the case. Most people engaged in political debate aren’t looking for facts; they looking for arguments in support of a position. What you’re actually saying if you refuse to “educate” others is that it’s not your responsibility to defend or promote feminism to skeptics. If it’s “not your job” to present the case for feminist positions in an attempt to convince more people to support feminist causes, then I really have to ask: what is your feminism intended to achieve? What is its goal? Unless they are regularly involved in some form of direct action, I simply can’t see what such people contribute.

A great many people in our society think that the only legitimate work of feminism was finished as soon as women got the vote. They think the extent to which the burden of child rearing continues to fall on women is right and natural, rather than the unacceptable consequence of personal sexism and systematised discrimination. They have attitudes towards women’s sexuality that are mired in the taboos of the 1950s. There are millions of young men out there who truly believe that women are less intelligent than men, less capable of rational thought and responsible decision making, and that we succeed in our endeavours largely through exploitation of our sexuality rather than though talent, hard work, or competence. That’s the state of play. We don’t live in a world full of pliant 22 year old boys taking second year gender studies subjects and reading de Beauvoir to better themselves. We live in a world full of sceptical, subtly sexist young men who might discuss feminist issues with women only a handful of times in their entire lives. Those are the people we need to convince if we are ever to have any success, and they are not going to be convinced by Jezebel.

The young men who would laugh out loud at the content of a gender studies class are the guys who perpetrate street harassment. Those are the guys who consider picking up their own children from school as on par with breastfeeding, something having a Y chromosome renders them congenitally unable to do. Some of them will become managers and executives who discriminate against their female employees. Some of them will commit violence against the women in their lives. Many, many more of them will look the other way when other men do these things, regarding it as the natural order of the universe rather than a system they have chosen to participate in. They can’t be beaten: they have to be convinced.

They’re not going to read Feminism 101 websites, and if they did, they would only be alienated even further. If they are to be reached at all, it will be through conversation with people they have some basic level of respect for. Some of them have strong opinions and want to discuss these issues, even with people who disagree with them. If any of those guys ever show enough interest to participate in a conversation with you about feminism, you have a responsibility to engage with them seriously. You have a responsibility to listen to their views, which may appal and enrage you, and to provide strong, persuasive counter arguments. As long as they appear to be participating in the discussion in good faith, you have a responsibility to be respectful, because nobody is won over while they’re being insulted. This is where the fight is.

A favourite blogger of mine wrote earlier this year that “feminism has to win for the world to be moral”. If you believe this, you have a responsibility to convince others that feminist values are worth holding and defending. There is a multitude out there that is not going to come around on its own. Those people need to be convinced that feminism still matters, that our grievances are legitimate, that justice demands the remaining inequalities in our society are rectified. Those people need their attitudes challenged by people who are willing to engage them in considered and respectful conversation. It’s exhausting, infuriating, boring, confronting work. It has to be done. We have to do it.

Affirmative consent laws are not the answer.

There seems to be a great deal of support in the online circles I frequent for California’s move to establish an affirmative consent standard for sexual assault prosecutions involving university students. I am deeply uncomfortable with this, for a pretty simple reason; I think it confuses an important social norm with an acceptable legal precedent.

People seem to be interpreting this laws through a lens that assumes broad, implicit, unwritten exceptions. “No”, people say, “of course we don’t mean couples in long term relationships have to ask each other every time they want to initiate sex. Of course we don’t mean that everybody needs to have an explicit, verbal discussion throughout the encounter every time they hook up with someone casually”. This assumes a common sense, selective application of a sound principle: if you’re with someone you know well, you can probably be pretty confident that you know whether or not they’re up for fooling around on any given occasion. The less well you know someone, the more effort you should put into establishing, conclusively, that they are into whatever you’re doing together.

This is absolutely fine and very sensible from a social standpoint. If you’re hitting on someone, at some point something is usually framed as a question, “so, would you like to come home with me?”, and that’s right and good because it gives people a chance to indicate if they’re not interested. Obviously, if you’re with someone new and you’re not sure if they’re just a quiet type or maybe not enjoying themselves, you should check. Of course, everybody decent wants to be sure that their partners are enjoying and actively participating in any sexual experience they have together, whatever that involves in the context of any given relationship. But these are social norms, and they don’t translate easily into legislation.

I would like to think I’m sensitive enough to be able to tell whether my partners are enjoying, or hesitant about, or really not enjoying, any particular sexual interaction we have. I don’t normally feel that I have to ask, though of course I will if someone does seem uncomfortable. But when everything seems fine, I do simply assume consent, as long as somebody is actively participating and seems to be enjoying themselves. This is not affirmative consent in a legally recognisable sense. I have no idea how I would justify my knowledge in a legal setting with an affirmative consent law, because “active”, “affirmative”, and “meaningful” are not all the same thing. Consent can be meaningful without being affirmed in any recognisable way except by continued active participation. But conversely, somebody simply being an active participant does not always imply meaningful consent; someone may actively participate in sex that has been coerced, for example if they feel they need to have sex with their boss in order to keep their job. They could even affirm consent in this situation, but their affirmation is meaningless.

An affirmative consent standard, in law, does not actually solve the issue it is intended to tackle, which is (unless I’m mistaken), how we can prosecute sexual assault or rape cases in which the victim did not actively resist. I will be the first to tell you that I believe, absolutely, that the example I have just given is an example of rape. Coercing or blackmailing somebody into sex is rape. Having sex with somebody who is so intoxicated they would sign their life savings over to a stranger or blithely walk into traffic is rape. Aggressively, persistently coming onto someone who is mute, passive, and obviously very uncomfortable is sexual harassment, and if it graduates to sex simply because the person cannot for whatever reason bring themselves to violently resist, it is rape. These statements are perhaps not widely accepted, and of course, they should be. People need to recognise the limits of meaningful consent, and they need to respect those limits. People who have convinced themselves that sex under these circumstances is not rape need a fucking wakeup call.

The question is how we can translate this critical social norm into legislation. And I just don’t know how that’s possible. I don’t think affirmative consent laws achieve this, because they don’t provide a workable solution as to how the presence or absence of meaningful consent can be established. Someone being raped by their boss, or raped while rendered insensible by drugs or alcohol, might appear to both actively and affirmatively consent, but that appearance of consent doesn’t actually mean anything. Conversely, I don’t think I have ever in my life received a form of affirmative consent from any of my partners that would satisfy the criteria of California’s new law, but I sincerely hope that nobody believes that makes me a rapist. As far as I can see, any consistent application of this law would result in consequences that are completely absurd, which means that the law is basically useless for the purpose of establishing a practical, enforceable distinction between consensual sex and rape.

Laws that, if enforced consistently, would lead to the imprisonment of thousands of people cannot be enforced consistently. Laws that cannot be enforced consistently will be enforced arbitrarily. We have laws like this already; laws against marijuana possession, and against being heavily intoxicated in public, amongst others. These laws are violated routinely, which leaves it up to the police and the courts to decide who is prosecuted and who isn’t. Inevitably, in both Australia and the US, members of marginalised groups are prosecuted frequently while members of privileged groups are prosecuted only rarely.

It is impossible to defend yourself in these sorts of cases; technically, you have broken the law, but everybody breaks this particular law all the time. That is not a defense. It doesn’t matter that everybody else in the pub was drunk as well, that almost all young people in Australia smoke pot at some point, that almost nobody asks their partner for explicit consent every time they initiate sex. If your number comes up, even if it comes up through arbitrary, unfair, or malicious circumstances, even if you have truly done nothing morally wrong, you can easily be convicted. In each case, even if your behaviour was otherwise perfectly acceptable, you have broken the law. A law against which people who have done nothing wrong cannot mount a defense is an unjust law, especially if that law is likely to be enforced selectively.

Affirmative consent laws put a huge amount of power into the hands of systems that are known for arbitrary abuses of marginalised people. It is not that the law’s claims about what constitutes meaningful consent are wrong, it is that this standard of consent, even though it should be a social norm, is simply impossible to enforce consistently in the legal sphere. We do need better social standards for consent. We do need to widely recognise that cases in which unconsenting people did not or could not violently resist, for whatever reason, are rape. We do need better laws to protect people from these crimes. But regrettably, affirmative consent laws do not provide a workable solution to any of these issues. We have to keep looking.

Standing on the precipice.

“You think it is me that you degrade now. It is not. It is you.”
-Servillia, Rome

This time last year I went to the World Press Photo exhibition for the second time. With few exceptions, the photography is both moving and confronting. Some photos were posed portraits, while others featured destroyed buildings in Gaza and Aleppo. The image that affected me most was a candid shot: a girl of seven or eight wailing over the corpse of her father at his funeral, her expression somehow strikingly adult, one of pure anguish.

The caption identified him as one of Assad’s soilders. I will not link to it, but it is an important photograph. I try to view all war through a lens that clearly acknowledges the humanity of all participants. In a war like Syria’s, where from the earliest days the reports were of the systematic torture and mutilation of dissenters and journalists, this is hard. That photo is important. The girl in it matters.

Yet photographs like this disturb me, and reveal perhaps the deepest unresolved conflict between my intuitions and my ethics. I feel compelled to seek out good photojournalism. It seems self-evident to me that one must cultivate an ability to confront the terrible suffering in the world, and a willingness to grapple with the complexity of the situations that bring it about. One must learn not to turn away.

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 10.50.33 pm

There are, of course, multiple forms of media through which one might do this, with varying degrees of immediacy. I read more than I look at photographs. I do not watch videos. Even distant film of the tiny figures falling from the World Trade Centre distresses me. I am horrified at the thought of watching James Foley recite his scripted last words, at bearing witness to his degradation and his death. I feel, profoundly, that it would be a terrible violation for me to view that. And yet, as a consequentialist, I cannot explain this feeling. Who would I be violating? He is dead, and past all further harm.

The case is not so simple in that of the Syrian girl. She is, hopefully, still alive. One day she will be old enough to understand what it meant that there was a strange man with a camera at her father’s funeral. One day, perhaps, she will look upon her own face, twisted with grief, and know that thousands of people around the world have seen her that way, at that moment. How will she feel? Will she be harmed? Has she been harmed already? Perhaps such a concern trivial compared to the harm that the photograph documents. I don’t know.

The photographer cannot know the answers to these questions. Some of the most powerful photojournalism we have seen has been taken in situations where the consent of the subject is absolutely impossible. Once the photograph is taken, what are we participating in when we view it? Does it matter whether our motivations are pure or vouyeristic?

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 10.54.02 pm

There is a link here, of course, with the issue of looking at leaked, explicit photos of people who have made it clear that they do not want the photos to be viewed. It seems clearer cut – the motivation to view such photos cannot be “pure”, although I would argue that it may take several forms, some more excusable than others. Jennifer Lawrence has, unquestionably, been harmed by what has happened this week. But given that she will never know the number of people who have viewed those photos, is she further harmed by any one individual choosing to look at them?

I don’t believe that she is, and although I would say anybody looking at the photographs is participating in degrading her, I would not go so far as to argue that they are assaulting her. I don’t find that claim coherent. She has been harmed, but her distress does not grow with each additional download. I would argue that the problem with viewing those photos is, perhaps ironically, not to do with its impact on her, but rather in what it reveals about the viewers.

There are, no doubt, simply teenagers out there who have a crush on Jennifer Lawrence and consequently find pictures of her especially exciting. This is the most innocent reason I can imagine somebody might have for viewing the photos, and although I hope those boys will have more empathy and a more nuanced understanding of privacy and consent when they’re older, I’m not especially concerned by that.

What I do find disturbing is what the demand for improperly obtained sexual media reveals, given that the internet contains more porn than anybody could watch if they devoted the rest of their lives to it. The fact that people go to the trouble of hacking women’s webcams for the sake of watching them get undressed for bed in the evenings indicates that there is a strong desire among some segment of the population to get off looking at women who don’t know they’re being watched, and wouldn’t want to be. Making a consequentialist case that those women have been harmed even if they never discover their observation is difficult, but making the case that that behaviour reveals a disturbing lack of empathy in the viewer is not.

We must be very careful. If one values empathy highly, it should be hard to walk through the world press photo exhibit. We should leave feeling shaken and questioning what it means to be human. We should struggle. If you can approach the video of James Foley the same way I approach photojournalism, you should be deeply disturbed, and saddened, by what you see. My suspicion is that a lot of people may have watched that video in a different spirit. Perhaps some of them have come to regret that. When we approach this type of media voyeuristically, whether the content is violent or sexual, we cultivate something ugly in ourselves. We are practicing indifference, slowly numbing ourselves to the humanity of others.

Whatever you do, you do to yourself.