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Man-Hating Sexism

Over at Pandagon, they're smacking down a series of articles by Leon Kass (e.g. here) trying to undermine sexual equality. It's been observed many times that Kass and his allies make their arguments for sexism in a way that manages to also insult men -- declaring, for example, that we're irredeemable horndogs. I would speculate that this strategy is due to the success of feminism. The more secure oppression is, the freer the oppressors feel to declare their superiority. But when their position feels threatened, they appeal to their own weakness.

A distorted view of the content of feminism feeds into this in the case of Kass and his allies. They make a conscious attempt to show that, even starting from the premises of their feminist opponents (which they ingratiatingly profess to agree with), their sexist conclusions still follow. Done right, this is an effective debate tactic, as it allows you to reach your goal without engaging in (often unproductive) arguments about first principles. Unfortunately Kass et al. seem to have imbibed the canard that feminism involves hating men. Therefore they offer a man-hating rationale for anti-woman sexism. But arguing from your opponents' premises is ineffective when you misstate their premises.

Good Riddance to Manliness

In commenting on what sounds like a typically idiotic book by Maureen Dowd, hilzoy says something that I think demonstrates the problems with moderate attempts to combat machismo. She quotes excerpts in which Dowd argues that men need to validate their manliness by treating women like children, and that therefore any woman who buys into this crazy idea of equality will never get a man. Responding to this attempt at romantic/sexual blackmail, hilzoy says:

I, in my naive little way, thought that manhood was about strength, decency, honor, courage, and the like. The world is full of ways to demonstrate one's manhood: occasions to step up and do the right thing, to take responsibility for your actions, to go out of your way to be decent to someone who needs it, to have the guts to do what's right even when you'll be ridiculed for doing so.

I understand the impulse here (which hilzoy clarifies in the comments) -- to redirect the macho impulse away from "cheap" versions of manliness to better ones. It's a common tactic among moderate and certain forms of conservative activists -- to say, for example, that a "real man" would call his friends out on their sexist comments rather than join in. However, this redefinition of real manliness raises another problem: aren't "strength, decency, honor, courage and the like" traits that are admirable in women as well? Most people (including hilzoy) will admit that they are, (though some will add some hand-waving about how these qualities are expressed in some undefinably different way in the two sexes).

In one sense this is fine -- people of both sexes should work to demonstrate hilzoy's list of qualities. But as soon as you say that, you give up on appealing to the macho instinct as a motivation for doing so. Gender is a relational category -- things are manly in large part because they are not womanly, and vice-versa. The macho impulse is a drive not just to do things that are intrinsically good for men, but to do things that distinguish men from women. This is why so much of machismo is wrapped up in policing border-blurring behavior, such as homosexuality and uppity women. Therefore it's only manly to have strength if women are typically weak. If women can be strong too, men will have to find a different reason to be strong (and plenty of such reasons exist).

Thus, we have two choices for combatting machismo. On the one hand, we can come up with progressive but clearly distinguished male and female roles that the macho instinct can drive men toward fulfilling (call this the Hugo Schwyzer strategy -- though he, like many who take this path, is too invested in anti-essentialist feminism to be willing to put much substance on the gender distinction). Or -- and this is my preference -- we can work to undo the macho instinct, to convince men that "being a man" should not be so central to their identity.


The Spirit of Fitzmas

The liberal pants-wetting over the Scooter Libby indictment is really sad. A mid-level functionary that 95% of Americans have never heard of gets indicted, and this is what's supposed to bring down the Republican Party? It doesn't say much for liberalism that we hope our philosophy wins, not on the merits, but because we can catch some folks on the other side breaking the rules.

For some historical perspective on the effectiveness of scandals, let's think back to Watergate. Watergate was an even better scandal than Plame-gate -- an uncharismatic president (unlike our current Mr. Personality Cult) was directly implicated (not just members of his administration) in something that was unarguably a crime (there are still people who defend outing Plame). And what were the ramifications? Republicans won five of the next eight elections and eventually took over Congress. Nixon himself went down in infamy, but there doesn't seem to have been any long-term damage to the party or to conservatism. The biggest political impact was that it increased cynicism about politics in general (since Nixon's crime -- like Libby's -- was non-ideological). Given that depressed voter turnouts favor the GOP, that's not exactly an outcome Democrats should be excited about.


More Notes Here And There

1. So I guess I was wrong about Harriet Miers. In my defense, I still think that if she had gotten to the Senate hearings stage, the GOP would have (reluctantly, but still) lined up behind her. But it looks like she felt so out of her own depth that she couldn't make it that far.

2. The obvious move now would be to nominate someone who is a raging ideologue (to please the base) but has competence and credentials out the wazoo (to defuse the factional momentum, which built its case on Miers' incompetence). I've heard talk (offline) about how the Miers episode was a brilliantly devious move by Karl Rove. That's an awfully convenient belief. If the other side is run by evil geniuses, it absolves you of having to look at your own side's failings.

3. Chris Clarke reminds me of how much I hate that Margaret Mead quote about a small group of citizens being able to change the world.

The Cultural Theory of Sprawl

Following on yesterday's post about how discrimination is a cause of changes in the landscape (namely the growth of exurbia), Joel Hirschhorn points out how that landscape is in turn the cause of more discrimination:

Analyses of the failure of all levels of government to prevent or effectively manage the Katrina calamity in New Orleans have generally missed a crucial point. Alongside bias against poor people and African-Americans is automobile apartheid, born of fifty years of suburban sprawl. First-class citizens drive motor vehicles, second-class Americans walk, cycle, or ride public transit. Certainly many of the latter are poor, but millions more are middle-class Americans.

When emergency response largely ignores the plight of second-class citizens, no one should be surprised.

Automobile apartheid means anyone who wants mobility through walking, cycling, or public transportation suffers discrimination in a built environment designed for automobiles. In the past 20 years, as automobile addiction has increased, sprawl has run rampant, the number of trips people take by walking has decreased by more than 42 percent, and obesity has skyrocketed.

Putting these two posts on sprawl side-by-side also makes an interesting illustration of grid-group cultural theory. The foundational claim of CT is that people with different ways of life fear a different set of risks. The risks feared by the exurbanites quoted in the previous post are familiar. They're the risks of social deviance and disorganization -- crime, school discipline problems, lower-caste people moving in next door to the brahmins. CT argues that these risks will be most salient to people of a Hierarchist disposition, and in fact the exurbanites' preference for strong social order and caste solidarity is apparent. Even their protest at the end of the article that they give generously to charity fits in, as charity donations are a form of supererogatory noblesse oblige (rather than a duty) associated with the higher-ups in an Authority Ranking/Hierarchist form of social organization. It's these risks to social order that drive Hierarchists to exurbia.

From an Egalitarian perspective, however, the actions of Hierarchists are constantly creating dangers to others, particularly to the lower-ranked members of society. Hirschhorn takes up this banner by making a persuasive case that the automobile-centric environments of exurbia are *more* dangerous, due to traffic accidents. Pedestrians -- who are more likely to come from the lower strata of society -- are particularly vulnerable. Hirschhorn's overarching concern with "apartheid" is classically Egalitarian, as is his practice of pointing to technology and environmental destruction as the key sources of risk.

Where are the Individualists in all this? In Douglas and Wildavsky's initial statement of CT, they argued that the most stable alliances are diagonal on the grid-group diagram* -- and in fact the Individualists do seem to ally with the Hierarchists in creating exurbia. The biggest Individualists would be the developers who build exurban towns. They live to take advantage of demand, and the elite Hierarchists have the biggest effective demand. The greatest risks to the Individualists, then, come from Egalitarian attempts to rein in the Hierarchist cash cow. Indeed, the Individualists are so cozy that they happily indulge in the fruits of Hierarchy by taking advantage of government subsidies that facilitate sprawl. Individualist rhetoric also provides a convenient cloak for the Hierarchists, whose viewpoint is often considered impolite. Individualists' focus on consent and motive at the level of the individual transaction and faith in the invisible hand to take care of the larger picture allows them to divert attention from structural inequalities of the type Hirschhorn denounces and the Hierarchist exurbanites positively desire.

*Which perhaps explains why I, as a Fatalist, find Hirschhorn's Egalitarian perspective (as well as the implied Egaliatarianism of the author of the article about the exurbanites) so convincing.



The Washington Post has a frightening article about the denizens of exurbia (so frightening, and so consistent with the stereotype, that I wonder whether the reporter might not be engaging in a bit of selective quoting). The sight of a pickup truck has set their upper-class hearts a-pounding, and so they flee to a sheltered enclave:

"We never discuss politics," said Nina Kraemer, who was hosting a scrapbooking get-together at Dominion Valley's sports complex the other night. "I don't know, I guess something would have to spawn a conversation for one to occur. We talk about traffic -- we talk about that to the nth degree. We're afraid to go to the Target because we might not get back to the bus stop on time" to meet the children after school.

Let me get this straight -- they moved into one of the least pedestrian-friendly and public-transport-feasible settlement patterns, and then they have the gall to complain about traffic?

I guess we can at least be glad that these folks are disinclined to vote. Given their unabashed race and class prejudice, I can't imagine they'd be likely to vote for the good guys.


Odds and Ends

1. Let's agree that everyone thinks that the other side is a bunch of rigid ideologues who cling to their beliefs on pure faith and are impervious to even the most basic elements of logic or evidence. This will save us all a lot of typing.

2. "X-ism is a good idea, but the X-ist movement has been hijacked by a bunch of crazy extremists" is an awfully convenient thing to believe. On the one hand, it gets you off the hook of having to disagree with a cause that is morally compelling (e.g. feminism) or has a lot of social clout (e.g. religion). But on the other hand, it also gets you off the hook of having to do anything. Only wild ideologues would insist on making additional progress.

3. Harriet Miers will be confirmed. There's plenty of bellyaching going on now, but when push comes to shove, very few Senators will be willing to defy the president.

4. It's popular to argue that one's political opponents are not just ideologically mistaken, but dishonest and immoral too. Last night the Senate was given as clear a non-ideological test of its integrity as you're likely to see -- and it turns out both parties are mostly made up of scumbags.

5. Rabi makes a good point.


Mandatory Man-Taming Marriage

I have to give Todd Zywicki a certain kind of credit for not being ashamed to offer a clearly sexist anti-marriage argument. He states that one of the main purposes of marriage is to "tame" the raging beast that is the single man. He says that while it's possible that the evidence may eventually show that a man can be tamed by marriage to another man, polygamy could not work out so well. Given the assumption that polygamy in law would overwhelmingly mean polygyny in practice, he raises the threat of hordes of untamed men left single by the new law:

I think that there are clear benefits of societal stability and productivity of marrying men into monogamous relationships. Polygamy for some men, of course, means that other men will not be married and procreate at all. I suspect that the overall impact in terms of the damage that can be done to a society by a posse of unmarried men, and the oppressive and unproductive social investments that have to be made to control them, suggests that the net costs of permitting polygamy clearly outweigh the net benefits.

I'll leave aside the critique of the notion -- which would be bizarre if it weren't so widely believed -- that single men are antisocial creatures who need a ring to make them productive members of society. I also won't go into detail about the implication that the law must force some, if not most, women to settle for a second-best mate, forgoing their desire to join the harem of some super-stud because of their duty to society to tame some erstwhile psychopath.

What's interesting is what happens when we take Zywicki's argument to its logical conclusion. The monogamy norm remains strong in our society, and any serious proposal for polygamy in a society which has pretensions to gender equality would have to require the consent of the co-wives (who would be reluctant to give it if, as the "polygyny in practice" argument assumes, women are much more inclined toward monogamy). Therefore, polygamy seems unlikely to be the leading cause of male singleness. Simple reluctance to marry anyone, or any of the ones on offer, would be more important. But if single men are such a social problem, why should we limit ourselves to the relatively modest measure of banning polygamy? From Zywicki's view, any man who remains single is putting society at risk, and any woman who remains single is shirking her man-taming duty. The extreme expedient of sending the Marriage Police around to round up loners and shove rings on their fingers is both unnecessary and probably counterproductive. But there's a simple way to ensure that most people will get married -- make access to certain public services contingent on marriage for people above a certain age (say, 25), and allow private businesses and other organizations to implement similar policies. This would create a powerful incentive to get married, while giving you maximum freedom to choose the most compatible partner.


Evolution is Disquieting

PZ Myers points out a quote from Barbara Forrest about how evolution upsets religious notions of human specialness:

We have established scientifically some disquieting facts: (1) human beings have evolved from nonhuman life forms, meaning that (2) at one time we did not exist, and that (3) according to paleontological and astronomical evidence, at some time in the future we shall cease to exist.

I don't completely agree with points 2 and 3. It's not too disquieting that there was a time without humans -- most religions postulate such a time. The really disquieting finding about human origins from evolutionary biology is that the emergence of humans (or of any sentient life form) was not inevitable. The book of Genesis records five days (believed by some to last the equivalent of thousands, if not millions, of years) during which humans had not yet appeared. But you can trust that they were in God's plan all along, and that no matter what, on the sixth day Adam would show up. On the other hand, evolutionary biology* tells us that if the environment had not been such as to select for intelligence, and had the right raw materials not been present in pre-human species, Homo sapiens -- or any other sentient creature -- may never have come about. Personally, I find that fascinating, but I see how others, particularly those committed to a strong version of externally-imposed teleological meaning, might find it disquieting.

I would rephrase point 3 in a softer tone -- there are many species that have survived for millions upon millions of years, and it's possible to be optimistic about our chances. But even as it stands, it's only disquieting if you take a certain interpretation of it**. Contemplating the end of Homo sapiens is disquieting if you think of our extinction as an evolutionary dead-end. But what if Homo sapiens disappears because we evolve into something else? Only a very crude and literal species-centrism would declare a priori that our descendants were not "us." If Homo habilis were still around, a good case could be made by either species for including the other as part of its human community. The same may very well be said of Homo futuris.

*Real evolutionary biology, not the mystical-teleological variant that one presenter at the Open Meeting used as his theoretical approach.

**Not all religions believe in eternal life -- the Norse thought that everyone, both the might warriors in Valhalla and the sickly sols in Hel, would be destroyed for good during Ragnarok.


Paul Robbins on the Contradictions of Conservation

I just got back from an excellent talk by Paul Robbins, who is probably the brightest star in contemporary political ecology. His basic theme was that trying to protect nature by separating it from humans is doomed to failure. He focused on a nature reserve in India, where santions against encroachment by people living nearby have recently been stepped up. He argued that, while throwing the reserve open to be turned into farms would be detrimental to the ecosystem, so would completely closing it off from people. The best situation would be one more like what prevailed up until a few years ago, in which the reserve existed, but people frequently broke the official rules.

There were two major ways that human-nature interaction turned out to be good for nature. First, human use of the forest created a beneficial frequent low-level disturbance. This idea has been widely recognized, for example by ecologists in the resilience field, so I won't go into more detail. Second, he described how animals crossing the park boundary was beneficial for nature. He compared the population numbers of several species of animals, and found that the ones that were doing well, or even increasing in number, were the ones that frequently encroached on the surrounding villages. For example, panthers often eat sheep, while nilgai (a cowlike animal) are a constant threat to cornfields. In effect, those species that have done well are those that have adapted to human presence and learned to extract a sort of subsidy from the "unnatural" human lands outside the reserve. He hypothesized that wolves (which also eat sheep) have not done as well as the panthers because they hunt in packs, and are therefore easier for humans to deter.

Robbins made an off-hand suggestion which I think actually makes some sense. He said that perhaps the farmers and herders whose crops and animals are subsidizing wildlife (and who may be tipped into starvation if they get hit hard by the panthers or nilgai) should be compensated for the damage done by wild animals. This fits with the growing idea that owners of less "developed" land should be paid for the ecosystem services that they provide. Their human use of the land is providing a benefit to nature.

The Importance of Polarization

The Afterlife Of Environmentalism

... in assessing the obstacles to a progressive majority, the environmental movement would seem to be an odd place to begin. Unlike organized labor, for instance, the membership rolls of the big national environmental organizations have grown -- at least fourfold over the past 25 years. The result is bigger budgets and staff, plus more in-house expertise. New statewide and local organizations have also emerged during this period. Environmentalism has a further advantage: Unlike the reproductive-rights movement, for instance, it does not polarize public opinion. Despite some fluctuation, polls consistently show high levels of support for environmental protection -- levels that would be the envy of many progressive movements. So what’s the problem?

For one thing, as Shellenberger and Nordhaus make clear, the same polls that identify high levels of public support for environmental protection also reveal that support to be shallow. Americans care about “the environment,” but when faced with competing demands on their time, money, and attention, they don’t appear to care all that much.

It's interesting that Meyer lists the broad, unpolarized support for environmentalism as a strength of the movement. In light of his general claim -- with which I agree -- that progressive politics suffer from the lack of a cohesive worldview, I would say it's a weakness.

The most politically potent beliefs are those that are the symbolic centers of one's identity. The case of abortion is a good example -- being Christian and conservative is synonymous with being pro-life (in the minds of both pro-lifers and pro-choicers). Likewise, feminism and liberalism are considered equivalent to a pro-choice stance. But issues only become the center of one's identity when there is a sharp contrast with an alternative identity.

Environmentalism is, for most people, an anti-identity*. People don't define themselves as being environmentalists, but rather as not being environmental extremists. They adopt a stance of common-sense centrism in contrast to the identity-forming ideologies of "radical environmentalists" and (to a lesser extent) ruthless polluters. Both of those contrast groups are so wildly caricatured as to have few actual representatives outside of ELF and 19th-century robber barons, thus allowing everyone to feel like they occupy a neutral middle ground.

Broad consensus is a nice goal, but if it happens too soon, it can sap the will to change institutional and cultural structures. A phase of polarization is necessary to motivate change.

*In perhaps somewhat the same way as, for example, "white" is treated as a non-race.


Policy Relevance

The Open Meeting was a bit disappointing. Considering that it was a major international conference that screens abstracts, I was expecting a higher caliber of papers than you see at, for example, the AAG meeting. From talking to other attendees, I gathered that the problem was in part my bad luck in picking sessions. Whatever the explanation, I saw too many presentations that dwelt at length on problem formulation, and had a theoretical section that was more name- and buzzword-dropping than actual explanation of the perspective from which their study was conducted. They would then run out of time and have to flick quickly through their actual empirical results, and end with a set of conclusions that are banal, meaningless, or far too general to really have been rigorously demonstrated by their small study (including the dreaded conclusion that "the phenomenon I'm studying is really complex").

One of the few good presentations I saw was by Barry Smit, who zeroed in on one of these oft-repeated conclusions -- that the work in question can or should affect policy. While he focused his talk on his own field of vulnerability analysis, what he said applies more broadly. Smit's argument was simple: if you're going to claim that your study is policy-relevant, you have to be able to explain how. It's not enough to study a phenomenon that is or should be of importance to policymaking (which vulnerability certainly is). You have to study it in a way that produces results that decisionmakers will be able and willing to use. If your study is motivated by intellectual curiosity rather than policy relevance, that's fine -- but you have to be honest (to yourself and your readers/hearers) about that, instead of inflating how far toward the "applied" end of the spectrum your work sits.


The Morality Of History

Take a look at this graph of world oil consumption. Throughout the industrial era, we've been continuing to use more and more oil. Clearly, then it is morally imperative that the trend continue. We have a duty to use more oil.

I'm sure you're thinking "that's a dumb argument. Just because something has been happening in the past, and our current trajectory suggests that it will continue, doesn't mean that it's right." And I agree. So why do people insist that the historical trend (at least since the Enlightenment) of extending moral consideration to more and more beings is some sort of proof of the moral rightness of deep ecology? Sure, I'm glad we've extended the bounds of moral consideration from rich white men to the poor, women, and non-whites. I even lean toward granting moral status to the more sentient animals like monkeys and whales (and perhaps also dogs, cats, pigs, and crows). But those steps are all justified by moral reasons, not by the progress of history. (Likewise, I'm glad for at least some of our oil use -- for plastics, and for fuel up until perhaps the 1970s, since that oil use laid the foundations in terms of wealth and technology for developing alternative energy. But there's no contradiction between that and wanting to get rid of SUVs and oil-fired power plants today.)


To Bonn

I'm leaving tomorrow to spend a week in Germany at the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change open meeting. My hotel claims to have internet in all the rooms, so I'll potentially be able to deluge you with exciting posts about cutting-edge research in environmental geography. Or I may be basically out of comission until next weekend.


More Polygamy

I don't mean to turn this into a blog about polygamy, but von at Obsidian Wings has a post that manages to both misunderstand the case for same-sex marriage and make a poor argument against polygamy. Von says that there's no slippery slope between the two because homosexuality is natural, while polyamory is a choice. Based on my acquaintance with a few polyamorous people, I'm inclined to be a bit skeptical of the

But even if polyamory is a choice in the relevant sense, it remains the case that whether an inclination is a choice has little to do with how the law should treat actions that spring from it. Sexual attraction to children is not a choice, but no reasonable person would propose that for that reason we legalize pedophilia. On the other hand, all reasonable people agree that interracial marriage should be allowed -- indeed, von cites it approvingly as an example of when marriage laws have been altered for the better. Yet interracial marriage is the result, not of some innate "heteroracial" sexual orientation, but of a choice. Further, by von's natural/choice standard, we ought to ban (in morality if not in law) bisexuals from entering into same-sex marriage. After all, if you're attracted to the opposite sex, then entering into a same-sex relationship is a choice.

Any argument for why a relationship ought not to be recognized by the law must rest not on claims about whether the desire for it is natural, but on whether its consequences are positive or negative. In a footnote von attempts to add such a consequentialist justification. The best he can come up with, however, is to say that it would be complicated to work out the distribution of rights and duties between the partners -- as if monogamous couples never have vicious battles over child custody and other issues. If all he were doing was using this to argue that it would be premature to pass a law legalizing polygamy before the mechanics of organizing such relationships were worked out and well disseminated into the culture, I would agree. But to claim that such logistical difficulties are a permanent barrier, and that they outweigh the increased happiness of people who desire polygamous unions, is weak.