The American military is in a well-publicized struggle to address its sexual assault problem. In 1991, in the wake of the Tailhook scandal, military leaders repeatedly and publically assured Congress that they would change the culture that previously condoned sexual discrimination and turned a blind eye to sexual assault.
Over the past two decades, new sexual assault scandals have been followed by familiar assurances, and Congress’s patience has finally run out. As a result, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is currently undergoing its most significant restructuring since it went into effect in 1951. The critical issue who is going to make the decisions in these cases: commanders, as is the status quo, or somebody else like military lawyers or civilians.
What does any of that have to do with the Cultural Cognition Project, you might ask? Well, I was serving as a professor at the Army's law school when I read Dan's article, Culture, Cognition, and Consent.
Those of us at the school were working very hard to train military lawyers and commanders on the realities of sexual assault and to dispel rape myths. At a personal level, I was often frustrated by the resistance many people showed to this training, particularly the military lawyers. I suspected this was because rape myths are rooted in deeply-held beliefs about how men and women should behave, and I could not reasonably expect to change those beliefs in a one-hour class.
One of Dan's findings, broadly summarized, was that those who held relatively hierarchical worldviews agreed to a lesser extent than those with relatively egalitarian worldviews that the man in a dorm-room rape scenario should be found guilty of rape.
My reaction to his finding was a mixture of "ah-ha" and "uh-oh." The military is full of hierarchical people.
I’m really glad Eric Carpenter did this study. I have found myself thinking about it quite a bit in the several weeks that have passed since I read it. The study, it seems to me, brings into focus a cluster of empirical and normative issues critical for making sense of cultural cognition in law generally. But because I think it’s simply not clear how to resolve these issues, I'm not certain what inferences—empirical or moral—can be drawn from Eric’s study.