Agree to disagree

Wonkette highlights this quote from Democratic Senator Chris Murphy:

“I worry that we are entering a world where we don’t talk unless people are 110 percent in alignment with us.”

Of course this is idiocy. Lordy, if feminists didn’t disagree with each other all the time we’d have 90% less to say. We are constantly speaking to those who disagree. What was Mitsue Yamada’s work except daring and cogent protest against the forces pushing her to the margins not only in US society at large, dominated by men and masculinity as it is, but even within feminism?

What were the sex wars of the 1980s if not shatteringly strong disagreements? Without disagreement, how does one even begin to explain the hundred years of mainstream feminists’ eye-rolling whenever the socialist feminists enter the room? How could anyone ever explain that one joke about Judith Butler that was retold 170 billion times in the 1990s?

Disagreement is the heart and soul of the left. It is loud and messy and frustrating and painful. It leaves people who shop at the supermarket feeling judged and people who shop at the co-op feeling hopeless.

But it also is the only thing that has ever led to progress in socio-political ethics. The world gets better because we disagree.

Humans have always treated out-groups differently than in-groups. We have, for ages now, defined our progress largely by an ever-expanding definition of the “in-group”. The US constitution has been one of the best examples of this: at its drafting the monied and educated white men who gathered to create it guaranteed themselves treatment that they thought just and fair. Over the centuries since, we have been adding groups to those previously protected — Black people, people in other states, Chinese immigrants, women, and so on. While what constitutes just treatment has also evolved, this too has happened largely through comparing the treatment of some to the treatment of others.

The defining trait of conservatives is the drawing of a line to say, “This many are in my in-group, but no more! The remainder are outsiders because they deserve to be outsiders. Prohibitions against the immoral treatment of others do not apply to the treatment of them.”

The defining trait of progressives is a recognition that the definition of the in-group is not yet expansive enough. But just as conservatives can differ about where to draw the limits of the in-group, so can progressives. White supremacist nationalists might draw the line one particular way, while theocratic christians might draw a different boundary encompassing many of the same people, but not all. Meanwhile one progressive might fight strenuously for the right of people with disabilities to :gasp: sexual self-determination, while another might fight strenuously for the right of Black boys and men to respectful treatment by the police.

Those two hypothetical progressives disagree not only on the out-group most in need of inclusion, but also on the forms of marginalization and exclusion from ethical consideration that most pressingly demand elimination.

Chauvin is an example of how policing excludes Black people from the ethical protections of our shared humanity to which in-group status would entitle them, and Chauvin is not even the worst example of this. Murderers like Chauvin begin now to receive the widespread infamy they have always deserved. To suggest that this might not be our most important fight would understandably provoke criticism, and the farther that suggestion travels, the more likely some of the criticism will take terrible forms.

But sexual self-determination for people with disabilities is not a trivial issue. In myriad ways we are denied sexual education and experience. As a result, not only are we cut off from an entire realm of human connection and prevented from ever fully participating in society, but we are portrayed as innocent in a way that allows sexual assault and rape to flourish. Our rapists believe that we are unable to comprehend or experience sexuality in a way that would make us truly victims, thus rationalizing generation after generation of abuse. Our family, caretakers, and educators deny us the conversations and sometimes even the vocabulary necessary to identify (much less protest) the harms inflicted upon us. The rapists literally depend on those charged with our care to silence our screams, and they are not disappointed.

How can we justify agitating for more attention to those whose violations at least get some when some violations get no attention at all? The rapes of children with disabilities get at least nominal condemnation, if no effort at solving the issue, but as yet we have no name for the denial to people with disabilities of puppy love, making out, marriage, fucking and all the rest. This entire world of human interaction which is the basis for connection after connection, historically a world through which one group would literally join with another to form a new, larger group for defense, political connection, sharing of labor and wealth, this gigantic source of human strength and vulnerability and growth and joy is denied millions with no comment or discussion at all. How can this be unworthy of our activist efforts?

It takes little to see, once the words are on the page, how those fighting on either of these fronts could see the other as a dangerous distraction, a waste of energies best directed elsewhere. How do you respectfully tell the bereaved mother of Atatiana Jefferson that racist police violence has received enough attention? How do you tell the medicalized woman raped by her caretaker but denied the necessary assistance to travel to her boyfriend’s house that we have helped her enough, she has no right to ask for more or better?

Our issues are pressing. It is a tribute to our passion for inclusion that some of us will disagree. Some of us will spend more energy on the issue closest to home, or the one on which we have the most expertise. We need that. We need the personal stories because indeed the comparative importance our society places on the stories of Benjamin Franklin and Venture Smith is part of our problem.

But being progressive isn’t to be perfect, and so long as our issues are pressing, some of us will desperate as well as passionate. Desperate disagreements are not polite disagreements.

We are disagreeing passionately and desperately, but the left is disagreeing about the right things, and has been for as long as it has been the left.

“Ain’t I a woman?” asked Sojourner Truth.

Dr. King warned:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

And add to this words from Kimberlé Crenshaw:

a large and continuing project for subordinated people … is thinking about the way power has clustered around certain categories and is exercised against others. This project attempts to unveil the processes of subordination and the various ways those processes are experienced by people who are subordinated and people who are privileged by them. … And this project’s most pressing problem, in many if not most cases, is not the existence of the categories, but rather the particular values attached to them and the way those values foster and create social hierarchies

We of the left are in a constant struggle, but not so much over the need to expand our in-group, to love more, to provide more, to include more amongst those we love as ourselves. No, in a world with such violence and desperation amidst our margins, the questions that provoke the fiercest responses are those about whom to save in the finite today, for tomorrow will be too late for many.

It would break my heart if we could not hear people scream at the lifeguard saving a Black boy that the crippled girl is drowning just as certainly. When George Floyd whispers for his mother, his lungs near empty at the last, when the nameless, hidden woman with Down syndrome cannot find the word for rape to speak it, when she is silenced by the admonishment that her weekly bleeding is menstruation at what volume should I scream?

When I hear the angry, wounded shrieks of those who have brought these two into their in-group, who cry out as if they themselves were being raped, being murdered, my concern is not for the ringing in the ears of some. Our empathy is a moral victory. Our rage is moral genius.

To those like Chris Murphy who complain about the messy, turbulent, painful noise of the subjugated, the dispossessed, the marginalized, the other, I say that love will win. We progressives will expand the in-group and expand it again, and every generation the conservatives will defend a new, larger boundary. And you may lose your hearing from the cacophonic din, but we will yell because we must, because our morality demands it. And when we fall steeply into our last and lasting sleep, we will dream of the day when our boundaries compass the entirety of the world, when the screaming ends not because it violates a norm of propriety but because there is no longer any desperation to yell out.

What will you dream?

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.


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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