Thursday, January 9, 2014

Differential Non-Euvoluntarity in Schelling Decisions

I have to confess to what I gather is called "privilege". I'm a boring suburban white dad. I have a desk job I enjoy. I commute. I have a mortgage, a pretty good education, a lovely wife, a cute-as-a-button daughter, and a modest collection of threadbare socks. I haven't been in a fistfight since 6th grade, I've only been mugged once, and the only time I've been on the receiving end of purposeful gunfire was in (believe it or not) Florida two decades ago. Being a married, middle-aged white male in the modern secular West means I totally won the historical lottery.

Winning this lottery means that I'm vulnerable to charges of arrogance when I try my hand at Smithian sympathy applied to topics outside my ken. I've never been arrested on possession charges, so who am I to discuss the plight of the casualties in the War on American Minorities? Well, at the risk of taking off my boots to reveal feet of clay, I'd like to consider BATNA disparity applied to the Schelling Effect. I'm pretty much guaranteed to never be subjected to routine street harassment, so is the higher opportunity cost faced by my female reader(s?) cause for moral grievance?

Let's ask PJS.

@amelapay: "headphones are the utilitarian solution to street harassment. they get to have their uncivilized outbursts, but you don't hear a thing."

See these? Ram Jam cranked to 11 right now. More Than A Feeling is up next. Jay-Z later.
Hey baby, how bout you and me head back to Mos Eisley for some blue milk? I got a metal bikini that would look great on you.
@adamgurri: You know, princess, "Tasers are the deontological solution." If Kant taught us anything, there's a categorical imperative to enforce social norms. Escaping the Hobbesian concrete jungle where dreams are made of means being a bit of a scoundrel from time to time.

Artoo, you know what I'm talking about, right?

@DrPhilofEconomi: "An intimidating dog is the eudaimonic solution."

Maybe it's time to swap your pocket pooches for a Rottweiler. The Big Apple surely has a rescue shelter or two with burly dogs in need of some kindly foster care. Arete means that you can care for a critter in need of love while you help make the NYC streets a more civilized place to walk. Everyone wins and you don't have to commit assault to get there.

If these comments weren't in jest, I think this'd count as "mansplaining". The economist would be quick to point out that the costs of street harassment are sunk in the initial calculus. Pamela is no dummy. She knows right well that catcalling and rubbernecking is part of the New York life and she decided to live there anyway.

But the economic efficiency argument falls flat, even to me. There's an unjust transfer of PJS's peace of mind to satisfy... well, I don't claim to understand the motivations of hooting, braying, honking, juvenile males. Smithian sympathy goes only so far. Catcalls aren't about picking up chicks (apologies, Robin H.). Point is, there's an uncompensated exchange in there. The benefit roguish men get from hollering noxious, unwanted sentiments at passersby surely counts as psychic pollution. Right?

But the thing that got me thinking was this. This speaks to my insularity, but I hadn't even heard of "male gaze" until relatively recently. To me, there's a pretty significant difference between a man appreciating a beautiful woman on the one hand and catcalling on the other. But that's to me. I'm willing to entertain the idea that I'm wrong about that. Leering and ogling is neither frotteurism nor lewd remarks, but the wispy boundaries of aggression here are at least plausibly contentious. Can staring be psychic pollution?

The Coasean solution strikes me as eminently sensible. Manners are as good as gold. You don't have to be a blue-blood aristocrat to afford everyone else a de minimus parcel of respect and to handle offenses with tact and dignity. If you find yourself compelled to check an attractive woman out, I assure you it's not difficult to do so with discretion. Appreciating beauty need not cause distress. And for the other side of the exchange, I'm afraid I'm at a loss there. Mrs. Wilson is exceptionally good at deflecting unwanted attention, but I never get to see her razor wit at work. No one catcalls her in my presence. Sorry. But not really, since if you came to EE looking for tips on how to handle street harassment, you've got more serious problems than I can help with.

Anyway, in a static sense, there's a gender asymmetry in where to settle. In a dynamic sense, narrowing the BATNA disparity will take strength of character and a bit of creativity. The institutions that support street harassment are not euvoluntary, so finding and securing a better, emergent equilibrium can't be hand-waved (or gavel-banged) away easily.

1 comment:

  1. Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun. You don't stare at it, it's too risky. You get a sense of it then you look away.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?