Guy Fawkes: Good Activists and Social Change

So the first official entry in our Guy Fawkes series is from a great thread on Pharyngula about Beyoncé’s feminism. The whole thread is worth your time, but let’s pick up where beloved commenter chimera mentions

One of my favorite philosophers said something on the radio the other day that struck me. He said his favorite black civil rights leaders of the 60s were The Black Panthers because they had no pretension of being “good” (read: appropriate, upstanding, notable, conforming, respectable, moral, role model for your kids, and all that….). And that a person doesn’t have to be “good” (in that sense) to call for political change.

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Privilege, Deference, and Moral Certainty

GG has been discussing in other threads the concept of epistemic deference, focused on epistemic deference of members of empowered majorities with respect to members of disempowered minorities. As it happens, I’ve lectured on just this topic at Portland State University, the University of Vermont, and a couple other places. (University of Minnesota I think… but I’m not entirely sure, and it would have been my visit to the Minneapolis campus, if you’re wondering PZ: I’ve never been to Morris). I even spoke to it when speaking to a North American conference of human rights officials and boards. So I’ve been thinking about this problem for a LONG time. More than 20 years, certainly. As a result, I have at hand things I’ve written right here on FtB available to quote.

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Oh my god, I’m Chidi.

So I had never seen a single episode (or even outtake) from the TV show “The Good Place”. I knew it was a show about a hypothetical heaven & that they explored morality, but… that was about it.

Today I finally popped on an episode and now I’m halfway through the third. Turns out, as both of you probably already know, that the conceit of the show is that there’s a mixup and someone who doesn’t belong in heaven gets there. Wanting to stay, she enlists the help of someone who was introduced to her as her soul mate, but who quite obviously isn’t.

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Yes, it’s an argument for nuclear power

While I actively campaigned to get rid of a nuclear power plant in the PNW that had been offered an extended license, and while nuclear power advocates can sometimes annoy me (much like militant vegans can annoy me despite my vegan diet) when they repeat fossil-fuel industries’ talking points bashing renewable power, there is sure as hell an argument for nuclear power being incorporated into our modern energy mixture, and it’s this:

While much of the criticism surrounding the burning of fossil fuels focuses on the long term impacts to the health of the planet, it can also have devastating short-term effects on the health of the human population. A new study led by Harvard scientists has shed new light on the extent of this problem, finding air pollution arising from fossil fuels to be responsible for more than eight million deaths around the world in 2018.

While I’m all for passive energy projects such as tidal, wave, solar, and wind, and while it’s quite obvious we could do more than we’re doing, quicker than we’re doing it, nuclear power, for all its risks, isn’t nearly as damaging as the fossil fuel industry. There have been deaths in uranium mining and during disasters such as Chernobyl, and, yes, Chernobyl even contaminated many square kilometers, forcing the evacuation of humans and creating demographically certain suffering for many animals, the harms simply do not compare to the scale of harms created by fossil fuel extraction and transportation. And, of course, the use of fossil fuels is another matter entirely: the burning of fossil fuels threatens global climate systems with massive change, which in turn leaves living things in changed environments, environments to which they are not adapted and because of which they might go extinct.

If we can save lives and reduce damage to the environment by building new nuclear power plants we should. Eight million deaths so that we can fill our cars in minutes instead of hours is cruelest indifference.

 

The ONLY Radical Idea

Republicans are, predictably, screaming that impeaching Trump is a Bad Idea™ because excuses go here. Pence literally left Pelosi on hold for 25 minutes before having an aide say that he wouldn’t talk to her. He knew she wanted to talk about the 25th. Not only had he decided he did not want to invoke the 25th, but he didn’t want to talk to anyone about invoking the 25th. Commentators, of course, are complaining that the country doesn’t need the divisiveness of removing Trump from office before his term expires.

But here’s the thing: there’s nothing Trump (or any President that aspires to dictatorship) could do that would be worse, or more desperately requiring impeachment or punishment, that could ever result in impeachment or punishment.

Think it through: Trump has engaged in a failed, violent coup. The only thing “worse” is a successful, violent coup – and that’s not worse because of presidential behavior. It’s only worse in terms of its impact on us. But in a successful coup, impeachment or arrest would (by definition) be unavailable as remedies.

So this is it: Trump conspires with a mob to kill a cop and nullify democracy itself so that he can hold executive power for (at least) four more years. Why would the Republicans & commentators be against using impeachment or the 25th for literally the worst presidential conduct that could possibly be available as a basis for impeachment or removal?

It comes down to what I have said many times. I honestly can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that this isn’t a well known aphorism invented 200 years ago, but it seems to still be something that only I say. So at the risk of self-aggrandizement I’m gonna scream it out loud yet again:

The ONLY radical idea is accountability for people with power. All else is mere reform. 

Impunity is a core value of rulers and people who think of themselves as the ruling class. But we must reject this. If we must wait until a president launches a successful coup before impeachment becomes available as a remedy, then we have, with invisible but indelible ink, rewritten the constitution to erase all possibility of presidential  impeachment, now and in the future. If we do that, the doctrine of impunity has won. The details of dictatorship may change in the following years or decades, but having relinquished the possibility of accountability for those with power, we relegate all future efforts to nothing more than reform.

We must, in this moment, demand accountability, or we have lost ourselves and the republic of the United States of America.

25th THE FUCKER NOW. IMPEACH THE FUCKER MONDAY. JAIL THE FUCKER WITHOUT BAIL.

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.