BLM and the state of the USA’s constitutional protections in Utah

Portland has been my focus, because I was on the ground there (I am now away from the city for a week, but I’ll be back). But Portland isn’t the only place where Black lives don’t matter nearly enough, and it’s certainly not the only place where Black Lives Matter is getting into some good trouble:

Black Lives Matter protesters in Salt Lake City have been accused of splashing paint on a road and smashing the windows of the district attorney’s building at a July protest — and now, the charges they face carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Madalena McNeil, the woman who committed the crime of – get this – buying red paint at a store that was later sloshed on a street by a completely different person, is now facing life in prison.

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Being Uncomfortable

So, as had been reported in mainstream media in a few places (here, for instance), and as I alluded to last night during comments elsewhere (“there are still stories to tell and information to pass on”) the BLM organizers have called for deemphasizing the federal courthouse protests after the BLM rallies next door at the Justice Center. At least one asked for people to simply go home, and skip any post-rally protest focussed specifically on the Mark O. Hatfield courthouse.

Honestly, the audio system is pretty deficient (as I’ve also noted before, though I will admit it was better last night – July 27th – than on most other nights) so i can’t hear anything clearly and can’t be sure I got everything, but they did clearly ask people to simply go home at the end of the main BLM rally, rather than refocus the protest on the Hatfield courthouse as the crowd typically does around 10 or 10:30pm. This request is different than simply asking people not to set off fireworks or start the small fires (on concrete, they don’t spread, but they are plenty large enough to hurt someone badly if they fell into it). They have been consistently asking people to stop setting fires and setting off fireworks, which I consider the worst behavior during these demos, every night I’ve been there. This request goes much further in simply asking people to return home.

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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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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.

The Moral Bankruptcy of Gender Critical Definitions of Man & Woman

This post will rely on a single individual as an example of so-called “gender critical” thought: Holms. Holms writes frequently on FtB, and has been engaging in a long back-and-forth with myself and many others over on Mano Singham’s blog recently. (This conversation is happening on the same blog post where Mano suggested the value of discussions of horizontal hostility.) I have been growing steadily more uncomfortable with the exchange because it long ago veered away from any discussion that might illuminate how and why horizontal and intra-community hostility develop within a particular group. While Mano has made no move to shut the conversation down or even to express any specific discomfort over the thread, I think it is respectful to a blog owner to have the conversations suggested by a post, and to start your own thread somewhere else if you want to have a different conversation. Thus this post.

The phenomenon I want to discuss begins with a discussion of Holms’ definitions of “man” and “woman”:

I have actually said that ‘man = adult male human’ and ‘woman = adult female human’ are the current meanings as determined by common use.

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Explaining Horizontal and Intra-Community Hostility: Aoife Helps Out

Aoife O’Riordan who writes (or wrote, last post was in 2017) the blog formerly hosted here on FtB Consider the Tea Cozy once wrote a bit about anti-bi-woman sentiment in lesbian communities. She doesn’t gives us much about causes, but she does identify a problem similar to that experienced by trans* women in queer women’s communities (especially but not only those that label themselves lesbian communities). This should be no surprise, since she’s actually attempting to use the experience of cis bi-women to educate other cis people about the experiences of trans* people who share their communities.

There’s lots of lesbians, you see, who won’t date or sleep with bi women. Even if there’s mutual attraction, they don’t want to go there, simply ’cause we fancy men as well. Girl meets girl, girl fancies girl, girl finds out girl also fancies guys, girl backs away in disgust. While it’s absolutely their right to reject whoever they like for any reason the like (of course!), it still sucks to hear. And the fact that it’s a pattern familiar to almost every bi woman I’ve talked about is, y’know, a problem. This doesn’t mean that every lesbian in the world has to date the first bi woman who fancies her, regardless of whether the attraction’s mutual! It just means that a lot of bi women (and hopefully loads of lesbians too) would like it if the lesbians who do feel that way took some time to think about whether their feelings might be based on prejudices and stereotypes. That’s all.

But this anti-bi-woman prejudice, where it exists, isn’t explainable as a reaction to some genital configuration because it is just as prevalent when lesbians interact with cis bi-women as it might be when lesbians interact with trans* bi-women (though in practice it appears to be dramatically more prevalent, because sexual orientation tends to take a back seat to biological sex – past or present – in discussions of cis* lesbians interacting with trans* folk).

We have to draw on other knowledge to help us explain this intra-community split. Fortunately, I’ve written about this before on a Pharyngula thread:

[After WW2 and the Holocaust,] people wanted an ethical system that said, “Never again” and meant it. Clearly the deontology of divine command didn’t do it. You couldn’t count on contractarianism to make a government respect its citizens. So, what then?

The infinite, the universal, the transcendent is what. If we can’t give human beings an infinite, transcendent value, then there will always be the possibility that some community or nation will believe that mass killings are desirable based on comparing the value of those human beings (to the nation considering the killing, not to those people themselves) to the value the society places on its own goals.

Infinite worth was the way out of the despair of WW2. Existentialism spread like wildfire. Good stuff, in its way. It gave us terms & concepts like “devalue”.

If you see yourself as horribly devalued, however, and you latch onto infinite value ethics as your level to try and achieve your safety, a couple things [might] happen. First, you try to universalize: you want to get every woman on your side, the struggle is that important. Thus, “we’re all in it together”, thus “we’re all exactly the same in the way that matters most”, thus, “those sufficiently different from me that I truly can’t imagine myself ‘the same as’ cannot be in my category”, thus “those falsely claiming to be in my category are jeopardizing my movement and thus my safety,” thus “it is appropriate to label their destabilization of this category upon which I rely for my ultimate safety ‘an attack’ ”.

[This particular chain of ethical reasoning] also shows how the same women can claim to be anti-racist (“we’re all in this together, of course I care about women of color”) but end up pursuing an agenda that has nothing to do with ending racism (“The real oppression is sexism, it’s universal to every society.  So when we get rid of the real oppression, *THEY* won’t need racism to divide us and racism along with all those other subsidiary oppressions will pass away” – AKA “there will be no racism after the revolution, so don’t worry your nappy little head about white supremacy”). [original comment lightly edited for our purposes – cd]

Keep in mind that these aren’t thoughts that necessarily flow from existentialist ethics. Indeed de Beauvoir’s graph on ethics and morality was called, “Pour une morale de l’ambiguïté” (in english traditionally rendered: “The Ethics of Ambiguity”), and the intolerance of destabilized categories of essence is directly contrary to de Beauvoir’s concept of self-directed, self-determined essences. Nonetheless, these ethical statements about the negative value of subdividing the category of woman are descended directly from de Beauvoir’s leading-edge, second-wave existentialist feminism. This is, in fact, one of the reasons why I find exclusionary feminisms so incomprehensible at times. They clearly attempt to preserve quite a lot of de Beauvoir and other early second-wave feminisms, and yet they fully reject aspects of those feminisms that were fundamental to their cohesion and their ethics. In the language of de Beauvoir, they have embraced facticity and rejected transcendence.

Nevertheless, while hollow-boned, feather-winged flyers were not inevitable once early archosaurs evolved, and while hollow bones and other aspects of modern birds would be in conflict with the mode of existence that made early archosaurs what they were, looking backward we can say that birds’ descent from those early archosaurs is a historical fact. Likewise, it is a historical fact that these ambiguity-rejecting, fear-based feminisms descended from de Beauvoir’s feminism (albeit with admixtures from independent sources).

It can be very difficult to understand how trans* exclusive feminists who appear to cling to the second wave can simultaneously reject so much of the second wave’s fundamental insights. But this is not because the development of these feminisms and their ambiguity-rejecting ethics is inherently incomprehensible. Rather, the difficulty in understanding comes from attempting to derive these feminisms based solely on prior feminist categories. In fact, other sources of fear or love, other priorities and values, even other meta-ethics from entirely outside feminism are constantly mixing with our existing feminisms. At times, they enrich our work and make it more effective, as with Kimberlé Crenshaw and the development of intersectionality. At other times they mix poorly. But on its own, bringing into feminism other aspects of women’s experiences, knowledge, and thought is not a bad thing. Indeed it’s a good thing. We wouldn’t have feminism at all if we weren’t allowed to bring those things into a feminism that did not yet include them. How else would we have gotten a feminist labor movement? How else would we have gotten a feminist movement for a more ethical judaism?

So let’s understand that this fear of the other, this fear of destabilized categories, when brought into an early existentialist feminism that offers hope of a universal, stable category of woman, a category that can then be called upon for universal action, can seem wise. It does not instantly negate the opposition to sexism that is the organizing principle of all feminisms. But if you hold existentialist feminism to the light in just the wrong way, it seems as if our fears as women of sexist domination absolutely demands easy categorization, eradication of ambiguity, an undivided unity of interest.

It is tragic, but even the existentialism that so many thought offered a way to guarantee that we fallible humans would live up to our own mutual promise, “Never again,” cannot prevent dehumanization. It cannot prevent violence. It cannot prevent – and it has not prevented – genocide.

The cry for easy categorization, for undivided unities in the face of violence is a cry of fear. It guides us towards liberation no more reliably than any other fearful response. But it is comprehensible, and it should not on its own negate efforts to feel and to offer sympathy across the boundaries of rigid categorization those crying out in fear construct. Indeed better understanding and sympathy for the fear can often be useful in opposing the ossification of these new and contested constructions.

 

 

The Trumpian Defense of Cissexism

Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of assertions that lefties who support trans* advocacy are engaged in some outrageous, anti-free speech labeling of persons and actions as cissexist or transphobic. The argument goes something like this,

It has become impossible in some quarters to have an honest conversation about what is, and is not, a reasonable demand because anyone who questions any demand is simply branded as a transphobic bigot.

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Thirdmill301 and Cis Cowardice

Normally I respond to people talking about trans lives in comment threads in those comment threads. Partially this is because I really do believe in the power of discussing and exchange of information. Yes, I can be harsh on people who, in my opinion, have commented enough times in ways that repeat errors which have been corrected in the same thread that I believe it’s reasonable to infer that they aren’t actually learning from the tactics of helpful education. At that point, I usually decide to change tactics, and one set of tactics involves going for the jugular of a bad argument. Despite the harshness with which I treat those bad arguments, I’ve historically wanted to maintain those responses in the same threads as the comments which occasioned them.

But today, I’ve decided to change tactics, because I believe that sometimes it simply isn’t enough to directly address one person in a thread while the conversation goes on around us. For that reason, I’m going to do a couple posts responding to thread comments with blog posts. And I’m going to start with a bit by Thirdmill301:

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Riffing on Reprobate Spreadsheet: Womanhood Edition

So, you should read RS for the new post up on the incoherence of TERF philosophy and/or ideology, it’s well done. But I want to single out and emphasize one particular bit. HJ Hornbeck excerpts a Medium article credited to a number of folks1 and proceeds to challenge it on a number of points. While I don’t have more than a few quibbles with what HJ wrote, HJ acknowledges that there is much more that could be challenged than was covered in the Reprobate Spreadsheet analysis. This is a place where a bit more of that challenging will happen.

Here, I want to emphasize a point that HJ made briefly that I believe could use more attention, add a couple of points original to me, and then allow you to get more from HJ’s original analysis. Here is the section I wish to reanalyze, a smaller portion of HJ’s first excerpt2:

the view that the category of ‘woman’ is correctly defined as ‘adult human female’. Biological essentialism is a position about whether certain traits of women are biologically produced by sex category membership. Womanhood itself is not a genetic ‘trait’ and no-one on either side of the dispute thinks it is conceivably biologically produced in the way that, arguably, emotional intelligence or maternal instinct is supposed to be.

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Hell is Hope Hicks

As you may already be aware, the NY Times just published an Maggie Haberman essay on Hope Hicks’ most recent dilemma: should she break the law (again) or should she obey the requirements of a congressional subpoena?

The NY Times and Haberman advertised the article on twitter this way:

Now, some took issue with the glamour photo shoot that the Times commissioned for this piece. To the extent that criticism has any validity, it’s not about merely displaying a photo of Hope Hicks, it’s about the fact that they clearly spent significant resources in order to craft an artificial image that comports with Haberman’s editorial depiction of this former Trump aide (and those critiques that mentioned the photo without including this more detailed objection run the risk of communicating an anti-feminist message that what is important in media coverage of women is the photo shot editors choose to run). The lavishing of resources emphasizes the PR function of this effort; it is, in short, not a news story.

And yet, this wasn’t featured in the Times’ lifestyle section. It was featured in “Politics” which, when it is not overt opinion (which should be confined to the OP/ED pages anyway), is supposed to be news. So what is the news story here?

That leads us to the other criticism that many have already made: choosing to comply or not comply with a legal order is not an existential question any more than choosing to print up a few million dollars’ worth of counterfeit bills. Both lawyers and philosophers (mainly ethicists) took issue with this ridiculous and inaccurate description, so it’s not surprise that I, too, found it risible. The philosophers mainly focussed on the misuse of “existential questions” in a way that Sartre would have found condemnably ignorant even if it did tend to validate his assertion, “Hell is other people.” The lawyers had a different take, not so much emphasizing the “existential” part, but focussing rather more on the “question” part. One lawyer, Max Kennerly (@MaxKennerly), put it this way:

Most existential questions have no clear answer. What is my purpose in life? What happens after I die? Is there a higher power guiding my destiny? Does my dog have a soul?

Other “existential questions,” however, are answered by 2 U.S.C. §§ 192 & 194. Compliance is mandatory.

Yet, despite my laughter when I read that and my sympathy to those who would call out the Times for bad philosophy and bad law, my most significant problem with this story and the promotional tweet is neither of those. Instead, read this tweet from Sam Wang @SamWangPhd:

“Should a federal employee obey a lawful order, or stay loyal to an individual? Here at @nytpolitics, we can’t say. It’s just all a partisan game! We’re not going to make a value judgment! We have great portrait photographers though.”

The NY Times isn’t doing something new in this story. They are treating compliance with the law as entirely optional for the rich and well connected even as other stories, say, stories about a famous woman who went to jail for defying a subpoena, don’t include the same PR efforts or gosh, who can say whether it’s fair that someone obey a subpoena support for lawlessness as the Hope Hicks profile.

The Times is doing what the times always does: it’s opposing accountability for the rich and powerful who have the most motive and opportunity to destroy US democracy, while insisting on strict accountability for those who break the law in a principled stand on behalf of what they believe to be a necessary resistance to the subversion or destruction of democracy. Thoreau-like, I can believe that Manning subscribes to the maxim

“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

But the proper response for those of us on the outside is not to scream, “Yeah, lock her up!” at democracy’s defenders and, “Let’s all sympathize with the lawless,” as they attack that democracy. Believing that we have reached the point where the true place for a just trans person is in prison is not to believe we have accomplished something wonderful that must be perpetuated.

The anti-democratic limits on acceptable discourse accepted and propounded by the Times must be opposed. The Times and Haberman and her editors are not worthless and thus irrelevant. The magnitude of this mess is only appreciated by accepting that the Times has an impact on the policies and practices of justice (and other things) and have great value to those that benefit from advancing the Times’ skewed view of proper accountability. Ignoring the Times is not a principled and logical and effective way to deal with their anti-democratic trolling. Instead, the Times must be countered each and every time they embrace the ideology of an accountability-free elite. We must never forget that the Times isn’t portraying the Trump administration as wise and sympathetic philosophers because they are working honestly or even diligently to divine the best possible response to problems of Gordian convolution and unsolvability. The upper ranks of the Times (including Haberman and her editors) are portraying the Trump administration as wise and sympathetic philosophers because they, too, believe themselves better off in a world without accountability for the US elite.

This ideology must be opposed wherever it presents itself.

 


Although I originally titled this “Hell is Hope Hicks” I later thought that perhaps it would be better titled, “Hell is the New York Times”. Ultimately I decided not to change it, though there are certainly reasonable critiques of making Hicks the focus of the title when the main critique is not of Hicks’ disdain for the law (which exists and is critiqued in passing), but instead the NY Times advocacy of disdain for the law – or at least advocacy for the idea that we must consider disdain for the law to be a reasonable position which might be reasonably held by reasonable people in a democracy.