Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Feminist methodology vs. feminist content

exogenous preference - Google Search

Here's a nice article by Ingrid Robeyns posing the question of whether there is a distinctively feminist economic methodology. It also poses the question, at a higher level of abstraction, of whether for any academic enterprise "Feminist X," what we are, or should, be talking about is the X study of issues that concern women or a peculiarly feminist (non-androcentric or womanly) way of doing X.

I'm inclined to go for the former. I don't know that much about econ (when I created this blog I subtitled it to reflect my hope to make it a group blog that included economists) but when it comes to my field I'm firmly committed to the idea that there is no distinctively feminist (or non-androcentric or womanly) way of doing philosophy. Feminist philosophy means (1) picking up philosophically interesting issues that have been ignored because they were "women's issues" and (2) arguing against biased, sexist views.

The paradigm of feminist philosophy is Judith Jarvis Thompson's classic article "In Defense of Abortion." Here is a very philosophically interesting issue, one that hits central areas in metaphysics like the problem of personal identity and in ethics, that didn't get much attention earlier because it was a woman's issue. Thompson, an excellent, mainline analytic philosopher write the classic article--so classic that if you google you won't even be able to find it because it's buried under secondary literature and links to student plagiarism services that produce term papers on it.

There is an even more abstract issue: for any disadvantaged group, X, does fairness to x people mean changing the system to operate in a way that's more conducive to (what are taken to be) x people's culture, interests, values, ways of thinking or does it mean fixing the system so that (1) we recognize the disadvantages x people are at, the discrimination they face, etc. and (2) working to fix things so that x's can plug into the niches formerly reserved for white males.

Here again, I go with the latter interpretation. When I was in SDS as an undergraduate we had a discussion about this and I was booed off the floor by someone who asked rhetorically, "Would you just want them to have color TV sets?" Of course I would--because that's what "they" and most other people want. I hit the same wall later when I was involved in the movement to promote women's ordination in the Episcopal Church and comrades in arms asserted that the aim was not to "plug women into the same roles men had occupied" but to work for structural change.

Well, structural change is all very well but when it comes to improving the situation of members of disadantaged groups per se that is just a matter of removing the disadvantages that prevent them from getting what members of advantaged groups get, i.e. leveling the playing field so that women and members of racial minorities, can occupy the same roles that white males do--however good or bad those roles might be.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Latte-drinking Liberal Hypocrites

In Middle Class, Signs of Anxiety on School Efforts - New York Times

The Bloomberg administration's efforts to invest immense attention and resources on low-income students in low-performing schools are causing growing anxiety among parents from middle-class strongholds who worry that the emphasis is coming at their children's expense...

Take Heidi Vayer, a former public school teacher and guidance counselor. She decided to remove her two daughters this year from public school in District 2 on the East Side of Manhattan and enrolled them instead in an independent school, Friends Seminary. "I didn't see things getting better," Ms. Vayer said. "The school increased class sizes, and I felt no attention was being paid to middle-class students who were there."

Here's a nice story from the NYTimes about what happens when a school system makes a serious effort to improve lower class children's academic performance: upper middle class parents, predictably, pull their kids out. Who's surprised if white working class parents who can't afford to buy their kids out of the system

When my daughter went to the local public high school, from which less than a quarter of students continued on to college, even though her performance in elementary school was mediocre, she was magically tracked to AP classes and propelled into the local elite world-ranked state university. I'm not complaining but I do wonder if had something to do with the fact that she is blonde and a native English speaker. The same thing happened to me--even though my performance in elementary school was dismal and I was, in addition, what was known as a "discipline problem." Somehow all the classes I ended up in, apart from gym, were populated by students from my elementary school and the one other "good" school in town.

Now I am pretty smart and so is my daughter. But I find it hard to believe there there weren't quite a few kids who were just as smart relegated to the academic lumpen proletariat. Of course not all lower class kids were dumped--the very good children, the hard-working, motivated kids who were not "discipline problems" probably got through the class filter. But I don't have the slightest doubt that lower class kids who, like me, were "underachievers" never got the second, and third, and nth chances that I got.

I know very well why I'm not behind that check-out counter, why don't spend my days at a terminal inputting data, why I'm not stuck doing drudge work. I detest the system that traps people in these jobs not because I feel compassion for them--I don't like people like them--but because I know how easily I could have been in their position and because I know how completely arbitrary it is that my life is good and their lives are miserable.

Maybe we'd do better pushing this line rather than trying to promote compassion. Compassion is episodic and unreliable: it kicks in when we see flood victims clinging to the roofs of their houses but evaporates when we have to deal with refugees packed into squalid shelters. Compassion is selective: it attaches to pretty children and the "deserving poor" but not to the masses of miserable people who are unattractive and unpleasant to deal with. Compassion is seasonal: after an annual Santa Claus rally, when the Salvation Army buckets come out and the NYTimes runs stories about the 100 Neediest cases, it tanks. In any case, no one really feels very much compassion most of the time--in fact the natural human tendency is to be repelled by people who are badly off.

The real, reliable motivator of social improvement is the proximity of possible worlds where one could have been very much worse off. The way to get people motivated is to repeat, incessantly "that could easily have been you"--to rub in the fact that most of us who are better off escaped drudge work and poverty by sheer dumb luck, that our children are in those AP classes that interface seamlessly with the best universities by sheer dumb luck and to remind them also that even if they have escaped for now, in a society without safety nets, they and their children are always vulnerable. We need to display the momentum mori, the skull on the desk as a meditation object--pictures of supermarket checkers, of women inputting data at terminals, of sweat shop workers, with our faces edited in.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The fault is in our stars...not in ourselves

Adaptive Preference (pdf file)

I am now finishing the 9th or so revision of a paper on "adaptive preference" in response to comments from half a dozen referees which has morphed from a snappy little APA number to a 29 page monster. The original short version is linked.

I argue against Martha Nussbaum and others who cite cases where, allegedly, deprived individuals' adapt their preferences to their circumstances such that satisfying them does not benefit them as counterexamples to informed preference accounts of wellbeing. But leave the details aside--what vexes me at the gut level about Nussbaum's argument is the idea--which figures in a variety of contexts--that we do ourselves in: that we miss out on getting what is best for us because we are brainwashed, psychologically damaged, neurotic, self-defeating or simply confused, that correcting the external conditions of our lives will not by itself make things better, that we need consciousness-raising and therapy.

This is a pernicious lie. It is a lie because it suggests that a relatively rare pathology is the norm. There are some people whose problems are psychological--schizophrenics who are too flipped out to hold down a job or function socially and mental defectives who are just too dumb. But they can't be helped by talk therapy or consciousness raising anyway. For the rest of us, all that's required for the good life are the externals--money, leisure and entertainment.

However we have been bamboozled by the literati and the therapy industry, and convinced that the externals are not enough--that money can't buy happiness, that getting what we want will turn into dust in our mouths, that human beings by their nature are on a quest for Meaning and, perhaps most importantly, that the very idea that the simple, obvious material goods are either necessary or sufficient for the good life is hopelessly crude and naive. At the perfectly awful college for rich underachievers I attended we were constantly taught that divine discontent was noble, that crude materialism was bad, and that the goodies we had were "empty." We were encouraged to "find ourselves" rather than making decisions about further education and employment. We were coddled and petted, given extensions, incompletes and sympathy by faculty when we complained about broken relationships, writing blocks or identity crises, and taught to look down on blue collar kids going to state factory schools for mere job training.

Rhetoric aside, thinking about this as I revise my paper, rereading stories about illiterate, impoverished Indian women who would be delighted to have clean water, micro-credit loans to set up micro-businesses and primary school education for their children I am furious at the decadent rich kids I went to school with, striving after the wind, dissatisfied with goods beyond the wildest dreams of most of the human race, and worst of all, congratulating themselves on their dissatisfaction, on their superior virtue and discernment. And I'm furious at myself too because I was one of those kids--worrying about the Meaning of Life, whining for incompletes and congratulating myself.

I hope I know better now. I have everything I've ever wanted, everything that by my lights matters: a secure, interesting job; a beautiful house; leisure; the opportunity to travel; enough money to get pretty much anything I seriously want; a husband and children; and a really nice computer. That is it--that is all there is to life and it's good enough. The only serious moral problem in the universe is seeing to it that everyone gets that good stuff and the only tragedy is that we die and so can't enjoy it forever. The fault is in our stars: fix the external circumstances of peoples lives, get them that stuff and nothing else matters.

Monday, December 19, 2005

American Religion: Pagans wanted

Incredibly, I was interviewed for a radio show a few days ago--and asked to comment on why Americans are so very, very religious and how this ultra-religiousity shapes American politics and policy. Now, in the throes of espirit d’escallier I think I’ve got it.

From my professional perspective, as a philosopher, the core religious issues are metaphysical ones: questions about the existence and nature of God and post-mortem survival. So, in the standard philosophy of religion class we trot undergraduates through the classic arguments for and against the existence of God—Ontological, Cosmological, Teleological and Religious Experience vs. Problem of Evil and Verificationist Challenge—and material on the problem of personal identity that figures in discussions of the possibility of resurrection and disembodied existence. Then, insofar as we’re interested in Christianity in particular there are additional goodies: logic puzzles concerning the doctrine of the Trinity (my personal favorite) and worries about the idea of Incarnation.

We don’t have anything to say about ethics when it comes to philosophy of religion courses—that’s for ethics courses, of course. We might have something to say about miracles, because Hume did and if Hume was interested in a problem guaranteed it is philosophically interesting. But we don’t seriously believe that it’s of any real religious importance whether miracles, including the Virgin Birth and others reported in the Bible, really occurred. Religion from this perspective is essentially a matter of ontology—like the problem of universals: ethical and empirical issues, if they figure at all, are strictly peripheral. That is Phil 112, Philosophy of Religion, 3 units, term paper and 2 blue books, satisfies a humanities requirement—enjoy.

But that is not the way in which most people, religious or secular, view religion. For them the strictly metaphysical issues are not of primary importance. Religion is a total package, including a roster of empirical claims, and perhaps even more importantly, a vision of the Good Life and a variety of moral and political agendas. God and post-mortem survival come along with the package.

Americans are more sympathetic to the Package than Europeans but I doubt that this is because they’re less inclined to tough-minded empiricism. According to the figures I was looking at, from about a dozen websites which vary widely, averaging out, about 85% of Americans believe in God while only a bare majority of Brits do. But it turns out the percentage of Brits who believe in ghosts is significantly higher than the percentage who believe in God. Now it would be interesting to compare the difference in the percentage of Americans and Europeans who profess belief in God with the difference, if any, in the percentage of Americans and Europeans who believe in flakey nonsense—astrology, ghosts, “alternative” medicine, UFO abductions, reincarnation or generic spirituality. When I have time I’ll get the figures. But my guess is that the gap, if any, when it comes to beliefs about flakey nonsense is narrower than the God gap.

If this is so then my thesis is confirmed: Americans are no more religious in the Phil 112 sense than anyone else. Rather, for some complicated historical and cultural reasons, we are more likely to buy the vision of the Good Life associated with religious belief and the ethical and political agendas that go along with it than Europeans are. We buy into ontological and empirical claims, which we don’t really care about one way or the other, because they are part of the Package. In particular, my conjecture is that we distrust institutions, especially government, and are more likely than citizens of other affluent industrialized nations to believe that without religion people will run amok. We are more frightened of chaos breaking in than people in other affluent countries and more worried about violence; we place a higher value on self-discipline and are much more likely than Europeans to believe that religion is the most effective mechanism of social control.

Those of us who don’t buy this vision of the Good Life and the socio-political agenda are disinclined to buy the ontological claims—and are, by and large, unsympathetic to religion as such insofar as we regard it as a program for pushing through this agenda. So we run crusades against hill shrines, Christmas crèches in parks, and all the outward and visible signs of Christianity to stop what we see as creeping theocracy, a program to install Christian shari’a, suppress personal freedom—particularly freedom of sexual self-expression—and push through an ultra-conservative socio-political agenda.

Now I guess that what I myself am is an agnostic Christian pagan. When it comes to empirical claims, I do not believe anything different from what any convinced atheist believes. I do not believe in miracles—not because I think that anomalies are impossible but because I don’t believe that there is any compelling evidence that such events have occurred. I have no sympathy for any distinctively Christian ethic: I am a utilitarian. I detest the political agenda of the Religious Right. I think that questions about the existence of God are philosophically interesting but don’t see any compelling reason to believe that God exists—or doesn’t exist. If I have to jump one way or the other I’ll jump for theism though because of plausibility arguments from religious experience. I hope that by the time I am old I will have convinced myself that I shall survive bodily death but I am not counting on it.

But I really, really like religion. I like the philosophical puzzles, particularly the doctrine of the Trinity, and I simply love the stuff of religion—the mysticism and the art. From my Phil 112 perspective, none of this is any more threatening or indicative of a large-scale socio-political agenda than Buddha statues in Chinese restaurants or “God bless you” when we sneeze. Religion at its core is just metaphysics and has no more import for ethics, politics or social arrangements than speculative doctrines about the ontological status of numbers or disputes about whether time travel is logically possible.

Religious myth, symbol, ceremony, custom and decor are cultural products which, along with their secular counterparts—patriotic parades and fireworks displays, birthdays, weddings, and other potlatches, secular holidays and all the rituals surrounding the cult of professional sport—make life enjoyable. The more the better. The myths, ceremonies and symbols of Christianity predominate because they are the part of our culture, in the way that Thanksgiving, Halloween and Super Bowl Sunday are. For religious believers, that is people who buy the metaphysical claims, they express religious sentiments; for others they are just entertainment. Everyone can play: no one is excluded unless they choose to exclude themselves (in the spirit of puritanical killjoys who object to beauty pageants because they “objectify” women or to contact sports and computer games because they glorify violence).

My current preoccupation is the history of Late Antiquity. This ‘world full of gods’ appeals to me—this world of countless gods and cults, domestic and foreign, where some believe, some half-believe and some do not believe at all, where it is not clear whether a given deity is understood as an intelligent being or causally efficacous individual of any other sort, an abstract philosophical principle or a metaphorical figure, and where it does not really matter. That is what I wish the world were—a world where all the rich stuff of Christianity played the role of the myth, ritual and symbol of Mediterranean paganism from which it descended.

It’s a trite romantic fantasy, in the spirit of Santayana—who got it dead right about American religion and character in The Last Puritan and entertained similar fantasies about culture Catholicism: “There is no God, and Mary is His Mother.”

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bush: The Speech, the War and the Hurricane

Bush, Saying U.S. Is Winning, Asks Patience on Iraq - New York Times

Nothing new in Bush’s speech this evening…at least nothing besides the admission that he screwed up. His groomers and trainers have finally got it across to him that strategic withdrawl is in order, time to admit that the intelligence was botched, that there were no WMD and, oh yes, that he’d been spying on American citizens since 9/11. It was, of course, a nuanced confession, not the blubbering 12-step repentance that may come later—after he leaves office. Just a little flutter to see if admitting fallibility wins sympathy or is perceived as a sign of weakness.

On substantive issues however it was the old time religion: the bad guys are out to get us and we have to get them first, and get them where they are so that they can’t get us at home. There was the same ritualized invocation of 9/11 and the fudge on the distinction between the Iraq program and the “war on terrorism,” pious remarks about spreading freedom and democracy, and best wishes for Christmas and Hanukah.

The confession—too little too late—will not make any difference because no one really cared about Weapons of Mass Destruction in the first place—any more than they cared about whether Reuben “Hurricane” Carter, a black boxer unjustly convicted of murder in my home town was really guilty of the triple murder for which he was sent to prison. The bottom line was that Carter was a big, tough black man and so a danger to the community. If he really killed those 3 guys, that was good: it justified us in putting him away. If he didn’t, that was also ok because he got put away anyhow.

No one really cared whether Iraq had WMD. The bottom line was that there were big tough guys who, if not exactly black weren’t quite white and were out to get us. If there were WMDs in Iraq that was good: it justified going over and getting them before they got us. If there weren’t, that was ok too because we would get them anyhow. One way or another, our leader was a Big Man who would hang tough and protect us.

But he didn’t. He couldn’t even deal with Hurricane Katrina.

What could he have done? Maybe, remembering film clips of Ike’s “I will go to Korea” speech, admit that the whole Iraq affair was a hopeless quagmire, announce that he would go to Iraq, negotiate with all parties, partition the country and fix the mess. If this miserable little shit had any real guts, beyond the scripted cinema variety it took to land on the deck of an aircraft carrier and announce “mission accomplished,” he would play it straight for once, put his life and legacy on the line and make a real attempt to fix what he broke. But he will not. If the Democrats want a successful candidate for the next election they will pick one who will.

I don’t care about this war because I don’t care about foreign policy. Wars come and go. War by its nature is bad and it’s a judgment call whether, for any given war, the good outweighs the bad or vice versa. But I find the utter gutlessness of Americans appalling: the gutlessness of Americans agonizing about crime in the streets and terrorist threats from abroad, locking up bad guys and locking themselves into gated communities if they can afford it, obsessing about dirt, germs, food additives, bird flu, porno on the internet, bullies in the schools, and anything that could conceivably offend anyone and the gutlessness of American politicians testing the waters, consulting focus groups, sampling polls and running chicken-shit from anything that could jeopardize their careers, reputations or physical safety.

One always feels reticent about expressing such sentiments if one hasn't been tested and, being a women (of a certain age), I wasn't: I was never in the military. But I swear by Jesus Christ that "I, a weak woman" could do better than these miserable wimps.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Academic Freedom

Keep 'Adam and Steve' Out of His In-Box. Is That So Hateful? - New York Times

Mr. Daniel, who repairs printers at William Paterson University and also takes courses toward a master's degree there, was reading his e-mail before work on March 8 when he came upon a message sent in connection with Women's History Month announcing the showing of a film, "Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House." Mr. Daniel, 63, who has been a Muslim since the 1970's, had no interest in the film. He believes his religion condemns homosexuality. So following the instructions, he sent a reply to the e-mail address of Arlene Holpp Scala, chairwoman of the department of women's studies.

"Do not send me any mail about 'Connie and Sally' and 'Adam and Steve.' These are perversions," he wrote. "The absence of God in higher education brings on confusion. That is why in these classes the Creator of the heavens and the earth is never mentioned."

Two days later, Dr. Scala filed a complaint with officials at William Paterson. It read: "Mr. Daniel's message to me sounds threatening and in violation of our University's nondiscrimination policy. I don't want to feel threatened at my place of work when I send out announcements about events that address lesbian issues." She said Mr. Daniel should be informed that he had violated university policy and that she was not sure what else should be done to censure him and "make me feel I am working in a safe environment."

What, if anything, was in this stupid woman's head? What on earth did she think that she, chair of an academic department--if you can call "woman's studies" an academic discipline--stood to gain by going after a computer tech on staff? I've seen comparable things happen and I'm baffled. It looks like you get some sort of prestige by demonstrating how weak and sensitive you are, how scared you are for your personal safety, and how loudly you can whine.

Dr. Scala, I suspect, was playing Let's Pretend. A cloistered (and I'd bet tenured) academic, she imagined herself a foot soldier in the feminist movement, a powerless woman working in a hostile environment, surrounded by big, hairy, threatening males out to get her, daring to assert herself and striking a blow for the sisterhood. And, of course, it must have been sweet to punish someone who held views with which she disagreed, particularly someone whom she believed could not fight back--makes me wonder how she deals with students who are foolish enough to take her courses and argue against the party line.

Mr. Daniel (who, being a competent technician, is probably just smarter than Dr. Scala) won his case. But I find it outrageous that silly asses like Dr. Scala can make frivolous complaints that jeopardize the livelihood of innocent parties without any adverse consequences.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Mediocre Affirmative Action Candidates

Conservatism and the pursuit of excellence

At our last dinner table conversation, my husband wondered why Bush nominated Harriet Meiers when it was so predictable that she would go down in flames.

This one is a no-brainer: the aim was to discredit affirmative action and make it politically feasible to appoint a white male. We do this in Academia all the time.

Faced with a hiring decision, colleagues piously proclaim that we will of course do everything we can to find a qualified woman. So, e.g. on one occasion we decided to open the search to candidates with an interest in philosophy of law as well as business ethics since, as one colleague noted, this would be more likely to attract women ("because, you know, you think of women more in connection with, like, LA Law and Allie McBeal than with business").

Then we sort through candidates' files and conduct interviews, carefully weeding out the strongest female candidates on the grounds that given affirmative action policies they can get any jobs they want so we don't have a chance of getting them. Then we make the final decision, considering the pool of mediocre female candidates left and a few slightly better than mediocre male candidates. We bewail the fact that in spite of all our efforts to get a good female candidate we just have the "usual roster of weak women."

At this point, we congratulate ourselves on having tried our best--tailoring the job description to "feminine interests" and interviewing a preponderance of female applicants (except, or course, the ones with whom we wouldn't have a chance). We have the paper work to show that the female candidates that got to the interview stage are, by any criteria, less qualified than the male candidates and, crying crocodile tears, offer the job to a white male.

Let's face it, my male colleagues say: women are just mediocre. Where there's smoke there's fire--that's why you see so few women at the top, as CEOs of fortune 500 companies or in prestigeous academic positions, and why with all the affirmative action pressures we've been under for the last few decades you still don't get women at the top. Look at us: we did everything we could to get a qualified woman but the women we interviewed were just not competitive.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Charity Ends At Home

What Is Charity? - New York Times

[T]he nonprofit sector has drifted from core notions of charity...Only a sliver of giving to churches is spent on social services. Last year, of the 14 gifts that exceeded $100 million, only one - a $1.5 billion bequest to the Salvation Army from Joan B. Kroc, the widow of the founder of McDonald's - went to a human services organization, Forbes magazine says.

"In general, philanthropy seems to have stopped talking about poverty and race," said Jan Masaoka, executive director of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, which tries to strengthen charities. Small groups still get funding, but the sector "in some ways has retreated from taking on poverty in a larger-scale, more direct way."

If there's one thing that's true, it's that people give to people because they have a personal connection to the place they're giving to, and people who have personal connections to human service organizations are not usually people with money...People who grew up in comfortable, clean, prosperous suburbs have just never had as much familiarity with how many others live.

I grew up in a clean, prosperous neighborhood and, in any case, am no great philanthropist. But I have a vivid, if perversely selective, imagination. I can't imagine being sick so I don't give a cent to "charities" concerned with health care or medical research. But I can easily imagine being poor or being a member of a visible minority. So I give the lousy little amount of money I give to: the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Fund for an Open Society and and UNICEF and these days I've had a blast giving people virtual farm animals from the Heifer Project as gifts. The the cow I gave my son and his bride as a wedding present, the pigs, goats and chickens I've given to friends, and the swarm of bees I sent to my mother-in-law go to people in developing countries who know how to deal with them.

So I just thought I'd advertise a little. I don't know how many people visit my blog, but I thought I'd put up these convenient links in case you have some disposable income. BTW the Canadian Harambee Education Society is also a terrific deal: for $340 American money you can send a girl in Kenya or Uganda through high school.

It's not virtue that drives me but the vividness of modality that comes from reading too much David Lewis, and the lively sense that these possible worlds where I'm poor and have no options are just a hair's breadth away. I go into Walmart and see the women working there at pink-collar shit jobs for minimum wage, going mad doing miserable drudge work all day and living in poverty, and it always strikes me in the most vivid way how I escaped that by the skin of my teeth and pure dumb luck--how easily I could have been one or them, or someone who couldn't even get a job at Walmart. I see beggars at freeway exits and always think of how easily that could have been me, standing there all day with a cardboard sign, bored out of my head while the cars go past blasting me with exhaust fumes, with nowhere to go, nothing to do and no way out.

I'm writing now on preference and well-being. My intuitions may be screwy but I have the vivid sense that I'm actually less well off myself because possible worlds like this are so close by. So I give money and do what I can to fix the safety nets that cushion me from those possible worlds. It's hard to explain this gut-level fear: as a tenured professor I know there's no chance I'll end up working at Walmart or begging at a freeway exit, and there is sure no way that I'm going to wake up black one day. But this is all vivid and close to me.

Monday, November 07, 2005

DNA [Daily News & Analysis] - Opinion - Why is Paris burning?

"France took many immigrants from its former colonies, especially from Algeria and several African and Arab countries and refrained from providing any state help to uphold their unique cultures. Au contraire, it frowned on any display of cultural separateness, as was evident from the banning of the hijab (and, it may be pointed out, the turban, the crucifix and several other overt religious symbols) from state-run schools. All of this sounds noble and egalitarian, but in practice, France's non-white populations have found that they have the worst of both worlds. They have neither benefited from any affirmative action, which would guarantee them some jobs, nor managed to merge with the national social, cultural, political and most important, economic mainstream. Many of them live in high-rise ghettos with pathetic living conditions and high unemployment"

Well, bravo. This piece from an Indian publication gets it right and says it succinctly.

Here's $25,000--now go away 11/06/05 - A Buyout Option For Europe's Muslims?

Well this is a weird solution: pay immigrants to go back to their native countries. Almost as good as my late libertarian friend Deane's proposal to create a moat all along the US-Mexican border with sloping tile sides and stock it with aligators.

Eventually we did come up with a solution. Anyone who wants to get into the US has to spend a year in an Assimilation Camp where they will get a crash immersion course in English and other American folkways. They will also agree to change their names and resettle in areas where jobs for which they qualify are available and no or few other members of their ethnic group live. At the end of the year they will be moved to whatever area the state deems most suitible and given every reasonable form of help in finding housing, getting jobs, and otherwise getting set up including financial assistance and child care. And, of course, make sure that they don't get hit by racism by enforcing equal opportunity and affirmative action policies.

How many immigrants would accept that deal? Try it--I'd bet virtually all.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Paris burning

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Disabled woman set on fire as Paris riots spread

I remember the long hot summers when the cities burned in the US and, after Rodney King got beaten up, I was in Whittier reading a paper at Whittier College, up the hill from LA and we could smell the smoke.

It's easy enough to understand why most people set fires, loot shops and trash the streets: it's fun and profitable. When I was at music camp, at the end of the season, I bought a 10¢ ticket for a chance to bash an old upright piano with a sledge hammer. Who doesn't want to do damage and run amok--all the better if you can get a DVD player into the bargain.

But crowds are wise. Even if individuals are just out for rape and pillage, the crowd operates according to ideological commitment and a delicate sensitivity to time, place and circumstance. Why then and there?

In the US, I think, it was impatience and thwarted idealism. We had the idea that if Jim Crow laws could be pulled down everything would immediately be fixed. Then, after the inspiring speeches, sit-ins and martyrdoms, it was business as usual. The first generation of the civil rights movements compared themselves to their grandparents and thought they'd entered into the Promised Land; the next generation compared themselves to whites and were, legitimately, outraged. And so the first generation of immigrants compare their circumstances to their lives in very poor countries and are pleased; their children and children's children look around them and expect something better.

I've always been sympathetic to the French scheme of secularism and assimilation. But it's an empirical question of how best to achieve it. Denying the reality of racism doesn't make it go away. They should certainly stop schoolgirls from wearing Muslim headscarves--not because they're religious symbols but because they're an overt display of ethnic identity. If you live in a country, you have an obligation to assimilate. But the other side of the coin is that the state has an obligation to make it feasible--and that doesn't seem to have been happening in France.

Ought implies can and if the state, whether in France or anywhere else, is seriously interested in getting minorities to assimilate it has to see that they can--by dismantling racism, and by affirmative action and other policies geared to ending discrimination.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Inappropriate Touching

Hands Across Catholic America - Should churchgoers hold hands during Mass? By Andrew Santella

Not long ago, I heard a Catholic churchgoer complaining about a wave of inappropriate touching that had spread across so many American parishes. He wasn't talking about pederast priests and the sex-abuse scandal. What he had in mind was the way many Catholics have taken to holding hands in church while they recite the Lord's Prayer...Of course, most Catholics are neither vehemently touch-feely nor vehemently traditional. I'm not a big fan of hand-holding and have even complained about it in print. To me, it smacks of enforced good cheer and saccharine singalongs. But the trouble with being against hand-holding is that it puts you in league with the church's most ultra-orthodox flat-Earthers.

Same here--though, mercifully, hand-holding hasn't gone quite this far in the Episcopal Church. Still, apart from our son's wedding last summer, I haven't been to church now for, I think 6 years.

I don't like the "horizontal dimension" in religion. I don't like the Peace, I don't like chatting in the pews before the service and I don't like running the gauntlet of ushers and greeters to get into the church.

It isn't that I'm misanthropic and it isn't that I'm afraid of germs. I am just shy: little social contacts and the protocols of friendliness stress me out. Not a lot: I've gotten used to saying hi to colleagues and minor chit chat with cashiers. But I would really rather not have it than have it: I like being private in public.

Sociability sometimes still overwelms me. I wanted to learn French--and one of the advantages of being an academic is getting to sit in on all the classes you want. But in the French II class I went to, as a pedagogical technique the instructor passed out lists of questions and had students go around to other students getting answers to the questions--a sort of scavenger hunt. I couldn't take it.

This is a really effective way to learn a language. After a summer of no French or in my case 30 years of no French, we were rusty. Then things started coming back--surprisingly. But I couldn't handle it. It might have been different if I were a traditionally-aged USD student, though even under optimal conditions I wouldn't have cared for it, but for me, as a professor, obviously older, it was just too uncomfortable. That's my quirk. I am, in this peculiar way shy. I would have stuck with it if I had to, but I didn't so I dropped the class.

What is surprising is the extent to which this kind of shyness is socially taboo--in the way that smoking or admitting that you like junk food is. It is not only shameful but, according to some, sinful. When I had a curmudgeonly letter published on Anglicans Online complaining about contemporary liturgy, the Peace and other elements of the "horizontal dimension" I was lambasted. Readers sent me emails, in some cases multiple emails condemning me as a reactionary and homophobe.

Homophobe? I suppose it's not entirely incomprehensible since social conservatives in the church have picked on liturgical revision as a symbolic issue to rally the troops. But I would bet that lots of people who had no axes to grind about same sex unions or other Red/Blue hot issues got in bed with these conservatives because they didn't like the horizontal liturgical style. After all if the guys in the pew next to me are gay, whether married in the church or not, how does it affect my church experience? What skin is it off my nose? Everything looks exactly the same.

If however I have to engage in "community" with ushers and greeters to get into the building, chit-chat with people before the service, shake hands or put up with hugs while making miserable noises about "justice, freedom and peace" that does profoundly change my church experience. Of course, ceteris paribus, I want to have enjoyable experiences and avoid stressful, unpleasant, embarrassing ones--why not?

At this point the pious, in a huff, snort "You don't go to church to get good experiences for your self" followed by a number of doctrinal claims about why one should go to church. Well, I don't buy any of them. As far as "building community" which, among the enlightened is supposed to be the purpose of church-going, if what that means facilitating little social niceties, hugging and chit-chat I can't see why this is supposed to be a religious duty. It is simply a taste that some people have and others don't have.

I suppose the idea is that friendliness is good because it spills over into altruistic behavior--that those of us who prefer using ATMs to chatting with bank tellers and find minor social interactions on the whole unpleasant are less likely to give to charity or work for social justice. But I doubt that this is so. Moreover, to the extent that friendliness and sympathy motivate altruism they seem to promote inefficient sentimentalities--sending out sympathy cards and hand-patting, taking Thanksgiving baskets to the deserving poor--rather than behavior that would be more efficient in maximizing utility, e.g. working and giving to promote the establishment of a welfare state. In any case, if what's wanted is altruistic behavior, promoting "community" is an inefficient, indirect and ineffective way to get it.

Friendliness is a taste--not a virtue much less a religious duty. And shyness isn't either a vice or a pathology but a feature of personality. I've leant how to make the appropriate noises, to act suitably in social situations, but it's something I'll never enjoy and I do not see why I should.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Give a pig!

Charitable Gift Giving that Makes a Difference | Heifer International

I just gave my son and daughter-in-law a pig for their almost simultaneous birthdays. I gave them a cow as a wedding present. Check out this link to the Heifer Project, a charity with low overhead that does lots of good.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers down

Miers Failed to Win Support of
Key Senators and Conservatives - New York Times

Harriet Miers has withdrawn and now, 7 am PDT, the TV pundits are running continuous coverage.

The remarkable thing is that everyone agrees Bush will favor women in appointing a successor. The administration doesn't seem to have any compunctions about affirmative action in appointing Supreme Court justices when, ironically, one of the qualifications for the position is opposition to affirmative action.

So here is a conundrum: why is affirmative action ok for ultra-elite high-visibility positions on the Supreme Court and in the Cabinet but not for the overwhelming majority of women who aren't in the pool for these ultra-elite jobs? What f-ing good is it if a few extraordinary women can get jobs as Supreme Court justices or Cabinet secretaries when the majority of women can't get a whole range of ordinary jobs that ordinary men can get?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | This age of fanaticism is no time for non-believers to make enemies: "Humanists must assert the secularity and plurality of politics and citizenship; but in doing this we should not assume all believers differ from us. Christian humanists also believe politics is part of the secular sphere (the natural law, not the divine law). Religious fanaticism thrives domestically where there is either physical poverty or poverty of political and social ideals, and internationally where there is gross injustice. Humanists need to be more active in social policies and less fussy about the company we keep."

Humanists must assert the secularity and plurality of politics and citizenship; but in doing this we should not assume all believers differ from us. Christian humanists also believe politics is part of the secular sphere (the natural law, not the divine law). Religious fanaticism thrives domestically where there is either physical poverty or poverty of political and social ideals, and internationally where there is gross injustice. Humanists need to be more active in social policies and less fussy about the company we keep.

What a remarkably reasonable thing to say! Immured as I am at a Catholic college (and glad of it) I haven't seen an upsurge of anti-religous sentiment on the ground. But the chatter in the ether seems to be reaching a crescendo, Dawkins beating the drum with Dennett's obligato and a crowd of witnesses denouncing sharia and suicide-bombing as a natural and inevitable consequence of pernicious ontological commitments.

And that is what religion is: commitment to the existence of some supernatural being(s) packaged in a fabric of art, myth and liturgy. The idea that any metaphysical theory by its nature could drive people to lunacy and violence is as bizarre as the notion my mother and others 50 years ago entertained that daylight savings time was a Communist plot.

This is not intentionally naive. As it happens adherents of metaphysical systems form themselves into groups--and even more often, groups adopt metaphysical commitments as part of their corporate identity. They develop customs and policies and fight with members of competing tribes. So do ethnic groups, sports fans and street gangs competing for turf. Religious warfare is commonplace but it isn't at bottom theologically motivated--metaphysics is innert.

Tribalism and violence are part of our genetic heritage--religion, like blood kinship, language, football team fanship or neighborhood is just one of the markers we pick up to define our tribe, to sort out who we support and who we beat up. Metaphysics is epiphenomenal--Dawkins, Dennett and all the self-righteous secularists who've emerged lately to make the case that bloated ontologies produce social ills are either naive or, more likely, disingenuous.

People are more likely to do violence in the name of religion than in support of other intellectual commitments because in the aggregate religious people are more likely to be uneducated, tribal and sexually diamorphic. Football fans of competing teams wreck property and do violence to one another because they're working class lads; opera fans who worship competing divas do not trash the neighborhood and beat up on oneanother because they are effete snobs.

Friday, October 21, 2005

American Prospect Online - ViewWeb

There was a time when a "liberal" was something most people -- even some conservatives -- wanted to be. On the stump in 1952, Dwight Eisenhower said "we need in Washington liberal and experienced members of Congress." Eight years later, Richard Nixon quoted FDR's definition of a liberal as "a man who wants to build bridges over the chasms that separate humanity from a better life," and said, "It is a wonderful definition, and I agree with him."

But when Republicans began to go after liberalism, Democrats cowered in fear, not only trying to distance themselves from the term but embracing the idea that a "conservative" is a great thing to be...As part of a solution, many on the left have decided to start with a clean slate, ditching "liberal" in favor of "progressive." As a strategic move, this has much to commend it. Recent American political history has made it hard to argue that the root of "liberal" -- liberty -- belongs more to the left than to the right.

It depends what you mean by "liberty"--or perhaps what kind of liberty matters. The kind of liberty that matters to most writers who concern themselves with these issues, whether on the left or right, makes no difference at all to most people. Freedom of the press? How many journalists are there--and how many people who have any interest in serious news or opinion? Freedom of speech? How many people care about anything beyond gossip, shoptalk and the minutia of daily life? Business owners balk at the constraints imposed by the state--the rules and regulations about workplace safety and fair hiring practices and the burden of paperwork that undermines their liberty to do business as they please. But how many people own businesses?

People who construe liberty in these terms are highly privileged: they don't realize the real constraints on most people's freedom--poverty and drudgery. In the most fundamental sense liberty is just the absence of physical constraint. Most people don't have that privilege: work for most means being physically constrained, being confined to a small space--at a desk, behind a counter, at a check-out stand, at best, in a room. You punch in in the morning and there you stay--every day like a long plane flight--until you punch out. Most people have little choice about the work they do. They're also mentally constrained, doing repetitious tasks that make it impossible to think about anything else--inputting data, dealing with customers, answering phones.

Outside of the privileged few who have, by dint of dumb luck, managed to avoid "real work"--like me--this is life and there is no way out. I know this because, having been a bad girl in high school I ended up working for half a year as a clerk-typist at a bus company, until my mother bought me into an expensive college for rich underachievers. I was 17--some of the girls who worked with me were not much older, but they were dead. They were married, trying desperately to get pregnant--their ticket out. I listened to their conversation day by day (they wouldn't talk to me because I'd gotten into a political argument about the war in Vietnam early on). They had no aspirations because there were no options for them--the only career ladder lead to Office Manager, the position of Miss McCauley, an elderly spinster, occupied. Who wanted that? They didn't even want to travel. They just wanted out. There was nothing to learn, nothing to accomplish, nothing to make, no way to improve or achieve. Even going fast made no difference: when I finished my work and asked for more they laughed at me: "sort paper clips and look busy." That is what real work is.

My mother plonked down her money for tuition so I got out. But that is the only reason I got out--I was no different from any of them apart from simply being richer. When I got to Lake Forest College I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I didn't have to spend my entire day at a desk in one room. I didn't have to spend my entire day filing cards, stamping tapes and trying to look busy when I was done. And the only reason I didn't was because my mother had money--I took that to heart and it made my politics.

The whole aim of liberalism is to see it that people have options--that no one is stuck doing the drudge work I did permanently because they don't come from rich families. The market won't make that happen--that is simply an empirical fact. If my mother hadn't bailed me out I couldn't have worked my way though school as a clerk-typist for Intercity Trans. Co., Inc. I couldn't have afforded the tuition making, as I did, $60/week; I wouldn't have had the time to go to classes, much less study. I wouldn't have had the energy to do anything besides work--when I came home, I just went to bed and cried myself to sleep.

Liberalism is about liberty--real liberty: the provision of real options for people so that they don't have to do jobs like this if they're prepared to make the effort to get education and training.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Dare to Bare - New York Times

Most babies and toddlers around the world, and throughout human history, have never worn diapers. For instance, in places like China, India and Kenya, children wear split pants or run around naked from the waist down. When it's clear that they have to go, they can squat or be held over the right hole in a matter of seconds. Parents and caretakers in these cultures see diapers as not the best, but the worst alternative. Why bind bulky cloth around a small child? Why use a disposable diaper that keeps buckets of urine next to tender skin? The trick is that infants in these cultures are always physically entwined with a parent or someone else, and "elimination communication" is the norm. With bare bottoms, they ride on the hip or back and it's easy to feel when they need to go... I was against the Western ideology of making my child independent and self-reliant. I rejected the crib, stroller and jump seat, all devices intended to teach babies to be on their own. Instead I embraced the ideology of non-Western cultures and opted for the closest kind of attachment I could get.

Why use diapers? Because we don't want to carry babies on our hips or be "physically entwined" with toddlers for most of the day. It's a matter of adult convenience not a cultural psychological bathroom fixations or the value we place on making our children independent. It's a matter of the value we place on our own independence, our own legitimately selfish desire not to be bothered by little kids.

Throughout human history and in places like China, India and Kenya women haven't been valued--our time wasn't worth anything. Our only job was to drudge for our husbands, children and extended families--carrying babies on our hips all day, making sure to put them on the pot before they pooped, carrying jugs of water on our heads, grinding meal, cooking whole grains from scratch and all the other labor-intensive fruits-and-nuts-approved activities that impose drudge work on women and eat up our time.

I didn't embrace the stroller and jump seat because I wanted to teach my babies to be independent: I used these labor-saving devices because I wanted to make things easier for myself. I slept in the same bed with my babies because it was easier for me, not because it was better for them. I never made any attempt to toilet train them because I didn't want to bother. When they got sick of wearing dirty diapers they started using the toilet of their own accord.

Let's get real here: running around with a bare bottom is probably more pleasant for little kids than wearing dirty diapers. But it's less convenient for adults. There is a conflict of interests and there is no reason why the child's interests should trump the adult's.

Articles like the one linked here set my teeth on edge. When my kids were babies the preaching was about using cloth diapers rather than paper and grinding your own baby food. And no one ever dared to say, "I don't make my own baby food because it's a hassle to grind vegetables and wash up the grinder--if there's some marginal advantage to the baby to get freshly ground food that's outweighed by the major hassle to me." No one dared say either "I use paper diapers because it's easier and I care more about my convenience than I do about the environment or my baby's comfort.

No one--that is no women--dared to say such things because no woman dared say "I count: my time and convenience matter as much as my kids' well-being so I will not sacrifice for them. Everyone, including me, counts as one, no one counts as more or less than one, and in case of a tie I come first."

Monday, October 10, 2005

Euthanasia: Me first--screw you!

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The whole debate between conservatives and liberals seems to be distilled as one of whether getting what one wants is what is most important. I think it is.

But that's precisely why I oppose euthanasia. I want to survive as long as possible and I don't care how much of a burden I am on anyone. It's my life and all that I have. I don't want to be bullied or manipulated into having myself put down. I just want to live as long as I can--that's it. Fuck everyone else--I want to live.

I don't want some crappy little legislative policy empowering my relatives to pull the plug on me. It isn't a matter of stupid rules vs. what people want. It's what people want vs. what their relatives, and the state, want. Fuck them.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Kurt Vonnegut interviewed on PBS


What a detestable old fart. Speaking as an anthropology MA he notes that we need "little gangs," clans and extended families. Very romantic--he obviously hasn't seen tribalism on the ground in North Jersey--or even watched The Sopranos.

Vonnegut is of course a Humanist and, in fact, the honorary president of the Humanist Society. But this doesn't stop him from quoting the Beatitudes and making the conventional sanctimonious noises about how it didn't matter that Jesus wasn't God because what mattered were the marvelous things he said. Of course Vonnegut is very selective, citing the Sermon on the Mount but not the crackpot apocalyptic ranting or puritanical moralism.

He finishes with a little story about the joys of going out to buy ONE envelope and, on the way, smelling the flowers--waving to people in the street, chatting with salespeople and shoppers in the stores, concluding that we were "born to fart around." Well this is nice when you're an 85 year old millionaire celebrity. So sorry but I hate farting around--crapping around with the business of life makes me miserable and I am sick of hearing sanctimonious old farts preach about the virtue of going with the flow and stopping to smell the flowers.

What a despicable, over-rated, self-satisfied, old fart--consecrated as a cultural icon because he succeed in distilling the adolescent cynicism of ten million over-privileged children 40 years ago.

Taking Turkey Personally

I've been following the Turkish bid to join the EU for years now, and taking it personally. I was nervous when I read that Austria opposed them and felt genuine relief and pure joy when there was an eleventh hour reprieve.

Modern Turkey surely is a state that played it right: under Ataturk it modernized, Westernized and secularized. The Arabic alphabet was out, Roman alphabet in; women were emancipated, veils were out and men's turbans as well. The aim was to be European.

If the EU had rejected Turkey it would have confirmed the worst fears of all cultural outsiders, in particular all Muslims, viz. that exclusion was inevitable: that no matter how acculturated a nation or individual became there would be no way to overcome "otherness"--and appearance. The message would have been clear: we don't care how committed you are to democracy and the values of the Enlightenment, how much you want to assimilate, how far you will go to adopt the values and policies of liberal European nations--we will not accept you because you are Other, and because we don't want lots of swarthy Mediterranean types with big mustaches and lots of body hair getting access to our countries.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Induction: Just a Theory and Still Being Tested

BBC NEWS | Americas | Parents in court over evolution:
Eleven parents in the US state of Pennsylvania are taking their local school board to court in an attempt to protect the teaching of evolution. The Dover Area School Board requires teachers to say evolution is a just a theory and is still being tested.

The Fundamentalists have now adopted the strategy of going for the intellectual high ground--accusing orthodox scientists and other normal human beings who take evolution to be a fact, as dogmatic.

Of course, when we're not doing philosophy, we're dogmatic--about such theories as the existence of other minds and an external world, and the legitimacy of induction itself. Science and common sense by their nature bracket those questions, operating on the assumption that there is an external world and that we can learn about it through induction, inferring from data about the way things have been to the way they're going to be and from characteristics of samples to characteristics of larger populations. That is the business of science and the operating assumption of scientific educationl.

I wonder if the parents in Dover Pennsylvania would be interested in financing philosophy classes in their high schools in which skepticism about other minds, the external world and induction could be discussed along with skepticism about evolution. A little open-minded skepticism is a dangerous thing--drink deep or taste not the Pyrrhian spring.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Everyone Wants To Be An X

Inside Higher Ed :: Class Dismissed

Fussell offered a nine-rung version of the class ladder...But far more interesting than the chapters on the lifestyles of the rich and famous was Fussell’s conclusion, which described what he called “category X.” This was a cohort that didn’t really fit into the status hierarchy he had just described...Fussell went on to write about the taste of X people — their need to live in a neighborhood with good bakeries, wine stores, and “a sophisticated newsdealer, for one needs British, French, German, and Italian periodicals.” In short, he summed up everything David Brooks ever had to say about the “bobos” (bourgeois bohemians). And he did in just under nine pages, written almost two decades before Brooks published his book.

I read Fussell's book. I recall that on his account the Upper Middle Class liked navy blue and that "high Proles" grew flowers in whitewashed tires. We readers were titilated by the taxonomy--and then Fusselli offered us the X option as an out, assuring us that unlike everyone else we couldn't be classified or put into boxes.

Everyone likes to classify, and no wonder: it was a significant evolutionary advantage to be able to classify mushrooms as edible or poisonous, animals according to species and humans according to tribe. But no one likes to be classified--prejudged by stereotype, constrained by conventional expectations, treated as a member of a group, in particular by an affiliation not of one's choosing, rather than as an individual.

We balk at the prospect of a homogenized, upper middle class Anglo universe. We dread the disappearance of rural villages and ethnic neighborhoods. But we wouldn't want to live there, not permanently even if we enjoy camping out. Unless we're satisfied with Potemkin villages, Colonial Williamsburg mock-ups, and Chinatowns, Greektowns and Little Italies run by suburbanites who commute in and put on their ethnicity to please the customers someone will have to sacrifice to accommodate us. If we want ethnicity, the peasants and urban ethnics will have to forgo being Xs.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Third Sex - Distortions and red herrings

Time and again, in letters and columns, sharia advocates accused opponents of spreading propaganda, of claiming sharia courts would see women in Ontario stoned to death for conjugal infractions: How paranoid of these bigots, right? In fact, no one involved on the anti side ever said that, or anything close. Time and again, and with breathtaking arrogance, advocates dismissed the Muslim women who led the no-sharia fight as a Westernized elite, an educated minority who demeaned other, more recently arrived women in the guise of protecting them.

I'm a member of the Third Sex, the richest, most highly educated quintile of the population.

In my small world males and females do the same jobs. At social events we talk to one another even when we have no interest in hooking up. Males are as articulate as females, read books, and de jure if not de facto share housework and child care; females are allowed to move furniture and go to work without make-up.

Even in my small world being male is an advantage, but only in the way that being tall, good looking or in mestizo countries being fair-skinned is. There is no gender dichotomy, no formal scheme for assigning tasks on the basis of sex, no "horizontal" sex segregation--just the "vertical" sort: maleness is one among many prestige-making characteristics that confers advantages. This is bad but not nearly so bad as the way things are in the other four fifths of the world where there are Men and Women.

In the lower four-fifths, Men and Women are virtually different species. They never work at the same jobs and the very idea that being male or female shouldn’t make a difference to ones opportunities, obligations or behavior, is unthinkable. The Man/Woman distinction is different across cultures. In some places it corresponds to the public/private dichotomy: men are the Street, chatting about politics and world affairs in cafes as Western journalists hang on their every world--women, in purdah, concerning themselves with domestic matters. In other places it tracks the body/mind dichotomy: men do manual labor, rarely talk or think, and never read; women do white collar work, deal with customers and concern themselves with the finer things.

Until recently, liberals rarely worried about Women. We worried, legitimately, that elite Third Sex females, faced discrimination when it came to getting partnerships in law firms or prestigious academic positions. We didn’t worry that the wage gap for men and women without college degrees was much greater than the gap for college educated males and females or that sex segregation for jobs at the low end of the labor market remained virtually complete. Insofar as we noticed that cab drivers, appliance repairmen and commissioned sales personnel at electronics stores were exclusively male or that receptionists, child care workers and “customer service representatives” were exclusively female most of us assumed that this was a matter of choice—it was part of Their culture.

We certainly weren’t bothered by the persistence of traditional male and female roles in developing countries or amongst immigrants. Even if we were firmly opposed domestic servitude for upper middle class white women, we were not disturbed to see women of color in the developing world pounding grain and drawing water or lower-class women in the US, pushed off of welfare, forced to do traditional pink-collar shit work.

So when the Canadian government, remarkably, considered supporting the establishment of Muslim family courts operating under Sharia law—according to which men and women are both separate and unequal—some erstwhile liberals supported the proposal We females of the Third Sex would not tolerate having our testimony in court count half of a male’s but Sharia law only applied to the other two sexes, not to the likes of us.

Mercifully, Canada will not be adopting sharia law for its brown citizens. Since 9/11 and, even more so, since 7/7 multiculturalism has increasingly fallen into disrepute. Even journalists are less likely to take young lower class males as the legitimate voice of their culture—and even listen to women who object to the constraints their culture imposes.

If this continues, with any luck Men and Women will disappear and all former members of these genders will join the Third Sex--the class of persons.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Benign Spooky

Getting Religion - New York Times
The caricature of American evangelicals as incurious and indifferent to learning is false. Visit any Christian bookstore and you will see that they are gluttons for learning - of a certain kind. They belong to Bible-study groups; they buy works of scriptural interpretation; they sit through tedious courses on cassette, CD or DVD; they take notes during sermons and highlight passages in their Bibles. If anything, it is their thirst for knowledge that undoes them. Like so many Americans, they know little about history, science, secular literature or, unless they are immigrants, foreign cultures. Yet their thirst for answers to the most urgent moral and existential questions is overwhelming. So they grab for the only glass in the room: God's revealed Word

Here is an autobiographical account of a (former) teenage Evangelical, possibly a decade younger than me.

I got religion as a teenager, but not the evangelical variety--possibly because I was older, and because I was female. I was on a quest for the benign spooky--an amalgam of high art, mysticism and the frisson that comes from ghost stories. In Spenser's time it was called "faerie"; now, in a degraded, homogenized, commercialized form it's New Age.

I'm not exactly sure when it started with me. Possibly reading Franny and Zooey, getting A Treasury of Russian Spirituality and trying the Jesus Prayer. More likely singing the Schubert Mass in G at music camp. The clincher was certainly my high school senior field trip to New York City when I went to the Frick and saw a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti--the Woman Clothed in the Sun, crushing the Serpent under her heel. I was thrilled. When I went to college it was more of the same: The Faerie Queene, Quarles Emblem Books and the Metaphysical Poets, the Grail Quest, Northrop Frye and the Archetypes, T.S. Eliot, Traherne's Centuries of Meditations ("The corn was orient and immortal wheat...") and more music--the Bach b-minor Mass. It was Romance, high Romance and the quest for the Transcendent.

At the time, the Church was a fairly good repository of all that, all the mysticism, aestheticism and Pre-Raphaelite stuff. There wasn't, in any case, anything else. Now there are Psychic Faires, the Pyramid Collection and the Church doesn't do that anymore.

But where is it, the benign spooky--the thrill, the magical mystery tour, the icons and archetypes, the grand Romance? The Church has failed me--and anyone else with that taste, anyone on that quest.And what else is it for--really? A community service agency ? an instrument of social control? Worthless: we now have better. If the Church isn't in the business of providing the benign spooky--the art, the mysticismand the thrill, the buildings and lovely things of every sort, the connection with our history--it has nothing.

I can't fathom why anyone would be an Evangelical. Reading this article, I can't get what appeal any of this could have. I suppose it appeals because the good stuff simply isn't available any more.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Katrinagate: this one has legs

As President Bush scurries back to the Gulf Coast, it is clear that this is the greatest challenge to politics-as-usual in America since the fall of Richard Nixon in the 1970s

Maybe the administration with its legions of spin-doctors and patch things up, but it won't be easy. Even conservatives like David Brooks are irritated:

He and others are calling the debacle the "anti 9-11": "The first rule of the social fabric - that in times of crisis you protect the vulnerable - was trampled," he wrote on Sunday. "Leaving the poor in New Orleans was the moral equivalent of leaving the injured on the battlefield."

But (predictably) it was Krugman today that had it dead on:

What caused that paralysis? President Bush certainly failed his test. After 9/11, all the country really needed from him was a speech. This time it needed action - and he didn't deliver.

But the federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming?

It wasn't primarily incompetence or stupidity, though there was plenty of that to go around. It was ideology, the idea that self-reliance, compassion and charity can solve our problems. At bottom it was romanticism--our anti-instututional bias and sentimentalism--that got us in this fix, our nostalgia for traditional societies were people are self-reliant, neighbors are neighborly and people take care of their own, the Walt Disney Dick-and-Jane village, Pleasantville where all is well, and will be well.

It isn't Bush, or his administration, or the state or local officials, or anyone personally: it is that ideology and, whatever impact this has on the careers of politicians one prays that Americans will finally get it, realize that government, and institutions generally, not grassroots efforts, personal concern or charity, are the solution, not the problem.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

UC Lawsuit

Christian Schools Bring Suit Against UC - Los Angeles Times

Amid the growing national debate over the mixing of religion and science in America's classrooms, University of California admissions officials have been accused in a federal civil rights lawsuit of discriminating against high schools that teach creationism and other conservative Christian viewpoints

Under a policy implemented with little fanfare a year ago, UC admissions authorities have refused to certify high school science courses that use textbooks challenging Darwin's theory of evolution, the suit says... "It appears that the UC system is attempting to secularize Christian schools and prevent them from teaching from a world Christian view," said Patrick H. Tyler, a lawyer with Advocates for Faith and Freedom, which is assisting the plaintiffs.

Excuse me, Christians, I thought you weren't supposed to be conformed to the world and were supposed to be prepared to pay the price for that, rather than going for all the pomp and glory of the world and places for your kids at elite secular colleges. You pay your money and take your choice if your model is the early Church, its martyrs and confessors.

No one's suggesting serious martyrdom anyway--just the recognition that if you send your kids to schools that teach bogus pseudo-science they aren't going to get into top flight universities.

And why, indeed, would you want them to go to Berkeley and risk corruption? Wouldn't it be better for them to live in trailers, work construction and sell Mary Kaye than lose their souls?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Why Don't Women Count?

My Private Idaho - New York Times

[F]ormer C.I.A. Middle East specialist, Reuel Marc Gerecht, said on "Meet the Press," U.S. democracy in 1900 didn't let women vote. If Iraqi democracy resembled that, "we'd all be thrilled," he said. "I mean, women's social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy."

Why aren't my rights critical? If half the male population of a country didn't have the right to vote, hold political office or have equal rights under the law would we call it a democracy?

Maybe we would given our soppy romanticism about 5th century BC Athens as the paradigm of democracy in spite of the fact that 2/3 of the population were slaves or metics who were excluded from political participation and of the remaining third, Athenian citizens, half were women who had no political rights. And of the sixth of the population who were free male citizens the majority were thetes who were too busy laboring or working in their fields to participate in Athenian democracy--or walk in the groves of Academe. What percentage of the population, one wonders, has to be disenfranchised to make a country an oligarchy rather than a democracy?

It isn't just a matter of numbers either. Suppose a country were divided almost equally between two ethnic groups--Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosnians, Protestant and Catholic Irish or "Arab" and black Sudanese--we would certainly consider it critical to the evolution of democracy that both groups had full political rights. We would never consider it, even if not ideal, acceptable if Bosnians, Irish Catholics or black Sudanese were disenfranchised. We do not consider consider equal treatment for ethnic groups a luxury to be pursued only once the important business of establishing democracy had gone some way forward.

Why are women different?

Let's be honest: the assumption is that, unlike disenfranchised ethnic minorities, women will be supported financially and taken care of even if they don't have full political rights--like suburban housewives in the US and other affluent countries 50 years ago. But this is precisely what will not happen in the Third World where women are routinely beaten, "circumcised" and burned in "kitchen accidents" if their relatives don't kick in an acceptable dowry.

What may be at work at bottom is the assumption of a three-gender system: unisex upper-middle class males and females in affluent countries for whom equal rights are a matter of importance, traditional males and traditional females in the third world and amongst the lower classes in the US. And when it comes to lower class females, particularly women of color, their rights aren't "critical to the development of democracy" and don't count.

We'd certainly oppose wife-beating in the US and be horrified at any proposal to make women's testimony in court weight half of male testimony or punish women for being raped, but hey it's their culture and that's how it works with them. Maybe the bottom line is that women's rights aren't "critical" because women aren't big enough or strong enough to do damage. We want to stop those terrorists and suicide bombers, and all the young lower-class males here and abroad who do violence and endanger us. If affirming their "traditional cultures" including their right to dominate, and beat up on, women keeps them happy and off our backs, that's ok.

I'm still left with the question: why don't I count? why aren't my rights "critical"?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Intelligent Design

Bush Remarks Roil Debate
on Teaching of Evolution - New York Times

In an interview at the White House on Monday with a group of Texas newspaper reporters, Mr. Bush appeared to endorse the push by many of his conservative Christian supporters to give intelligent design equal treatment with the theory of evolution.

Recalling his days as Texas governor, Mr. Bush said in the interview, according to a transcript, "I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught." Asked again by a reporter whether he believed that both sides in the debate between evolution and intelligent design should be taught in the schools, Mr. Bush replied that he did, "so people can understand what the debate is about."...

But critics saw Mr. Bush's comment that "both sides" should be taught as the most troubling aspect of his remarks. "It sounds like you're being fair, but creationism is a sectarian religious viewpoint, and intelligent design is a sectarian religious viewpoint," said Susan Spath, a spokeswoman for the National Center for Science Education, a group that defends the teaching of evolution in public schools. "It's not fair to privilege one religious viewpoint by calling it the other side of evolution."

Intelligent Design isn't a sectarian doctrine--it is simply bad science. And it is not merely a superficial mistake about how things work: it is bad science in a deep way. Methodological naturalism is a fruitful research program and one of the fundamental assumptions of the program is that you don't look for explanations in terms of intelligent agency unless all other possibilities are exhausted. When it comes to the origin of species, explanation in terms of natural selection, without intelligent agency do very well and there's every reason to think that the details that remain unexplained will eventually be explained in these terms.

The real mystery though is why Christians balk at swallowing this gnat. Even relatively conservative Christians are comfortable with the idea that other natural phenomena are a consequence of mindless, purposeless natural forces. No one is pushing the idea that floods, hurricanes and tsunamis are a consequence of intelligent agency; no one is claiming that landslides, tornados or volcanic eruptions are punishments for sin or have any other purpose in the grand scheme of things.

Now it may be that the idea that these natural phenomena are not a consequence of intelligent agency and have no purpose in the grand scheme of things undermines religious belief--though it doesn't do anything to my religious belief. If so Christians should be disputing scientifically orthodox explanations in geology, meteorology and vulcanology. But they aren't, and it's hard to see why they dig in their heels when it comes to evolutionary biology. Why? Why is this issue special?

It's quite remarkable that conservative politicians have spun this as a "controversy" and claimed the high ground of open-mindedness. Certainly "intelligent design" is worth looking at--in a class in philosophy of science where the issue of agency explanation should be considered. But that's a separate issue from what should be taught in high school biology. Intuitionists, on sophisticated meta-mathematical grounds, won't accept reducio proofs. But you don't tell this to kids in baby logic, or in calculus: it's a philosophical issue, not an issue within these disciplines. And students in math and logic classes had better learn how to do these proofs, and learn the rationale, how and why they work.

Shit or get off the pot. If you want open-mindedness fund serious classes in philosophy of science and philosophy of religion in high schools, recognizing that you may not get the results you want.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Good-bye, Tony

Rush-Hour Strike Wounds Up to 1,000;
Blair Sees G-8 Link - New York Times

Political career finished. I don't understand enough about how the British system works to know what happens next. Can Tony be sacked and replaced with another Labour politician until the next election? Do they call another election and vote in the Liberal Democrats? Can it be the end of Tony without being the end of Labour?

Pity it wasn't a Conservative government. The train-bombing in Spain did wonders: consider the past wonder-year under Zapatero, blown in by the explosion. This could be a real boost for Eurosocialism as countries once tempted by Tom Friedman's fantasy "Anglo-Saxon model" repudiate everything that stinks of America.

Of course the response in the US will be the opposite: terrorism is getting closer to home--we need a strong leader. We didn't get bombed--because Bush was protecting us. And of course if we do get bombed that will be all the more reason for supporting the current regime. Bring on the ownership society, get more guns, keep women typing and filing--see what happens when the abortionists, evolutionists, feminists and homosexuals have their way?

This sounds pretty callous, doesn't it? 33 people so far are dead. Pardon me for repeating the obvious but consider how many people die in drive-by shootings in LA, get executed in Texas, die in Iraq or get murdered in South Africa. It's all the same Cowboys and Indians game.

Of course it's not going to do the radical Muslims any good, any more than 1960's radical street theater helped the American Left. In 1968 I was convinced that it was the end of the Old Order--dress codes would be abolished, drugs would be legalized, big business would collapse and colleges would be transformed into "free universities" where we would sit on the grass learning to throw pots and weave baskets. I wasn't entirely happy about this--I wanted drug legalization and the end of the dress code but I was terrified that higher education as we knew it would poop out before I could be a professor. I didn't want to live on a commune wearing long dresses, birthing babies and cooking the menfolk's organic food. But I was convinced that it would happen because there were so many of us marching and because we got on TV--we would destroy the Military-Industrial Complex.

So now these radical Muslim youths, of the age we were when we marched, imagine that they will topple the Great Satan and drive back the forces of Westernization so that they can live in mud huts (with satelite TV of course), reduce education to memorizing the Koran, put their women in burqas, and preserve their shit culture. Actually the vision isn't too different, is it? Romanticism, militant anti-intellectualism and anti-feminism.

It won't work, lads--the grown-ups always win.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The fault is in our stars, not in ourselves Fate of program is in her hands

This month, Eileen Collins, commander of the next space shuttle mission, will strap herself into a rocket ship loaded with explosive fuel and shoot from zero to 1,000 mph in a minute flat.

Meanwhile Sheila Jeffreys, a lesbian separatist described as "the Andrea Dworkin of the UK," has launched a campaign against make-up and breast implants.

I'd bet that Collins had a hard time: it isn't easy for women to get to do guy stuff. Besides ongoing discrimination there are a thousand little pushes and pulls, conventions that dictate what women are supposed to do and where the no-go areas are. To run the gauntlet you have to be talented, determined--and very thick-skinned. Most don't make it.

It's easy to cut your hair and stop shaving your legs. No one's stopping you. Why is this supposed to be radical?

"Radical feminism" doesn't challenge the external, social and institutional constraints that make it difficult or impossible to do guy stuff, in particular, to get "men's jobs." It's just another component of the cosy creed that says the fault is in ourselves, not in our stars, and that we can fix it by doing things that are within our power--thinking good thoughts, developing the right attitude, being assertive, doing things that are within our control.

And it isn't peculiar to feminism, "radical" or otherwise. It's the wisdom literature of the ages, defining the Good Life as something that's within everyone's reach regardless of their life circumstances. Look close to home--fix your head, your home, your behavior, your relationships, your wardrobe: all will be well--and you'll be too busy to notice the external constraints over which you have no control, or to kick against the goads.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Honest Tea

P.C. Tea - New York Times

The obvious question raised by a product called Honest Tea is: What, exactly, is dishonest tea? This sounds smart-alecky, but the name of the bottled tea does imply something more serious than mere thirst-quenching, so it's legitimate to wonder what it is trying to communicate. Is it healthfulness, or a tie-in to a cause, or a solution to an ethical quandary (in the way that Fair-Trade-certified coffee lets you wake up without feeling as if you're exploiting third-world farmers)?

It's also worth asking because a significant group of consumers seems to be responding. Launched in 1998, Honest Tea now sells more than a dozen varieties of bottled tea (and some bag teas as well), had revenues of nearly $6 million last year and expects to hit $9 million this year, according to the company.

Oh, Jesus, doesn't this make you sick? For all my political blueness, I can very easily understand what Reds are pissed about--this appalling New Moralism that's all the worse because it doesn't even understand itself as grossly, sanctimoniously, smugly moralistic.

Personally, I am now drinking my favorite dishonest drink: half and half Almaden white wine and store brand diet lemon-lime soda. I have no interest in being healthy. I do have a membership at Women's Fitness World but my only interest is in losing weight for aesthetic purposes. I wonder why the self-interested desire to "be healthy" is somehow supposed to be more edifying than the self-interested desire to look ok and fit into reasonable clothes, or for that matter the self-interested desire to make lots of money.

As far as Honest Tea, Fair-Trade Coffee and Politically Correct Chocolate goes, how much utility do consumers produce by buying these products? They're expensive and hard to find. Take the premium you pay for this crap (including the money for gas to take you to that health food store and the cost of your time) and send it to Oxfam

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Haiku Worldwide

Bush speech, same old crap: nine-eleven; rah-rah, stay the course...Why bother?

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Paradox of Populism; Or why conservatives cannot pack the court

In Battle to Pick Next Justice, Right Says, Avoid a Kennedy - New York Times

Ever since the elevation of Earl Warren, Republican presidents have picked justices who disappoint the Republican faithful: William J. Brennan Jr. (President Dwight D. Eisenhower), Harry A. Blackmun (President Richard M. Nixon), John Paul Stevens (President Gerald R. Ford), Sandra Day O'Connor (President Reagan) and David H. Souter (the first President Bush).

One result is rage at what Mr. Bork sees as subverted democracy. Even though Republicans keep winning elections, he said, the court "can say that the majority may not rule" in areas where permissiveness reigns, including abortion, gay rights and pornography. Calling most justices "judicial oligarchs," Mr. Bork said they reflected "the intelligentsia's attitude, which is to the cultural left of the American people."

Conservatives: You want a small group of very smart, educated people to occupy positions of power so you select the likes of Justices Kennedy, O'Connor and Souter--who turn out not to be reliably conservative after all. You then complain that they lack "moral clarity" and do not represent the views of the masses. What do you expect: they aren't representative of the masses. They're very smart, educated people--that's why you put them on the Supreme Court--so they don't hold the dumb, simple-minded views of the masses. And, they're in for life so, unlike politicians they aren't (thank God) accountable to the masses. You can't win.

Liberals: You love the masses--you want not only to benefit them but to give them "voice." You respect their culture. But the masses detest you and reject all your dearest values--they're simple-minded, short-sighted, conventional, puritanical, sexist and bigoted. If you succeed in establishing an authentic democracy where they run the show--whether in the US or in the Middle East--they will install conservative policies that defeat your purposes. You can't win either.

I may be wrong but at least I'm consistent: the aim is to "kill the Indian to save the man." Make everyone a latte-drinking Liberal: not overwhelmingly difficult if you're prepared to spend the money on providing everyone with the security, standard of living and quality of education the elite now enjoy--and to recognize that you aren't doing disadvantaged people any favors by affirming their cultures or giving them "voice."