A Pervert’s Justice: The Beginnings of Meta-Ethics

Metaethics is an incredibly broad topic about which literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of pages have been written. We cannot tackle it comprehensively here or anywhere. But it is possible to know enough about it to make reasonable metaethical judgements. I’ve thought for quite some time about putting down some of my metaethical thoughts here and have ultimately decided to do so in the hope that this may help either of my readers to make those more reasonable judgements.

Today is a day for axiomata (for axioms if you’re not a philosophy nerd) relating to systems of metaethics. It is the most basic beginnings of metaethical systems where we attempt to spell out just a few things which are essential features of the largest percentage of such systems. (It is unfortunately true that none are uncontested, though I believe at least some should be.) Note that there are other topics in metaethics (such as epistemology) which are not directly engaged below.

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Caine Left Us A Gift

I normally don’t write much on Feb 14th. My own history with it is … complicated. It involves a violent relationship in which my abuser left me on the 14th thinking it would hurt me. Instead I had to conceal my relief. I was actually so convinced that I would be murdered by that partner that I still celebrate the 14th each year as my “Freedom Day”. Often the celebration is tiny, or private, but it’s not meant to be witnessed. The day is for me alone.

That said, a large number of people do celebrate romance on the 14th of February. For those people I thought I’d bring back something created by a collaborative effort of a number of Pharyngula Hordemembers, but really led and organized by our beloved and now departed Caine: our Crystal Clear Consent guidelines. (Thread where these guidelines were created is here. Search for Consent and/or Caine and you’ll get most of the conversation.) For all those people who want better and more ethical sex lives, you can thank Caine in significant part for the wisdom she collected on sexual consent.

Go forth and sexify:

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Confessions of an Imperfect Pacifist

I’m a pacifist who has never figured out how to apply her principles to others. I worked too many years in anti-Domestic Violence & Sexual assault shelters to scold people for self-defense merely because it, too, is a form of violence. Yet I’m extreme enough in my personal pacifism that during times when I was targeted for violence, including many, many times during a violent relationship in my 20s, that I never, not once, hit back against my attacker.

Part of that might be cowardice: violent relationships can be incredibly scary, and even if you are accomplished in a martial art (I’m not), you can always be stabbed or shot in your sleep. My own abuser frequently told me that she would stab me straight through the kidney while I slept if I ever hurt her.

Part of that might also be a devaluation of myself: I’ve always been convinced on a deep level resistant to reason that I am simply worth less than other people, and that assaults against me aren’t worthy of punishment in the way that the same violence targeting a different person might be.

But for whatever reason, my aversion to violence even in defense of myself exists and is extreme enough that I still sometimes denigrate myself for once bear hugging my abuser to stop her from hurting me one night.*1

And yet, I’ve never yet taken a stand in favor of unilateral nuclear disarmament. Many of my friends have, and I don’t criticize them for it. And I’ve read a little about the state of so-called “nuclear strategy”, which to my lay-mind comes across as dangerously incoherent at times. Yet I concede that even if the nuclear weapons of the USA don’t actually deter nuclear attack (and they probably do, at least to some extent – the argument is more over how much and in what situations), the possibility of disarming could be a greatly powerful lever magnifying the force of US efforts to get other countries to disarm. So I’ve always thought that it would be better to delay disarmament just long enough to get other countries to disarm with us.

It is also true, of course, that the US rocket and warhead stockpiles have been aging. And this brings us to my current dilemma: while the details are secret, we know that efforts to “modernize” missiles and warheads can only do so much and that eventually new rockets must be built from scratch, and new warheads made after melting the fissile material contained in the old and removing the impurities resulting from radioactive decay. The Trump administration is claiming that we have reached this point and is asking for a 20% increase in the modernization budget, but spending more of that money on fundamentally renewing the arsenal. A right winger at the American Enterprise Institute, Mackenzie Eaglen, told Axios that nuclear weapons systems have reached the “end of their service lives” and added, “We keep putting bandaids over bandaids and now new systems are required.”

I don’t want more nuclear weapons, and I don’t see Trump negotiating a global nuclear disarmament. Given that simply keeping these weapons systems around carries its own risks as components age and become liable to malfunctions upon which I’m not qualified to speculate and am afraid to imagine, should the responsible pacifist be calling for immediate and unilateral disassembly of dangerously aged weapons systems or supporting the new infrastructure the Trump regime is calling for?

Part of my dilemma is that much of the information I would use to make my decision is classified. How many systems would need to be immediately dismantled for reasons of safety? If it was only 70-80%, I’d be all in favor of that option. If it was 99.9%, I could probably be convinced that the right of other US citizens to self-defense against the nuclear threats of other nations outweighed my own desire to disarm. In between those numbers, I find significant wiggle room to come to different conclusions.

But there are other parts to this dilemma as well. The United States might be the most militarily active nation on the planet, certainly it is in terms of fighting outside its own borders. While there are reasons to mistrust, say, Israel and India with nuclear weapons, there simply isn’t a nuclear armed nation that roams the world in search of people to kill as freely as the United States. While some would like to see the US as one of the countries least likely to use its nuclear arms, I’m not at all sure we aren’t the most likely. If that pessimistic view is true, then getting rid of 100% of American nuclear weapons is the best possible action, even if no other nation disarms. Then there is the possibility that the US is more able to convince nations to disarm if the US had disarmed first. If this is true, then holding on to weapons as diplomatic bargaining chips is off the table as a rationale for retaining some portion of our warheads. Once again, unilateral disarmament, even 100% unilateral disarmament, would likely be the proper position to take.

And yet my consent-focussed, anti-authoritarian self deeply wants us to come to a mutual decision as a society to disarm. I’m wary of advocating unilateral disarmament over the objections of people who argue for their own right to self-defense. This doesn’t stop me from doing so where the data is clear that people are mistaken (for instance in the case of handgun ownership which is consistently correlated with higher mortality rates than disarming even while the rest of one’s neighbors have not disarmed). But data here seem so thin, that I find it difficult to make an irrefutable case that unilateral disarmament will definitely improve safety. And in the absence of that, I find myself wondering if I should be more concerned about accidental deaths from again weapons than the future threat of a renewed nuclear stockpile. Given that I can’t say for sure which path is safer, and given that the weapons already exist (I would have no trouble advocating never building nuclear weapons in a country that had none), I find myself second-guessing my own instinct to oppose Trump’s budget request.

and… that’s it. There’s no grand rhetoric in service to a definitive aim in this post. I want all the nukes gone, but I’m just not sure which step is the right next step, while the aging stockpile increases the pressure to have an answer right now even though I have yet to acquire, and quite likely will never acquire, the information I would need to make what i feel are good judgments on a topic of this importance and complexity.

I’d welcome any thoughts anyone else might have about how to respond to this current dilemma. Will those of you who hold US citizenship be contacting your representatives and senators to advocate against this suggested appropriation? Do you have more educated thoughts on whether it’s time to disarm whether or not we can get other countries to disarm with us? I’m simply at a loss.


*1 It’s hard to explain to anyone else how that night was different from others, but my partner’s violence that night was frenzied. Normally she preferred to attack unpredictably, but not wildly. That night she was screaming more in anguish than anger, and I simply intuited that holding her would allow her to calm rather than escalating the situation as it would have on other nights. I chose correctly, and she calmed after a couple minutes and I let her go, but there are times when I’m so deep in my depression that I can’t remember that the combination of self-defense and the help I provided to her that did shorten her distress more than justified an action that physically restrained her freedom.

Police Union Declares War vs Government

I probably don’t write nearly as many stories about fascist cops as I should, but today’s news is far, far too important to ignore. After a NYC cop was killed, Mayor Bill de Blasio posted a supportive message to twitter:

This was a premeditated assassination attempt against New York’s Finest. It was also an attack on ALL New Yorkers and everything we believe in. This MUST be a city where everyone can live in peace and respect. This individual attempted to destroy that. We will not let him win.

In response to this message, calling the killing an assassination and an attack on all New Yorkers, the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association’s official twitter account responded with this:

Mayor DeBlasio, the members of the NYPD are declaring war on you! We do not respect you, DO NOT visit us in hospitals. You sold the NYPD to the vile creatures, the 1% who hate cops but vote for you. NYPD cops have been assassinated because of you. This isn’t over, Game on!

It is stunning that a group of armed public servants would “declare war” against their own elected government. It’s hard even to think of appropriate commentary to respond at this point. While it’s probably only one or a very few NYPD sergeants were involved in the wording of this tweet, the head of the NYPD SBA has been reelected in the past after saying things nearly as horrible (or, hell, perhaps more horrible, I don’t follow the SBA carefully). At this point it’s clear that the SBA is dangerously biased toward conflict and violence. It’s hard to imagine any reform being successful short of firing them all.

A Dastardly Homosexual Conspiracy in Switzerland

Al Jazeera (among others) is reporting on a Swiss referendum to amend laws banning racist or religious public discrimination or “incitement to hatred” to include incitement to hatred on the basis of sexual orientation. Switzerland is considerably backwards on issues of sexual orientation and struggles with how to address gender in public policy just as significantly (though in different ways) as, say, Italy and other neighbors. There is no general anti-discrimination law in Switzerland and the relationship between Canton governments and the federal government is not as independent as one will find in Canada’s provinces or the states of the USA (thought don’t ask me for more than that general characterization – Swiss law is far beyond me), which means that few cantons have strong anti-discrimination protections. Geneva enacted some, but only as recently as 2017.

This doesn’t mean that Swiss culture is more hostile to QTIs than other places in Europe. Rather, they have a constitutional structure that more generally protects against legal discrimination and laws against private sector discrimination are less used than in nearby countries and less reliant on specifying in statute particular classifications as off-limits in decisions regarding employment, housing, public accommodations, etc. General legal principles rather than specific protections have been thought to be enough.

Laws providing a very strong protection of freedom of association, for example, have been held out by legal scholars in Switzerland as sufficient to ban discrimination based on queer relationships. Yet these provisions are rarely actually used, and at least some reporting says that they are never or almost never used as the basis for a suit seeking remedy for discrimination based on sexual orientation. The provisions against public discrimination are intended to remedy this recent situation in which rights of association protect queer people in theory but not practice.

Switzerland, it seems, has been coasting on inertia. Actual queer fucking has been continuously legal in Switzerland since the 1940s while statutes making queer sex a felony in the US weren’t overturned until Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. Other locations in Europe still criminalize queer sex. Distinctions like this allowed Switzerland to believe it was ahead of its peers and not in need of legislation addressing sexual orientation (much) in public policy. But as other jurisdictions in other nations have surpassed Switzerland over the past two decades in terms of guarantees of personal freedom in the areas of sex and relationships, the Swiss have come to believe that action is necessary.

Believe it or not, that does not include passing legislation permitting equal access to state-sanctioned marriage, but as of today it includes the amendment I referenced in the first paragraph. It has long been illegal in Switzerland to engage in “incitement to public hatred” on the basis of race of religion. These laws are designed to prevent what is sometimes labeled “stochastic terrorism” – non-violent persons encouraging others to perform violence without entering into any specific conspiracy. If one speaks sufficiently hatefully about a group to enough people over time, sooner or later words will reach someone who finds in them a justification to commit violence. This statistical certainty makes hate speech literally dangerous. In the United States it is still protected constitutionally, but the USA is an outlier on this issue and most democracies in Europe have some form of law against incitement to hatred, as do Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa.

For these countries, a decision has already been made about the extent to which speech is protected by the constitution, but even if the constitution does not protect such hate speech, it is still not against the law unless a specific statute bans it. That’s what this most recent referendum did. It took the existing statute and simply expanded the banned bases for incitement to hatred, adding sexual orientation to race and religion. In other words, the types of speech banned are not expanded, but the targets protected are expanded.

As in other laws of this type, straight people are protected equally against being singled out for being heterosexual as queer folk are for being queer. Nonetheless, since straight people have no idea what it’s like to be targeted for being straight, they tend to undervalue this protection and overvalue the freedom to denigrate all the big scary queerbos in their midst. Fortunately many straight people are overcoming this tendency and the referendum passed with 60.5% approval. But this referendum was only necessary because of that tendency.

In 2018 this amendment was originally passed by the Swiss parliament. The largest political party in Switzerland, the SVP, is a center-right to not-quite-far-right party. With the number of parties in a parliamentary system this doesn’t mean that they have a majority (far from it), but their plurality status gives them a large amount of power. Unable to block passage of the bill entirely, they instead forced it into limbo until it could be ratified by popular referendum. That happened today.

As you may imagine, the SVP were not pleased: SVP MP Eric Bertinat gave the quote of the day to Agence France-Presse when he said that the amendment to the incitement to hatred law was “part of an LGBT plan to slowly move towards same-sex marriage and IVF” for gay couples. (In countries where health care is a right and straight couples’ health benefits include assisted reproduction, many right wingers protest queer folk accessing the same benefits since they are not infertile, just perverted.) Other right-wingers were also unhappy, though not as unintentionally funny. Marc Frueh, and MP from a minor party of Christian conservatives known as the EDU stuck with characterizing it as a pro-censorship amendment.

The anti-discrimination provisions in the law are still somewhat weaker (if I understand them correctly) than similar provisions in US law. For instance, it may not protect against employment, housing, and lending discrimination unless the discrimination happens in a public way that tends to humiliate or denigrate the target. In this way it is similar to certain provisions of Canadian provincial Human Rights Codes that provide remedy for denial of human dignity that operates somewhat differently to statutory provisions that simply ban discrimination on specific bases. They also do not protect against discrimination or incitement to hatred on the basis of sex, gender, gender identity, or gender expression.

Still, this is a pretty big step for Switzerland. Who knows. Maybe Bertinat is correct and somewhere, someone is secretly plotting to someday legalize queer marriages in Switzerland. Quelle horreur.

 

Minnesota Gets It Right

Here’s a good use of state tax dollars for ya:

Minnesota just allocated nearly a million dollars in incentives for people to transform their lawns into bee-friendly wildflowers, clover and native grasses.

The state is asking citizens to stop spraying herbicide, stop mowing so often, and let their lawns re-wild into a more natural state.

The goal is to provide “food sources for pollinators of all kinds, but will specifically aim at saving the rusty patched bumblebee, a fat and fuzzy species on the brink of extinction

I reduced the size of the lawn when I owned my own single-detached home. I specifically replanted a good portion with wildflowers and scattered moss through a very large portion of the rest of the lawn. The moss is incredibly good in the PNW: it holds quite a lot of moisture, so the grass can’t grow very fast (and rarely goes to seed), but it also can’t dry out too much because there’s a point where the balance tips and the grass is dry enough it can steal water from the moss instead of the other way round.

Moss doesn’t work everywhere, and neither do prairie plants, but looking for the plants native to your area before human development and planting them can make your land (should you have any) more beautiful and lower-maintenance. Sure, it might mean that less area is available for soccer or picnics, but is that what you were using the yard for before? And are there no nearby parks in which to do those things? At my old house, I was one block away from a manicured city park with lots and lots of grass. There was no need to keep any at my house. (I really did so only because of local laws that at the time prohibited natural yardscapes b/c neighbors were worried about their lawns getting weeds from untended properties.