I was recently confronted by someone who proposed a utilitarian viewpoint valuing only people's happiness, calling it Good to make people happier and Bad/Wrong to make people less happy, with some inconsistent distinction between "upset" and "hurt" as categories of unhappiness. They were of the opinion that my aggressive and controversial approach to important sensitive topics like consent was not only net-negative, but that there were actually no good effects at all, even ignoring the bad effects. It has been a few years since I wrote something on the subject, so maybe it's worth revisiting, with a slant toward discussing the mere existence of the positive effects rather than their relative weight compared to the negative effects or the responsibility for those effects. In this post, I am going to elaborate on some of those effects, but first I want to call out some factors that are common to many such effects.
First, it may not be obvious to some people, but when I am arguing with someone about one of these controversial topics, it is not usually my goal to convince them to change their mind. These arguments happen in [semi]public forums, and among the audience there will always be some people closer to the fence than the people vocally engaged on either side. It may help to consider it like a political debate; the two candidates are not trying to convince each other of anything, they are trying to convince the [undecided, usually] voters in the audience. Changing the mind of even one of those people is an effect, as is simply making them aware of my position at all, and most of the people mentioned below were only ever spectators in those discussions.
Second, I cannot know every effect that my actions have. However, I can observe some effects, and predict or extrapolate from there what the effects I cannot see might be. If someone comes to me to privately respond to a public discussion, it is very unlikely that they are the only person thinking whatever they are thinking. Unfortunately this observation is biased toward positive responses, as I expect people with negative reactions to approach me much less often. However, that isn't a problem in this specific context, where I am illustrating any gross positive effect, without the need to consider net or negative effects.
Finally, some of the outcomes described below are at least partially based on prediction and confidence, compound probability and evaluation of likelihoods. If an outcome is not just plausible but probable, and the scenario repeats many times, I am comfortable acting as if that outcome had come to pass at least once, even if I will never be able to confirm it.
On to the Good...
Around the time I was becoming vocal on the subject of the nature of consent and consent violations, there was a serial date rapist and drugger-of-women active in the Atlanta area EDM/rave scene. He was unwelcome at some venues and in many homes, but otherwise free to continue acting. Some of his victims disclosed their rapes to me. Some of those victims told me, explicitly, that they were coming forward to me, and only to me, because of my vocalness and [uncommon, rational] opinions on the subject. I used that information to coordinate with other victims and the police to put him [back] in jail. I am confident in predicting that a double digit number of rapes, the ones that he would have committed had he remained free, were averted by this chain of events, and I count that as significant positive change in the happiness of those potential victims.
More generally, there are mental health benefits to be found in providing an outlet for disclosing violent trauma at all. Of the dozens of other women who have come to me to discuss their experiences with consent violations, many have told me that they chose me because of how they see me interacting in discussions on the topic. Giving them that opportunity, where no other extant approach had done so, would likely increase their happiness in at least some cases.
There are men who have come to me to confess that they did something in the past that my posts have convinced them was a consent violation. Some of them are thankful for this, and profess an intent to avoid that behavior in the future. I cannot know how many of them are being truthful or succeed, but I am comfortable predicting that of at least one of them. If those changes take place, some of them would lead to their partners less often feeling violated.
More broadly, there are people who have come to me to tell me that they had entirely dismissed the idea of modern consent culture due to the impossible and hypocritical standards of the people they had seen promoting it. I was, for some of those people, the first person they had seen give any model for consent that could be used to avoid violating consent. This opened them up to the idea that at least some modern consent culture ideas could be useful in improving their behavior. Whether their behavior actually improved or not, and whether that improvement made their future partners happier, is not certain, but again I am comfortable predicting that it has happened in at least one case.
On a closer personal level, I have had friends and colleagues and sexual partners whose connection to me was initiated or strengthened by my views and approach to these topics. People who explicitly thank me for doing what they cannot, often out of fear of the same repercussions that they see me facing. I like to believe that at least some of the people who choose to remain connected to me are enjoying some part of the experience, and I am certain that at least some of them would have never become so close to me if I were a different version of myself. Their (and my, for that matter) enjoyment of those relationships is a positive effect.
I have friends who have been in relationships with serial consent violators, some of whom I have attempted to intervene with. When I approached them about the situation, they explicitly told me that they were listening and weighing my counsel specifically because of my vocal views on the objectiveness of consent violation, where they had dismissed feedback from people with subjective and unpredictable ideas of what consent means. Based on this feedback, some of those relationships ended. While I may have made them unhappy by sharing this information, that is outside the scope of this post. Once they had the information I gave them, I am comfortable concluding that their choice to end the relationship was intended to, and hopefully did, improve their own happiness.
Similarly, I have friends who have considered relationships with serial consent violators, dismissing warnings on the subject from the people I described in the previous paragraph. Following a similar train of thought, my warnings were heeded where others' were not. I am comfortable predicting that at least some of these people were happier without that potential partner than they would have been with them, and that my warnings would have been dismissed with all the others if I thought and behaved as they do.
A friend of mine is authoring a book and blog on the subject of consent violations, mediation, community response, etc. Based on my vocal and unusual views, they came to me to request an interview to gather my insights. I do not know what they will do with this information, but I do know that they did not seek this level of detail from some people less like me in the ways in question. I am comfortable assuming that they think having this information from me can help them help other people, and given their profession they seem more likely to be right about that than I am. Even if they disagree with me and will only ever use my contributions as a negative example, my being vocal and aggressive about my position is what led to them seeking and acquiring those contributions.
I know people who have been inaccurately accused of consent violations. Not "falsely", because that phrase has a specific meaning in our culture. By inaccurate, I mean that there is no dispute about the events, only about the conclusion of what label to apply to them. These people felt able to speak to me and confide in me because of the content and intensity of my position on the subject, and I know that some of them were less sad and felt less isolated after having those conversations.
I'm going to stop here. There are a lot more examples of positive effects that I could bring up, but this is already running a bit long. Next time I write at length on this subject it will probably be about net good and ratios, and I'll bring up some other positive effects in the context of specific negative effects. I would appreciate feedback on any of these examples. I want to understand how so many people either don't see/predict/understand these positive effects, or do but don't attribute them as I do.