Friday, July 29, 2011

An open letter to the CHE

Dear Chronicle of Higher Education:

You're a respected academic publication. I cannot understand how you can in good conscience host blog posts like Peter Wood's. Even if it's made clear that you wish to provide a space for the open exchange of views, hosting bloggers who are writing ignorantly on basic science in areas of great public importance and flinging unsubstantiated allegations and Glenn Beckish insinuations, including about scientists, tarnishes your academic credibility and is disappointing to see. Bloggers hosted by you should be held to far higher intellectual standards.



Friday, July 22, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Two updates from Honduras: Siria Valley environmental activists detained; more on the women's assembly

I've written about the Siria Valley and resistance to environmental destruction there. This is from an open letter from civil society organizations to the Honduran, US, and Canadian governments:
The below-signed international civil society organizations write to express our deep concern about the criminalization of environmental defenders in the case of eighteen members of the Siria Valley Environmental Committee of Honduras.

On July 5th 2011, we learned that three members of this committee, including Carlos Danilo Amador, Marlon Hernández and Juan Ángel Reconca, were temporarily detained and that warrants were out for the arrest of fifteen others. All face serious charges for allegedly having obstructed a forestry management plan, which could lead to possible jail sentences of four to six years. On July 5th and July 8th, the other fifteen members of the committee with warrants out for their arrest voluntarily presented themselves to the judge in Talanga, with legal support from the Committee of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH). They were released with precautionary measures until their preliminary hearing on August 2nd.

The Siria Valley Environmental Committee is internationally recognized for its role in the defense of the right to a healthy environment for local communities. They actively oppose the expansion of Goldcorp's San Martín mine (operated by Goldcorp’s subsidiary Entre Mares Honduras), which after only nine years in operation, and now in the process of closure, has left a legacy of acid mine drainage as confirmed by highly regarded researchers from Newcastle University....
Margaret Thompson has another great piece about last week's constitutional assembly of indigenous and Afro-Honduran women. It provides good information on the struggles of the Garifuna and other groups, and I found this point about their working for diversity and cooperation across resistance movements, including international feminism, important:
As the 300 women at the event worked through dialogue and strategy sessions to strengthen alliances with each other, they also called for more active inclusion of their voices and experiences in their communities, in the national and international feminist movements and in the overall popular resistance movement of their country.

This deeper assessment on the inclusion of diversity is key to confronting the literal assault by radical neoliberals and corporations who are determined to exploit the ongoing crisis and take control of the biggest “booty” in Honduras today, which are the vast natural resources that are mostly located in indigenous communal lands.

In an interview with Escribanas, Miranda described the Constitutional Assembly by noting, “We met as indigenous and Afro women to talk about what we want as a country, as a nation, and also to talk about the problems that we confront as women. As indigenous women, as Garifuna women, as Afro women, we have our own problems that at times aren’t taken into account in large measure by the feminist movement.”

She explained that at the national and regional level, the “women’s movement” is discussed as if it is one sector, “but the result is that we as indigenous and Afro women are made invisible. We are so isolated from the national and international debate and all of the decisions made that directly affect our lives, that directly affect our territories, that directly affect our future as indigenous and Afro women.”

A champion of human rights reads a book

So I was watching something on Book TV recently,* and interspersed amongst the main talks they have short clips of interviews and running features like "What are you reading this summer?" The politician asked discussed one book he'd just finished, Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel: "The countries she observed in Africa and the Middle East are being held back by the religion of Islam, particularly because of its harsh treatment of women and not allowing fifty percent of the population to reach their full potential..."

Who is this progressive politician so concerned about human, and especially women's, rights and full potential? Roger Wicker. This Roger Wicker. This Roger Wicker. This Roger Wicker. (This Roger Wicker, too, but that's not particularly relevant here.)

*I think it was Michael Willrich talking about his latest, Pox: An American History. I did have an initial reaction of "Oh, great timing," and his presentation of the book seemed a bit strange with regard to what's going on with the antivaccine movement; but of course I don't believe historians should refrain from speaking openly and honestly about the past simply because the current climate offers ways for their work to be misused, nor do I think any claims about complete discontinuities with the past - in any area - are remotely credible. I suppose there has to be a level of care taken not only in the writing of the works themselves but in their public presentation....

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing, Miranda Fricker

Epistemology! Ethics! Social justice! Feminism!

Interested yet? Even if you’re not, you should still read this book.

I’d read the sample sections on Amazon several months ago, found it intriguing, and planned to come back to it, but recent events and debates led me to return to finish it now, and it’s every bit as relevant to these discussions as I’d suspected. Fricker’s book combines epistemology, ethics, and social justice in an original way that enriches our understanding of each.

Using examples from film, literature, and real life, the book explores epistemic practices related to the problem of epistemic injustice in two specific forms: testimonial injustice and hermeneutic injustice.
Testimonial injustice occurs when prejudice causes a hearer to give a deflated level of credibility to a speaker's word; hermeneutical injustice occurs at a prior stage, when a gap in collective interpretive resources puts someone at an unfair disadvantage when it comes to making sense of their social experiences. An example of the first might be that the police do not believe you because you are black; an example of the second might be that you suffer sexual harassment in a culture that still lacks that critical concept. (p. 1)
Fricker explores the dimensions of individual and social harm caused by testimonial injustice, “in which someone is wronged in their capacity as a giver of knowledge,” and hermeneutic injustice, “in which someone is wronged in their capacity as a subject of social understanding” (p. 7). The capacity of knowledge-giver is so fundamental to what makes us human that “the epistemic wrong bears a social meaning to the effect that the subject is less than fully human. When someone suffers a testimonial injustice, they are degraded qua knower, and they are symbolically degraded qua human” (p. 44).

She presents this as a form of epistemic objectification, which she compares, and relates, to sexual objectification. Suffering epistemic injustice, particularly over time, can lead to a loss of epistemic confidence, which can inhibit people’s intellectual and personal growth and interfere with the development of intellectual virtue. The community of knowers is also harmed, as this form of injustice corrupts the epistemic process and hinders the advance of knowledge.

The hermeneutic marginalization at the heart of hermeneutic injustice “renders the collective hermeneutical resource structurally prejudiced, for it will tend to issue interpretations of that group's social experiences that are biased because insufficiently influenced by the subject group, and therefore unduly influenced by more hermeneutically powerful groups” (pp. 154-155). At the individual level, the harms resemble those of testimonial injustice, with the added element that people lack the very concepts through which their experiences can be shared: “When you find yourself in a situation in which you seem to be the only one to feel the dissonance between received understanding and your own intimated sense of a given experience, it tends to knock your faith in your own ability to make sense of the world, or at least the relevant region of the world” (p. 163).

Fricker argues, therefore, that testimonial and hermeneutic justice are basic virtues, both epistemic and ethical, mirroring and complementing competence and sincerity among information-givers. She discusses means of cultivating yourself as a virtuous hearer, who “neutralizes the impact of prejudice in her credibility judgements” (p. 92). This can be difficult because, she says, credibility assessments take place not at the level of clear, conscious beliefs (and may even be contrary to them) but of less-conscious perceptions in the form of residual prejudice even among the more "enlightened" (Cordelia Fine also discusses this issue compellingly in Delusions of Gender).

Nonetheless, she believes that people, made aware of the problem, can work to train their testimonial sensibility, as they can train the moral sensibility more generally, through developing habits of active self-reflection, correction/compensation, and more tentative judgments. She thinks
a hearer's experiences as a speaker too will feed into this process. Perhaps she has experienced being on the receiving end of testimonial injustice in respect of one sort of prejudice, and consequently gains a better understanding of how other sorts of prejudice may surreptitiously have an influence in her own testimonial sensibility. (p. 9)
This is also true of cultivating an ethical hermeneutic sensibility, though hermeneutical injustice is a structural problem impossible to locate in any single agent, because “the moment of hermeneutical injustice comes only when the background condition is realized in a more or less doomed attempt on the part of the subject to render an experience intelligible, either to herself or to an interlocutor” (p. 159). Fricker advises similar methods of alertness to the problem, self-reflection (including appreciating the effect of one’s own social identity), compensation, and reserving judgment.

She points out that change will also necessarily involve larger institutional and social change. She contends, though, that ethically and epistemically virtuous behavior at the individual level of course is important in itself and can do much to minimize harm, and that “[s]ince the ethical features in question result from the operation of social power in epistemic interactions, to reveal them is also to expose a politics of epistemic practice,” forming the basis for broader change (pp. 1-2).

Among the most interesting parts of the book – as well as one pertinent to current discussions - is the section on “History, Blame, and Moral Disappointment,” which offers a reasoned discussion (and I say that not only because we’re in agreement) of the most ethical approach to judging cases of epistemic injustice across cultural and historical distance. Fricker distinguishes between “routine” and “exceptional” moral judgment: “Most of us most of the time make routine moves and exhibit routine moral thinking, and we are lucky if we live in a culture where this means that our ethical thinking is on the whole decent; but sometimes people can rise to a challenge and succeed in something more imaginative” (p. 104). She suggests that
we are entitled to appeal to thoughts which they could have had, given their full ethical resources, but failed to. And we may contrast their deliberative performance with that of their peers who succeeded in making the exceptionally imaginative moves [abetted at times by their social location and proximity to the problem] that gradually gained critical mass so as to propel the community towards a more liberal practice. (pp. 106-107)
She argues that the appropriate attitude toward those who follow their culture’s/era’s routine moral practices and have little or no exposure to alternatives – those with “epistemic and moral bad luck” (p. 101; it might help to discuss this in terms of privilege) – is not blame but the “resentment of disappointment.”

This nuanced approach, she holds, “allows us to avoid the hubris of deeming them blameworthy for actions not routinely regarded as wrong in their culture, while still holding them morally responsible to this or that extent, depending on how nearly available the exceptional moral move is judged to have been” (p. 105). Moreover,
To judge historical others in this way is not hubris, for we can acknowledge that `could do better' will be our own ethical epitaph too-it is a matter of luck how far living up to what is morally routine is an achievement that leaves one immune from the resentment of disappointment on the part of distant others. (p. 107)
I have a few minor criticisms. First, I would’ve preferred more examples from real life, not in lieu of the artistic ones but in addition to them. Those from film/TV and literature (which include The Talented Mr. Ripley, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Columbo) are familiar and fascinating, and certainly no one reasonable would argue that the phenomena they illustrate don’t exist, but the real-world examples used to illustrate the discussion of hermeneutic injustice have even more bite. Second, I found some of Fricker’s “counter”examples (e.g., “empirically reliable stereotype[s] of insincerity” that are supposed to differ from prejudicial ones) somewhat unexamined in terms of their own connection to stereotypes and the socialization of different groups; I don’t necessarily accept that these are as neutral as the text represents them. Finally, while she’s explicitly focused on the ethics of individual hearers, I think the book leaves out some interesting strategies through which the habits of testimonial and hermeneutic virtue can be instilled by putting in place institutional and technological mechanisms and practices. She doesn’t say anything about the anonymity of internet communication and the complexities that introduces. But these are quite minor, and I think it’s a valuable book.

Fricker says,
My discussion has been driven by the hope that we might become more socially articulate about this somewhat hidden dimension of discrimination, and thereby be in a better position to identify it, protest it when it happens to us and, at least sometimes, avoid doing it to others. (p. 145)
I think it can successfully move people in that direction, in part in fact by addressing this particular hermeneutic gap. The irony is that I expect some people reading this to note that it’s a book by a female feminist philosopher and discount it (if not this post, in which case they probably won't have gotten this far :)) out of hand. If so, they’re probably too “epistemically unlucky” or stupid to grasp it. If this is the case, they should read it anyway.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Two significant legal decisions

The first is the decision of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Flomo v. Firestone that corporations can be sued for human rights abuses:
The Firestone opinion expressly labels the Kiobel decisions, which found corporate immunity for human rights abuses, an "outlier," which it now certainly is. Between Exxon Mobil and Firestone, along with Judge Leval's dissent in Kiobel, the reasoning of the Kiobel majority has been thoroughly dismantled.

So far the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the D.C., Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits have expressly found corporate liability for human rights violations; the Ninth Circuit has assumed such liability and may make an express decision on the issue soon, and it is also being considered by the Fourth Circuit.

Only the Second Circuit, in Kiobel, has found that corporations cannot be sued. The district court's decision in Firestone was the only opinion that followed Kiobel, and now it has been reversed.
The second is also a positive development, but calls attention to a nasty policy that I had no idea existed:
The US Court of Appeals' ruling on July 6, 2011, that the government may not force US organizations that get funding for international anti-AIDS work to pledge their opposition to prostitution is an important step in the global fight against AIDS, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Alliance for Open Society International v. United States Agency for International Development affirmed lower court orders halting enforcement of the anti-prostitution pledge requirement on grounds that forcing funding recipients to adopt and espouse the government's viewpoint violated fundamental free speech rights.

...In an amicus curiae brief to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in AOSI v. USAID, 22 organizations, including Human Rights Watch, described the harmful local and global consequences of the Leadership Act on efforts to fight HIV and AIDS among sex workers and other marginalized groups. The organizations said that the act disrupts outreach efforts and joint programming with sex workers by forcing non-profit groups to present a stigmatizing, anti-prostitution message.

...While the ruling is important, Human Rights Watch said the government should take additional steps, including policies to promote and strengthen federal support for reducing HIV/AIDS in sex worker populations and to provide support to sex worker coalitions conducting HIV/AIDS work.

...The Second Circuit ruling applied only to US organizations and does not affect the Leadership Act's application to foreign (non-US) organizations receiving US anti-AIDS funding. These organizations also play a critical role in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, Human Rights Watch said.

"The Obama Administration should stop enforcing the anti-prostitution pledge immediately against all groups, including US and foreign organizations," Schleifer said. "Leadership in the fight against AIDS requires removing the pledge altogether from US law."
What a sick law this is in the first place.

What's wrong with this picture?

If it's the picture of the corrupting influence of drug and device companies on medical research and publishing, a lot.* ProPublica reports** on the case of Infuse, which is the subject of an entire issue of The Spine Journal:
According to the journal, the doctors engaged in industry-funded studies of Infuse downplayed its risks and some had staggering financial ties to Medtronic [2] that weren't adequately disclosed in their published research.
ProPublica has been doing a series, Dollars for Docs, "tracking how money from the drug and device industry has pervaded the medical field and influenced the decisions that doctors make both in the clinical setting and in research" and providing resources. As the Spine Journal editorial*** explains:
The core of our professional to first do not harm. It harms patients to have biased and corrupted research published. It harms patients to have unaccountable special interests permeate medical research. It harms patients when poor publication practices become business as usual.
If we're talking about another, literal (also health-related), picture, the answer is also a lot. This was the image that illustrated a History of Vaccines Blog post about the Pacific Health Summit held in Seattle last month:

What on earth?

*A problem in other realms as well, of course.

**Also recommended: the ProPublica/Frontline report "Post Mortem."

***One of the authors is David Rothman, director of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession.

They are GODDY

Via Right Wing Watch:

Religious privilege so beautifully illustrated.

(I don't understand how people can make that claim about the separation of church and state being intended to protect "people of faith" from government and not government from "people of faith" with a straight face. It's patently false.)

On privilege and...

I’ve alluded to this in at least one comment and an earlier post, and someone else is still making an effort, so I’ll expand. (While it’s not my job to educate everyone on the internet, it is my compulsion to try. :)) It’s not a perfect analogy, but it might help some atheists who still read mentions of privilege as indictments or blanket accusations.

Religious people in the United States have privilege. This is different from privilege based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or sexual identity in that it’s largely rooted in beliefs.* Comparing and contrasting the axes of privilege is difficult: sexual orientation is like religion/atheism in some ways and like gender in others, religion is like class in some ways and ethnicity in others, and so on.

But there’s no doubt that the religious in the US have privilege. “People of faith” are granted more respect and seen as morally superior. Religion is seen as necessary to a good and full life. Government is overwhelmingly comprised of (so-claimed) religious people. Religious people have access to powerful social networks. They’re seen – and largely see themselves - as better parents and leaders. Religious views shape culture and public policy. Religious people might with reason fear that their particular denomination won't be acceptable to other religious people in power, but generally have no reason to fear that being religious itself will be a problem for them. For nonbelievers, a pretense of belief carries benefits. Histories and narratives highlighting (or falsely claiming) religious virtue and heroism, including those stressing the role of religious people and religion in social justice movements, predominate. Rarely the subject of discussion, this state of affairs is regarded as natural and inevitable.

Challenges to belief, in turn, are greeted with hostility, and face an uphill battle. Critics of theism are caricatured - viewed as strident, hostile, and a variety of negative stereotypes. Atheists are excluded, actively or passively, from political events dealing with morality and public policy, and often hated and threatened. Incursions into religious privilege are frequently viewed as rooted in an intent to destroy and dominate or an implicit belief that all religious people are evil. This is all found as much in day-to-day interactions as it is in public debates and institutions. People in many places reasonably fear being open about their atheism with their family, friends, and colleagues, and are even more apprehensive about becoming activists.

There are some atheists who, from ambition or fear or whatever complex mix of motives, choose in various ways to concede to and reinforce religious privilege. Accommodationists often cater to stereotypes of atheists; refuse to challenge negative comments about them; misrepresent other atheists, especially gnus; rush to give the religious and their sympathizers the benefit of the doubt while denying it to atheists; make excuses for the religious; argue that atheists' approaches are counterproductive or alienating; seek to distinguish themselves from other atheists, especially gnus; and at times openly disparage other atheists (especially gnus) for refusing to be sufficiently deferential…though of course they don’t put it in these terms.

None of this means that we think all religious people are fundamentalists or crazed, malicious, intolerant, and out to get atheists. We (with few exceptions) know that’s not true. But we want – as a corollary to other goals - to do away with religious privilege, at all levels of life. And we rightly criticize other atheists who act in ways that perpetuate religious privilege, making it harder for atheists – especially the most vulnerable among us – to make progress.

For religious substitute men. For fundamentalists or crazed, malicious, intolerant, and out to get atheists substitute MRAs, rapists, and raging misogynists. For atheists substitute women. For gnus substitute feminists.

For accommodationists substitute, oh, tools of the patriarchy. :P

*Related to this, our problems with religion are of course not limited to religious privilege.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Paul Farmer on Democracy Now!

As if on cue... Just this morning I posted an interview with Paul Farmer talking about Haiti and included a different perspective from Democracy Now!, and now today's episode of DN! is an extended interview with him:

The differences in tone and emphasis are there, to the surprising extent that I found I couldn't justifiably use my "social movements" tag for this post (and it's a rare post here without it).

News From Honduras, Women's Assembly

I've been recommending Adrienne Pine's blog Quotha for some time as the place to go for news and information about Honduras, and it continues to be. Much of the recent news is dispiriting and infuriating: an Amnesty International Urgent Action call about a mass eviction in Rigores, a story on the Canadian government and Canadian companies' actions there, and the final report of the International Fact Finding Mission Report on Bajo Aguán. But it's amazing to see, in the face of this onslaught, what people in Honduras are doing not just to defend themselves but to work toward a new constitution and country. The assembly, concluding today, of indigenous and Afro-Honduran women, for example, described here by Margaret Thompson:
Many of these women have been front and center in the popular resistance movement against the repression following the coup d’etat in their country in June, 2009, struggling against assaults on their lands, sovereignty, natural resources and cultures. Likewise, many have been specifically targeted as leaders in these struggles with aggressive and violent assaults and detentions by police and private security forces.

The Constitutional Assembly, which brings women from the Lenca, Maya Chortí, Garifuna, Tawaka, Miskito, Pech and Tolopan indigenous groups, is a key step in the “Refoundation” process now underway among indigenous peoples in Honduras to demand autonomy and sovereign rights. The women will contribute by developing concrete gender-specific proposals for the constitution related to land rights, protection of biodiversity, water, forests, and mining resources, as well as autonomy and self determination, and rights to communication.

Women delegates will meet to share their experiences in the resistance and the situation in their communities and within their own organizations, said Cárceres. This will enable them to better articulate strategies “to support the struggle not only against capitalism but also against racism and patriarchy…” And making these connections requires going beyond reports of ongoing violations of indigenous and women’s human rights today to examine the patriarchal roots of colonialism and neoliberalism that have provided historical precedents and current strategies for the ongoing repression of indigenous and Afro peoples. “This is part of the history of the resistence that we as indigenous and Afro-Honduran women continue to develop,” noted Cárceres.
This report from Tuesday cheered me:
Additionally, the event carves a new symbolic path with new social and cultural norms that are expressed in the sexual division of labor.

Melissa Condesa, feminist activist, writer and organizer said the event opened this new social and political field in a symbolic way, including changes in the traditional sexual division of labor within these groups. “Men make the food here so that the women can meet and some of them had never made a tortilla.”

She explained that there was an earlier Constituent Assembly that was mixed men and women in February that took place in San Juan Durugubuti, Tela, Atlándita, and later the men met and agreed that it was important for them to cook for the women’s assembly so they could talk. “The Maya and Garifuna Chortí are making tortillas, which is very radical because traditionally it was something only women did,” said Condesa.

She added that “this is important because it installs a different logic and highlights a very important issue about the oppression of women, the gender division of labor. Men are working in the kitchen because the work has significant value for everyday life, but also in the continuing political struggle. We are re-founding of the nation and this is a part of it."
What? Someone should really tell these people that they shouldn't be concerning themselves with trifles like who prepares the food at meetings when indigenous women in Honduras are having their land stolen and being assaul

Oh. Wait.

Paul Farmer, Dan Coughlin, and Kim Ives on Haiti

Here's Paul Farmer interviewed on NPR yesterday:

I found it somewhat odd, I'll admit. Since he's become a UN Special Deputy Envoy, not too surprisingly, his tone and emphases (particularly what he doesn't talk about) seem to have changed from what they were even a few years ago.

So I'll also link to a very different interview about Haiti, from Democracy Now! a few weeks ago:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dear Paula Kirby, You're welcome.

I tried to post a comment on this thread at B&W,* but the thread was closed, so I’ll recreate and expand on it here:
What Kirby said was that, in her “years of being part of all this,” she has “seen nothing to suggest” that “women are being deliberately held back by the men in the movement” of atheism. That is not equivalent to saying there is “no sexism.” Far from it!
Whatever it is, it certainly isn't far from it, and making this sort of claim betrays an obvious agenda. In any case, from what I’ve read of Kirby, she’s shockingly ignorant of sociological realities in business and in general, to the extent that I don’t know why anyone would take her particularly seriously on the subjects of sexism or feminism. What I’ve read is, to be sure, a limited sample of her writing, but many of these comments are those people point to in defense of her case.

I can’t believe anyone who’s been involved in these discussions over the past few years could agree that there hasn’t been a serious problem with women being held back in the movement. Oh, here’s a relevant example: Some of us have been bringing up the lack of diversity amongst speakers at atheist events for years, dealing with endless comments calling us conspiracy theorists, talking about how women aren’t interested in or as well suited to taking those public roles, and all manner of nonsense.** Over and over.*** For years. Making lists (gosh, look who's on that one under K, H, and S!).

If I recall correctly, some people were touting this Dublin event in part because, finally, after all of these years of our pointing to the problem even when we knew what would ensue, this one would feature a more diverse set of panelists (at least in terms of gender). Then they have a panel of women who all agree that they don’t see sexism as a serious problem in the movement. Well, isn’t that just swell. I feel like a union activist who’s worked for years to get recognition and better pay and benefits - going on strike, being harassed, and with the risk of being blackballed - only to hear someone newly hired talk in one breath about their great health care plan and in the next deny the need for a union. I am angry.

*I have no idea what OB is talking about here, but I’m tired of feeling like I’m fighting an uphill battle and never know what’s coming next. I appreciate that she’s posted on it, but don’t understand this tendency to make an argument and then suddenly accept these strange claims.

**Fully conscious, deliberate sexism isn’t necessarily a part of this, though there’s much of that. Nor does it have to be a conspiracy. This is a stupid strawman.

***Note that on this thread Richard Dawkins said his organization was setting up a speakers’ bureau. In 2008.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A short note to Greta Christina on a great post

Greta Christina is someone in the atheist movement I've long admired. I was hoping she'd weigh in on the current dispute, and I'm very pleased she has. I agree with almost everything she's said. But, unsurprisingly, I had a problem with one parenthetical remark, which seems obliquely aimed at, well, me:
(In fact... this is something of a side note, but it has bugged me during this kerfuffle when women have called other women tools of the patriarchy and the like for disagreeing about what is and isn't sexist. As a feminist who defends porn, sex work, sadomasochism, etc., I've been on the receiving end of that "you're just sucking up to sexist men" trope way, way too often. Let's not do it, okay?)
No, not okay. (And I tend, as an adult, to chafe at such a patronizing admonition, particularly when it contains that "Let's" that really means "Hey you, dont.") I would say the same thing to workers who become strikebreakers and beat up other workers for pay. It is not okay with me that men use sexist epithets, host blogs that become misogynistic hatefests, and mock and attack women who stand against sexism. It is not okay with me when women do it, particularly if they consistently make an effort to distance themselves from other women. Not okay. I will call them out on it.

I haven't used the phrase "tools of the patriarchy," but in fact it's applicable. That people can be called this inappropriately does not mean there is no appropriate use. If you say, "I'm a feminist who defends porn, sex work, sadomasochism, etc.," those are positions that can, as implied, be defended. You have defended them, as have I in many ways. The behavior I'm describing cannot be so defended. If it can, those engaging in it can easily enough do it themselves, just as easily as they hyperbolically bash other women. There's no need to patronizingly protect them or to attempt to chastise people for calling damaging, stupid behavior that works against other people like you for what it is.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Set/scenery pr0n

Oh, dear. Sometimes I lose track of the story and don't much care who did it or why.

Adam Hochschild, To End All Wars

Great book. Highly recommended.

I was slightly wary when I read that much of it was about generals, but even for those like me with limited patience for battle sagas, the war sections are gripping. Because it’s not about battles, but about people. And the people Hochschild describes are fascinating, inspiring, imperfect.

My favorite thread concerned the various social movements in their encounters with the government and the Right. Given the contemporary partial, prettified view of the fight for women’s suffrage (and other women’s struggles of the era), the confluence of leftwing movements and the doggedness and suffering of some of the activists are stories that need to be told. The growth of media spin, which I've talked about here extensively, is also colorfully documented. One of the most interesting aspects is the connection shown between imperialism and “domestic” national or European politics – the overlapping ideology, personnel, and tactics, and their connection to the rise of fascism. This is an area in which not enough has been done. The book points to the relationship between rebellion, the war, and “security” throughout the empire, but the non-Western people involved in this resistance aren’t featured as much as they could be. But this is a minor criticism.

Here’s Hochschild on Democracy Now!:

And on Book TV.

Speaking of DN!, Hochschild’s book casts an interesting light on recent events in the US military. So tragic I won't say more.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Feminism, Richard Dawkins, and moral progress

It’s funny that some people of late have assumed that I read books and simply buy their arguments uncritically. My books – including those I agree with in a general way and cite – are riddled with critical (admittedly, often snotty) comments, “X”s, and “!”s.

This includes The God Delusion, which, as it happens, I was just flipping through the other morning. Coincidentally, as it happens, I was reading the section about the changing “moral Zeitgeist” and how it isn’t driven by religion. As I was reading, several recent stupid comments about women and feminism by Dawkins came to mind, and I was planning to post about this section as a sort of general consciousness-raising effort. Dawkins’ latest remarks have made this particularly relevant, so I’m moving the post up in the queue.

In the chapter on “The ‘Good’ Book and the Changing Moral Zeitgeist,” Dawkins argues:
Some of us lag behind the advancing wave of the changing moral Zeitgeist and some of us are slightly ahead. But most of us in the twenty-first century are bunched together and way ahead of our counterparts in the Middle Ages, or in the time of Abraham, or even as recently as the 1920s. The whole wave keeps moving, and even the vanguard of an earlier century (T. H. Huxley is the obvious example) [!:)] would find itself way behind the laggers of a later century. Of course, the advance is not a smooth incline but a meandering sawtooth. There are local and temporary setbacks such as the United States is suffering from its government in the early 2000s. but over the longer timescale, the progressive trend is unmistakable and it will continue. (307)
Some of this section is odd. He calls Huxley, “by the standards of his times,…an enlightened and liberal progressive” (302). But regardless of what “the average Victorian” (303) may have thought, Huxley was hardly progressive on social issues when seen against, oh, say, Elisée Reclus or Peter Kropotkin (who were arguably in many ways not only ahead of their time but of ours), not to mention many rebels who were women, nonwhite, and non-European. Dawkins suggests that moral progress “moves in parallel, on a broad front, throughout the educated world” (306), driven by leaders and role models (he lists only men). It’s kind of a “great men” model of social change. When he refers to his limited “amateur psychology and sociology” (308), I can’t help but concur.

The notion of moral progress is complex, but in broad terms I agree. When he speculates about Peter Singer’s call (which didn’t really begin with Singer) to move to a “post-speciesist condition” (308) being a likely direction for the moral consensus, I also agree. However, as his recent comments have shown, Dawkins fails to consider himself in light of his own thesis when it comes to women. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that, like Huxley, he’s not as progressive as he thinks – that despite (or not) his being part of “the educated world,” his views and remarks about women and feminists resemble little so much as those of “the average Victorian.” Those who recognize that in any given era many who consider themselves forward and enlightened thinkers hold ideas that the Zeitgeist of a later time will regard as morally repugnant should appreciate that they may not be – and to the extent that they’re members of privileged classes (white, male, straight, well off, not disabled, religious, Northern), are less likely to be – among the moral vanguard, and act appropriately and conscientiously.

*Oh, shoot. I was going to write more about this series on Kropotkin and Huxley, but forgot. Oops. Even if I don’t, though, I’m happy to recommend it again. I have few criticisms, though the title is strange - Kropotkin was a scientist, too!