A Philosopher's Blog

kNOwMORE, Sexual Violence & Brands

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on September 22, 2014

Florida State University College of Motion Pic...

Florida State UniversityPhoto credit: Wikipedia)

Florida State University, which is across the tracks from my own Florida A&M University, has had some serious problems with sexual violence involving students. One response to this has been the creation of a student driven campaign to address the problem with a brand and marketing:


Students developed the “kNOw More” brand to highlight the dual message of Florida State’s no tolerance stance on sexual violence and education efforts focused on prevention. Students also are leading marketing efforts for a campaign, “Ask. Respect. Don’t Expect,” aimed at raising awareness among their peers about obtaining clear consent for sexual activity and bystander intervention to prevent sexual assault or misconduct.

As an ethical person and a university professor, I certainly support efforts to reduce sexual violence on campuses (and anywhere). However, I found the use of the terms “brand” and “marketing efforts” somewhat disconcerting.

The main reason for this is that I associate the term “brand” with things like sodas, snack chips and smart phones rather than with efforts to combat sexual violence in the context of higher education. This sort of association creates, as I see it, some concerns.

The first is that the use of “brand” and “marketing efforts” in the context of sexual violence has the potential to trivialize the matter. Words, as the feminists rightly say, do matter. Speaking in terms of brands and marketing efforts makes it sound like Florida State sees the matter as on par with a new brand of FSU college products that will be promoted by marketing efforts. It would not seem too much to expect that the matter would be treated with more respect in terms of the language used.

The second concern ties back to a piece I wrote in 2011, “The University as a Business.” This essay was written in response to the reaction of Florida A&M University’s president to the tragic death of Florida A&M University student Robert Champion in a suspected hazing incident. The president, who has since resigned, wrote that “preserving the image and the FAMU brand is of paramount importance to me.” The general problem is that thinking of higher education in business terms is a damaging mistake that is harmful to the true mission of higher education, namely education. The specific problem is that addressing terrible things like killing and sexual violence in terms of brands and marketing is morally inappropriate. The brand and marketing view involve the ideas that moral problems are to be addressed in the same manner that one would address a sales decline in chips and this suggests that the problems are mainly a matter of public relations. That is, the creation of an appearance of action rather than effective action.

One obvious reply to my concerns is that terms such as “brand” and “marketing effort” are now the correct terms to use. That is, they are acceptable because of common use and I am thus reading too much into the matter.

On the one hand, that is a reasonable reply—I might be behind the times in terms of the terms. On the other hand, the casual acceptance of business terms in such a context would seem to support my view.

Another reply to my concerns is that the branding and marketing are aimed at addressing the problem of sexual violence and hence my criticism of the terminology is off the mark. This does have some appeal. After all, as people so often say, if the branding and marketing has some positive impact, then that would be good. However, this does not show that my concerns about the terminology and apparent underlying world-view are mistaken.


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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on September 22, 2014 at 11:21 am

    You could be a bit behind the times when it comes to the use of these terms. I know I am 🙂 Perhaps someone should fault our entertainment industry and our militaristic society, which thrives and profits from killing and sexual violence (for entertainment and geopolitical purposes respectively)? Not to mention our institutions of higher learning who exalt Sade, Nietzsche, and Foucault.

    The question is not “Why do we have a problem with killing and sexual violence?” but rather “Why don’t we have a much larger problem with killing and sexual violence than we presently do?”

    God’s common grace has been extended to us, but it’s presently being removed. Expect things to grow worse…. despite clever marketing techniques. All stakeholders should be concerned for their safety and well-being.

    The Bible was right after all: We will reap what we have sown.

    “What is the taproot, which is causing such growth in the delirium for violence, which is rampant today? It is the attack against God. It is hatred of the truth. Behind the metaphysic of murder lies the metaphysic of hatred of the created order. “I refuse to accept this order of things. I will not serve, therefore I am.” Refusal to serve God was the cry under which Satan brought violence and rebellion among the angels as they stood trial in the vestibule of heaven. Christ told his apostles: “I saw Satan like lightning falling from heaven.” Elsewhere, we read: “Satan and his wicked demons were drawn down by infernal ropes into the depths of hell.” Christ himself testified that this “father of lies was a murderer from the beginning,” thus making the connection between hatred of the truth and the lust for violence. He warned the Pharisees that men who reject God’s plan for their salvation will imitate Satan’s deeds….”

    Read more: Library : The Taproot of Violence http://shar.es/1a5Oqv

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 22, 2014 at 11:27 am

      I probably am behind the times for these terms, but I am resisting accepting them. “Branding” and “marketing campaigns” are appropriate terms for selling soda, chips and smart phones, but seem inappropriate for dealing with serious moral matters.

      I’m mostly pushing Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, and Kant these days.

      • T. J. Babson said, on September 22, 2014 at 12:12 pm

        Aquinas? Really?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 22, 2014 at 3:32 pm

          For reals. He is right after Aristotle in my ethics class, plus I cover his 5 Ways in my intro class.

          • TJB said, on September 22, 2014 at 7:36 pm

            Russell on Aquinas:

            There is little of the true philosophic spirit in Aquinas. He does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead. He is not engaged in an inquiry, the result of which it is impossible to know in advance. Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given I in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 24, 2014 at 10:58 am

              Aquinas does always end up in Catholic doctrine. But, this does not show that his actual arguments are defective. To be fair to Aquinas, most people start off with a belief and work towards proving it. The extremely rare exception is the person who actually follows the arguments to where they lead rather than setting them, like trained hounds, after a desired prey.

            • T. J. Babson said, on September 24, 2014 at 11:19 am

              “To be fair to Aquinas, most people start off with a belief and work towards proving it.”

              But isn’t this exactly what you are teaching your students *not* to do?

              Or are you using Aquinas as a bad example?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 24, 2014 at 1:55 pm

              The fact that Aquinas is working towards a specific conclusion does not invalidate his arguments. That would be a fallacy-most likely some sort of ad homimem variant (Aquinas argues for what he believes, therefore his argument is bad).

            • T. J. Babson said, on September 24, 2014 at 2:56 pm

              “The fact that Aquinas is working towards a specific conclusion does not invalidate his arguments.”

              Mike, take a step back. Aquinas is a lawyer working on behalf of the Catholic Church. Lawyers can make good arguments, too, but they are not interested in the truth.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 25, 2014 at 4:12 pm

              A good argument is a good argument, regardless of the person making it or his motive in doing so.

      • ajmacdonaldjr said, on September 23, 2014 at 1:23 pm

        I don’t know… marketing applies to anything one wants to popularize. Catchy slogans and brand recognition apply to pretty much anything… do they not? Serious moral matters may actually benefit from such an approach. It’s good you’re steering clear of the faux philosophers I mentioned 🙂 Perhaps we should be studying Edward Bernays? Edward Bernays and the Art of Public Manipulation: http://youtu.be/qiKMmrG1ZKU via @YouTube

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 24, 2014 at 10:59 am

          A practical case can be made for using all means to market the moral. Whether someone is led to the good by reason or a slick YouTube campaign might not matter as much-as Aristotle claimed, we must use all means available to make people good. That said, conning people into goodness seems a bit dubious.

          • ajmacdonaldjr said, on October 5, 2014 at 2:13 am

            I think the young women on campus should start analyzing the tidal wave of violence against women that has inundated the “entertainment” business.

            For example:

            ‘Stalker’ is just more violence against women disguised as entertainment http://wapo.st/ZwBZFl via @washingtonpost

            Why is there so much movie violence against women? | Natasha Walter http://gu.com/p/2hdf8/tw via @guardian

            Women as Background Decoration: Part 2 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games: http://youtu.be/5i_RPr9DwMA via @YouTube

            VIDEO – New study on violent video games show impact is lasting: http://youtu.be/JY3hHQOWjlU via @YouTube

            • Anonymous said, on October 7, 2014 at 1:59 pm


              These are tropes that women since the 60s have cultivated. They wanted to be sexual icons, and are reaping the rewards.

              10,000 years of rules governing sex and a man and woman’s place in society, all thrown out the window. Modesty is the new sin.


  2. T. J. Babson said, on September 22, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    This is all politically driven nonsense from the Dems. Crime (including sexual assault) has been dropping steadily over the past 20 years.

    Cui bono, Mike?

    To be precise, the F.B.I.’s count of violent crimes reported to law enforcement has declined from a rate of 747 violent incidents per 100,000 people in 1993 to 387 incidents per 100,000 people in 2012, which is the most recent year for which it has published complete data. This reflects the fact that over this period, the homicide rate has fallen by 51 percent; forcible rapes have declined by 35 percent; robberies have decreased by 56 percent; and the rate of aggravated assault has been cut by 45 percent. Property crime rates are also sharply down.

    These trends aren’t caused by changes in our willingness to report crime to the police. We see an even more significant decline in violent crime in data derived from surveys asking people whether they’ve been the victims of certain crimes over the past year. The National Crime Victimization Survey reports that the rate of violent victimizations has declined by 67 percent since 1993. This reflects a 70 percent decline in rape and sexual assault; a 66 percent decline in robbery; a 77 percent decline in aggravated assault; and a 64 percent decline in simple assault. This survey has nothing to say about the decline in homicide, for obvious reasons.


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 22, 2014 at 3:33 pm

      I support reducing violence even more.

      • T. J. Babson said, on September 22, 2014 at 6:44 pm

        Especially if it helps Dems.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 24, 2014 at 10:55 am

          I’m not in it for party advancement. Factions are useful for preventing a monopoly on power, but they need to cooperate enough for society to function.

        • T. J. Babson said, on September 24, 2014 at 11:21 am

          “I’m not in it for party advancement.”

          Then you should see it for the nonsense that it is. Do you really believe that universities are hotbeds of sexual assault?

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 24, 2014 at 1:58 pm

            On the one hand, the evidence seems to show that the extreme statistics are unfounded. On the other hand, assault does occur and it is reasonable to take steps to reduce the chances of it happening. As with all societal ills, it is a matter of calculation: is the cost of the proposal to counter it worth it in terms of the likely results? Cost is not just a matter of money-it also includes time, unintended (or intended) bad consequences (like innocent people being railroaded).

          • T. J. Babson said, on September 24, 2014 at 2:53 pm

            Time and energy are limited, so one must prioritize. Given all of the problems facing higher education, do you think prioritizing sexual assault, which has dropped precipitously over the past 20 years, makes sense?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 25, 2014 at 4:12 pm

              To say that it should not be prioritized would be to draw accusations of misogyny. However, my general principle is that the resources expended to counter and evil should be proportional to the harm of the evil (in terms of numbers of victims, magnitude, etc.). So, if the response is appropriate to the evil, then the response is the correct choice.

              I suspect that people can address sexual assault without doing so at the expense of other priorities. Also, if students are working on this, that is certainly time better spent than if they were drinking, playing video games or Facebooking.

    • Anonymous said, on October 7, 2014 at 2:05 pm


      Charles Murray says that putting more people in jail reduced crime.


      In the link Murray shows a graph that demonstrates the inverse proportions between crime and punishment.

      I agree. It’s a sad commentary but I think it’s true. It’s been a liberal meme since I can remember, that putting people in jail does nothing to stop crime. I think they’re living in a fantasy land.


      • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 9, 2014 at 4:10 pm

        Putting people in jail does prevent the people in jail from committing crimes outside of jail. So, it does something to reduce some crime. Just putting people in jail tends to lock them into the path of crime, perhaps creating more crime than alternative approaches would.

  3. magus71 said, on September 22, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    I have had 5 sexual assault training blocks in the last 5 months in the Army. But no one in my office knows how to properly “load” and use a military radio. I can’t make this stuff up. In other words, everyone in my office gets training on what they already knew before they came in the Army–rape is bad. They get almost no training in an essential war-fighting skill.

  4. ajmacdonaldjr said, on September 23, 2014 at 7:04 pm

  5. T. J. Babson said, on September 26, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Mike, I seem to remember you predicted this months ago.


    • TJB said, on October 9, 2014 at 10:37 pm

      Removed from the App Store. Too controversial.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 10, 2014 at 11:57 am

        I predict that a new one will appear soon, perhaps created by a university as part of their branding and marketing.

    • T. J. Babson said, on September 30, 2014 at 10:54 am

      I wish I could write half as well as she does.

      • magus71 said, on September 30, 2014 at 11:25 am

        Her style reminds me of Ralph Peters older stuff.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 30, 2014 at 4:12 pm

      I agree with Paglia on two points:
      1. Crime should be handled by the police, not college tribunals.
      2. The mainstream contemporary concept of evil is fundamentally flawed and shallow.

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