Beyond a “Rape Culture”: The History of the Utilitarian Mind

The presentation was a welcome break.  After all, I had never marched before, the heat was sweltering, and the practice was exhausting.  And so when our schedule for marching band brought us inside after nearly four hours spent drilling, exercising, and rehearsing, I was thrilled.

That was my first introduction to the terms “hook-up culture” and “rape culture.”

I was a freshman at the University of Dayton.  I was aware that 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted during their college years.  I knew that students often engaged in excessive drinking and other risky behaviors.  But I did not anticipate these behaviors and experiences being termed a “culture.”

I later discovered that there was a reason we were going through this training.  I was told by other marching band members that last year “there had been an incident.”  I am still unaware of any details surrounding this “incident”.  But that was the first time I had heard “consent” and “rape” so explicitly and clearly defined.  It was the first time I considered the possibility that we as a culture are complicit in creating an environment where these crimes are allowed to happen. It was the first time I considered that the way in which we talk about sexual assault, sex, and persons, can either encourage or discourage abuse.

“Culture” is the distinctive ideas, customs, social behavior, products, and manner of life of a particular nation, society or period. It includes the philosophies, practices, and attitudes of an organization or nation. Additionally, it is the collective assumptions embedded within a particular society that facilitate communication.

“Rape”, on the other hand, refers not only to the forced participation in sexual acts (normally intercourse or some variation of it), but also to the act of taking something by force and the destruction and defilement of something for profit.

Yet, “profit” does not necessitate monetary gain. “Profit” also refers to that which is of advantage, benefit, or use.  To “profit” is also to make use of or to take advantage.  And so, “profit”, when applied to rape, means to benefit one’s own sexual desires through the use and defilement of another.  A “culture of rape” then, would have to be a society in which the collective philosophies, practices, norms, and behaviors, promotes and accepts the use of other human beings for one’s own benefit.  In which the value of a human is determined by their “use” or “profitability.  A culture in which value is derived from productivity rather than dignity.

A culture of rape, more simply stated, is a utilitarian culture.

The issue of use goes beyond rape.  Our concept of the value of life is often dependent upon our perception of another’s “usefulness.”  And so over the next few days, I want to explore this utilitarian culture. I will examine what utilitarianism is, how it developed, why it is a part of what St. John Paul II termed the “culture of death”, and how we can respond with love to create a personalistic culture.  I hope to examine different “norms” held by our society that perpetuate a culture of use and how that culture of use is inextricably linked to our understanding of assault, sexuality, and the dignity of the human person.  Above all, I wish to emphasize that when faced with sexual assault and the degradation of the human person, our response should be love.  Our prayers and hearts should go out to all involved in abuse, as it should be our dearest hope that all find healing and hope within Jesus and Mary’s Hearts.

The answer to use is in loving unconditionally, for in loving unconditionally we restore dignity, in restoring dignity we heal, in healing we draw others to Christ, and in drawing others to Christ we give them rest in Our Lady’s arms and Jesus’ Sacred Heart.

The next post will be The Genesis of Utility

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