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: Feminism and the Putative Fourth Wave

From a comment I wrote on WHTM, lightly edited for clarity absent its original context:

So many people have announced the beginning of 4th wave feminism. It’s not here.

The only way to begin a new wave is to make new ethical claims. The “first wave” feminists were actually acting on a relatively diverse mix of ethical philosophies, but the ones who’ve come to define 1W are the Susan B. Anthonys, and those were contractarians. Their claims were primarily about how women are treated by the government and the reforms they demanded were largely designed to make women equal participants in the social contract — which in a democracy is significantly defined by voting and participation in government.

Socialist feminism ran concurrently with contractarian feminism (and a smaller movement of not-well-defined sexually libertarian feminism), but since “wave theory” didn’t exist until relatively recently, it got lumped in with the 1W contractarian feminism in the earlier period and outright ignored during the period after the recognized end of contractarian feminism in the 1920s (leaving the appearance of a gap in feminist activism, though that appearance was deceptive).

2W feminism is largely existentialist in nature, and made claims about how women were treated socially, separate from the treatment of women by the government. This is a substantially different feminism that tries to justify negative ethical judgements of sexist behaviors on entirely different ethical grounds of an essential and universal quality of “womanhood”, and focuses on relationships women have with large institutions that are not the government and with whom we have no direct social contract and which have their own freedoms against which the claims of 2W feminism must compete. The language and form of analysis is completely different from 1W feminism.

3W feminism incorporates critiques of how women themselves are a heterogenous group. Though intersectionality comes to us through honest-to-goodness (not buzzword bullshit) critical race theory written by one of the two women of color who first introduced the term critical race theory (Kimerlé Crenshaw), feminism that acknowledges divides between groups of women and the need for a feminism that creates ethical demands on individual women towards other individual women has its roots so long ago that it actually is contemporaneous with 1W. (Remember Sojourner Truth’s “Aren’t I a woman?”) It further ran concurrently with 2W (Maxine Hong Kingston, the Combahee River Collective, Pat Parker, Shulamit Firestone etc., etc.).

What transitioned between 1980 and 2000 is that the critiques of feminism’s outsiders demanding an approach that acknowledge power differences, power abuses, and systematic privileges between women, falling on racial and other highly contested lines, finally reached the center of feminist activism and gender studies courses. Part of this is that even the relatively privileged white feminists of the 80s went through the so-called “Sex Wars”. In the Sex Wars, the Lavender Purge and other intrafeminist conflicts white feminists treated each other badly. This made them reflect on who was hurting whom, and why some people with bad ideas and harmful behaviors nonetheless maintained a respected and visible place within the movement. White, mainstream feminists suddenly had a number of people who reached to women of color feminisms to make sense of their contested, divided experience.

So now we have intersectional feminisms, which are quite old but are named for the metaphor that was coined right in the middle of this crucial period. And while old in philosophical tradition, it is new to the dominant position in feminist theory. Intersectional feminisms make different ethical claims than 2W feminism, though it does not reject the causes and claims of 2W feminism wholesale (much as 1W feminism was largely accepted by 2W feminists).

But ever since 2000 I keep hearing about people saying we have a 4th wave of feminism and every time I hear this I ask, “What is the new philosophy, not just the same ethical and philosophical approach applied to a new issue (like internet-based social media), but actual new method of analysis and new ethical claim being made by this proposed 4W feminism?”

There’s never a good answer.

I’ve heard 4W feminism is feminism informed by religion for religious women. But previous generations of feminists have been religious, often quite fiercely so. The 1848 Seneca Falls convention was held in a church by church-going women for church-going women.

I’ve heard 4W feminism is feminism that addresses behavior on the internet performed by feminists who use the internet. But that’s facile. We didn’t start a new wave of feminism when the radio was invented. Or the TV. It’s the same feminism addressing a new issue, as far as I can tell.

I’ve heard 4W feminism described as feminism done by people born (or coming of age) after 3W feminism had already been established. However if a mere passage of a couple decades required a new wave designation, then the 1W name for a period spanning 7-8 decades immediately fails. And if the 1W name is taken to be coherent, than the mere passage of 20 or 25 years can’t define a novel “wave” of feminism.

I’d be delighted for a genuinely new feminist methodology to arise that grounds genuinely novel ethical claims. But if we’re simply dealing with dehumanization over twitter instead of face to face or in the newspaper, then sorry. That’s still 2W feminism, focussed on the existentialist feminist priority of the struggle to place transcendent value on the authentic human experience. Dehumanization is a 2W concept. Addressing dehumanization that occurs in 280 characters or less isn’t suddenly no longer 2W.

So what is 4W feminism? What does it claim? On what body of thought does it rest its ethical claims about what is wrong with the world and what does it prescribe we should do about those wrongs? How is the logic by which it persuades fundamentally different from what came before? How is its vision of justice incompatible with that of the 3W?

Someday there will be a 4W feminism. It will be exciting and I’ll learn a ton from it and I can’t wait to read it.

But no one has been able to show me anything yet that’s not just a previously established school of feminism writing about a new issue — which is just as novel as a movie reviewer writing about this years’ movies instead of last. It’s not a whole new wave of movie reviews. It’s just the ongoing work you would expect the same movie reviewers to keep doing, so long as all movie reviewers don’t just up and die. If one movie reviewer retires and is replaced by a younger movie reviewer with different tastes, we still do not have a whole new “wave” of film studies.

Please educate me if I’m wrong and there really is a novel form of feminism out there that I should read. Until you do though, count me skeptical. Too many have announced a 4W before now for me to trust such claims without investigation.



Philosophy’s Sufficient Causes

Philosophy is the inevitable result of a houseful of books, alcohol, and vibrators. If you don’t have something interesting to say after drunk-masturbating while reading Judge Sirica’s Watergate memoir because you really wanted to finish it before dinner but it was getting a little dry, and speaking of dry your hitachi is right next to you so why not? then you won’t ever have anything interesting to say.

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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.


First Amendment Fuck Off!

Section 2 also, too!

Wait, what?

This post exists because there’s yet another FREEZE PEACH! discussion ongoing over at Pharyngula and I realize I’m tired of making the same points over and over again. So I’m going to write up a few thoughts and then leave myself the option of either linking back to this or quoting it in the future so I don’t have to keep saying the same damn things over and over.

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Logic and trolling and blogs, oh my!

Someone is attempting to play logic games in the comments. Set up to require approval for the 1st comment by any account or e-mail address, my comment filter asked me for permission to post this bit of text from a new commenter named “Path”:

This is a lie.

The comment was intended for my post I’m a Nazi, Says Nazi. World Topples in Not-Shock. There’s always the possibility that they actually had a coherent comment in mind, but as they did not quote what they thought was actually a lie or make any argument at all in support of their assertion, all I could think of was the reliability problems of Harcourt Fenton Mudd:

Try again, Path. If you have a thoughtful comment, it’s almost certainly welcome, but this was so vague I honestly couldn’t tell if you were attempting to add to the conversation, attempting to troll me or one of my commenters, or just babbling. Make an effort and so long as you’re not trolling, twisting others words dishonestly, pushing hatred, or issuing threats you can probably comment here indefinitely.


The Atheists For Liberty and Enlightenment Values

PZ has a new post up about a group Atheists for Liberty which proudly announces its embrace of Enlightenment values. Turns out it is a creature of Peter Boghossian, someone whose work I’ve criticized harshly in the past right here on this blog and whose ethics, clearly, are lacking.

Let’s be clear. “Enlightenment values” suck. Sure, Enlightenment philosophers actually move epistemology forward quite a bit. They also provided hugely important arguments for more widespread literacy and education on diverse topics. They developed a contractarianism sufficiently complete to found a country from Hobbes’ proto-contractarianism where “consent of the governed” had more Machiavellian meanings almost entirely limiting it to the practical advice to rulers not to encourage the masses to take up torches and pitchforks because those torches and pitchforks, in addition to being official notice of revocation of consent, were also a bit dangerous to the ruling class.

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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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