Sunday, November 4, 2018

When they go low, we pursue justice

The Alt-Right Playbook: You Go High, We Go Low

This was a very challenging video to watch as a liberal, and I encourage all of my friends to watch it and consider. It challenges some deeply held liberal ideals, and that's a good thing. The summary: liberals have come to idolize process over policy. "When they go low, we go high." But instead of defining "going high" as pursuing just and good policies, we've defined it as following the rules and norms that have been summarily smashed and disregarded by Republicans. In doing so, we tell ourselves we're trying to prevent a rulebreaking arms race that will lead to the collapse of the whole system of governance we've relied on lo these many years. That speaks to some deep liberal moral insticts: people are basically good, the good ideas always win out eventually, it would be hypocritical to do what we criticize others for doing, and that maintaining decorum is an end in itself. As Obama frequently liked to quote, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice" But the universe doesn't bend towards justice unaided. It must be bent, and often quite forcefully. Hitler's defeat was not inevitable. The abolition of slavery in the US required a civil war. The right to vote is contested to this day (see voter suppression in red states/precincts across the country). We as liberals have come to believe that it's a moral victory in and of itself to point at the norm-breaker in chief and say "YOU CAN'T DO THAT!" For this week's example: When Trump announced his intent to eliminate birthright citizenship by EO, the response on the left was almost universally "well he can't, the rules say he can't," whereas the response on the right ranged from "hey, that's a good idea; finally someone is doing something about these illegal babies" to the more tepid "it's a fine idea, but you can't legally do it that way." Note that no where on either side of that discussion does anyone say "It's wrong to want to abolish birthright citizenship." The left has largely abstained on the moral argument over the POLICY, in favor of dismissing the issue as outside the PROCESS. Conversely on the right, we likewise see no moral debate over the topic, because that ground has been ceded by the left so they've internally assumed victory in the policy argument, leaving them only to debate how best to go about doing it. That's not to say no one on the left or right is an outlier bucking these trends or that the left generally doesn't think the policy proposal is immoral. The point here is that by leading with the counter that "it's against the rules" rather than "it's wrong," we are unilaterally disarming in the fight over the policy itself. The Republicans have shown us they don't care about the process, they only care about the policy. While we scream at them for the hypocrisy of denying Merrick Garland his SCOTUS seat, they only cared about denying Obama another supreme court pick so they could populate the court with Justices more amenable to their policies. They likewise stole hundreds of lower federal court seats, for the same reasons. If the Democrats' idea of how to fix this is to shame Republicans for breaking the rules, that will fail. Even in the case of the hypothetical EO overturning the 14th amendment, it's within the rules as written for the Supreme Court to outright declare that the President can do that even when it's blatantly obvious that he can't according to the rules. After all, according to the rules, the Supreme Court gets to decide what "according to the rules" means. Continuing to argue about the fairness of the process isn't going to change the policy. Instead, we need to stop letting the GOP pick the high ground we die on for us. Instead of defining following the rules as the moral high ground, define pursuing just policies as the high ground. We shouldn't ignore the rulebreaking entirely, but it also shouldn't be our primary argument against it. To the extend we can use the fact they broke the rules to prevent the bad policy from being implemented, we should. Sue on procedural grounds if that's what will stop the policy from taking effect, but remember that the end goal is stopping the policy not enforcing the rules. Trump went through several drafts of his Muslim ban before it got through the courts, but he still got his Muslim ban in the end. Victory is when we have immigration reform that makes it easier for people to integrate into our society legally and is welcoming of diversity, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. When a GOP secretary of state purges the voter rolls a couple weeks before the election, instead of just suing to force him to let the people vote on the grounds he can't do that, campaign on automatic voter registration that would prevent the possibility in the first place. When the president tries to ban trans people from serving in the military, don't just sue under the equal protections clause, make the argument for why trans people deserve to be treated equally. The constitution, the courts, and the process are means, not ends. We must never lose sight of the ends, because those ends are things like access to healthcare, kids being gunned down in schools, minorities being shot in their own back yards by police, LGBT people being able to marry the ones they love and not be discriminated against in employment or society more generally. Following the process is only as important as the policy outcomes it leads to. That doesn't mean that all means are justified by the ends, but likewise good means don't justify bad ends.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Demographics of Voter Suppression


I posted this challenge to my Facebook feed along with data visualizations from 538:

If you vote republican, ask yourselves why if only non-white people voted in this country only 10% of congress would be Republican? Then ask yourself why republican lawmakers and governors across the country are making it harder for minorities to vote.
Source

In the comments, a challenging question was asked from a non-Republican friend. What if the question were reversed, and Democrats had to answer why the result would be flipped if only white people got to vote, given that many white people in America consider themselves oppressed.

It was a fair question I believe to be in good faith, so it was worth an in-depth response.

So how would I respond?

First, I'd start with the context that white men for the first 100 years of the country were the sole voters and ever since then have been actively suppressing minority votes. So, it's not a symmetric comparison and any discussion we have can't be divorced from that crucial context.

Second, I'd acknowledge that it's understandable to be cynical and say Democrats are only making it easier to vote because it helps them in elections. I don't think that's true, but it definitely makes it a lot easier to see (especially as a white person) the voter suppression and racist history that leads to this, without having to confront as much cognitive dissonance or facts contrary to self-interest. I'd like to think that even if colors on those maps were reversed, I would still be pushing for higher voter turnout and against disenfranchisement.

Third, I don't know how to respond without directly contesting the claim that white people are oppressed (part of the reason I started with the context). It would be challenging to unpack white privilege and structural racism over the course of a single conversation, but that's the root of the issue so there's no way around addressing it. Most likely I'd start with the classic article "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh.

Fourth, I'd highlight that it's less about the parties than it is about who makes up the parties. The Republicans used to be the progressive party of Lincoln, and the Democrats the party of the clan that was responsible for putting most of those early voter suppression laws in place. When the parties flipped socially in the 60s-70s, it was explicitly over the Civil Rights Act, and the Republicans took up all of the racist vote that abandoned the Democrats under Johnson. It wasn't a sudden change, but that was more-or-less the capstone of the shift. Now when you look at groups like the KKK, neo-nazis, proud boys, etc they're almost exclusively Trump supporters (except for the ones that believe Jared Kushner is Trump's Zionist puppetmaster).

Finally, isn't the point of democracy to have everyone have a say? This isn't a both-sides issue. One party is trying to make it easier for everyone to vote, and the other is trying to make it harder to vote in demographically targeted ways. Ideally we would all agree that's a bad thing right? Voting rights shouldn't be a partisan issue. The fact that we don't have national automatic registration is shameful.

There's no equivalency between the parties on this issue, but both parties should at least agree that more people voting is good right?

Friday, October 26, 2018

Starting again

This blog has fallen idle for quite a while, primarily because I got a job that took so much of my time and energy I had to cut back somewhere.

I find myself having a lot to say over the last two years though, and my mini-blogs on Facebook and Twitter just aren't sufficient anymore. I need this outlet again.

So I'm going to try to write something as often as I can. With one of the most important elections of my lifetime (to date) coming up in only a week, I suspect I'll be writing about politics a lot.

Monday, February 9, 2015

20 Questions Feminists Asked of Men Answered Poorly.

Saw this article and felt the need to respond: http://thelibertarianrepublic.com/20-stupid-feminist-questions-men-answered/

I really should be getting to work but this is going to bug me if I don't weigh in so let me elaborate my position.
First some general thoughts then I'll go one by one:
The most frequent problem I encountered with this article is equivocation. Just because two different issues facing men and women violate the same underlying principles doesn't mean they are the same or cancel each other out.  Both men and women get raped, therefore the fact that it happens to women at a sickeningly higher rate is irrelevant. Circumcision and abortion both are bodily autonomy issues, therefore they are the same issue. Society puts body image pressure on both men and women to some degree, so it's the same.I think relative severity is important and that you can simultaneously recognize that two problems are real and serious without thinking that all problems are equally so.
Now to his answers
1. I don't have much of a problem with this one other than to mention that "someone, somewhere is going to call me an attention whore" is not quite the same as the occurrence being "common" as the questioner said.
2. I think he's right that both men and women are belittled in this way, but I don't see any reason to believe that "that criticism comes equally from both men and women." Again, the key word is "common." Minor point though relatively speaking.
3. Yes, gender roles cut both ways, but when one gender role gives you an automatic check box in the interviewer's "do I hire this person?" checklist I don't think the two are equally damaging.  Yes there is pressure on men to put work first and family second (though that situation is improving, thanks in no small part to feminists challenging gender roles in general), but the complementary pressure on women is to not work at all and put family above career at all times.
4. Circumcision (or MGM whatever you prefer), is a bad thing. Babies die from it, have botched procedures, accidents, occasionally get herpes (from the traditional briss ceremony) and they get no say in the matter. The evidence doesn't point strongly either way for health benefit or detriment in sexual health, but that just makes it an unneccessary ellective surgery at best. Absolutely, I think the practice should be discontinued until a reasonable age of consent. It's a bodily autonomy issue that we need to deal with in this country and for the most part are not.
However, this does not mean that MGM is nearly as bad a situation as the state of abortion rights in this country. Childbirth/abortion and MGM are orders of magnitude different in terms of life impact, financial impact, an health risk. If it's not already readily apparent why giving birth and raising a kid is tougher than having a 95% functional penis (baring the complications I mentioned above) then I'm not sure what I could cite in defense of my view that would convince.
5. Femenazi and misogynist are not gendered synonyms. The former is a pejorative used exclusively to dismiss the opinions of opinionated women regardless of substance, while the latter has genuine use in describing attitudes and culturaly ingrained pressures which women have to put up with. By analogy, a racist may find the term pejorative but that doesn't make it any less of a diagnostic term (and no I'm not comparing misogynists to racists, I'm comparing the terms only)
6. "Women generally aren't funny..." That's what misogyny looks like. "see what it is that women almost universally want in a mate." Sweeping generalizations.
7. In addition to only wanting us for our sense or humor, apparently women only want us for our careers? This is mostly tone trolling, but the generalizations bug me again. Also I found his parenthetical about the "small percentage of women" who are attracted a bit entitled.
8. This one pissed me off because the comparison was so lopsided. "In the media and journalism field, it’s sure as hell not a meritocracy. Ladies, if you’re gorgeous, you don’t need to be all that talented to get a job in reporting. You just have to be able to read off the teleprompter, look great in a tight dress, and you’re booked. For us chubby white dudes, no one wants to see us on TV. We’ve got to be smarter, more educated, have all of our hair, and be willing to claw our way to the top." Saying "gorgeous ladies" have it better in media than "chubby white dudes" is no more to the point than saying handsome men with "all of our hair" have it easier on TV.
Media wants attractive people, male or female. The fact that men CAN overcome this barrier with hard work while women usually cannot is not a point in the author's favor.
9. No issue with this one, other than I think he missed the point that usually women don't have the luxury of waiting until you were established in your career before starting a family. The pressure on women to have a family early often precludes that option.
10. "And if you do reject a drunk female, beware! They’re dangerous! The best thing to do is just to ignore them, and don’t lie about having a partner because they will stalk you until they find out you’re lying, and then they will hunt you down to make you suffer. It happens. Not frequently, but occasionally." Right, NOT FREQUENTLY. Consider the converse situation. "And if you do reject a drunk female, beware! They're dangerous!" The former brings up a legitmate (though rare) concern about stalking. The latter brings up the disgustingly FREQUENT cases of rape, assault, battery, and sometimes outright murder.
Yes, men get raped. But to say that risk is the same as the all too legitmate fear that women have to deal with in this situation on a daily basis.
11. Exhibit A in missing the fucking point. Women being judged by the length of their pants or skirt happens all the time and is usually accompanied by accusations of "slutiness" or worse the victim blaming attitude of "she was asking for it." Your receeding hair line is not remotely comparable. To make it worse, saying "you can do something about your skirt" is an example of victim blaming (though I think born out of ignorance of the questioner's intent in this case). The woman shouldn't have to do a damn thing about her skirt length.
12. "I wish I could just go on a diet and be skinny and have that be sexy. No, we men have to go on a diet, AND lift weights to get ripped, shredded, cut, whatever. It’s a lot harder." Fuck you sir, I have no response to give beyond that.
13. Everyone should be a good listener. Not sure "shut the hell up" is the best way to convey that message but ok.
14. Again, missing the point. The man being expected to pay for things in a relationship is not at all equivocable to victim blaming in the case of rape, sexual assault, catcalling, etc. See #10,#11.
15. Ok, took this one a bit personal as a gamer who does enjoy identifying with RPG characters much like I would those in a novel or film. "I’ll try not to be condescending to the intelligence of someone who seriously compares themselves to Hobbits, Twileks, Elves, He-Men and mutants." Try harder. Sexism in gaming and character design is a whole separate conversation that is definitely worth having, but not here.
16. I'll pass on this one, as I'm not quite sure I'm understanding either party correctly.
17. Again, see #10,#11, #14. Entirely different forms of relief are expressed in a woman saying "made it home safe" than a man saying it in our society.
18. I disagree with the relative frequency of the occurances, but for once he's making a fair comparison.
19. Signing your initials avoids the risk that people will not take your work seriously or look at it differently just because a woman produced it. At least this time he recognized that he missed the point. For example: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/science/bias-persists-against-women-of-science-a-study-says.html?_r=0
20. See #15. A discussion for another time about the "girl gamers" terminology but I'll give and example of the concern. It's not uncommon for a "girl gamer" to simultaneously riddiculed for defying the (woefully inaccurate) gender steryotypes about gamers, while being belittled for her successes in game because "people went easy on her" or "she only got ahead because she's a girl." Again, another time for that discussion.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Freedom to Discriminate: Part 1


Since November of 2012, 10 new states have legalized same-sex marriage by court decision, legislation or popular referendum. Pending appeal, Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Virginia are poised to j oin them in the next couple of years. In reaction to this tremendous push forward, several state legislatures are trying to pull us back to the 1960s. 
Idaho, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Arizona have all put forward similar legislation that seeks to promote “religious freedom” by allowing anyone from small business owners to emergency responders to deny service based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. So far, Arizona’s is the only one to have passed a state congress.
While these laws have grabbed national headlines, they are just the most outrageous examples of a nationwide response to the changing social attitude towards marriage equality. Last year, in my home state of Minnesota, the Minnesota Family Council successfully lobbied against an anti-bullying law on the grounds that it would be a “gross intrusion on parental autonomy and religious freedom.” 
At the core of all these fights is a very specific claim: By making laws against anti-gay bullying or discrimination, we are violating the “religious freedom”of people who want to bully and discriminate. 
No.
Religious freedom means you get to believe whatever you want. Religious freedom means you are free to practice your religion to the extent that it does not harm others.

Read the rest here. My next column is also submitted and will be a followup discussion to this week's.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Robots don't Kill People

Recently, I attended a seminar entitled “How to NOT build a Terminator” by Ronald Arkin, director of the Mobile Robot Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology . The talk explored how roboticists should approach the ethics of robots with lethal autonomy, especially in light of increased military interest in robotics. Advocacy groups around the world are calling for preemptive actions ranging from a moratorium on robots capable of deadly force to a total ban on robotics research.

Especially over the past year, drones have been a constant source of both excitement and fear. From Amazon Prime Air to “signature strikes” in Pakistan, drones have captured the public’s attention.

But as a roboticist, it frustrates me that public conversations surrounding “killer robots” have little to do with actual robotics. So, I’d like to address some common concerns and misconceptions about robots to help the discussion be more productive.

Read the rest here:
http://www.thedp.com/article/2014/02/robots-dont-kill-people


The original talk (or a version of it anyways) can be found here.