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Who's Responsible For The Backlash?

I've seen an interesting philosophical point come up twice recently with respect to two very different issues. The basic problem is this: if you do something that leads someone else to have a foreseeable reaction, and that reaction leaves you worse off with respect to your original goal, was your original action the wrong choice? Those who say "no" I'll refer to as "purists." They argue that one should be true to one's ideals. To calculate the likely success of an action is to compromise one's ideals. And if there's a backlash, it's entirely the fault of the backlasher, and thus has no bearing on the rightness of the original choice*. Those who answer "yes" are "consequentialists." They say that the only thing that matters in choosing a course of action is what the outcomes will be. If there's a backlash, you should have known better. Note that this does not absolve the backlashers of responsibility -- blame is not a zero-sum game. And indeed, because their choice was closer to the bad outcome, they would be more responsible than the backlash-provokers.

Case study 1: the war in Iraq. It's becoming increasingly clear that the war has made the Iraqi people worse off as well as compromising American security. Norman Geras argues that despite this, hawks were still correct to push for the war, because they were aiming at the right goals. The responsibility for the deteriorating situation lies with the insurgents who refused to cooperate with the American project. John Quiggin responds -- rightly, I believe -- with the consequentialist view. We should choose the course of action that leads to the greatest actual improvement in Iraqi and American well-being.

Case study 2: same-sex marriage. Marriage advocates did not do well on election day, losing all 11 fights against anti-marriage ballot measures. Many frustrated marriage supporters (e.g. Waddling Thunder) have blamed Gavin Newsom and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (really, we should blame the plaintiffs in the Goodridge case for filng their suit in order to win marriage rights, not the court for correctly interpreting the law). By pursuing same-sex marriage too quickly and too un-democratically, the argument goes, they provoked a backlash that left same-sex couples worse off than they were before. By this consequentialist reasoning, they should have bided their time until the country was ready for same-sex marriage. This argument has drawn responses (e.g. from Chris Geidner) in the purist mode -- Newsom and the SJC were aiming at the right goals** and should not be asked to wait for justice just because some homophobes will undo their work.

Consistent with my opinion in the war case and my general affinity for consequentialism, I have to side with Waddling Thunder's as the more valid argument in this scenario. If an advocate of any cause does something that leaves the cause worse off, then that action was the wrong choice, no matter how righteous the action was when considered on its own. That said, I believe that the same-sex marriage situation we experienced this past year does not match the empirical premises of the dilemma in question (it seems Geidner agrees with me here). The election-day backlash was a step back, but not as far back as we often think. Meanwhile, the actions of Newsom and the SJC were significant steps forward. Same-sex marriage has made a net advance in the last two years. Had Newsom or the SJC done their thing in, say, 1950, Waddling Thunder's reasoning probably would have applied. I'm sadly forced to conclude that it would apply if the US Supreme Court were to rule in favor of same-sex marriage today. There are times when small, cautious steps are pragmatically the best we can do. But I think the bold steps that provoked the election-day backlash were still, on balance, justifiable on consequentialist grounds.

The war case does, in my opinion, fit the structure of the dilemma in question. But hawks are on stronger ground when they claim that the empirical situation does not match the premises (i.e., that Iraqis are better off now) than when they claim that Iraqi welfare is irrelevant as long as we were trying to do the right thing.

*I'm not confident enough to put this observation outside of a footnote, but the purist rationale strikes me as somewhat Kantian. Purists are acting in a way that would be beneficial if everyone were trying to do the right thing.


McCain's Strategy

No McCain, No Gain

Patrick Michaels, an environmental fellow at the right-leaning Cato Institute who teaches environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, griped that McCain's climate-change initiative is nothing more than a political gambit to position himself for a presidential campaign. "He is doing all this strictly for political gain," Michaels told Muckraker. "He needs something to separate him from the Republican competition for 2008. He wants to be the GOP authority on this issue, and my sense is that he's going to do everything he can in the next four years to make his mark on this issue."

McCain has been tenacious enough in pressing for action on global warming that it's hard to believe it's all a political ploy. But some folks deeply concerned about the climate wish he had been more tenacious still and supported the presidential candidate who actually would have done something about this looming problem.

I think the author's desire to defend her allies has given her view of McCain a bit of a rosy hue. Certainly I support what McCain has and will do to get the US to take climate change seriously. But I don't think his tenacity on the issue weighs against the hypothesis that he's doing it as a political ploy. Certainly it's not the kind of plotical ploy we're most used to, the kind beautifully illustrated by both John Kerry and George Bush: the flip-flop. Flip-flops happen when a politician is reacting to the public and to the conventional wisdom, trying to get on the "right" side of an issue so that people will like him. McCain has rarely been one for that kind of maneuver. Rather, he plans for the long term. Tenacity can be itself a ploy, as McCain has a lot invested in his image as a straight-shooting maverick. Climate change works well for him, as it makes him distinctive and gives him opportunities to reach across the aisle. This wins him the adoration of liberals who forget the conservatism of his voting record on issues that are not his signature ones. And it makes the party work for his loyalty, out of fear of defection and desire for the PR of having him stand up in the end and endorse the GOP.

North Woods Failure

Park Debate Is A Battle Over The Future Of Maine

... Infuriating her neighbors, [Roxanne] Quimby has banned hunting and plans to end snowmobiling on what she calls her "sanctuary." And her long-term goal is about as palatable to some rural Mainers as tofu with their venison: a 3.2 million-acre national park that would be larger than Yosemite and Yellowstone combined, and where hunting, snowmobiling and logging would be heavily restricted.

... "For generations, the paper companies sort of managed everything for us up here," said Patrick K. McGowan, commissioner of Maine's Department of Conservation. "They gave sportsmen pretty much free rein, and in turn the people up here helped out as stewards of the land. But with all of these new buyers, nobody knows quite what will happen now, and people are getting nervous."

... "I think there's enough land here for all of us to use the way we want to. I never expected such controversy, but at this point I have $20 million at stake in this argument," said Quimby, who splits her time between Winter Harbor, Maine, and Palm Beach, Fla. "At the end of the day, I insist that this is my property. I paid for it, and I paid to control its fate while I own it."

This is an interesting story, since it's the environmentalists who are defending the prerogatives of private property while their opponents are insisting on the continuance of an unofficial commons. At the risk of sounding Marxist, though, it's not all that strange. Those who own have a vested interest in the benefits that a private property system gives them, while those who merely use have a vested interest in extracting obligations from owners.

I see this story as an indication of environmentalism's failure. The people of rural Maine are the perfect place to begin expanding environmentalism's base, undoing the perception (and all too often reality) of environmentalism as an elitist movement. To judge from the presidential election results, Mainers are already more liberal than the people in most rural areas. But they also share that conservative conservationist ethos, a respect for the aesthetic as well as livelihood-supporting functions of nature and a tradition of (quasi) common property based around hunting and fishing.

The environmentalists could have approached the issue from a democratic perspective. They could have started off by trying to understand how the people of rural Maine manage their environment and what their values are. They could have found common ground, promoting a mixture of both groups' interests while working together against common enemies like the fickle timber industry (carefully distinguishing corporate higher-ups and the global market from local jobs). Instead, they plowed ahead with an a priori model of wilderness preservation, creating a backlash against outsider interference. Preserving the north woods doesn't have to come at the expense of Mainers' way of life, but they won't believe that unless they can be given some sort of "ownership" in the process and outcome.


What Does Marriage Say About Parenting?

Ampersand has a nice post up pointing out a hole in an argument at the Family Scholars Blog against same -sex marriage. The cruz of Elizabeth's argument is:

My problem [with same-sex marriage] is that I don't want all marriage and family law, across the nation, to be rewritten in gender neutral terms that make the law unable to affirm that children, whenever possible, need to be raised by the mother and father who gave them life.

Amp's counterargument is based on the morality of the link between Elizabeth's concern for biological parenting and her opposition to legally recognizing same-sex marriage. Basically, he says that the government may use cajoling or incentives (e.g. subsizied marriage counseling), but may not use mandates (e.g. outlawing divorce), to promote marriage, and that barring same-sex marriage falls in the latter category.

But even if Elizabeth is able to draw a different line to separate permissible and non-permissible marriage promotion that would allow banning same-sex marriage, I still see a pragmatic objection. Barring same-sex marriage as a means to affirm the need for biological parenting strikes me as a very crude proxy strategy.

Same-sex couples are currently quite able to raise children. Allowing gay marriage would make it easier for these couples to successfully raise their children, and may thus lead to more same-sex couples raising children. But would this increase come at the expense of biological parenting arrangements? Only a very small subset of the population faces a real choice between same-sex parenting and biological parenting. The link between same-sex marriage and the choice of other non-biological parenting arrangements (like stepfamilies or single parenthood) seems even more tenuous.

It seems possible that any negative effect that same-sex marriage would have on biological parents would be due in part to people like the Family Scholars. By promoting the idea that marriage is basically, or even solely, a child-rearing device, they encourage people to read same-sex marriage as a statement about parenting.

If what we want* is for the law to affirm the need for biological parenting, what we need is a law that says "when possible, children should be raised by their biological mother and father." That would be more explicit than the current inference from marriage law, it would apply across all types of families, and it would allow us to avoid sacrificing the marital desires of same-sex couples as part of a parenthood campaign.

Of course, this pragmatic objection is decidedly liberal. In accordance with its roots in utilitarianism, liberalism looks on the law as a tool to create certain beneficial outcomes. Elizabeth's phrasing, which talks about the need for the law to "affirm" the importance of biological parenting, suggests that she may take something of a communitarian stance. Communitarians see value in using the law to express our collective values independent of any real effects the law may have. For example, a communitarian might argue that, though our drug laws have been a failure in preventing drug use, they should remain on the books as an affirmation of the nation's view that drugs are bad. If what Elizabeth is looking for is an official social stance that biological parenting is the ideal, then my argument is not going to persuade her.

*I don't really want this, but I'm taking it as given for the sake of argument.


Scientific Authority

Timothy Burke has an interesting post up trying to explain why so many Americans believe in creationism. I quite agree with his point in the first half of the post: creationism versus evolution is a proxy battle for a much larger cultural and philosophical struggle. Indeed, it's an appealing place to fight that battle since the seeming uselessness of either theory in most people's everyday life makes it easier to choose one's position for strategic, rather than evidential, reasons (and don't doubt that many lay believers in evolution adopt Darwin's theory more to show their rejection of religious fundamentalism than because of a real understanding of the science).

I'm less in agreement with Burke's second point, which is that the history of quackery by scientists has damaged the public's faith in science, and therefore scientists need to get their own house in order. I agree that a lot of quackery has been produced and endorsed by scientists over the years. But I don't think the solution is to more rigorously police the public face of science, so that the public isn't exposed to theories that we're not really really sure are true. Of course scientists need to hold each other to rigorous standards of evidence, and it's good to be cautious about publicizing results, particularly if they're likely to cause alarm or become oft-repeated factoids. But I'm wary of the underlying premise that the public face of science must become more authoritative and univocal.

The best-known rebuttal in the evolutionist's arsenal -- "saying evolution is just a theory is not a criticism of it, because all science is just theories" -- goes to the heart of the matter. Creationism is appealing because it offers fixed, final answers. Science, on the other hand, is not just a competing set of factual findings. It's also an attitude of skepticism and openness to revision of even the most dearly held views. Burke's proposal would make the scientific method a special tool to be used within the scientific community, which is later discarded in order to make infallible pronouncements to the lay public. That seems to play into the epistemological assumptions of the creationists.

Indeed, the consequences would be even worse than at present if quackery were to happen to gain the stamp of approval of a Burke-ified scientific establishment. It's entirely possible for the scientific community to form a consensus that is catastrophically wrong. In a situation in which the public is exposed to the potential pluralism of science, it's possible to shift to a new theory when the quackery of the old one becomes apparent. But if the public is conditioned (even more) to treat scientific pronouncements as gospel, the impacts on public trust of saying "oops, we were wrong" are much greater. It may even create an incentive for science as a whole (rather than just individual scientists) to cling to old theories, since it has already staked its reputation on them.


Happy Thanksgiving

I still agree with what I said last year about the holiday and its history.


Same-Sex Philosophy

Recently I've been getting hits from people searching for both "deontological view of homosexuality" and "utilitarian view of homosexuality." So I thought I'd lay the issue out in executive summary form.

Utilitarianism: The basic rule in utilitarianism is that we should do whatever maximizes the world's happiness. Now, it's pretty obvious that having sex with a person you're attracted to will make you quite happy. It may make some other people unhappy to know that there's homosexual activity going on, but 1) that unhappiness is probably outweighed by the happiness of the homosexuals, and 2) it's a lot easier to stop being squicked out by homosexuality than it is to stop being homosexual. So utilitarianism not only allows homosexuality, it requires homosexuals to follow their hearts.

Deontology: The most popular deontological theory is Kant's Categorical Imperative, which can be stated in two different ways: 1) act according to a rule that you wish everyone else would follow, or 2) treat people as ends, not just as means. The first formulation is violated when universalizing an act would create a logical contradiction, famously illustrated by the way promises become meaningless if everyone breaks them. One might argue that homosexuality is self defeating, because if everyone had homosexual sex, the human race -- and hence sex -- would go extinct. But if we reformulate the homosexual's proposed rule from "have sex with people of your own sex" to "have sex with people you're attracted to," then the empirical fact that most people are attracted to members of the opposite sex rescues us from the contradiction and allows homosexuality. The second formulation fails to prohibit homosexuality either, as there's no reason to think that sex with a member of your own sex treats that person as a means any more than sex with a member of the opposite sex.

The verdict: neither major ethical theory can present an obstacle to homosexuality in the space of a paragraph.



Environment Officials See A Chance To Shape Regulations

Emboldened by President Bush's victory, the nation's top environmental officials are claiming a broad mandate to refashion the regulation of air and water pollution and wildlife protection in ways that will promote energy production and economic development.

"The election was a validation of the philosophy and the agenda," said Mike Leavitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental protections, he said, must be done "in a way that maintains the economic competitiveness of the country."

I can see the Bush administration claiming a general (though slim) sort of validation, since it won 51% of the vote and its allies picked up seats in Congress. But it's absurd to claim that, in a campaign where the President said barely two sentences about his environmental policy, his victory is a validation of that policy. Indeed, most voters had an inaccurately rosy view of what the administration wants to do for the environment.

But perhaps the administration's plans to push forward with its corporate-friendly environmental agenda can be turned to good use. There have been grumblings from ranchers, hunters, and anglers -- a core component of Bush's base in the west -- over environmental issues. They're realizing that Republicans are bent on doing favors for big business, which can hurt smaller natural resource entrepreneurs and undermine the public lands that hunters and anglers depend on. That wasn't enough to turn the mountain states blue this time around, but Brian Schweitzer was able to capitalize on the theme of Republican indifference to local people and their environments to win the governorship of Montana. It fits into a larger populist image that I think could be effective for Democrats if they can cultivate it over the long term (rather than making a ham-handed grab at it the way Al Gore did in 2000).


Comic Time

I decided to get all local (well, regional) this time.

My column for this week was an attempt to be optimistic: "Same-Sex Situation Not As Bleak As It Seems," as was its corresponding comic.


Hybrids For The Future

Orrin Kerr points to an article claiming that hybrid cars

... Buyers pay a large premium for a hybrid Escape or a Prius, presuming that the increased fuel mileage makes them a better environmental citizen. While there’s no question that the Toyota, Honda and Ford hybrids are more fuel efficient than their conventionally powered equivalents, the difference is nowhere near as great as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) numbers suggest.

... In fact, in normal use, the margin between truly comparable hybrid and non-hybrid cars could be less than 10% -- hardly enough to justify the extra purchase price. And, lest we forget, the hybrid’s gas-saving advantage is not without its own particular environmental costs…

Gas - electric hybrid engines use several large batteries. Creating these power cells requires a couple of hundred pounds of heavy metals-- not to mention the copper used in the large electric drive motors and the heavy wires they require. Mining and smelting lead, copper and other heavy metals is an energy intensive process that generates both air pollution and deforestation. Disposing of the batteries when they outlive their usefulness also raises environmental challenges.

... Americans are fond of turning to simple silver bullets to solve complicated problems. The hybrid solution seems ideal. Want to be environmentally responsible? Buy a hybrid. A hybrid car offers instant gratification, PC-style. It relieves consumers of both guilt and personal responsibility for the broader impact of their daily energy consumption habits. Heaven forbid that a hybrid owner should switch off their central air, or buy less disposable products, or use their car less, to help protect the environment.

I don't have any expertise in automotive technology, so I'll accept for the sake of argument that the author is right about how little improvement a hybrid gives. Even with that granted, though, his argument still misses an important element of the decision to buy a hybrid. The Prius and Escape, on which the 10% figure is based, are the first commercially available hybrids -- the Model Ts of energy-efficient cars, as it were. It would be shocking indeed if they represented the limits of what hybrid technology could achieve. So buying a hybrid is not merely about reducing your own environmental impact over the years you'll drive it. It's also about investing in a line of R&D. Hybrid technology will only improve if the first models, however primitive they may be, are commercially successful.

I certainly agree with the last paragraph I quoted -- I've written before about the dangers of expecting a simple technological fix to solve our environmental problems. But the article presents it as if there's some sort of trade-off between using a hybrid and making other environmentally-conscious decisions. There's no reason we can't do both, and it doesn't strike me as likely that the green fuzzies that come from owning a hybrid would contribute to making people complacent about their air conditioner use.



Sam Rosenfeld says that "What the [Arlen] Specter flap really signifies is the final death throes of seniority as a potent institutional weapon and yardstick for power in the Senate." If so -- and I hope he's right, as I'm no fan of seniority -- that pretty much invalidates Specter's campaign, whose theme was "I'll have seniority."


In Defense Of Left-Wing Blue

It's become de rigeur to complain about the fact that in the US, "red states" are conservative and "blue states" are liberal, despite the fact that through most of modern history and over most of the world, red was the color of the left. But I'd like to speak up in favor of the colors as they're used in the US.

First, there's a geographical issue: it seems that "Red also tends to make a space appear smaller while blue tends to enlarge a space." This is helpful in combatting the skewed sense of Republican dominance that arises from the red states being disproportionately larger territory-wise.

The colors also evoke emotions that, as I see it, align with the conventional wisdom about each party's ideology:

Red is the first primary color of the spectrum. It emotionally triggers the sense of power [which they have lots of now], impulsively, sexuality [sort of -- they do talk more about sex than the Democrats, but in a negative way] and increases one's appetite. Be careful how you use red. It can also shout anger, forcefulness, impatience, intimidation, conquest, violence and revenge [Iraq] toward your site visitors.

Blue is a primary color. It is the easiest color for the eyes to focus. It generates feelings of tranquility, love, acceptance, patience, understanding and cooperation [we're a bunch of bleeding-hearts]. Its negative qualities if used inappropriately are fear, coldness, passivity and depression [a pessimistic summary of the Kerry campaign]. Blue is a favorite color choice among all age groups [hey, anything that will improve our image ...].


Red Ecosystems vs Blue Ecosystems

It has become commonplace to complain about the distorted view that standard maps of the presidential vote give (here is a good set of the maps I refer to in this post). Because the GOP does better in rural areas (though not by as much as in 2000), you wind up with a whole lot more red on the map, creating the false appearance of a Republican landslide. The county-by-county maps only make it worse*. So sophisticated observers look at cartograms in which the area of states and counties are made proportional to their population or electoral vote count.

But when it comes to the environment, there's some utility to the plain old geographically accurate maps. While there are such things as biodiversity hotspots and critical ecosystems, the environment is distributed roughly evenly over space. Standard maps help to make the point that most of the nation's environment is inhabited by conservatives.

There are two categories of environmental issues: cumulative and systemic. For systemic environmental issues like climate change, the usual electoral calculus applies -- pick up a few more votes around the fringes of the blue areas, so that we can tilt the White House and Congress into liberal hands, then implement a progressive national policy. But for more cumulative issues, like forestry, that's not enough. For practical and moral reasons, the cooperation of the locals is critical. Protecting the nation's public lands will require a much more sophisticated outreach (and listening) than simply pointing out that "conservation" and "conservative" have the same first ten letters. Some of the groundwork is already there, as rural conservatives begin to recognize that their representatives are selling out their quality of life to corporate interests. But the emergence of right-wing environmentalism is stymied by the perception that environmentalists are urban elitists -- a perception fueled by spillover of vitriol (on the part of both parties) from other issues such as gay rights.

*Incidentally, why is the lower-level breakdown always by county? Given how unsystematic the placing of county boundaries is, I would think a map showing the vote by precinct would be a better representation.


Comic Time

I took an unannounced week off, because our issue was canceled due to the editors being in Nashville for a conference. (Not that I seem to really have a following waiting impatiently for my new material -- even a post on abortion couldn't get any comments!) But now they have returned, so I bring you a comic:

I also bring you a column, "Draft Fears Overestimate George Bush," and a comic to go with it. The column turned out much nastier to Bush than I had planned, and I didn't really play up the parallel with his handling of the budget the way I did in the post that this is an expanded version of.

Amusing note: When I format my columns for the web, I just grab a random old html file to use as the template. For this one, I happened to unwittingly pick my only other column about the draft.


Bleeding Heart Conservatives

Stickers Put in Evolution Text Are the Subject Of A Federal Trial

A federal judge began hearing testimony on Monday about whether the Cobb County School District should be allowed to leave stickers in biology textbooks saying that evolution was "a theory, not a fact" and should be "approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

... The stickers were placed in the textbooks in 2002. The books include a thorough treatment of evolution, and the stickers were intended only to "acknowledge that it may hurt some people's feelings," said E. Linwood Gunn, a lawyer for the board.

... Marjorie Rogers, a parent and self-described "six-day literal creationist" who led a drive that prompted the stickers, said she was not advocating the teaching of religion, but just more theories besides evolution, which she said was disputed science. "I just want an even footing, if there's any kind of science to support it," she testified.

-- via Chris C. Mooney

I actually agree with Rogers. Schools should teach every theory that has "any kind of science to support it." So in addition to evolution, they'll have to teach ... um ... evolution and evolution.

The title of my post refers to the comment by Gunn. I thought conservatism was all about the need to suck it up and face reality -- but when it comes to the origin of species, they're apparently all for treating all opinions as valid and making sure not to hurt anyone's feelings.

Abortion Vs. God's Will

I normally don't touch abortion discussions with a 10-foot pole. I've even gone so far as it refuse to hold a position on the issue, so as not to get sucked into the arguments over it. But in the comments to a Hugo Schwyzer post, I encountered an argument that raises some interesting issues about agency that seem relevant beyond the specific example of abortion (notably in the case of "wilderness" and human interference with nature). Chip writes:

If every human being comes into existence only by the direct will of God, and if God is active in creating the body and soul of each human being, then abortion is contrary to God's desires for us.

Let's agree for the sake of argument that God has a specific plan for the world, and that actions are right or wrong as they help or harm the execution of that plan*. The idea here is that human action interferes with God's plan. God is directing the natural biological forces to create a life, but a person -- endowed with free will, and thus unable to be stopped by God -- can butt in and screw things up. That seems simple enough, and the presence or absence of human agency explains why an abortion is morally different from a miscarriage, since God is in control of the forces that cause the latter.

But is it really right to say that mere passivity in the face of natural forces directed by God is the way to ensure God's plan is carried out? It's quite clear that in many cases -- such as feeding the poor -- God's will is carried out through human agency. For whatever reason, God would rather inspire a soup kitchen volunteer to show love toward a homeless person than simply instigate a rain of manna. In the case of abortion, recall that the pregnancy in question occurred because of the agency of at least one of the parents. So abortion is no more an interference in the natural course of things than pregnancy is. An abortion doctor may be just as much an agent of God's will as a miscarriage-inducing genetic defect.

Indeed, one might go so far as to say that the existence of a pregnancy may be a human-caused snafu in God's plan, and an abortion is setting things right (which would at the least lend support to the rape and incest exceptions, since pregnancy aside those acts are both presumably violations of God's plan).

This is not to say, of course, that by this standard abortion is always acceptable -- there would remain times when having an abortion would be contrary to God's plan (since I assume God's plan involves there being some people in the next generation). But it does mean that the fact that human agency was used to abort the pregnancy is not prima facie evidence that God's plan has been thwarted. We'd have to have more evidence -- either direct communication with God, or a set of principles indicating in which circumstances God would want a child to be born.

*My personal view is that God's plan is statistical and open-ended (requiring some human input), rather than detailed and micro-managed. But since the plan is simply an extrapolation of the requirements of the principle of love, it is accurate (though not my preferred phrasing) to characterize good actions as those in conformance with the plan.


Weirdness of the Day

I'm still getting back into the swing of blogging after the election, but for the moment we can ponder the fact that the Prohibition Party's page has camels in the background (presumably because they don't drink much). I imagine we'll be hearing a lot about them in the next few years, though -- their Presidential candidate, Earl F. Dodge, only lost the popular vote by 59,729,815.


Bumper Stickers

I think we can safely draw the conclusion that if you want me to contribute to a political cause, you have to offer me a bumper sticker. I was motivated to join the ACLU by a desire to have an ACLU bumper sticker on my car. A few months ago the Human Rights Campaign sent me a mailing, which I probably would have looked at and thrown out except that there was a bumper sticker in it. That was enough to get me to keep the mailing sitting around, and thus there was a return envelope waiting to be filled with a check (my second ever political donation) and mailed off today as I mourned the success of the 11 anti-marriage ballot initiatives (the sticker will be going on my car soon).

Contrarian Cartoons

Why is it easier to think of editorial cartoons for positions you disagree with? I'm writing an article about whether there will be a draft, and my first thought was to illustrate it with a picture of Bush saying "read my lips: no new draft." The only problem is that my argument is that he will keep his promise not to bring back the draft.


British Optimism

Britain Hopes To Push U.S. On Climate Change, Says Adviser

Britain hopes it can exert influence on reelected President George W. Bush and push the United States to do more to combat climate change, the British government's chief scientist said on Thursday.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has made tackling global warming and reducing carbon emissions one of two priorities for Britain's year-long presidency of the Group of Eight (G8) richest nations starting in January.

... [David] King said he was encouraged by comments over the summer by Jack Marburger, Bush's chief scientific adviser, and by Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham.

I actually wouldn't be surprised if Bush announces a major climate change initiative in the next few years. Of course, it will be a lot of nice words without much substance, like so many of his liberal-sounding proposals. Indeed, to judge from the prescription drug plan and Healthy Forests, he'll find a way to give some favors to his corporate backers -- perhaps via huge subsidies or tax breaks for R&D on technical fixes -- without actually doing much to address the real problem. Adjusting to climate change will require some sacrifices in the short term, and Bush has never been one to demand sacrifices from anyone (certainly not a foreign anyone).


Conservative Angst

Without addressing "why we lost, and how we can win next time," let me offer a few preliminary thoughts on the larger issue of the cultural conservative renaissance that's become big news in the wake of wins by George Bush, a bunch of Republican congresspeople, and 11 anti-marriage ballot measures. Let's start with a statement of the issue from Timothy Burke (via someone, but I forget who):

From the perspective of social and religious conservatives, their campaign to capture the government is a defensive response to attacks from the late 1960s through to the 1980s on the central mechanisms of their own social and cultural reproduction. Abortion rights, feminism, the expansion of free speech, the increased legal rigidity in interpreting church-state separation, and so on: these are hot-button issues not just for and of themselves, but because of them has symbolically come to stand in for a perception of a larger and more pervasive attempt to make religious and social conservatism a historical rather than continuing phenomenon.

As I see it, it's not that secularists* are determined to keep pushing until they eradicate conservative Christianity, or (just) that conservatives think that's the case. It's that conservatives doubt the ability of their own culture to survive alongside a more secular one within a liberal (in the broad sense) political framework. The essence of political liberalism is to expand the range of choice. Liberalism says that conservative culture is fine so long as participants choose it from a menu that contains other reasonable options, such as secularism.

Within this liberal choice framework, a secular materialist culture is seductive. It has helped to undermine other cultures -- from fundamentalist Islam to traditional Native American cultures.

Cultural conservatives recognize that this seduction is not simply an expression of the inherent preferrability of secularism (as the extreme libertarian view would have it). Rather, it's in part a result of the liberal individual choice framework -- indeed, how could a fairly hedonistic culture not have a lot of success when the principle of choice is individual preference? That framework undermines the kind of solidarity mechanisms that conservative culture needs to function. So they -- like the pre-Lenin Marxists who saw a simultaneous worldwide revolution as necessary to make Communism work -- hope that they can impose their vision nationwide. Traditional marriage must be safeguarded by taking away from everyone the options of serial monogamy or same-sex marriage, for example.

I happen to believe that the liberal choice framework and some form of secularist culture are the better options. I'm cautiously optimistic that secularism is too widespread for any move toward Falwelltopia to ultimately succeed. But the cultural revivals among Native American tribes suggest that all may not be lost for cultural conservatives. What's necessary is for them to focus on a reconstructed conservative culture that is compatible with and appealing under the liberal framework, rather than seeking to reverse that framework or forcibly eliminate their competitors under it. To to that would require offering an alternative to the weaknesses of secularism (such as the alienation created by consumerism) rather than attempting to imitate secularism's successes (such as with self-consciously "trendy" pop evangelicalism).

*Here, as before, defined very broadly, to include even many mainline Protestants.

Four More Articles

OK. I think I've waited out the need to do any post-election venting or soul-searching. Instead, I'd like to do some academic griping.

Mainstream academics like to make disparaging comments about the amount of contentless blather that you see from more leftist (Marxist and postmodernist) scholars -- all that trendy and incomprehensible verbiage just covers up the fact that they don't really have anything to say. The exaggerated version of this critique is off base, but it's true that the postmodern emperor spends a disturbing amount of time running around nude. That said, the mainstream literature -- at least within the field of the human dimensions of environmental issues, which is what I'm most familiar with -- is hardly free of that sin. They just do it more transparently. Article after article rehashes the same vague generalities. If the Stockholm Environment Institute shouldn't waste its time if it's going to put out another report coming to the shocking conclusion that some people are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change and that soundbite versions of all the major principles of justice indicate that we should protect them. The academic left takes a lot of flak for being overtly (and ineffectually) political, but mainstream writers seem to be following the model of politicians rather than of cumulative science -- the main difference between Karl Rove and Roger Kasperson* is that more people listen to Rove's repetition of a few talking points.

*There's a bit of hyperbole here, of course -- for example, I'd count Kasperson's social amplification model of risk as a substantive contribution to knowledge.


Departmental Feud

Someone here is trying to be provocative. The philosophy house stands right next to the women's studies house. In the window directly facing women's studies, someone has put up a big "W stands for Women" sign.



I don't have any particular expertise in predictions, but it's expected of bloggers to make a guess. I'm in a pretty pessimistic mood at the moment, so I'm going to call the popular vote 49%-48% for Bush. My guess is that Bush will pick up Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, and Iowa, giving him 286 electoral votes to Kerry's 252. I don't expect the Democrats to recapture either house of Congress.

Now let's pray I'm wrong.