Good Scholarship On Gender

I was recommended a YouTube video, “Transphobia: An Analysis,” and it easily lives up to its name. I noticed an overlap, though, between that video and my own attempts at a similar topic: we both relied heavily on the writing of trans people in forming our arguments. Both Philosophy Tube and I cite a specific article by Talia Mae Bettcher:

Consequently, when a trans woman says “I’m a woman” and her body is precisely the kind of body taken to invalidate a claim to womanhood (in mainstream culture), the claim is true in some trans subcultures because the meaning of the word “woman” is different; its very meaning is under contestation … I understand this in terms of Marı́a Lugones’s concept of “multiple worlds of sense” […]

Once we adopt a Lugonian framework for understanding trans oppression and resistance, we can see a serious problem inherent in both the wrong-body and transgender approaches: they take the dominant meanings of gender terms for granted, thereby foreclosing the possibility of multiply resistant meanings (…). In a beyond-the-binary model, to say that trans people are marginal with respect to the binary is to locate them in terms of the categories “man” and “woman” as dominantly understood. If trans bodies can have different resistant meanings, the decision to say of those bodies that they are “mixed” or “in between” is precisely to assume a dominant interpretation. So the problem is not the rigidity of the binary categories but rather the starting assumption that there is only one interpretation in the first place (the dominant one). Similarly, in the wrong-body model, to become a woman or a man requires genital reconstruction surgery as the correction of wrongness. But this is to accept a dominant understanding of what a man or a woman is.

Bettcher, Talia Mae. “Trapped in the wrong theory: Rethinking trans oppression and resistance.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 39.2 (2014): 389-390.

While there’s a lot of bad reasoning out there too, the best analysis of gender I’ve seen has come from trans people. It also makes the best analysis I’ve seen from TERFs look like “WRONG” crayon’d on a wall. Take Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, for instance; she’s often held up as one of the best TERF scholars, yet I often find her writing drivel like this:

If gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then everyone is “non-binary”.

This basic logical point should be obvious, and yet is denied by most of the proponents of the spectrum model of gender – indeed, it is often met with angry objections from those who label themselves non-binary. But it’s hard to see how this point can be refuted. If gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then every individual alive is non-binary, by definition. There are not just two points. There is a range of points, and we all of us fall somewhere along the spectrum. And then the label “non-binary” becomes redundant, as it fails to pick out a special category of people.

Or, perhaps, “binary” is an anachronistic label for a large collection of people who cluster around certain behaviors and appearance. We can keep using the term until we think of a better one, so long as we acknowledge that, in the context of gender, the sharp boundaries implied by the name do not exist. The premise that gender occupies a spectrum is compatible with this definition of “binary,” and it permits “non-binary” to remain a useful category.

A graphical representation of the prior paragraph.

If you read forward, you’ll find much of her essay consists of hammering the “binary cannot have multiple meanings” nail over and over and over again, until she gets to her true point.

The logical conclusion of all this is: if gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then there are no trans people. Or, alternatively, everyone is trans.

Well yes, if you deny that “binary” can have multiple meanings, and believe everyone agrees the wrong-body model is correct, that conclusion holds. Marı́a Lugones published her work in 2004, so even the latter premise was false a decade before Reilly-Cooper scrawled that article on a wall.

If you are interested in getting to the bottom of what gender is, then you owe it to yourself to check out the work of trans scholars, starting with Talia Mae Bettcher.

As I was pondering [Kathleen] Stock’s arguments, I couldn’t help reflect on the grading I had just completed for the course “Trans Feminist Philosophy.” I wondered whether her essay would have received a passing grade in it.

In this course, we paid particular attention to (non-trans) feminist engagements with trans people, issues, and theory. We used my Stanford Encyclopedia entry “Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues” as a guide. It served as the starting point for my lectures and our inquiries. I’ll note that this entry is almost like a little book, coming in at 23,000 words. It also has an extensive and, in my humble opinion, highly useful bibliography that includes literature from the late 1800s until around 2014.

In our discussion of feminist/trans interactions, we began with the expulsion of Beth Elliott (a trans woman, lesbian feminist) from the Daughters of Bilitis San Francisco chapter in late 1972 and then considered the infamous West Coast Lesbian Conference (1973) during which Elliott survived a vote that would have expelled her from the conference. We examined all of the feminist perspectives that were at play at the time—including the pro-trans ones. We then went on to examine Janice Raymond’s Transsexual Empire (1979), easily the most important work in “gender critical feminism” (although it wasn’t called that at the time). We looked at the emergence of trans studies through the work of Sandy Stone (1991), Kate Bornstein (1994), and Leslie Feinberg (1992). We examined the development of Queer Theory—especially the work of Judith Butler (1990, 1993) and its relation to trans studies and politics. We looked at trans phenomenology (Rubin 1998) and we looked at the FTM/Butch border wars of the nineties (Halberstam 1998, Hale 1998). We looked at more recent feminist perspectives on trans issues (e.g. Cressida Heyes 2003, Gayle Salamon 2010) by non-trans women, and we discussed the development of trans feminism through the work of Emi Koyama (2003, 2006) and Julia Serano (2007). Unfortunately, we ran out of time. We were going to look at some of the more recent debates with regard to gender critical feminism (e.g. Lori Watson 2016, Sara Ahmed 2016, myself). But we had to stop.

Enjoy the dig.

Why TERFs are not feminists

Nah, I’m not trying to start something with Siggy; heck, I too have pointed out the historical connections between TERFs and feminists. Whether one is a subset of the other will always be a secondary concern next to combating the damage they do. Still, I think there’s an argument for the other side, one that’s worth writing up.

Let’s start with a protest I’ve meant to blog about: a number of women attended a men’s-only swim night. Given just that, you can sketch out a rationale for the action. Sex separation for social gatherings has its roots in a time when we believed men and women should never mix, that we occupied separate spheres. The only good reason I know to allow sex segregation is to help victims of sexual assault, who in some cases can relive their trauma if they share a space with someone of a specific sex. Since that isn’t universal, sex segregation shouldn’t be either, and invading a space that wasn’t separated for that reason is a legit form of protest.

Female activists took a group of male swimmers by surprise on Friday evening when they attended a men-only swim session wearing just trunks and pink swimming caps. Amy Desir, 30, was one of the two women to gain access to the south London pool session, as part of a protest against proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, which would enable men and women to choose their own gender.

Both women explained their attendance to staff at Dulwich Leisure Centre by saying they “identified as male” and subsequently had the right to be there. […]

Their actions form part of a nationwide campaign formed on Mumsnet called #ManFriday which encourages women to “self-identify” as men every Friday in protest of the proposed amendments to gender laws, which would enable people to self-identify as men or women.

When we add more information, though, things get twisted around. TERFs believe men and women occupy separate spheres, otherwise they wouldn’t have identified as male; at the same time, they also argue that housework shouldn’t be a woman’s duty and the workplace shouldn’t favor men. They also believe that anyone with a penis is a man, to the point of obsession and despite scientific arguments to the contrary. Because of those points, they believe men should be disgusted and unsettled to find women invading their spaces.

They also used the male changing rooms before going into the session and were later asked by an elderly man if they realised it was a male-only session.

In reality, the most common reaction is puzzlement or a shrug of the shoulders. Just recently, in fact, while running some chores I noticed a guy stopped right in the entrance of a men’s washroom, blankly staring at the “Men’s Washroom” sign as if deciphering some puzzle. I walked past, turned the corner, and sure enough someone identified as a woman was in there. She gave me an embarrassed glance as she hurried out; I rolled my eyes as I continued to the urinal, without missing a single step. Women participating in marathons will sometimes “claim” men’s washrooms, due to a lack of facilities and their greater numbers in these events (at least around here, YMMV elsewhere). I know it happens, because I helped do it once; there were no complaints, no protests, no need for guards, everyone just got on with their business amid a few nervous giggles.

Every premise behind that TERF protest is either contrary to another premise they believe, or the best evidence available. As I’ve pointed out before, TERFs do not have a coherent theory of sex or gender; in contrast, feminists bend over backwards to establish coherency. This solves Siggy’s best argument.

On the flip side, there are also real pretenders to feminism. One of the best known examples is Christina Hoff Sommers, who identifies as a feminist, but who has been a conservative critic of feminism for her entire career. Sommers is one of several public figures who call themselves “equity feminists”, a term that, as far as I know, does not have any real history within feminism, and seems to have been invented by external critics.

So it seems we have a difficult task, finding a definition for feminism that includes TERFs, and yet excludes equity feminists. Ideally, the definition would also apply to feminists of the past and future.

No matter where you stand on Christina Hoff Sommers’ feminism, she has a more coherent theory of sex and gender than TERFs. That is a line of demarcation.

As just hinted at, Siggy’s other main argument is that feminism has historically been quite transphobic. Fair enough, in fact at one point a significant number of feminists opposed any LGBT activism. But pointing out that this bigotry was once part of feminism does not demand that we continue to accept those bigots as feminists, any more than pointing out that astronomy was once astrology demands that we consider astrologers to be astronomers. Words and definitions can change over time. If the majority of contemporary feminists are bullish on LGBT rights, if the majority of them agree that gender identity is a fundamental right, then we can consider transphobic feminists to be anachronisms. To bring up another anecdote, I attended Calgary Pride and was heartened to see half the floats had “trans rights are human rights” or similar explicitly plastered on them. The lead float was trans-inclusive, too, which was welcome given the bullshit TERFs have pulled at Pride marches.

Given that very few feminists are TERFs, and even mainstream society has accepted that gender identity is a thing (on paper, anyway), counting TERFs as feminists muddies what “feminism” means, in my opinion. That may not be your opinion, and that’s cool! Whether we call TERFs bigots pretending to be feminists or bigoted feminists, we can all agree the stress should be on the “b.”


HJH 2018-09-10: Oh dear, I seem to have started something anyway. A small and insightful thing, thankfully. Read Crip Dyke’s posts, especially her second one as it has some good points to make about sexism. I mean, damn:

Sexism = Sex Prejudice + Enhanced Power of one sex relative to another

In the course of it all, though, I’m getting feedback from Siggy and others that suggests I could have done a better job in this post. The crux of it can be handled via a little copy-pasta.

Shoot, I should have explained this point a little better. I don’t argue that having a consistent definition is necessary for being a feminist, instead working towards a consistent definition is the key. You can see this quite clearly with Judith Butler:

Before Undoing Gender, Butler never addressed the T or the I (transgender and intersex) in GLBTQI in any sustained way. In turning her gaze toward what is unthinkable even for many gays and lesbians, Butler has continued to push against the boundaries of the field she had a large part in creating. Undoing Gender constitutes a thoughtful and provocative response to the new gender politics and elegantly employs psychoanalysis, philosophy, feminism, and queer theory in an effort to pry open the future of the human.

Zavaletta, Atticus Schoch. “Undoing Gender.” The Comparatist 29.1 (2005): 152-153.

Compare and contrast with this with TERFs. Confronted with evidence that their definition of “sex” is too simplistic, they discard the evidence rather than update the definition. Bigotry takes precedence over consistency, and we can exploit that to draw a dividing line.

The worst of it seems to flow from that misunderstanding, at least so far.

On Jakiw Palij

You may have heard of this story.

The last known Nazi collaborator living in the United States — a 95-year-old former camp guard who played an “indispensable role” in the murders of thousands of Jews — was deported to Germany from his New York City home early Tuesday morning, completing what the U.S. ambassador to Germany called a “difficult task.”

But I have yet to see a single news report that gives you the full account. For instance, they guy was 95 years old, yet there’s been an active hunt for Nazis for decades. Why did it take so long to find him?

Christopher A. Wray, Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, announced that a federal judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., today revoked the citizenship of a Queens resident on the basis of his service as an armed guard at an SS slave-labor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and his concealment of that service when he immigrated to the United States. The denaturalization decision issued today by U.S. District Judge Allyne Ross cited admissions and other evidence proving that Jakiw Palij, 79, served during 1943 as an armed guard at the notorious Trawniki Labor Camp, which the court found was created “[t]o further the exploitation of Jewish labor.”“By guarding the prisoners held under inhumane conditions at Trawniki, Jakiw Palij prevented their escape and directly contributed to their eventual slaughter at the hands of the Nazis,” said Roslynn R. Mauskopf, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Some of the reason is due to Palij covering his tracks well, but if you do some mental math on his age you’ll realize he was stripped of US citizenship back in 2003. So why did it take 15 years to deport a Nazi war criminal?

Palij, an ethnic Ukrainian born in a part of Poland that is now Ukraine, said on his 1957 naturalization petition that he had Ukrainian citizenship. When their investigators showed up at his door in 1993, he said: “I would never have received my visa if I told the truth. Everyone lied.” […]

But because Germany, Poland, Ukraine and other countries refused to take him, he continued living in limbo in the two-story, red brick home in Queens he shared with his late wife, Maria. His continued presence there outraged the Jewish community, attracting frequent protests over the years that featured such chants as, “Your neighbor is a Nazi!”

The place he was born is now in a different country, and neither Poland nor Ukraine wanted Palij. There was no place to deport him to! And once they did deport him, why Germany?

The German government has acknowledged its moral responsibility to receive Palij, who could not be prosecuted in the US, and whom other countries such as Poland, where he was born, and Ukraine, where the place of his birth is now located, have refused to take in. […]

Palij has never possessed German citizenship. It has emerged that his current legal residency status in Germany is based on a clause of the residency law under which non-Germans can be transferred to Germany if “international law or urgent humanitarian reasons” requires it, or “to protect the political interests of Germany”.

The basic idea is that Germany was responsible for the rise of Nazis, ergo it should be responsible for cleaning up after them. They accepted Palij for humanitarian reasons, to heal old wounds. Though it’s kind of awkward to hold a trial for a frail 95-year-old person.

While authorities in the southern city of Würzburg had been trying to bring a case against Palij since 2016, Rommel said that investigation had been closed because no evidence was ever found linking Palij to any murders.

“His transfer from the USA doesn’t change anything about the state of evidence,” he added. “In theory, prosecutors in Würzburg could resume their proceedings in case something changed, but for that proof would be necessary in particular, which would bring the person into direct connection with the crimes, and that is what has been missing so far.”

Nobody, not even Palij himself denies he was part of the SS …

Palij admitted to officials that he was trained at an SS training camp in Trawniki, which was next to the labor camp, in the spring of 1943, according to court documents. But the documents didn’t say what he did after his training.

“There’s a big gap in the historical record,” Eli Rosenbaum, former director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations, tells NPR. And Palij wasn’t talking: “Mr. Palij took the Fifth Amendment and would not cooperate in the search for truth in his case.”

… but beyond showing he was an employee of the Trawniki concentration camp at around the time a massacre occurred, there’s no evidence to close that gap. Palij claims he was coerced into the SS to save his family, which is a common defense of former Nazis, but there are circumstances where that did happen. It was enough to convince a US judge that he should be stripped of his citizenship and deported, but it’s not enough for German prosecutors to bring a case. Arguably, the move to Germany will be a step up for Palij; he used to live on his own in the US, relying on retirement funds he saved. Now:

“Palij will spend the rest of his life here,” an editorial in the left-leaning Taz read. “The Nazi collaborator will now be cared for, receive financial help, a roof, food, clothing, paid for by the state.”

Look, I’m quite firmly on the “Punch Nazis” side of things. But that doesn’t prevent me from also pointing out that very little justice has resulted from this deportation. It’s not something to crow about.

The president used Mr. Palij’s deportation, which came one day after he saluted an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer and border agents at the White House, as an opportunity to praise the agency, implicitly challenging those who would denounce it. […]

A few hours later, the Republican National Committee sent out a news release noting that Mr. Palij had lived in the congressional district where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star among Democrats who has called for the abolition of ICE, is seeking a House seat. […]

At a campaign rally Tuesday night, Mr. Trump invoked Mr. Palij’s deportation during a screed against Democrats, who he said would throw open America’s borders and do away with ICE.

All those headlines about abused children being ripped from their families (almost 500 are still separated, despite a court order to reunite them nearly a month ago) have resulted in widespread calls to dissolve ICE and a movement to reform immigration procedure to make it more humane. Palij’s deportation is a cynical ploy to fight back: since no-one disagrees with deporting Nazis, it follows that his deportation is necessary and therefore both ICE and the current hard-line policy should remain in place.

Jakiw Palij’s deportation is a net plus to the world, but he was a not deported to promote justice; he was instead deported so he could become a political talking point for the Republican party. Like those children, he was not a human being in their eyes but an object to be exploited and abused.

Even when they do good, the Republican party cannot stop themselves from cruelty.

How Democracies Die

My silence is due to a math-heavy post I’m cooking up on frequentism, in case you were wondering. To tide you over, here’s some reading on a topic I’m starting to pay a lot more attention to.

Those who have lived their entire lives in functioning democracies may find it hard to grasp how easily minds can be won over to the totalitarian dark side. We assume such a passage would require slow, laborious persuasion. It does not. The transition from day to night is bewilderingly swift. Despite what many assume, civilized coexistence in a culture of tolerance is not always the norm, or even universally desired. Democracy is a hard-won, easily rolled back state of affairs from which many secretly yearn to be released.

The author of that piece, Uki Goñi, has some relevant experience.

Although I was born in the United States, where my father was posted to the Argentine Embassy, this does not make me a US citizen, since the Fourteenth Amendment excludes the children of foreign diplomats. Yet I grew up as if I were one, pledging allegiance every morning to the flag on the playground of Annunciation School on Massachusetts Avenue. Later, as a young adult in Argentina, I worked for an English-language newspaper in Buenos Aires and reported on the crimes of the bloody military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. As a journalist, I witnessed first the erosion and then the total collapse of democratic norms, and how a ruthless autocracy can mobilize popular fears and resentments to crush its opponents.

According to that author, the key ingredients to flipping a democracy are A) widespread paranoia, B) a slow and steady normalization of brutality, C) ignorance, motivated reasoning, and misinformation, plus D) a feeling that you’ll turn out A-OK.

For many Argentines, then, the military represented not a subjugation to arbitrary rule, but a release from the frustrations, complexity, and compromises of representative government. A large part of society clasped with joy the extended hand of totalitarian certainty. Life was suddenly simplified by conformity to a single, uncontested power. For those who cherish democracy, it is necessary to comprehend the secret delight with which many greeted its passing. A quick fix to the insurgency seemed infinitely preferable to plodding investigations, piecemeal arrests, and case-by-case lawful trials. Whipped up by the irrational fear of a communist takeover, this impatience won the day. And once Argentina had accepted the necessity for a single, absolute solution, the killing could begin.

That the guerrillas had failed to occupy any territory for any appreciable amount of time was a fact blithely ignored. The delusion prevailed over reality. […]

… the Nazis’ presence in Argentina normalized their ideology and weakened society’s democratic defenses against the totalitarian ideas they represented. Seeing Nazi flags paraded down the streets of Charlottesville last year, seeing them again in Washington, D.C., this year, makes me realize how different today’s America is from the country where I was born and grew up. It makes me realize how far advanced such a normalization already is in the US.

It backs up what I’d read from other sources. Take this old article, for instance.

When [Milton] Mayer returned home, he was afraid for his own country. He felt “that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man,” and that under the right conditions, he could well have turned out as his German friends did. He learned that Nazism took over Germany not “by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler.” Many Germans “wanted it; they got it; and they liked it.”

Mayer’s most stunning conclusion is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects “saw Nazism as we—you and I—saw it in any respect.” Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects “did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.” Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives. […]

Even in retrospect Mayer’s subjects liked and admired Hitler. They saw him as someone who had “a feeling for masses of people” and spoke directly in opposition to the Versailles Treaty, to unemployment—to all aspects of the existing order. They applauded Hitler for his rejection of “the whole pack”—“all the parliamentary politicians and all the parliamentary parties”—and for his “cleanup of moral degenerates.” The bank clerk described Hitler as “a spellbinder, a natural orator. I think he was carried away from truth, even from truth, by his passion. Even so, he always believed what he said.” […]

The killing of six million Jews? Fake news. Four of Mayer’s subjects insisted that the only Jews taken to concentration camps were traitors to Germany, and that the rest were permitted to leave with their property or its fair market value. The bill collector agreed that the killing of the Jews “was wrong, unless they committed treason in wartime. And of course they did.” He added that “some say it happened and some say it didn’t,” and that you “can show me pictures of skulls…but that doesn’t prove it.” In any case, “Hitler had nothing to do with it.” The tailor spoke similarly: “If it happened, it was wrong. But I don’t believe it happened.”

Both pieces go into a lot more detail, so I recommend the detour to read them. Just make sure you’re in a comfortable place; not because there’s a tonne of racism or violence present, but because the echos to the current US climate are so strong.

Watch American Democracy Die, LIVE

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge. – Issac Asimov

The far-Right in America has been obsessed with Peter Strzok. He and Lisa Page had an affair at the start of the Trump-Russia investigation, which they hid from their respective partners by swapping texts on their work phones. Alas, they turned out to be quite opinionated, privately trash-talking almost every elected official including then-candidate Trump. The texts were discovered, Strzok was removed from the investigation, now under Mueller’s control, and the far-Right latched on to these texts as “proof” that the FBI’s investigation into Trump was crooked.

Strzok eventually got sick of this, and signalled he was willing to talk in public to quell the conspiracy noise. Republicans responded by subpoenaing him for a private hearing which lasted eleven hours, then selectively quoted from the transcript while refusing to release it to the public. Somehow, the Republicans later agreed to a public hearing with Strzok, which is still being broadcast live as I type this.

I could only tune in for five minutes or so, which was good. Watching any longer would have permanently dislocated my jaw.

The small part I saw began with Congress-people shouting at one another: Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chair of the hearing, was demanding that Strzok answer a question that FBI lawyers told him he could not answer, as it pertained to an ongoing investigation. Democrats were shouting that was out of order, while Goodlatte repeatedly insisted it was in order and threatened to hold Strzok in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer. When Goodlatte had bullied his way through that challenge, as well as charges of hypocrisy over his non-action involving a similar situation with Steve Bannon, Strozok pointed out that both his council and the FBI’s council were sitting directly behind him, so he could easily double-check if anything Goodlatte had said had swayed their minds.

Goodlatte said that Strzok could consult with his lawyer, but not the FBI lawyer. The non-Republicans in the room were floored, and Democrats weren’t afraid to tell Goodlatte how ridiculous that request was. One bitterly asked if Strzok’s lawyer could talk with the FBI lawyers and then relay that response, simultaneous with Strzok doing exactly that. There was no change: Strzok’s answer to Goodlatte’s question would compromise an ongoing investigation.

Trent Gowdy jumped in at that point. A Benghazi-obsessed Republican, he spent all of his allotted time harassing Strzok over who the “we” and “it” were in his now-famous message to Page that “we’ll stop it.” Strzok correctly guessed Gowdy’s next move, and offered to also provide additional context and insight into his state of mind when sending that text to Page. Gowdy would have none of it; amid shouts from Democrats that he’d gone over his time limit, Gowdy said he didn’t care about the context of the message, he only cared about what “we” and “it” referred to.

That was all the live content that I saw, which meant I missed Strzok’s blistering response, but I got the gist of the hearing. A Republican would ask a question; Strzok would read the intention behind the question and start to give a careful answer; the Republican would interrupt after a few words, unsatisfied at being thwarted, and ask the same question again. The Steve Bannon motion came to a vote, which went along party lines. Democrats countered the narrative that Mueller had accomplished nothing by bringing posters of the half-dozen people Mueller had earned guilty pleas from; Goodlatte tried to have them removed, but couldn’t cite a procedural rule that forbid them. Democrats threatened to release a cleaned transcript of Strzok’s previous testimony unless Goodlatte can give a procedural rule against it, something Goodlatte again couldn’t do. I briefly tuned in now to check if the hearing was ongoing (it was), and the last thing I heard was a Democrat complaining the Republicans weren’t yielding time to them.

We are now treated to the spectacle of Republican members of Congress threatening an FBI agent unless he answers questions about a pending, secret criminal and counterintelligence investigation. America, 2018. – Eric Holder

There’s no question about it, the Republicans have given up any pretense of being sound administrators. They’re scrambling to protect their asses and defend Trump, railing about conspiracy theories and ignoring reality, even if it undermines the very democracy they live in. And now, thanks to the wonders of technology, Americans can watch their democracy die in real time, from the comfort of their own home.

Dispatches From Enlightenment Now: Sweatshop Feminism

Steven Pinker loves hiding behind other people’s opinions. Remember the bit on voluntary chemical castration in The Blank Slate? Pinker is careful not to say that he’d like to castrate sex offenders explicitly, but by championing the argument and chastising others for not taking it seriously he’s able to promote the idea yet have someone else to blame.

Enlightenment Now is no different; at one point, Steven Pinker brings forward an argument that 19th century sweatshops were empowering for women.

[Read more…]

pseudo-Socratic Politics

Read that Atlantic profile of Stephen Miller yet? This part in particular jumped out at me:

That night was the culmination of a well-organized campaign of campus disruption. It had begun when Miller formed a chapter of Students for Academic Freedom—a national conservative pressure group [David] Horowitz had launched to expose the leftist “indoctrination” taking place at America’s universities. As the head of the Duke chapter, Miller was sent a 70-page handbook that provided detailed instructions for orchestrating a campus controversy. It included guidance on how to investigate faculty members’ partisan biases (special attention should be paid to professors of women’s studies and African American studies, the handbook noted); tips for identifying “classroom abuses” (“Did your professor make a politically-biased comment in class about the war in Iraq?”); and advice for drumming up publicity (“Appearing as a guest on your local talk radio station is probably easier than you think”). The handbook also urged students to invite controversial speakers to their schools, adding that if the administration declined to fund such visits, students should “issue a press release … questioning why they have refused your request to increase the scope of intellectual diversity on campus.”

The playbook was in many ways ahead of its time, but Miller recognized its merits—and executed flawlessly. After inviting Horowitz to speak at Duke, he seized on the pushback from some professors as evidence that the university was trying to stifle free speech. He wrote an incendiary op-ed in the student newspaper, The Chronicle, titled “Betrayal,” in which he claimed that “a large number of Duke professors” were determined to “indoctrinate students in their personal ideologies and prejudices”—and then presented a series of anonymous student testimonials as proof.

Amazingly enough, you can grab a later edition of that document for yourself. On the surface it seems quite innocuous:

Students for Academic Freedom is exclusively dedicated to the following goals:

  • To promote intellectual diversity on campus.
  • To defend the right of students to be treated with respect by faculty and administrators, regardless of their political or religious beliefs.
  • To promote fairness, civility and inclusion in student affairs.
  • To secure the adoption of the Academic Bill of Rights as official university policy, and the Student Bill of Rights as a resolution in student governments.

For a thorough treatment of our mission, please see the red Students for Academic Freedom booklet, pages 4-12.

That resembles the language of contemporary progressives, right? If you dig into the history and context, however, a sinister side starts to appear.

The proposed Academic Bill of Rights directs universities to enact guidelines implementing the principle of neutrality, in particular by requiring that colleges and universities appoint faculty “with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives.” The danger of such guidelines is that they invite diversity to be measured by political standards that diverge from the academic criteria of the scholarly profession. Measured in this way, diversity can easily become contradictory to academic ends. So, for example, no department of political theory ought to be obligated to establish “a plurality of methodologies and perspectives” by appointing a professor of Nazi political philosophy, if that philosophy is not deemed a reasonable scholarly option within the discipline of political theory. No department of chemistry ought to be obligated to pursue “a plurality of methodologies and perspectives” by appointing a professor who teaches the phlogiston theory of heat, if that theory is not deemed a reasonable perspective within the discipline of chemistry.

These examples illustrate that the appropriate diversity of a university faculty must ultimately be conceived as a question of academic judgment, to be determined by the quality and range of pluralism deemed reasonable by relevant disciplinary standards, as interpreted and applied by college and university faculty. Advocates for the Academic Bill of Rights, however, make clear that they seek to enforce a kind of diversity that is instead determined by essentially political categories, like the number of Republicans or Democrats on a faculty, or the number of conservatives or liberals. Because there is in fact little correlation between these political categories and disciplinary standing, the assessment of faculty by such explicitly political criteria, whether used by faculty, university administration, or the state, would profoundly corrupt the academic integrity of universities. Indeed, it would violate the neutrality principle itself.

The first attempts at pushing the “academic freedom” line were clumsy and gave the game away too easily; for instance, Rick Santorum’s attempt in 2001 used much of the same language but mentioned “biological evolution” as a topic of controversy. But by 2003 it was clear that basic tactic of appropriating progressive language and concepts to push regressive ideas was powerful, the American far-Right just had to tune the messaging to appear as neutral as possible. By 2010, the date of the revised handbook, you either have to be quite adept at decoding dog-whistles or the patience to dig in deep to spot what was really going on. On page 31, well away from the lofty goals, you’ll find the giveaway alluded to above:

As you complete this process, you may begin to get a sense of which professors are particularly partisan in their teaching. If you know that a student is taking a class with one of these professors, make sure to ask whether they have encountered abusive actions in the classroom. Some departments are known for their ideological and partisan leanings. These include Cultural Studies, American Studies, English Literature, Women‘s Studies, African-American (or Black) Studies, Chicano/Latino/Hispanic Studies, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Studies, American-Indian Studies, and Asian-American Studies. Fertile ground is also found in the Political Science, Sociology and History departments, although to a lesser degree than the departments mentioned above.

The end goal of all this is confusion and frustration. They want progressives arguing with one another about what “diversity” and “inclusion” means, as it makes them susceptible to a re-framing of those terms via emotional pleas, conspiracy theories, and well-funded think tanks. The messaging has become so finely crafted that without the history you’d have no idea it was created to teach Young-Earth Creationism in schools.

Universities ought to be the arena in which political prejudice is set aside and open-minded investigation reveals the way the world works. But just when we need this disinterested forum the most, academia has become more politicized as well – not more polarized, but more left-wing. Colleges have always been more liberal than the American population, but the skew has been increasing. … The proportions vary by field: departments of business, computer science, engineering, and health science are evenly split, while the humanities and social sciences are decidedly on the left: the proportion of conservatives is in the single digits, and they are outnumbered by Marxists two to one. Professors in the physical and biological sciences are in between, with few radicals and Virtually no Marxists, but liberals outnumber conservatives by a wide margin.

The liberal tilt of academia (and of journalism, commentary and intellectual life) is in some ways natural. … A liberal tilt is also, in moderation, desirable. Intellectual liberalism was at the forefront of many forms of progress that almost everyone has come to accept, such as democracy, social insurance, religious tolerance, the abolition of slavery and judicial torture, the decline of war, and the expansion of human and civil rights. In many ways we are (almost) all liberals now.

But we have seen that when a creed becomes attached to an in-group, the critical faculties of its members can be disabled, and there are reasons to think that has happened within swaths of academia. In The Blank Slate (updated in 2016) I showed how leftist politics had distorted the study of human nature, including sex, violence, gender, childrearing, personality, and intelligence. In a recent manifesto, Tetlock, together with the psychologists Jose Duarte, Jarret Crawford, Charlotta Stern, Jonathan Haidt, and Lee Jussirn, documented the leftward swing of social psychology and showed how it has compromised the quality of research. Quoting John Stuart Mill – “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that” – they called for greater political diversity in psychology the version of diversity that matters the most (as opposed to the version commonly pursued, namely people who look different but think alike).

Pinker, Steven. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Penguin, 2018. pg. 377-378.

In practice, the tactic comes across as a pseudo-Socratic politic: on the surface it advances no unique ideas of its own, instead borrowing from other movements in an attempt to embrace, extend, and extinguish, but the “extinguish” bit gives away that there actually is a unique vision buried under layers of obfuscation and plausible deniability. Read the section on tabling on pages 43 to 46, for instance, and you’ll find the SAF advises their student groups to avoid debate, and instead focus on pushing a standardized message to recruit new members.

The tactic has a strong resemblance to trolling, hence why that Atlantic piece was subtitled “Trump’s Right-wing Troll.” And unfortunately, it’s just as effective.

 

The Two Cultures, as per Steven Pinker

As I mentioned before, C.P. Snow’s “Two Culture” lecture is light on facts, which makes it easy to mould to your whims. Go back and re-read that old post, absorb C.P. Snow’s version of the Two Cultures, then compare it to Pinker’s summary:

A final alternative to Enlightenment humanism condemns its embrace of science. Following C.P. Snow, we can call it the Second Culture, the worldview of many literary intellectuals and cultural critics, as distinguished from the First Culture of science.[12] Snow decried the iron curtain between the two cultures and called for greater integration of science into intellectual life. It was not just that science was, “in its intellectual depth, complexity, and articulation, the most beautiful and wonderful collective work of the mind of man.” Knowledge of science, he argued, was a moral imperative, because it could alleviate suffering on a global scale …

[Pinker, Steven. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Penguin, 2018. Pg. 33-34]

C.P. Snow went out his way to criticise scientists for failing to incorporate literature into their lives, and never ranked one culture as superior to another. Nor did he label them “First Culture” or “Second Culture.” And it wasn’t increased knowledge of science in general that would remove suffering, it was the two cultures intermixing. Pinker is presenting a very different argument than C.P. Snow, at least on the face of it.

But hang on, there’s a footnote right in the middle of that passage….

[12] Snow never assigned an order to his Two Cultures, but subsequent usage has numbered them in that way; see, for example, Brockman 2003.

[Pg. 456]

How is it “following C.P Snow” to call it “Second Culture,” when you acknowledge C.P. Snow never called it “Second Culture?!” What’s worse, look at the page numbers: that acknowledgement comes a full four hundred pages after the misleading phrasing. How many people would bother to flip that far ahead, let alone make the connection to four hundred pages ago? But all right, fine, maaaybe Steven Pinker is just going with the flow, and re-using a common distortion of C.P Snow’s original argument. The proof should lie in that citation to Brockman [2003], which fortunately is available via Google Books. In fact, I can do you one better: John Brockman’s anthology was a mix of work published in Edge magazine and original essays, and the relevant parts just happen to be online.

Bravo, John! You are playing a vital role in moving the sciences beyond a defensive posture in response to turf attacks from the “postmodernists” and other leeches on the academies. You celebrate science and technology as our most pragmatic expressions of optimism.

I wonder, though, if it’s enough to merely point out how hopelessly lost those encrusted arts and humanities intellectuals have become in their petty arms race of cynicism. If we scientists and technologists are to be the new humanists, we must recognize that there are questions that must be addressed by any thinking person which do not lie within our established methods and dialogs. …

While “postmodern” academics and “Second Culture” celebrity figures are perhaps the most insufferable enemies of science, they are certainly not the most dangerous. Even as we are beginning to peer at biology’s deepest foundations for the first time, we find ourselves in a situation in which vast portions of the educated population have turned against the project of science in favor of pop alternatives usually billed as being more “spiritual.”

It appears exactly once in that reference, which falls well short of demonstrating common usage. Even more damning is that Pinker’s citation references the 2003 edition of the book. There’s a 2008 version, and it doesn’t have a single reference to a “Second Culture.” I’ve done my own homework, and I can find a thesis from 2011 which has that usage of “Second Culture,” but falsely attributes it to Snow and never brings it up past the intro. There is an obscure 1993 book which Pinker missed, but thanks to book reviews I can tell it labels science as the “Second Culture,” contrary to how Pinker uses the term. Everything else I’ve found is a false positive, which means Pinker is promoting one mention in one essay by one author as sufficient to show a pattern.

And can I take a moment to call out the contrary labelling here: how, in any way, is science “First” relative to literature? Well before Philosophical Transactions began publishing, we’d already had the Ramayana, the Chu Ci anthology, the Epic of Gilgamesh, The Illiad, Beowulf, and on and on. Instead, Pinker and friends are invoking “Second” as in “Secondary,” lesser, inferior. Unlike de Beauvoir, though, they’re not doing it as a critique, they honestly believe in the superiority of science over literature.

Pinker didn’t invent this ranking, nor was he the first to lump all the humanities in with the literary elites. I think that honour belongs to John Brockman. Consider this essay of his; read very carefully, and you’ll see he’s a little confused on who’s in the non-scientific culture.

Ten years later, that fossil culture is in decline, replaced by the emergent “third culture” of the essay’s title, a reference to C. P. Snow’s celebrated division of the thinking world into two cultures—that of the literary intellectual and that of the scientist. …

In the twentieth century, a period of great scientific advancement, instead of having science and technology at the center of the intellectual world—of having a unity in which scholarship includes science and technology just as it includes literature and art—the official culture kicked them out. The traditional humanities scholar looked at science and technology as some sort of technical special product—the fine print. The elite universities nudged science out of the liberal arts undergraduate curriculum, and out of the minds of many young people, who abandoned true humanistic inquiry in their early twenties and turned themselves into the authoritarian voice of the establishment. …

And one is amazed that for others still mired in the old establishment culture, intellectual debate continues to center on such matters as who was or was not a Stalinist in 1937, or what the sleeping arrangements were for guests at a Bloomsbury weekend in the early part of the twentieth century. This is not to suggest that studying history is a waste of time. History illuminates our origins and keeps us from reinventing the wheel. But the question arises: history of what? Do we want the center of culture to be based on a closed system, a process of text in/text out, and no empirical contact with the world in between?

A fundamental distinction exists between the literature of science and those disciplines in which the writing is most often concerned with exegesis of some earlier writer. In too many university courses, most of the examination questions are about what one or another earlier authority thought. The subjects are self-referential. …

The essay itself is a type specimen of science cheer-leading, which sweeps all the problems of science under the carpet; try squaring “Science is nothing more nor less than the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything” with “Most Published Research Findings Are False,” then try finding a published literary critic doing literary criticism wrong. More importantly, Brockman’s December 2001 essay reads a lot like Pinker’s February 2018 book, right down to the “elite” and “authoritarian” “liberal arts” universities turning their back on science. Brockman was definitely ahead of his time, and while only three of his works show up in Pinker’s citation list he’s definitely had a big influence.

This also means Pinker suffers from the same confusion as Brockman. Here’s some of the people he considers part of the Second Culture:

It’s an oddball list. Karl Popper is a member, probably by accident. Adorno was actually an opponent of Heidegger and Popper’s views of science. Essayists (Wieseltier and Gopnik) rub shoulders with glaciologists (Carey, Jackson), sociologists (Bauman), and philosophers (Foucault, Derrida). It’s dominated by the bogey-people of the alt-right, none of whom can be classified as elite authors.

Stranger still, Thomas Kuhn isn’t on there. Kuhn should have been: he argued that science doesn’t necessarily follow the strength of the evidence. During Kuhn’s heyday, many physicists thought that Arthur Eddington’s famous solar eclipse data fell short of proper science. The error bars were very large, the dataset was small, and some contrary data from another telescope was ignored; nonetheless, scientists during Eddington’s heyday took the same dataset as confirmatory. Why? They wanted General Relativity to be true, because it offered an explanation for why light seemed to have a fixed speed and Mercury precessed the way it did. Kuhn called these “puzzles,” things which should be easily solvable via existing, familiar knowledge. Newtonian Mechanics violated that “easy” part of the contract, GR did not, so physicists abandoned ship even in the face of dodgy data. Utility was more important than truth-hood.

Conversely, remember the neutrinos that seemed to run faster than light? If science advanced by falsification, physicists should have abandoned General Relativity in droves; instead, they dismissed the finding and asked the scientists who ran the experiment to try again. In this case, they didn’t want GR to be false, so contrary evidence was rejected. That might seem like a cheap example, since the experimental equipment was shown to be the real problem, but consider that we already knew GR was false because it’s incompatible with Quantum Mechanics. Neither theory can be true at the same time, which means there’s a third theory out there which has a vague resemblance to both but has radically different axioms. Nonetheless no physicist has stopped using GR or QM, because both are effective at solving puzzles. Utility again trumps truth-hood.

Kuhn argued that scientists proposed frameworks for understanding the world, “paradigms,” which don’t progress as we think they do. For instance, Newtonian Mechanics says the International Space Station is perpetually falling towards Earth, because the mass of both is generating attractive forces which cause a constant acceleration; General Relativity says the ISS is travelling in a straight line, but appears to orbit around the Earth because it is moving through a spacetime curved by the energy and mass of both objects. These two explanations are different on a fundamental level, you can’t transform one into the other without destroying some axioms. You’ve gotta chose one or the other, and why would you switch ever switch back? Kuhn even rejected the idea that the next paradigm is more “truthful” than another; again, utility trumps truth-hood.

It’s opposed to a lot of what Pinker is arguing for, and yet:

The most commonly assigned book on science in modern universities (aside from a popular biology textbook) is Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. That 1962 classic is commonly interpreted as showing that science does not converge on the truth but merely busies itself with solving puzzles before flipping to some new paradigm which renders its previous theories obsolete, indeed, unintelligible. Though Kuhn himself later disavowed this nihilist interpretation, it has become the conventional wisdom within the Second Culture. [22]

[Enlightenment Nowpg. 400]

Weird, I can find no evidence Kuhn disavowed that interpretation in my source:

Bird, Alexander, “Thomas Kuhn“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2013/entries/thomas-kuhn/>

Still, Pinker is kind enough to source his claim, so let’s track it down…. Right, footnote [22] references Bird [2011], which I can find on page 500…

Bird, A. 2011. Thomas Kuhn. In E. N. Zalta, ed., Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/thomas-kuhn/.

He’s using the same source?! I mean, score another point for Kuhn, as he thought that people with different paradigms perceive the same data differently, but we’ve still got a puzzle here. I can’t be sure, but I have a theory for why Pinker swept Kuhn under the rug. From our source:

Feminists and social theorists (…) have argued that the fact that the evidence, or, in Kuhn’s case, the shared values of science, do not fix a single choice of theory, allows external factors to determine the final outcome (…). Furthermore, the fact that Kuhn identified values as what guide judgment opens up the possibility that scientists ought to employ different values, as has been argued by feminist and post-colonial writers (…).

Kuhn himself, however, showed only limited sympathy for such developments. In his “The Trouble with the Historical Philosophy of Science” (1992) Kuhn derides those who take the view that in the ‘negotiations’ that determine the accepted outcome of an experiment or its theoretical significance, all that counts are the interests and power relations among the participants. Kuhn targeted the proponents of the Strong Programme in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge with such comments; and even if this is not entirely fair to the Strong Programme, it reflects Kuhn’s own view that the primary determinants of the outcome of a scientific episode are to be found within science.

Oh ho, Kuhn thought it was unlikely that sexism or racism could warp science! That makes him the enemy of Pinker’s enemies, and therefore his friend. Hence why Pinker finds it useful to bring up Kuhn, despite their contrary views of science, and for that matter why Pinker can look at Snow’s arguments and see his own: utility trumps truth-hood.

The Two Cultures, as per C. P. Snow

I’d never heard of C.P. Snow until Steven Pinker brought him up, but apparently he’s quite the deal. Much of it stems from a lecture Snow gave nearly sixty years ago. It’s been discussed and debated (funny meeting you here, Lawrence Krauss) to the point that I, several generations and one ocean away, can grab a reprint of the original with an intro about as long as the lecture itself.

Snow’s core idea is this: two types of intellectuals, scientists and elite authors, don’t talk with one another and are largely ignorant of each other’s work. His quote about elite authors being ignorant of physics is plastered everywhere, so I’d like to instead repeat what he said about scientists being ignorant of literature:

As one would expect, some of the very best scientists had and have plenty of energy and interest to spare, and we came across several who had read everything that literary people talk about. But that’s very rare. Most of the rest, when one tried to probe for what books they had read, would modestly confess “Well, I’ve tried a bit of Dickens”, rather as though Dickens were an extraordinarily esoteric, tangled and dubiously rewarding writer, something like Ranier Maria Rilke. In fact that is exactly how they do regard him: we thought that discovery, that Dickens had been transformed into the type-specimen of literary incomprehensibility, was one of the oddest results of the whole exercise. […]

Remember, these are very intelligent men. Their culture is in many ways an exacting and admirable one. It doesn’t contain much art, with the exception, and important exception, of music. Verbal exchange, insistent argument. Long-playing records. Colour photography. The ear, to some extent the eye. Books, very little, though perhaps not many would go so far as one hero, who perhaps I should admit was further down the scientific ladder than the people I’ve been talking about – who, when asked what books he read, replied firmly and confidently: “Books? I prefer to use my books as tools.” It was very hard not to let the mind wander – what sort of tool would a book make? Perhaps a hammer? A primitive digging instrument?

[Snow, Charles P. “The two cultures.” (1959): pg. 6-7]

To be honest, I have a hard time comprehending why the argument exists. If I were to transpose it to my place and time, it would be like complaining that Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, and Michael Ondaatje are shockingly ignorant of basic physics, while if you were to quiz famous Canadian scientists about Canadian literature you’d eventually drag out a few mentions of Farley Mowat. I… don’t see the problem? Yes, it would be great if more people knew more things, but if you want to push the frontiers of knowledge you’ve got to focus on the specifics. Given that your time is (likely) finite, that means sacrificing some general knowledge. It would be quite ridiculous to ask someone in one speciality to explain something specific to another.

If we forget the scientific culture, then the rest of western intellectuals have never tried, wanted, or been able to understand the industrial revolution, much less accept it. Intellectuals, in particular literary intellectuals, are natural Luddites. [pg. 11-12]

The academics had nothing to do with the industrial revolution; as Corrie, the old Master of Jesus, said about trains running into Cambridge on Sunday, `It is equally displeasing to God and to myself’. So far as there was any thinking in nineteenth-century industry, it was left to cranks and clever workmen. American social historians have told me that much the same was true of the
U.S. The industrial revolution, which began developing in New England fifty years or so later than ours, apparently received very little educated talent, either then or later in the nineteenth century. [pg. 12]

… do we understand how they have happened? Have we begun to comprehend even the old industrial revolution? Much less the new scientific revolution in which we stand? There never was any thing more necessary to comprehend. [pg. 14]

Yep, that’s Snow trashing authors of high fiction for not having an understanding of the Industrial Revolution. It’s not an isolated case, either; Snow also criticises Cambridge art graduates for not being aware of “the human organisation” behind buttons [pg. 15]. He might as well have spent several paragraphs yelling at physicists for being unable to explain why Houlden Caulfield wanted to be a gas station attendant, he’s that far from reality.

Which gets us to the real consequences of Snow’s divide, and how he proposes heading them off at the pass.

To say we have to educate ourselves or perish, is a little more melodramatic than the facts warrant. To say, we have to educate ourselves or watch a steep decline in our own lifetime, is about right. We can’t do it, I am now convinced, without breaking the existing pattern. I know how difficult this is. It goes against the emotional grain of nearly all of us. In many ways, it goes against my own, standing uneasily with one foot in a dead or dying world and the other in a world that at all costs we must see born. I wish I could be certain that we shall have the courage of what our minds tell us. [pg. 20]

This disparity between the rich and the poor has been noticed. It has been noticed, most acutely and not unnaturally, by the poor. Just because they have noticed it, it won’t last for long. Whatever else in the world we know survives to the year 2000, that won’t. Once the trick of getting rich is known, as it now is, the world can’t survive half rich and half poor. It’s just not on.

The West has got to help in this transformation. The trouble is, the West with its divided culture finds it hard to grasp just how big, and above all just how fast, the transformation must be. [pg. 21-22]

So we need to educate scientists about the works of elite authors, and those authors about the work of scientists… because otherwise Britain will become impoverished, and/or we’d end poverty faster?! That doesn’t square up with the data. Let’s look at what the government of Namibia, a well-off African country, thinks will help end poverty.

  • Improving access to Community Skills Development Centres (Cosdecs) in remote areas and aligning the curriculum with that of the Vocational Training Centres.
  • To improve career options and full integration into the modern economy, there is need to introduce vocational subjects at upper primary and junior secondary levels. This will facilitate access to vocational education and labour market readiness by the youth.
  • Improving productivity of the subsistence agriculture by encouraging the use of both traditional and modern fertiliser and by providing information on modern farming methods.
  • The dismantling of the “Red Line” seems to hold some promise for livestock farmers in the North who were previously prevented access to markets outside of the northern regions.
  • Consider establishing a third economic hub for Namibia to relief Khomas and Erongo from migration pressure. With abundant water resources, a fertile land and being along the Trans Zambezi Corridor, Kavango East is a good candidate for an agricultural capital and a logistic growth point.
  • Given persistent drop-out rates especially in remote rural areas, there is need for increased access to secondary education by addressing both the distance and the quality of education.
  • Educate youth on the danger of adolescence pregnancy both in terms of exclusion from the modern economy and health implications.
  • Given the established relationship between access to services, poverty and economic inclusion, there is need for government to strive towards a regional balanced provision of access to safe drinking water, sanitation, electricity and housing. [pg. 58-59]

I don’t see any references to science in there, nor any to Neshani Andreas or Joseph Diescho. Britain’s the same story. But who knows, maybe an author/chemist who thought world poverty would end by the year 2000 has a better understanding of poverty than government agencies and century-old NGOs tasked with improving social conditions.

There’s a greater problem here, too. Let’s detour to something Donald Trump said:

Trump: “The Democrats don’t care about our military. They don’t.” He says that is also true of the border and crime

How would we prove that Democrats don’t care about the military, the US border, or crime? The easiest approach would be to look at their national platform and see it those things are listed there (they’re not, I checked). A much harder one would be to parse their actions instead. If we can find a single Democrat who does care about crime, then we’ve refuted the claim in the deductive sense.

But there’s still an inductive way to keep it alive: if “enough” Democrats don’t care about those things, then Trump can argue he meant the statements informally and thus it’s still true-ish. That’s a helluva lot of work, and since the burden is on the person making the claim it’s not my job to run around gathering data for Trump’s argument. If I’m sympathetic to Trump’s views or pride myself in being intellectually “fair,” however, there’s a good chance I’d do some of his homework anyway.

Lurking behind all of the logical stuff, however, is an emotional component. The US-Mexico border, the military, and crime all stir strong emotions in his audience; by positioning his opponents as being opposed to “positive” things, at the same time implying that he’s in favour of them, Trump’s angering his audience and motivating them to being less charitable towards his opponents.

That’s the language of hate: emotionally charged false statements about a minority, to be glib. It’s all the more reason to be careful when talking about groups.

The non-scientists have a rooted impression that the scientists are shallowly optimistic, unaware of man’s condition. On the other hand, the scientists believe that the literary intellectuals are totally lacking in foresight, peculiarly unconcerned with their brother men,
in a deep sense anti-intellectual, anxious to restrict both art and thought to the existential moment. And so on. Anyone with a mild talent for invective could produce plenty of this kind of subterranean back-chat. [pg. 3]

If you side with either scientists or elite authors, this is emotionally charged language. At the same time, I have no idea how you’d even begin to prove half of that. Snow’s defence consists of quoting Adam Rutherford and T.S. Elliot, all the rest comes from his experiences with “intimate friends among both scientists and writers” and “living among these groups and much more.” [pg. 1] Nonetheless, that small sample set is enough for Snow to assert “this is a problem of the entire West.” [pg. 2] Calling scientists or elite authors a minority is a stretch, but the net result is similar: increased polarisation between the two groups, and the promotion of harmful myths.

Yes, Snow would go on propose a “third culture” which would bridge the gap, but if the gap doesn’t exist in the first place this amounts to selling you a cure after convincing you you’re sick.

What’s worse is that if you’re operating in a fact-deficient environment, you’ve got tremendous flexibility to tweak things to your liking. Is J.K. Rowling a “literary intellectual?” She doesn’t fit into the highbrow culture Snow was talking about, but she is a well-known and influential author who isn’t afraid to let her opinions be known (for better or worse). Doesn’t that make her a decision maker, worthy of inclusion? And if we’ve opened the door for non-elite authors, why not add other people from the humanities? Or social scientists?

This also means that one of the harshest critics of C. P. Snow is C. P. Snow.

I have been argued with by non-scientists of strong down-to-earth interests. Their view is that it is an over-simplification, and that
if one is going to talk in these terms there ought to be at least three cultures. They argue that, though they are not scientists themselves, they would share a good deal of the scientific feeling. They would have as little use-perhaps, since they knew more about it, even less use-for the recent literary culture as the scientists themselves. …

I respect those arguments. The number 2 is a very dangerous number: that is why the dialectic is a dangerous process. Attempts to divide anything into two ought to be regarded with much suspicion. I have thought a long time about going in for further refinements: but in the end I have decided against. I was searching for something a little more than a dashing metaphor, a good deal less than a cultural map: and for those purposes the two cultures is about right, and subtilising any more would bring more disadvantages than it’s worth. [pg. 5]

He’s aware that some people regard “the two cultures” as an oversimplification, he recognises the problem with dividing people in two, and his response amounts to “well, I’m still right.” He’s working with such a deficiency of facts that he can undercut his own arguments and still keep making them as if no counter-argument existed.

I think it is only fair to say that most pure scientists have themselves been devastatingly ignorant of productive industry, and many still are. It is permissible to lump pure and applied scientists into the same scientific culture, but the gaps are wide. Pure scientists and engineers often totally misunderstand each other. Their behaviour tends to be very different: engineers have to live their lives in an organised community, and however odd they are underneath they manage to present a disciplined face to the world. Not so pure scientists. [pg. 16]

Snow makes a strong case for a third culture here, something he earlier said “would bring more disadvantages than it’s worth!” He’s seeing gaps and division everywhere, and defining things so narrowly that he can rattle off five counter-examples then immediately dismiss them (emphasis mine).

Almost everywhere, though, intellectual persons didn’t comprehend what was happening. Certainly the writers didn’t. Plenty of them shuddered away, as though the right course for a man of feeling was to contract out; some, like Ruskin and William Morris and Thoreau and Emerson and Lawrence, tried various kinds of fancies which were not in effect more than screams of horror. It
is hard to think of a writer of high class who really stretched his imaginative sympathy, who could see at once the hideous back-streets, the smoking chimneys, the internal price—and also the prospects of life that were opening out for the poor, the intimations, up to now unknown except to the lucky, which were just coming within reach of the remaining 99.0 per cent of his brother men.

Snow himself mentions Charles Dickens earlier in the lecture, a perfect fit for the label of “a writer of high class who really stretched his imaginative sympathy.” And yet here, he has difficulty remembering that author’s existence.

It’s oddly reminiscent of modern conservative writing: long-winded, self-important, and with only a fleeting connection to the facts. No wonder his ideas keep getting resurrected by them, they can be warped and distorted to suit your current needs.

Something for the Reading List

For nearly a decade, I have been researching and writing about women who dressed and lived as men and men who lived and dressed as women in the nineteenth-century American West. During that time, when people asked me about my work, my response was invariably met with a quizzical expression and then the inevitable question: “Were there really such people?” Newspapers document hundreds, in fact, and it is likely there were many more. Historians have been writing about cross-dressers for some time, and we know that such people have existed in all parts of the world and for about as long as we have recorded and remembered history.

Boag, Peter. “The Trouble with Cross-Dressers: Researching and Writing the History of Sexual and Gender Transgressiveness in the Nineteenth-Century American West.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 112, no. 3 (2011): 322–39. https://doi.org/10.5403/oregonhistq.112.3.0322.

Human beings have a really distorted view of history; we tend to project our experiences backward in time. Just recently introduced to the term “transgender?” Then transgender people must have only recently been invented, in the same way that bromances never existed before the term was added to the dictionary. Everyone is prone to this error, however, not just the bigots.

A central argument of my book is that many nineteenth-century western Americans who cross-dressed did so to express their transgender identity. Transgender is a term coined only during the last quarter of the twentieth century. It refers to people who identify with the gender (female or male) “opposite” of what society would typically assign to their bodies. I place “opposite” in quotation marks because the notion that female and male are somehow diametric to each other is a historical creation; scholars have shown, for example, that in the not-too-distant past, people in western civilization understood that there was only one sex and that male and female simply occupied different gradations on a single scale. That at one time the western world held to a one-sex or one-gender model, but later developed a two-sex or two-gender model, clearly shows that social conceptualization of gender, sex, and even sexuality changes over time. This reveals a problem that confronts historians: it is anachronistic to impose our present-day terms and concepts for and about gender and sexuality — such as transgender — onto the past.

In Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past, I therefore strove to avoid the term transgender as much as possible. It is central to my study, however, to show that people in the nineteenth century had their own concepts and expressions for gender fluidity. By the end of the nineteenth century, for example, sexologists (medical doctors and scientists who study sex) had created the terms “sex invert” and “sexual inversion” to refer to people whose sexual desires and gender presentations (that is, the way they walked and talked, the clothing they wanted to wear, and so forth) did not, according to social views, conform to what their physiological sex should “naturally” dictate.

I wish I’d known about this book earlier, it would have made a cool citation. Oh well, either way it’s long since hit the shelves and been patiently waiting for a spot on your wishlist.